"He Knew the Word for It": Representations of Homosexuality in Anglophone Sub-Saharan Fiction

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“He knew the word for it”: Representations of Homosexuality in Anglophone Sub-Saharan Fiction Masterproef voorgedragen tot het behalen van de graad van Master in de Vergelijkende Moderne Letterkunde

Katelijne Sommen Master in de Vergelijkende Moderne Letterkunde Universiteit Gent Faculteit Letteren en Wijsbegeerte Academiejaar 2011-2012 Promotor: prof. dr. Stef Craps 1

Table of contents
Foreword and Thanks Introduction Sexuality and Homosexuality in Africa Terminology “Africa” Literature study Wole Soyinka: The Interpreters (1965) Yulisa Amadu Maddy: No Past, No Present, No Future (1973) Rebeka Njau: Ripples in the Pool (1975) Ama Ata Aidoo: Our Sister Killjoy (1977) Tatamkhulu Afrika: “The Vortex” and “The Treadmill” (1996) Jude Dibia: Walking with Shadows (2005) Conclusion Bibliography 2 4 6 10 13 14 14 21 28 31 36 44 53 57

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Foreword and Thanks
When I started my Master's Degree, there was one thing I knew: that I wanted to write a thesis about 'something' that had to do with 'Africa'. The idea to investigate the existence and portrayal of different kinds of sexuality in African literature subsequently developed in stages in my head. Most important were my experiences as a volunteer in the Maasai region in Kenya in 2011; the conversations I was privileged enough to have with Maasai women and men about their ways of organising a society and the balances between men and women were a huge incentive to look further into culturally specific modes of sexual identities. When it hit home fully that many of the things that have meant a lot to me in my personal life and my identification as a young queer woman are not necessarily things or categories that exist for everyone else in the world, I felt three distinct things: amazement, slight selfdeprecation, and relief. Amazement and self-deprecation went hand in hand: it should not have been very surprising to me, a student of literature specifically interested in post-modern and post-colonial writers, that human experiences differed in the so densely symbolic and culturally informed area of sexuality. That it was surprising to some extent showed how deeply I, like everyone, am formed by the categories handed to me by the society of which I am part; this in turn brought on a sense of amazement at how fundamentally different human life can be depending on the so random fact of where we are born. The third sentiment – relief – endured, and endures still, and maybe begs some further explanation. While learning more about the different kinds of labels and categories that exist and that seem in many ways incompatible with my (Western) notions of identity, the boundaries of my own self-imposed label became increasingly relative. It was a sense of liberation that I have not often felt to realise that it is not wrong to try labels and to reject them when they do not fit, or to not outright reject them but accept that they are not all you are, and they do not police anything you do. That a school project should lead to an increased sense of personal freedom is an amazing thing that I had not expected when I started out, and I am grateful for it. If there is one thing I have thought about a lot while writing this paper, it is how it could mean something in the light of my experiences in Africa; everything in Africa, in my experience, is that little bit more acute, that little bit more necessary. I wanted this to be more than an academic meditation; as worthwhile as those are, I wanted to engage with the beauty and the difficulties that are both so present in Africa and that I caught a glimpse of while volunteering in Kenya. There were times, when I was 3

talking to my Kenyan friends, some of whom struggle every day to get food on the table and put their daughters and sons through school, that I felt like writing about literature was in no way a direct enough approach to the issue of sexuality to contribute to a dialogue that could hopefully improve things for people living...
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