Writing on stage: performative authorship and contemporary francophone African writers
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The concept of the author has changed over time, along with the forms of media that have been used to circulate texts. In my dissertation, I examine assumptions about writers with roots on the African continent by looking at representations of their status and function as authors as they appear in fiction and in the public sphere. I explore the changes in both the academy's and the public's perceptions of literature in French, and examine how these perceptions are related to current understandings of migration, transnationalism, and "legitimate" cultural production. The generation of writers working after independence from European colonialism in the 1960s, 70s, and 80s re-appropriated language and forms, resisting political and cultural domination. Decades later, can it be said that francophone writers today are as much a part of the literary landscape in French as any other author? I study the writings and self-presentation of five prominent authors writing in French today: Calixthe Beyala (Cameroon), Fatou Diome (Senegal), Bessora (Gabon/Switzerland), Alain Mabanckou (Congo), and Léonora Miano (Cameroon). Through their public performances as well as in their published work, these five writers adapt the repertoire for the writer labeled as "African" or "immigrant" in their own ways. They may play into or play up some of these prescribed roles, but in so doing they highlight the apparatus that structures the publishing industry, including the problematic vestiges of colonialism that remain in place there. Recent theories of the posture de l'écrivain (posturing of the writer) have not yet been fully applied to writers outside the Franco-French, Parisian-centered literary field. I examine the implications of considering the performance of the authorial persona when applied to works by French-speaking authors with origins outside this hyper-centralized industry. My corpus includes their written works, their presence in both traditional and digital media, and their appearances in person at literary events. Focusing on their self-presentation in written and embodied performances enables a more complete grasp of specific ways the literary field is configured for francophone writers, and the differences that remain: in the roles imposed upon them, and in their own authorial aesthetic.