Academic journal article Tydskrif vir Letterkunde

The Festschrift Tradition in African Literature: Its Implications for the Future of African Literary Criticism

Academic journal article Tydskrif vir Letterkunde

The Festschrift Tradition in African Literature: Its Implications for the Future of African Literary Criticism

Article excerpt

The festschrift tradition in African literature: Its implications for the future of African literary criticism

Just as African literary creativity has grown in leaps and bounds during the over half a century since the publication of Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart in 1958, so has African literary criticism blossomed, an upsurge that is indicative of the positively changing fortunes of African literature. In fact if the dictum of the Greek philosopher Heraclitus that "all is flux, nothing is stationary" is anything to go by, then that comment most fittingly applies to the changing nature of African literature. This is not only because of the rapid mutation of the traditional genres in the experiments done by creative writers, but also in the accretion we notice in the quantum of the various creative efforts as writers strive to make their voices heard.

A number of challenges have, however, confronted scholars who want to react with the same verve with which creative writers are churning out new artefacts. Chief among these problems is probably the unavailability of ready publication outlets for the expression of critical opinions on the various works that have kept flowing from writers' pens. A number of the earliest journals have become moribund, either because their founders are dead, retired or exhausted, or because the funds that would ensure their continued publication are no longer forthcoming.

In response to this situation, a number of critics have started to explore other publication avenues/outlets, and quite a number have settled for the festschrift as the way out of the publication quagmire in which they find themselves. Indeed, in line with this trend, Ezechi Onyerionwu ("Reward" 19) has noted in a review that "the festschrift tradition, especially its literary version, has found a home in Nigeria, Africa's leading nation in scribal and intellectual literature." Indeed, going by what is on the ground in Nigeria one could say that the festschrift has not only blossomed and become established as an alternative easily available to literary scholars for the publication of scholarly articles, but also has emerged as a major sub-genre for literary criticism.

A festschrift is commonly regarded as a collection of writings in honour of a scholar. It is often a book honouring a respected person, especially an academic, and presented during his or her life time. It could happen, however, that such a book gets presented posthumously. In such a case, it is referred to as a Gedenkschrift, "a memorial publication"; it then becomes a tribute or memorial volume made up of articles or essays in memory of a colleague (Wiktionary).

When festschrifts come as essay collections in honour of a living person, they often emphasize him/her as a person of distinction, and are presented to him/her to mark some special occasion, such as formal retirement from active service. This fact accounts for the etymology of the word from two German words, fest (feast, celebration) and schrift (writing).

Typically, such a book compiled in honour of a scholar comes up at some major milestone in his/her career, or at the peak of it; and individual chapters may be written by colleagues, former students, and academic contemporaries with similar research interests. The general theme of such a book is usually the subject area in which that individual distinguished himself or herself.

Augustine Akpuda (380) has noted "three main traditions of festschrifts in the Nigerian academy": (1) "the ones exclusively oriented to literary critics"; (2) "those that focus principally on the festschrift personality as a creative writer ", and (3) "those that combine studies on the festschrift personality as literary and creative writer." Let us note immediately that the above categorization, while capturing three important types of the festschrift, is not exhaustive. We could conveniently isolate a fourth category, those that focus on scholars or other intellectuals within the academy in other disciplines outside literature, who are neither creative writers nor literary critics, but have equally made their mark in other realms of intellection, in line with the best traditions of the academy. …

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