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Anatomy of a Postcolonial Bestseller

Semester and Year FA 2017
Course Number IDSEM-UG1935
Section 001
Instructor Duncan Yoon
Days T
Time 3:30 PM - 6:10 PM
Units 4
Level U
Requirement   HUM, GLOBAL



What makes a postcolonial novel a bestseller? Is it memorable characters? A scintillating subject matter? Provocative descriptions? A masterful plot? In order to answer these questions this seminar will work to assemble the ‘bag of tricks’ many postcolonial African authors use in creating narratives that resonate with both the reader and the increasingly globalized market. Of particular interest will be the distinctions between audiences (national vs. international) and registers (high vs. low). For example, what is the difference between ‘literary’ and ‘mass-paperback’ bestsellers? Why are African bestsellers often characterized as hard-boiled detective novels or  bildungsromans ? And how is the African bestseller complicated by the history of postcolonialism? Readings can range from classics, including Chinua Achebe’s  The African Trilogy , Mariama Bâ’s  So Long a Letter , and Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s  A Grain of Wheat , to contemporary bestsellers like Teju Cole’s  Open City , Taiye Selasi’s  Ghana Must Go , Yaa Gyasi’s  Homegoing  and Chimamanda Ngozi Ndichie’s  Americanah . We will also explore the emergence of African crime fiction from authors like Mukoma wa Ngugi and Kwei Quartey. We will analyze these novels using narrative theorists including Vladimir Propp and Roland Barthes, as well as examine extra-literary factors like industry trends beginning with Heinemann’s African Writers Series and current publishers like Anchor Books and Random House. Through a combination of literature, theory, and the publication history of African literature, this course will sketch the anatomy of a postcolonial bestseller. This course will also introduce students to the Digital Humanities. We will acquire basic knowledge of the ArcGIS software,  Storymaps , to complete a digital project.


All Syllabi

Course Type

Interdisciplinary Seminars (IDSEM-UG)