Contemporary African Literature and the Politics of Gender

By Florence Stratton | Go to book overview

3

MEN FALL APART

Grace Ogot’s novels and short stories

Like 1945 and 1958, 1966 is a significant date in African literary history. For in that year Grace Ogot’s The Promised Land, the first novel by a woman to be published by the East African Publishing House, and Flora Nwapa’s Efuru, the first work by a woman in the Heinemann African Writers Series, both appeared. The year 1966 can thus be said to mark the advent of a contemporary female tradition in fiction. This event has not been written into the literary records, as critics have tended to treat the publication of the two novels as a non-event. Recently, however, several feminist critics, with no reference to Ogot’s The Promised Land, have assigned paradigmatic status to Nwapa’s text. Thus according to Susan Andrade: ‘Efuru [is] the first published novel by an African woman and the text that inaugurates an African women’s literary history’ (97). It is ‘the “mother” text of (anglophone) African women’s literature’ (100). 1 In ordering my chapters, I have given priority to Ogot, partly because she has a legitimate claim to it in that she became a published author before Nwapa, with several of her short stories appearing in journals in the early 1960s. 2 I also hope to show that, in terms of the strategies of resistance it inscribes, The Promised Land, too, can be deemed a ‘“mother text”’.

Ogot is the most forgotten of the women writers I examine. She also provides a particularly striking example of the invisibility of African women writers. Bernth Lindfors describes her as ‘Kenya’s best-known female writer’ (‘Interview’ 57). But as his own data on the canonical status of African authors shows, the title ‘best-known female writer’ is an empty epithet. For Ogot’s ranking on the first of Lindfors’s two tests is only twenty-ninth—whereas that of Kenya’s ‘best-known’ male writer, Ngũgĩ, is third (‘Famous Authors’’ 141-2); and she scores so poorly on his other test—where Ngũgĩ moves into second place—that her name doesn’t appear at all (‘Teaching’ 54-5).

Ogot has had a fairly productive career as a writer. She has to her credit

-58-

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Contemporary African Literature and the Politics of Gender
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Acknowledgements vii
  • Introduction 1
  • Part I - Aspects of the Male Literary Tradition 21
  • 1 - How Could Things Fall Apart for Whom They Were Not Together? 22
  • 2 - The Mother Africa Trope 39
  • Part II - Room for Women 57
  • 3 - Men Fall Apart 58
  • 4 - Flora Nwapa and the Female Novel of Development 80
  • 5 - Their New Sister 108
  • 6 - Literature as A…weapon 133
  • Part III - Men Write Back 157
  • 7 - Gender on the Agenda 158
  • Conclusion 171
  • Notes 177
  • Bibliography 185
  • Index 195
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