Ghana Studies Publishes Special Forum on First Ghanaian Archaeologist

Ghana Studies

The latest volume of Ghana Studies features a special forum in memory of James Kwesi Anquandah, who was a pioneer in the field of archaeology in Ghana. Forum editor Ebony Coletu chatted with the editors of Ghana Studies to describe Anquandah’s legacy and support for interdisciplinary research.


Ghana Studies Editors: For readers who may be new to Ghana Studies or to the field of archaeology, can you tell us why James Anquandah was such a towering figure in the field? 

Ebony Coletu: Professor Anquandah was the first student of archaeology at the University of Ghana in the sixties—and he went on to mentor five generations of archaeology students as a faculty member, along with countless others who were not working in archaeology or even students at the university. Because his research practice was deeply interdisciplinary, he attracted scholars beyond the department, many like myself just dropping in to his office to ask a few questions, but leaving with an exciting mandate to develop new approaches. You hear this in Kwasi Ampene’s article too, how conversations with Anquandah animated a speculative approach to researching musical practices in the Akan Stone Age and Early Iron Age. So Anquandah did not prescribe a method, he inspired methods, really from his energetic curiosity and commitment to telling new stories about the distant past. Also in this forum, Mohammed Mustapha and Wazi Apoh describe his “eclectic method”—which is a multi-disciplinary research protocol Anquandah used to answer complex questions. For him, it was not enough to write from a single discipline, or apply a single method consistently. Instead he wanted to synthesize history, policy, sociology, and art, to help reformulate and deepen the significance of a question and tell a better story about research findings, particularly for publics beyond the academy. 

GS Editors: What distinguishes this special forum commemorating the work and legacy of James Kwesi Anquandah (1938-2017)? 

EC: Soon after he passed, I circulated a call for papers that focused on mentorship as a way to map his influence across fields, thus “reframing the reach of archaeology.” The responses affirmed the call by capturing Anquandah’s marathon commitment to mentoring  (training five generations of archaeologists in Ghana) as well as the ongoing work of decolonizing disciplines. Rachel Ama Asaa Engmann addresses this directly in her essay, when she writes about autoarchaeology, a research practice that foregrounds direct descendants as researchers whose families have lived in or around the excavation site. She enlisted Danish-Ga descendants as researchers at Christiansborg Castle, unearthing artifacts and posing questions collaboratively. As a consequence of centering community-based knowledge production, the project inspires new pipelines for training in archaeology aimed at multilingual researchers who are gaining experience on site. She reframes the reach of archaeology by asking who can do this work and why? For Kwasi Ampene, Anquandah inspired a deep-time approach to Akan ethnomusicology, and in the process he challenges our dependence on sixteenth-century European traveler sketches typically used as evidence of musical practices. Questioning the explanatory power and the historical limits of these images, Ampene goes on to suggest a deep-time alternative: using archaeological research to speculate on the multipurpose use of agricultural instruments to make ancient music, inspired by those used for both purposes today.

GS Editors: You not only guest edited this special forum, you also contributed an essay to it in which you introduce the idea of “descendent epistemology.” Can you tell readers how your conversations with Anquandah helped you formulate this innovative methodology? 

EC: I was fortunate to meet Anquandah in the early stages of my research on Chief Sam, an Akyem merchant who led a diasporic return movement that recruited support from thousands of African Americans to purchase a ship that set sail from Texas, arriving in the Gold Coast in 1915. I had narrow interests in that first conversation. I wanted to reconstruct a fuller version of Sam’s family tree and identify a plausible link to the Sams of Anomabo, who are part of my family. Chief Sam’s life was far from conventional, leaving traces and descendants in multiple countries, including multiple wives and stepchildren. I sought Anquandah’s help to make sense of a more complex family tree. But after reading his interview notes with descendants and talking with him over several years, he began to reflect my questions back to me, noting that my concern with kinship had widened to include the technical matter of diasporic return: what was the status of African Americans who pledged to live, work, and die in African communities? Were they also, in some sense, part of Sam’s family? Sam had proposed to adopt them en masse to facilitate the process of landownership and repair a spiritual wound from separation by slavery. While mass adoption was unsuccessful, those who remained quickly integrated into indigenous communities through other means. I found Sam’s proposal, and colonial attempts to block it, an important antecedent to contemporary debates about diasporic right of return, evidence of kinship, and different routes to Ghanaian citizenship. 

GS Editors: Taken together, what does this collection of special forum essays tell us about the next generation of archaeological research coming out of Ghana? 

EC: The last essay says much on this point. Mustapha and Apoh tell a story about Anquandah’s decolonial legacy, which has shaped their own research itineraries instead of resting on a citational model that preserves what previous generations of Africanist archaeologists prioritized. For example, Apoh’s research builds new sources for the understudied topic of German missionionization and colonization in historical archaeology. While Mustapha pushes back against an exogenous theory of social complexity in the Mamprugu Traditional Area in Northern Ghana by investigating indigenous innovations that led to large scale ancient ironworking. Engmann’s work also sharpens this point by challenging value assessments in the literature, which can determine which places are considered critical to research while marginalizing others. Her work at Christiansborg Castle is groundbreaking for the sheer number of artifacts excavated in a short period of time on a site previously considered marginal. This despite the fact that it served as the seat of several administrations, from Danish governors to Flight Lieutenant John Jerry Rawlings. Though this forum began in a memorial spirit, it was exciting to edit because it features forthcoming interdisciplinary work in Ghana Studies encouraged by Professor Anquandah’s pathbreaking example.


Ghana Studies Volume 22 is available on Project MUSE. Browse the table of contents, which includes the special forum along with other articles and reviews. And if you’re attending the African Studies Association Conference this week, stop by the University of Wisconsin Press booth (#314), where you’ll find Ghana Studies alongside many of our other titles in African Studies.

Book Series Renamed to Reflect Historian’s Work and Legacy

The University of Wisconsin Press and the George L. Mosse Program in History are pleased to announce a change in the name of our joint book series. Now called the George L. Mosse Series in the History of European Culture, Sexuality, and Ideas, the revision better reflects the focus of both Mosse’s work and the titles published under its auspices—both historically and in the future.

Skye Doney, director of the George L. Mosse Program and Mosse series editor, says, “The new title encompasses the scope of Mosse’s innovative scholarship and the wide reach of those books published in the series. The George L. Mosse Program will continue its close collaboration with UW Press in order to support groundbreaking historical work in the fields of European culture, sexuality, and ideas.”

Originally known as the George L. Mosse Series in Modern European Cultural and Intellectual History, the name change was approved in June by the series’ advisory board during the conference “Mosse’s Europe,” held in Berlin on the occasion of Mosse’s hundredth birthday.

A legendary scholar, teacher, and mentor, Mosse (1918–1999) joined the Department of History at UW–Madison in 1955. He was an early leader in the study of modern European culture, fascism, and the history of sexuality and masculinity. In 1965 Mosse was honored for his exceptional teaching by being named UW’s first John C. Bascom Professor. He remained famous among students and colleagues for his popular and engaging lectures, which were often standing-room only. A Jewish refugee from prewar Germany, Mosse was appointed a visiting professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in 1969 and spent the final decades of his career traveling frequently between Madison and Jerusalem.

Nathan MacBrien, UW Press editor in chief, says, “A towering figure and one of the great historians of the latter twentieth century, George Mosse never shied from the most challenging questions: How did fascism arise? What constitutes a people? How is sexuality historically constituted? The scholarship we publish in the Mosse series is a tribute to his enduring legacy.” 

Rather than reflecting a shift in editorial direction, the new series title more accurately captures the breadth and depth of the series since its founding in 2001 by Mosse Program Director Emeritus, John Tortorice. The first three titles were published in 2003—Collected Memories by Christopher R. Browning, Mosse’s own Nazi Culture, and the edited volume What History Tells. Over the past sixteen years an additional twenty books have been published by the University of Wisconsin Press under the auspices of the series. Forthcoming projects include titles on the Genocide Convention and on fascist culture.

UW Press Colophon

About the University of Wisconsin Press
University of Wisconsin Press is a not-for-profit publisher of books and journals. With nearly 1,500 titles in print, its mission embodies the Wisconsin Idea by publishing work of distinction that serves the people of Wisconsin and the world.

About the George L. Mosse Series in the History of European Culture, Sexuality, and Ideas
The Mosse series promotes the vibrant international collaboration and community that historian George L. Mosse created during his lifetime by publishing major innovative works by outstanding scholars in European cultural and intellectual history.

University Press Week 2019 Friday Blog Tour: How to Practice Compassion

Happy University Press Week 2019! Continue the blog tour by visiting these great university press offerings that illuminate the role of university presses in moving national and international conversations forward on critical and complex issues:

  • Beacon Press sits down for a Q&A with Peter Jan Honigsberg, author of A Place Outside the Law: Forgotten Voices from Guantánamo.
  • Bucknell University Press offers a guest post from author Jason Farr, author of Novel Bodies: Disability and Sexuality in Eighteentgh-Century British Literature.
  • Columbia University Press shares a guest blog post from Elizabeth Segal on how social empathy can help you become a more compassionate person.
  • Penn State University Press editor-in-chief discusses how their Graphic Medicine series can catalyze the practice of compassion.
  • University of Illinois Press features their new Transformations series, radically committed to transformative approaches to knowledge production and social justice.
  • University of Nebraska Press includes an excerpt on compassion from The Heart of Torah by Rabbi Shai Held.
  • University of South Carolina Press quotes from Southern Perspectives on the Queer Movement about the importance of inclusivity and support within a diverse queer community.
  • University of Toronto Press acquiring editor Natalie Fingerhut will delve into their new imprint, New Jewish Press, exploring the importance of compassion and empathy.
  • University of Washington Press‘s M’Bilia Meekers and Julie Fergus have a conversation about the intersections between compassion, emotional intelligence, and marketing university press books.

University Press Week 2019 Thursday Blog Tour: How to Build Community

Happy University Press Week 2019! Continue the blog tour by visiting these great university press offerings that illuminate the role of university presses in moving national and international conversations forward on critical and complex issues:

  • Athabasca University Press shares three books that offer tools for building and sustaining community.
  • Columbia University Press reviews eight titles about New York City communities.
  • Georgetown University Press explores their new mission statement and the importance of local and global communities of readers.
  • Johns Hopkins University Press writes about Lawrence Brown’s forthcoming The Black Butterfly: Why We Must Make Black Neighborhoods Matter and considers how scholarly publishing can be a form of activism.
  • MIT Press talks about how the MIT Press Bookstore uniquely sits at the intersection of publishing, scholarship, authors, and community.
  • Princeton University Press highlights some of the new ways Princeton University Press has focused on community building.
  • Syracuse University Press features a guest post from Sean Kirst, the bestselling author of The Soul of Central New York.
  • Temple University Press showcases their new book, Monument Lab: Creative Speculations for Philadelphia, and how it fostered community building.
  • University of Michigan Press posts on how they have been creating and developing community around digital humanities scholarship which needs engagement from authors, readers, publishers, and libraries.
  • University of Nebraska Press author Katya Cengel writes on how learning & telling the stories of others can build community.
  • University of North Carolina Press hosts a Q&A with Lana Dee Povitz, author of Stirrings: How Activist New Yorkers Ignited a Movement for Food Justice.
  • University of Toronto Press discusses building a community for the Journal of Scholarly Publishing as part of its 50th anniversary.
  • University Press of Kansas describes working with local companies to increase awareness of the press and support independent breweries, bookstores, shops and a new literary festival.
  • Vanderbilt University Press looks at a local organization that they are partnering with—the Nashville Adult Literacy Council—and the ways it actively builds a community of learners and volunteers.

University Press Week 2019 Wednesday Blog Tour: How to Be an Environmental Steward

Happy University Press Week 2019! Continue the blog tour by visiting these great university press offerings that illuminate the role of university presses in moving national and international conversations forward on critical and complex issues:

  • Bucknell University Press highlights a guest post by Tim Wenzell on why ecocriticism makes us better stewards of nature.
  • Columbia University Press shares tips from the author of Live Sustainably Now about tips to decreasing your carbon footprint.
  • Duke University Press hosts a round table to answer the a question about one thing that more people need to understand about the current global climate crisis.
  • Oregon State University Press author Marcy Cottrell Houle discusses the conservationists and activists who have been instrumental in preserving Oregon’s natural treasures.
  • University of California Press posts an excerpt from Sarah Jaquette Ray’s forthcoming book, A Field Guide to Climate Anxiety.
  • University of Minnesota Press previews Red Gold by Jennifer Telesca, on the managed extinction of the giant bluefin tuna.
  • University of Pittsburgh Press author Patricia Demarco has written about four simple ways that every person can become an environmental steward.
  • University of South Carolina Press features photos from the authors of Carolina Bays about preservation of these unique ecological systems.
  • University of Toronto Press sales rep Alex Keys will discuss the ways in which he is able to merge his job with his desire to be a better steward for the environment.
  • University Press of Mississippi presents an essay from Jessica H. Schexnayder, author of Fragile Grounds: Louisiana’s Endangered Cemeteries.
  • Yale University Press talks to authors connected with A Better Planet about actionable steps to help the environment.

University Press Week 2019 Tuesday Blog Tour: How to Speak Up and Speak Out

Happy University Press Week 2019! Continue the blog tour by visiting these great university press offerings that illuminate the role of university presses in moving national and international conversations forward on critical and complex issues:

  • Fordham University Press features a post from Joan Marans Dim, writer, historian, and co-author of Lady Liberty: An Illustrated History of America’s Most Storied Woman.
  • For Harvard Education Press, Tracey Benson, co-author of Unconscious Bias in Schools, writes about speaking out about racism and education.
  • Northwestern University Press blogs about Lee Bey’s Southern Exposure, a look at Chicago South Side architecture that also illuminates the caustic effects of disinvestment in the area.
  • Syracuse University Press shares insights from Kelly Belanger, the author of Invisible Seasons Title IX and the Fight for Equity in College Sports.
  • University of Arizona Press is running a post on Roberto Rodriguez’s new book, inspired by his own experience with police violence.
  • University of British Columbia Press posts an excerpt of From Where I Stand by Jody Wilson-Raybould, a politician and Indigenous Canadian speaking on Indigenous Reconciliation and self-determination.
  • University of Nebraska Press offers a guest post from Tim Hillegonds, author of The Distance Between.
  • University of Regina Press highlights recent publications that show resistance against power in action.
  • University of South Carolina Press author Will Gravely will talk about how to call out racism.
  • University of Toronto Press Journals division staff share why they chose Publons to support the peer review community and ensure peer reviewers are publicly recognized for their work.

#ReadUP on Global Citizenship

For University Press Week 2019, we are highlighting a collection of books and journal articles that provide insight and comprehensive perspectives on global topics. Whether challenging the conversation around the representations of women in Africa, addressing the role of public presentation in papering over an unchanging power dynamic, or working for social justice by documenting the considerable benefits of early life Medicaid coverage, these authors are helping to shift the conversation towards more equitable and sustainable policies for all.

Holding the World Together Book Cover

In Holding the World Together, edited by Nwando Achebe and Claire Robertson, contributions from leading scholars focus on agency and avoid stereotypical depictions of African women, reframing the way we think about what we know and how we know it. Essays provide critical perspectives on representation, women’s roles in national liberation movements, and their unique challenges in the areas of health and disease.

“The field of African women’s and gender studies is more than abstractly engaged in the daily lives of those it studies, delineating contemporary political, economic, and social implications of African realities. Thus, our changing perspectives are driven not just by, for instance, the desire to contest ongoing negative stereotypes, but also by contemporary history. Recent African women’s and gender scholarship has emphasized political activism and women’s empowerment, in line with rising political power by women in some countries. Researchers join the subjects of their studies in seeking improvements in the situations of ordinary African women in a variety of contexts. Driving this activist impulse is the perception (and reality) that many African women face increasing threats to their well-being with respect to legal, political, economic, and social factors. Decisions made elsewhere in the world capitalist economy often distort African local economies, and political agency and choices are curtailed by outside pressures, corruption, and an electorate often with little formal education. Economies falter in the face of man-made and natural disasters and political corruption, while a rapid pace of social change involving urbanization, social and geographical dislocations, and religious movements fosters innovations in forms of organization. Contributors engage these issues as they relate to women and gender in Africa, paying particular attention to changing notions of gender identity and African women’s perceptions.” (Achebe & Robertson, 8)


How do you motivate parents to spend more time reading to their children? In the article “Using Behavioral Insights to Increase Parental Engagement: The Parents and Children Together Intervention” from the Journal of Human Resources, Susan E. Mayer, Ariel Kalil, Philip Oreopoulos, and Sebastian Gallegos designed an experiment using a digital library on an electronic tablet. The program used behavioral tools (“reminders, goal-setting, and social rewards”) to more than double the amount of time parents spent reading to their children over a six-week period. If such interventions can increase parental engagement in disadvantaged families, they could go a long way toward bridging the skills gap between advantaged and disadvantaged children, a gap that can be observed even before children start school, and which persists throughout school years.


Joanna Allan reveals how authoritarian regimes in Equatorial Guinea and Morocco, in partnership with Western states and corporations, create a public perception of promoting equality while simultaneously undermining women’s rights in order to cash in on natural resources. Silenced Resistance brings awareness to this genderwashing, and how it plays an integral role in determining the composition of public resistance to authoritarian regimes.

  • Silenced Resistance Cover Image
  • Woman sitting near building
  • Women standing in a marketplace

“Sultana could hear the tourists outside chattering and laughing, spectators to Marrakesh’s most famous square. . . . It is easy to miss the architectural understatement of the low-rise, beige Police Commission that sits anemically in one corner of the Djemaa el Fna square. The building’s ability to merge blandly into the background is opportune for the Moroccan regime, which shows a heavily made-up face to the country’s visitors. The Anglophone guidebooks are an ally to Morocco. They make the best of the story of how the Djemaa el Fna (Assembly of the Dead) got its name: ‘heretics’ and ‘criminals’ were tortured here centuries ago, says Lonely Planet. Centuries ago. If the hint of a scream was today to escape from the commission, it would have to fight for attention with the hammers of souq ironmongers, the clashing brass cups of the water carriers, the squeals of dancing monkeys, or the supernatural drone of the snake charmers hypnotizing the guidebook writers. Incidentally, the mouths of many charmed cobras are sewn shut.” (Allan, 3-4)


The United States’ current energy policy attempts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by enforcing standards on the transportation and electricity sectors, promoting the use of renewable fuels. Another possible approach is a carbon tax, which would impose a fee for burning carbon-based fuels. In their article “What Is the Cost of a Renewable Energy–Based Approach to Greenhouse Gas Mitigation?” from Land Economics, Anthony Oliver and Madhu Khanna compare the existing regulations with this alternative, determining that the global emissions reduction achieved by a carbon tax is more than 50% higher than the current policy.


This month, we publish Elusive Justice, Donny Meertens’s new book on the restoration of land rights in Colombia during its transition to peace. There were significant challenges in making the promise of the Victims and Land Restitution Law real for rural women. Meertens contends that women’s advocacy organizations must have a prominent role in overseeing transitional policies in order to create a more just society.

“The three themes of this book—land restitution, gender equity, and reparations—are part of the historical roots of the conflict and core elements of the peace process. . . . Gender equity and redress for the specific forms of violence inflicted on women have been recognized by government and rebels as necessary for building a more inclusive democracy in a postconflict society. Justice, in its multiple forms and interpretations (from criminal to social, from official system to subjective experience), constitutes the backbone of a lasting peace.” (Meertens, 6)


 In “The Long-Term Effects of Early Life Medicaid Coverage” from the Journal of Human Resources, Sarah Miller and Laura R. Wherry study individuals who gained access to Medicaid coverage while in utero and during the first year of life through an expansion of Medicaid that occurred from 1979 to 1993. Because this early period is crucial to development, the authors found that the impacts of this policy shift continued into adulthood, with the cohort experiencing “lower rates of chronic conditions…and fewer hospitalizations related to diabetes and obesity,” as well as increased high school graduation rates.


“It’s Haunted!”: Intern Book Club (October)

In honor of the spooky season, we read Haunted Heartland by Michael Norman, a compilation of chilling stories from around the Midwest. As a special addition to our monthly post, we are including two creepy tales from our new home, Memorial Library. Our book club consists of Alexis Paperman, Publicity Assistant and grad student studying library information science, and Morgan Reardon, Marketing Assistant studying English literature and American Indian studies.


You may have heard: UW Press moved this summer! Our new offices are now in Memorial Library. It is a fitting place for us—filled with books and great people. As we’ve begun to settle in, we’ve heard a few tales of the spooky quirks in the building. What better time to recount them than October?

Everyone who has been to Memorial Library knows that it is the only campus library that requires you show a student ID (Wiscard) or visitor’s pass to enter, but not everyone may know why. Late one night in May 1979, grad student Susan Oldenburg was packing up her things to head home after studying alone in one of the typing rooms. As she later told the Capital Times, “All of a sudden an arm came around my neck from behind. I screamed and the next thing I remember, whoever it was put their other hand in my mouth.” Oldenburg’s attacker, a man named Eugene Devoe who came to be known as the Library Stalker, then struck her with a fire axe and left her on the floor with a deep gash on her head and other minor injuries. As Devoe tried to escape, he was apprehended by two students who had heard screams. Oldenburg was found and taken to the hospital. She survived, but still deals with lasting effects  from the horror of that night. Since this frightening incident, Memorial Library requires all patrons to enter only through the main entrance and to show an ID upon entry, hoping to prevent any more creeps with axes from stalking the stacks. Now you know the reason behind it!

In Memorial Library, it is easy to get lost in the stacks. It feels like an unending maze of books: both a dream and nightmare. A popular spot for students, the library provides study carrels, nicknamed cages, and quiet spaces for studying. It is also allegedly haunted by the ghost of UW–Madison professor of English Helen C. White. Although she has a building named after her, her ghost is said to prefer Memorial’s third floor. since it was a favorite research haunt of White’s when she was living. Besides, the Helen C. White Building wasn’t completed until five years after her death. If you want to feel the chill of her spirit while you study, it does not take much to call her attention to you. Loud noises and littering seem to draw a response from the ghost. Those who are not studying in silence will often hear the nearby cage doors opening and closing. It is as if White is determined to be the only source of loud noise if it must exist.

As someone who has a lifetime of experience traveling to the Twin Cities, Morgan found the chilling story “A House on Summit Avenue” piqued her interest. This story takes place in St. Paul, Minnesota, in a grand stone house on one of the historic avenues in the city. Built in 1883 by wholesale grocery tycoon Chauncey W. Griggs, the house is said to be the most haunted residence in the Twin Cities, and for good reason. The house’s history is teeming with stories of encounters with the supernatural. Among the many accounts of spooky sightings Norman illustrates in this section is that of Jerry Dolan, a patrolman called to investigate a loud howling noise one night. Once inside, he and his partner discovered a man crouching in the basement, hiding from something that wasn’t there and claiming to have “seen death.” They never found the source of the howling. Other people have sensed the presence of other apparitions, including a maid who hanged herself on the fourth floor in 1913, a gardener who visits the library, and a piano-playing teenager named Amy. Though there is little proof, there is no lack of anecdotal evidence: “Footsteps resound on empty staircases. Doors mysteriously open and close. Rasping coughs come from behind closed doors of unoccupied rooms. Light bulbs shatter. Heavy drapes rustle when no one is near them” (190). Visitors have also reported seeing floating heads, ghosts disappearing into the walls, and feeling waves of distress. Norman does a great job of compiling the house’s many hauntings and creating a vivid image of a house so mysterious that readers may have to pay a visit to find out just what is lurking inside its walls for themselves.

Alexis is from the Pacific Northwest, a region that is home to many myths, murders, and hauntings. There was some doubt in her mind about the creepy aspects of cornfields compared with overgrown forests. Reading through Norman’s book helped to overturn that notion. One story that caught her attention is “Return of the Hanged Man.” It is not unusual for ghosts to be mischievous. But for this particular ghost, William Caffee, it seems inevitable. Hours before he was to be hanged for murder, it is said “Caffee sat astride his casket and beat out the rhythm of a funeral march with two empty beer bottles” (306). According to Norman, “No one who witnessed his execution would ever forget him” (306). The hotel in front of which he was hanged is still in operation. Over the years the staff have been subject to Caffee’s playfulness. He is not said to have done anything harmful or threatening in his afterlife. Instead he will play with people’s hair—often holding the ponytails of women up above their heads—or he will lock and unlock doors. Alexis admits, this is not so much a scary tale of a haunting but a humorous one. Then again, who knows how she’d react to having her hair pulled by a mischievous ghost?

Freedom of Expression and the Exiled Writer: A Reading List from Contemporary Literature Journal

To mark Banned Books Week, we are sharing a collection of articles and interviews from Contemporary Literature journal featuring writers whose work has been censored, or who have faced government persecution in response to their writing.


“I have tried to write honestly about China and preserve its real history. As a result, most of my work cannot be published in China.”

Ha Jin

Chinese writer Ha Jin came to the United States to complete doctoral studies in American literature and opted to emigrate permanently following the Tiananmen Square Massacre in 1989. From studying literature, he turned to writing poetry and then fiction, and to date he has published eight novels, seven books of poetry, and four short story collections.

In a New York Times op-ed, published a few days before the twentieth anniversary of Tiananmen Square, he explains his decision to write in English: “if I wrote in Chinese, my audience would be in China and I would therefore have to publish there and be at the mercy of its censorship. To preserve the integrity of my work, I had no choice but to write in English.” He continues, “To some Chinese, my choice of English is a kind of betrayal. But loyalty is a two-way street. I feel I have been betrayed by China, which has suppressed its people and made artistic freedom unavailable. I have tried to write honestly about China and preserve its real history. As a result, most of my work cannot be published in China.”

In this Contemporary Literature interview, conducted by Jerry A. Varsava, Ha Jin discusses growing up during the Chinese Cultural Revolution, when books were burned and schools were shuttered, as well as his decision to join the “great [English literary] tradition where nonnative writers [have become] essential writers.”

Read the interview, freely available for the rest of September: “An Interview with Ha Jin”


“If our own literature in Africa is too political, then I think the literature of the U.S. is too apolitical.”

Niyi Osundare

Niyi Osundare is a Nigerian poet known as “The People’s Poet” for his commitment to making poetry accessible to all and reflective of common life. He uses elements of the Yoruba oral tradition, which he transmits through his English-language writing.

In this 2000 interview with Cynthia Hogue and Nancy Easterlin for Contemporary Literature, Osundare describes the struggle of the artist writing under a dictatorship, summing up the situation with this parable: “once an English writer came to an African colleague and complained about the apparent irrelevance of Western writers. The African then told the Western artist, ‘Well, when we talk in Africa, the government listens, but that is not the end of the story. The government listens in a different way. They put us in jail.’”

But democracy also hampers the artist in certain ways, Osundare finds, having emigrated to the US in 1997. Comparing US literature and African literature, he notes, “Democracy leads to the flowering of free opinions, of public consciousness, and, without this, creativity cannot really take place. But democracy also leads to a kind of complacency which may undermine that dissonance and eliminate that kick in the stomach that is necessary for every creative activity. . . . If our own literature in Africa is too political, then I think the literature of the U.S. is too apolitical.”

Osundare believes in a “golden mean” that writers should strive for. And while Osundare’s work often has political themes, Isidore Diala argues in this Contemporary Literature article that the poet’s work contains a “vibrant and sustained global humanistic vision” that has been overlooked by critics who focus too narrowly on the poems’ Nigeria-specific social and political commentary.

Read the article, freely available for the rest of September: “Burden of the Visionary Artist: Niyi Osundare’s Poetry,” by Isidore Diala

And read the interview on JSTOR: “An Interview with Niyi Osundare”


“How might we think about postcolonial state formation and literary form together? Can we determine a relationship between them that goes beyond that of simple opposition?”

Jini Kim Watson on NINOTCHKA ROSCA

In 1973, Filipina writer Ninotchka Rosca was imprisoned under the Marcos dictatorship for her antigovernmental journalism. Later, from exile in the U.S., she wrote a short story collection, The Monsoon Collection, and a novel, State of War, about life during the Marcos regime. In the outlines of Rosca’s biography, argues Jini Kim Watson in her article “Stories of the State: Literary Form and Authoritarianism in Ninotchka Rosca’s State of War,” we find that the “repressive, unchecked (usually third-world) dictatorial state is conceived of in inherent opposition to the freedom and free speech of committed writers.” This vision of the relationship between the writer and the authoritarian state is seen, for example, in the literary and humanitarian organization PEN International, which fights for freedom of expression and strives to protect writers from state persecution.

While writers do face very real persecution, Watson argues that it is dangerous to oversimplify the dynamic between writers and the authoritarian state, since this could imply that third-world states are simply “tyrannical and backwards”—a judgment that privileges Western norms of “good” government and ignores the agency of individual citizens. “How might we think about postcolonial state formation and literary form together?” Watson asks. “Can we determine a relationship between them that goes beyond that of simple opposition?” Watson puts these questions to Rosca’s State of War, examining the ways the novel confounds a simplistic view of state tyranny through formal experimentation and a nuanced narrative.

Read the article, freely available for the rest of September: “Stories of the State: Literary Form and Authoritarianism in Ninotchka Rosca’s State of War,” by Jini Kim Watson


To learn more about Contemporary Literaturesubscribe to the journal, browse the latest table of contents, or sign up for new issue email alerts.

2019 #SeptWomenPoets Book Giveaway!

Poet Shara Lessley launched the #SeptWomenPoets hashtag (Twitter, Instagram, Facebook) as a way to create an online book club where readers share selections and covers from books by women poets. The challenge has encouraged readers to showcase and discuss some of their favorite poems and poets across social media. Here are some University of Wisconsin Press collections we encourage you to consider for your #SeptWomenPoets TBR pile:

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We are giving away a set of debut collections by two of the talented female poets published in the Wisconsin Poetry Series edited by Ronald Wallace and Sean Bishop (entry form and guidelines below).

One winner will receive an advance copy of these forthcoming titles:

Enter your email address in the form below before October 4th for a chance to win!