Friday, April 18, 2008
"Spirit of Dialogue" by Chris Okonkwo
A Spirit of Dialogue: Incarnations of Ogbanje, the Born-to-Die, in African American Literature, has just come hot off the press from the University of Tennessee Press. The author is Chris Okonkwo, my longtime friend and, without equivocation, one of the sharpest literary scholars of my generation. His critical clarity and profound mastery of issues in African and African American literature and literary theory, is incomparable. And I recommend this book to anyone with serious interest in contemporary literature, but especially in the ways some crucial African concepts and ideas--in this case, the phenomenon of Ogbanje or Abiku--motivate and are insinuated in the formal style and narrative structure of work by influential African American writers. If I must entice you, here is a little detail from the publisher:
A Spirit of Dialogue focuses on the sometimes neglected and understudied works of four canonical African American writers: Octavia E. Butler's Wild Seed and Mind of My Mind, Tananarive Due's The Between, John Edgar Wideman's The Cattle Killing, and Toni Morrison's Sula and Beloved. Okonkwo demonstrates persuasively how the mythic spirit child informs the content and form of these novels, offering Butler, Due, Wideman, and Morrison a non-occidental “code” by which to engage collectively with the various issues integral to the history experience of African-descended people. The paradigm functions, then, as the nexus of a life-affirmative dialogue among the six novels, as well as between them and other works of African religious and literary imagination, particularly Things Fall Apart and Ben Okri's The Famished Road.
Posted by Chika Okeke-Agulu at 11:11 PM
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While I have not read this book yet-- it is on order-- I am finishing a class with Dr. Okonkwo on African American Literature, Critical Theory: Blues and Jazz Theory.If this book is as well written as he taught his class, then this book will both inspire and enrich. I have never learned more in one semester than I have in his class. The way he makes he makes connections, sometimes unseen by the student at first, and leads the class to realization is incredible. Just as incredible is his way of giving these texts, theories, and ideas a since of life, that they belong to the people for which they're about. In his ability to do this I've come out of his class with not just knowledge but a greater sense of empathy-- important considering the events that have happened in Missouri this past year. Finally, I'm also a student studying philosophy with a focus on issues of identity; however, I have learned more about the complexities of identity in Dr. Okonkwo's class than in any analytic philosophy course. So, while not having read this book yet, I already recommend it.
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