When is Biography Fiction? Life Writing, Epistemophilia and the Limits of Genre in Contemporary African Writing

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Abstract

In On the Postcolony, Achille Mbembe opens with the assertion that “[s]peaking rationally about Africa is not something that has ever come naturally”. In this article, I use Mbembe’s remarks as my starting point, using his observations around the place — or lack thereof — of “Africa” within a larger philosophical matrix predicated on Enlightenment-derived notions of knowledge, and applying it to three examples of auto/biographical life writing recently published by Kenyan authors: Billy Kahora’s The True Story of David Munyakei; Kwani Trust’s fifth issue of its flagship Kwani? journal, published under the auspices of the Concerned Kenyan Writers group; and Binyavanga Wainaina’s viral 2014 blog post, “I am a Homosexual, Mum”, fashioned as a “lost chapter” from his 2011 memoir, One Day I Will Write About This Place. Through their manipulation of the forms and conventions of biographical writing and biofiction, I argue, these three texts challenge the precepts of reason and rationality which have accompanied the reception of African (here, Kenyan) writing within the field of the global literary marketplace, with significant implications for the larger place of the African continent within a global imaginary.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Commonwealth Literature
Volume55
Issue number3
Early online date2 Nov 2018
DOIs
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 2 Nov 2018

Keywords

  • African literature
  • reason
  • rationality
  • life writing
  • Kenya

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