Agencies of Voice: Teaching and Writing with the Short Stories of Uwem Akpan.
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Abstract: How we tell stories, who we tell them to, and their importance in our culture, has undoubtedly changed over the past two hundred years. Even so, the exchange of stories about ourselves and our worlds is flourishing in new ways, both in print and online. Jonathan Greenberg observes with reference to Walter Benjamin that the 'difference between story and novel is the difference between speech and writing, craft and art, voice and text, presence and absence'.1 Arguably, the reader of the published work is similarly separated from the production of the story. Benjamin's point is that the decline of the numinous qualities of communal storytelling and the rise of the narrator as bourgeois individual are symptoms of social and political isolation brought about by the progress of capital. This notion may be applied to fictional accounts of the evolution and impacts of globalisation among very different cultural contexts. Uwem Akpan's Say You Are One of Them offers short stories that engage and confront both readers and writers. Told from the viewpoint of children in Africa, Akpan's stories are immediate, sometimes shockingly visceral, and yet beguiling. They offer fruitful exemplifications of the use of voice and agency in fiction: inviting readers and writers to step into the shoes of the characters, in order to realize Africa's troubled circumstances, and our own. More powerfully, for students of creative writing, critical and contextualized readings of Akpan's stories demonstrate the narrative power of notions such as agency and point of view, enabling students to recruit these more effectively within their own writing practice. This paper explores some of the possibilities suggested by Akpan's stories for critical reading as a strategy for teaching literary technique in fiction. The paper also suggests that Akpan's fiction strives to enact a return to relationship and connection, through the communal voice of the storyteller.
15th Annual AAWP Conference, 2010
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Creative Writing (incl. Playwriting)