A Spirit of Dialogue

Incarnations of Ogbanje the Born-to-Die, in African American Literature

  • Author(s): Okonkwo, Christopher
  • Series:
  • Imprint: Univ Tennessee Press
  • Publication Date: 2008-05-01
  • Status: Active
  • Available in Hardcover - Cloth: Price $48.00 | Buy Now

A groundbreaking study, A Spirit of Dialogue examines through extensive, interdisciplinary research, theory, and close reading the intricate reconstructions, extensions, and resonances of the West African myth of spirit children, the “Born-to-Die,” in contemporary African American neo-slave narratives. Arguing that the myth, called “Ogbañje” in Igbo language and “àbíkú” in Yoruba, has had over thirty years of uncharted presence in African American literature, Okonkwo advances a compelling case absent in extant scholarship. He traces Ogbañje/the Born-to-Die’s appearance in African American texts to a convergence of factors. They include but are not limited to: the impact of Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart; the 1960s emergence of the contemporary neo-slave narrative; the 1960s and 1970s black consciousness/Black Power movement and the cultural agenda, gendered politics, and centripetal philosophy of the Black Arts movement’s nationalist aesthetic; African American identity questions of the post-civil rights and the multicultural eras; and the thematic shifts, as well as the African diaspora orientation of African American fiction of the post-nationalist aesthetic period.

A Spirit of Dialogue focuses on the sometimes neglected and understudied works of four canonical African American writers: Octavia E. Butler’s Wild Seed and Mind of My Mind, Tananarive Due’s The Between, John Edgar Wideman’s The Cattle Killing, and Toni Morrison’s Sula and Beloved. Okonkwo demonstrates persuasively how the mythic spirit child informs the content and form of these novels, offering Butler, Due, Wideman, and Morrison a non-occidental “code” by which to engage collectively with the various issues integral to the history experience of African-descended people. The paradigm functions, then, as the nexus of a life-affirmative dialogue among the six novels, as well as between them and other works of African religious and literary imagination, particularly Things Fall Apart and Ben Okri’s The Famished Road.