Back to Africa: Literary Representations of Return in African Literatures
One-day International Conference
Paris, 25th October 2023
The French University Sorbonne Paris Nord, in collaboration with the Italian University of Bologna, is organising a one-day International Conference devoted to postgraduate students and early researchers on the topos of return in African literatures.
This one-day conference aims to investigate how the different forms of return to the African continent are represented in African literatures. We hope to welcome a wide variety of contributions from postgraduate and early-career researchers that do not exclusively focus on the Global North – Global South axis but also on infra-continental patterns of migration as well as understudied migratory axes within the Global South. While, for pragmatic reasons, contributions will be delivered in English, we hope they will tackle narratives of return from different African countries and in a variety of languages, both local and national.
Individual or joint papers will be allotted 20 minutes, followed by a discussion at the end of each panel.
Calendrier révisé : Les contributeurs potentiels sont invités à envoyer leur résumé à firstname.lastname@example.org avant le 16 août 2023. Les notifications d’acceptation seront envoyées le 30 août 2023.
We invite proposals for individual papers that address these and related topics. Proposals should include an abstract of around 250 words, a brief biographical statement and contact information.
Prospective contributors should send their abstracts to email@example.com by July 30, 2023. Notifications of acceptance will be sent by August 30, 2023.
We look forward to receiving your proposal and to a productive conference.
After years spent in the USA as a migrant, Ifemelu, the protagonist of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah (2013), realises that her home country, Nigeria, “became where she was supposed to be, the only place she could sink her roots in without the constant urge to tug them out and shake off the soil.” This “gravitational pull,” as Maximilian Feldner (2019) calls it, has been perceptible in African literatures throughout the years so much so as to represent one of its constitutive features.
In the still ongoing “age of the refugee, the displaced person, mass migration” (Said 1984), the need to return found in African Literatures seems, at first glance, to be at odds with the postcolonial debates around hybridity, cosmopolitanism, and rootlessness or route-oriented belonging. As Salman Rushdie (1983) declared, “roots […] are a conservative myth, designed to keep us in our places.” On a similar note, drawing from the Igbo knowledge system, Chinua Achebe (1994) employs the concept of rootlessness as a metaphor for writing: “If you’re rooted to a spot, you miss a lot of the grace. So you keep moving, and this is the way I think the world’s stories should be told — from many different perspectives,” he argued. Thus, how can return be tackled without mooring it to discourses imbued with essentialism, nationalism, and exclusion, all of which could potentially be derived from rootedness?
Perhaps, however, it is the very tension between routes and roots that should be overcome. It is what James Clifford (1997) attempted to do in his work Routes: Travels and Translation in the Late Twentieth Century. With the return, the homonymic opposition is resolved because coming back to one’s roots involves the act of travelling – routes. But can one ever come back home? As beautifully shown by the novel On Black Sisters’ Street (2011), originally written in Dutch by Nigerian writer Chika Unigwe, migrants, while abroad, might experience a kind of nostalgia. After their return, however, this nostalgia might morph into disillusion and even alienation, as shown by Obi, the protagonist of Chinua Achebe’s No Longer at Ease (1960).