Letter to the Editor

Journal of American Culture (Malden, MA), March 2007 | Go to article overview

Letter to the Editor


Ray B. Browne opens his rather sketchy review of The Cambridge History of African and Caribbean Literature (The Journal of American Culture 27:4 [2004]: 437-38) charitably, but then turns the rest of his one-paragraph comments into what reads more like a retaliation for my reaction against the conflicting views that his idol Bernth Lindfors has delivered on the subject than a diligent and honest attempt to inform the readers of the journal about the actual content of my essay.

Beginning by describing The Cambridge History of African and Caribbean Literature as "a monumental endeavor and accomplishment," he acknowledges that "It is daunting to try to put between four covers the literary and cultural lives of the varying peoples of a whole continent and many histories, as the editors of these concise volumes try to do"; adding that all the volumes' essays, except the one entitled "Popular Literature in Africa," make "valuable contributions to the understanding of comparative American cultures" (437). He then spells out the shortcomings of "Popular Literature in Africa" as follows:

The reader would have been delighted and informed with a longer paper with more details and examples. The author, Ode S. Ogede in the Department of English at North Carolina Central University in Durham, spends most of her time arguing with Bernth Lindfors of the English Department at University of Texas (possibly the leading authority on African popular culture in the United States, and others-perhaps an unnecessary exercise. In the conclusion, Ogede apologizes for the popular literature of the African masses, saying that it is characterized by being concerned with the sleazy side of culture-but, as she says, it is much more. (437)

Unfortunately, readers who have to draw conclusions about my essay from Browne's remarks will be relying on inaccuracies. First, even leaving aside the less important issue of institutional authority that Browne seeks to invoke here (I would not be foolhardy enough to tell Americans who should be their best sources of opinion and information on Africa), my brief was to write a definition essay-not to collate an anthology of primary materials; and I accepted this mandate then as I do now because I believe effective understanding requires more our having the concept of popular literature defined clearly to eliminate confusion and misinterpretation than having a pile up of illustrative examples of what passes for the material as relates to Africa because anyone who seriously wants to view more samples of the genre can easily look up the original texts which are readily available in bookstores and libraries around the world.

Second, of the 7,500 word limit imposed on my essay (a limit I exceeded slightly), the two paragraphs which I devoted to Bernth Lindfors's copious work on this subject are under three hundred words. Third, I am an African male, now in my fifties; and I have lived most of my adult life with the objects of my study: not only was I educated in Africa I taught African culture at university level there for close to twenty years before moving to the United States twelve years ago. …

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