The Literary Corner: Eldred Jones on Chinua Achebe (side b)

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[[african drums sounds]]

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[[drums, whistling and low flute]]

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The literary corner black writers of the world, a series of analyses and interpretations of black world literature. Today an introduction to African English drama.

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[[woman's voice]] Give us money to satisfy our daily necessities, make you not forget those who day struggle daily. Those who beclerk today make them chief clerk tomorrow.

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Those who are messenger today make them senior servants tomorrow.

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Those who are petty traitor today make them big contractor tomorrow.

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Those who day sweep today give them their own office tomorrow.

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If we day walk with today give us our own bicycle tomorrow, and those who have bicycle today they will ride their own car tomorrow.

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[[sound of a flute]]

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[[a man's voice]] You just heard an excerpt from the plays The trails of brother Jero written by Africa's most noted playwright, Wole Soyinka, of Nigeria in West Africa.

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The trails of brother Jero was first produced in 1960 at the University of Ibadan in Nigeria, and was one of Soyinka's first successful short plays.

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Since that time Soyinka has written The Lion and the Jewel City, he's written Jero's metamorphosis, a sequel to the Trials of Brother Jero.

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He's written a dance of the forest and several more both short and full-length plays.

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I selected the excerpt from Soyinka's the trials of brother Jero because the excerpt itself and the play and its entirety allow you to get a basic understanding of what has happened in African English drama.

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Keep the excerpt you heard in mind and the excerpt, by the way, happens to be Jero the major character in the trials of brother Jero, he's praying and albeit a a comical and exaggerated, even Ludacris kind of prayer, uhh but keep that excerpt in mind.

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As I go back now and explain how African English drama has developed, like all of the other genres in African English lit

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Eldred Jones: --African English drama came out of the African's people's traditions, you have in Africa, as you do throughout the world. Among it's people, you have rituals and customs.

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And as opposed to the situation that developed with African English prose and poetry, in which the prose and the poetry came out of African oral literature. In the case of African Drama, you have the drama coming out of the rituals and customs of the African people.

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Now, the rituals and customs serve as a form of entertainment for the Africans, and after colonization, the colonizers began to label what was exactly ritual in-- in custom, they labelled it "drama."

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Historically speaking, as early as 1880, there is an account of an African writer writing a play under the name Jerobuno. This account is printed in one of the newspapers published by British colonizers. And it appears that the African writer, Jerobuno, he wrote in the classical or European style.

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But I think I should also note that, uh, Jerobuno's play was not published. In terms of published plays, the first short African play was published in 1933, and the first African full-length play was published in 1943.

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However, up until 1957, just two decades ago, only three full-length and three short-length African English plays had been published.

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But because the Europeans are the English, had a tendency of carrying their culture with them wherever they went, including the theater.

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Africans had the opportunity to experience this genre, and in some cases, for the sake of the colonizers, they put on these various plays that the colonizers brought out of their culture from Europe.

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So, realistically speaking, it was not until the 1960s that English speaking Africans actually got under way in terms of writing short or--

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European form. Before the 60's you had what was called traditional drama, a kind of folk drama.

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And even though Shiyenka wrote in the 60's,

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the excerpt you heard from the trials of the mighty Gerald depict Gerald praying in a folk dialect

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and the dialect is a major characteristic of folk drama.

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Most folk drama is not written and um I think Shiyenka does something unusual in the trials of the mighty Gerald.

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But on the other hand, after the 60's two forms of drama appeared,

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popular drama of- aimed at the masses of uneducated people

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and literary drama geared for the educated audience.

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Both popular and literary drama are usually written, but more specifically literary drama is written.

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Sometimes popular drama is not written.

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Since African English drama was so late in getting off the ground, so to say,

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and since drama, the more Classical or European form is so complex to write,

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you really do not have an abundance of African English playwrights.

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I mention the Classical or European concept of drama

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because if the African English play right was not writing in this vein,

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it was often very difficult for the writer to get the play published.

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And if the play was not published, then the critics couldn't evaluate it.

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And if the critics could not evaluate the play,

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then it was almost impossible for the writer to get any kind of recognition at all.

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And thus, as a result of these circumstances,

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only a few outstanding African English playwrights have appeared.

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The most- foremost African English playwright without a doubt is Wollay Shiyenka of Nigeria

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and you heard the short excerpt from his play the trial of the mighty Gerald.

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Now now I won't dwell too heavily on Shiyenka's work

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because you'll hear a great deal about him in the next literary corner program.

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But, I do want familiarize you with another Nigerian playwright, John Pepper Clark.

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Eldred Jones: --Clark is probably second only to Shiyenka in terms of the level of sophistication in his writing.

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Clark, in addition to being a dramatic writer, also writes prose and poetry.

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But he's most noted for his drama.

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And I think in writing, his works,

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the prose and poetry, and the drama, and in reading it, you can see the overlaps in terms of style in his various works.

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Clark's best play was probably his first play which was "Song of a Goat."

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Briefly, the plot is very simple: Zifa, who is the major character, loses his virility.

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Um, Zifa's wife Ebiere, in frustration, turns to make love with Zifa's brother Tonyá.

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Zifa becomes furious and seeks to kill Tonyá,

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because of all of this turmoil going on around him, he hangs himself.

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Ashamed by his own sterility, and his brother's death,

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Zifa walks into the sea, drowning himself.

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Very interesting play.

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But, as a sequel to "A Song of a Goat", Clark went on to write "Masquerade"

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in which the child conceived during Tonyá's and Eibere's relationship depicted in a song of a goat,

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that kid, the child that is born of that relationship becomes a main character in the "The Masquerade",

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which is Clark's second play.

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From "The Masquerade," Clark went on to write "The Raft",

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his third play and the latest play is "Ozidi".

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From "Song of a Goat" all the way up to "Ozidi" we find Clark defining people, a concern with lineage,

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people suffering because of what their ancestors did and so on.

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But above all of those characteristics, you have a very strong presence of arbitrary in this.

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Incidents seem to happen to the characters for no reason at all.

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Just out of the blue, the characters find themselves in some kind of an ordeal,

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um, but overall, Clark is just a fine writer.

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And you'll hear the quality of his work as you hear a brief excerpt from his third play, "The Raft".

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I want you to notice, as mentioned earlier, Clark's interest in defining people.

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As a setup to the excerpt, the characters in "The Raft"--

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And out of the blue, so to say, one of the characters begins to define women.

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Women are three types. Some are like logs, solid and unshakable after you sweated all day lugging into position. Take my word for it [[?]]. Then there are those, who like the stream about us now, are placid and spacious. It takes an usual storm to steer them, and no passion, however strong, can guarantee that. So you just swim every market tide. And then there are those who are pure billows. On them you rise and sink, and like the water lattice, you don't have to do anything. The woman I lost was the very crest of them.

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It is kind of difficult to determine all the purposes of Clark's work. Of course he does define people, their roles, in song. But I guess as a result of the Nigerian-Biafran War, and of course Clark is from Nigeria, as well as Shiyanka-because of that war, and its going on at the same time that Clark was developing as a writer, Clark seems to prepare his people for almost everything. Uh, I guess you'd say he defines people, the role they should play in life, he even explains, ah, what these people should be doing. But all of a sudden he says, through his writing, no matter what condition you might be in, it's possible for some ordeal to come along and to alter your life drastically. But Clark is probably, as I said before, second to only Shiyanka in his writing of African-English drama.

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The British and many of the other colonizers are very big in taking their culture with them, and the British were just phenomenal in their taking the theater with them to Africa. And because they colonized Western Africa, you find drama flourishing there more than--

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In any other area of Africa

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and so I think that's why as for as major African English writers are concerned

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you have only two African English drama writers that are exceptional

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and those are Wole Soyinka and John Pepper Clark.

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Both of Nigeria West Africa.

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Of course there are more African English dramatic writers developing

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and they will continue to develop over time.

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But, for the time being, Wole Soyinka and John Pepper Clark are the most outstanding ones.

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You've been listening to an introduction to African English drama on the literary corner Black Writers of the World.

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A series of analyses and interpretations of Black World literature.

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Technical assistance provided by Bob Cham Umbrookes Robinson

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Readings by Vinired Cornute

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Literary Corner was made posible by founds from WHA Radio

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Maddison Wisconsin, as service of the University of Wisconsin Extension.

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[People singing and playing instruments]

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