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A Guide to English: Anglophone Literature(s)

A guide to English created by Visiting Librarian Abe Nemon in 2022/2023.

Anglophone Literature(s)

What are Anglophone literatures?

Anglophone literatures, in the plainest terms, are literatures written in English by English-speaking (anglophone) people from around the world. As of the early 2000s, over two billion people in the world speak English, making English the world's most widely spoken language (followed by Mandarin).

English is spoken in places as far-flung as Australia, Singapore, New Delhi, Zimbabwe, Jamaica, North America, and Guam for reasons that are complex but impossible to separate from the legacies of British and American imperialism and colonialism. Because of their association with the successful mid-20th century movements in India and Africa (and elsewhere) to achieve independence from European colonial powers, literature from these countries is also often described as postcolonial literature(s).

Although the Library of Congress Classification Outline names "English Literature" as the subject of section PR in the library, we think of this section as consisting of the "Commonwealth Literatures," named for a group of fifteen countries that acknowledge symbolic (but not legal) ties to the British monarchy. As the editors of the Journal of Commonwealth Literature wrote in their first editorial in 1966:

The name of the journal is simply a piece of convenient shorthand, which should on no account be construed as a perverse underwriting of any concept of a single, culturally homogeneous body of writings to be thought of as ’Commonwealth Literature’.

In their introduction to a special issue of Anglia : The Journal of English Philology on the subject of "anglophone world literatures," Birgit Neumann and Gabriele Rippl (2017) explain their choice to use that term to organize their issue rather than the more conventional term postcolonial:

While we are clearly aware of the links and overlaps between the terms, we use the notion of ‘Anglophone literatures’ instead of ‘postcolonial literature’. Very broadly speaking, notions of postcolonial literature build on colonialism’s hierarchical dichotomy between centre/periphery and highlight literature’s capacities for subversion, i.e., for ‘writing back’ to a centre that is posited as the norm. The appropriation, rejection and transformation of colonial expressive traditions, that is, the capacity to use them creatively as vehicles of subaltern resistance, were indeed vital to processes of cultural decolonisation and self-representation. The term ‘Anglophone literatures’, by contrast, tries to move beyond the dichotomy of imperial centre and periphery/former colony so as to emphasise entanglement and mutual connectedness between multiple localised literary traditions and diverse socio-cultural practices.

In this guide, we likewise adopt the term "anglophone" in order to give equal place to English language literature produced by authors not from England or the United States, recognizing that our literatures are interconnected and mutually influencing, and that we have much to learn from the literature produced by anglophone authors from all over the world.

Librarian's note: You can find three foundational works of postcolonialist writing in the Postcolonial Criticism box on the Criticism & Theory page of this guide.

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