It has been a while since I’ve read, edited or contributed to an anthology of theoretical essays on South African literature. But, occasionally, I still have academic longings; therefore, I approached South African Writing in Transition, edited by Rita Barnard and Andrew van der Vlies, with great anticipation, and found the collection most engrossing. The individual contributions focus on a fascinating and relevant selection of primary sources, mostly novels and short stories, reaching as far back as Sol Plaatje’s Mhudi (1930) and incorporating contemporary texts into the diverse readings of the South African literary canon. The work of other South African literary greats – Njabulo S Ndebele, Zakes Mda, Mongane Wally Serote, Nadine Gordimer, Marlene van Niekerk and Ivan Vladislavić among them – is discussed along with an array of new, equally exciting voices, exposing striking continuities and departures.
By its very nature, theoretical writing takes time to compose and publish. South African Writing in Transition is the result of several international conferences which took place between 2012 and 2017 in South Africa and overseas. Most contributors are not based locally, which perhaps limits the scope of the inquiry as a whole, but the collection testifies to South African literature’s continuous appeal to international scholars. Also, the anthology’s topics are pertinent to our present in highly productive and sometimes uncanny ways. As Barnard writes in the introduction to the book: “[I]t is now time to consider the many loops and twists, the stasis and acceleration, the paralysis and hope of postapartheid experience.” We find ourselves in an unprecedented global reality in which the interest in world literature, its contributions and theories, will become more significant than ever, and understanding the South African experience, past and present, socio-historical and literary, as part of it could be of notable value.
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