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African Writing Archives


Emma Dawson


Emma Dawson

Dawson (PhD, Nottingham) works at the intersection of postcolonial writing, pedagogy and the emergent field of World Englishes literature. She has published a number of academic articles on World Englishes literature and her recent study addressed the teaching of World Englishes literature in schools in England, the publication from this study is the Read Around series launched in April 2008 (CCC Press, Nottingham, UK). The series introduces the African stories of Bessie Head, Muthoni Muchemi/Garland, and Agnes Sam into the mainstream curriculum of UK school. She is also currently editing anthologies of short stories from Cameroon, Uganda and Kenya (forthcoming, New Ventures, 2008/9). She is currently in post at Keele University. She spoke with in April, 2008.


  'Post-colonial' versus 'World Englishes Literature'

: There is a sense in which people say that all the great writers are gone. All the best writing is done. At , we are about the canon, about the writers, getting them read again…

Dawson: Well the Canon, my interest in that is actually the terminology with which we talk about writers. And the sticking point has to be the label of postcolonialism and postcolonial writing. In many ways if you look at the writing that is emerging now, I feel that it represents something beyond postcolonial - post-postcolonial, if you like. And if we could make a shift in the language that we use to describe the writing, not just from Africa alone but also from India, Singapore and Malaysia, we can see this writing as new, as a new way or a new step in the journey that I think it will take. Postcolonial is most certainly a step or a moment in that journey but I think what is important is that we go beyond that and the term, that I favour at least, is World Englishes Literature. Generally, ‘World Englishes’ tends to be understood within a linguistic remit but what I’m trying to pioneer myself is to talk about World Englishes in a literary dimension. Now the problem with that is that the foci - I’m not sure you are familiar with Braj Kachru’s work and the Inner, Outer, and Expanding circles - this is what makes the linguistic sense of World Englishes. The Inner circle is the Anglophone nations: England, America, Australia for instance, The Outer circle is Kenya, Nigeria, and so on, the Expanding circle is places like Israel, places where English is being spoken but where they do not necessarily have the colonial past.

The problem I find in my own research is that when you talk about ‘World Englishes in the literary sense’, for me at least, the Inner circle is not part of that. Now this is quite revolutionary and it may not go down very well with everybody. I am just preparing an article for the journal, World Englishes and I’m trying to put this view forward that although World Englishes in the linguistic sphere can explain the variety of Englishes spoken around the world, it doesn’t necessarily capture the sense of the literary production. Fundamentally, what I advocate is that that World Englishes literature is only produced from the Outer and Expanding circles.

I believe the advantage of talking about the state of new writing with this label of ‘World Enlgishes literature’ is that we hope to capture a sense of newness and we shed the sense of postcoloniality. Again, I feel, looking at writing emerging from Nigeria or Kenya or Malaysia or India - not without exception of course - but there is a sense of newness, which I think is not about post-colonialism any more, is not about being oppressed or fighting or struggling with those that have come into the countries, it is more about the quotidian of the country. In fact, many of the emerging writers now have not known the moment of independence of their countries - Chimamanda Adichie for instance. Whereas Chinua Achebe, Wole Soyinka or Anita Desai all experienced the moment of independence of their respective countries. But that journey is changing and we’re moving on. We have writers who have not known the moment of independence of their country and therefore that does not figure so much in their writing. The experience of living in their countries now is what dominates their writing.

: Why do you say the Inner circle is not involved in producing World Englishes Literature?

Dawson: Because beyond the Inner circle it becomes literary in the sense that we start to talk about voice. Although as I’ve just said, there isn’t this postcolonial chain that necessarily binds all literature from the Outer and Expanding Circles, but there is still this concept that binds them into being literature written in varieties of English, whereas if you come to look at the Inner circle, taking England as an example, we are then into varieties of English indeed, written and spoken but the ‘voice’ is different…

: You are familiar with the sort of English spoken in the Ireland of a writer like Frank McCourt of Tis, for instance, in terms of the culture, worldview, experience, and values; it would be different from that spoken in London for instance…

Dawson: Certainly, but there are two things I believe that can distinguish this from what I am talking about. One, is that very often such language variety can be described as dialects or accents or varieties of an English within England or even sometimes can be described as Diaspora, like the voice of Londonstani by Gautaum Malkani for example. This for me, is an Inner-circle Diaspora variety of English, it is a British-Asian, and if you want, West-London-Slough variety, so - for me at least, you can always describe such language variety within the Inner circle in terms of an accent or dialect or variety of Diaspora translations.

And two, the other thing is the sense of identity, which I believe, is different from what you find in the Outer and Expanding circles. And that is to do with proximity to the centre. There is still this idea of a centre. And so a novel like Londonstani by Gautaum Malkani is much closer to the centre, which is England in this case, than say writing from the Outer and Expanding circles. Now, I’m sure you’re thinking - but hang on a minute, there a dichotomy: you talk about the Outer and Expanding circles not being of postcolonialism any more and being something new - yes I do, but there is still, when it comes down to identifying what is Inner and what is Outer and Expanding, when it becomes a literary voice, it’s there somewhere making a difference from the centre. It is still not Inner circle in an ‘identity’ sense, and this is inherently rooted in colonialism.

: Have you read Melvyn Brag’s book, The Adventure of English, he talked about English’s stint as a colonised language under French. He talks about an anaemic language picking up registers of French words, at the time when French was the court language in England. In the same way that English would be a court - or palatial - language in colonial territories. Under that period, you find English picking up a series of registers from the French and growing thereby but not losing its identity as such. If you look at it with the breadth of history and see England now in the centre and in a position to throw its language across borders, would you not think that what is happening in other communities where English or Englishes play a very dominant role and interact with local languages and cultures to create different kinds of things sometimes difficult to recognise in England, do you not see it as part of the same process?

Dawson: I think that the question is how did those languages come in to contact with English? Was it not more about choice? The languages came to England in a certain way and in a very different way from how English went out to countries like Nigeria and Kenya and…

: No, the French at that time colonised England, I was talking about back …

Dawson: …but it was a very particular register that was used then wasn’t it, like you say, languages of legality, palatial register, I just think that it is slightly different from what has happened as English has gone out to other countries and then those countries have made it their own, that is why I use the word Englishes (in its plural) very often.

: The point I was trying to make really is that what you have defined as a new construct, which is ‘World Englishes literature’ as a way of looking at the literary production of these territories, how new is it, if it still excludes the central or metropolitan language literature? Is it to prevent that literature from swamping the ‘tertiary’ production, or is it because they are intrinsically different, perhaps qualitatively, perhaps simply because it is the core? Is there any essential difference really? What practical value would it serve such literatures to redefine them not as postcolonial, but as World Englishes Literatures?

Dawson: Well, I think in a sense it does two things: it recognises the certain shift in identity which I... a very simple way to put it, is that it captures those generations of writers who have not know independence in their countries. In that sense, they are ‘beyond’ postcolonial.

Secondly, it does something linguistically, it recognises English in the plural and I believe that helps to redefine how we see English in the world. For some years now, we have just looked as English as a global language, which is pretty different from a sense of variety of Englishes around the world. These Englishes are now codified such as Hinglish - Indian English or Singlish - Singaporean English, or English in the Philippines, and indeed Nigeria or Kenya… I keep using those as the main examples but there are others. Is it good enough to talk about a global English anymore? I’m not saying that World Englishes is the only way to describe this; I’m just saying that it is a possibility. It is a way of moving along with the journey. The terminology, I feel, hasn’t up until now really moved with the journey, and it needs to. The world is changing - has changed - and so this is one that I offer. I wish we could have more debate, I mean, the symposium in September is about that, let’s talk about it. Let’s have a debate, what do you think, what is happening in your country? I mean, this is a big objective for the symposium.

We need to know what is happening on the ground in a literary dimension, and as well as linguistically, they are intertwined of course. This is the objective of the symposium in September, to debate such questions as you’ve just put to me. World Englishes is only, I believe, one way of addressing those two things: redefining a sense of identity that is not postcolonial and secondly understanding and defining the linguistic and this sense of Englishes and codification.

: Let’s talk about African Literature, our area of particular interest. What has your engagement with it been like so far?

Dawson: Interestingly that is the area I am trying to understand and develop myself the most. I am doing that through a project that involves anthologies. For the last 10-12 months, I have been contacting people mainly through emails in Cameroon, Uganda, Kenya and South Africa. Normally through personal contacts from writing groups and asking people to send the emails on. The idea of the project is to have a series of anthologies for Cameroon, Kenya, Uganda and South Africa and hopefully more from other African countries. Short stories written in English. Not translations and not Diaspora work. This is work from African countries now, the contemporary, people living there and writing from there. In my call for short stories, I asked for anything between five and ten thousand word short stories - although I did say that anything below 5000 so long as you can convince me that it is a ‘short, short’ story that is worthy too. We’re going to start with Cameroon, so that is actually the first anthology that we’re working on.

Now, the rationale behind all this is to pioneer and get into a rather closed literary world, that’s because of the canon as you mentioned earlier, to reach new writers and so I would like really that these anthologies have writers the majority of which no one has ever heard of. This is what I really wish for.

: Are you achieving that?

Dawson: So far with the Cameroonian one, yes. Of a dozen stories I will use, I have one or two writers who are previously published, Ba'bila Mutia, and John Nkemngong Nkengasong, but other than that, all my writers have never been published before as far as I am aware. In my call for short stories, I actually specified that I would prefer people who had never been published before, unless perhaps in a journal or something….

: So your experience with Cameroon has been positive. Obviously, Cameroon is bilingual in the sense of English/French use…

Dawson: Actually, this is why we wanted to start with Cameroon; I am so pleased that my publisher agreed because most of the literature from Cameroon has actually been Francophone… I met a writer at a conference in Oxford a few years back and it was curious because we were switching from French to English and back again. This was John Nkengasong. He was part of my inspiration. I had the idea before I met him, but he really motivated me to get on with it. John has published two novels and he is contributing to this anthology. I would like to get the Cameroon book out by the end of the summer. And I would like to visit Cameroon to research and write the introduction, because I want to do this sensitively. I had this idea, which is really important; this book is about the people and the literature not about my introduction, or because I have a PhD. I just want people to understand the rationale and the creativity behind it, that’s all; because I struggle with that, time and time again - African or Indian writers, kind of, paraded in the Western world. I struggle with that and I think that this has also been the problem with our canon, or what has become the canon, because although they are very worthy writers in many ways, it doesn’t just stop there, there’s more out there, much more to read. And as an example of that, the English side of Cameroon often goes unnoticed.

: You are doing the Cameroonian anthology first; you do also have the Ugandan anthology in the making?

Dawson: Now, this is interesting because it seems that feminine writing - whatever feminine writing is, we call it writing predominantly by female authors but I don’t really know what we mean by feminine writing - is quite strong in Uganda…

: Yes, they have this FEMRITE, it’s this hotbed of creative talent…

Dawson: Absolutely, so that was fascinating,

: So they’re dominating your anthology are they?

Dawson: Yes, female authors are, although I have some…

: Token men? Probably have to set up an association for them…

Dawson: (laughs) MANRITE… so that’s interesting in itself. Now the problem with that is that a lot of the writers have published before. But it was a bit of a make-or-break, I mean it still hangs a little in the balance, in that if I want that anthology to go forward, I have to work with those who how have published before, however all the stories are new.

And then, Kenya, I have an equal amount of male and female authors. Kenya… there’s a little story there because in my Read Around series, the second book of the series was the first story that I came across that inspired me to create educational material for teaching World Englishes in UK schools. And this short story is called Kamau’s Finish by Muthoni Muchemi (Muthoni Garland) The last time I saw her was in October 2007. She mailed me Tracking the Scent of my Mother (collected in Jungfrau & other Stories) and a copy of Kwani? I am hoping to see her soon and maybe work with her in Kenya on a workshop. So her story, Kamau’s Finish in Read Around 2, is the one I piloted in schools here in the UK. That led me to put out a call for stories from Kenyan authors, but I haven’t got as many as I would like from Kenya. But because I have been busy with the other anthologies, realistically it’s not going to be until next early year before we get to Kenya on our publishing schedule, by which time I’d like to think that I would be able to get out to Kenya and get some more writers on board.

South Africa is the final one. I don’t know what has happened to South Africa. I was really looking forward to being… kind of… overwhelmed by stories from South Africa and it hasn’t happened. So obviously I haven’t tapped into what I believe are quite strong writers in South Africa. There seems to be quite a lot going on in South Africa, with different writers and in different communities. I have tried some Radio stations… again, because it is later on in the schedule I just trying to concentrate on the first two anthologies just now.

I’d love to do an anthology for Nigeria, I don’t know when we can do that, but an anthology for Nigeria would be great.

: What is your publishing plan in terms of number of anthologies and your programme?

Dawson: CCC Press would get the final shout on that, but in my own little world, I would like to see how the Cameroon and Ugandan anthologies go and then I’d love to have a series that matches Africa in other areas of the world…. The voices in the different regions of India are very different from Punjab to Kerala… Malaysia… Singapore… in my utopia, that’s what I’d like to see… a World Englishes Literature series that spans literally the globe.

: So you consider Africa as basically the start?

Dawson: The start, and that’s because of contacts mainly.

: Do you see your series growing beyond the short story form and looking at other literary forms, like long fiction…?

Dawson: And Drama also, drama in Cameroon seems to be popular… but essentially, I would like the country to tell me actually, rather than me telling the country what I would like to have. I think the short story is generally quite, from a publishing perspective, easier to manage than say, the novel, but after that I’d like to learn from the writers rather than me dictating what should be coming from them - or what forms or genres to publish. For example, I have a contact in Cameroon who writes poetry and that could open a door to a new book of poetry

: What about the area of marketing. What is your market? Are you selling to the West, are you selling to Africa? Are you selling to the countries that produce the books? What is your strategy?

Dawson: I would love to sell to the countries that produce the literature. Again, this is a little out of my remit as series editor, but I would hope that you would have this conversation with my publisher CCC Press, because they are very much interested in that too. We think in the same way when it comes to the ethos behind it. We would like to make it accessible financially, but also in its form. What I mean by that it is that not necessary to have these things in book form; we could have it in pamphlet form or journal form or newspaper form or radio form or whatever works for those countries where the writers have submitted from.

: What about the area of actually selling the stories to the West… because there is something that happens when writing comes out and it is not effectively marketed … the difference between some of the most important book that come out and no one knows about, and the African Writers Series for instance that really went down the grassroots and it was picked up by schools to inspire new generations of writers… so do you have a strategy to mainstream yourself and your anthology. Because a successful book opens the way, if you had a successful Cameroonian anthology then definitely you’d have other ones.

Dawson: But how far are you prepared to bend for a Western audience? Because this is the problem, I feel that you will end up with. If you are going to take the roots literature out to the West… do you twist it, and form it, and ask the writers to write a certain way about certain things? … or do you stick to what you believe and just wait for the West to get their head around it? The latter I say - but that’s my own slightly sentimental, utopian, ideal on what I’d like come up with.

What made the AWS successful? Was it the choice of the stories, was it luck, was it how it was marketed? My own experience from the educational context is that people are very reluctant to teach literature from different countries in the mainstream because they are too tied up in our PC-consciousness. Nobody knows what they can say and what they can’t say, they don’t want to do the accent or read the variety out loud. Read Around goes some way to dealing with that: the CD versions of the stories are read out by people reading the Englishes of the stories. A Kenyan reads the Kenyan story, the story from India is read in Indian English. And that gets over the problem of this fright, which stops the literature from being taught in schools. There’s an absolute gap in resources and materials in secondary schools because nothing’s happened for years… Nobody knows what to do or dares do it. I’ve tried to work out what to do and dared to do it. I hope it works.

: That’s a major step forward. Your strategy addresses the problem by giving Teachers the tools they can use. There is probably a lot of expectation on the teachers,

Dawson: Well the other issue here is that many of the texts in the Read Around series are representative of the Diaspora here… so you can teach an Indian text… but here we have British-Indian kids, British-Pakistani kids, British-Jamaican, British-Nigerian - so you would think that that would be more of a reason to teach literature from different cultures and traditions…But on the other hand I would suggest that it is mainly the mono-ethnic schools that need the Read Around series more than anyone. I will not get on my soapbox about the National Curriculum stipulation, but it is poor: all it reads is, literature from different cultures and traditions - which includes the American literary tradition you know (!) you could teach Steinbeck and tick the box. It’s not good enough. If the curriculum were doing things properly, it would define what it means it means by ‘Literature from different cultures and traditions’. It would make way for Diaspora literature - and maybe even work in translation.

: It would then exclude the Inner circle, right?

Dawson: Well, the Inner circle is provided for under a different National Curriculum stipulation, which encourages study of English variations in written standard English and how it differs from standard and non-standard spoken language.

What I’m talking about is the stipulation that applies to literature from other parts of the world. It is applicable to multi-cultural schools in the inner cities as much as it is to ‘white’ schools, indeed white schools need it more - positive representation of other cultures. Actually that is another thing I have tried to do with the Read Around series, and in a way with the anthologies: please no more writing about poverty, corruption, women’s rights issues, please let’s just move on! Is that all we think about Africa? - Oh and female circumcision! It needs a complete overhaul, I promised not to get on my soapbox but I’m there now!

: What about the fact that people have to write about what is pressing to them? Do you exercise that editorial judgement in terms of what you select for your anthologies and for your Read Around series?

Dawson: It’s a very big question… I’ll start with the Read Around series, that’s probably simpler to answer. These stories have to be about twenty minutes long when they are read out aloud, and they have to be suitable for secondary school pupils, and they are graded from years 7 to 11; the stories for years 10 and 11 are a little more challenging thematically and morally as they deal with more difficult situations. But it is hard to find young people’s World Englishes literature, and I hope if I get a chance to go to Kenya, this is one of the things we can develop through a workshop: short stories for young people as a niche in World Englishes literature.

: Are you talking about published work or new stories? What are you having difficulty finding?

Dawson: Published work, for the Read Around Series. And that was quite difficult to find because the themes were either too junior or too adult. There seems to be a gap at the adolescent level. The thing about the Read Around is that they had to be World Englishes, I promised myself that. They couldn’t be Diaspora and they couldn’t be work in translation. I have three stories actually from Africa, three out of the five in the Read Around Series. Book 1 is a story from Northern India, Book 2 is from Kenya, Book 3 is Bessie Head’s South African story, Read Around 4 is Agnes Sam’s story from the Indian community in Durban. The fifth one is Malaysian. So I’d already helped myself to three stories from Africa. But I think there is scope to do a Read Around just for Africa actually!

With regards to the anthology, you don’t have as much control over what you put in it. You put out a call and are lucky to see what you get back. I am a linguist as well by qualification so the stylistic aspect is quite important to me - I don’t want to go into the definition of what is good writing, but we all know when we read something if it talks to you, if you engage with it, and of course it is not just read by me it is read by others too. So I did have that in mind - stylistically: what is good, and the Creative too: how did it talk to me. And yes theme too, new themes, not poverty, not corruption, not female, human rights... and not AIDS, although there is an excellent story about going for a HIV Test in the Cameroon anthology and it will be included. There is always this idea of positive representation in my mind. If a story is positively representing a people and culture and going against what has been the prevailing orthodoxy of the negative kind of African issues then that talks to me too, so I think that is part of my editorial commitment.

: Of course, Things Fall Apart as a novel is not 100% positive in terms of representation, but tells an engaging story that includes the reality of the situation.

Dawson: Exactly, it is a mirror reflection of what was happening. But I do feel that the mirror reflection of what is happening now, as opposed to what is represented in Achebe is different and maybe more positive.

: Now, in terms of your choice of short story anthologies… that would not be a traditional editor or publisher’s first choice. In the West, you could say that the short stories won’t sell and it is not the right commercial decision - why did you choose to go for short stories as opposed to looking for good novels.

Dawson: We’ve been approached by people with novels to be honest, but we’ve gone on short stories because of the passion and the reason for doing this: to get new voices out. And if we can publish a book where we can showcase ten new authors of short stories, let’s do that instead of concentrating on one. We are just testing the market. This is very new to me, for the company, and in terms of literary production after the Heinemann African Writers Series. So we are testing the waters and seeing, not making too many big decisions, and that I believe allows you to listen to the people giving you the writing. But if you go in with such a very fixed plan of what you want, that is kind of defeating the object.

: What do you want to achieve with your September Symposium on World Englishes Literature?

Dawson: I’d like to create a forum for people to come and have a debate around what I have called World Englishes Literature - however I am interested to redefine and rename it as whatever it may be - but essentially to talk about whatever this ‘new wave’ is, this thing that is not Achebe, that is not Desai, which is new in terms of people publishing who have not known the moment of independence of their country, whatever this thing is, that we have spent an hour talking about, that is what I want people from different countries to come and tell each other about. This is a symposium in that sense: let’s assemble and talk to each other. Let’s see if the writers from Kenya have some kind of trends at whatever level with the writers from India. Let’s have a debate about that. That’s really what I’d like to happen, instead of pretending to know it already.

: Whom do you expect at the Symposium? Will there be more linguistic people or more literary people?

Dawson: From the responses to the call for papers that we’ve received so far, it does seem to be more literary people. The call does mention literary frameworks in there, the issue of ‘rethinking the canon’. We encourage people to bring along non-canonical work.

: It should be an interesting one, particularly as we will have that mix with the discussions from the Chinua Achebe Things Fall Apart Conference at the same venue, on the same weekend.

Dawson: Yes, that will be great. I really do believe in listening to people, instead of just going in with what you think all the time, because very often without knowing it you are representing the culture and the education, which you’ve known and in which you’ve been brought up. Sometimes without knowing it you are prejudiced against other literatures and peoples. You don’t mean it, but it happens.

: Who are the African writers whose works have most affected you?

Dawson: I have enjoyed Burma Boy, Measuring Time, and Nervous Conditions, though not so much The Book of Not. I also really enjoyed read Ngozi Adichie’s first book, Purple Hibiscus. I know that you’d say this doesn’t make sense… I’ve just spent an hour talking about all the things that are new, and in many ways, Adichie’s book is very old school, she even recognises the parallels with Achebe and Things Fall Apart herself in interviews, but I like the style, the linguistic style appeals to me - the blending and the code switching between languages - but I like the story as a whole too. So although it was old school in many ways, it was new in others and above all it was well done. I didn’t enjoy Half of a Yellow Sun as much though. And keeping with the Nigerian thing - I very much enjoyed reading 26a by Diana Evans, who is British-Nigerian. Diaspora to me, not World Englishes. I like that book because it challenged an awful lot about what is supposed to be British-Nigerian literature or what is multi-cultural here in Britain. It was very… British and urban and all those things in many ways and yet it was also Nigerian. Yet, it wasn’t really about Nigeria; it was more about twins and the relationship between these two girls so I liked that mixture, it did something different. I love short stories as well - there’s a bit of selfishness in the anthologies because I really do enjoy the short story as a form. I do really enjoy reading anthologies, such as the Caine prize collection, The Obituary Tango and African Love Stories. My top short stories are Bessie Head’s The Prisoner Who Wore Glasses, Herman Charles Bosman’s Starlight on the Veld, Agnes Sam’s Jesus Is Indian, and Pravasan Pillay’s Green Apples. And I enjoyed the novel by the Libyan writer, Hisham Mater’s In the Country of men.

: Where does Ben Okri register for you?

Dawson: There’s a lot to read. I tend to read World Englishes Literature above and beyond Diaspora and literature in translation. Although I’m not true to that at the moment, I’m reading the Egyptian, Mahfouz now, the first of his Cairo Trilogy, Palace Walk. My interest with the Arab world is always there. I’ve got a wonderful anthology of short stories from Palestine A Land of Stone and Thyme, but I tend to remain with World Englishes literature generally. Ben Okri for me really is Diaspora. It tends to be a name that is bandied around a bit and that seems to say to me, ‘I’ll come back to you, I’m not in a rush to read you, let me go and see what is new’.

: In your reading of Arab and North African literature, do you have a sense that this is disconnected from the rest of African literature by culture, subject and other features?

Dawson: The simple answer to that is yes, but I think that’s been because of my own experience of the Arab world, as you know I’ve lived in Qatar, I’ve travelled quite a bit in the Arab world, I was in Iraq last year and two years previously - in the Kurdish area. I am very interested in what the Middle East is, its identity - I speak some Arabic; and although I have been to North Africa - Morocco, Tunisia - I recognise that these are quite different from the Gulf, or Iraq or Syria in geography, culture, people, they are still quite different from Iraq… and although I’ve read stories from East Africa which have an Islamic tradition, they feel different from what I read from the Arab world. They are essentially African and of course the cusp of that is any writing from Nubia, which has this fusion of this Arab North African identity and this very black African identity. I love the music from Nubia as well. But I can’t help but feel it when I read, I can see the difference. What do you think about that?

: Our debut edition carried an article, The Arabization of Sudan, by Mohamed J.A. Hashim. It comments on an aspirational sentiment in Arabized Africa and the tendency to identify with the Middle East as opposed to the Black Africa - perhaps, because of the culture, religion or wealth; so there’s that tendency to deny the African part of the heritage, no matter what the colour, racial, geographical or national reality is. Tayeb Saleh’s Season of Migration to the North is a book that balances the twin heritage of both cultures, not crusading for a religion or a culture. Basically it tells a good story. A little like The Yacoubian Building.

Dawson: That book didn’t do anything extraordinary I thought, though, the tradition is different with Arab literature, it’s very much about characterisation rather than plot. You see that sometimes when you read World Englishes literature, for example there is a transfer of the Indian genre and short story form onto the use of English so you very much get one or two characters, there will be some sort of climax in the story and it would often finish ‘flat’ in the eyes of a Western critic; it’s not ‘flat’, it’s just ‘different’. I am just thinking about the Mahfouz that I am reading at the moment… it is beautiful, very wordy, I can hear the Arabic almost, how it would sound, the attention to detail on person and street.

: Aime Cesaire has just passed on. Any thoughts?

Dawson: His Cahier d'un Retour au Pays Natal will remain a seminal text in colonial studies. He is to be remembered for his drive and motivation when it came to civic matters as well as his relentless enthusiasm for the portrayal of Martinican identity. Amongst many memorable moments of his life, Cesaire will be remembered latterly, in 2005, for his stance against the French government's law to include in educational material 'positive' representations of French colonisation in North Africa.

: Thanks for the time, Emma.

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