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The question of African homophobia/homosexuality is increasingly significant on a global terrain. The question of exactly how African this homophobia is has been posed in recent years with some force. In the 1990s, the most widely publicized instances of homophobic discourse and action were generated by the pronouncements of leaders such as Presidents Mugabe and Nujoma of Zimbabwe and Namibia. Africa has a vast and wide-ranging corpus of oral poetry and narrative, sometimes referred to as "traditional literature". Representations of same-sexual activity, desire, or identity often stage more than themselves in the South African literature of the 1980s and '90s, most often racial struggle and shame. Silence, taboo, and gossip are practices that confound the discussion of sexuality in Africa. Finally, the chapter concludes by discussing the work of contemporary African novelists: Calixthe Beyala, Jude Dibia, and Frieda Ekotto.
Perhaps the most pressing matters to which students of the rather large body of so-called “race literature” produced during and immediately after the Civil War and Reconstruction must attend are simple questions of periodization and genre. In works ranging from Frances Harper's Iola Leroy (1892) to Mark Twain's Pudd'nhead Wilson (1894), and from Thomas Dixon's The Leopard's Spots (1902) to Sutton Griggs's The Hindered Hand (1905), one is confronted with what seems at times a shockingly discordant cacophony of form, theme, content, and style. “Old-fashioned” sentimental and gothic modes sit uncomfortably with modernist preoccupations with science and technology. The romance attempts valiantly, if quixotically, to regain ground long since lost to realism. And American writers of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries appear strangely preoccupied with race and racialism in a manner that many may find to be juvenile, if not downright embarrassing.
Indeed, the period, if one might call it that, seems so very unsettled as to make many otherwise rather generous scholars and critics throw up their hands in frustration. One may assume, with several notable exceptions, that the awkwardly named “postbellum race novel” is so very “undercooked” that we need pay little attention to it and then only as part of our ever so dull antiquarian duties.
There is perhaps no stronger impetus within the study of Black American literature and culture than the will to return, the desire to name the original, the source, the root, that seminal moment at which the many-tongued diversity of ancient West Africa gave way to the monolingualism of black North America. This explains why within the span of no more than fifty years the polite nomenclature that has been used to define “us” has moved decidedly backwards. Colored, Negro, Black and finally African. With each renaming one imagines a people groping ever closer to the mystery of their collective truth, a truth always buried within an always heavily veiled past. Thus it should come as no surprise that our theoretical and historical practices so often work to reiterate a sort of “Big Bang” conception of Black American life and culture. Bang. An organic, if multiform, African whole was assaulted, destroyed, and scattered to the far ends of the globe. And, miraculously, modern Black American culture developed at those many awkward locations at which the broken shards of ancient Africa caught, coalesced, melted, and melded into a new and vibrant people. This is, in fact, the idea that stands behind the notion that black literature presumably became more muddled and less sophisticated as it moved from the “simple truths” articulated with slave narratives and toward the “complicated imaginings” of presumably more creative forms.
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