Current Institutional Affiliation
Assistant Professor, English, University of Alabama

Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2013
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
Literature, University of California / Los Angeles
The Sino-African Imaginary: Cultural Exchange and The Afro-Asian Writers Bureau (1958-1978)

While most all studies of China and Africa focus on current economic or foreign policy concerns, my dissertation maps the literary and cultural history of the Sino-African imaginary. Growing out of the Africa-Asia Conference of Bandung, Indonesia in 1955, the Afro-Asian Writers Bureau attempted to forge Third World cultural solidarities via alternative conceptions of modernity. Although they did not use the term, they attempted to define the parameters of what is now understood as Postcolonial Studies. Among other exchanges, the Bureau provided a transnational forum for the aesthetic entanglements of Pan-Africanism, Marxist humanism, and Maoism. In 1966, it would divide into a Cairo-based, Soviet dominated bureau and a Beijing-led, Chinese dominated one. The publication of literary anthologies and journals such as Lotus (Cairo) and The Call (Beijing) would straddle the complications of the split, the aesthetic line between propaganda and art, as well as Maoist versus Soviet definitions of socialist realism. The importance of Africa as a ground of ideological contestation ultimately produced a "socialist scramble" on the continent. Maoism's emphasis on the rural peasantry, racial difference, and the role of literature and culture in national revolution resonated with many Pan-African writers and intellectuals such as Ngugi wa Thiong'o, Kwame Nkrumah and W.E.B DuBois. Thus, the Sino-African imaginary of the period was based on a cultural exchange that lay outside of a colonial power dynamic. By analyzing the horizontal cultural exchanges of the Global South, my thesis moves beyond the limitation of most postcolonial scholarship that focuses on a vertical analytic of the colonizer/colonized. Furthermore, it reinterprets the Cold War outside of an American/Soviet dichotomy. By focusing on the rise of a Sino-African imaginary, I both reread the Cold War from a Third World perspective and provide a cultural historicization to contemporary Sino-African capitalism.