Two languages have been particularly important in shaping the literary landscape in East Africa: Swahili and English.
The most vibrant contact zones between literature in English and literature in Swahili today are located in Kenya and Tanzania, especially in the urban centres. After independence, a generation of authors in both literatures wrote their works in an atmosphere of new beginnings and in the context of increasing regional integration. Following the break-up of the East African Union, literary developments were shaped by distinct national paths of development and the challenges of political authoritarian­ism throughout the region. At present, in the era of struggling multi-party democra­cies, globalization and the growing influence of new electronic media, both Tanzania and Kenya are witnessing far-reaching processes of social and political change that also shape the linguistic contact zones between Swahili and English in both count­ries.
Literary scholars have usually studied East African Literature in English and Swahili in terms of more or less self-contained linguistic worlds and in the context of two different disciplines. Looking at Swahili and English literature in terms of a linguistic and literary contact zone opens up challenging perspectives and a wide array of new questions.
How do the different literatures and literary histories relate to each other? What are thematic, stylistic, generic and diegetic similarities and differences between literary texts written in English and in Swahili? Has literature in English and Swahili developed along regional trajectories or has it mainly been shaped by national imperatives? What is the role of regional or national contexts in transcultural and transnational literatures?
How does the linguistic contact zone shape literary production? Have English and Swahili influenced each other as literary languages in both linguistic and cultural terms? How do cultural definitions of what counts as literature shape literary pro­duction? What is the role of “hybrid” languages such as Sheng in the contemporary East African literary scene, and to what extent have English and Swahili themselves become “hybridized” in the contact zone?
In which ways do different actors in the literary field – writers, publishers, critics, read­ers – negotiate the status of these literary languages? Who actually reads whose texts? Which forms of dialogue have emerged inside the contact zone?
The symposium Habari ya English? East Africa as a Literary and Linguistic Con­tact Zone aims at intensifying dialogue between linguistics and literary studies and will bring together scholars from East Africa and Germany working on East African literature in English and Swahili as well as contemporary Kenyan and Tanzanian authors writing in Swahili and English. It thus hopes to contribute towards overcoming the disciplinary gaps that characterize the study of African literature in English and in Swahili and to open up new perspectives for interdisciplinary research.