About the Database
The Literary Map of Africa is a bio-bibliographical database, designed to be a comprehensive research and information tool on African literature. It does not focus on selected authors or national / regional literatures, nor does it follow the sometimes rigid North & sub-Saharan Africa divide; instead, the database seeks to cover the whole continent. This wider scope makes it possible for writers from different regions and countries, with varied histories and cultures, and who produce works in diverse African and European languages to be represented in one project. One objective this project hopes to fulfill is to include as many emerging writers as possible, especially those based in Africa. Many in this category of creative writers do not have a readership beyond their national boundaries and are therefore hardly represented in many bibliographies and encyclopedias.
The database, aimed at scholars and students of African literature, as well the occasional reader seeking information on an African writer, is to be viewed as a starting point for a deeper exploration of African literature. As a freely available resource, anyone with an Internet connection should be able to access it, regardless of geographic location. This is particularly important because African literature is now being written and increasingly consumed outside Africa, and writers and readers within and outside the continent need be aware of trends and the state of literary affairs in the different places. In this regard, the Literary Map of Africa will also serve as a current awareness tool.
Scope and Limits
Users are offered a range of information for each writer: biographical data, a list of primary works, and where applicable, selected reference and critical works, dissertations, interviews, pertinent web sites and prizes won. Sources listed may be in print, electronic, or multimedia formats. The project also points to free Internet resources such as literary magazines, book reviews, full-text collections, and publishers' sites.
But even as such projects try to be as complete as possible, there will inevitably be gaps in country, genre, period, or language representation in the database. This should be seen not as a deliberate attempt to exclude, but rather as the constraints inherent in the compilation of such resources. The focus of the database is on modern written literature only, mostly from the 18th century on. In essence, this means a decision was made to exclude writers from the classical Arabic tradition and works from Africa's rich oral tradition (where "authorship" is communal); writers who may have published only their memoirs are also not included.
Indeed the very definitions of what is African literature or who is as an African writer are contested ones, and users may take issue with the inclusion of some writers in the database. Recent trends and developments: geographical, linguistic, and cultural -- have expanded and complicated the meaning of these descriptions. In addition to the usual criteria, these terms now include writers born outside the continent but who have African parents, and the newer phenomenon of migrant writers who continue or begin their writing career in the language of their new home (such as the Togolese Senouvo Zinsou or Pap Khouma who have written in German and Italian respectively).
For the purposes of this project, writers born in Africa (including Albert Camus), those who were born elsewhere but have been systematically identified in previous reference works as African writers because of years of residence in the continent, and that their works recreate African realities (like French-born and long-time Ivorian resident, Michele Assamoua, or Indian-born, Nigerian resident Kanchana Ugbabe), children of first generation immigrants (such as Marie Ndiaye in France or Diran Adebayo in the U.K.), have all been included. This also means that diaspora-based writers such as Ben Okri, Jose Pliya or Koffi Kwahule who prefer to be seen as writing "universal" literature and not have their works "essentialized" or restrictively tagged "African" are included here. The debates about what they are or are not is being discussed by scholars and critics in other venues.
The content for the database was compiled from a variety of sources, including:
- a selection of core print reference resources such as Encyclopedia of African Literature (Routledge, 2003); African Writers (Charles Scribner's, 1997); Bibliography of African Literatures (Scarecrow, 1996); The Undergraduate's Companion to Arab Writers and Their Web Sites (Libraries Unlimited, 2004); The Undergraduate's Companion to African Writers and Their Web Sites (Libraries Unlimited, 2005); Crosshatching in Global Culture : A Dictionary of Modern Arab Writers (2004), Bibliographie francophone de litterature africaine(EDICEF, 1994), A New Bibliography of the Lusophone Literatures of Africa (1993), and various regional and country guides.
- Proprietary databases including Black Drama, Literature Online, the MLA International Bibliography, Humanities International Complete, and Literary Reference Center.
- Free Internet projects like Contemporary Africa Database, Reading Women Writers and African Literatures, Contemporary Postcolonial and Postimperial Literature in English. Others routinely included are sites of authors, publishers, magazines, newspapers, and instructors as well as blog posts and YouTube videos.
The development of the Literary Map of Africa was funded by a 2006 Carnegie-Whitney grant of the American Library Association. The Ohio State University Libraries supported my grant application and awarded me research leave during Spring Quarter 2007 to start work on the project. Many thanks to librarians and faculty at The Ohio State University and other institutions for offering advice, suggestions and feedback at various stages of the project's development. The clickable map was modified from a version available at Northwestern University Library's Africana collection.
The content editor, Miriam Conteh-Morgan, (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the subject librarian for African Studies at The Ohio State University Libraries. She is the author of a research guide to African literature (Libraries Unlimited 2004, http://amzn.to/J0LGfN) and several articles and conference presentations.
Amy McCrory is the digital imaging specialist at The Ohio State University Libraries who designed the (stacked books) logo for the Web site. Members of the Libraries IT Department - past and current - have assisted with redesigns and updates.