African Modernisms, African Modernities (April 7-10 2011)

full name / name of organization: 
NEMLA (Northeast Modern Language Association)
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In 1958, Chinua Achebe opened his most famous novel with an epigraph from an Irish modernist poem that has been taken as one of the quintessential articulations of modernity: "Turning and turning in the widening gyre / The falcon cannot hear the falconer, / Things fall apart, the center cannot hold." This moment is suggestive of the intersection between modernism and modernity in African literature, a conjuncture that can be partially viewed in terms of how African writers respond to Western literary tradition. Attempts by African writers to participate in what Simon Gikandi has called "the culture of modernity" have consistently raised questions about where the modern is centered and how it travels. Meanwhile, over the past decade, the field of modernist studies has questioned its own center, expanding its spatial and temporal boundaries to include "postcolonial" literatures, though not always with particular attention to writing from sub-Saharan Africa. Through literary and critical interventions, the notion of the modern has become contested and mobile. This panel will take that terrain as its starting point, seeking to address intersections between modernist studies and African literary studies. How have African authors from Achebe's generation to the present engaged with and contributed to global literary modernism? How have they expanded the formal practices and possibilities of modernist writing and what does this imply for debates about the politics of form? And how does this literature lead us to evaluate and remap the relationship between Africa, the West, and the modern in a broad sense?
Please submit 200-300 word abstracts to Mark DiGiacomo ( or Megan Paustian (

Short description:
This panel will explore the intersections between modernist studies and African literary studies. Of particular interest are papers that address how African literary engagements with both modernism and modernity evaluate and lead us to rethink a notion of the modern that has traditionally been centered in Europe. Please send 200-300 word abstracts to Mark DiGiacomo ( or Megan Paustian (