From Africa to America: Precarious Belongings in NoViolet Bulawayo’s We Need New Names
AbstractThis article analyzes NoViolet Bulawayo’s critically acclaimed debut novel We Need New Names (2013), bringing to the fore the legacies of colonialism and the subsequent diaspora to the West. Like the work of other contemporary Afrodiasporic writers such as Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Taiye Selasi and Imbolo Mbue, Bulawayo’s narrative recreates the problematic space of dislocated, transnational migrants who are attached to a postcolonial and a metropolitan “home,” and denied fundamental rights in both. Unstable belongings are part of the new subjectivities forged in postcolonial contexts, where invisibility is also a social, political and economic sign of precarity. In Bulawayo’s novel, social conflicts, abusive governments, linguistic imposition, displacement and migration are revealed through a group of African children, first in a Zimbabwean shantytown and then in the United States. This study contextualizes the diasporic dilemmas of belonging and identity formation, while at the same time exploring the possibilities of political agency within contemporary Afrodiasporic literature.Keywords: precarious belongings; NoViolet Bulawayo; Afrodiasporic literature; postcoloniality; invisibility
Achebe, Chinua. (1958) 2001. Things Fall Apart. London: Penguin.
Adichie, Chimamanda Ngozi. 2006. Half of a Yellow Sun. New York: Knoph.
—. 2013. Americanah. London: Fourth State.
Anderson, Benedict. (1983) 2006. Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism. New York: Verso.
Arnett, James. 2016. “Taking Pictures: The Economy of Affect and Postcolonial Performativity in NoViolet Bulawayo’s We Need New Names.” Ariel: A Review of International English Literature 47 (3): 149-173.
Austin, Ariana. 2011. “A Story of Children on the Margins Wins Caine Prize.” The Crisis 118 (4): 43.
Bhabha, Homi K. (1994) 2004. The Location of Culture. London and New York: Routledge.
Brautigam, Deborah. 2009. The Dragon’s Gift: The Real Story of China in Africa. Oxford and New York: Oxford UP.
Boyce-Davies, Carol. 1996. “Transformational Discourses, Afro-Diasporic Culture, and the Literary Imagination.” Literature, the Creative Imagination, and Globalization 3: 199-224.
—. 2002. Black Women, Writing and Identity: Migrations of the Subject. New York: Routledge.
Bulawayo, NoViolet. 2013. We Need New Names. London: Vintage.
Chariandi, D. 2005. “Postcolonial Text.” Postcolonial Diasporas 2 (1). [Accessed online on February 4, 2018].
Cohen, Robin. (1997) 2008. Global Diasporas: An Introduction. 2nd ed. London and New York: Routledge.
Elze, Jens. 2017. Postcolonial Modernism and the Picaresque Novel: Literatures of Precarity. Houndmills, Basingstoke and New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
Fasselt, Rebecca. 2015. “‘I’m not Afropolitan—I’m of the Continent’: A Conversation with Yewande Omotoso.” Journal of Commonwealth Literature 50 (2): 231-246.
Gilroy, Paul. 2000. Against Race: Imagining Political Culture Beyond the Color Line. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP.
Krystal. 2015. “We Need New Names, by NoViolet Bulawayo.” The Guardian,15 November. [Accessed online on February 12, 2018].
Hall, Stuart. 1997. “The Spectacle of the ‘Other.’” In Representation: Cultural Representations and Signifying Practices, edited by Stuart Hall, Jessica Evans and Sean Nixon, 225-285. London: Sage.
Heerten, Lasse. 2017. The Biafran War and Postcolonial Humanitarism: Spectacles of Suffering. Cambridge: Cambridge UP.
Hughes, Langston. (1954) 1990. “Harlem (Dream Deferred).” In Selected Poems of Langston Hughes. New York: Random House.
Ifekwunigwe, Jayne. 2003. “Scattered Belongings: Reconfiguring the ‘African’ in the English-African Diaspora.” In New African Diasporas, edited by Khalid Koser, 56-70. London and New York: Routledge.
Král, Françoise. 2014. Social Invisibility and Diasporas in Anglophone Literature and Culture: The Fractal Gaze. Houndmills, Basingstoke and New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
Lasky, Kathryn. 2003a. My America: Hope in My Heart. Sofia’s Immigrant Diary. Book One. New York: Scholastic Press.
—. 2003b. My America: Home at Last. Sofia’s Immigrant Diary. Book Two. New York: Scholastic Press.
—. 2004. My America: An American Spring. Sofia’s Immigrant Diary. Book Three. New York: Scholastic Press.
Lieber, Todd. 1972. “Ralph Ellison and the Metaphor of Invisibility in Black Literary Tradition.” American Quarterly 24 (1): 86-100.
Mbue, Imbolo. 2016. Behold the Dreamers. New York: Random House.
Miambo, Alois. S. 2014. A History of Zimbabwe. New York: Cambridge UP.
Moji, Belinda. 2015. “New Names, Translational Subjectivities (Dis)location and (Re)naming in NoViolet Bulawayo’s We Need New Names.” Journal of African Cultural Studies 27 (2): 181-190.
Moyo, Khanyisela. 2011. “Minorities in Postcolonial Transitions: The Ndebele in Zimbabwe.” African Journal of Legal Studies 4: 149-184.
Ndlovu-Gatsheni, Sabelo J. 2009. “Mapping Cultural and Colonial Encounters, 1880s-1930s.” In Becoming Zimbabwe. A History from the Pre-colonial Period to 2008, edited by Brian Raftopoulos and Alois Mlambo, 39-74. Avondale, Harare: Weaver Press.
Patterson, Tiffany and Robin Kelley. 2000. “Unfinished Migrations: Reflections on the African Diaspora and the Making of the Modern World.” African Studies Review 43 (1): 11-45.
Phiri, Aretha. 2016. “Literatures by Africans in the Diaspora Can Help Create Alternative Narratives.” The Conversation, June 26. [Accessed online on October 4, 2017].
—. 2017. “Lost in Translation: Re-reading the Contemporary Afrodiasporic Condition in Taiye Selasi’s Ghana Must Go.” European Journal of English Studies 21 (2): 144-158.
Rice, Alan. 2012. Creating Memorials, Building Identities: The Politics of Memory in the Black Atlantic. Liverpool: Liverpool UP.
Safran, William. 1991. “Diasporas in Modern Societies: Myths of Homeland and Return.” Diaspora: A Journal of Transnational Studies 1 (1): 83-99.
Selasi, Taiye. 2009. “Bye-Bye, Babar (Or: What is an Afropolitan?).” The International Review of African American Art 22 (3): 36-38.
—. 2013. Ghana Must Go. New York: Penguin.
Smith, David. 2013. “NoViolet Bulawayo Tells of Heartbreak of Homecoming in Mugabe’s Zimbabwe.” The Guardian, September 4. [Accessed online on September 8, 2017].
Tiffen, Adam. 2014. “The New Neo-Colonialism in Africa.” Global Policy, August 19. [Accessed online on January 15, 2018].
Valkeakari, Tuire. 2017. Precarious Passages: The Diasporic Imagination in Contemporary Black Anglophone Fiction. Gainesville: UP of Florida.
Vaye watkins, Claire. 2013. “An Interview with NoViolet Bulawayo.” National Book Foundation. [Accessed online on April 5, 2018].
Watson, Marcus D. 2013. “The Colonial Gesture of Development: The Interpersonal as a Promising Site for Rethinking Aid to Africa.” Africa Today 59 (3): 4-28.
The authors retain copyright of articles. They authorise AEDEAN to publish them in its journal Atlantis and to include them in the indexing and abstracting services, academic databases and repositories the journal participates in.
Under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution NonCommercial ShareAlike 4.0 International Licence (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0), for non-commercial (i.e., personal or academic) purposes only, users are free to share (i.e., copy and redistribute in any medium or format) and adapt (i.e., remix, transform and build upon) articles published in Atlantis, free of charge and without obtaining prior permission from the publisher or the author(s), as long as they give appropriate credit to the author, the journal (Atlantis) and the publisher (AEDEAN), provide the relevant URL link to the original publication and indicate if changes were made. Such attribution may be done in any reasonable manner, but not in any way that suggests the journal endorses the user or their use of the material published therein. Users who adapt (i.e., remix, transform or build upon the material) must distribute their contributions under the same licence as the original.
Self-archiving is also permitted, so that authors are allowed to deposit the published PDF version of their articles in academic and/or institutional repositories, without fee or embargo. Authors may also post their individual articles on their personal websites, again on condition that the original link to the online edition is provided.
Authors are expected to know and heed basic ground rules that preclude simultaneous submission and/or duplicate publication. Prospective contributors to Atlantis commit themselves to the following when they submit a manuscript:
- That no concurrent consideration of the same, or almost identical, work by any other journal and/or publisher is taking place.
- That the potential contribution has not appeared previously, in any form whatsoever, in another journal, electronic format or as a chapter/section of a book.
Seeking permission for the use of copyright material is the responsibility of the author.