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Dispatches: On the 100th Issue of Transition magazine

By Geoff Wisner


The 100th issue of Transition magazine just arrived in my mailbox: a milestone I wasn't sure it would reach.

From the time of its revival in 1991 until now, Transition has been an essential resource for readers interested in the culture of Africa and the African diaspora. If you can read and support only two magazines of international literature this year, Transition should be the other one. (Full disclosure: My reviews of books on Zimbabwe, Angola, and Haiti appeared in issues 59, 60, and 66.)

As each issue of Transition explains on its title page, the magazine was founded in Uganda in 1961 by the late Rajat Neogy. It published fifty issues before ceasing publication in 1976: a record that the new series of Transition has now equalled.

Transition 100

The new series has been committed from the start to African literature in translation. Issue 51 reviewed a new biography of the Senegalese poet Leopold Sedar Senghor. Issue 100 reviews the novel African Psycho by Alain Mabanckou of the Republic of Congo, and publishes poems (in French, with English translation) by Sylvie Kande, who was born in Paris to a French mother and a Senegalese father.

As a subscriber and a contributor, I have worried about Transition. Though its editorial base has remained Harvard's Department of Afro-American Studies, since 1991 it has been published by Oxford University Press, Duke University Press, Soft Skull Press, and Indiana University Press. The magazine didn't always succeed in the goal of being a quarterly (Indiana now plans to issue three issues per year).

But when each issue came out, it was like nothing else out there: an erudite, edgy combination of a literary review and an academic journal, where extended book reviews like mine coexisted with essays, memoirs, short stories, and poetry. Where else could you find "How to Be an African" by Binyavanga Wainaina of Kenya side by side with "Honkey Night in Canada" (issue 96), which ingeniously segues from the emergence of black hockey players to that of Afro-Canadian literary critics?

Geoff Wisner is the author of A Basket of Leaves: 99 Books That Capture the Spirit of Africa, which discusses books from every African country. He also blogs at

Published Mar 2, 2009   Copyright 2009 Geoff Wisner

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