Transition - Vol. 113

Transition - Vol. 113

Transition - Vol. 113

Transition - Vol. 113


Published three times per year by Indiana University Press for the Hutchins Center at Harvard University, Transition is a unique forum for the freshest, most compelling ideas from and about the black world. Since its founding in Uganda in 1961, the magazine has kept apace of the rapid transformation of the African Diaspora and has remained a leading forum of intellectual debate. In issue 113, Transition updates Countee Cullen's iconic question by asking, "What is Africa to me now?" A soul-searchingly private query, its ramifications nevertheless play out in profoundly public ways, around issues of immigration, racial and ethnic tension, and the search for belonging. Guest edited by Benedicte Ledent and Daria Tunca, in this cluster Madhu Krishnan takes Achebe's Things Fall Apart as a starting point for defining contemporary African literature, while Louis Chude-Sokei explores through their novels the experiences of Africans living in America. Julie Kleinman reveals the perspective of Malian immigrants in France, and photographer Johny Pitts searches Europe with his camera for what he calls "Afropeans." Meanwhile, celebrated author and editor Hilton Als has his own questions about diaspora, which he explores in recollections of a childhood summer in Barbados. Caribbean Canadian novelist David Chariandy also treats Transition readers to a sneak preview of his forthcoming novel, Brother. The issue concludes with a suite of essays that examine the social impacts of collective fear, and ask--given obvious parallels between the Rodney King beating and the murder of Trayvon Martin--why does this keep happening to young black men?


What is Africa to me now?:
the continent and its literary diasporas

Bénédicte Ledent and Daria Tunca

Artists attempt to capture the complexities of human nature through writing, painting, and other creative media. Academics, on the other hand, act on this impulse to understand the world by engaging in more mundane activities, such as holding conferences. and so it was that, eager to explore issues of representation, identity, and memory in the literatures of the African diasporas, we started to consider organizing an event at our home institution, the University of Liège, Belgium.

“Explore issues of representation, identity, and memory”: our use of this erudite but hopelessly vague phrase rapidly set off our internal alarm bells, for it betrayed a seemingly in-built academic predisposition—that of examining, researching, surveying, scrutinizing an object of study, without, in the end, saying anything noteworthy (or indeed intelligible) about it.

“Academia is often about
academia and not about
the real, messy world.”

Thus, when we decided to follow through on the initial idea of organizing a scientific meeting on the African diasporas, some rather down-to-earth questions imposed themselves: what exactly were we hoping to achieve by adding yet another event to the long list of those already hosted in other institutions all over the world? How would this conference negotiate the uncomfortable chasm between the academic spheres and the world at large? “Academia is often about academia and not about the real, messy world,” the Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie said in an interview published in The Believer in 2009. Even as we were convinced that scholarly work did have something valuable to contribute to contemporary debates on Africa and its diasporas, Adichie’s admonishment lingered in our minds.

These concerns shaped our preliminary discussions, from which two ideas emerged. First, we wanted an event that would encourage exchanges between academics, creative writers, artists, and the general public. Second, we wished rather idealistically to address questions that were at once topical, under-explored and in need of in-depth analysis. With this relevance criterion in mind, we delineated our specific focus: the representation of Africa in the writings of authors from the ‘old’ . . .

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