'A people who do not preserve their memory are a people who have forfeited their history.' So argues Wole Soyinka, in his book The Burden of Memory, the Muse of Forgiveness, and this provides the overarching thematic concept for African pasts as a whole. Colonialism for Africans is not an event encapsulated in the past, but is a history whose repercussions and traumatic consequences are still actively evolving in today's political, historical, cultural and artistic scenes. African pasts examines African literatures in English since the end of colonialism, investigating how they represent African history through the twin matrices of memory and trauma. Inextricably tied up with the historical conditions of Africa's colonisation, charting the emergence of its independence, and scrutinising Africa's contemporary neo-colonial and postcolonial states as a legacy of the colonial past, African literatures are continually preoccupied with exploring modes of representation to 'work through' their different traumatic colonial pasts.
African pasts covers a wide range of African literatures (drawn from West, East and Southern Africa) and a cross-section of genres - fiction, poetry, prison-narratives, postcolonial theory - and embraces such well-known writers as Soyinka, Coetzee, Ngugi and Achebe, and more recent writers such as Nuruddin Farah, Tsitsi Dangarembga, Achmat Dangor, Etienne van Heerden, Zakes Mda, Gillian Slovo and Calixthe Beyala.