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Against All Odds: African Languages and Literatures into the 21st Century

Distributed by Michigan State University Press, Suite 25, Manly Miles Building, 1405 South Harrison Road, East Lansing, MI 48823-5245; 517/355-9543
Produced by Msgun Zerai, Audio Visual Institute of Eritrea
Directed by Charles Cantalupo
DVD, color, 55 min.
College - Adult
African Studies

Reviewed by Patricia B. McGee, Coordinator of Media Services, Volpe Library & Media Center, Tennessee Technological University

Date Entered: 11/25/2008

Against the Odds is the story of the African literary and cultural conference held in Asmara, Eritrea in 2000. This gathering of writers, scholars, publishers, government ministers, students, and the general public has “laid the groundwork for the empowerment of African languages” and examined the how colonialism and the imposition of western European languages upon native peoples have affected the literature, economic development and culture of Africa. Ghirmai Negash, Eritrean author, pointed out that African works that are published in the world’s dominant languages are circulated world wide, yet not read in their own countries. Western published books are too costly for many African people, and the western languages act as a barrier to an understanding of one’s own culture.

Abena Busia, Ghanian writer and scholar, eloquently argued that language and culture are inextricable. “We too have been taught forgetting. We are schooled in another language now, and names lose their meanings except as labels.” Nigerian Akinwumi Isola, echoed this sentiment when he warned that writers “can not afford to abandon the people.” It is the writer’s “responsibility to resuscitate and reanimate our culture. No one else will do it for us.” Against All Odds began as a one week international conference, as a cultural coalition to improve African lives by bring knowledge and understanding to peoples through languages and literatures. By the end of the week attendees had ratified the “Asmara Declaration on African Languages and Literature” and the conference had become a movement.

Against All Odds combines the debate of world renowned scholars and writers who spoke at the conference with performance by Sbrit, the Eritrean National Dance troop, a visit to “The Story of the Book in Eritrea” exhibition, poetry reading, dramatic performances, and an outdoor festival. It is a fascinating introduction to some of Africa’s most famous writers and recommended for all schools with African Studies programs.