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1 - Introduction: postcolonial literature in a changing historical frame

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  28 January 2012

Ato Quayson
University of Toronto
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When in 1961 Alan McLeod expressed his confidence that the new Commonwealth writing would be ‘the particular interest of English scholars in the next fifty years’, he was expressing a view shared by only a handful of people, among them Norman Jeffares at Leeds University and Bruce Sutherland at Pennsylvania State College (later University) where, with their respective colleagues, they set up the first courses in Commonwealth literature on either side of the Atlantic (Bahri and Raja, The Cambridge History). Even though McLeod’s sentiment has been more than confirmed in the decades since his introduction to The Commonwealth Pen, there is much that has changed in the field of the then Commonwealth literature, not least of which has been the shift of nomenclature from that to the now more widely used postcolonial literature. Yet to view the undoubted ascendancy of postcolonial literature as merely the evolutionary consolidation of an ecumenical literary sensibility that dates from the era of the attainment of independence of formerly colonized countries is to ignore the fact that many of the tendencies and concerns central to the field today can be traced back to at least the mid nineteenth century, if not much earlier. With the consolidation of the field of postcolonial literary studies in the past forty years and its continuing interdisciplinary intersections with other interests, the need to establish the terms by which we might understand the sources of postcolonial literary history is more urgent now than ever before.

Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2012

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