Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2011

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Fine Arts (MFA)

Department

English

First Advisor

Marcia Douglas

Second Advisor

John-Michael Rivera

Third Advisor

Noah Eli Gordon

Abstract

I am a native Buli speaker and belong to the second generation of Bulsa who had the chance to obtain formal education in English. None of my grandparents, and hardly anyone from their generation had the opportunity to go to school. The first schools were established by the British beginning with my father’s generation. My mother never had the opportunity to go to school. She was therefore non-literate in English and Buli. During the colonial era, schools were mostly in the southern part of Ghana while the north, where I come from, was mostly left alone to its native ways and native forms of education.

With such background I find myself as a writer working at a very interesting and exciting time in the history of our language and narrative forms. A few of us Bulsa are writing for the first time in Buli alongside writing in English. We make an attempt to work carefully in ways that honor, celebrate, and allow for the continued growth of the oral tradition, while at the same time taking advantage of the written text and of the ability to write in English. As primary school pupils, we did not read story books for story hour on our weekly schedule. It could have been because we had only a limited number of books, but story time for us was a memorable occasion when we took turns telling stories in the oral tradition to the class. We learned first to listen to stories, and then to tell stories in our native Buli before we learned to read and write our own stories in English.

Using a lifelong experience of the narrative, beginning with the oral tradition of my Buli language, and later exposure to the written texts, especially of African writers in English, my thesis brings together works that fall into three main categories. The first part embodies narrative pieces of experiences growing up in northern Ghana as a child, going away to high school and college, and eventually returning to work in the same community. The second part contains snippets along the narrative of the experience of the Black Diaspora in North America, and the last section deals with the complexity of returning to Africa as a dual citizen of the USA and Ghana. Even though the narrative line is established along the three components named above, this is not an attempt at writing a memoir. The pieces attempt through the perspective of the narrator, to render a collective experience of how everyday people struggle, survive and at times fail or triumph over challenges placed in their way.

Special emphasis on the oral tradition is evident throughout the pieces, especially in the title essay. I use the collective narrative voice of “we” a lot in this piece as a way of incorporating unique components of the oral tradition such as, the fact that a story is often a thing of collective as well as personal ownership. A person who creates a story may own it at the time of telling it to others. Once told, the story becomes a collective property, and other people have the right not only to retell it, but to add their own flavor to it. My use of the “we" narrative voice in recounting collective experiences is reflective of yet another aspect of the oral tradition. This aspect calls for the narrator to make room for others who may come along and say, “this was not how I remembered it”, thereby keeping a story open and accountable to the collective.

The story tellers of my childhood, and African writers in English such as Ama Ata Aidoo, Chinua Achebe, Flora Nwapa, Ngugi wa Thiongo, and Ayi Kwei Armah influence the narrative style and some of the writerly decisions in my thesis. When and where it works successfully, I give credit to all those who came before me, but when and where I fail to make a tight or successful weave of the story telling tradition I take full responsibility for my clumsy weave.

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