Interview with Fahamisha Patricia Brown

What would you like the ASA membership to know about the ALA, beyond what is immediately obvious on your website?
The African Literature Association is an independent professional organization of scholars, teachers, and writers from around the world. Presently, its membership ranges from 350 to 400 members.  Founded in 1974 by scholars in the African Studies Association who voiced a need for more time and space to be devoted to literary and cultural studies, ALA exists primarily to facilitate and appreciation and understanding of the works of African writers and artists. It welcomes the participation of all who produce the object of our study and hopes for a constructive interaction between scholars, activists, and artists. The organization meets annually in the spring. In 2014, the ALA Annual Meeting will be convened by the School of Literature, Language and Media, University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa from April 9 through 13. 

What are some of the theoretical gaps at the intersection of African Studies and Literary Studies, and what are your recommendations for consolidating African Literary Studies within that?
African Studies too often defines itself as the study of Africa’s history, politics, and political economy. Too often, also, it focuses on problems/pathologies and potential solutions/cures. African Literary Studies is rooted in the hearts of Africa’s peoples—their infinite variety, their responses to crimes and crises, their traditions and values. 

This year we lost Chinua Achebe and Kofi Awoonor- significant losses in the African literary community. In light of this but also broadly speaking, what is the ALA doing in terms of capacity-building to build a pipeline of literary arts scholars from the African continent?
As an association, ALA has welcomed generations of African writers from around the African world to its conferences. We celebrate the truism, “There’s always something  new out of Africa,” as a Truth. The “elders” are revered, analyzed and critiqued; however, works by Africa’s newest writers, film-makers, and other artists have their place on the platform, at the readings, in the book displays. Each year, ALA awards travel grants to assist younger scholars travel from Africa to our usually Americas-based annual conference.  Additionally, we have committed the association to meeting in Africa at least every five years if possible (although it will be eight years since our last meeting in Ghana when we travel to Johannesburg).

How do you think the ASA and the ALA can collaborate to provide a richer membership experience for our respective groups of members?
Since ties were restored between ASA and ALA a few years ago, ALA members have served on the ASA Conference Program committee. Input into the annual meeting’s  programs through papers and a reception are the norm. Perhaps an annual literature-related plenary session at ASA might be appropriate. We also would welcome an ASA membership display with perhaps a call for papers of the fall meeting.

How do you think the ASA as an organisation can better utilise its connections with its coordinate/affiliate organisations?
Representatives from appropriate coordinate/affiliate organizations should be included in relevant program planning activities prior to the annual meeting. There may be speakers, writers, or scholars of literature and film that dovetail with the conference theme. Some display space for descriptive materials, program announcements, membership forms, etc. of the organization would be helpful.