Sem Comparative Lit: African


Seminar in Comparative Literature: African

Wednesdays, 3:15 – 5:45pm


Dr. Derrick Higginbotham



African Literatures, Queer Theories, and the Politics of Decolonization


Contemporary debates about the status of sexual and gender minorities in several African countries raise key epistemological questions for anyone committed to the politics of decolonization. Some of those questions are: is ‘homosexual,’ ‘gay,’ and/or ‘lesbian’ identities western imports? What differentiates indigenous names and social practices that define sexuality and gender from, the globalizing ‘LGBTIQ’ forms of identity, including the use of ‘queer’ as an identity marker? How do different geographic and cultural locations construct closets and are there similarities in the ways that texts imagine sexuality and gender across national borders? What role does gender and sexuality politics play in the process of decolonization? In this seminar, we will read literary texts and watch films from across the African continent in order to provide some answers to these questions, even as our readings will generate other pertinent lines of inquiry.


We will read texts and films that crisscross the continent. From South Africa, we will read K. Sello Duiker’s The Quiet Violence of Dreams (2001), Makhosazana Xaba’s Running and other Stories (2013), and watch John Greyson and Jack Lewis’ film Proteus (1995); from Zimbabwe, we will read Tendai Huchu’s The Hairdresser of Harare (2010); from Somalia, we will read Diriye Osman’s Fairytales for Lost Children (2013); from Morocco, we will read Abdellah Taïa’s Salvation Army (2006) as well as Taïa’s film adaptation of it (2013); from Uganda, we will read the short stories of Monica Arac de Nyeko and Beatrice Lamwaka, found in Queer Africa: New and Collected Fiction (2013) as well as two films about the politics of sexual minority cultures in Uganda; then, we will watch and discuss the recent film, Rafiki, which adapts Nyeko’s short story; and from Nigeria, we will read Chinelo Okparanta’s Under the Udala Trees (2016), a novel that puts queer lives into the context of the Biafran war.


Along the way, we will read historical and cultural analyses of sexual and gender politics in different African countries by scholars from various disciplines, including Zethu Matebeni, Marc Epprecht, Ifi Amadiume, Ashley Currier, Neville Hoad, Franz Fanon, Desirée Lewis, Amina Mama, Sylvia Tamale, Barbara Boswell, and Scott Kugle, among others. While not comprehensive in terms of literary form or geography, the readings in this course offer representations of queer lives at a moment when various governments and communities, both on the continent and globally, contest the rights of such persons. This timeliness means that we will be able to explore issues, such as the significance of exile, diaspora, colonialism, religion, family, race and racism, class, and decolonization that are germane not only to a distinctively pan-African cultural politics of sexuality and gender but, comparatively, to struggles for the freedom of sexual and gender minorities in other parts of the world.


Required Texts:


Novels/Short Stories:

  1. Sello Duiker The Quiet Violence of Dreams. Cape Town: Kwela Books, 2001.

Tendai Huchu. The Hairdresser of Harare. Johannesburg: Jacana Media, 2010.

Makhosazana Xaba. Running and Other Stories. Athlone: Modjaji Books, 2013.

Makhosazana Xaba and Karen White, eds. Queer Africa: New and Collected Fiction.    Athlone: Modjaji Books, 2013.

Chinelo Okparanta. Under the Udala Trees. New York: Mariner Books, 2016.

Diriye Osman. Fairy Tales for Lost Children. London: Team Angelica, 2013.

Abdellah Taïa. Salvation Army. Frank Stock, trans. Los Angeles: Semiotext(e), 2009.



Call Me Kuchu (2012), dirs. Malika Zouhali-Worrall and Katherine Fairfax Wright

God Loves Uganda (2013), dir. Roger Ross Williams

Proteus (1995), dirs. John Greyson and Jack Lewis

Salvation Army (2013), dir. Abdellah Taïa

Rafiki (2018), dir. Wanuri Kahiu




Participation                                                                         10%

Presentation (10 Minutes; 1,250-word write-up)                       20%

Response Paper (700 words)                                           10%

Book Review/Annotated Bibliography (1,300 words)  15%

Conference Paper Proposal (250 words)                                   10%

Conference Paper (2,500 words)                                     35%


Student Learning Outcomes:


In this course, students will:


  • Gain a rich understanding of queer theory as a method for interpreting African literatures and films
  • Enrich their understanding of the history of colonization in African countries, especially as it impacts the politics of gender and sexuality, as well as the political of decolonization in different national contexts.
  • Strengthen their skills in historicizing texts and objects
  • Improve their grasp of African literatures and cultures
  • Acquire skills in working across academic disciplines and their differing critical languages like English, History, Anthropology, and Women’s Studies.
  • Better their capacity in crafting a paper, especially in handling an array of primary and secondary sources to make an argument
  • Conduct oral presentations that effectively convey arguments to your audience.
  • Practice working in common academic genres like the annotated bibliography, the book review, and the conference paper.