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Mpalive-Hangson Msiska

Mpalive Msiska

Dr. Msiska is a Senior Lecturer in English and Humanities at the Birkbeck University of London. He is a Judge for The Caine Prize for African Writing. He has previously studied in Malawi, Canada, Germany and Scotland and has taught at the Universities of Malawi, Stirling and Bath Spa. He has published conference papers, Journal articles and books, including: Wole Soyinka, (1998); Writing and Africa (Longman, 1997) Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart: A Critical Guide (Routledge, 2006) and The Quiet Chameleon: A Study of Poetry from Central Africa (Hans Zell, 1992). Forthcoming publications include, Post-Colonial Identity in Wole Soyinka, (Rodopi); He is a member of the Editorial Board of the Journal of Southern African Studies and of the Editorial Advisory Board of The Journal of African Cultural Studies. He is also an Examiner for the Commonwealth Essay Competition.


The term “Black-British Writing” is generally used to refer to literary texts produced by writers of African, Caribbean or Asian racial and cultural origin. The category is now employed in organising courses in Higher Education, especially in the United Kingdom, and for the publication and marketing of literary as well as critical texts in the subject area. However, like other similar literary classificatory terms, such as “Commonwealth Literature,” it has not been without its fair share of criticism. Indeed, the writer Fred D’Aguiar in an essay in Wasafiri a few years ago stated that he was opposed to the term as it was reductive of the hugely diverse concerns of the literature it purported to describe, bringing together into an incongruous composite assembly writers from radically different cultural backgrounds. Salman Rushdie had expressed similar reservations about the term “Commonwealth Literature” in his book Imaginary Homelands a few years earlier. It is clear that writers in particular do feel strongly against their work being seen largely in terms of the author’s racial biological origins instead of its intrinsic aesthetic and thematic value

Moreover, it is not the writers alone who are critical of the notion of “Black-British Writing;” Critics such as James Proctor have pointed out how the reduction of the complex variety of the texts to the idea of “Blackness” goes against the spirit of the literary texts themselves which often seek to go beyond the essentialised racial identity “implied by the concept of “Blackness.” It is argued that the texts highlight the limiting and constraining effect of the term, foreground instead the heterogeneity of what it means to be “Black-Black British.” Thus, Black-British Writing must be seen as articulating a fundamental Transnational and Transcultural formation of Diasporic identity in Britain.
However, there has been a shortage of terms which could aptly describe this corpus of writing. The problem has to do with finding a description that would replace the term “Black” and still cover the range of writers that the label currently includes. Added to this difficulty of taxonomy is the larger issue of ethnic categorisation. I recall a few years ago listening to a radio programme in which an Asian man was complaining about being referred to as Black. He did not believe that he was Black and suggested that he should be described as an “Indian or Asian.   More


 Six Poems

Between Edinburgh and Stirling

(For My Father)

Trees running past the window,
Two women waiting for a bus,
In the sacerdotal dance of mediation,
Transparent membranes to heaven.

Tickets please!
Thank you.

Can I ask the question,
Beyond tickets and train times,
Where the sheep in the meadow,
Can inscribe a question mark
on the hands that feed and shear?

The day ends as it started,
Between barriers of space and time,
To the colours of a homeless rainbow,
An evening of concrete words
in the edifice of an iron jungle
A solid empire of coins with faces from the sky,

I ask about the Star of Africa,
About the gems of the Limpompo and Zambezi,
The tea fields of Mulanje and Tchyolo,
The grey ore of Chitipa,
Shimmering Emeralds in the hands of unsparing soldiers.

They no longer fight there,
The rains refused to come,
The earth is no more edible,
Too much blood has corroded goodness.
Under the blue African sky,
Gold nuggets disgorge flying rags,
Red locusts writing names in letters of smoke,
Men in hats with Ostrich feathers reminisce about Switzerland and
New York
as in the entrails of a fecund bareness
Death became our kinsman.     More

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