The Rise of the African Novel

Politics of Language, Identity, and Ownership
Mukoma Wa Ngugi
Engaging questions of language, identity, and reception to restore South African and diaspora writing to the African literary tradition


The Rise of the African Novel is the first book to situate South African and African-language literature of the late 1880s through the early 1940s in relation to the literature of decolonization that spanned the 1950s through the 1980s, and the contemporary generation of established and emerging continental and diaspora African writers of international renown.

Calling it a major crisis in African literary criticism, Mukoma Wa Ngugi considers key questions around the misreading of African literature: Why did Chinua Achebe’s generation privilege African literature in English despite the early South African example? What are the costs of locating the start of Africa’s literary tradition in the wrong literary and historical period? What does it mean for the current generation of writers and scholars of African literature not to have an imaginative consciousness of their literary past?
While acknowledging the importance of Achebe’s generation in the African literary tradition, Mukoma Wa Ngugi challenges that narrowing of the identities and languages of the African novel and writer. In restoring the missing foundational literary period to the African literary tradition, he shows how early South African literature, in both aesthetics and politics, is in conversation with the literature of the African independence era and contemporary rooted transnational literatures.

This book will become a foundational text in African literary studies, as it raises questions about the very nature of African literature and criticism. It will be essential reading for scholars of African literary studies as well as general readers seeking a greater understanding of African literary history and the ways in which critical consensus can be manufactured and rewarded at the expense of a larger and historical literary tradition.

“A lucid history of the African novel, emphasizing the need to consider works originally written in African languages prior to the 1950s. Ngugi brings to the foreground texts that are rarely discussed, demonstrating that the history of the African novel goes beyond the well-known works in the African super-canon. His archive is wide ranging, and he reads both old and new materials with rare clarity.”
—Evan Mwangi, Northwestern University
Mukoma Wa Ngugi is Assistant Professor of English at Cornell University. He is the author of three novels and two books of poems.

Praise / Awards

  • "He provides astute analysis of writers such as Achebe, Aidoo, Adichie, Tutuola, Dangarembga, and Bulawayo...He also touches, in fascinating ways, on his own work as a writer of detective fiction. This will be a standard text and reference book on the African novel....Essential."
    --Choice Reviews Online
  • "Ngugi envisions a properly rooted literary tradition that encompasses the breadth and depth of African literature."
    --World Literature Today
  • "Mukoma invites us to imagine an expansive, borderless African literature that begins with texts published in late nineteenth-century southern Africa."
    --H-Net Reviews
  • "Reading everything from Wole Soyinka to Chimamanda Adichie, this academic yet accessible book posits compelling questions about the 'manufacturing' of the archetypal modern African novel."
    --Quartz Africa, "The best Africa books we read in 2018"
  • "The lasting significance of The Rise of the African Novel is further guaranteed by its account of recent innovations in the African literary sphere including the vibrant work of digital platforms, including Jalada ... a significant addition to the scholarship in African literary criticism and history of the novel."
    --Journal of Modern African Studies
  • Winner: American Library Association (ALA) 2018 Choice Outstanding Academic Title

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News, Reviews, Interviews

Interviewed 10/13/2020 in 'Africa is a Country' podcast

Read: Mukoma Wa Ngugi and Rise of the African Novel listed as one of 48 notable African books of 2018 in Brittle Paper Link | 12/28/2018
Read: Mukoma Wa Ngugi and Rise of the African Novel featured in The Wire Link | 7/28/2019

Product Details

  • 240 pages.
Available for sale worldwide

  • Ebook
  • 2018
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-12336-0

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  • African Writers. African Literature, Makerere Writers, Early South African Writers, Transnational African Literature, African literary criticism, Rise of the African Novel