Cry Sorrow Introduction

Cry Sorrow Introduction


ChickenBones: A Journal

for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes



Today Africans are writing down their history, containing such epics as the building of Mali,

Ghana, and Songhay empires. Information comes from oral tradition, archaeology

and archives of Islamic and other scholars.


Cry Sorrow, Cry Joy

Selections from Contemporary African Writers

Edited by Jane Ann Moore


Today non-Africans have an unparalleled opportunity to see Africa through African eyes. Fifteen years ago [1956] there were few writings by Africans in Western languages. Since then we have had placed before us hundreds of literary expressions by black Africans.

This literature fills a yawning void for African also—helping them construct new self-images, positions in society and meanings of life.

Great artists convey the universal condition of man in particular situations. The universal element is readily apparent: whether it is a ten-year-old boy discovering that books hold stories, a teenager being chased by the police, a woman finding out her husband wants another wife or an aged pastor trying to talk theology with a young man.

All these human predicaments are complicated by what the white world has done to the black world, by what the rich nations have done to the poor nations, by what the Christian societies have done to societies with other religious beliefs.

In James Ngugi’s novel, A Grain of Wheat, during the war that white settlers in Kenya called “Mau Mau,” a Kikuyu husband was “detained” without trial by whites in a concentration camp for seven years and forbidden any communication with his wife. When they finally have the opportunity to speak to each other, the wife says, “Too much has happened to be passed over in a sentence.” Immediate reunion is not possible yet. Reconciliation can take place only when a shared understanding of what has passed is accepted; when there is the will to forge a new, equal relationship, when a plan for the future is in sight.

This impasse between husband and wife is symbolic of the relationship between Africa and the West. There is increasing separation black and white. Immediate reconciliation is not possible. One has injured the other. One has misruled the other. One has libeled the other. Now is the time to share in the cry of what has happened to Africa.

These stories contain many kinds of cries. The Dutch philosopher, William Zuurdeeg urges us to pay special attention to a cry. “A man may become genuinely human when he cries out in anguish, triumph, in furious rebellion and in joyful reverence.” Such crying, he says, is an act almost unavailable to Western man because, for us, a cry is not a respectable mode of behavior. He asks “Who can live by a cry?” Who can stand it to hear such disturbing noise?” The creative artist can live by crying out in his writing. The creative reader can stand it to listen. As Africans cry aloud in their literature, one can hear them give new personal, social and cultural definition to themselves and to those with ears to listen.

Personal Definition

In a racist society the black child sees others looking at him; he sees them making judgments: he believes them. The short story by James Matthews, “The Park,” tells how a little African boy’s looking-glass image of himself is formed. In the eyes of those who count, he is worthless. Colonialism, discrimination, apartheid—all these forces in African have inflicted grave wounds upon the black self. Can literature undo in any these detrimental images of the self?

Lewis Nkosi, a South African writer who grew up in that little boy’s world, believes that literature does have the power to mold life. But until the last dozen years there were no literary heroes with whom young African could identify. Novels by white men, by Graham Greene and Joyce Cary, skilled though they were in portraying white colonial society, used Africa only as an exotic backdrop and stuck in a few caricatures of black Africans. These novels provided only negative stereotypes for black Africans—but no sense of identity.

For decades our African heroes have been white, one, Albert Schweitzer, seems to have been more concerned about the universal human struggle of the soul than about the particularity of the African soul. Another, Alan Paton, seems in his first novel, Cry the Beloved Country, to be more concerned to reach the conscience of “white liberals” with the injustice of South Africa than to reach the psyche of African youths. Useful as their contributions to Africans have, these white heroes did not provide the new generation of Africans with positive models of identity. They did bring the continent to our attention; but today there are black writers who can take us into its heartland!

Recalling his own youth, Lewis Nkosi says that

. . . when we entered the decade of the fifties we had no literary heroes, like generations in other parts of the world. We had to improvise because there were no models who could serve as moral examples for us. . . . [as] a generation we longed desperately for literary heroes we could respect and with whom we could identify. In the moral chaos through which we were living we longed to find a work of literature, a drama or film, homegrown and about us, which would contain a significant amount of our experience and in which we could find our own attitudes and feelings.

The stories herein contain many models for youth. . . .

Cultural Definition

“Africa has suffered more than any other continent,” states novelist Ayi Kwei Armah. From 1442 to 1880, 69,000,000 Africans were captured by European slavers, put on ships, chained, closed in under the deck, sporadically fed and left to defecate and urinate on themselves. One-third of them survived the trip. The Western world knows very little about African suffering. Jews past and present have suffered greatly too; but in contrast their suffering is well-known through Europe and North America. Why do we know the suffering of the Jewish people, but not the suffering of Africa?”

One reason is that the Jews wrote down their own history, a history that stressed political defeat and dispersion as much as it stressed victory and empire, in the Old Testament where it was available to everyone in the West to read. Today Africans are writing down their history, containing such epics as the building of Mali, Ghana, and Songhay empires. Information comes from oral tradition, archaeology and archives of Islamic and other scholars.

African historians are retelling their war stories, such as the placing in battle of 200,000 warriors of Ghana in 1066 A.D., the same year in which the Normans could muster only 15,000 soldiers to invade England. And also they are chronicling their defeats at the hands of all the colonial powers. It was the genius of the Jewish people that they took their experiences of suffering and made them the cohesive core that strengthened their common bonds for centuries.

In this collection of African stories, there are many interpretations of African suffering: knowledge of evil, reality of injustice, loneliness away from parents, destroyed love, self-awareness, bitterness, ethnocentrism, tyranny, corruption, brokenness. In Soyinka’s The Interpreters the response of college friends to the suicide of a brilliant colleague is one of despair: “Sekoni’s death had left them all wet, bedraggled, the paint running down their acceptance of life where they thought the image was set. . . .”  But there is also hop. The extent of Africans’ suffering and the uniqueness of their situation gives a unique shape to their hopes.

In Africa many religious, intellectual and political movements have attracted followers with the promise of hope. Spiritualist groups have promised release from suffering. Renascent indigenous religions have purified themselves of what they consider Western taint. Islam has promised acceptance of the black race as equal. Secularism has rejected the white man’s Trinity. Independent Christian churches have sought release from a white hierarchy.

“Negritude” has asserted that black is most beautiful and Africa the source of goodness. “African personality” has claimed that the whole man is superior to the overly intellectualized people of the West. Right now the word on many lips is Pan-Africanism. Once, this term referred to the political unification of the dozens of African states. Today it incorporates a creed including concern for deprived African everywhere, unity of all black peoples, responsibility of one African for another and the need to organize black people beyond the limitations of tribalism.

Out of this suffering and in this hope, Africans are redefining the meaning of their continent. . . .

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Cry Sorrow, Cry Joy

Selections from Contemporary African Writers

Edited by Jane Ann Moore

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Lewis Nkosi (5 December 1936 – 5 September 2010) was a South African writer and essayist. He was a multifaceted personality, and attempted every literary genre, literary criticism, poetry, drama, and novels. Nkosi worked for many years in Durban for the magazine Ilanga lase Natal and in Johannesburg for Drum.

Nkosi faced severe restrictions on his writing due to the publishing regulations found in the Suppression of Communism Act and the Publications and Entertainment Act passed in the 1950s and 1960s. In 1961, he received a scholarship to study at Harvard, and he began his life in exile. He was an editor for The New African in London, and the NET in the United States. He became a Professor of Literature and held positions at the University of Wyoming and the University of California-Irvine, as well as at universities in Zambia and Warsaw, Poland.

As opposed to apartheid, Nkosi’s work explores themes of politics, relationships, and sexuality. His essays and other works were published over four decades in America, England and Africa. His works, possessing great depth, received less recognition than they had actually deserved. In the post-apartheid era, his works are gaining critical attention across the third world. Interestingly, Nkosi joined forces with African powerhouse authors Chinua Achebe and Wole Soyinka in an interview in the third chapter of Bernth Lindfors’ Conversations With Chinua Achebe. In 1978, Nkosi and composer Stanley Glasser wrote a collection of six Zulu-style songs called “Lalela Zulu” for The King’s Singers, a group of six white British, male a cappella singers.—Wikipedia

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Mating Birds

By Lewis Nkosi

From his cell in Durban, South Africa, the black narrator of this short, powerful novel can see mating birds “clinging to each other joyfully in the bright air as though for dear life.” But he is condemned to die: condemned for mating with a white woman. On her accusation, he has been found guilty of rape; by his account they were “mating birds,” drawn together across racial barriers by irrepressible sexual desire. While the nature of their encounter remains ambiguous, the squalid evils of apartheid are rendered with the utmost clarity. Nkosi, an exiled South African, has a fine ear for dialogue and an unusual economy of expression. Recommended for black studies and fiction collections.—Peter Sabor, Library Journal

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Lewis Nkosi (documentary film)

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Books on African Film

African Film: Re-Imagining a Continent / Symbolic Narratives: African Cinema / African Cinema: Politics and Culture /

Africa Shoots Back: Alternative Perspectives In Sub-Saharan Francophone African Films  / Black African Cinema  /

African Cinemas: Decolonizing the Gaze / Questioning African Cinema: Conversations with Filmmakers

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Still Beating the Drum : Critical Perspectives on Lewis Nkosi

By Lindy Stiebel

Lewis Nkosi is one of South Africa’s foremost writers and critics, and one of the few survivors of the exile generation dating from the Drum era. Up until now, however, no full length study has been done on his work. This is a gap in South African literary history and criticism that this book is intended to fill. Besides his well known earlier works, Nkosi is still very much an active writer as the publication in 2002 of his novel, Underground People, shows, with his latest novel due out in 2005. The timing of Still Beating the Drum, a book which intends to highlight and evaluate his extensive and varied oeuvre, is thus appropriate. Given Lewis Nkosi’s life trajectory, this volume will appeal to readers interested in South African and African literature, both in South Africa and abroad.

Intended as a important critical resource on Lewis Nkosi, the book is divided into three parts:

Part One collects papers from scholars around the world currently working on Nkosi’s work in various genres; Part Two reprints key articles from different moments in Nkosi’s critical writing, together with hitherto unpublished recent interviews with Nkosi; and Part Three provides the reader with a timeline and extensive bibliography for Lewis Nkosi, both invaluable resources for scholars working on Nkosi given the scattered nature of much of his more ephemeral writings in the past. Lewis Nkosi is an important figure in South African literature whose voice has been heard far and wide—this book aims to collect for critical consideration some of the echoes and reverberations his voice has generated.

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African Film on DVD

Black Girl / Borom Sarret Sugar Cane Alley Kirikou and the Sorceress Lumumba

Amandla: A Revolution in Four Part Harmony / Cry, The Beloved Country   /  The Power of One 

Bopha / Mandela and deKlerk / Cry Freedom  / Hotel Rwanda / Sarafina / Yesterday

Tsotsi  / Hyenas Mandabi  / Xala Madame Brouette  / Yeelen / Life on Earth

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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If you like this page consider making a donation

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Negro Digest / Black World

Browse all issues

1950        1960        1965        1970        1975        1980        1985        1990        1995        2000 ____ 2005        


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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery

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The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 — The Founding of Haiti 

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update 21 November 2010



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Related files: Cry Sorrow Contents  Cry Sorrow Introduction  Home & Exile

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