Written out, writing in : orature in the South African literary canon

Seddon, D. (2008) Written out, writing in : orature in the South African literary canon. English in Africa, 35 (1). pp. 133-150. ISSN 0376-8902

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Abstract

As described by Duncan Brown, South African orature represents "our truly original contribution to world literature" (Brown, Voicing the Text 1). This paper explores how orature might be successfully 'written into' the South African literary canon whilst promoting recognition of its existence as an oral form. My recent experiences of the difficulties, challenges, and benefits of teaching South African orature within the Rhodes University English department, have alerted me to the urgent need for the creation of a student- and teacher-friendly anthology which would collect, re-voice, and adequately contextualise a selection of the seminal works of South African oral poets from the colonial to the post-apartheid periods. Much of this poetry already exists in print-form but, despite an increasing recognition of oral poetry through a number of endeavours such the Poetry Africa Festival, the Lentswe Poetry Project on SABC 2, the Timbila Poetry Project and others, South African orature remains marginal in the country's literary canon. It is largely absent from the curriculum in the literature departments of its universities. The need to redress this situation is crucial, but the process of setting up and teaching an undergraduate course in South African oral poetry, while possible, is complicated. The works of our most important oral poets are scattered in a variety of books, libraries, and collections. The usual process of drawing up a booklist of set texts is undermined by the stark reality that many of the books are out of print. Fully giving voice to these texts is even harder to achieve - CD and video recordings of performances (if they exist at all) are not easily accessed or disseminated.

Item Type:Article
Additional Information:Deborah Seddon is a Senior Lecturer in the English Department, Rhodes University
Uncontrolled Keywords:South African literature; Oral tradition; Oral poetry; South African poetry; Xhosa literature; South Africa; Africa
Subjects:P Language and Literature > PL Languages and literatures of Africa, Eastern Asia, Oceania > African languages and literature
P Language and Literature > PR English literature
Divisions:Faculty > Faculty of Humanities > English
ID Code:1698
Deposited By:INVALID USER
Deposited On:23 May 2010 16:42
Last Modified:06 Jan 2012 16:21
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