www.sentinelpoetry.org.uk

Sentinel Poetry (Online) #47, October 2006. ISSN 1479 425X

The Internationl Journal of Poetry & Graphics…since 2002

Front Page l Past Issues l Submissions

 

 

Amatoritsero Ede
 
English in Africa
 
          English in Africa is an international peer-reviewed journal published bi-annually by South
African Rhodes University’s Institute for Studies of English in Africa. The May 2006 issue – 
volume 32; number 1 – is dedicated to what has become, in recent critical discourse, ‘third 
generation’ African writing; in this instance, Nigerian third generation literature. It is the first issue
of a scholarly journal ever to be dedicated exclusively to Nigeria’s third generation writing; its 
publication thus reinforces the on-going international focus on the said corpus. It is guest-edited 
by Pius Adesanmi and Chris Dunton, who are both pioneers in the critical investigation of this 
generational phenomenon on the continent.  They have been its most consistent and formidable 
critics and have been partly, if not wholly, responsible for the on-going institutionalization of this 
area of critical enquiry. Between them, they have close to twenty peer-reviewed journal articles 
on the subject, and have presented papers in this area at seminars and conferences in Africa and 
Euro-America. Their current project – editing a special issue of Research in African Literatures, 
the apex international African literary journal on the same subject – is likely to consolidate their 
critical mapping of this new field of enquiry. 
 
 
          Although the focus is more on poetry, ‘third’ generation African literature as a corpus,
with its Nigerian variation, is demarcated from that of the ‘first’ and the ‘second’ by a temporal 
and ideological marker –  the end of  colonialism on the one hand and postcolonial thematic 
position-taking on the other.  According to the editors in their introduction, the third generation 
writer is one born after or around independence from colonial rule - 1960 in the Nigerian case. 
Within this Nigerian model we have, for example, Abubakar Gimba, Zaynab Alkali, Tunde fatunde, 
Wale Okediran, Niyi Osundare, Festus Iyayi and Tanure Ojaide being situated within the second 
generation alongside Femi Osofisan and Bode sowande. Useful as colonialism and its passing is 
as a temporal marker of generational and ideological shifts within contemporary Nigerian 
literature, there remains the problematic of the actual beginning of a writer’s literary career, 
added to the complex of age as it relates to his or her ideological predisposition. From their 
publishing histories, it is very possible to situate most of the above writers except Osofisan and 
Sowande within the third generation. Osundare began publishing poetry in the early 1980s. 
          
 
          Harry Garuba had already published Shadows and Dreams in 1981 before Osundare’s first 
collection of poems came out. Gimba, Fatunde, Iyayi, Ojaide, Alkali, and Tess Owuenme began 
their literary careers in the 1980s and 1990s and their ideological bent is not far removed from 
that of writers born on or after 1960. There is the classic case of the Ivorian, Amadou 
Kourouma, who began publishing much later in life but would nevertheless fall, under the Nigerian 
model in review, within the first generation of African writers – if we were to consider how old he 
was when he began writing; whereas in contemporary francophone critical tradition he is 
considered as a second generation writer. As such there is a sense in which one can presume 
that traditional African gerontocracy is unconsciously at work in mapping these generational 
boundaries, a contradiction of the postcolonial and postmodern ‘progression’ of these 
sometimes  ‘hybrid’ texts (i.e. in their re-shaping of tradition). 
          
          Harry Garuba’s erudite contribution is conscious of this problematic and is a useful 
jumping off point for elaborating this thematic. He stretches the ‘field’ in Pierre Bourdieu’s theory
of cultural production over the cartographical shifts in Nigerian poetics from the first to the third
generation, which he then focuses upon with uncanny brilliance. Garuba eloquently articulates 
the contradictions involved in the hurried declaration of a ‘generation’ within a still growing body 
of work or in the announcement of a school; nevertheless since the colonial event and its 
aftermath is the one single most important existential conditioning of the modern African 
psyche, there is a sense in which such contradictions are actually a symptom of the postcolonial 
moment. In effect it could be useful to subsume the problematic of naming – as far as the third 
generation goes – under the rubric of a postcolonial ‘skool’ as opposed to a ‘school’, the 
differentiating consonant in ‘skool’ exemplifying and emphasizing the burden of those 
contradictions and the “colonial hangover” inherent in the politics and styles of those writing 
after colonialism, whether they belong to a third or fourth generation ad infinitum. According to 
Garuba: 
 
“Even at the most propitious of times, when a convergence of historical 
events and a creative ferment of the imagination appear to announce their 
evidence, literary periodization remains a messy business. The happy 
coincidence history and the forgrounding of particular thematic and formal 
preoccupations in literature is often one such moment when a period or 
school seems inevitably to come into being. But this inevitability is deceptive 
marking the constructedness of the category we devise for framing our 
understanding of it and the time-lines we draw to mark it. (51)
 
          
          He suggests further that the European example of a ‘school’ might not necessarily be 
tenable here since there are very different historical dynamics at work; schools are usually the 
result of a causative history and its resulting social-political upheaval. The catalyst of literary and 
socio-political upheaval (not necessarily used in the negative) in Nigerian or African third 
generation writing in English is colonialism; thus a postcolonial ‘skool’ would encompass all those 
idiosyncrasies pertinent to African or third generation writing in English while the critic remains 
cognizant of differentiation and problems within the ‘field’.  “As boundaries demarcating neat 
categorizations […] literary periods and schools are as porous as they come. As markers of 
general trends, however, they retain some usefulness, more like provision maps, open-ended 
rather than closed, always inviting revision; their revisibility inscribed, as it were, at the heart of 
their making” (51). Hence my suggestion of a skool, which liberating consonant is an invitation 
to that dialogism insisted upon by Garuba but which, at the same time, announces an important 
movement’, ‘epoch’ era or a renaissance as we witnessed it in Nigerian poetry of the 1980s 
onwards.  
 
          In mapping the political shifts within the field of the production of poetry in Nigerian third 
generation writing, Garuba, with examples of a “representative” poet, views the ‘concrete’ 
phenomenon of third generation Nigerian poetry through  ‘particular’ exemplars – a la jean-Paul 
Sartre. Amongst the third generation poets he takes the example of Emman Usman Shehu as a 
particular case in point. Poems from Shehu’s first collection, Questions for Big Brother, published 
in the 1980s- when third generation Nigerian poetry in English flowered- are highlighted for their 
differentiation in position-taking as compared to the first and especially the second generation, 
whose poets started  the Marxist trend emphasized in Shehu’s first collection. The problem here 
is that the example is more of the existential politics of that stage in third generation Nigerian 
poetry than of its form, stylistics or its spirit. 
 
 
          Of all the third generation poets who came to be called ‘the update six’ – because their 
entrance into the literary field was facilitated by Update publishers at the instance of the 
Association of Nigerian Authors, only two have sustained or surpassed the promise of their first 
efforts, namely Uche Nduka (from Flower Child to Chiaroscuro) and Esiaba Irobi (from 
Cotyledons to Why I Don’t Like Phillip Larkin). Even those whose first collections of the 1980s 
did not result in a rich harvest for personal and other reasons surpass Usman Shehu’s first 
collection in quality of execution. I refer here specifically to Afam Akeh and Kemi Atanda-Ilori and 
Idzia Ahmad Carlos, who, unfortunately, is deceased. The best examples of third generation 
poetry would reflect its informing commitment to an African modernist stylistics and technical 
progression, coupled with its informing politics, existential and otherwise, as it was exhibited at 
that point in third generation Nigerian poetry. What has come after is quiet another matter. 
Much as Emman Usman Shehu’s poetry in the 1980s – a tentative period for third generation 
Nigerian poetry – articulated the Marxist predilection of the day, it did not express the 
mordernist or post-traditional style of its execution. Contrary to Garuba’s curious claims for 
Shehu’s work, the other six poets whose collections came out simultaneously are more 
representative of a break in style, while maintaining the same politics as exhibited in Shehu’s 
work. The other poets had and still have a far superior mastery of execution; not to even begin 
to mention the state of poetry right now in Nigeria and its true practitioners. Shehu’s poetry of 
that period can be compared to some poetry of the apartheid period in South Africa or the 
Harlem Renaissance and Black Arts Movement in the USA, where politics overwhelmed style.  A 
marrying of politics and style would be a better yardstick for a canonising gambit. The latter and 
recent efforts of the other poets on juxtaposed against Shehu’s recent work, would easily prove 
this point. It is important for the critic to help writers poets reach the range of their possibilities. 
This will only be possible if we, even at the risk of incurring his displeasure, point out a writer or 
poet’s blinds spots to him, without calling a spade a fork. It is worth noting that in the Canadian 
context, the critics – especially of poetry produced here – have gone to sleep, failing in their 
duty to help the contemporary poet grow; the result of which is a lot of pseudo-poetry in 
Canada. 
 
 
          Remi Raji’s, contribution, “Ibadan and the Memory of a Generation: from the Poetry Club 
to the Premier Circle”, in its memoir form, traces the development and the energy of the Lagos-
Ibadan axis of Nigerian third generation poetry while Maik Nwosu does the same for the Nsukka 
Axis with “Children of the Anthill: Nsukka and the shaping of Nigeria’s 1960s Literary generation” 
in the same personalized approach. Nwosu approach is a more general overview of literary 
ferment generally at Nsukka at the time in question. These two poets of the third generation 
bring a personal touch – in terms lived experience – to what would have been mere 
documentary of a literary history, devoid of familiarity and insights, in the hands of the non-
participant in the field of production. Heather traces Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s literary 
trajectory, while Chilozona Eze an inter-textualises transculturality in the Nigerian novel, using 
the examples of Achebe, Helon Habila and Chris Abani.. Chris Dunton, one of the Guest editors 
of this edition of “English in Africa”, also contributes to it, examining issues of representation in 
prison writing. Referring to previous examples of this genre in previous generations, Soyinka or 
Ken Saro-Wiwa for example, he takes the particular example of Chris Anyanwu’s prison writing, 
a ‘faction’ of The Days of Terror under the military despot, Sanni Abacha. This edition has some 
pomes by Ogaga Ifowodo and an up-and -coming Nigerian poet resident in South Africa, 
Olayemi Aganga. Finally it is rounded off by a review from pen of no less a literary personage 
than Odia Ofeimun. An interesting read all together and a useful addition to the shelves of critics 
and scholars of third Generation African writing generally due to the journal’s continental 
approach.  
 
 
 

Next Page>>