Authorial Marginality within Cameroon Anglophone Literature: Locating the Missing Authors?

Jung Young-Lee, mentioned earlier in this paper, notes that in the process of marginalisation “Centres are created within margins; margins are also created within centres” (qtd. Ngwira, 2013: 3). This hints at the deconstructive and confrontational nature of the very concept of marginality. This explains why within Cameroon Anglophone literature some writers equally suffer from labels of minority and marginalization. This form of marginality identified within Cameroon Anglophone literature is known as authorial marginality, and we dare call it intra-literary marginality.  It suffices to note here that authorial marginality is a global phenomenon in literature and art.  Bradatan and Craiutu define it as the “marginality of an author in relation to the mainstream” (n.d.:4). (Also see Anna Dvigubski, 2012: 3). Oscar Labang (2012) refers to it as “academic gangsterism”. For Labang (a committed Cameroon Anglophone literary critic, writer and publisher), “academic gangsterism” which cripples Cameroon Anglophone literature is an “attitude which presupposes that you belong to the academia to have your work read and interpreted by a scholar” (2012: n.p.). Borrowing from Félix Guattari, he further describes it as “power signs which massacre desire”, specifying that “[academic gangsterism] massacres the desires of the writer who does not belong to the academia, as well as massacres the desires of readers who look to academic scholars to recommend beautiful  works to them for consumption” (ibid).

This attitude and its rather unconscious proponents have often side-lined, forgotten, neglected and marginalized (albeit sometimes even established) great/promising literary works simply because their authors do not belong to the academia or are not friends/acquaintances of academic scholars. Scholars who display this attitude “have either turned to academic gangsterism or have given up the supreme task they took or have simply remained parochial” (ibid).  This brings back Nalova Lyonga’s “aesthetics of victimization” (qtd. Labang 2012) to the forefront of Cameroon Anglophone literature—not in the political direction but in that of scholarly and authorial marginality. The victims of this practice are many. Let us turn to Labang again who surmises that “This means that Mathew Takwi, John Ngongkum Ngong, K.K. Bonteh and the host of other playwrights [or writers] do not know how to sing their own songs” (ibid). If it were not for some dynamic and committed Cameroon Anglophone literary scholars and critics, then often-marginalized/-neglected Cameroon Anglophone literary authors like Mathew Takwi, John Ngongkum Ngong, K.K. Bonteh, Sampson Nkwetatang, Nsah Mala, Lum Louisa, Oscar Labang, Dzekashu MacViban, Mbuh Tennu Mbuh, Wirndzerem G. Barfee, Eunice Ngongkum, Douglass Achingale, Gerald Forche, Dibussi Tande, Bill F. Ndi, Giftus Nkam, Ernest Veyu, among others, would be allowed to commit the abominable academic act of singing their own songs. Labang is thus right when he swears that “God [should] forbid that the writer becomes the spokesperson of his [/her] own work” (ibid).

For example, how many Cameroon Anglophone literary critics and scholars are committed to exploring and popularizing Sampson Nkwetatang’s new literary genre known as “Repsy”? The answer to this question is blowing in the winds of authorial marginality and/or academic gangsterism. In addition, Nkwetatang himself asserts that “There are no ‘Repsodists’ on this planet but [there] will be with time”(Interview in The Ngoh-Kuoh Review). And the time to stop or reverse the direction of these undesired winds, as we argue in this paper, is now.

Reversing the Triple Marginality within Cameroon Anglophone Literature

The disturbing situation of triple marginality diagnosed in Cameroon Anglophone literature constitutes an academic and literary ulcer that needs immediate and urgent scholarly treatment. This implies that the time to reverse/eliminate the triple marginality within Cameroon Anglophone literature is here and now. Irrespective of the fact that some Cameroon Anglophone literary scholars and critics like Joyce Ashuntantang, Dibussi Tande and Oscar Labang have variously suggested ways out of this literary dilemma, the process of completely redressing the situation is still on-going. In view of salvaging this wanting situation, the present paper proposes self-canonization, the creation of more and good publishing channels, the promotion of more online and international presence of Cameroon Anglophone literature, and the promotion of more literary awards and academic conferences/symposia.

The Need for Self-Canonization/Literary Apologists

In Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, the lizard is noted to have boasted that if it jumped down from a tree and no one applauded for it, it would applaud itself. The point we draw from this wise saying is that Cameroonian literary scholars and critics should not fold their arms and wait for foreigners to explore and publicize Cameroon Anglophone literature and Cameroon/Cameroun Literature. Our scholars and literary students should take up their rightful roles of singing the songs of Cameroon Anglophone literature and spare its creative author the shame and abomination of singing their own songs (Labang 2012). Full scholars and critics should do so in their personal scientific publications while research students should prioritize Cameroon Anglophone literature when choosing research topics for their academic dissertations whether in Cameroon or abroad. The latter can and should also do so in their collaborative scientific publications. From deconstructive and postcolonial perspectives, it is high time we understood that there are no canons in literature; and if canons must exist, we do not have to let others decide our literary canons. If the decision by Cameroonian scholars (literary scholars and critics, but not writers themselves) to canonize and prioritize their own literary works (through both interdisciplinary and comparative approaches) can be labelled as self-canonization, then so be it. Such scholars will be really committed and responsible in their duties, at least in the opinion of the present author Labang (2012: n.p.) refers to this type of scholars as literary apologists, affirming that “No Minority Literature [like Cameroon Anglophone literature] can survive without apologists. It needs critics who are dedicated to writing, commenting, reviewing and critiquing this literature in [order] to give it currency in the literary market place” (ibid).

He further adds that

Literature exists when people read it, mock it, play with it, evaluate it and celebrate it. When I talk about dedicated individuals, I mean people who love this literature for the sake of the literature and not out of need for promotion in academia, or to achieve a particular political goal or as a favour to a colleague, or need for friendship.

We are in dire need of literary apologists who will self-canonize Cameroon Anglophone literary works and showcase them in the world market of literature for further analytical consumption and posterity. Otherwise, the strong currents of globalization will annihilate this literature and further marginalize it.

The Need to Create Appropriate Publishing Channels

One of the major factors responsible for the marginalization of Cameroon Anglophone literature on the national, continental and global levels is that Africa as a whole and Cameroon in particular are devoid of commendable publishing channels. Many renowned scholars of Cameroon Anglophone literature have identified this problem. For instance, Patrice Nganang—cited in Ashuntantang’s interview with Dibussi Tande has “argued that Cameroonian literature does not belong to Cameroonians because the copyrights to major Cameroonian literary works are owned by European and American publishers” (Tande, 2009: n.p.). In the same interview, Ashuntantang stretches this issue beyond copyrights and metaphorically declares that “As long as foreign publishers remain the mid-wives of our stories, they will keep determining the nature of these stories” (ibid). Inasmuch as we keep delivering our literary offspring in foreign maternities, our children will have foreign hair and identities; we will always be obliged to edit our stories, plays and poems to fit foreign editorial policies and tastes. To a large extent, this is detrimental to our literary advancement. Ashuntantang, however, cautions that “no one is an Island—[Therefore] a viable partnership is the way forward. Local publishers have to network with foreign publishers for wider distribution” (ibid). Such partnerships will confer multinational statuses on our local publishers like Langaa RPCIG, Miraclaire LLC, Editions Clé, and others. We cannot and should not forget that—to borrow from Ashuntantang once more—“African literary works published by multinational companies are disseminated internationally and so the works also receive international acclaim, while works that are published and disseminated locally do not get known widely no matter how good they are” (ibid). There should also be strong connections and cooperation between book dealers in Cameroon, that is, writers, publishers, booksellers and readers.

Similarly, the Cameroon-born poet Nsah Mala has explored publishing hurdles faced by Cameroonian writers in his poem “Publishing Conundrum” published in his most recent poetry collection If You Must Fall Bush (2016).  In the foreword to the collection, Michael Suh Niba elaborates the issue further. He writes that

…unfortunately Cameroonian authors [and researchers] have a problem because they do not have publication channels. In most cases their works take so much time to be published so much so that they are accused of plagiarism which the poet creatively terms the accusation of ‘adultery and fornication’. Those involved in publishing in Cameroon only care about producing textbooks for the syllabus thereby marginalising creative writers [and researchers].  This sense of frustration which Mala expresses is a sentiment that other Cameroonian writers like Joyce Ashuntantang and Oscar Labang have also explored.

Louisa Lum, in the afterword to Nsah Mala’s collection, joins Suh Niba  to affirm that “There is also a focus on the difficulty of publication by Cameroonian authors since most local publishers prefer to publish textbooks that  will sell in the national school system” (p. 107). The hunt by Cameroonian local publishers for publishing textbooks to fill booklists contributes to marginalize Cameroon Anglophone literature (as well as scholarly publishing).  Publishers should cease to act as predators on writers, confiscating and/or co-owning their copyrights and promising royalties on book contracts that are never paid. We need to move beyond vanity publishing in our quest for the proper dissemination of our literature.

In the present digital era where open access, open education and open data are overwhelmingly gaining grounds, this problem becomes much acuter. In this era, more than ever before, “Every minority literature needs journals, reviews, newsletters, blogs and notebooks dedicated to the pub -lishing of any “Trash” [write-up] written about this literature” ( Labang, 2012: n.p.). Although  Cameroon Anglophone literature can boast of some open access journals, that is, the  Journal of English Language, Literature and Culture ( JELLiC ) run by the  Cameroon English Language and Literature Association (CELLA) and the Cameroon Journal of Studies in the Common-wealth run by the University of Douala, Epasa Moto run by the University of Buea, Syllabus Review run by The Higher Teacher Training College (ENS) Yaoundé, and the Journal of Human Rights , initial publishing outlets on the literature such as  The Mould, The Mongo Review and  Palapala have drowned in the seas of oblivion. Even the KIF/Miraclaire monthly poetry reading (café) that blossomed a few years back is nowhere to be found. Positively, Cameroon Anglophone literature currently counts one review (The Ngoh-Kuoh Review), one online magazine/e-zine (Bakwa Magazine at http://www.bakwamagazine.com/), a couple of blogs ( Cameroon Literature in English at http://www.anglocamlit.blogspot.com/, George Ngwane at http://www.gngwane.com/, Scribbles from the Den at http://www.dibussi.com/, Batuo’s  World at http://www.joyceash.com/, and Nsah Mala’s Literary Creations at http://www.nsahmala.blogspot.com/) and one personal journal (La Bang at  http://www.la-bang.org/),  but it needs more of such publishing channels to ensure its sustainable dissemination. This will constitute a milestone in the reversal of the triple marginality inherent in this literature.

The Need for More Online and International Presence

It has been mentioned earlier in this paper and in the works of other Cameroon Anglophone literary scholars that Cameroon Anglophone literature is not very present on the Internet. Oscar Labang, for example, has noted that our literature is “so conspicuously absent” and/or “insignificantly present on the techno-media landscape” (2012). This rather uncomfortable reality is partly blamed on the fact that many Cameroonian literary writers still excessively venerate their works; they overly believe that the worth of a work is solely/largely dependent on its venue of publication and are afraid to publish/share their works online. Social media, online journals and reviews, blogs, e-zines and other online sites provide excellent and promising channels for the dissemination of our literature. Whether or not we are afraid of publishing/sharing our literary works online, electronic literature (e-lit) and the digital humanities are thriving and we will soon be running after them the way we are currently scrambling for the digitalization/internationalization of education. And we will not want to ask this question, who (in Cameroon Anglophone literature) is afraid of the Internet?

While the digitalization of our literature already entails its internalization and dissemination, forging strong partnerships between our local publishers and foreign ones stands a great chance of ensuring the international/global availability of Cameroon Anglophone literature. Some of such promising partnerships include selling books via Amazon and other online bookstores as well as Langaa RPCIG’s marketing partnership with African Books Collective (ABC) in the UK and Michigan State University in the USA. Such initiatives can create a larger space for Cameroonian literature on the international literary landscape and undo the tags of marginality and invisibility attached to this rich literature.

The Need for More Literary Awards, Conferences and Symposia

Literary awards, honors, prizes and gatherings like conferences and symposia are great avenues for motivating and popularizing literary production and encouraging literary scholarship. Unfortunately, these motivational and scholarly endeavors are lacking in Cameroon. In fact, at the time of writing this paper, there were only two literary awards/prizes in Cameroon Anglophone literature namely the EduArt Award and the Eko Foundation/ACWA Award (see Labang 2012).  Apart from the Kashim Ibrahim Talla Annual Lecture (KITAL) which opens the Cameroon English Language and Literature Association (CELLA) annual international conferences, there is no other regular literary/scholarly gathering on Cameroon Anglo-phone literature that we can cite. In the past, the participation of Cameroon Anglophone literary artists and scholars in the African Literature Association (ALA) annual conferences was not quantitatively impressive compared to that of artists and critics from other African countries. However, this trend has begun changing positively, especially since 2010, witnessing a com-mendable growth in popularity and visibility. For instance, many Cameroon Anglophone literary scholars and artists attended the 2015 Bayreuth ALA Annual Conference. They included Bole Butake, Charles Ngiewih Teke, Joyce Ashuntantang, Gilbert Shang Ndi, Victor Gomia and Irmagard Anchang Langmia amongst others. During the Bayreuth ALA conference, Bole Butake was given proper recognition (It is worth noting that he is one of those Cameroonian literary writers and scholars whose works have attracted international acclaim especially in Kenya and other parts of Anglophone Africa thanks to his connection with Eckard Breitinger, another unmistak-able name in Anglophone Cameroon literary criticism). Following the death of Bernard Fonlon in 1986, the ALA instituted the Fonlon-Nichols Award in 1992 and has been awarding it since 1993 to “an African writer for excellence in creative writing and contributions to the struggle for human rights and freedom of expression.” This award honors Bernard Fonlon who was one of the foremost scholars and promoters of both Cameroon and African literatures, cultures and languages. Despite these strides, much still needs to be done to enhance the visibility and popularity of Cameroon Anglophone literature within the ALA and other literary circles. This situation demands urgent attention if we want our literature to thrive and to quit the marginal spaces into which it has been flung through negligence and other factors. Labang (2012), succinctly captures this urgency as follows:

As a minority literature, [Cameroon Anglophone literature] needs writers’ associations [not only Anglophone Cameroon Writers’ Association, ACWA], literary interest groups [not only CAMLIT Yahoo Group], genre associations/clubs, and literary pressure groups to carve out avenues for its propagation […] It [also] needs awards and prizes, honours and rewards. It needs conferences, sympo-sia, readings, writers’ meetings, cafés, discussions and workshops.

The above is an urgent clarion call that we must heed attentively and immediately in order to reverse the triple marginality of Cameroon Anglophone literature.

Conclusion

This paper set out to discuss the issue of marginality of Cameroon Anglophone Literature within the global/digitalized context. It has proven that there is a triple marginality inherent within Cameroon Anglophone literature which needs to be urgently redressed/reversed. This is because we live in an era wherein constantly innovating information and communication technologies have revolutionized all spheres of human life, levelling hitherto rough terrains and yet opening up more confrontational zones and dichotomies. The main thrust of the paper has been that this triple marginality is discernible at the international/continental, national, and intra-group levels. Indeed, Cameroon literature, that is, Cameroon Anglophone and Francophone literatures, is marginalized on the African and world literary landscape; within Cameroon literature, Cameroon Anglophone literature is also marginalized; and within Cameroon Anglophone literature, some writers equally suffer from complexes of minority and marginalization. Within the context of both African continental (and by extension world) and Cameroon literatures,  Cameroon Anglophone literature is, consciously and/or unconsciously, downgraded into the marginal sphere according to the postcolonial dichotomy of center/margin (Ashcroft et al, 1995:86). Graham Huggan (2001:20) designates this sort of marginality as an “oppositional discursive strategy”. The third form of marginality identified within Camreroon Anglophone literature is authorial marginality (see Dvigubski 2012: 3 and Bradatan and Craiutu, n.d.: 4) which Oscar Labang (2012) refers to as “academic gangsterism”. I have dared to call it intra-literary marginality. The paper has examined arenas of African literary exhibition such as Afri-can Literature Association (ALA) annual reports, reviewing related literary scholarly documents and citing some literary artists in order to buttress and illustrate its arguments. After mapping out the said problem of triple marginality, we have concluded the paper by identifying and/or suggesting possible measures aimed at reversing the trends.

By treating Cameroon Anglophone literature vis-à-vis Cameroon litera-ture as a whole, this paper has also shown that the former literature cannot be completely dissociated from the latter one. The fate of both is intricately bound together. Joyce Ashuntantang shares this opinion when she observes that “Understanding Anglophone literature only helps in understanding Cameroon literature as a whole” (2009a: n.p.). Otherwise, as she continues, we would only talk about African literature and never mention Cameroon or Nigerian literature. Moreover, does the existence of Yoruba studies or Igbo studies threaten Nigerian or African literature/studies?

In view of the above, this paper adds its author’s voice to those of other proponents of Cameroon Anglophone literature to neutralize unfounded claims propagated by detractors of Cameroon Anglophone literature in Cameroon, that is, those scholars and politicians who are bent on suppressing the Anglophone/Anglo-Saxon identity, including that of Cameroon Anglophone literature and the English language. That “nationalist” school of thought which purports that by advocating for a distinct “minority  Anglo-phone  Cameroon literature” separate from the general  Cameroon literature, Anglophone Cameroon writers, scholars and critics are inadvertently locking up Anglophone literature in a literary ghetto is baseless and domineering. Diversity is a strength, not a weakness.

Read the first part of the article here.


Kenneth Nsah (Nsah Mala)  is a poet, writer and postgraduate researcher, presently enrolled as a PhD Fellow in Comparative Literature at Aarhus University, Denmark. In 2018, he obtained the Erasmus Mundus Master’s Crossways in Cultural Narratives from three European Universities: Perpignan Via Domitia in France, St Andrews in the UK, and Santiago de Compostela in Spain. His research interests include postcolonial studies, ecocriticism, migration literature, literary activism, literature and law, and creative writing.
This essay first appeared as a book chapter in Re-writing Pasts, Imagining Futures: Critical Explorations of Contemporary African Fiction and Theater edited by Victor Gomia and Gilbert Shang Ndi.

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