Movements of Sudanese Literature

A Mapped History of Modern Sudanese Lit

Due to the startling inaccessibility of information on Sudanese authors–only five or six of Sudan’s novelists were listed under the Wikipedia Category “Sudanese writers” when I began this project–I guided my project with this goal in mind: to increase the availability of metadata on Sudanese novelists and their novels, thereby, facilitating research on the history of modern Sudanese literature. To begin my project, I started collecting data in Nodegoat, noting mostly authors and their novels. I began my collection through the wimpy Wikipedia pages, then progressed into internet searches, and, finally, skimming library resources. Even more astonishing than lack of information available on Sudanese authors on Wikipedia was the fact that Routeledge’s Encyclopedia of Arabic Literature didn’t consider Sudanese literature to be significant enough to give the country even a small entry in the encyclopedia. Sudan’s famous novelist Tayeb Salih was included of course, in his own separate entry. To me, this is a tragic miscalculation of the artistry and importance of Sudan’s novelists. However, like Routeledge, some of my friends have questioned my project, responding to my complaints about the poor quality of information with, “There’s a reason for that” or the like.

Historically and anthropologically, I expect a large reason for the oversight of Sudanese literature has been the inability to categorize Sudan. As one of the darkest-skinned Arabic-speaking populations, no one knows whether to call Sudan African or Arab. Arguably, the secession of South Sudan has helped (North) Sudan justify itself to the rest of the Arab world, as the country is now undeniably predominantly native Arabic speakers, who are also Muslim, who are also often lighter of skin with some Egyptian or Turkish roots. 

The fact is, if people aren’t being told about the books, if the books aren’t circulating well, that’s not necessarily because of poor quality. In fact, in the map with places of publication for Sudanese novels, it’s clear that the majority of Sudanese authors don’t publish within their own country due primarily to censorship. As a consequence, talented novelists within the country must seek out publishers in Cairo, Beirut, even in Abu Dhabi, for their work to hit the shelves. Other brilliant hobbyists resign themselves to internet, under-the-radar circulation that isn’t included in my project. Ultimately, despite finding the city of publication for 39 of 47 novels that I’ve found to date, only 1 of those novels was published in Sudan.

On that note, in making the actual map, shown below, I made several executive decisions. Firstly, I decided to use aggregate hexagons to showcase the cities in which most Sudanese books end up being published. To clarify this, despite using the shading to show concentration, I also added actual number of books published there, as some places like Abu Dhabi and Omdurman, Sudan have very slight differences in hues but the stated number of 2 compared to 1 are very distinct. To contribute further to the understanding of movement, I included to the authors’ birthplaces (at least those which I was able to find) so that one can less easily argue, “maybe most of these authors actually lived and were born in Cairo, or London.”

Carto did leave a few things to be desired, or there were a few things it had but I didn’t know about or understand how to use that I desired to use. Firstly, because of the extensive number of books published in, for example, Cairo, I cannot add the information of the books and the authors as a pop-up. However, for those desiring more information, I would have liked to be able to link to a page that has these specific lists. Secondly, unfortunately, the aggregate hexagons I used for cities of publication didn’t allow me to add pop-ups and identify the city so I had to add a separate layer of plain dots with attached pop-ups to the map. Upon the advice of my professor, I attempted to make these pop-ups appear with hover instead of a click, but unfortunately, I then experienced problems with the functionality of Carto. In my little editing space, the map took significantly longer to load and on the published site, it refused to show any data at all through hover, just a box that said “no data.” So, despite the inconvenience, I had to stick with the clickable pop-ups.

If I had more time with this project and more capacity to conduct research, I would like to include the current residences of Sudanese authors and their birthplaces. This would demonstrate the migrations of Sudanese novelists themselves from place to place in contrast with the cities of publication for their novels. Additionally, I’d like to eventually include the cities where translations were published, in part for the purpose of documenting the transmission of Sudanese literature, and in part just to reiterate and evidence the quality of Sudanese literature, despite it being relatively unknown. Indeed, the aim of this mapping project is primarily simplicity for communication purposes. The extensive data behind such a project for me will be ever expanding, and all the fine details that exist in the data but not on the map fascinate me. However, this visualization with the map facilitates analysis as well as quick communication of the migrations of Sudanese literature.

As a parting and positive note, I’d like to add that luckily I am not the only advocate for greater recognition of Sudanese literature in the past year. Banipal, a magazine of modern Arab literature, recently published an edition highlighting Sudanese literature in their 55th issue this past spring (2016), with more info available here. Meanwhile, Literary Sudans, an anthology of Sudanese literature, was published in Trenton, NJ just this October. Hopefully, all these efforts will result in greater recognition of Sudanese literature on a global scale, as it has ever so slowly been gaining recognition in the Arab World.

You can find the specific datasets I used through this link,  Sudanese Books, and this link, Authors–Sudan.