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Modern Sudanese Literature  

Afis Ayinde Oladosu

Modern Sudanese literature presents an extremely interesting landscape that mirrors the problems that the category “Sudan” represents for scholars across disciplinary barriers and specializations. To account for its extremely slippery trajectories and, through that, show how vital its contributions have been not only to Sudanese but also to African literature, questions relating to its existence or otherwise have to be explored: To what extent is it true that literary writing in Sudan should be referred to as Sudanese Arabic literature (al-Adab al-ʿArabī al-Sūdānī), not Arabic literature in Sudan (al-Adab al-ʿArabī fī al-Sūdān)? What cultural artifacts are there in Sudanese history that can be cited in support of the latter? To provide answers, these arguments can be situated against data on the medieval, Turkish, Mahdist, and Anglo-Egyptian Sudanese histories; perspectives on the cultural affinity between Egypt and Sudan as exemplified by the Nile Valley (Wādī al-Nīl) can be explored; and these can be shown to have accentuated the birth and development of modern Sudanese literature. Further, its trajectories—poetry and prose, including the traditionalist, the romanticist, the realist, and the postcolonialist—can be explored. Some Sudanese literary-critical writers, including Muʿāwīyah Muḥammad Nūr (who wrote the first Sudanese short fiction in 1930), Malikat al-Dār Muḥammad, al-Tījānī Yūsuf Bashīr, ʿArafah Muḥammad ʿAbdullāh, Ṣalāh Aḥmad Ibrāhīm, and Muḥammad Miftāḥ al-Faytūrī, contributed to the field. Others include al-Ṭayyib Ṣāliḥ (Tayeb Salih), whose novel Mawsim al-Hijrah ilá al-Shamāl (published in 1966 and translated into English as Season of Migration to the North in 1969) remains unrivaled in contemporary Sudanese literary history; ʿAbdullāh Maḥjūb; Sayyid al-Fīl; Ibrāhīm Khālid ʿUways; Buthaynah Khiḍr Makkī; Istilā Qaytānū (Stella Gaytano); and Safia Elhillo. The works of these writers have continued to give modern Sudanese literature the global attention that it deserves. Plotting the geography of its large corpus can therefore be likened to enumerating pebbles in the desert. But there is a thread that runs through the works. From Muʿāwīyah Muḥammad Nūr to Muḥammad Miftāḥ al-Faytūrī, whose sharp vision and creative spirit preceded al-Ṭayyib Ṣāliḥ, and from Buthaynah Khiḍr Makkī to Safia Elhillo, modern Sudanese literature is consistent in its attention to the inner schisms in pre- and post-independence Sudanese society. The corpus thus represents the slippages and the shifting identities of postcolonial Sudanese modernities. In modern Sudanese literature, thoughts and reflections on race, gender, and nation by Michel Foucault, Edward Said, Frantz Fanon, Kadiatu Kanneh, and Muhsin al-Musawi find ample representation.