This study is the outgrowth of a lifelong interest in literature, coupled with a longstanding interest in Africa as a result of traveling and having lived and taught for three years in that continent. More specifically it is an outgrowth of the volatile, ongoing dialogue between African and non-African critics concerning the evaluation of modern African literature during the two decades following World War II. Wherever scholars have gathered to discuss modern African literature, the question of critical standards invariably has been raised: By what standards is African literature to be judged?
For a long time, this debate was academic, acrimonious, and for me unsatisfying. Then one day, in one of those lucid moments that come all too seldom, it occurred to me that there was no need to approach the question academically, for Africans had in fact been evaluating their literature for years. And if they had been doing so, it would perhaps be more productive-- and surely less contentious--to analyze the nature of the criticism already written rather than theorize about what the criticism should be. In other words, Africans had for several years been answering the question of how their literature should be evaluated--by virtue of evaluating it. And therefore the means of answering the question was not theoretical; it was empirical.
This, then, is the study of how Africans in black, Sub-Saharan Africa came to evaluate African literature in English and French during its extraordinary growth from the close of World War II to the opening of the First World Festival of Negro Arts in Dakar in 1966. It is a study of the critical standards that emerged in those exuberant years.
It should be noted that no judgment is offered of the standards that were formed in this first generation, nor of any of the individual evaluations cited. The purpose here has been to discover what was being said; judgment is left to those more certain of what the critics should have said.