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Writing the Prison in African Literature


Rachel Knighton

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 onward 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.

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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...

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