In recent years writing from former British colonies and dominions has been recognised as making an important contribution to English literature (or rather, literature in English). This slim volume (68 pages) contains seven short stories from New Zealand, Australia, India, South Africa, Nigeria, the Caribbean and Canada. It was expressly devised for use at school. The declared aim of the editor is to help students “... read, imagine and think about what the widely different [...] English-speaking countries are saying in their own way through their literary writers”. (Introduction).
The following stories have been included in Introducing New English Literatures (texts I would particularly recommend are marked *): Apirana Taylor: ‘Pou’, Katherine S. Prichard: ‘Flight’, R.K. Narayan: ‘A Horse and Two Goats’*, Christopher Hope: ‘Learning to Fly’*, Chinua Achebe: ‘The Madman’, Velma Pollard: ‘My Mother’, Leslie Lum: ‘Old Age Gold’.
My own favourite story would probably be ‘Learning to Fly’ by Christopher Hope. Not only is it an exemplary short story from the structural point of view (no introduction, surprising ending) part of its attraction lies in the slightly cynical undertone. Be that as it may, all the texts selected are of a very high quality. Furthermore, they lend themselves to introducing the countries presented and/or the topics raised (for instance the conflicts between indigenous peoples and whites or the situation of immigrants). In this regard the accompanying teacher’s book is a great help. It provides background information, notes on the text and, in some instances, suggestions for classroom activities. Difficult or unusual vocabulary is explained in the main book at the bottom of each page.
Non-native literatures have long been neglected in favour of (presumably) more easily accessible British or American authors. Introducing New English Literature and the teacher’s book make an important contribution towards remedying this situation. Through his judicious selection of texts the editor succeeds well in his endeavour of taking learners on a “world tour” (as he calls it in the introduction) and in awakening their interest in the cultures presented.
There are various reasons for teaching New English Literatures at school. Firstly, they reflect one use of English as an international and intranational language - and after all the global use of English is a strong argument in favour of learning the language. Secondly, and equally important, non native literatures have considerable educational value. The texts presented in Introducing New English Literatures promote tolerance and genuine interest in foreign cultures instead of perpetuating stereotypes. Thirdly, a discussion of non-native literatures could lead on to a fruitful investigation of other aspects of the global spread of English.
For more information on these matters readers are referred to my article ‘Appropriating English: a global, a European and an Austrian Perspective’ in ELT News Number 43, February 2001.
Published in ELT News 44 (June 2001) 110.