Immigrant Literacies: Language and Learning in the African Diaspora Novel by Twenty-First Century Anglophone African Writers

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“Immigrant Literacies: Language and Learning in the African Diaspora Novel by Twenty-First Century Anglophone African Writers” examines the fiction of contemporary African Diaspora writers that introduces new tropes of reading and writing in narrating the experiences of African migrants to Europe and the United States. The writers who are the focus of this dissertation—Teju Cole, Chimamanda Adichie, Brian Chikwava and NoViolet Bulawayo— grapple with the difficulties of migration and its impact on preconceived notions of the self and the world. Each writer links the different pathways that their immigrant characters must take to multiple forms of teaching and learning, demonstrating that literacy is a contextual cultural practice that fosters social connections across the African Diaspora, even as it takes power relations into account. Using the work of Brian Street and other New Literacy theorists, I explore four versions of literacy as a socially embedded cultural practice in novels mainly about Nigerian and Zimbabwean immigrants in the United States and Britain. These theorists are key to my understanding of how revised attitudes to self in an expanded community are being developed in the contemporary African novel because they enable a shift in attention from learning to read and write in order to master a stable and transferrable set of skills to teaching and learning to read and write using a range of codes that characterize hybrid environments. Early criticisms of the African novel focused on the integration of written and oral forms in literature that would nurture a nationalist and postcolonial agenda. Twenty-first century African Diaspora literature expands these goals in demonstrating the transnational and transcultural evolution of both writing and orality. My dissertation organizes each chapter around an exemplary novel to argue that contemporary African novelists writing in English and living in and outside of Africa address the defining question of literacy they have inherited from previous generations by suggesting that multiple and fluid forms of literacy characterize the experience of Africans in the context of migration in the Diaspora.