Nyamwaya Reflects on African Roots and American Experience in New English Elective

Elly Nyamwaya, Instructor in English, will teach a new English elective this Spring Term called “African Identities in American Literature.” As part of the new course, students will have the opportunity to break down cultural barriers through discussion about African and American culture in literature and cinematography. Born in Nairobi, Kenya, Nyamwaya moved to the United States in 2007 and began teaching at Andover that same year. “There’s a saying that goes, ‘If you don’t tell your story, someone else will,’ and when that other person tells your story, you can’t truly blame him or her if he distorts what your story should really represent, so you should be the one to tell your story, and others should take guidance from you. That’s what inspired me to start the course,” said Nyamwaya. In particular, Nyamwaya hopes to draw from his own experiences as an African in America to further conversation and dialogue in the classroom. Nyamwaya said the course will bridge the gap between studying American and African cultures. “We’ve had courses [at Andover] in Asian literature, South American literature and various forms of American or European literature. I felt like there is space for the introduction of a course that brings in something about Africa,” said Nyamwaya. In addition to gaining a better understanding of African literature, Nyamwaya hopes that students will learn to break down conventional ideas and false impressions that they may have about African culture. “What I’m looking forward to most is to introduce students here to the beauty of African literature and the beauty of the culture that that literature represents, because there are many stereotypes about Africa and many misconceptions about what Africa is… I hope to provide a more objective, truthful picture of Africa through that course,” said Nyamwaya. Nyamwaya’s goals for the course stretch beyond the students’ being able to learn about African and American cultures. He hopes each student will have a chance for introspection about his or her own identity and character. “I’m also hoping that the course will enable [students] to be better world citizens because I know there are quite a number of students here that have an international orientation. They don’t define themselves purely as Americans or as Asians or as Europeans. Their visualization of who they are is global by definition. By teaching them African literature, I will be introducing them to a world that they should also know about,” he added. The course will feature a mix of American and African texts and films, selected by Nyamwaya for their strong representations of African characters. Among the books written by American authors are “Dreams from My Father” by Barack Obama and “A Raisin in the Sun” by Lorraine Hansberry. Nyamwaya, “There are so many literary works that have been written by Americans that feature African characters, and so I wanted to see how those African characters are portrayed, and how, by extension, their portrayal influenced the way Africans are perceived in the American public.” Nyamwaya also plans to examine the way Americans are represented in an African setting. The selections from African authors include works like “The Dilemma of a Ghost” by Ama Ata Aidoo and “A Man of the People” by Chinua Achebe. “I’d like us to look at how American characters [are featured] in African literature and how America is perceived through the portrayal of those characters in those texts,” said Nyamwaya. The course, although centered around African and American literature, will rest heavily upon discussion and discourse between the students. “We’ll be engaging in the Socratic method of instruction where I will be holding a lot of discussion using the Harkness table. The course will be entirely dependent on what the students bring to the table,” said Nyamwaya. “Through the discourse, through those discussions, I know that I’m going to learn a lot from my students. Even now, in the courses that I teach, there’s a lot that I learn from my students. That kind of eliminates my own perspective and makes me become a better instructor,” Nyamwaya added.