HUMA Book Lunch Series

Author: Christopher Ouma (University of Cape Town, South Africa)

Abstract: To foreground childhood as a significant discourse in contemporary African literature means to open up alternative critical space in a relational identity to time, in this case, that of adulthood. Inherent in the contemporary African novel is a correlation between the time of childhood of the writer and that of the protagonist. This is not to fall prey to the autobiographical fallacy. It is to grapple with the increasing need for consolidated individual identities scattered and dispersed partially in the long twentieth century, but specifically (for this study) in the late twentieth century, find- ing themselves surplus to the national or continental. It is to grapple with the individualized visibility that carries with it, in the skewed and uneven global imagination, the burden of representation. This impulse for the autobiographical continues to grapple with the fundamental residual marker of geographical identity (the continent) and the need for a distinction to re-engage the “single story” of the continent. As writers who are coming of age, the idea of a time of childhood is significant in plotting a narrative of growth. However, this time is an undivided entity that is a composite of events in historical narratives and those outside historical narratives—alternative accounts from quotidian childhood. These alternative times tell us something about the fragmented subject positions occupying a postcolonial and diasporic position. These “times” are inscribed in the ordinariness of daily life, and – if seen through the ideas of Michel de Certeau – they become “tactics” that open up spaces for resistance, expositions of ironies and, therefore, agency within the ontological space of childhood. Subsequently, childhood rewrites the normative (adult) experiencing of time and history. See book (Palgrave Macmillan) 

Christopher Ouma

About the author: Christopher Ouma is an Associate Professor in the Department of English Literary Studies and the Centre for African Studies, both at the University of Cape Town, South Africa. His interests are in African and African Diasporic literature and cultures, Black print cultures and Pan-African imagination. He received his undergraduate at Moi University, Kenya and his MA and PhD at the University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa. He has held fellowships at the University of Johannesburg, South Africa, The Open University in London, UK and Harvard University, US. He is the author of the book Childhood in Contemporary Diasporic African Literature: Memories and Futures Past and co-editor of The Spoken Word Project: Stories Travelling Through Africa. He is the editor of Social Dynamics: A Journal of African Studies.