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postcolonial short story essay collection july 2009
full name / name of organization:
Dr Paul March-Russell
Dr Paul March-Russell (University of Kent, Canterbury) and Dr Maggie Awadalla (Imperial College, London/SOAS) are proposing a new collection of essays on the postcolonial short story.
Postcolonial criticism has presented itself as questioning the composition of literary canons. Yet, little has been published on the role of the short story within the making of postcolonial literature, although the form has played a vital function in small-press magazines such as Drum, Black Orpheus, Transition and Okike in Africa, Bim and Savacou in the Caribbean and Wasafiri in the U.K. The short story has helped to articulate regional, communal and national cultural identities often in conflict with ruling social and political ideologies. As a non-canonical and, in some instances, covert medium, the short story has, through its formal and thematic preoccupations, raised important questions about the relationships between form and content, art and politics, and the individual and the whole: issues that lie at the heart of the debate around postcolonialism. It is surprising, then, that little critical attention has been devoted to examining the relationship between the short story and the postcolonial, whether in terms of literary and cultural theory or artistic practice. Nevertheless, key postcolonial writers have either devoted a large part of their careers to the form (Nadine Gordimer, Doris Lessing, R.K. Narayan) or turned to the short story during significant periods in their artistic and political lives (Chinua Achebe, Ngugi wa Thiong’o, Salman Rushdie) where more established forms such as the novel were less expressive. The short story has played an important role either as an apprenticeship (Rohinton Mistry, Samuel Selvon) or as the catalyst for longer works (Vikram Chandra, Hanif Kureishi). The formal properties of the short story have served either as literary experiment (Pauline Melville, Ben Okri, Ahdaf Soueif) or as a commentary upon the experiences of diaspora and cultural transformation (Romesh Gunasekera, V.S. Naipaul, M.G. Vassanji). These qualities have also appealed to women writers (Ama Ata Aidoo, Alice Munro, Olive Senior) when the conventions of the novel have again appeared restrictive. To what extent can the short story and postcolonial studies be creatively engaged? In what ways is the short story furthering the development of postcolonial literature?
The collection is structured in five thematic sections: national identity, diaspora, hybridity and globalisation, ethnicity, gender and sexuality. We focus principally upon the regions most affected by the independence movements of the mid-twentieth century: Africa, the Caribbean, the Indian sub-continent, the South Pacific, and the United Kingdom. Although less attention is paid to the work of the white settler populations in Australia, Canada and New Zealand, due to the significant coverage within both postcolonial and short story criticism, we do not preclude writers from these regions. Although we are concerned with the period since 1945, we include essays that make connections with the period before World War Two, for example, by looking at writers such as Narayan who straddle this historical divide, or by focusing upon the influence of indigenous oral traditions. Individual themes may include (but are not limited to) the effects of apartheid upon short fiction in South Africa, the role of island communities in the Caribbean and the South Pacific, the legacy of partition for writing from India and Pakistan, and the influence of immigration upon the literary culture of the United Kingdom. At the same time, each section complements one another, so that a picture of the current state of world short fiction is formed without being over-determined. The collection seeks to generate further dialogue by emphasising not only the fragmentary experience of the short story but also the post-colonial legacy to which the short story form addresses.