Outside the Inner Circle: The Case for Teaching World Englishes Literature

By Dawson, Emma | English Drama Media, October 2007 | Go to article overview

Outside the Inner Circle: The Case for Teaching World Englishes Literature


Dawson, Emma, English Drama Media


Reading 'the other'

Amongst many things, literature offers the chance to peep into someone else's life. It is this voyeuristic aspect of reading which has led, in recent years at least, to the increase in the reading of world literature. For many years our view of the peoples and countries with whom we share the globe was largely media-based, but recently --perhaps as a result of increased reader independence through wider publishing, the internet and on-line bookshops--we have turned more frequently to world literature to take a peep into the lives of 'the other'. In the last few years, the market has been flooded with novels exploring life in Afghanistan (The Bookseller of Kabul, 2003; The Kite Runner, 2004), in Iran (My Father's Notebook, 2006), in Nigeria (Purple Hibiscus, 2005), in Libya (In The Country of Men, 2006), and in the Far East (The Harmony Silk Factory, 2006; The Gift of Rain, 2007), and others. This literature--and much of it is in the genre of life-writing, also much increased in popularity has often put forward very different views of the life of 'the other' from the ones we are used to.

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Varieties of world literature

This article aims to distinguish between three different varieties of 'world literature', and to suggest the particular power of one of these--World Englishes literature in the classroom. I contrast 'World Englishes literature' with 'diaspora literature' in English and 'world literature in translation'.

'Diaspora literature' has grown tremendously in England in as little as the last ten years. For many, Zadie Smith's White Teeth (2000) marked the beginning of this period although work by Kureishi (The Buddha of Suburbia, 1990) predates this. Since White Teeth, many books have emerged from the diasporas of English writing in England--from the British Caribbean, British African or British Asian writing communities. White Teeth was followed by Monica Ali's Brick Lane in 2003, Andrea Levy's Small Island and Nadeem Aslam's Maps For Lost Lovers in 2004, and Diana Evans' wonderful debut novel 26a in 2006, as well as the young writer Helen Oyeyemi's debut novel Icarus Girl in the same year. And in 2006, Gautam Malkani's electrifying debut novel Londonstani stamped a new kind of Britishness onto the English book scene.

Many successful world literature books recently have been 'world literature in translation'. Seierstad's The Bookseller of Kabul and Kader Abdolah's My Father's Notebook, as well as writers like Paulo Coelho, follow a line of fine works of world literature in translation, of which Gabriel Garcia Marquez has perhaps been the modern leader in the UK. It's worth noting, however, that the concept of 'world literature in translation' is not always straightforward in cultural terms.

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My Father's Notebook, for instance, is by a Persian-speaking Iranian, but was written in Dutch, and thus translated from Dutch into English. Kader Abdolah was born in Iran in 1954 but went to live in The Netherlands in 1988 as a political refugee; he has written his three novels and two collections of short stories in Dutch. This is a curious situation as the usual understanding of 'world literature in translation' is that the author has written in his/her first or other language (in the case of bilingual authors) and it is from this language that the translation is performed. In the case of Abdolah, he has written his literature in a 'learned' language, the language of his place of refuge, and it is from this that a translation has been carried out for an Anglophone readership.

The third type of world literature--'World Englishes literature'--is the one, however, which is perhaps least understood. …

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