Although Ayi Kwei Armah (awr-MAW) is primarily a novelist, he has written and published in other forms as well. Among his short stories, “Yaw Manu’s Charm” appeared in The Atlantic Monthly (1968) and “The Offal Kind” in Harper’s (1969). His poem “Aftermath” is included in Messages: Poems from Ghana (1970). Armah also has worked as a translator for Jeune Afrique and the Algerian-based Révolution Africaine. His polemical essay “African Socialism: Utopian or Scientific?” appeared in Présence Africaine (1967).
Ayi Kwei Armah has become Ghana’s best-known writer on the international scene, but he would probably prefer to measure his achievement by the reception of his African audience. He has been vulnerable to suspicion and resentment both in Africa and abroad. Not only has he been in exile from his own nation, choosing to live in other African countries, in Paris, and in the United States, but he has also attacked virulently the corruption and materialism of his country’s elite and has absolutely condemned the white race (whether European or Arab) for its perverted mentality and for its past and present role in the destruction of African culture.
There is an abrasive quality about Armah’s early novels—their oppressive naturalism, their sadomasochistic sexuality, their melodramatic casting of blame—that demands more than mere tolerance on the part of his audience. These novels require the reader to go beyond the vehicle to the attitude and the argument that it reveals. A reasonably careful reading will get beyond this abrasiveness and may even dispel the suspicion and resentment, because Armah’s real achievement lies in his making the novel not a simple outlet for his venom but a functional instrument in the African cause. Armah is one of the few truly experimental African novelists. He takes a Western literary form and shapes it into a voice for the African in the modern world.
In his first novel, Armah turns naturalism and romantic...
Fraser, Robert. The Novels of Ayi Kwei Armah: A Study in Polemical Fiction. London: Heinemann, 1980. An excellent starting place for general readers. The first chapter provides the context of liberation and resistance informing Armah’s work and is followed by five chapters on individual novels. Includes a bibliography and an index.
Lazarus, Neil. Resistance in Postcolonial African Fiction. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1990. Full-length study that focuses on the politics and ideology of Armah’s first three novels. A cogently argued critique of early postcolonial nationalism.
Ogede, Ode. Ayi Kwei Armah: Radical Iconoclast. London: Heinemann, 1999. Full-length study of Armah’s entire oeuvre, from one of the most prolific Armah scholars. Focuses on the juxtapositions of “imaginary” worlds with the “actual.” A volume in the Studies in African Literature series.
Okolo, M. S. C. African Literature as Political Philosophy. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007. While focusing on works by Chinua Achebe and Ngugi wa Thiong’o, Okolo places these writings within the broader context of postcolonial African literature, including a discussion of Armah’s work. Okolo argues that Armah, Achebe, and Thiong’o have been profoundly affected by the continent’s political situation and have...