Transition History

“...the ultimate purpose of a literary magazine will always be to herald change, to forecast what new turn its culture and the society it represents is about to take. It will do this by sometimes allowing prejudice and temporary obsessions to be aired [and] by being permissive to radical innovations.”  - Rajat Neogy, Founding Editor

Transition was founded in 1961 in Uganda as an East African literary magazine. The brainchild of a twenty-two year old writer of Indian descent named Rajat Neogy, it quickly became Africa’s leading intellectual magazine during a time of radical changes across the continent. Rather than serving as a storehouse for the new work emerging in the 1960s, Transition was the mill that generated debate among its writers and readers. Chinua Achebe, James Baldwin, Julius Nyerere, Ali Mazrui, Paul Theroux: diverse figures shared space in each issue, and hard words in the lively letters section, where entire ideologies were born. Transition was never afraid to offend and frequently invited controversy with articles about literary and racial politics, sex, stereotypes, and the regimes in power, while at the same time always making space in its own pages for robust retaliation.

In 1968, the Ugandan government jailed Neogy for sedition despite international outcry; the magazine had criticized President Milton Obote’s proposed constitutional reforms. After Neogy’s release, Transition was revived in Ghana in 1971 and the Nigerian novelist Wole Soyinka took over in 1973. During Soyinka’s tenure, Transition became still more contentious: the cover of one issue sported a cartoon image of Ugandan dictator Idi Amin, with “Karasi!” (“Finish Him!”) splayed across his face. Transition was unlike anything else, in Africa or abroad, and when it folded in 1976 for financial reasons it left a void.

“The greatest threat to freedom is the absence of criticism.” - Wole Soyinka

Henry Louis Gates, Jr., a student of Soyinka’s at Cambridge University and a frequent contributor to the Ghanaian Transition, brought the magazine back to life in 1991. In the subsequent decade, Transition would refashion itself as an international magazine about race and culture, with an emphasis on the African diaspora. Decolonization was the transition of the 1960s. Globalization is our transition. In our American incarnation, the magazine has won a wide array of awards for design, international reporting, and general excellence; our essays and interviews have been reprinted around the globe.