Writing the Prison in African Literature

by Rachel Knighton (Author)
Monographs X, 202 Pages

Table Of Content

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Acknowledgements
  • Introduction
  • Chapter 1 ‘I was never one for writing diaries’: The Individual and the Collective in Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s Detained: A Writer’s Prison Diary (1981)
  • Chapter 2 ‘We were all serving time’: Prison Memoir and Perspectival Variation in Ruth First’s 117 Days (1965)
  • Chapter 3 ‘Language needs to be a part of resistance therapy’: Narrating Psychological Breakdown and Political Opposition in Wole Soyinka’s The Man Died (1972)
  • Chapter 4 ‘Moving the body means life’: Liberation and the Body in Nawal El Saadawi’s Memoirs from the Women’s Prison (1986)
  • Chapter 5 ‘[W]hat song shall I sing from this stench?’: Creating a Prison Poetics in Jack Mapanje’s And Crocodiles Are Hungry at Night (2011)
  • Conclusion
  • Bibliography
  • Index
  • Series index


Rachel Knighton


About the author

Rachel Anna Aisha Knighton completed her PhD in the Faculty of English at the University of Cambridge, for which she was awarded a Graduate Research Scholarship by Girton College. Her PhD research forms the basis of this book.

About the book

This book examines a selection of prison memoirs by five renowned African writers: Ngugi wa Thiong’o, Ruth First, Wole Soyinka, Nawal El Saadawi and Jack Mapanje. Detained across the continent from the 1960s onwards due to their writing and political engagement, each writer’s memoir forms a crucial yet often overlooked part of their wider literary work. The author analyses the varied and unique narrative strategies used to portray the prison, formulating a theory of prison memoir as genre that reads the texts alongside postcolonial, trauma, life-writing and prison theory. The book also illustrates the importance of these memoirs in the telling of their historical moment, from apartheid South Africa to post-independence Kenya, Nigeria, Egypt and Malawi.

This eBook can be cited

This edition of the eBook can be cited. To enable this we have marked the start and end of a page. In cases where a word straddles a page break, the marker is placed inside the word at exactly the same position as in the physical book. This means that occasionally a word might be bifurcated by this marker.



I would like to thank my PhD Supervisor, Dr Christopher Warnes, for his unrelenting support throughout my work on this project while at Cambridge. Chris was so kind as to complete numerous references on my behalf, as well as providing invaluable feedback on my writing. His belief in the importance of my research enabled it to become what it is today, and for this I am very grateful. The tutors at Girton College were just as instrumental in my academic growth, and I will never forget the moment I read of my successful funding application to become a Girton Graduate Scholar.

While at Cambridge, many more figures stand out, and I am honoured to count these names among those who have advised me during the PhD process. Malachi McIntosh, Priyamvada Gopal and Edward Wilson-Lee in the Faculty of English have been excellent readers of various chapters at different stages of writing. John Lonsdale, Tim Cribb, George Karekwaivanane, Emma Hunter and Ruth Watson from the Centre of African Studies have been of equal help and inspiration.

Going back in time slightly further, I would not be where I am today without the assistance, during my MA in Postcolonial Literature at Leeds, of Clare Barker, John McLeod and my MA dissertation supervisor, the brilliant Brendon Nicholls. Brendon’s role in my academic progress culminated in his position as external examiner for my PhD, and I hold his beautifully scripted comments amongst my most prized. His encouragement, and that of Robert MacFarlane as my PhD examiner at Cambridge, nurtured the seeds in my mind of turning the thesis into a book.

It was as an undergraduate in the Department of English and Related Literature at York, that I was able to reconcile my love of literature with my interest in Africa. Anna Bernard’s course on ‘Resistance Writing’ initiated this passion; as did talks with the wonderful Zoe Norridge, who has been a constant support ever since. I can’t miss out the overarching presence of←ix | x→ David Attwell, whose affability and renown as a South Africanist rooted within me early on that my interest meant something.

During a fieldwork trip to Cape Town in April 2015 to contextualise my work, Daniel Roux, David Johnson and Hedley Twidle provided excellent company. I will not easily forget arriving at Albie Sachs’ house on the beach to interview him, either!

Overall, I feel immensely blessed to have encountered all of these incredible people who have, no doubt, helped shape my mind and my prose into what it is today. It has been a very fulfilling process in turning the thesis into the book as it now stands. For this opportunity, I thank the publishers at Peter Lang, whose office in Oxford I passed so often, quite oblivious to the interesting work that was going on inside.

Biographical notes

Rachel Knighton (Author)

Rachel Anna Knighton completed her PhD in the Faculty of English at the University of Cambridge, for which she was awarded a Graduate Research Scholarship by Girton College. Her PhD research forms the basis of this book.


Title: Writing the Prison in African Literature