Placing Ghanaian and Indigenous North American literatures in conversation - Journal special issue and conference
We invite proposals for articles of circa 7,000-8,000 words on comparative readings of Ghanaian and Indigenous North American texts, to appear in a special issue of the European Journal of American Studies in 2025.
What might it mean to compare works from such seemingly different traditions as Ghanaian - taken as a representative of native African traditions that invites exploration beyond the scope implied in the term “Ghanaian” - and Indigenous North American literatures? In thinking about this question, we begin with points of similarity: both Ghana and Native America are entities that contain multiple tribal nations with differing languages and traditions that were to an extent forced into their current configuration by the cartographers of the British Empire and European assumptions of malleability and uniformity. Ghana won full independence as a unitary Westphalian nation-state, while Indigenous Americans within the US, even the largest nations such as the Diné or Cherokee, do not have a realistic possibility of full statehood: nonetheless, writers from both groups faced some of the same challenges in the mid to late 20th century. The Native American Renaissance of the post-1968 period, so named because it was the first time Native writers in English started reaching international audiences en masse, was characterized by authors thinking through how to convey the sense of an oral culture that had been subjected to considerable external cultural, even genocidal pressures. Similarly, Ghanaian literature in the same period enjoyed a flowering that also had to reckon with the contradictions of employing Western forms to convey distinctly African realities/ways of seeing the world.
In theorizing this volume, we take seriously Chadwick Allen’s point that “[comparative reading] is certainly a strange objective for anticolonial or Indigenous-centered readings of a body of distinct literatures emanating from distinct cultures, brought together by the historical accident of having been written in the shared language of those who colonized the communities of their authors” (Trans Indigenous, xiii). While taking cognizance of Allen’s emphasis on distinctiveness, however, there is the need to adapt it more creatively, critique it, depart from it, etc., especially when it is applied to Africa where a common history of colonial experience has become a basis for mobilization and grounds for an awareness of a certain lack of distinctiveness among colonized entities. As Rebecca Macklin puts it, the need is to “create spaces of co-resistance” (“Unsettling Fictions,” 29). Indeed, so complex is this subject that it has to be addressed from different perspectives, so that instead of comparing Indigenous texts with other Indigenous texts, or Ghanaian literatures within post-colonial and pan-African traditions, they should be placed in a context that allows us to see points of intersection that have not previously been revealed. As Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o remarks, “the traditional organization of literature along national boundaries is like bathing in a river instead of sailing” (Globalectics, 56). In this special issue, we invite scholars to join us on wa Thiong’o’s open seas, searching for unexpected points of connection, not only querying the conceptual boundaries between Indigenous and postcolonial, but also searching for points of intersection.
Appreciating that few scholars are equally versed in both native African and Indigenous American traditions, we invite contributions from both African Studies and American Indigenous studies perspectives. We particularly welcome the following:
- Articles centered on particular writers in comparative readings. Possible pairings might, for instance, include Elizabeth Cook-Lynn with Ama Ata Aidoo (comparing, for instance, their modes of decolonial Third World thinking), Kofi Awoonor with Leslie Marmon Silko (maybe to think about their repurposing of oral traditions in written works), Gerald Vizenor with Kojo Laing (e.g. in contrasting their postmodern, tricksy humour), Ayi Kwei Armah and James Welch (both of who have written works of alienated masculinity). We are open to any potential comparison: these are merely offered as possible examples
- Broader comparative work on groups or movements, for instance a comparison of Spiderwoman Theater with that of the Ghana Experimental Theatre collective
- Proposals that seek to read works from one tradition through theoretical lenses more associated with the other in the manner of “red readings” - for instance using Ghanaian philosophical insights to explicate American Indigenous texts, or vice versa
- Ghanaian responses to Native American movements, and vice versa, as expressed in literary text
- Indigenous American and Ghanaian responses to specific world historical events.
- Discussions of the differences and similarities in creative use of precolonial narrative traditions, and the use of traditional languages, in English-language texts
- Articles that interrogate what is gained and what is lost in cross-cultural comparisons, as well as place under question ideological formations such as “Indigeneity” and “nation”
To facilitate knowledge exchange, we will host an online conference in July 2023, using Zoom to ensure equal chances for participation for scholars based in Africa and North America (or elsewhere in the world). The aim of this event will be for scholars to circulate early drafts of their work for the special issue as conference papers, receiving feedback from their peers in both scholarly traditions. We hope that such an event will introduce participants to new theorists and inspire new intellectual configurations. The deadline for finished articles will then be at the end of 2023, giving us plenty of time for peer reviewing and revisions.
Proposals should be 300 words and should be sent to both editors by March 6th 2023, along with a biographical note of around 150 words.
We are happy to engage in correspondence about this project.