A peek into literature from Gabon thanks to Cheryl Toman – professor, translator and the author of the first book-length study in English of Gabonese literature.
The contemporary literary scene in Gabon
Gabon is one of the highest producing countries for contemporary literature on the African continent although it has been grossly overlooked by literary critics in North America. It is also the only country worldwide where the first novel was written by a woman. This strong showing by the Gabonese woman writer has continued throughout the country’s literary history and one can certainly say that Gabonese women dominate the literary scene in the country. There is a prominent first generation of woman writers who were born in the 1950s and 1960s (Angele Rawiri, Justine Mintsa, Sylvie Ntsame, and Honorine Ngou among others) and an equally promising and highly productive second generation who currently range in age from 18 to 42 (Edna Merey Apinda, Nadia Origo, Alice Endamne, Charline Effah, Elisabeth Aworet, Miryl Eteno, etc). Gabonese writers of this second generation are extremely united, promoting their own writing as well as that of their peers and the older generation. They do this mostly through social media, especially through public Facebook pages such as Littérature Gabonaise and Club Lyre.
In addition to the extraordinary accomplishments of women writers of Gabon, there are also several male authors of note (Laurent Owondo, Janis Otsiemi, Hallnaut Mathieu Engouang,Wilfried Idiatha, etc.) and several Gabonese diaspora writers, the most highly acclaimed being the author known as Bessora.
The Gabonese have a very high literacy rate (nearly 90% of individuals 15 years of age and over), and the quantity and the quality of Gabon’s literary works (novels, short stories, poetry, and theater) are the product of this achievement. The country still faces some challenges however which hinder it from promoting its national literature even further. The distribution of printed books is very limited both in the country and abroad despite the founding of several female-owned publishing houses in the country (La Maison Gabonaise du Livre and Editions Ntsame) as well as the comprehensive bookstore Le Savoir. Many Gabonese works of literature are still published in France which makes them less accessible in Gabon. Gabonese literature is written almost exclusively in French although oral literature can be found in nearly 40 indigenous languages.
Must-read classics from Gabon available in English
Books from Gabon are just beginning to appear in English. Those in print include:
The Fury and Cries of Women by Angele Rawiri, translation by Sara Hanaburgh. University of Virginia Press, 2014.
Afropean by Alice Endamne, translation editor, Cheryl Toman, Create Space 2015.
The Moonlight Tales by Edna Merey Apinda, translation by Beth Johnston, CreateSpace 2015.
Best new books from Gabon available in English
All of the books above were published in the last two years. While there are many books available in French, there isn’t too much in English just yet. But this is a growing market for translation and this situation will change in 2017 and beyond.
Publishing houses that publish contemporary fiction
Maison Gabonaise du Livre (Libreville), Editions Ntsame (Libreville)
Literary magazines for contemporary fiction
Nothing in yet English available. However, the magazine Amina often highlights Gabonese women authors and includes excerpts of literary works in French.
And finally, new books or authors from Gabon that absolutely have to be translated into English
N’etre by Charline Effah
La Nuit sera Longue by Edna Merey Apinda
Professor Cheryl Toman’s area of research is African women’s writing with a special emphasis on authors from Cameroon, Gabon, and Mali. Her most recent book, Women Writers of Gabon: Literature and Herstory was published by Lexington Books. This study is the first book-length study in English of Gabonese literature and focuses on Gabon’s major contributions to African literature. An accomplished translator, Toman has translated several books, short stories, and poetry including Thérèse Kuoh-Moukoury’s Rencontres essentielles (Essential Encounters) that appeared in the MLA Texts and Translations Series in 2002. She has also collaborated on several other translated volumes, including Noureddine Aba’s It Was Yesterday Sabra and Chatila with E. Accad (L’Harmattan, 2004). She directed the translation of Alice Endamne’s Afropean (Createspace 2015), and wrote the afterwords for The Fury and Cries of Women by A. Rawiri, translated by Sara Hanaburgh (University of Virginia Press, 2014) and Edna Merey-Apinda’s The Moonlight Tales, translated by Beth Johnston (Createspace 2016).