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From Home and Exile: A Negotiation of Ideas about Home in Malawian Poetry

Sunday 14 December 2014, author(s)-editor(s) Joanna Woods

This book is about home. With Malawi as its focus, it seeks to understand ideas about home as expressed through poetry written by Malawians in English. Although African Literatures are studied those of Malawi have not received agreeable attention. This book surveys poetry by five Malawian writers – Felix Mnthali, Frank Chipasula, Jack Mapanje, Lupenga Mphande, and Steve Chimombo. The discussion negotiates scribed experience of exile, engendered by Dr. Banda’s regime, and shows that the selected poets effectively converse with a sense of home, reflecting on its transformations in their work. Interrogating the strict definitions of home, the argument highlights that far from home-less exiles in fact clarify the sense of what ‘home’ is. The manoeuvre is one of thinking towards an unboundaried ‘home’. This book will be of value not only to readers interested in the cultures of Africa but to all those with an interest in worldwide literary phenomena, and ideas therein of home and exile.

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ISBN 9789956792771 | 236 pages | 216 x 140mm | 2014 | Langaa RPCIG, Cameroon | Paperback

3 Book Reviews

  • From Home and Exile: A Negotiation of Ideas about Home in Malawian Poetry 14 December 2014 15:10, author(s)-editor(s) Harry Garuba, African Studies, University of Cape Town

    “Joanna Wood’s From Home and Exile explores the many dimensions of home in the work of five prominent Malawian poets. While evidence of meticulous research is present in every page of this book, its unique achievement is the ability to bring conventional literary studies – dependent on text, close reading and interpretation – into conversation with the anthropological requirement of fieldwork.”

    Harry Garuba, African Studies, University of Cape Town

  • From Home and Exile: A Negotiation of Ideas about Home in Malawian Poetry 14 December 2014 15:11, author(s)-editor(s) Dr Ignatio Malizani Jimu, Quality Assurance Manager (Academic), National (...)

    “The book offers a new perspective into interpreting and negotiating ideas about exilic experiences of Malawi’s celebrated poets. Exilic experiences at home and abroad represent a continuum of dehumanizing political terrain. Being home or in exile is not just about being within or without some familiar terrain called the ‘home’, rather it’s about the sense one has of belonging, of inclusion and exclusion. The selection of Malawi literary greats… is quite revealing and perhaps significant symbolically as a literary endeavour."

    Dr Ignatio Malizani Jimu, Quality Assurance Manager (Academic), National Council for Higher Education, Malawi

  • From Home and Exile: A Negotiation of Ideas about Home in Malawian Poetry 29 February 2016 14:09, author(s)-editor(s) Shadreck Chikoti

    A few months ago we laid to rest Professor Steve Chimombo, one of the leading writers from Malawi, a man of exceptional talent, unwavering in his passion for the arts.
    His legendary life has been chronicled in journals, anthologies, and books of all kinds. But no book captures his significance more than Joanna Woods’s From Home and Exile: A Negotiation of Ideas about Home in Malawian Poetry.

    Woods’s book explores the idea of home, asking such universal and vital questions as what is home? Where is home?

    Woods seeks to answer these questions by looking at the works and lives of five Malawian poets, including the late Steve Chimombo.How I wish the professor had read this book before his demise, maybe he did.

    She asserts, “While this book is about home, at the heart of it is Malawi and its poetry” (v). But what she does with this poetry in the next 200 plus pages is unusual. While admitting that “research into poetry from Malawi is largely shaped by exploration of the country’s politics,” she chooses to “make an attempt to position poetic analysis somewhere other than in a political remit” (v). This is a first in studies of Malawian poetry and makes the book unique in its approach. At least there is one who can look at Malawian poetry, in fact, African literature, outside its political undertones.

    From Home and Exile takes us through the poetry of Felix Mnthali, Frank Chipasula, Jack Mapanje, Lupenga Mphande, and of course Steve Chimombo, all of whom are considered legendary, not only in Malawi, but across Africa.

    What brings these poets together is the fact that all, except Steve Chimombo, were forced into exile by the dictatorial regime of Dr. Banda, and that most of them have remained in the diaspora until now: “all [the poets] express experiences of home as transformed and thought of through the lens of exile’s physical and psychological distance” and as a result, “they harbour some manifestation of the psychological dimension of exile” (4, 5).

    The book provides a good template with which to analyze the first generation of African writers, the likes of Ngugi wa Thiong’o, Chenjerai Hove, Chinua Achebe, Steve Biko and others who went through similar experiences of alienation from one’s home and who, just like these poets, have written extensively on the subject matter.

    Dr. Ignatio Malizani attests to the book’s uniqueness when he writes, “The book offers a new perspective into interpreting and negotiating ideas about exilic experience of Malawi’s celebrated poets (and I add, African celebrated writers). Exilic experience at home and abroad represent a continuum of dehumanizing political terrain.”

    Indirectly, From Home and Exile also adds a voice to the current debates on subjects such as Afropolitanism, Pan Africanism, and African identity as it asks the question, what is home? What is the essence of home?

    It resonates with Ngugi’s essay published in the Guardian, titled “Despite decades of exile, I still feel the pull of my homeland,” where he speaks of how he has never really felt at home in America despite being there for more than three decades with little hope of returning to his homeland in Kenya.

    But Woods also seems to suggest that home can be anywhere and nowhere at the same time. Home is both physical as well as psychological. Home has no form and is not definitive: “What is certain…is that home is ‘shot’ through with ambiguity” (21); “It might be thought of as one’s physical birthplace, a past, or as an imagined place, a future” (21); “Home is a permanent work in progress” (22); “Home and exile are bound to human life, to subjects and the self. And by extension to their creativities: their literary works” (41).
    By extensively quoting and drawing instructions from such writers as V.S Naipaul, Chinua Achebe, Ngugi wa Thiong’o, Chimamanda Adichie, V. Turner, A.W. Oliphant, Dambudzo Merechera, M. Mascuch, and A. Gutthy among others, the author makes this work not only relatable to Africa but also to the globe.

    Woods concludes: “My findings have suggested that ideas about home may be configured concisely in thematic terms: as ‘landscape’ and as ‘relationship’. While the poetry analysed has illustrated that the themes stand alone in view of their respective conversations with ‘home’, they communicate with, or relate to, one another too. That is to say that a person will hold views and have a relationship with the idea of home through aspects of landscape, be it a tree, river, or a particular terrain. So, the two: ‘landscape’ and’ relationship’ dance with one another, taking each other’s hands and embracing from time to time. But the dance is not simply one creation. It is never an identical routine. It has been shown in this study that ‘home’ is constantly re-created, re-imagined, re-written: forever flirting with re-newal.” (145)

    One unfortunate omission in this book is that its analysis does not include any female poet. But the author defends herself by stating: “I am aware that the focus is solely on male perspectives and interpretations of Malawi as home. Any such female counterpart is notoriously difficult to find. While speaking of an all-encompassing Malawi then, a significant group is not considered”(6). And indeed, women occupy such vital positions in African societies that it is only proper to include them in such discussions. But, perhaps, this is a call for female writers in Malawi to write more and increase their presence in literature.

    From Home and Exile was published by Langaa Research and Publishing Common Initiative Group in Cameroon and can be purchased on Amazon and other sites. It is being distributed in and outside of North America by the African Books Collective.