'The Big Canvass": An Interview with Mazisi Kunene

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In the present interview, recorded in his office, in July,1996, during an NEH Summer-long Seminar on the Literature and Culture of the New South Africa in which I participated, Kunene reflects on the challenges of the New South Africa and offers some illuminating insights into the impetus behind his choice of the epic as a mode of communication, his interest in the African world view and cosmology, the variety of his writing and interests beyond the epics for which he was best known, and his vision of the commonalty of all African cultures. In this, as in his creative writings, Kunene emerges as a forceful and perspicacious communicator, a committed pan-African nationalist imbued with the highest ideals of the African consciousness movement as well as of Afrocentric ideology and historiography. But throughout the interview, he maintained a consistent level of humor in spite of the high and excellent seriousness of his message and occasional drift into pejorative language in response to opinions and views which he found intolerable. Appended to the interview is a surviving excerpt of his reflections on the relativism of colonialist historiographies from a longer statement which was recorded earlier, during a meeting in his office, with the entire NEH Summer Seminar Group.


Transcribed and edited while on sabbatical leave as Sheila Biddle Ford Foundation Fellow, working on the unpublished papers of Christopher Okigbo at the W. E. B. Du Bois Institute for African and AfricanAmerican Research, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA 03138, Chukwuma Azuonye is Professor of African Literature and Languages at the University of Massachusetts, Boston, MA 02125-3393.



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