African Studies for High School

Developed by Karen Leigh, Arthur Vining Davis Fellow 2003-2004
Robert E. Lee High School, Staunton, Virginia


Although contemporary textbook publishers have attempted to incorporate authors and literary works from around the world, the high school canon for world literature remains primarily European and American-centered. The following two units allow teachers to expose students to African literature of Nigeria and South Africa , the African countries that have produced the largest numbers of internationally acclaimed writers. Both countries have experienced the monumental changes that accompany shifts from colonial rule to autonomy of the African peoples and cultures that comprise their populations. For each unit, three novels from different time periods trace emerging political and social climates in their respective countries.

The Nigerian unit, with novels written in a straightforward narrative style, is suitable for heterogeneous classes. The South African unit, with changing voice, flashbacks, and perspectives, will challenge honors students.

With each unit, students are allowed choice. Classes can be divided by ability and/or interest into three groups when reading the novels. Because the themes are related and the setting is the same, students can then engage in cooperative research and exploration of poetry and other short works by writers of the same country.


Nigerian Novels: From Precolonial
Perspectives to the Present

  • Achebe, Chinua. Things Fall Apart.
  • Adichie, Chimananda Ngozi. Purple Hibiscus.
  • Emecheta, Buchi. The Joys of Motherhood.

These novels represent more than 100 years of Nigerian history. They range from the first experiences of native Igbo with British whites in Things Fall Apart, to the urban culture shock in The Joys of Motherhood, and finally, to the political turmoil for the intelligentsia in a modern dictatorship in Purple Hibiscus.

South Africa

20 th Century South African Fiction:
A Chronology of Apartheid

  • Gordimer, Nadine. July’s People.
  • Paton, Alan. Cry, the Beloved Country.
  • Wicomb, Zoe. You Can’t Get Lost in Cape Town .

Cry, the Beloved Country shows the escalation of racial tension in South Africa that led to apartheid. The book was published in 1948 just before apartheid became law. Published in 1981, July’s People is Gordimer’s visionary world where apartheid comes tumbling down and roles for the races are reversed. Finally, You Can’t Get Lost in Cape Town takes place as apartheid nears repeal; here, the author traces the changes in her protagonist’s life as restrictions gradually lessen and opportunities for “coloured” people become more open.