Writing black: the South African short story by black writers

Gaylard, Rob
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Stellenbosch: University of Stellenbosch
This study attempts a re-reading and re-evaluation of the work of black South African short story writers from R.R.R. Dhlomo (circa 1930) to Zoë Wicomb (at the end of the 1980s). The short story, along with the autobiography, was the dominant genre of black writing during this period, and the reasons for this are examined, as well as the ways in which black writers adapt or transform this familiar literary genre. The title – “Writing Black” – alludes to well-known works by Richard Rive (Writing Black) and J.M. Coetzee (White Writing), and foregrounds the issue of race and racialised identities. While one would not want to neglect other factors (class, gender), it is hardly possible to underestimate the impact of racial classification during the apartheid era. However, the difficulty of asserting the unproblematic existence of a homogeneous “black” identity also becomes evident. The approach adopted here reflects the need to recognise both the singularity of particular texts (their “literariness”) as well as their embeddedness in their particular place and time (their “worldliness” or their “circumstantiality”). Literary texts are complex verbal artefacts of an unusual kind, but they cannot be separated from their contexts of production and reception; black writing in this country would be largely incomprehensible if this were not taken into account. Close attention is given to the obvious spatial, temporal and ideological shifts in South African cultural production during this period, and to the two major phases of black writing (the Sophiatown and District Six writers of the 50s, and the Staffrider writers of the 70s and 80s). The work of these writers is not, however, subsumed into a political meta-narrative. In particular, this study resists the tendency to lump the work of black writers into one large, undifferentiated category (“protest writing” or “spectacular” representation). This approach has had the effect of flattening out or homogenising a body of work that is much more varied and interesting than many critical accounts would suggest. Finally, the contribution of three writers of the “interregnum” (Ndebele, Matlou, Wicomb) is explored. What is of particular interest is their break from established conventions of representation: their work reveals a willingness to resist over-simplification, to experiment, and to explore issues of identity and gender. By examining these texts from the vantage point of the post-apartheid present, one is able to arrive at an enhanced understanding of the form that black writing took under apartheid, and the pressures to which it was responding.
Thesis (DLitt (English))--University of Stellenbosch, 2008.
Theses -- English literature, Dissertations -- English literature