Postcolonial Punchlines

Alain Mabanckou on what a joke can do

Courtesy Soft Skull Press
Courtesy Soft Skull Press

Alain Mabanckou is an award-winning Congolese essayist, novelist, and poet with a string of darkly funny books to his name. His work pokes at taboos and the borders between literary traditions with glee and irreverence—while subverting what it means to be an African writer, educated in Congo-Brazzaville and in France, now living and writing in America. His second novel, Broken Glass, is narrated by a former schoolteacher turned drunk, also named Broken Glass, who records the irregular lives of the regulars at his local bar, Credit Gone West. It’s a potent apéritif for the dark humor of his work—just mind you don’t drink too deep.

Go beyond the episode:

  • Alain Mabanckou’s Broken Glass
  • Read Amos Tutuola’s The Palm Wine Drinkard, the first African novel published in English outside of Africa (and the wild ups and downs of its critical reception)
  • Read The Paris Review interview with Louis-Ferdinand Céline, like Tutuola, an inspiration for Mabanckou
  • Of the Latin American writers Mabanckou named, Gabriel García Márquez and Mario Vargas Llosa have both won the Nobel Prize. But Horacio Quiroga (after whom a species of South American snake is named) wrote many books, only a few of which are translated into English—like The Decapitated Chicken and Other Stories.

Tune in every week to catch interviews with the liveliest voices from literature, the arts, sciences, history, and public affairs; reports on cutting-edge works in progress; long-form narratives; and compelling excerpts from new books. Hosted by Stephanie Bastek. Follow us on Twitter @TheAmScho or on Facebook.

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Have suggestions for projects you’d like us to catch up on, or writers you want to hear from? Send us a note: podcast [at] theamericanscholar [dot] org. And rate us on iTunes! Our theme music was composed by Nathan Prillaman.

Permission required for reprinting, reproducing, or other uses.

Stephanie Bastek is the senior editor of the Scholar and the producer/host of the Smarty Pants podcast.


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