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Call for contributions | Writing Post-Apartheid South Africa: 1994-2014

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The aim of this issue of Etudes Littéraires Africaines is to do justice to the dynamism and renewal of South African literature today. It is not meant so much to offer a catalogue of authors and works as to focus on the way writers have managed to build a vision of South Africa through their respective choice of themes and the innovative aspect of their modes of expression.

The articles which will make up this issue can therefore be articulated around  one or several of the following points:
• What narrative devices or concepts underpin the renewal of South African literary creation as far as the handling of writing and the reworking of genres (novels, shorts stories, drama and poetry) are concerned? 
• How does the South African literary imaginary transcend the ideology of mere realistic reflection in a bid to map out a mental geography grounded in interactions proceeding from political choices, territorial disparities, social upheavals and cultural changes? 
• How does the persistence of the past in both urban and rural areas come to terms with the cosmopolitism of a globalised culture? 
• How can a national identity develop in a context where relations between individuals and communities are submitted to powerful contradictory tensions of a political, economic or cultural nature? 
• How can an acute awareness of South Africa’s social gaps, disparities and heterogeneities, of its cultural hybridity and epistemological aporias affect modes of representation and writing?

Articles dealing with the publishing and distribution of books in South Africa, with the situation of literature written in African languages or with the impact of book prizes (national or international) and festivals on literary production and innovation are also welcome.


South Africa’s transition to democracy has brought about material conditions which have fostered literary creativity and reshaped the contours of its literary field with a growing number of writers and works exploring new themes and forms of writing. However these changes did not suddenly occur after 1994: the need to address issues which eschewed those imposed by the country’s political situation and the necessity of the struggle against apartheid, in other words the need of engaging with History, had imposed itself before the end of apartheid, as early as the seventies, with writers like Es'kia Mphahlele for whom the urge to denounce oppression did not outweigh his artisitic obligation. The same trend cropped up at the end of the eighties with Njabulo Ndebele and his rediscovery of the ordinary, or with a political activist like Albie Sachs who had suggested that literary creativity should no longer be subservient to political commitment. The advent of democracy gave more impetus to this trend and impelled writers to probe deeper into issues which had been regarded as irrelevant during the colonial period. While, to a large extent, novel writing was still shaped by social and critical realism, its approach to reality became more nuanced and complex as it took into account the contradictions and ambiguities of the transition period and uncovered the dark and shameful areas of the past (Nadine Gordimer, André Brink, Zakes Mda). Apartheid, the violence it generated and the wars it waged beyond South Africa’s borders had traumatic effects on individuals, families and communities (Mark Behr, Damon Galgut). The Truth and Reconciliation Commission hearings, the testimonies it recorded and the reports it published fostered an interest in narratives and underlined the importance of memory in the rewriting of history and the quest for truth (Achmat Dangor, Njabulo Ndebele, Antjie Krog). If the demise of apartheid and the advent of democracy were duly celebrated (A.W. Oliphant), they were soon superseded by such themes as political violence and ethical issues related to forgiveness, guilt, and the possibility of living together as a nation, all of which became the founding elements of a collective imaginary. The question of identity – whether individual or collective – in a country which still remains divided but where class differences are gradually superseding racial divisions (Kopano Matlwa) also became a nagging issue. If the Constitution and institutions still guarantee a certain political stability, questionable choices of economic policies have brought about uncertainties, loosened the social fabric and considerably hampered people’s quest for agency and self-empowerment. South Africa, which seeks to preserve its national and territorial unity while the majority party tends to identify with the nation, claims it belongs to Africa – when it does not seek to impose itself on it – but at the same time has widely yielded to the economic and cultural onslaught of liberalism and globalization. The uneasy co-existence of all these forces generates contradictions, tensions and anomies which widen the gaps that separate individuals, communities, urban and rural areas.

Writers have produced texts which try to cope with the prevailing uncertainties, contradictions and ambiguities: social realism thus turns into magic realism and/or fantasy (Etienne van Heerden, Ivan Vladislavić), or combines with African literary traditions to create hybrid genres, while others.  Other genres such as the detective novel (Deon Meyer, Mike Nicol), science fiction (Lauren Beukes) and children’s or young adults’ literature (Sello Duiker) have been given a new impetus. Most of the themes which are dealt with involve the rapid and uneven development of South African society, such as social disparities, violence, the ambivalent world of the city which remains a fascinating place in spite of the dangers and insecurity it generates (Phaswane Mpe, Kgebetli Moele, Ivan Vladislavić), feminism, homosexuality (Sello Duiker), the HIV-Aid pandemic (Phaswane Mpe, Sindiwe Magona), corruption, the complex relationship between urban and rural areas (Phaswane Mpe), and environmental issues (Zakes Mda).

The fact remains, however, that the theoretical debates that have accompanied the evolution of literature since 1994 – following the observation that notions of ambiguity, contingency, and failed dialectic (J.M. Coetzee) have prevailed over a way of thinking based on dualism and binary oppositions -  are divided between two major trends. If on the one hand literature is still regarded as an object of knowledge which displays South Africa’s rapid and profound social transformations to inform contemporary readers, on the other hand it is no less essential that it should freely invent appropriate ways of expression to map out a new South African imaginary. A critical analysis of South Africa’s literary legacy also boils down to interrogating the writer’s role today and above all his legitimacy to tell the truth and account for the real. What is finally at stake is the narrator’s reliability and its ontological status as shown in texts which are regarded as postmodern or postcolonial (J.M. Cotzee, Ivan Vladislavić, Marlene van Niekerk, Zoë Wicomb).


Please send your proposals, which should not exceed 500 words, to both Richard Samin ( This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. ) and Mathilde Rogez ( This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. ) before December 31, 2013.  Contributions can be written in French or in English and should not exceed 25000 signs (including notes and spaces). The deadline for contributions is June 30, 2013.

Responsable : Richard SAMIN Url de référence : http://www.apela.fr/la-revue/ Adresse : Université de Lorraine - Campus Nancy 2, 3 Place Godefroy de Bouillon, 54000 Nancy


Books - Calls for applications

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    Calls for applications

    Call for contributions | Writing Post-Apartheid South Africa: 1994-2014

    The aim of this issue of Etudes Littéraires Africaines is to do justice to the dynamism and renewal of South African literature today. It is not meant so much to offer a catalogue of authors and works as to focus on the way writers have managed to build a vision of South Africa through their… Read more
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