Post-Colonial Literatures in English: A Writers List

> Go HERE for a list of prominent post-colonial writers who wrote their works originally in English, and to the links at the end of this post for “World Writers” written about on this site.


The Arnold Anthology of Post-Colonial Literatures in EnglishAfter doing two anthologies in seven years—Smokestacks & Skyscrapers (in 1999 with David Starkey) and Black Writing from Chicago (2006)—I swore I’d never do another.  The choices you have to make are maddening, the permissions process arduous at best.  Yet there’s no denying the incredible value of a good anthology, a fact that brought Smokestacks and Black Writing lots of praise.

Then after a recent search for a good world writers anthology, I realized there weren’t any—at least not a reasonably priced, relatively compact, and comprehensive one, especially one that gathers together post-colonial literature written originally in English.  That literature is enormous and important.  Today India, for example, produces more English literature than the United States.  There are plenty of critical studies, like the seminal The Empire Writes Back (you have to love the title), but these don’t give you the literature itself.  Big publishers like Norton, Longman, and Bedford produce multi-volume world literature sets, beautifully boxed, but big almost beyond usability.  At the other end, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Jhumpa Lahiri’s One World: A Global Anthology of Short Stories presents 24 contemporary stories.  Nothing, however, does what the Arnold Anthology of Post-Colonial Literature in English, now out of print, did.  It’s big, too (900 plus pages), but balances its breadth—four continents plus areas like the South Pacific and the Caribbean—with a fairly deep selection from each region.

I have quibbles about this depth, of course.  I think there’s entirely too much from Australia and Canada, for example, and not nearly enough from the Philippines; but being Filipino, I must admit my bias.

The link I give at the beginning of this post will take you to a pdf of writers in The Arnold Anthology of Post-Colonial Literature in English edited by John Thieme.  Startling omissions abound, of course.  Those marked with a star (*) are not in the anthology, but I’ve added a few to give a greater sense of the depth of writing from a country—my homeland, the Philippines, for example.  Continuing my complaint from above, I note that the Islands were represented only by Nick Joaquin, one of our greatest writers, but hardly the only one worth mentioning.  The same goes for most countries and regions.  If we add post-colonial writers who wrote in their own languages—writers we know mostly by translation—then the number of those left out burgeons.  Two Nobel Laureates, Mahfouz Naguib (Egypt) and Rabindranath Tagore (India), come immediately to mind.  I’ll put these two in as reminders of the giant treasure house of writing not in the purview of the Arnold Anthology and mark them with a double star (**).

Send me your suggestions for more inclusions.

Read major essays on this site about two of the most important post-colonial writers of English: Raja Rao from India, and NVM Gonzales from the Philippines.

Go to a post about Other World Writers written about on this site.

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“Authentic” World Music

Global Celebrations World MusicThere’s no better place to introduce yourself to World Music than the boxed set Global Celebration: Authentic Music from Festivals and Celebrations Around the World. Ellipsis Arts, a record label that’s been compiling wonderful World Music collections for 20 years, released it in 1993, and as the title implies, this one features music from all kinds of celebrations. Fifty-four songs spread over four CDs: 1) “Dancing with the Gods: Religious Celebrations,” 2) “Earth Spirit: Cycles of Nature,” 3) “Passages: Turning Points in Life,” and 4) “Gatherings: Joyous Festivals.” There’s music from a Moroccan sacred healing ceremony, from a Nubian engagement, from a Cook Island welcome, from a Kenyan celebration for a first child, from Italian tarantella dances, the New Orleans Mardi Gras, even festivities in an Irish pub, even music “celebrating” death.
The word “authentic” often means live field recordings of ancient and traditional music. These can be a little difficult to listen to for long periods, even if they’re a valuable educational experience. More important, “authentic” is a difficult, charged term, perhaps especially in the arts, and perhaps most so in music. A student once did a paper for me on Irish bars, finding that while in America they tended to feature “authentic” Irish music, in Ireland bars were more likely to feature 60’s and 70’s American folk rock. If you want to make musicians bristle, tell them they can’t play this or that because it’s not “authentic.”
This isn’t to say that being authentic isn’t one important component in music, something worth preserving. But in music especially, it’s a moving target. In this Ellipsis Arts collection there is some music that’s clearly “traditional”—another charged word, though less so than “authentic,” and perhaps what we’re really talking about. For example, Disc 2 begins with a Hopi water maiden dance. But there is also more accessible “world beat” hybrid musics such as South African township jive and modern Celtic music, both of which used to draw some ire but now seem, on the whole, to be seen as completely authentic, if not traditional. Disc 1 may begin with Caledonian music used in priest ordination, but it ends with more familiar fare: an American Baptist church choir led by the great Rev. James Cleveland. But here remember Ray Charles bringing those gospel sounds into rock and roll. It brought him lots of flack but also a place in the first group of performers inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
This collection stretches the meaning of the “authentic” and shows us both how similar and dissimilar we are. My personal favorite is a song from a Malian thanksgiving celebration done by one of World Music’s iconic stars, Nahawa Doumbia. The voices and vocal arrangements come straight out of traditional music from Mali, but it’s all set to a driving, infectious Afro-pop beat that makes you want to dance. For me it’s a reminder of how music can help transform all life’s incidents and phases into something we can share and, even in times as hard as death, dare to celebrate.

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Carolyn Rodgers Reads “Prodigal Objects”

Carolyn RodgersWhat a treat for Carolyn Rodgers fans. Below hear the great poet read her poem “Prodigal Objects,” September 1999, in a show at North Central College, Naperville, Illinois.  It was held to celebrate the release a few months earlier of a book David Starkey and I had edited.  Smokestacks & Skyscrapers was the first anthology of Chicago writing in over 50 years, and by far the most complete and wide-ranging.

I had included two of Carolyn’s poems—”how i got ovah” and “how i got ovah II/It Is Deep II”—but when I heard heard her read “Prodigal Objects” that September evening it instantly became one of my favorites.  A few years later I got a chance to do another Chicago anthology, Black Writing from Chicago, and “Prodigal Objects” was the first piece I decided to include.

As of this date Carolyn Rodgers appears on this website probably more than any other writer.  In 2012 she was inducted into the Chicago Literary Hall of Fame, an organization I helped start, and the post on her induction contains links to the other places she appears on this website.  Read that post HERE, and enjoy her reading “Prodigal Objects” below.

 Go to a list of Black Writers on this site, most of whom are in Black Writing from Chicago.

 Go to a list of Chicago Writers included in Smokestacks & Skyscrapers.

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