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Modernism, African Literature and the CIA

In 2012 and 2013, Dr. Peter Kalliney was a Visiting Fellow at The John W. Kluge Center.

Currently the William J. Tuggle Chair in English at the University of Kentucky, during his tenure at the Kluge Center, Kalliney used the Library of Congress collections to research a project entitled, “Commonwealth of Letters: British Literary Culture and the Emergence of Postcolonial Aesthetics,” published as a book in 2013 by Oxford University Press.

Dr. Kalliney’s work focuses on cultural institutions of the English-speaking world. During his research at the Library of Congress, he learned of the Central Intelligence Agency’s covert funding of African writing during the Cold War.

The CIA was the most active and influential patron of African Anglophone literature during the 1960s. Kalliney’s work examines the cultural organizations, magazines, and intellectuals that the CIA funded through its European affiliate, the Congress for Cultural Freedom. Kalliney shows that CIA monies reached nearly all the Anglophone African intellectuals of the day: Chinua Achebe, Ngugi wa Thiong’o, Wole Soyinka, Rajat Neogy, and many others. Of historical importance, he says, is that the real source of the funding was hidden from the recipients.

Why would the CIA support a generation of African intellectuals? In his final lecture delivered at the Kluge Center, Kalliney offers his insights, borne from his research at the Library of Congress. He also offers his ideas on the evolution of modernism during this period, and how, in Kalliney’s words, “modernism would become attached to and dependent upon the health of literary culture in the decolonizing world.” It is a history many people are unfamiliar with: covert action, the struggle for global dominance, and a decolonizing continent setting trends in the global evolution of English literature.

Kalliney’s lecture, embedded below, tells this captivating story of Africa during the 1960’s. An essay drawn from this work, entitled “Modernism, African Literature, and the Cold War,” will be published in Modern Language Quarterly in fall 2015.

Click video to play

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