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The State of European Literature

On 16 June 2022 the renowned writer Alain Mabanckou delivered the third State of European Literature, under the title ‘Pour une autre Europe’ (‘For a different Europe’). The State of European Literature is an annual lecture delivered by a renowned author or poet of international stature, about the state of literature and the state of Europe through the perspective of literature.

Alain Mabanckou (photo: Nico Thérin)
Alain Mabanckou (photo: Nico Thérin)

Mr. Mabanckou, whose books have been translated in almost twenty languages, is a novelist, essayist and poet, and a professor of Francophone literature at UCLA. He received the Prix Renaudot for his novel Mémoires de porc-épic (2006, translated as Memoirs of a Porcupine). He has been shortlisted for the International Booker Prize twice, in 2015 for his body of work, and in 2017 for his novel Black Moses (original title Petit Piment, 2015). Other notable works include the novels Verre cassé (Broken Glass, 2005), Black Bazaar (Black Bazar, 2009), Les cigognes sont immortelles (2018, The Death of Comrade President), his memoir Lumières de Pointe-Noire (2013, The Light of Pointe-Noire) and his collected columns and essays Le sanglot de ‘l homme noir (2012, The Tears of the Black Man). Huit leçons sur l’Afrique contains Mr Mabanckou’s lectures for the Collège de France in 2016, when he held the Chair for Artistic Creation.

Alain Mabanckou (1966) grew up in Pointe-Noire in The Republic of Congo. The port city of Pointe-Noire also provides the setting for several of his novels, that deal with the experience of contemporary Africa, and with the African diaspora in France and the United States. In his address, Mr. Mabanckou will explore the interconnectedness of Africa and Europe, the role of colonial legacies, and the specific position of the literary imagination in this field.

Responses by Judith Jansma and Vamba Sherif

Following Mabanckou's lecture, literary scholar Judith Jansma and Liberian-born writer Vamba Sherif will give a short response.

Judith Jansma is an assistant professor in European Culture and Literature at the University of Groningen. Her research provides an interdisciplinary perspective on the reception of controversial cultural works in our polarised societies. In her PhD thesis, titled From Submission to Soumission: Populist Perspectives on Culture (2021) she studies the various ways in which (right-wing) populists in France and the Netherlands make use of culture to forge (socio-cultural) identities of 'us' and 'them'. This interdisciplinary project uses theories, methods and tools from political science, cultural studies, literary studies and cognitive linguistics. Judith holds both a MA and a BA degree in French Language and Culture.

Vamba Sherif is a novelist, essayist, film critic and speaker. He has written many novels. His debut novel, Land of My  Fathers, is about the founding of Liberia as the first African republic in 1822. Sherif's work has appeared in many languages, including Dutch, English, French, German, Spanish, and the Indian Malayalam. He has also published essays, stories, film reviews, columns and opinion pieces in The New York Times, the German Kulturaustausch, African Writing, Trouw, Volkskrant, NRC and ZAM-Magazine, among others. With Ebissé Rouw, he compiled Black: Afro-European literature in the Netherlands and Belgium, a unique anthology of Afro-European experience in the Low Countries.

The State of European Literature

The State of European Literature is an annual lecture delivered by a renowned author or poet of international stature, about the state of literature and the state of Europe through the perspective of literature.

Today, the languages of Europe continue to write and tell stories about the continent, its intimate lives, neighbors and about its shifting position in the present, past and future.  Due to political polarization and the contestation of the actual fact of the matter of the continent’s present condition (whether it is about the tectonic shifts in geopolitics, transnational legacies such as colonialism, but also climate change, the division of wealth, or the demographic future of Europe), there is a renewed urge for the truth of literary fiction and the power and precision of poetic expression. Whether it is about the alleged limits to the literary imagination in discussions about identity, emancipation, gender, decolonization, or in the field of contested memories, or about the growing predominance of English as a common European language, literature today seems as vital as ever. The State of European Literature wishes to enhance awareness of the pivotal role of the key values of literature and culture for the current and future state of Europe: curiosity, imagination, reflection, critique, translation, eloquence, tradition, invention (in random order).

The State of European Literature is hosted by the UvA-Faculty of Humanities and SPUI25, and supported by ACES (the Amsterdam Centre of European Studies), OSL (Onderzoeksschool Literatuurwetenschap), and the Institut Français Pays-Bas.