Monday, November 26, 2007

WWWD: What would Wainaina do....

So, I'm in the midst of grading some 70+ papers and finding myself making loud growling noises--I SWEAR if I see "native Africans" or "tribal" or "nation" (for the continent of Africa) used one more time after I sent an explicit email to my students outlining my peeviest of pet peeves.... And after one dear child ends her otherwise insightful paper about the mis-uses of humanitarian aid in Africa with the phrase "we will start to see a country coming out of the darkness and into the light," I find myself writing: "What would Binyavanga Wainaina say?"

Because, you see, they had to read that Binyavanga Wainaina essay "How to Write About Africa" at the beginning of the semester, and he is my reference point whenever I think the dang textbook Understanding Contemporary Africa (a rather bad textbook trying to condense "understanding" all of Africa [politics, economics, religion, literature, history, etc] to about 200 pages) is over-generalizing, which is most of the time--or we see an old cliched documentary in lecture.... or someone asks in class how "we" can "save" Africa....

"What would Wainaina say?" I ask... WWWS

So, I FINALLY get to teach a film (Mambety) this week and Dangarembga's Nervous Conditions next week--back to African voices--thank GOD! After a semester teaching an African Studies introductory survey course, I am grateful that I chose to follow literature and film and spend the rest of my life teaching what African writers have had to say for themselves rather than what other people have to say for them.... I open each discussion section with a poem by an African writer--whether we are studying economics or politics, and whether it totally relates or not... Just my own little way of trying to remind the students that those voices do exist...

Photo Credit: Creative Writing @ EMU

4 comments:

Texter said...

I really like that idea of using a short poem in the beginning of a discussion section. It would be even better (?) if the poem could comment on the subject at hand (a poem with a sly commentary on economics for example).
But, dear Talatu, even teaching the literature leaves students wondering what the "experts" think... it's an uphill battle, although quite challenging and interesting... and worthwhile..

Talatu-Carmen said...

Texter! Great to see you again. Yes, I do usually try to make sure the poem relates. And, yes, I know the students don't always 'get' it, even in the literature classes--but I've always felt like I was on firmer ground teaching literature--at least there are actual voices there to engage rather than dry generalizing textbooks. But, then, it's good for me to learn how to teach broader topics--I'll just always sneak in some literature, no matter what I teach!

Anonymous said...

Oh no! I have a stack to mark but I trust the students are past the stage of 'tribal'... Didn't you give them "Talking about Tribes" to read?

Talatu-Carmen said...

anon, hmmm... no, who is that by? But I have talked to them about using the word "tribe." So they shouldn't be using it. I think the people doing it are the ones who skip class and don't read their emails... c'est la vie.