Introductory Seminars for First-Year Students

Visible Bodies: Black Female Authors and the Politics of Publishing in Africa

HISTORY 41N
AFRICAST 51N
AFRICAAM 140N
ENGLISH 54N

Where are the African female writers of the twentieth century and the present day? This Introductory Seminar addresses the critical problem of the marginalization of black female authors within established canons of modern African literature. We will explore, analyse and interrogate the reasons why, and the ways in which, women-authored bodies of work from this period continue to be lost, misplaced, forgotten, and ignored by a male-dominated and largely European/white publishing industry in the context of colonialism, apartheid and globalization. 

You will be introduced to key twentieth-century and more contemporary female authors from Africa, some of them published but many more unpublished or out-of-print. The class will look at the challenges these female authors faced in publishing, including how they navigated a hostile publishing industry and a lack of funding and intellectual support for black writers, especially female writers. 

We will also examine the strategies these writers used to mitigate their apparent marginality, including looking at how women self-published, how they used newspapers as publication venues, how they have increasingly turned to digital platforms, and how many sought international publishing networks outside of the African continent. As one of the primary assessments for the seminar, you will be asked to conceptualize and design an in-depth and imaginative pitch for a new publishing platform that specializes in African female authors. 

You will also have the opportunity for in-depth engagement (both in class and in one-on-one mentor sessions) with a range of leading pioneers in the field of publishing and literature in Africa. Figures like Ainehi Edoro (founder of Brittle Paper) and Zukiswa Wanner (prize-winning author of The Madams and Men of the South), amongst others, will be guests to our Zoom classroom. One of our industry specialists will meet with you to offer detailed feedback on your proposal for your imagined publishing platform. 

You can expect a roughly 50/50 division between synchronous and asynchronous learning, as well as plenty of opportunity to collaborate with peers in smaller settings.

Meet the Instructor(s)

Joel Cabrita

"I was born and raised in Southern Africa (born in Zimbabwe, and raised in the kingdom of Eswatini), and all of my family are from that region. My conviction is that studying Southern Africa as a white historian must involve a not-always-easy process of self-examination. This includes a recognition of my own privilege and my family’s embeddedness within a colonial past that has benefitted white residents of Southern Africa. In my ongoing work on black female writers, I look critically at issues of representation, authenticity, legitimacy, and gatekeeping, and interrogate how the literary-academic establishment authorizes certain voices as valid and excludes others. I sincerely hope you will join me in this journey through a shifting and contested landscape of knowledge, authorship, race, and gender."