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African Writers Series: José Luandino Vieira

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African literature has come of age with different countries on the continent contributing to the development of the art. Writers in Africa have become prominent world wide due to the rapid growth of literature, and among such people is a Portuguese born Angolan writer chronicled below. José Luandino Vieira, born José Vieira Mateus da Graça on May 4, 1935 is an Angolan writer of short fiction and novels. Vieira was born in Lagoa de Furadouro, Ourém, Portugal and was Portuguese by birth and ethnicity, but his parents immigrated to Angola in 1938 and he grew up immersed in the African quarters (musseques) of Luanda. mia-couto He wrote in the language unique to the musseque, a fusion of Kimbundu and Portuguese. He left school at the age of fifteen and worked as a mechanic. He was devoted to Angolan independence, resulting in his arrest in 1961 after an interview with the BBC in which he disclosed secret lists of deserters from the Portuguese army fighting in Africa. He would remain in jail for eleven years afterwards. Vieira's works often followed the structure of the African oral narrative and dealt with the harsh realities of Portuguese rule in Angola. His best-known work was his early short story collection, Luuanda (1963), which received a Portuguese writers' literary award in 1965, though it was banned by the Portuguese government until 1974 due to its examination of the oppressiveness of the colonial administration in Angola. His novella A vida verdadeira de Domingos Xavier (The Real Life of Domingos Xavier; 1974) portrayed both the cruelty of the Portuguese administration and the courage of ordinary Angolans during the colonial period. Other works include Velhas estórias ("Old Stories"; 1974), Nós os do Makulusu ("Our Gang from Makulusu"; 1974), Vidas novas ("New Lives"; 1975), and João Vêncio: os seus amores ("João Vêncio: Regarding His Loves"; 1979). His works ex-ray societal ills, in quintessence,  the novel Nosso musseque (“Our Musseque”) was written 40 years ago, and was published for the first time in 2003 by Editorial Caminho, which is currently reissuing the author’s complete works. In this novel, we come across a number of familiar figures from previous stories. Looking back at childhood and youth, the author brings us the camaraderie and conflict of people living in a world marked by the daily struggle for survival, repression and racism. He portrays his characters in their complex contradictions, children and young people as friends and foes, adults resisting the ever-present secret police, hard-working craftsmen, opportunistic tradesmen, petty thieves and prostitutes, determined women fighting to feed their families. Luandino Vieira gives each their own voice. den1 He artfully blends elements from slang and Angola’s African languages, in particular Kimbundu, into a vivid language that has had a decisive influence on later authors, such as the Mozambican writer Mia Couto. His innovative use of language has often brought comparisons with modern Brazilian literature’s great writer, João Guimarães Rosa. Nosso musseque, like the author’s work as a whole, is an impressive portrait of a society on its way toward a self-determined future. Vieira turned down the 100,000 Euros Camões Literary Prize (the most prestigious international award for literature in the Portuguese language),  awarded to him in May 2006, citing personal reasons. He also served as secretary-general of the Union of Angolan writers, and in that capacity helped get the works of other Angolan authors and poets published. José Luandino Vieira is a central figure in the establishment of a distinctively Angolan literary movement. Though born in Portugal, he grew up in Luanda, where his family lived in the poor suburbs, the musseques, in which so many of his short stories and novels are set. He is highly inclined politically, and this resulted in him spending most of the period from 1959 until the 1974 Portuguese revolution under various forms of imprisonment and house arrest during the anti-colonial struggle while he also wrote most of his books in prison. Following Angolan independence, he played a leading role in the left-wing MPLA ruling party. He was awarded the Grande Prémio da Novelística by the Portuguese Writers’ Society in 1963 (resulting in the temporary suspension of that society by the Salazar regime). He now lives in Portugal.   Written by: Azeez Sanusi

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