ENG 241 The Empire Writes Back: Postcolonial Literature

Ambreen Hai, M W 1:10 PM-2:30 PM

This introductory course focuses on Anglophone literatures (fiction, poetry and drama written in English) and some film, from Africa, the Caribbean and South Asia. We will read closely and compare world-famous writers from various parts of the former British Empire. Thus this literature simultaneously engages the past, present, and the future, for it bears the legacies of colonialism, critically examines the present, and tries to imagine the future, as it explores contemporary dilemmas of postcolonialism, nationhood, diaspora, gender, class, race, and individual or collective identity. 

            While being historically and geographically specific, we will explore many questions raised both in and by these texts. For instance, how is this English literature--what does it mean to write in the “oppressor's” language, and how are English language and literature transformed by these writers? How is this literature both an artistic and political response to colonial domination? If nations are formed, as one critic has argued, as “imagined communities,” then how can literature be an agent in creating national and cultural communities, and in transforming our imaginations and thus our realities? How can it revise history and recover lost stories, experiences, perspectives that were left out of official histories? What is “home,” “family,” “identity” or “race” for peoples who have often been multiply displaced for multiple reasons? How can intersecting constructions of race, gender, class or sexuality be (re)defined by literature? Is the predicament of being “hybrid”--a product of two or more cultures, histories, races or languages--a matter of weakness or strength? How are women affected by--and affect—the processes of modernization and often masculinist national or neo-colonial movements? Why are migration and "diaspora" (from dispersal) a central preoccupation for postcolonial studies? What implications does all this have for contemporary U.S. imperialism? How is globalization (and ensuing flows of people, goods, cultural ideas and values) addressed or reflected in these literatures? And what are the challenges of reading these literatures for each of us, located where we are? How are we to learn to read self-consciously and differently from more traditional approaches to literature? And of course, any other questions that compel you as we read. 

The writers we’ll read are diverse and stunning, all in their own ways. They share commonalities, but are also unique as thinkers, artists, and as shaped by their specific cultural and national histories. Our readings will probably include many though not all of the following big names: Chinua Achebe, Wole Soyinka, Ngugi wa Thiong’o, Ama Ata Aidoo, Tsitsi Dangarembga, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Frantz Fanon, Derek Walcott, V. S. Naipaul, Michelle Cliff, Jamaica Kincaid, Salman Rushdie, Kamala Markandaya, Arundhati Roy, Anita Desai, Jhumpa Lahiri, Mohsin Hamid. 

Requirements: three papers (5-7 pages), some ungraded reading responses (1-2 pages) and active class participation. Classes will alternate between lectures and discussion. 


This course may be counted towards the English major distribution requirement under postcolonial literatures. It is also cross-listed in CLT and SWG and may be counted towards those majors.