Storytelling, when used appropriately, can be a powerful tool. At the height of the anti-colonial movements that swept across much of the global south, and in the early years of postcolonial reconstruction, many authors emerged and gave a voice to the apprehensions, the anger, and the expectations of their people. Their writings were unapologetically emancipatory. Their explicit aim was to recapture their own narrative and redefine their humanity—away from the notions of subjugated and colonized people—by showcasing instead the strength and the resilience of their brethren. Beyond mere artistic expression, their works were for some an example of political dissidence, and for others biting social commentaries illustrating the social ills plaguing their societies. While some of these authors became juggernauts in the literary world, many remain unfortunately far too unknown on the international scene.
Five unique voices that have shaped postcolonial literature:
Ahmadou kourouma was an Ivorian author who spent most of his career exploring the realities of post-independence Africa while vehemently criticizing African politicians for betraying the aspirations of their people. Although his incisive writing made him a star of African literature, it also attracted the wrath of the political elite. Imprisoned and later exiled from his country, Ahmadou Kourouma remained until his death a critical voice calling for true emancipation. The suns of Independence remains his seminal work and a prime example of his critical outlook on politics and postcoloniality.
Portrait of a colonized subject
In his very first novel called The Dark Child, Camara Laye used his own childhood in colonial French Guinea to draw the portrait of a child living and growing up under colonial rule. Although the story is personal in nature, it never the less takes a few glimpses into the colonial socio-political context shaping the young protagonist. Laye went on to publish several more novels, of which The Radiance Of The King described by the philosopher and novelist Kwame Anthony Appia as “one of the greatest of the African novels of the colonial period”. Camara laye eventually left his country in a self-imposed exile over political disagrements and died in Senegal without ever returning to his country.
Class, politics, and priviledge
Although Naguib Mahfouz is the name that comes to mind when talking about Egyptian literature, Yusuf Idris remains the master of Egyptian short stories. Growing up in the era of British occupation, Idris became active in politics as a young man and supported at first Nasser’s rise to power before becoming disilutioned with his reign. Arrested for his political activities, Idris spent some time in prison. Through colloquial Arabic, he used his stories to bridge the gap between the educated classes well-versed in classical Arabic and the majority of Egyptians belonging to less-priviledge backgrounds. His stories such as The Cheapest Nights were often centered around the underdog and gave voice to the concerns of the less fortunate in Egyptian society.
Nationalism and independence
Raja Rao was an Indian writer whose work reflected his involvement in the nationalist movement fighting for independence in India. Using Indian folk-tales as an inspiration, Rao’s work indicated his deep attachment to Hinduism and Hindu values. His first novel Kanthapura focuses on the impact of Ghandi’s ideas of non-violent resistance to British rule as a catalyse for the Indian freedom movement.
The silenced voice
Yambo Ouologuem is probably one of the most tragic figures in African litterature. A brilliant and unconventional voice, his work provoked both adulation and controversy. His first novel called Bound to violence is often seen as highly critical of the burgeoning African nationalism of the time mainly due to his emphasis on the internal strifes plaguing Africans. Heralded at first by the Western literary inteligentsia as a rare example of Africa’s capacity to produce intellectuals of international calibre, Ouologuem became quickly embroiled in acusations of plagiarism that left him disiluisioned and disheartened. Turning his back to the literary world he returned to his native Mali and became a recluse. Bound to violence is today cited as a classic of postcolonial African literature.