Three Innovative Writing Assignments in an African Languages and Literature Course

Author: 
Linda Hunter
Description: 
The following examples from Professor Linda Hunter's course illustrate how innovative writing assignments can be incorporated into a class.

There will be five exercises in writing, which together will count for 20% of the final grade. They are to be typed, double spaced, using no smaller than 12 point font size, on one side of one sheet of paper with one inch margins all around (approximately 250 words). Exercises must be no longer than one page. They must be turned in on the due date. No late papers will be accepted. Please do not use any kind of folder or binder, and do not make a cover page. Write your name and discussion section number on the upper right-hand corner of the BACK of the page.

 

    Grading Scale
    19 - 20 stellar, imaginative ideas, polished writing
    17 - 18 fine work, well written, good examples
    15 - 16 solid work, addresses assignment, could use more analysis
    13 - 14 weak, little evidence of analysis, poor organization and expression
    11 - 12 very poor, lack of analysis, poor writing
    below 12 not acceptable

 

Exercise I: Due Thursday, February 4

1. Assume for the purposes of this exercise that the three stories "A Handful of Dates," "Papa, Snake, and I," and "My Father, the Englishman and I " are autobiographical. Now imagine that the three authors meet as adults. Write the discussion that might take place among them, or have any one address the other two on the subject of the impact the incidents described had on their lives; how they socialized them; their feelings about language and power, betrayal, faith, humiliation.

2. Write any one of the stories ( "A Handful of Dates," "Papa, Snake, and I," "My Father, the Englishman and I," "Mrs. Plum") as a ballad: a song or poem that tells a story in short stanzas. Remember that a ballad is meant to be sung, so your language should be rhythmic; and is meant to evoke an emotional response, so your language should be lyrical. Be sure to focus on language issues (socialization, power, attitudes, identity).

3. Write ('re-write') a portion of "Mrs. Plum" in the voice of either Mrs. Plum or Dick, focusing on issues of language attitudes, beliefs, and identity.

 

Exercise II: Due Tuesday, March 2

1. A Zimbabwean writer once wrote, "It was the songs that won the liberation war." Based on the songs you heard in Flame, write a song which Zimbabwean women might have sung during the war, paying attention to style, voice, tone, and content. The form is important: it should be rhythmic and spirited.

2. Imagine you are a South African journalist who has just arrived on the scene of the car crash in "A Gathering of Bald Men." Write an article about the event, using an appropriate style.

3. Write a letter, from Florence and/or Nyasha, to the Zimbabwean government arguing that women guerillas should have been honored in the country's 1995 celebration of fifteen years of independence. Support your argument with clear examples from Flame.

4. Discuss the structure of Living, Loving and Lying Awake at Night. You might want to expand on one of the metaphors used in class (web, tapestry, mosaic, music), or you might want to create your own. The key issue here will be to establish the metaphorical relationship and to develop it as fully as possible.

 

Exercise III: Due Thursday, April 1, at the beginning of class

1. "Black Girl" ("La noire de...") was one of Ousmane Sembene's first films. It is an hour-long black and white film in French with English subtitles. Just these characteristics speak to some of the linguistic and stylistic decisions a film-maker must make: What language? What length? Color or black and white? Assume you are planning a film based on either "Black Girl" or "Girls at War." Discuss the kinds of stylistic decisions you will make and what impact you hope they will have on the audience. You might consider writing this in the form of a screen play, or a proposal to a producer.

2. At the end of "Why Don't You Carve Other Animals" the author says, "His carving is also his dreaming." In the preface to the story she is also quoted as saying, "Caught between memory and dreaming, the hopeful exile weaves a comforting performance out of a tale of agony." Write an essay which addresses cultural translation and which uses specific examples from this story.

3. Write a response from Ocol to one of Lawino's laments. Pay attention to the form you choose to use: oral (song, confession), written (poem, letter), etc.

 

Exercise IV: Due Thursday, April 15

1. Imagine that Dodo and the ogress in "Louliyya, Daughter of Morgan" meet. Create the dialogue they might have. Note that in an imaginative way it should provide a profile of each character. You might, for example, have them discuss their most recent exploit, their views about their adversaries, plans for future victims.

2. The following table illustrates some of the character actions and fantastic elements in the episodic structure of Ta-Kitse. It is adapted from: Stephens, Connie L. (1978) "The Hausa Tale of Ta-Kitse: Oral Narrative as Artistic and Educational Experience" in Studies in Hausa Language, Literature and Culture edited by Ibrahim Yaro Yahaya and Abba Rufa'i, Kano: Bayero University, pp. 497 - 511.

Do an analysis of "The Girl Who Married A Dodo" or "Daya and the Dodo" in which you discuss (or illustrate) the structure. Consider at least some of the following: jealousy; well; fertility; protectiveness of parents / mother; Dodo's pact; role of Maria's dog, gourd seed, Dove; transformation of Maria / Daya; Dodo's wealth; Dodo's child. You can write this as an essay or you can develop a table similar to the one above.

3. You are creating a version of one of the following-"Ta-Kitse," "Daya and the Dodo," "The Girl Who Married a Dodo," or "Louliyya, Daughter of Morgan"-for an American audience (specify who that audience is, for example, college students, nursing home, children, etc.). What format would you use (Music video, TV show, Play, Illustrated Story)? What message would you want to convey (Moral, Humorous, Success)? Why?

4. Imagine that you are applying for a job as the editor of a collection of oral tales. The publisher has asked you how you will appeal to the audience of the collection. The storyteller has asked you how you plan to capture the art and energy of her creative performances. Write a single letter, which you will give to both of them, in which you answer their questions. Use examples from the stories you have read and watched.

 

Exercise V: Due: Tuesday, May 4

1. On their first visit to Tatem, Avey Johnson took her husband Jerome (Jay) to the Landing and told him the story of the Ibos crossing the river on foot on their way back home. Avey was sure he would dismiss the story, but "instead, his gaze on the dark still floor of the water, he had said quietly, 'I'm with your aunt Cuney and the old woman you were named for. I believe it, Avey. Every word.'" Imagine a communication (in a dream perhaps, or a kind of prayer) from Avey's husband, Jerome (Jay) Johnson, at the end of her excursion to Carriacou. What might be his reaction to her experience?

2. Design a curriculum for Avey Johnson's envisioned summer camp at the house in Tatem, left to her by her great-aunt. Be sure to make it relevant to Africa and African influences on the New World.

3. In Praisesong for the Widow we are introduced to the legends of Ibo Landing and of The Bongo. Write what might become the legend of some aspect of Mona's transformation in the film Sankofa.