Edward Wilson Lee’s much-acclaimed SHAKESPEARE IN SWAHILILAND: Adventures with the Ever-Living Poet is out in paperback from Williams Collins today. First published by William Collins (UK) and Farrar, Straus and Giroux (US) in 2016, the year of the commemoration of the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, it was one of The Bookseller’s Top 6 Shakespeare picks of 2016, and was highlighted in previews of ‘the most significant Shakespeare books’ in The Times, The Financial Times and The Wall Street Journal. It will be published in German by btb in 2018.
Investigating the literary culture of the early interaction between European countries and East Africa, Edward Wilson-Lee uncovers an extraordinary sequence of stories in which explorers, railway labourers, decadent émigrés, freedom fighters, and pioneering African leaders made Shakespeare their own in this alien land.
This radical, breath-taking book combines travel, history, biography and satire in an ode to Shakespeare. Wilson-Lee teaches Shakespeare at Cambridge but grew up in East Africa and SHAKESPEARE IN SWAHILILAND explores Shakespeare’s global legacy like no other book before it. In these pages explorers stagger through Africa's interior accompanied by Shakespeare; eccentrics live out their dreams on the African Savannah with Shakespeare by their side; decadent emigres, railway labourers, Indian settler communities, African intellectuals and rebels all turned to Shakespeare and adapted his plays to fit their needs. The book examines how Shakespeare influenced the first African leaders of independent nations, Cold War intrigues and even Che Guevara.
With its incredible series of stories and momentous travels from Zanzibar, through Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Ethiopia and Sudan, this literary adventure throws high culture and the wild together in celebration of Shakespeare's legacy as a poet of the world.
Wilson-Lee explained that his book 'aims to find the holy grail of literary studies – an answer to why Shakespeare should be so universally adored – in the most unlikely of places; along the way it is a travelogue, a memoir, a satire, an ode to Shakespeare, and a potted history of a region which combines breathtaking beauty and cultural riches with the heartache of injustice, poverty, and amnesia.'
Praise for SHAKESPEARE IN SWAHILILAND:
‘Edward Wilson-Lee goes in search of Shakespeare in Africa and finds him entwined in every twist and turn of the drama of colonization and decolonization of the continent from the 17th century to the present. The result is a masterly literary detective adventure. A compelling read.’ – Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o,
'There will be many books published to mark the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death. Few will be bolder than Shakespeare in Swahililand: Adventures with the Ever-Living Poet, in which Edward Wilson-Lee gets out of the seminar room and treks through Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Ethiopia and Sudan to discover how Shakespeare has been constantly reinvented in Africa.' – Matthew Reisz, Times Higher Education
'Wilson-Lee’s account of his East African Shakespeare-hunt is vivid and full of insights. What we learn about colonial power relationships and historical currents is as convincing as any general explanations of Shakespeare’s universalism, but that, perhaps, is partly the point: it’s the very fact that Shakespeare is so read and performed, with these multiple interactions each revealing something, that demonstrates his boundless potential.' - Daniel Hahn, The Independent
‘SHAKESPEARE IN SWAHILILAND is an attempt to understand whether the great playwright’s work speaks across cultural boundaries to a shared humanity. … It has successfully told a lesser-known story of Africa, and it is a story worth knowing.’ – The Economist
‘This book evinces a remarkable familiarity with Africa, filtered through the lens of that most-English poet and playwright… Wilson-Lee shows the Bard to be a man for all continents.’ – Critic’s Choice, The New Criterion
‘Compelling and affecting" – Tim Black, Spiked!
'✭✭✭✭' - Michael Kerr, Telegraph Travel
‘I thought nothing could surprise me about the impact of England’s greatest cultural figure, but this fascinating, readable book about his influence in East Africa certainly did.’ – The Lady
‘A glorious melange of travel, biography, history and satire’ – The Times, South Africa
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Edward Wilson-Lee is a Fellow in English at Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, where he teaches medieval and Renaissance literature and Shakespeare. After growing up in Kenya and Switzerland, he went to university in London, New York, Oxford and Cambridge, living briefly in Mexico and New Orleans in between. Edward is currently writing his second book, THE CATALOGUE OF SHIPWRECKED BOOKS, for publication by William Collins in 2018.