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Accepted Paper:

’We Narratives’ in African Speculative Fiction: Between Human and Nonhuman Communities  
Ruth S. Wenske (Ben-Gurion University of the Negev)

Paper short abstract:

This paper explores how Akwaeke Amezi’s novel Freshwater uses “we-narrators” (Bekhta 2020) to negotiate West African ontologies of communality, suggesting that the novel problematizes the dualisms of human/nonhuman and fantasy/spirituality as a way to re-imagine the future through the past.

Paper long abstract:

“No man beholds his mother’s womb—

Yet who denies it’s there? Coiled

To the navel of the world is that

Endless cord that links us all

To the great origin. If I lose my way

The trailing cord will bring me to the roots.”

—Wole Soyinka, _Death and the King’s Horseman_

African Speculative Fiction (ASF) has been gaining popular and critical traction over the past decade, as part of a growing sense of urgency in reckoning with the future. Noting how “the climate crisis is also a crisis of culture, and thus of the imagination” (Ghosh 2016: 15), speculative fiction is seen as a key avenue for re-imagining the future (Chattopadhyay 2022). This paper explores how ASF offers alternate conceptions of the future by questioning ontological assumptions about the present, thereby re-imagining the future through the past.

I read Akwaeke Emezi’s novel _Freshwater_ for its use of multiple nonhuman narrators, who tell the story in the first-person plural: as a nongendered spirit-human “we.” Building on Emezi’s later claim that the novel was autobiographical, I explore of Freshwater’s use of a “we-narrative” technique (Bekhta 2020) as tied to a West African ontology of collectivity (Soyinka, 1975) in which the human and nonhuman are seen as interconnected. I briefly compare Freshwater to other speculative texts that use “we-narrators”—Noel Cherutu’s “We Broke Nairobi,” NoViolet Bulawayo’s _Glory_, and Nnedi Okorafor’s _Lagoon_— to suggest that this form of communality is increasingly thematized in ASF because it speaks to the crisis of future of our times.

Panel Lang10
African literatures: collective futures/ utopias [CRG African Literatures]
  Session 2 Thursday 1 June, 2023, -