Give me a summer job; or, Have class, will travel
I’ve been trying to pitch the idea of teaching an “African writer” class, but focusing on Kenya specifically, so far with no success. I really, really want to teach this class, but finding a way to do so is tricky. So if you know anyone that would pay me less than a living wage without benefits or job security to do it, please do get in touch.
I’ve taught a few incarnations of “The African Writer” enough times to have a feel for what it can and cannot do. So there are several reasons for wanting to do a nationally focused class as a way of talking about “Africa.” One of which, obviously, is the current fiasco in Kenya which will doubtless still be tragic and horrible by this summer. The most academic reason, though, is simply that students can learn something about “Africa” by focusing on a particular place (like Kenya) in all its specificity, that a class which takes the incredibly broad, sweeping panorama that “The African Writer” has to take can’t teach. A big part of getting to be less ignorant about Africa is finding a way to stop thinking of it as one place, so focusing on a specific place within it, with all its depth and richness, would be a step. Part of it, of course, is that I happen to know more about Kenya than anywhere else, and my dissertation is focused on East Africa in particular, but the Kenyan literary scene is also just incredibly rich in its own right.
So, some of the things I’d like to do in a Kenya focused class (that I wouldn’t have time for in a more broad “Africa” class):
- A comparison of excerpts from early writings by Kenyan statesmen (Jomo Kenyatta’s Facing Mount Kenya, Oginga Odinga’s Not Yet Uhuru, Bildad Kaggia’s The Roots of Freedom, and maybe stuff from Tom Mboya or Joseph Kariuki). This would both tie the politics of writing in Kenya (from the beginning) to the conflicts going on now, in lots of really interesting ways, from the politics of culture and tribalism, to gender representations, to the figure of the writer himself.
- A selection of white settler writing (probably a bit of both Elspeth Huxley and Izak Dineson, maybe with Louis Leakey on Mau Mau thrown in); the way Huxley and Dineson both use race to talk about gender, for example, is a really fascinating counterpoint to the way Kenyatta uses gender to establish Kikuyu culture (and this contrast would help set the tone for much of the rest of the course).
- Some Mau Mau and independence era texts (songs and memoirs, like Mau Mau from Below), especially some of the material on gender and Mau Mau that people like Tabitha Kanogo have collected.
- Both an early realist novel and a late political novel from Ngugi, which would allow the students to get a sense for his changing style and politics (and engagement with everyone I’ve already mentioned). We could also read enough of his critical writing to really put his decisions as a fiction writer into context (and I think I could teach his essay on African languages in literature much more effectively if we’d already spent some time talking about issues of “tribal” culture via Kenyatta and Odinga, which wad also help students understand the political difference between swahili and kikuyu languages)
- A section on the position of Asians in Kenya (using, for example, M.G. Vassanji’s The Book of Secrets or maybe Vikram Lall)
- Contemporary writing, like Binyavanga Wainaina’s novel or selections from Kwani?, which would then lead neatly into a selection of writing from current Kenyan blogs (from the “testimonials” that people have been writing on kenyanpundit.com to the really striking way bloggers like the guy at thinkersroom.com have mixed photography and text to create affect) as well as looking at news coverage from the west, both then and now (and I would use some of the arguments and debates at AllAfrica.com and the H-Net Africa listserv as a way to talk about the stakes in using the word “tribe” in U.S. journalism).
So, what do you think? Anybody know any deans or department chairs? I come very cheap.