African literature through the eyes of Taban lo Liyong

Taban lo Liyong during the interview in Kampala recently. PHOTO COLEB MUGUME

What you need to know:

  • Celebrated. Renowned writer and poet Taban lo Liyong is currently professor of Literature at Juba University, South Sudan. I first met him in October 1972, at the National Theatre in Nairobi.
  • I was with the Makerere Free Travelling Theatre. Taban lo Liyong, who had already made a name as a writer through books like The Last Word and Eating Chiefs and poems such as The Marriage of Black and White and Songs from the Congolese, offered the troupe of 14 a lunch treat.
  • So when I was told last month that he was in Kampala, I knew that I could now ‘revenge’ with an interview, writes Emmanuel Mukanga.

How far has African literature developed since Okot p’Biteks’s Song of Lawino?
University lecturers still teach as we were taught and literature graduates are becoming journalists, as if literature worldwide has not moved far.
Young writers are writing mostly about problems of growing up and criticising mothers-in-law. There are now many schools of approaches to literature and its analysis.
Feminism is a new approach to literature but it is concentrating on complaining about men. A Chinese philosopher said that ‘women hold up half of the sky and men hold up the other half’, so both have to hold the sky up. Women writers are leaving men behind. There is need for a foundation to set up workshops for both. Writer, Goretti Kyomuhendo’s efforts in setting up an African Writers Trust, a centre that serves both men and women, should be supported.
At the 1977, Festival of African Culture (FESTAC), in Lagos, which attracted even people from the diaspora, it was agreed that ‘The African Civilisation in Literature Secretariat’ be set up next to the FESTAC Secretariat in Addis Ababa. Then Emperor Haile Selassie, who had supported the idea, was overthrown and African literature has since then, been left hanging.

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