Africa in Our Lives: Ousmane Ngom

Ousmane Ngom is a professor of African and Afro-American literature at Gaston Berger University in Saint-Louis, Senegal, and is on campus in Fall 2015 as a visiting scholar with the African Studies Program. 

Hometown: Saint-Louis, Senegal
Field: African and Afro-American Literature

(Photo by Catherine A. Reiland/UW-Madison)
“Senegalese hip-hop as an art form has always fascinated me. When you are an intellectual interested in the political and social movements you cannot ignore Senegalese hip-hop…” – Ousmane Ngom (Photo by Catherine A. Reiland/UW-Madison)

What brought you to Madison?

In partnership with the Senegalese government, University Gaston Berger has developed a program that grants professors a research trip every couple of years. The latter choose their destination according to their research field and their affinities. As a newly eligible person to that program, I decided for my first research trip to come to UW-Madison because of my personal history with its rich and dynamic African Studies Program. As a graduate student, I used to work as assistant to the UGB coordinator of the UGB-UW- Madison exchange program. Through this program, I developed rich relationships with the Wisconsin staff responsible for the African Studies Program – James Delahanty, Andrea Muilenberg, Jo Ellen Fair and the likes – that sent a group of students every year to Senegal.

What were your first impressions when coming to the University of Wisconsin-Madison?

The University of Wisconsin-Madison is impressive in many ways. Walking around the campus and the university buildings on the first day of my arrival, the first question I asked the person who was showing me around was if the whole city of Madison was contained in the university. But later, after observing the life of Madisonians and discussing with different people from various age groups and socio-professional areas, I became aware of the reality in my initial perception. I’ve discovered the impact of the university on the city and conversely the community’s pride to identify with their top university. Then you realize that the two are one and indivisible.

Briefly tell us about the research you are conducting:

After finishing my doctoral dissertation on African and African-American literature, now published at the Presse Universitaire Europenne under the title “Strategies narratives dans la litterature africaine and afro-americaine: etude comparative des romans de Ngugi wa Thiong’o, Sembene Ousmane and Alice Walker,” I decided to stay in the postcolonial studies realm, as I believe there is still a lot to say about the relationship between former colonies and colonizers and the aftermath of the relationship in the present day political, economic and intellectual fields.

What specifically have you been working on in Madison?

I am presently conducting two articles. The first one tackles the delicate issue of the world powers military intervention in Africa, based on Nurrudin Farah’s Links, a novel about the Somali 1993 civil war and Boubacar Boris Diop’s Murambi the Books of Bones on the Rwandan 1994 genocide. The article’s interest is mainly the particular language that expresses the local population’s dystopia vis-a-vis the operations “Restore Hope” and “Turquoise.” The second article I’ve been working on while here is on the politics of Senegalese hip-hop.

How did you become interested in the politics of hip-hop in Senegal?

Senegalese hip-hop as an art form has always fascinated me. A teenager, I followed the ‘move’ and accompanied the ‘groove’ of the nascent, yet very transformative art-form. When you are an intellectual interested in the political and social movements you cannot ignore Senegalese hip-hop because it is especially active and committed to raising awareness not only in its songs, but also as it competes for the political sphere with the professional politicians. Their voice is laudable among Senegalese youth as well. Now I am doing a survey covering a quarter century of Senegalese hip-hop focusing on the two polar phenomena known as “Bul Faale” (don’t worry, don’t give a damn) in the early 1990s and “Y’en a marre” (we’re fed up, enough is enough) in the 2010s. The idea is to carry out a semiotic analysis of the evolution of the discourse and praxis.

What future directions are you interested in?

Presently, there is more and more literature written in the Wolof language, but literary critics are not keeping pace with the magnificent amount of output. I have brought my contribution to this literary and politico-cultural fight by publishing two articles in this field. After the encouraging reception of these two articles by the scientific public, I said to myself that still more needs to be done. All the literary criticisms on novels written in Wolof are written in either French or English, but never in Wolof. The basic problem is that the most appropriate terms to criticize a literary work are not readily available in the Wolof language. I have a very ambitious project of establishing a dictionary of literary terms in Wolof and French. I have invited some Wolof-language novelists and literary critics to make this dictionary as rich as possible.

Where would you most like to travel and why?

I am somebody who likes to travel. When you are attentive and accommodating to what happens around you, you can say that traveling is more pedagogical than any other kind of experience. I’d like to travel again and again in the United States because of the English language I love and because of the rich diversity you can find here, as well as the great research opportunities it offers.

Profile produced by Meagan Doll.

Click here to view more “Africa in Our Lives” profiles.