As part of its Faculty Seminar Series, The Africa Institute hosted guest Professor Meg Arenberg, a postdoctoral research fellow in the African, Middle Eastern, and South Asian Languages and Literatures Department (AMESALL) at Rutgers University, New Brunswick for a talk titled, “Neno Huzaliwa: Swahili Literature’s Disruptive Forms” on Wednesday, November 2, 2022.

Professor Arenberg is a scholar of 20th and 21st-century African literature and a literary translator from Kiswahili to English. Her primary research interests focus on the intertextual relationships between Europhone and Afrophone African texts, Kiswahili poetics, and digital media. 

In this conversation, Professor Arenberg delves into details discussing the literature writings of Swahili playwright Ebrahim Hussein and anglophone novelist M.G. Vassanji, and how the reading strategy pays closer attention to how authors set their use of African language in relation to received conventions – be it to deploy, manipulate or disrupt dominant structures of social and political relation. 

Quoting acclaimed author Chinua Achebe who famously wrote, “I feel that the English language will be able to carry the weight of my African experience. But it will have to be a new English,” Professor Arenberg shares how this sentiment, written in response to heated debates over language in the writing of African literature, proves to be a precursor to a recurrent theme in criticism of African literature and of postcolonial literature. 

“The capacity for postcolonial authors to disrupt and creatively transform the languages and genres of their former colonizers has been variously called abrogation, appropriation, and even indigenization,” shares Professor Arenberg who goes on to emphasize how framing, often presented through the lens of translation theory, has been integral to understanding the use of African languages and expressive forms to destabilize and reimagine European genres. 

“This has trained critics of African literature to look for textual contact between African and Western traditions as sites of social and political intervention. However, these framings also have the capacity to obscure subtler manipulations of those ostensibly stable African expressive forms themselves, within both Europhone and Afrophone texts,” she adds. 

“In the Tanzanian context, for example, where Kiswahili language and certain of its poetic genres were actively territorialized by nationalist politics, writers have harnessed literary form to resist and transcend the nation and summon communities of relation that exceed it. Demonstrating a reading strategy that pays closer attention to how authors set their use of African language in relation to received conventions,” said Professor Arenberg. 

“As my title – a line taken from Ebrahim Hussein’s 1969 play Kinjeketile – suggests, “words are born.” Language and the orienting frames of literary form are ever created anew and attending to the points of departure in any work of art from what is understood as tradition can be richly rewarding for locating its transformative potential.” 

Professor Arenberg’s work has been published in Research in African Literatures, East African Literary and Cultural Studies, Postcolonial Text, and Words Without Borders and has won recognition from the American Comparative Literature Association and the American Literary Translators Association. 

The session was moderated by Binyam Sisay Mendisu, Associate Professor of the African Languages and Linguistics, The Africa Institute.

Through these series of lectures and workshops, The Africa Institute reaffirms its mission as a center for the study and research of Africa and its diaspora and its commitment to the training of a new generation of critical thinkers in African and African Diaspora studies.

As part of its Faculty Seminar Series, The Africa Institute hosted guest Professor Meg Arenberg, a postdoctoral research fellow in the African, Middle Eastern, and South Asian Languages and Literatures Department (AMESALL) at Rutgers University, New Brunswick for a talk titled, “Neno Huzaliwa: Swahili Literature’s Disruptive Forms” on Wednesday, November 2, 2022.

As part of its Faculty Seminar Series, The Africa Institute hosted guest Professor Meg Arenberg, a postdoctoral research fellow in the African, Middle Eastern, and South Asian Languages and Literatures Department (AMESALL) at Rutgers University, New Brunswick for a talk titled, “Neno Huzaliwa: Swahili Literature’s Disruptive Forms” on Wednesday, November 2, 2022.

Professor Arenberg is a scholar of 20th and 21st-century African literature and a literary translator from Kiswahili to English. Her primary research interests focus on the intertextual relationships between Europhone and Afrophone African texts, Kiswahili poetics, and digital media. 

In this conversation, Professor Arenberg delves into details discussing the literature writings of Swahili playwright Ebrahim Hussein and anglophone novelist M.G. Vassanji, and how the reading strategy pays closer attention to how authors set their use of African language in relation to received conventions – be it to deploy, manipulate or disrupt dominant structures of social and political relation. 

Quoting acclaimed author Chinua Achebe who famously wrote, “I feel that the English language will be able to carry the weight of my African experience. But it will have to be a new English,” Professor Arenberg shares how this sentiment, written in response to heated debates over language in the writing of African literature, proves to be a precursor to a recurrent theme in criticism of African literature and of postcolonial literature. 

“The capacity for postcolonial authors to disrupt and creatively transform the languages and genres of their former colonizers has been variously called abrogation, appropriation, and even indigenization,” shares Professor Arenberg who goes on to emphasize how framing, often presented through the lens of translation theory, has been integral to understanding the use of African languages and expressive forms to destabilize and reimagine European genres. 

“This has trained critics of African literature to look for textual contact between African and Western traditions as sites of social and political intervention. However, these framings also have the capacity to obscure subtler manipulations of those ostensibly stable African expressive forms themselves, within both Europhone and Afrophone texts,” she adds. 

“In the Tanzanian context, for example, where Kiswahili language and certain of its poetic genres were actively territorialized by nationalist politics, writers have harnessed literary form to resist and transcend the nation and summon communities of relation that exceed it. Demonstrating a reading strategy that pays closer attention to how authors set their use of African language in relation to received conventions,” said Professor Arenberg. 

“As my title – a line taken from Ebrahim Hussein’s 1969 play Kinjeketile – suggests, “words are born.” Language and the orienting frames of literary form are ever created anew and attending to the points of departure in any work of art from what is understood as tradition can be richly rewarding for locating its transformative potential.” 

Professor Arenberg’s work has been published in Research in African Literatures, East African Literary and Cultural Studies, Postcolonial Text, and Words Without Borders and has won recognition from the American Comparative Literature Association and the American Literary Translators Association. 

The session was moderated by Binyam Sisay Mendisu, Associate Professor of the African Languages and Linguistics, The Africa Institute.

Through these series of lectures and workshops, The Africa Institute reaffirms its mission as a center for the study and research of Africa and its diaspora and its commitment to the training of a new generation of critical thinkers in African and African Diaspora studies.

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