Trading Texts: publication beyond print in Anglophone Africa

every day is for the thief

Supervisor: Professor Elleke Boehmer, Faculty of English

Project outline

Trading Texts is a comparative doctoral project that will explore two or three ‘beyond print’ publishing environments in sub-Saharan Anglophone Africa post-2000: in particular, Kenya, South Africa, and/or Nigeria. The three countries have experienced a boom in publishing both digital and print since the millennium. In some cases, digital publication has encouraged and stimulated new print publishing, as with the many lively independent publishers flourishing in Lagos, Cape Town, Johannesburg, and Nairobi. This has in turn driven new digital experimentation, significantly reducing African ‘dependency on the global publishing system’ (Edjabe/MacViban). It has also introduced new forms of creativity, in particular on-line. The 2007 mixed-media Lagos publication of Teju Cole’s first book, Every Day is for the Thief, as an instance of digital-print symbiosis, forms a case-in-point.

The project will investigate how the boom has been propelled by differential levels of uptake in new media technologies, especially the mobile phone and desk-top publishing. At the same time, as personal computers remain scarce in poorer areas, the material book that can be borrowed and shared remains an important medium, though one now always in productive tension with the digital. The continent’s new literary productions are thus powered by digital media, yet still impinged by print as well as oral cultures, making African examples particularly salient for ‘beyond print’ research.

Drawing on the work of Barber, Bush, Ducourneau, Hofmeyr, Newell, Wallis, and others, the project will explore the interaction of digital and print cultures in the named countries, looking at how related media and publicity have shaped the formation of their national literatures, including festivals, Spoken Word events, and book prizes (many still Europe-based and reliant on the authority of print). The project will consider transnational connections between some of the new publishing houses, such as Kwani, Cassava Republic Press, Modjadji, and Uhlanga, all of these made possible by digital media. It will also profile the authors they have launched, and consider their subsequent careers, up to 2018.

The project will draw upon Eileen Julien’s work in investigating the innovative ways in which first print and now the digital continues to accrue meaning through interrelations with oral cultures, as has long been the case in post-independence Africa (African Novels). By exploring relationships between digital, print literature, and orature, and between these different media and audiences in the different countries, the study will consider national culture itself as a shaping methodology of literary formation, as Gisele Sapiro observes.

Case studies of three authors representing different publishing houses in at least two of the countries will consider how the writers and their publishers have used digital and print media to mould the material conditions of their books’ production. The thesis will take the form of three/four chapters profiling the writers and/or publishing houses, an introduction outlining its methodologies, and a conclusion.

Application process.

Applicants should apply for the DPhil in English by 11 January 2019. Applicants should ideally have a first class or good 2.1 Master’s degree in postcolonial and/or world literature with expertise in book history and African literature. The scholarships will cover tuition fees, colleges fees and provide a living allowance at Research Council rates. Candidates from all backgrounds are welcome to apply, although the Leverhulme Trust has a preference for supporting Home/EU candidates.

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