African Women Writers: Part 1 of 4

To celebrate Women’s History Month, Enkare Review has been sharing profiles of phenomenal women writers on our social media pages here, here and here. We are going to share these profiles on our website as well. This is the first part of a four-part series. 

Ama Ata Aidoo (b. 1942) is a Ghanaian author, poet, playwright and academic. Her first novel Our Sister Killjoy: or Reflections from a Black-eyed Squint, was published in 1977. Other titles by her include Anowa, No Sweetness Here: A Collection of Short Stories, An Angry Letter in January, and The Girl Who Can and Other Stories. Professor Jacqueline Banerjee had this to say about her: “Hers is a generous as well as a volcanic nature, a wild heart but not a mean one, and compassion and humour, added to patriotism, help balance the bitterness and negativism which might otherwise be so corrosive.”

Nawal El Saadawi (b 1931) is an Egyptian writer, activist, physician and psychiatrist. Nawal has published over 50 titles and continues to participate in the literary world through lectures and speaking engagements. Some of her most popular books include Women and Sex (1969), Woman at Point Zero (1975) and her autobiography, Memoirs from the Women’s Prison (1984). Nawal has been an activist throughout her life, fiercely opposing female genital mutilation, critiquing religion and protesting Tahrir Square in 2011. Nawal lived in exile from 1988 to 1996 when she moved back to Egypt.

Last year BBC made a documentary on her life titled, “She spoke the Unspeakable.”

Buchi Emecheta (b.1944) was a Nigerian-born novelist, playwright and children’s books author. Her best-known novels, including Second-class Citizen (1974), The Bride Price (1976), and The Joys of Motherhood (1979), expose the injustice of traditional, male-oriented African social customs. In her writing, Emecheta’s heroines challenge restrictive customs and aspire to economic and social independence. Following her death in January 2017, her family set up two companies, Omenala Press to publish and relaunch Emecheta’s work, and the Buchi Emecheta Foundation to promote literary projects in the UK and Africa.

Mariama Bâ (1920 – 1981) was a Senegalese author famed for her books, Une si longue Lettre (So long a Letter) and Chant Ecarlate (Scarlet Song). Her work has been translated into numerous languages and is a staple of francophone literature. Throughout her life, she tried to reconcile her grounding in her culture, her Muslim faith, and her openness to other cultural horizons. Bâ worked as a teacher from 1947 to 1959, and in the late 1970’s became a vocal activist for women’s rights in Africa and a critic of the neocolonial system developing post-independence in many African countries.

Calixthe Beyala (b 1961) is a Cameroonian-French writer. At 17, Beyala received a scholarship to study in France where she obtained her baccalaureate. She published her first book, C’est le soleil qui m’a brûlée, at the age of 23, after which she chose to become a full-time writer. Of the twenty books she has published, four have English translations including Loukoum: The ‘Little Prince’ of BellevilleThe Sun Hath Looked Upon Me, Your Name Shall Be Tanga, and How to Cook Your Husband the African Way.

Leila Aboulela (b 1964) is a Sudanese writer. Aboulela grew up in Khartoum where she pursued a degree in Economics and later a Masters in Statistics at the London School of Economics. She started writing while working part-time as a research assistant. Her personal faith and the move, in her mid-twenties, from Sudan to Scotland are a major influence on her work. Her short story “The Museum” was awarded the first Caine Prize for African Writing in 2000. She is also the author of four novels: The Translator (1999), Minaret (2004), Lyrics Alley (2010), and The Kindness of Enemies (2015).

Yvonne Vera (b. 1964-2005) was an author from Zimbabwe. Her novels are known for their poetic prose and strong women characters. She published one collection of short stories, Why Don’t You Carve Other Animals (1992) and five novels, Nehanda (1993), Without a Name (1994), Under the Tongue (1996), Butterfly Burning (1998) and The Stone Virgins (2002) which won the Macmillan Prize for African Writing. From 1997 to 2003, Vera worked as the director of the National Gallery of Zimbabwe in Bulawayo, a position she held with much enthusiasm and flair. Vera was known for her obsessive writing habit, often commiting 10 hours a day to her craft. At the time of her death in 2005 she was working on her 6th novel, Obedience.
Fatema Mernissi (b. 1940- 2015) was a Moroccan sociologist and writer. Known for her pioneering work in the field of Islamic feminism, Mernissi has published several books among them: Beyond the Veil (1975) , The Veil and the Male Elite: a feminist Interpretation of Islam (1987) and Dreams of trespass: Tales of a Harem Girlhood (1995). Fatema was also a longtime faculty member of Mohammed V University in Rabat. In 2003, Mernissi was awarded the Prince of Asturias Award along with Susan Sontag. Author Ausma Zehanat had this to say about her work, “So much of Fatima’s work was about freedom of thought. the autonomy of the individual, and the right to interrogate tradition using reason and free will.
All images by Rosie Olang’.
About the Writer:
Rosie Olang’ smiles with her eyebrows, is eternally grateful for caffeine and believes that in a parallel universe she is an elephant. She’s constantly thinking about the intersections of visual arts, poetry and literature.