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African and African Diaspora

About the African/African Diaspora Series

The African/African Diaspora Series, a partnership between the University of Michigan-Flint and the Flint Public Library, funded in part by the Ruth Mott Foundation, brings authors, poets, playwrights, and journalists of African descent to Flint, Michigan. One purpose is to expose our university and general communities to the complexity and richness of modern African culture, as well as the heritage of Africans and people of African descent, and so to embrace diversity. Another purpose is to engage people with the many interesting and challenging issues created by the historical and modern African Diaspora.


The African/African Diaspora Series, a collaborative project of the University of Michigan-Flint and the Flint Public Library, funded in part by the Ruth Mott Foundation, brings authors, poets, playwrights, and journalists of African descent to Flint, Michigan. One purpose is to expose our university and general communities to the complexity and richness of modern African culture, as well as the heritage of Africans and people of African descent, and so to embrace diversity. Another purpose is to engage people with the many interesting and challenging issues created by the historical and modern African Diaspora.

Africans are only one of many communities that have dispersed outside their traditional homelands, and some scholars have studied the commonalities among these peoples. Dr. Colin Palmer, in an article Defining and Studying the Modern African Diaspora, (Perspectives in History, September 1998) says:

Diasporic communities, generally speaking, possess a number of characteristics. Regardless of their location, members of a diaspora share an emotional attachment to their ancestral land, are cognizant of their dispersal and, if conditions warrant, of their oppression and alienation in the countries in which they reside. Members of diasporic communities also tend to possess a sense of “racial,” ethnic, or religious identity that transcends geographic boundaries, to share broad cultural similarities, and sometimes to articulate a desire to return to their original homeland. No diasporic community manifests all of these characteristics or shares with the same intensity an identity with its scattered ancestral kin. In many respects, diasporas are not actual but imaginary and symbolic communities and political constructs; it is we who often call them into being.

It is often through poetry, literature, drama and the written word that the imaginary and symbolic can best be expressed in ways that connect people with the pain, joy and complexity of people separated, by force or by choice, from their land of origin. The African/African Diaspora Project in Flint seeks to explore these issues community-wide, promoting a deeper understanding of ourselves and of our neighbors and friends.


Niyi Osundare – March 16-18, 2015

Nigerian Poet, Niyi Osundare, City Without People: The Katrina Poems, will be the featured book for this year’s program. The Katrina Poems are a testimony to the devastation caused to the poet, the people and to the community of New Orleans from this natural disaster. “These poems insist on breaking the silence precipitated by the combined forces of anonymity and invisibility which often stand between the needy cry and the listening world. These are the words of someone right in the eye of the storm not ‘gathered’ by a …spokesman …or from ‘reliable sources’ …For although Katrina may have taken away all I had, in never succeeded in taking away my tongue.” (N. Osundare, Preface)


Jeffery Renard Allen – October, 2015

Award-winning author, Jeffery Renard Allen, considered one of our most important writers, melds gritty urban life and magical realism in mesmerizing prose that has won him comparisons with Joyce and Faulkner.

Born in Chicago, Allen holds a Ph.D. in English (Creative Writing) from the University of Illinois at Chicago and is currently a faculty member in the writing program at the New School. He has taught also in the writing program at Columbia University and for many distinguished writers’ conferences and programs around the world. In August 2012, Allen taught for Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Farafina Trust Workshop in Lagos, Nigeria.


Sindiwe Magona – March, 2015

Sindiwe Magona is a South African writer, activist, poet and former United Nations correspondent. Her books have made her a voice for African women and for the people of South Africa. Her commentary on her own life and the realities of the country before, during and after Apartheid in South Africa, reflect her country’s experiences in true and meaningful ways. She writes about her life, motherhood, customs, experiences and hopes for the future.


Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie – 2014

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie grew up in Nigeria. Her work has been translated into thirty languages and has appeared in various publications, includingThe New Yorker, Granta, The O. Henry Prize Stories, the Financial Times, and Zoetrope. She is the author of the novels Purple Hibiscus, which won the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize and the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award, and Half of a Yellow Sun, which won the Orange Prize and was a National Book Critics Circle Award Finalist, a New York Times Notable Book, and a People and Black Issues Book Review Best Book of the Year; and the story collection The Thing Around Your Neck. Her latest novel Americanah, was published around the world in 2013, and has received numerous accolades, including winning the National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction and The Chicago Tribune Heartland Prize for Fiction; and being named one of The New York Times Ten Best Books of the Year.

Click HERE for video of the program at the Flint Public Library.
Click HERE for video of the workshop at the University of Michigan, Flint


Chris Abani – 2013

Chris Abani is part of a new generation of Nigerian writers working to convey to an English-speaking audience the experience of those born and raised in that troubled African nation. Abani began writing at a very young age and published his first novel, Masters of the Board, while still a teenager.

Although Abani’s writing is inextricably linked to suffering experienced under Nigeria’s military dictatorship, the author once stated of literature: “The art is never about what you write about. The art is about how you write about what you write about. I was a writer before I was in prison.” In an online interview with Southern California Poetix contributor Carlye Archibeque, Abani further commented of his work: “The problem is we’re looking for something that doesn’t exist. We’re looking for authenticity. There is no such thing as authenticity. There is either good art or bad art.”

Click HERE for access to videos of Chris Abani



Femi Osofisan – 2008

Playwright, essayist, editor, and poet Femi Osofisan was born in Erunwon, Nigeria. He frequently published poetry under the pen name Okinba Launko, and his collections include Dream-seeker in Divining Chain (1993), Cordelia (1989), and Minted Coins (1987), which won the Association of Nigerian Authors’ Poetry Prize.

Though a well-regarded poet, Osofisan is known primarily as a playwright whose socially engaged work often incorporates elements of traditional African performance. His numerous plays include The Oriki of a Grasshopper and Other Plays (1995) and Women of Owu (2006). He is also the author of the essay collection The Nostalgic Drum: Essays on Literature, Drama, and Culture (2001). With James Gibbs and Martin Banham, Osofisan has edited numerous volumes of the African Theatre series, including African Theatre in Development (1999) and African Theatre: Diasporas (2008).


Nawal El Saadawi – 2007

Nawal El Saadawi is a leading Egyptian feminist, sociologist, medical doctor and militant writer on Arab women’s problems. She is one of the most widely translated contemporary Egyptian writers, with her work available in twelve languages.

Since she began to write over 25 years ago, El Saadawi’s books (27 in all) have concentrated on women, particularly Arab women, their sexuality and legal status. From the start, her writings were considered controversial and dangerous for the society, and were banished in Egypt. As a result, El Saadawi was forced to publish her works in Beirut, Lebanon. El Saadawi continues to devote her time to being a writer, journalist and worldwide speaker on women’s issues. Her current project is writing her autobiography, laboring over it for 10 hours a day.


Dennis Brutus – 2006

Born in Zimbabwe, poet and human rights activist Dennis Brutus grew up in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, and was educated at Fort Hare University College. He taught high school for 14 years until he was dismissed for antiapartheid activism. After studying law at the University of the Witwatersrand and becoming increasingly active in movements opposing racial discrimination in sports, Brutus was shot and then sentenced to 18 months of hard labor on Robben Island, alongside Nelson Mandela. Forbidden to write or publish after his release, Brutus left South Africa in 1966 for England and then the United States.

Brutus taught at the University of Denver, Northwestern University, and the University of Pittsburgh. His poetry collections include Salutes and Censures (1985), Stubborn Hope (1978), and Letter to Martha and Other Poems from a South African Prison (1969). Poetry and Protest: A Dennis Brutus Reader (2006) was edited by Aisha Karim and Lee Sustar, and The Dennis Brutus Tapes: Essays at Autobiography (2011) was edited by Bernth Lindfors.


Ngugi wa Thiong’o – 2005

Ngugi wa Thiong’o, original name James Thiong’o Ngugi, East Africa’s leading novelist, whose popular Weep Not, Child (1964) was the first majornovel in English by an East African. As he became sensitized to the effects of colonialism in Africa, he adopted his traditional name and wrote in the Bantu language of Kenya’s Kikuyu people.

Ngugi has continued to write prolifically, publishing, in 2006, what some have described as his crowning achievement, Wizard of the Crow, an English translation of the Gikuyu language novel, Murogi wa Kagogo. Ngugi’s books have been translated into more than thirty languages and they continue to be the subject of books, critical monographs, and dissertations.

Paralleling his academic and literary life has been his role in the production of literature, providing, as an editor, a platform for other people’s voices. He has edited the following literary journals: Penpoint (1963-64); Zuka (1965 -1970); Ghala (guest editor for one issue, 1964?); and Mutiiri (1992-).


Buchi Emecheta – 2004

Nigerian writer Buchi Emecheta was born to Ibo parents in Lagos on 21 July 1944. She moved to Britain in 1960, where she worked as a librarian and became a student at London University in 1970, reading Sociology. She worked as a community worker in Camden, North London, between 1976 and 1978.Much of her fiction has focused on sexual politics and racial prejudice, and is based on her own experiences as both a single parent and a black woman living in Britain. She began to write about the role of women in Nigerian society in The Bride Price (1976); The Slave Girl (1977), winner of the New Statesman Jock Campbell Award; and The Joys of Motherhood (1979), an account of women’s experiences bringing up children in the face of changing values in traditional Ibo society. Her other novels include Destination Biafra (1982), set during the civil war in Nigeria; The Rape of Shavi (1983), an allegorical account of European colonisation in Africa; Gwendolen (1989), the story of a young West Indian girl living in London; and Kehinde (1994), about a middle-aged Nigerian wife and mother who returns to Nigeria after living in London for many years. Her latest work of fiction, The New Tribe, was published in 2000


Wole Soyinka – 2003

Wole Soyinka is a Nigerian playwright and political activist who received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1986. He sometimes wrote of modern West Africa in a satirical style, but his serious intent and his belief in the evils inherent in the exercise of power usually was evident in his work as well.

A member of the Yoruba people, Soyinka attended Government College and University College in Ibadan before graduating in 1958 with a degree in English from the University of Leeds in England. Upon his return to Nigeria, he founded an acting company and wrote his first important play, A Dance of the Forests (produced 1960; published 1963), for the Nigerian independence celebrations. The play satirizes the fledgling nation by stripping it of romantic legend and by showing that the present is no more a golden age than was the past.