Guide on “African fiction in local languages of non-European origin”

LocalLanguagesIIIIMG_20150703_105616Several libraries collect material in local African languages of non-European origin. This guide gives a few hints on how to find novels in Swahili, poetry in Ndebele or plays in Xhosa. Libraries do use certain methods of subject indexing and classification helping to locate literature in African languages in the library catalogues.

Some of the approaches do also apply for the local literature in English, French, Portuguese and Spanish. However, the main focus of this guide is on local African languages of non-European origin.

Frankfurt University Library, Germany

The DFG-funded special subject collection on Africa South of the Sahara uses keywords according to the German authority file GND and the RWSK-rules. Additionally, we also name the language and the genre of the fictional text.

The pattern is:

Country, e.g. “Simbabwe”
Language, e.g. “Ndebele-Sprache, Simbabwe”
Genre, e.g. “Roman” (novel)

With this type of keyword search Zimbabwean novels in Ndebele can be found.

Other examples are:

For the purpose of classification an “Eppelsheimer”-inhouse solution is applied. This allows to answer some broader questions: All novels from Africa in Frankfurt University library can be retrieved e.g. with “3!! M 0059 k*“.

The pattern to index fictional text looks like this:

334 = e.g is the country code for Kenya
M 0059 = is a fictional text
k = novel, h =drama, e = poems, m = short story etc.

The code for local African languages is:

A combination of both is possible, some examples:

Read more of this post

On Display: “African” activities of the German Goethe-Institut

The Goethe-Institut is the Federal Republic of Germany’s cultural institution operational worldwide. It promotes the study of German abroad and encourages international cultural exchange. The network of Goethe-Instituts, Goethe Centres, cultural societies, reading rooms and exam and language learning centres plays a central role in the cultural and educational policies of Germany. It promotes German-African relationships and provides platforms for intercultural dialogue. This blog article presents seven snapshots from the activities in Africa South of the Sahara.


1.) Cultural Bridge

In Edéa, Cameroon, the mutual history of Cameroon and Germany was commemorated at a massive, 100-year-old steel structured bridge that the German colonial rulers once had built. The artist Pascale Marthine Tayou together with his team draped huge wooden figures standing on steles about it, did an intercultural production of Goethe’s Faust – another perennial favourite – and set up an installation based on the indigenous Cameroon writing system, finishing “Les flâneurs d’Edéa” (The Ramblers of Edéa).

2.) Literature Forum

The Literature Forum in Kenya brings together upcoming women writers and literary critics to share and discuss stories, poems and current literary trends with the aim of enhancing their creativity. The forum provides a space to listen to the voices of established and budding female writers – voices of women with a passion for literary adventure. “AMKA – Space for Women’s Creativity” and the Goethe-Institut organise monthly readings in the library of the Goethe-Institut every last Saturday of the month. Participation in the forum is open to both men and women.

3.) Writing about Africa

This brilliant internet feature allows the discovery of new German literature representing diverse images of Africa and is hosted by the Goethe-Institut South Africa. Selected books by German speaking authors who deal with Africa in all its many facets are reviewed and biographical information on the authors are given. The selection of books covers the following genres: Novels and stories, travel journals, journalistic reports and critical essays about Africa, biographies and autobiographies, youth literature and stories for children. The website also gives an overview on the most actively German publishing housed engaged with Africa. Read more of this post

New German National License: “African Writers Series” online

For over 40 years, Heinemann’s African Writers Series published canonical twentieth century texts of African literature. The online edition by ProQuest’s Chadwyck-Healey includes over 250 volumes of fiction, poetry, drama and non-fictional prose, including works by Chinua Achebe, Ama Ata Aidoo, Steve Biko, Buchi Emecheta, Nadine Gordimer, Bessie Head, Christopher Okigbo, Okot p’Bitek and Tayeb Salih.

The African Writers Series (AWS) of Heinemann Educational Books was founded in 1962 with the publication of Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart (originally published in 1958) as AWS No. 1, and with Achebe himself as Founding Editor. Achebe remained Series Editor until 1972, by which time the series included 100 titles. “The list of names of editorial board members drawn from different academic disciplines reads like a ‘who’s who’ in African literary studies.” (Clarke 2003, 165) The initial aim was to produce a paperback series featuring writing by African authors (initially, this was limited to black African authors) that would be affordable for a general African readership. Most of the works in the Series come from English-speaking countries in Western, Southern and Eastern Africa, but there are also a number of volumes translated from French, Portuguese, Zulu, Swahili, Acoli, Sesotho, Afrikaans, Luganda and Arabic (compare the About section of the database).

Africa Writes Back

As African nations won independence, writers like Achebe began to forge distinctive national literatures throughout the continent. Contrary to the colonialist perceptions they want to demonstrate that Africa had a history and a culture in its own right (Okyerefo 2001). „The series gives agency to the African because the novels, short stories, plays, poetry, and autobiographies are written by Africans about Africans, telling their own stories in their own voices for both Africans and non-Africans.“ (Clarke 2003, 168) The series not only launched the national but also triggered a pan-african literature discourse. Programmatically, one of the series’ editor, James Currey, called his memoir “Africa Writes Back. The African Writers Series & the launch of African literature” (Currey 2008).  Authors from East Africa now could be read in West Africa, and works by Chinua Achebe and Ngugi wa Thiong’o entered the world market. The English translations of Mongo Beti’s „Le Pauvre Christ de Bomba“ or Sembène Ousmane’s „Le Docker Noir“ were sold much more often than the French editions.

The series editor James Currey reported extensively about the history of the AWS and his personal achievements:

“My connections with South African writers in exile as well as with writers surviving in that country made books available internationally that could not have appeared in South Africa. Later, David Philip, the Cape Town publisher, found a legal loophole which with Heinemann’s co-operation enabled writers such as Alex la Guma to be reprinted in South Africa; this evaded the banned list operated by South African customs at the ports of entry.” (Curry 2003, 580; see also Curry 2008, 183)

However, in the beginnings it was a male Africa. In the first 100 titles only one female author features: Nigeria’s Flora Nwapa (Fraser/Bejjit 2005).

Online advantages & peculiarities

The full-text format allows new approaches to the old literature:

“Researchers can run searches across the whole corpus of texts to find instances of specific words or phrases: one can search for key terms of African nationalist discourse such as ‘Azania’ or ‘black consciousness’, for terms associated with politics and class distinctions such as ‘socialism’, ‘democracy’, ‘middle class’, ‘accent’ or ‘elite’, or simply for references to specific tribes or languages, such as ‘Yoruba’, ‘Xhosa’ or ‘Tswana’.” (Kibble 2005, 66)

The AWS online edition may be useful for studies

  • on the self-conception of an African writer and intellectual
  • on English language and literature and the establishment of a canon of great literature
  • on gender and on cultural contacts, e.g. in the work of Amma Darko (Beyond the Horizon, 1995) with Germany
  • on postcolonialism, e.g. with the question on how colonial structures survived after independence
  • on Romance literature due to the translations from the Portuguese and French (the search can be restricted to translations or the original language of origin)
  • on history, e.g. with the autobiographies of Kenneth Kaundas and Olusegun Obasanjo
  • on the construction of ethnicity, e.g. of the Ibo and
  • on the history of publishing in Africa.

Useful links for users of the Chadwyck-Healey Literature Collections like Case Studies, Sample Searches, or How to Cite Texts from the Chadwyck-Healey Literature Collections.


Editorial Policy

Each volume is reproduced in full, including accompanying text by the author, introductions, notes, glossaries and other editorial matter, and illustrations. Each volume, including anthologies and collections, can be browsed in its entirety via a Table of Contents. All authors are indexed by gender, nationality and dates of birth/death, and all texts by details of first publication (date, place, publisher and language) and details of first publication in the AWS (date and AWS series number). These index fields are all searchable from the Search page, and are displayed in the bibliographic details for each volume. The names of translators and anthology editors, and alternate name forms of authors, are also searchable via the Author field. Original pagination is preserved, and the page layout of poems is reproduced as accurately as possible. Scanned images are used as a supplement to the keyed text for illustrations, figures and unusual page layouts. Typographic characters that cannot be displayed using a web-safe extended Latin character set have been mapped to standard-character equivalents, and scanned images have been provided for cross-referencing (see Editorial Policy).

The Librarians view

Since 2005 the first three attempts to get the National License funding for the African Writers Series were unsuccessful, luckily in 2011 things changed. It took seven years to make this important corpus available to all researchers in Germany.

This corpus is one of the seldom undertakings where literature which is still under copyright protection is digitized:

“The digitisation of the AWS is a substantial undertaking […]. Almost all of the texts included in the AWS are in copyright, which means that the first task has been to identify a rights holder for each title and negotiate a license for electronic reproduction of the text.” (Kibble 2005, 66)

An overview about the printed books gives Frankfurt University’s library catalogue; further studies on the African Writers Series can be accessed via ilissAfrica.

AWS supplements the German National License „Corpus de la littérature francophone de l’Afrique noire“.

Now, please do explore the wealth of the online edition of the African Writers Series!


  • Clarke, Becky: The African Writers Series: celebrating forty years of publishing distinction, in: Research in African Literatures 34 (2003), 2, pp. 163-174, online.
  • Currey, James: Africa writes back : the African writers series & the launch of African Literature, Oxford : Currey, 2008.
  • Currey, James: Chinua Achebe, the African Writers Series and the Establishment of African Literature, in: African Affairs 102 (2003), 409, pp. 575-587, online.
  • Fraser, Robert / Nourdin Bejjit: THE TIGER THAT POUNCED: THE AFRICAN WRITERS SERIES (1962–2003) AND THE ONLINE READER, 2005, Introductory Essay,
  • Information Centre : About African Writers Series:
  • Kaiza, David: But Why, Father? looking back on the legacy of the African Writers Series, fifty years on, in: Transition 106 (2011), pp. B88-B105.
  • Kibble, Matt: The African Writers Series reborn: an electronic edition, in: Wasafiri 46 (2005), pp. 66-68.
  • Okyerefo, Michael Perry Kweku: The Cultural Crisis of Sub-Saharan Africa as Depicted in the African Writers’ Series. A Sociological Perspective, Frankfurt am Main: Lang 2001.

Note to our German users:

Since September 2013 the works are indexed as individual titles in the catalogue of Frankfurt University Library.

News on the “Corpus de la première littérature francophone de l’Afrique noire” (German National License)


  • The individual titles included in the full-text database “Corpus de la première littérature francophone de l’Afrique noire” (German National License) are now indexed in Frankfurt University’s online catalogue seperately !

The database is a production by Classiques Garnier Numérique with the support of the National Centre for Distance Teaching (CNED), the French Ministry of Education , the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Intergovernmental Agency for Francophonie.

Description of this resource according to the publisher Classiques Garnier Numérique:


  • It gathers together all the French-speaking literature from sub-Saharan Africa it was possible to collect: oral and written literature from the origins (end of the 18th century) to Independence (1960, as date of authors’ death).
  • The written literature gathered comes either from works benefiting from a wide distribution or from publications with a local or temporary distribution and kept on short-lived media (press, periodicals, parish bulletins, pamphlets, etc.).
  • The oral literature was collected by monks, civil servants, soldiers, French, foreign or local academics. It was edited on various media as different as a report from a commanding office or a collective work assembled by a Parisian publisher. We also often find this oral literature in dictionaries, grammars, or in early 19th century teaching methods of African languages. Educational works are treasure-stores for the keeping of the most ancient cultural heritage, both popular and scholarly. They also have the extreme advantage of being bilingual. That is why a bilingual version is given for every French text that has a counterpart in an African language.
  • In all, this exhaustive corpus of more than 11 000 texts covers the whole of sub-Saharan francophone Africa, that is some twenty countries and more than a hundred ethnic groups and brings together the most diverse genres of this literature which has yet to be discovered and studied (novels, tales, short stories, narrative accounts, theatre, poetry, myths, legends, fables, proverbs, riddles, songs).


Benin (ex-Dahomey); Burkina Faso (ex-Haute-Volta); Burundi; Cameroon; Congo (Brazzaville); Ivory Coast ; Djibouti; Ethiopia; Gabon; Guinea; Mali (ex-French Soudan); Mauritania; Niger; Central Africa ; Democratic Republic of Congo (ex-Zaïre); Rwanda; Senegal; Tchad; Togo

Ethnic groups:

Achanti; Achingini; Achira; Adima; Agaou; Agni; Anghal; Apono; Atiefe; Avikam; Azandé; Babemba; Bachilangé; Baguirmi; Bahaya; Bahutu; Bakerewe; Bakoko; Bakongo; Baluba; Balunda; Bamana; Bambara; Bamiléké; Bamoun; Banda; Bantou; Banyarwanda; Baoulé; Ba-Ronga; Bari; Barma; Barundi; Bashi; Ba-Soubiya; Bassa; Bassouto; Basumbwa; Batchopi; Batéké; Batutsi; Batwa; Bayansi; Ba-yéyé; Bayo; Bena Kanioka; Benga; Beni Amir; Berbère; Berété; Betchouana; Bilin; Bolia; Boloki; Bombwa; Bomitaba; Booli; Bornouan; Boullom; Boundéi; Brignan; Burungi; Bushmen; Bushongo; Bwaka; Cabrais; Chambala; Chillouk; Chuabo; Dafing; Dagbamba; Danakil; Diakité; Dian; Diara; Dinka; Diola; Dioula; Djinn; Dogon; Douala; Dyan; Dyerma; Dyula; Efik; Egba; Enenga; Ewé; Fang; Fiote; Fon; Foul; Foulah; Foulbé; Gagou; Galla; Gnolebie; Gourmantché; Gourmantié; Gouro; Gourounsi; Grand-Namaqua; Guéré; Hadendoa; Haoussa; Haya; Ibo; Imandwa; Kado; Kama; Kanouri; Kanté; Khassonké; Kikerewe; Kissien; Kongo; Kotoko; Kouargnambié; Koukouroukou; Kouranko; Kouyalé; Kroumen; Kunama; Kundu; Labibi; Landouman; Lanzuba; Laobé; Lapondu; Lari; Lobi; Lounda; Louyi; Luba; Lulua; Madi; Madjamé; Mahi; Malinké; Mandé; Mandégni; Mandingue; Mangbetou; Marka; Massaï; Massassi; Maure; Mbenga; Mendé; Mfan; Mina; Mongo; Mossi; Mpongwé; Muhaya; Nago; Nama; Ndorobbo; Néouolé; Neyo; Ngombe; Nioniossé; Nouba; Nouers; Ntomba; Ntomba e Njale; Otando; Ouahéhé; Ouassoulonké; Oulé Bilforé; Oulé Gané; Pahouin; Paniera; Petit-Namaqua; Peulh; Peulh Ouorbé; Popo; Porto-Novien; Poulho; Punu; Pygmée; Ronga; Rouganda; Saho; Samo; Sénofo; Silmi-Mossi; Soninké; Soussou; Torodo; Toucouleur; Tyapi; Wagongo; Wolof; Yarsé; Yorouba


Afevork (G. J.); Aliou de Fougoumba (Tyerno); Alogo (Jean-Marc); Bâ de Fougoumba (Karamoko); Badibanga (Thadée); Beya (Boniface); Boilat (Abbé P.-David); Bou El Moghdad; Boy (Rawane); Carrère (Frédéric); Coyssi (Anatole); Darfour (Félix); Delobson (Dim); Diop (Alioune); Diouf (Abbé Léopold); Doumbia (Paul-Émile-Namoussa); Duguay-Clédor (Amadou); Dyâo (Yoro); Guillaume de Suède (Prince); Holle (Paul); Houénou (Kojo Tovalou); Ibrahim le Mandingue; Iwandja (Médard); Kamakoro Kala (Tyerno); Kaoze (Abbé Stephano); Kikoko (Simon); Lokose (Patrice); Mademba (Abd el Kader); Mamadi (Aïssa); Mayemba (Benoît); Moumé Etia (Isaac); Niamankessy (F.); Panet (Léopold); Sadji (Abdoulaye); Salih (Mohamed); Senghor (Lamine); Sîgna; Taty (S.); Télémaque (Hamet Sow); Théodore; Tiello Ham Gour’do

Authors collecting oral culture:

Acapovi (Romuald); Adam (M. G.); Adandé (A.); Ahiagba (Armand); Alapini (Julien); Anonyme; Aponi (Paul); Arensdorff (L.); Arnoux (Père Alex); Assomption; Aupiais (Père Francis); Basset (René); Bazin (Mgr. Hippolyte); Ben Hamouda; Bérenger-Féraud (Laurent); Bergé (A.-R.); Beyries (J.); Boelaert (E.); Bokwango (André); Boubala (Raphaël); Bouche (Père Pierre-Bertrand); Bouveignes (Ol. de); Brun (Père Joseph); Buisson (É.); Capus (Père A.); Casalis (Eugène); Casati (Gaetano); Cendrars (Blaise); Césard (Père E.); Chaikhou (Baldé); Chataignier (Abel); Chéron (Georges); Chéruy (P.); Christallen (J.G.); Classe (Père); Cocquyt (A.); Colin (Dr.); Colle (Père C.); Coly (Demba); Conrad (E.); Cornelissen (Josef); Coutouly (François de); Cozzano; Cransac (Germaine J.); Cuvelier (Mgr. J.); Cyrille (Guillaume); Daigre (Père); Daniel (Fernand); Darré (E.); De Clercq (Père Aug.); De Jonghe (E.); Delafosse (Maurice); Demaison (André); Denis (Léopold); Derendinger (Colonel J.R.); Desplagnes (Louis); Diagne (Ahmadou Mapate); Diakite (Éloi); Diallo (A. Digui); Diallo (Moro); Djime (Diallo); Dodaho (Joseph); Dupuis-Yacouba (Père A.); Eboué (Félix); Engels (A.); Équilbecq (François-Victor); Esser (J.); Fernor (Ciel); Fort; Froger (F.); Gaden (Henri); Gaidoz (H.); Gallin; Geay (J.); Génin; Gilliard (Léon); Girard de Rialle (J.); Gonzalves (Benoît); Grégoire (G.); Guébhard (Paul); Guilmin (Père Maurice); Guiraudon (Capitaine T.-G. de); Hacquard (Mgr.); Harou (Alfred); Heidt (M.); Hervé (H.); Hess (Jean); Hudry (H.); Hulstaert (G.); Hurel (Père Eugène); Hutereau (A.); Jacottet (Édouard); Jeannest (Charles); Joseph (Gaston); Joset (Paul-É.); Jouannin; Joyce (T. A.); Junod (Pasteur Henri-A.); Kanté (Diguy); Kikoko (Simon); Koné (Jean-Marie); Konte (Amadou Théophile); Labouret (Henri); Lagae (C. R.); Landeroin (M.); Langhe (H. de); Largeau (V.); Lazarine (Houssou); Le Bourhis; Le Herissé (A.); Léger (A.); Lemaire (L.); Lifszyc (Déborah); Lindeman (M.); Loupias (Père); Luthala (A. G.); Luyeye (Jacob); Ly (Djibril); M’Ba (Léon); Mamet (M.); Mangin (Père Eugène); Mazières (A.); Mietje; Mojard (M.); Molin (Mgr.); Mongis (R.); Monod (M.); Monod (Th.); Monteil (Ch.); Nicol (Yves); Norman (Paulin); Oliveira (F.); Pagès (A.); Pagès (Père G.); Paulme (Denise); Quénum (Maximilien); Quix (J. P.); Roblin (A.); Roehric (V.); Roger (Baron Jacques-François); Rolland (E.); Rousseau (R.); Sadler (Athanase); Saint’Anna (Bernard); Samain (Al.); Sangaré (Satigui); Sano (Mamba); Saron (G.); Sedolo (Michel); Sidibé (Mamby); Solichon; Soucou (Crabé); Tauby (M.); Tauxier (Louis); Télémaque (Hamet Sow); Thomann (George); Tilho (J.); Torday (E.); Torrend (J.); Toulze (M.); Trautmann (René); Travélé (Moussa); Trilles (Père Henri); Van Den Byvang; Van den Hove (L. J.); Van Den Plas (V. H.); Van Goethem (E.); Van Wing (J.); Van Wing (S. J.); Verleersch (S. J. A.); Vertenten (Père P.); Viard (René); Vidal (J.); Vieillard (Gilbert); Walker (Abbé A.); Wannijn (Robert); Yangha (Henri); Zeltner (Frantz de); Zuure (Père Bernard)

Discover this rich resource!