South African Literary Criticism

The compiled list of literary criticism reflects on the course of current literary production by a new generation of South African writers. Historically, the breadth of South Africa fiction has gone hand in hand with the tumultuous social conditions within the country. South Africa has a tremendous literary tradition championing human rights and the end of the Apartheid system. As South Africa transitions from Apartheid to Democracy writers explore both old and new themes that resonate with a changing society. This compilation focuses on the literary criticisms that connect these two periods and illuminates on the growth and evolution of South African literature as it is viewed today.

Annotated bibliography

Attridge, D., & Jolly, R., Eds. (1998). Writing South Africa: Literature, Apartheid, and Democracy 1970-1995. New York: Cambridge University Press.
The edited volume by South African born English literature scholars Derek Attridge and Rosemary Jolly brings together a collection of fourteen essays by notable South African writers and literary scholars. The volume focuses on the scope and development of South African literature from 1970 to 1995. This time period covers the last two and a half decades of Apartheid in South Africa and can be characterized as a time of transition to democratic rule. The collected essays address contemporary topics such as identity politics, social power relations, as well as issues of race and gender in a transformative time period. Included amongst the essays are transcripts of two interviews of venerable South African writers Miriam Tlali and Wally Serote as well as position papers written by Albie Sachs, Maishe Maponye, and Zakes Mda. The editors have also included a chronology of events, historical maps, an extensive index, and a selected bibliography of South African literature between 1970 and 1995. The interview transcripts and position papers make the volume a bit disjointed however on the whole all the essays are of high quality and can stand on their own.

Attridge, D., & Attwell, D., Eds. (2012). The Cambridge History of South African Literature. New York: Cambridge University Press.
The quite extensive and ambitious edited volume from Cambridge Press is led by two distinguished professors of English literature, David Attwell and Derek Attridge. The 877 page book comprise of thirty-nine essays by forty-three mostly South African academics and authors. The volume provides a comprehensive picture of South African literature from its beginnings to the present. The volume is divided into six chronological parts that correspond to defining South African literary/historical moments. Sections of particular interest are part five and part six of the volume. Part five focus on, Apartheid and its Aftermath, 1948 to the Present. This section provides fourteen thought provoking essays on short fiction, writing in exile, to writing about the demise of apartheid. And, part six focus on, South African literature: Continuities and Contrasts. Part six serves as an excellent concluding and unifying collection of essays. Even though I am highlighting the last two chapters in this excellent collection of essays the entire book is worth a read. Each section starts off with a brief cohesive introduction, every essay includes a selected bibliography, and the book provides a very useful index that encapsulates the thirty-nine essays.

Attwell, D. (2006). Rewriting Modernity: Studies in Black South African Literary History. Athens: Ohio University Press.
In his book, David Attwell conducts a historical survey of black South African literature. This survey is not exhaustive by any means in fact he uses only a select number of authors and texts to critically analyze. He attempts to examine the impact of South Africa’s entry into the modern world and argues how black writers negotiated with modernity. He moves away from a one dimensional analysis of Black South African literature as simply being protest literature and a political response to colonialism and brings a level of theoretical nuance to his study by positing a body of literature that transcends the notion of realism. Attwell explores the literary genres of fiction, non-fiction, and poetry. The fictional works of Thomas Mofolo, Sol Plaatje, H. I. E, Dhlomo, Es’kia Mphahlele, Zakes Mda, and Njabulo Ndebele are featured. Not including the introduction, there are six chapters to his analysis. And, within those six chapters Attwell explores five different historical periods; the middle of the nineteenth century, the first half of the twentieth century, the early second half of the twentieth century, the late twentieth century, and the post-apartheid of the twenty first century. The book also includes author notes, a selected bibliography, and an index. David Attwell is a Professor of Modern Literature in the Department of English and Related Literature at the University of York. He has several books and scholarly articles to his credit. One immediate observation is that the author did not include any black women writers in his analysis. Nevertheless, it is an analysis that has moved away from the works of the so-called literary canon of South Africa and provides a broader and richer perspective of the country’s literary history and culture. This book is a great addition to the field of study as it offers one of the very few dedicated explorations of the black South African literary tradition.

Attwell, D., & Harlow, B. (2000). Introduction: South African Fiction after Apartheid. Modern Fiction Studies 46.1: pp. 1-9.
This special issue on South African fiction after Apartheid is guest edited by English professors David Attwell and Barbara Harlow. The special issue contains eleven essays and two interviews of South African writers Ivan Vladislavic and Sindiwe Magona. The essays are organized into two sections. The first section focuses on what the authors have labeled the public spheres of writing about South African society and the second section focus more specifically on analyzing contemporary authorial projects by writers such as Gordimer, Coetzee, Mda, and Magona. The editors do an excellent job in introducing the essays and laying down the groundwork for critical literary analysis of the current state of South African literature. The two editors introduces what they have called the “post-apartheid narrative”. But, they are very quick to argue that that narrative does not completely leave the past behind. Now that apartheid is over South African writers have begun to search for different stories. More stories have begun to focus on the personal through personal reflection or confessions situated in the more public sphere of society. The contributions from a diverse but primarily South African scholarship to this special issue are all of high quality which makes for an excellent collection of essays.

Barnard, R. (2007). Apartheid and Beyond: South African Writers and the Politics of Place. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
This study by Rita Barnard investigates the notion of ‘place’ and ‘space’ in selected texts of South African fiction writers published between 1948 and 2000. The author applies a multifaceted definition of her notion of place and one of the obvious definitions is that of a physical place or space. The social-spatial dynamic explored in her critical analysis are located in both apartheid and post-apartheid social-political setting which include certain key places, including the farm, the white suburban home, the black township, and the shack settlement. Barnard’s study focuses primarily on works by canonical authors; J. M. Coetzee, Nadine Gordimer, Athol Furagrd, Miriam Tlali and Zakes Mda. Not counting the introduction, there are six thematic chapters that analyzes the works of each author individually. Chapter 1 focuses on the works of J. M. Coetzee’s, Life and Times of Michael K and Disgrace. Chapters 2 and 3 focus on the works of Nadine Gordimer’s, The Lying Days, July’s People, My Son’s Story, and The Conservationist. Chapter 4 focuses on the work of Athol Fugard’s, Tsotsi. Chapter 5 focuses on the work of Miriam Tlali’s, Miriam at the Metropolitan. And lastly, Chapter 6 focuses on the works of Zakes Mda’s, Ways of Dying and The Heart of Redness. The book also includes extensive bibliographic notes and an index. This is Barnard’s second published book. She is a professor of English and Director of the Undergraduate Program in Comparative Literature at the University of Pennsylvania. Amongst her many research interests is South African literature and cultural studies and she has published numerous articles on the subject. Perhaps, one critique of the study is the lack of variety in the authors selected for analysis. There is little to no diversity in the texts selected, the same authors continue to show up over and over again. Nevertheless, this contemporary analysis is a major contribution to South African post-apartheid literary criticism. She illuminates the importance of place and space in a society with a past of colonial dispossession and separateness.

Boehmer, E., Chrisman, L., and Parker, K. (1994). Altered State? : Writing and South Africa. Sydney, Australia: Dangaroo Press.
This compilation of eleven essays derives from a conference held in 1990. The conference was entitled, the Literature in a New South Africa. The contributors, a collection of international scholars, included scholars from both Europe and South Africa. Some of the contributors represented here are; Njabulo Ndebele, Lewis Nkosi, Benita Parry, and Graham Pechey. Interestingly, none of the editors are represented by a critical essay in this compilation. However, there is a brief introductory chapter by the editors presenting the essays and the discussion to follow. The editors do an excellent job of situating the conference and resultant discussion at a critical time in South African history. The historical moment of a democratic transition from an immensely divided society is not lost in their endeavor to critically analyze and theorize about South Africa’s literature, culture, and society. The contributors use the present moment to analyze the past to conceptualize the prospects for the future. The authors challenge the newly emerging post-apartheid South Africa and its cultural politics. The emphasis falls generally on the conceptualizations of post-colonial theory, nation and gender and on new strategies for reading South African criticism. The essays are loosely ordered from theoretical discussions to analysis of individual writers. Topics range from critical theory, cultural history, sociological studies, and analyses of popular culture to critical studies of individual writers. The discussion of protest or resistance literature of black writers is included along with the discussions of works by J. M. Coetzee, Wally Serote, and Athol Fugard. The debate about the present and future role of South African literature is front and center in this collection. The volume will be useful to scholars and literary critics with interest in South African literature, post-colonial literature, and contemporary African cultural history.

Chapman, M. (2003). Southern African Literatures. Pietermaritzburg: University of Natal Press.
This introductory volume on southern African literature is an ambitious exercise in literary history and criticism by noted South African Professor Michael Chapman. It is ambitious as it attempts to cover not only South Africa but the entire southern African region (Angola, Zambia, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Malawi, Botswana, Swaziland, and Lesotho). Professor Chapman area of specialty is South African English literature and that is where the strength of the book lies. The book covers various genres of literature from oral literature to poetry to theater/drama to fiction. The book also covers all of these forms of literature in various different languages that make up the region of southern Africa. And lastly, the book also covers a significant span of time in southern Africa’s social, political, and cultural history. The book spans from the sixteenth century to the present. Again, Professor Chapman took on a major undertaking and provides a dense but very useful introduction to southern African literary history. At times, the book can be a bit uneven however I found the section on South Africa and South African English fiction in particular to be quite useful. The book is well organized and is arranged into six sections and those six sections are primarily organized by time periods. Each section or time period carry multiple chapters and are introduced by a brief introduction. Each chapter comes with extensive notes. The book also provides a map of southern Africa, individualized information on each country, a note on racial terminology, a note on translated works, and a list of abbreviations and acronyms. Previously published in 1996 by Longman Group Limited, the 2003 edition comes with a new and lengthier preface. In concluding, section six is completely dedicated to further references and this is perhaps one of its major strengths. Section six includes; a chronology, a bibliography, a list of individual authors with annotations, and a comprehensive index.

Chapman, M., Ed. (2008). Postcolonialism: South/African Perspectives. Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars Publishers.
Postcolonial theory is the theoretical underpinning that connects this collection of eight critical essays. Editor, Michael Chapman uses the introductory chapter to put forth his arguments and conceptualizations of postcolonial theory and its relationship to the study of South African literature. He also takes the opportunity to situate the collection of essays within the postcolonial paradigm and provides a brief summary of the author’s critical analysis. The postcolonial approach is one of the preeminent approaches in analyzing literature produced in the global south. It is the Metropolis-South relationship that predominate the discussion and analysis which implies political, economic, and cultural relationships. Chapman argues for a more locally oriented and judicious approach to operationalizing postcolonial theory in the South African context. Amongst the contributors are; Matthew Shum, Sally-Ann Murray, Corinne Sandwith, M. J. Daymond, Monica Popescu, Michael Green, Ileana Dimitiru and Cheryl Stobie. The textual analysis includes the writings of; Thomas Pringle, Es’kia Mphahlele, Nadine Gordimer, J. M. Coetzee, and Barbara Adair. And, the collection concludes with the transcript of an interview with British postcolonial theorist, cultural critic, and historian, Robert C. J. Young. It is noted in the Preface that the essays have been published previously in the journals of Current Writing and English in Africa in 2007 and 2006 respectively. Michael Chapman is a noted scholar in the field of literary and cultural criticism. He is a professor of English at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa. And, he has published several books in the field. Although these essays have been previously published elsewhere there is a significant level of continuity and resonance to the collection. Chapman has also done an excellent job assembling this compilation. His contributions provide for two excellent bookends to the collection that advance both theory and critical thought.

Chapman, M. , Gardner, C. and Mphahlele, E., eds. (1992). Perspectives on South African English Literature. Parklands, South Africa: AD Donker.
Editors Michael Chapman, Colin Gardner and Es’kia Mphahlele with the financial assistance of the Human Science Research Council (HSRC) has pulled together a collection of thirty-three critical essays on South African English literature that encapsulates poetry, drama, and fiction. Several of the contributors have made quite a mark in their field of studies and are very familiar to the reader. Contributors like Stephen Gray, Ernest Pereira, Njabulo Ndebele, Es’kia Mphahlele, and Michael Chapman have all made significant contributions to South African literary and cultural studies. The contribution by Njabulo Ndebele, The Rediscovery of the Ordinary: Some New Writings in South Africa, has been published elsewhere and is a must read in the academy. The works of Olive Schreiner, Sol T Plaatje, William Plomer, Herman Charles Bosman, Alan Paton, Es’kia Mphahlele, Nadine Gordimer, Alex La Guma, Bessie Head, J. M. Coetzee, and Wally Serote are all critically analyzed. These names represent for the most part the South African canon of English literature. In addition to the discussions of these great texts there are also essays on Black and women writers, censorship and literature, and writing the political. The volume opens up with a very brief introduction to its reader. The attended audience is the student, teacher, and scholar of South African English literature. At the conclusion of each essay there are author notes with details of primary text referred to and a list of bibliographic details of works and articles for further reading. In addition, there is a compiled index that provides reference to authors and works mentioned in the essays. Of course, this compilation is not comprehensive in scope however it represents South Africa’s literary and cultural history very well. At the time of publication, I am sure this volume was a welcomed addition to critical scholarship and continues to add value and has become a part of that literary history.

Chapman, M., & Lenta, M., Eds. (2011). SA Lit: Beyond 2000. Scottsville: University of KwaZulu-Natal Press.
This edited collection of essays published out of the University of KwaZulu-Natal Press is decidedly representative of the University. The two editors amongst many of this volume’s contributors are based at the University of KwaZulu-Natal’s English Department. Editor Michael Chapman has published extensively in the field of South African English literature and is very well suited as lead editor and contributor. There are seventeen essays in this volume that covers the South African literary scene, from fiction to drama to poetry and autobiographies. The authors explore such topics as; women writers, Indian writing, Zulu literature, ‘queer’ representation, oral performance, ecology, and literature of the diaspora. The arrangement of the essays could have been better thematically organized however the volume offers very useful analysis and overview of contemporary South African literature from a strong collection of local scholars. There are several articles that focus their analytical lens on post-apartheid literature. Leon de Kock’s short essay, The End of ‘South African’ Literary History, ask the question about new directions in South African fiction. And, lleana Dimitriu explore the end of Apartheid and protest literature through the writings of Nadine Gordimer in Silenced by Freedom? Nadine Gordimer after Apartheid. Each essay concludes with notes and references. There is also a useful index located at the end of the volume.

Cornwell, G., Klopper, D., and MacKenzie, C. (2010). The Columbia Guide to South African Literature in English since 1945. New York: Columbia University Press.
This volume is a reference guide to South African writers in English since 1945. The volume covers various genres of literature from drama, poetry, and fiction. The volume is organized into six sections; a chronology, an introductory essay, entries of writers after 1945, entries of writers before 1945, a bibliography, and an index. The detailed chronology starts at 25,000 BCE and ends at 2009. The chronology includes important dates in South Africa’s socio-political and literary history. The lengthy introductory essay is a literary history of South African literature. The essay is organized into six sections and provides a detailed history of the development of literature up to the present. The authors’ first sets the context for their discussion by setting the scene for the development of literature in South Africa. The following sections of the essay are organized by South Africa’s history of apartheid: White Writing, 1948 – 1973; Writing Black, 1946 – 1972; White Writing, 1974 – 1990; Writing Black, 1972 – 1990; and, finally Post-apartheid Writing, 1990 – 2008. The third section of the volume is entries of writers after 1945 to the present listed from A to Z. The entries provide genre of literature, biographical information, published works, and analysis. In section four, although not the primary focus of this volume, there is a more condensed listing of writers before 1945. The length of the entries is based on the critical and literary impact of the authors. Section five, is an extensive bibliography. The bibliography is organized into two parts; primary and secondary resources. The primary resources are a listing of the writers’ works and the secondary resources are a listing of scholarly works in critical and literary historical analysis. The six and final section is an index of writers. The guide is an excellent reference resource, it is comprehensive and informative. It has a great deal to offer for any level of scholarship. The editors, all based in South Africa, are noted scholars in their field and all have written extensively in the area of literary history and critical analysis.

Davis, E. (2013). New Directions in Post-Apartheid South African Fiction and Scholarship. Literature Compass 10/10: pp. 797-804.
The engaging article by Professor Emily Davis of the University of Delaware explores the new directions in Post-Apartheid South African fiction. Davis argues that the end of the apartheid period marked a new era in creative literary production in South Africa. She characterizes a movement away from what she calls “politicized literature” to the more current approach or investigative lens of the Transitional and Post-Transitional Periods. In these periods writers have moved to what she suggests as a gaze inwards to the private sphere, to reflection and self-questioning. This movement to the private sphere delves into narratives about individual traumas and personal histories. She goes on to posit that post-transitional literature signals a move away from an apartheid optic and temporal lens toward one which reifies neither the past nor the exceptionality of South African life. Therefore, she puts forth this notion of the new and not so new global interconnections among identities, social movements, and literary forms. The article is very well organized. If first offers an introductory argument, it then moves on to discuss fiction in the transitional period, and concludes with a discussion of what she calls post-transitional literature. The essay offers an extensive list of cited fiction work and scholarship in the field. The article is very thought provoking and I highly recommend it to scholars interested in the study of South African literature.

Davis, G. (2003). Voices of Justice and Reason: Apartheid and Beyond in South African Literature. Amsterdam: Rodopi.
Geoffrey Davis, a noted scholar of South African literature and author of several books and articles, in this volume traces the development of South African literature under apartheid and identifies the ways in which writers are now facing the challenges of a post-apartheid South Africa. His research is primarily focused on black authors from the 1970s and later however white authors are discussed as well. The book is organized into twelve chapters, covering the genres of poetry, drama, and fiction. Chapter One, discusses the impact and significance of interracial relationships in William Plomer’s Turbott Wolf. Chapters Two and Three deal with literature that is concerned with forced removals and the system of migrant labor in Mtutuzeli Matshoba’s Seeds of War and Richard Rive’s Buckingham Palace, District Six. Chapters Four and Five focus on apartheid era censorship. Chapters Six, Seven, and Ten examine the works of dramatist Matsemela Manaka. Chapter Eight explores ‘The Reconstruction of History in black South African Writing’ in Matshoba’s “Three Days in the land of a Dying Illusion.” Chapter Nine investigate the ways in which apartheid isolated South African writers from any sense of a broader African literary heritage. Chapter Eleven looks at the state of drama in post-apartheid South Africa in the plays: Tooth and Nail from Junction Avenue; Mooi St Moves by Paul Slabolepszy; and Susan Pam Grant’s Curl Up and Dye. Chapter Twelve rhetorically ask, “What are South Africans now going to write about?” and look at the future of South African literature. Davis argues that there is no lack of subject matter for authors in the new South Africa. The volume concludes with an extensive and detailed bibliography however there is no index. For such an in-depth study on South African literature a broader selection of authors could have been used Davis relies on the works of too few authors when there is a plethora of authors to choose from. Nevertheless, this volume provides a concise history of South African literature and will be useful to students studying the discipline.
de Kock, L. (2005). Does South African Literature Still Exist? Or: South African Literature is Dead, Long Live Literature in South Africa. English in Africa 32.2: pp. 69-83.
Writer and noted South African Professor Leon de Kock as representative of the title of his essay ask a fundamental question: Does South African literature still exist? Is South African literature dead? That question centers around the demise of apartheid and the transition to democracy. With this ‘referential fracture’ as he labels it; is there anything remaining to write about in the South African context? His answer is a resounding yes albeit in new, imaginative, and different ways. He goes on to list and discuss the current literary output that has made a mark in the field of South African literature. de Kock argues about the tensions between the notion of ‘oneness’, one nation as oppose to this notion of South Africa having many identities. This contested term of identity, South African identity, runs throughout his essay as he attempts to unsuccessfully theorize about a conceptualization he introduces to approach this notion of a shift in the writing of South African literature. He labels this fracture between old and new the ‘seam’. The essay is provocative and provides interesting insight into post-apartheid literature however it can use a bit of reorganization. It is noted that the article originated in a keynote address delivered to a colloquium and hence has some issues as a written piece. And, one such problem is not returning to the central question at the end of the piece; is South African literature dead?

de Kock, L., Bethlehem, L., and Laden, S. (2004). South Africa in the Global Imaginary. Pretoria: University of South Africa Press.
This collection of essays derives from a 2001 special edition of the journal Poetics Today. When it was first published as a special edition the collection was named Best Special Issue of 2001 by the Council of Editors of Learned Journals, and it was highly recommended that the issue should be published as a separate volume. Here we are with a collection of eleven outstanding essays on South African literature and culture. Of the eleven essays all but one has appeared in the special edition, David Atwell’s essay, ‘The Experimental Turn in Black South African fiction’ is the new contribution to this collection. The focus of the collection is an examination of South Africa’s literature and culture from a post-apartheid gaze and a decidedly international perspective. For much of the late 20th century South Africa has been in the consciousness of the international community. The struggle to end apartheid extended well beyond the borders of South Africa and the efforts to inform the entire world of the conditions that many oppressed black South Africans were living under came in many literary forms. South African literature and culture became a matter of global interest. And, it is this global interest that is the launch pad in which the contributors take off from. The collection explore such topics as the rhetoric of urgency in South African literary culture under apartheid, the experimental turn in black African fiction, and the truth of the lie in Winnie Madikizela-Mandela’s testimony before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. And, lead editor, Leon de Kock provided an in-depth introductory essay that discussed South Africa’s literary traditions and laid the terrain for the contributions that followed. The contributors are a group of international scholars of English literature that includes; Peter Merrington, Simon Lewis, and Dirk Klopper. The strength of this volume is its international perspective and diversity of literary and cultural topics explored. The volume includes a list of contributors and an index.

Frenkel, R., & MacKenzie, C. (2010). Conceptualizing Post-Transnational South African Literature in English. English Studies in Africa 53.1: pp. 1-10.
University of Johannesburg Professors Ronit Frenkel and Craig MacKenzie’s essay introduces a special issue on contemporary South African literature. The collection of essays emanate from a symposium held at the University of Johannesburg in 2009. The authors introduce the collection of essays by situating the current South African literary output in a framework of post-transitional South African literature. A collection of literature described as moving away from apartheid’s historical constraints which accordingly reflects a wide range of concerns and styles. The authors put forth the term ‘post-transitional’ South African literature to suggest a new wave of writing, which is often unfettered to the past in the way that much apartheid writing was, but may still reconsider it in new ways. Frenkel and MacKenzie sets up the collection of essays by first theorizing post-transitional literary studies in South Africa and second by providing some positions on ‘post-transitionality’, They both do a very good job of situating post-transionality in the context of South African literature and mark the prevalent trends of the current conceptualization of the present and the past. They argue that writers seem to be enjoying greater thematic freedoms, and are taking greater aesthetic risks, moving away from ‘the ethical priorities inscribed by apartheid era politics and its immediate aftermath to suggest that the relationship between the South African author and his or her context is significantly changing’. The authors offer a small but very useful list of works cited.

Graham, S. (2009). South African Literature after the Truth Commission: Mapping Loss. New York: Palgrave MacMillan.
This critical textual analysis of South African post-apartheid literature uses the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) as its jump-off point. The South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission conducted its work between 1995 and 1998. Victims of the apartheid state provided testimony before the TRC of human rights abuses committed between 1960 and 1994. The author Shane Graham utilizes poetry, theater, and fiction to connect and analysis the conceptions of space and place to memory and body. Graham argues that the predominant motif of recent South African literature is one of spatial disorientation, particularly the experience of being lost, both literally and figuratively. He organized the discussion of the literary texts into three sections. These sections are titled; Space and Truth-Telling: The TRC and Post-Apartheid Literature of Memory, Post-Apartheid Urban Spaces, and Excavations and the Memory of Landscapes. The fictional texts used for analysis are; Sindiwe Magona’s Mother to Mother, Achmat Dangor’s Bitter Fruit, Ivan Vladislavic’s The Exploded View, Phaswane Mpe’s Welcome to our Hillbrow, K. Sello Duiker’s The Quite Violence of Dreams, Aziz Hassim’s The Lotus People, Zoe Wicomb’s David’s Story, and Zakes Mda’s The Heart of Redness. Shane Graham is an Assistant Professor of English at Utah State University and was formerly a Mellon Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa. The extensive notes and comprehensive bibliography make this book an invaluable resource for literary scholars as well as readers with an interest in South African literature. In all, this book is an important contribution and critical guide to contemporary South African literary criticism.

Helgesson, S. (2004). Writing in Crisis: Ethics and History in Gordimer, Ndebele and Coetzee. Pietermaritzburg: University of KwaZulu-Natal Press.
In the 1980s South Africa was at the height of state violence and repression. The entire country was in a ‘state of emergency’ and what many commentators would label as a crisis of the state. Stefan Helgesson’s study focuses on apartheid era literature written at the time of this crisis. Helgesson explores the works of three South African writers; Njabulo Ndebele’s Fools and Other Stories (1983), Nadine Gordimer’s A Sport of Nature (1987), and J. M. Coetzee’s Life and Times of Michael K (1983). He posits the tremendous constraints South African writers found themselves in within this great historical moment and remaining responsive to the effects of the formidable historical pressures of the time. He discusses the tensions between ‘history’ and ‘writing’. He also lays out the critical debate of the time between writing for aesthetics versus writing for activism. His main argument is that these writers were able to achieve both traditions in their own ways. Helgesson uses the literary theory of Spivak’s catachresis and Bhabha’s mimicry to prove his main thesis. He also invokes the work of Levinas to make an ethical argument. The book is organized into four parts. Part One, the author delivers his theoretical considerations. Parts Two through Four, the author explores the texts of the three aforementioned writers. The book includes a forward by Michael Marais, chapter notes, a selected bibliography, and an index. Stefan Helgesson is currently a professor in the Department of English at Stockholm University. He has numerous scholarly articles to his credit. His study is a fascinating critical analysis of the literature and the time period and the constraints placed on many South African writers. The book is an invaluable contribution to critical literary analysis and situating the debate of activism versus aesthetics in South African literature and history.

Heywood, C. (2004). A History of South African Literature. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Distinguished editor and scholar Christopher Heywood has published several books on African literature; Perspectives on African Literature (1972), Aspects of South African Literature (1976) and Nadine Gordimer (1983). His latest volume is a historical survey of South African literature. This historical study of South African literature from pre-colonial times to the close of the twentieth century covers poetry, drama, and fiction as observed in four ethnic traditions: Khoisan, Nguni-Sotho, Anglo-Afrikaans, and Indian. The chapters are organized around a series of historical turning points marking the entrance of institutional apartheid. Of these, one pivotal event forms the center point of the book: The Sharpeville Massacre of 1960, its before and after dividing the volume into two parts. The Preface sets out the larger aims of the book and the introduction provides an overview of the entire period, from the earliest examples of oral literature to the body of written literature that followed the arrival of the Dutch and the English in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. In addition, a chronology, list of abbreviations, map of South Africa, and glossary help the reader navigate the volume. And, the thirty-two page bibliography is subdivided into three sections; (a) South African oral and written literature, (b) critical, cultural, and historical studies, and (c) anthologies. In all, the volume is an impressive cataloging of South African literature in which the author provides summaries of plots and fictional characters. At the same time, entries can be seen as being a bit uneven; some texts receive lengthy summations and analysis, while others are mentioned in a few paragraphs. There is also no concluding chapter. There is no summing up or attempt to bring entire work into focus. Perhaps, the best way to utilize this resource is as a reference book.

Lindfors, B. (2011). Early Black South African Writing in English. Trenton, New Jersey: Africa World Press.
This book by noted literary scholar, Bernth Lindfors, explores early black South African writing in English or in English translation. The aim of the book is to pay tribute to pioneering black South African writers. But, not necessarily concerned solely with the first works published or performed by black South Africans. Lindors define black to be African, Indian, and people of mixed race descent. The literary historiography covers the time span 1909 – 1996. However, focusing primarily on literature produced in the first decades of the apartheid era when black writers found themselves subjected to pressures exerted by the State and attempted to push back, using a variety of literary strategies to counter oppressive policies. The volume is organized into two sections; a collection of essays and interviews accompanied by a very brief introduction. The collection of nine essays and four interviews cover the literary genres of drama, poetry, short stories and fiction. There are critical essays devoted to the works of; Thomas Mofolo, Peter Abrahams, Alex la Guma, Dennis Brutus, and Mbongeni Ngema. There are also insightful and engaging interviews with Dennis Brutus, Ezekiel Mphahele, Richard Rive, and Njabulo Ndebele. These stand-alone essays have all been previously published in various scholarly journals and edited volumes. And, because this volume is a collection of essays drawn from various publications there is no need for an overarching bibliography. However, at the end of the book there is an index. This volume provides an excellent overview of key writers and figures in black South African literary history and paints a vivid picture of the conditions in which they lived in. Bernth Lindors is Professor Emeritus of English and African Literatures at the University of Texas. He is the author and editor of numerous books on African literatures.

Ndebele, N (1994). South African Literature and Culture: Rediscovery of the Ordinary. Manchester: Manchester University Press.
Presented in this volume are nine critical literary and cultural essays on South Africa written by acclaimed writer and literary scholar Njabulo Ndebele. Many of the essays were written during South Africa’s turbulent 1980s. The essays were written, published, and delivered independently in newspapers, journals, and at conferences. The main one organizing theme for debate and discussion is the future direction of South African literature. Ndebele argues for a movement away from writing about what he calls the spectacular and move more to writing about the ordinary. These seminal essays place Njabulo Ndebele right in the center of the debate on the future of South African writing. The volume is highlighted by the essay; The Rediscovery of the Ordinary: Some New Writings in South Africa. This essay was originally presented at the conference on New Writing in Africa: Continuity and Changes held at the Commonwealth Institute, London, November 1984. Njabulo Ndebele, a South African writer, has written extensively on South African literature and has published two well received novels in, Fools and Other Stories and The Cry of Winnie Mandela. Ndebele provides a brief preface to introduce the collection however it is the job of literary scholar Graham Pechey to contextualize the collection for the reader. Peachey does an excellent job in the introduction of discussing the compilation of essays in relation to South African literary history and socio-political developments. The book is well organized and seems to be in sequenced where the reader can follow the writer’s development in thought over the course of time. However, each essay does not provide bibliographic detail and this would be the one minor quibble about the volume. There is no bibliography or index included in this volume but they are not really needed in this context. On the whole, it can be stated that it is nice to have this compilation of critical essays published in one volume to provide for ease of use and consultation. This is a very important collection of critical thought in South African literature and culture.

Nuttall, S. (2009). Entanglement: Literary and Cultural Reflections on Post-Apartheid. Johannesburg: Wits University Press.
Sarah Nuttall, cultural studies scholar and prolific writer has written numerous books and essays on South African literature and culture. In this volume, the collection of essays has mostly been published in previous incarnations over the past ten years. In total, there are six essays exploring post-apartheid South African literature and culture. The aim of the collection of essays is to examine concepts of racial identity and race relations, urban spaces, desegregation, and economic relations as it takes place in contemporary South African society. Nuttall is more specifically interested in these interactions in the urban setting of Johannesburg. In her first chapter, Nuttall puts forth a multifaceted definition or conceptualization of her articulation of entanglement as it relates to racial identity in a post-apartheid South Africa. The second and third chapters are focused on a literary analysis of post-apartheid literature. Chapter two explores various urban ‘spaces’ or ‘places’ in Johannesburg and the negotiation of those spaces through the works of Phaswane Mpe, Ivan Vladislavic, and Niq Mhlongo. Chapter Three examines the self-narrative by white writers and the discussion of whiteness, privilege, and power through the works of J. M. Coetzee, Antjie Krog, and Gillian Slovo. The final three chapters focus on an analysis of contemporary South African culture. The chapter on South African urban youth culture holds particular resonance with the re-imaginings of race in the public sphere. The volume includes extensive bibliographical references and an index. In relation to the literary analysis, this volume provides a perspective and analysis that is much needed for the contemporary South Africa, for a post-apartheid South Africa, and a desegregating South Africa. Her observations about South African literature, art, and popular culture are an important contribution to the present.

O’Brien, A. (2001). Against Normalization: Writing Radical Democracy in South Africa. Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Press.
Anthony O’Brien is an emeritus Professor in the Department of English at Queens College, City University of New York. O’Brien brings a decidedly different perspective to the study of South African literature and culture through a more distant lens from the United States. His outsider’s perspective is somewhat rare in the field dominated by local scholars and literary critics. In this volume, O’Brien argues against the process of political and cultural normalization taking place in the post-apartheid South Africa. The process of normalizing of politics in South Africa has halted the movement for radical change in society. He argues that that cultural radicalization and mobilization of the 1980s has dissipated to the detriment of society and the prospects of radical social change. O’Brien uses post-colonial theory to advance his argument of a South Africa that has not structurally changed economically. O’Brien explores the literature of South Africa to make his point, which includes poetry, drama, fiction and film. O’Brien starts his analysis of the process of societal normalization with the historic 1994 democratic elections and that the elections were the beginning of the demobilization of radical forces in society. He moves on to the discussion of Njabulo Ndebele’s critical writings about the writer’s role in society and that his formulizations were more radical than initially received. He uses Ndebele’s writings to juxtapose his argument with the call of normalization of culture from Albie Sachs. In the following chapters, O’Brien examines the works of poets Ingrid de Kok and Nise Malange; the works of playwright Maishe Maponya; and authors Bessie Head, Arthur Nortje, and Dambudzo Marechera. He concludes with an Epilogue examining the post-apartheid works of Nadine Gordimer’s The House Gun (1998) and Ramdan Suleman’s 1997 film of Ndebele’s 1983 novella Fools. The book has an extensive twenty-five page bibliography and index. The book makes a significant contribution to post-colonial studies, to comparative literary studies, and South African studies.

Poyner, J (2008). Writing under Pressure: A Post-Apartheid Canon? Journal of Postcolonial Writing Vol. 44:2: pp. 103-114.
The author situates her analysis of contemporary South African literature or post-apartheid literature around South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), a process in which perpetrators of state sanctioned violence had to confess to their crimes in a public forum in hopes of bringing about a national catharsis. Poyner uses the TRC as an important historical juncture and literary example of a shift within South African literature. She characterizes that shift in the emphasis from the public sphere of politics and protest during apartheid to the private sphere, post-apartheid, to reflection and self-questioning. It is that dichotomy between the public and the private she explores in the current body of literature. Poyner meticulously argue her points using works by Gordimer, Coetzee, Dangor, and Mpe, to just name a few. She points out that new literary themes has emerged such as self-discovery and personal atonement. The article is well argued and well organized. The author uses multiple examples from the texts to prove her assertions. The article offers an extensive list of works cited and includes both literary criticism and works of fiction. This essay is highly recommended.

Reckwitz, E., Reitner, K. and Vennarini, L. eds. (1997). South African Literary History: Totality and/or Fragment. Essen: Die Blaue Eule.
The compilation of thirteen essays derives from a symposium on South African literary history held in Essen in July 1996. Co-editor Erhard Reckwitz opens up the volume with an essay entitled, Literary History – A Problem Sketch. In his essay he put forth the critiques and limitations to the practice of investigating literature through a historical lens and what the practice inevitably does to the analysis of that literature. He posits a more usable road map in how to approach the inherit pitfalls of historical singularity in the study of literary history. The subtitle of this volume receives its name from an essay by Liliane Louvel, Totality and/or Fragment: Nadine Gordimer’s The Conservationist. The Figure in the Mosaic. Louvel argues that the Conservationist is all about fragmentation, similar to how we should view history. There is also an essay by J. M. Coetzee on Nadine Gordimer entitled, Gordimer and Turgenev. Other essay topics range from, the land and the novel farm to early trends in South African literature. The contributors are an international collection of scholars from Europe and South Africa. The collection of essays is organized in no particular order. There is an editors’ Preface that provides some thematic and/or conceptual direction and scope. There is no bibliography or index included in the volume and the submissions all have footnotes. The quality of the essays is of high academic standard. There are a variety of themes discussed in the essays however the works of Nadine Gordimer is featured in two essays and Olive Schreiner in another, representing the same cast of authors we find in many of these collections. That withstanding, the volume brings a valuable approach to South African literary and cultural criticism.

Samuelson, M. (2008). Walking Through the Door and Inhabiting the House: South African Literary Culture and Criticism after the Transition. English Studies in Africa, 51:1, pp. 130-137.
In this critical essay Meg Samuelson explores South African post-transition literature. The author aptly uses the concept of ‘home’ both figuratively and literally to discuss a nation in socio-political transition that is experiencing a societal transformation. Meg Samuelson, a professor of English at the University of Cape Town has published several articles that focus on South African literature. In this short but powerful essay Samuelson covers a lot of literary ground. She discusses many pertinent themes that permeate the literature of today’s authors. Using the metaphor of the ‘home’ as a focal point she discusses issues of intimacy and violence, belonging and exclusion, and destruction and restitution. She also delves into issues of gender, xenophobia, and homelessness. She recognizes the push and pull between the public and the private sphere, the national and the trans-national, and the past and the present. Through this lens she explores the post-transitional writings of Imraan Coovadia, Sello Duiker, Rayda Jacobs, Kopana Matlwa, Phaswane Mpe, Zukiswa Wanner, and Zoe Wicomb. She suggests that the analysis of these narratives are both a critique of ‘home’ and ‘nation’ but in different ways as the familiar literary edifices of the past are changing shape in order to accommodate new processes and preoccupations. She argues that these narratives open up new directions and plot alternative configurations. She asks; what, then, is ‘new’ about the space entered into across the threshold of the transition? What kind of home is this? And posits, rather than wistfully imagining the tearing down of structures, then, it may be more pertinent to think in terms of the renovation and re-habitation of what has been inherited as a means to engage and unsettle the ongoing imbrications of past and present. This essay is a very useful critical analysis of post-transition literature which includes an excellent list of works cited.

Singh, J. K., and Chetty, R. Eds. (2010). Trauma, Resistance, Reconstruction in post-1994 South African Writing. New York: Peter Lang Publishing, Inc.
The themes of trauma, resistance, and reconstruction is explored through the literature of post-1994 South Africa. The focus of this collection is to explore, within the literature how the trauma and violence of the past are reconciled through writing. In the introductory chapter, the editors, Jaspal Singh and Rajendra Chetty, posit that obviously apartheid as a historical event seems to still occupy the forefront of the collective consciousness of South African writers. And, why would it not? Many of today’s writers have utilized various techniques to discuss memories of the past and how those memories affect the present and the hopes of a reconstructed future South Africa. There are a total of eleven essays exploring various themes from construction of identities to the notion of resistance. The essays analyze a variety of text; fiction, biographies, films, documentaries, poetry, and short stories. The collection is organized into four sections. Section A is entitled: Memory and the Construction of Identities. Section B is entitled: Truth, Reconciliation, Resistance and Reconstruction. Section C is entitled: Damaged Narrative, Silenced Voices and Race. And, Section D is entitled Trauma, Confession and autobiographies. And, some of the fiction examined in this compilation is Zoe Wicomb’s David’s Story, Antjie Krog’s Country of My Skin, Andre Brink’s Devil’s Valley, Achmat Dangor’s Bitter Fruit, and J. M. Coetzee’s Waiting for the Barbarians. Editors, Jaspal Singh is a Professor of English at Northern Michigan University and Rajendra Chetty is the Head of Department (Research), and Faculty of Education and Social Science at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology in South Africa. They lead a group of international contributors with a refreshing balanced gender representation. The research is original and current and situates the discussion around the events of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Much of the new South African writing continue to be underpinned by the past; however, there is also a move towards new social or historical perspectives that point optimistically towards reconciliation and inclusion.

Smit, J. A., van Wyk, J and Wade, J., Eds. (1996). Rethinking South African Literary History. Durban, South Africa: Y Press.
The editors, Johannes A. Smit, Johan van Wyk, and Jean-Philippe Wade, are all employed at the Center for the Study of Southern African Literature and Languages at the University of Durban-Westville in Natal. The collections of eighteen essays are from the proceedings of a colloquium sponsored by the Center that was held in May 1995. Many of the participants of the colloquium and contributors to this volume have been providing scholarship in this field of endeavor for several years. Scholars such as Ampie Coetzee, Michael Chapman, Leon de Kock, and Michael Green all contributed to this volume. These scholars had the unenviable task of exploring perhaps some of the most difficult questions about literature and its history in South Africa. How does one begin to rethink South African literary history in a post-colonial and post-apartheid society? Is there such a thing as a national literary history? The long cultural exchange between Africa and Europe has been dominated by English literature with African languages being marginalized. Now, how does one begin to integrate the study of South African literature? The construction of a national literary history is fraught with numerous landmines. These and other pressing questions in the field are discussed in varying degrees throughout this collection. The introductory essay by co-editor, Jean-Philippe Wade does an excellent job of setting up the many difficult issues and conceptualizations examined in the resulting essays. The essays are organized with the theoretical papers up front followed by the more specifically themed essays that covered issues such as race, gender, popular culture, oral literature, and global capitalism. As there is a political transformation taking place in South Africa there is also a literary and cultural transformation taking place as well. The book opens with a wonderful poem penned in Xhosa and translated into English entitled, Fight with the Pen, so apropos for this collection. This book is valuable whatever your disciplinary orientation is; literary criticism, cultural studies, literary history, or post-colonial studies.

Writing the New South Africa. ARIEL: A Review of International English Language, January 1996. Vol. 27 (1).
This issue is a special edition devoted to post-apartheid South African literature and culture. There is a collection of eleven essays written by a group of international scholars of English literature. In the Preface of the journal, Cherry Clayton provides a brief introduction of the contributions. Mbulelo Vizikhungo Mzamane, through the lens of an exile returning home to South Africa explores the works of Lewis Nkosi, Zakes Mda, and Njabulo Ndebele. Frank Schulze-Engler in his essay looks at civil society and the changes and development within South African civil society and its relationship to literary production. Simon Lewis looks at the notion of memory and myth through the narratives of colonial conquest. Alice Knox examines the theme of interracial relationships in the works of Nadine Gordimer. Michiel Heynes explores patriarchal relationships between fathers and sons in contemporary Afrikaans writing. Leon de Kock and Ian Tromp looks at South African poetry from 1990-1995 within the context of the debate about the role of literature in South Africa society. Judith Lutge Coullie examines the autobiographical texts of Hanlie Griesel’s Sibambene: The Women at Mboza (1987), Ellen Kuzwayo’s Call Me Woman (1985), and Lyndall Gordon’s Shared Lives (1992). Sally-Ann Murray takes on a critical cultural analysis of South Africa’s themed resort, the Lost City. Rob Gaylard reviews Zoe Wicomb’s You Can’t Get Lost in Cape Town (1987) and the significance of being both a woman and Coloured. M. J. Daymond examines the texts of both black and white women writers of short fiction of the 1980s and argues that they perhaps had more in common than we are led to believe. Lastly, Devarakshanam Govinden discusses her personal experiences of reading literature under apartheid and argues the challenges faced in the sphere of cultural politics for the present and moving forward. The essays of this special issue were all timely and relevant to the myriad of changes occurring in a post-apartheid South Africa.

Yousef, N. ed. (2001). Apartheid Narratives. Amsterdam: Rodopi.
Editor and essay contributor, Nahem Yousef, lead a collection of critical essays focused on apartheid era literature and more specifically South African fiction. All together there are ten essays written by predominantly South African based literary scholars. Yousef brings cohesion and purpose to the volume with a strong introductory essay. The passing of time has provided the scholars excellent space to review the literature in its collective past but it also provides an opportunity to connect the old literature to the present literary production. There is both this understanding of the milieu many writers from South Africa found themselves in as well as a shift from that turbulent period. Although this volume is primarily focused on apartheid era writers and their political functions as writers, the volume also briefly discusses the current literary production coming out of South Africa. The end of Apartheid perhaps has brought an end to the tradition of political fiction or protest writing but it does not mean that apartheid writers cannot be revisited and reappraised. The collection of essays examines the works of Helen Joseph, Alex La Guma, J M Coetzee, Mtutuzeli Matshoba, Deena Padayachee, and Bessie Head. The notions of silence, memory, and existence were some of the themes explored in the essays along with discussing the contributions of Indian and women authors. South African writers could not produce art for art’s sake. Apartheid writing gave voice to the voiceless and recorded the story of the people. There is no debate of the connection between art and its social or political objectives. It is this very critical approach to South African literature that serves this collection very well. In relation to the present, Yousef asks; have South African writers lost their essential subject: apartheid. And can the writer return to the ordinary in fiction? All provocative questions for a very well thought out volume.