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The Nigerian writer says she feels a “deep gratitude to” Ghana’s Ata Aidoo in the second of our mini series asking African writers to pay homage to their literary legends.
When I first discovered Ama Ata Aidoo’s work – a slim book on a dusty shelf in our neighbour’s study in Nsukka – I was stunned by the believability of her characters, the sureness of her touch and what I like to call, in a rather clunky phrase, the validating presence of complex femaleness.
Because I had not often seen this complex femaleness in other African books I had read and loved, mine was a wondrous discovery: of Anowa, tragic and humane and many dimensional, in Aidoo’s play set in the 1800s in Fantiland; of Sissie, the self-assured, perceptive main character of the ambitious novel Our Sister Killjoy, who wryly recounts her experiences in Germany and England in the 1960s; or of the varied female characters in No Sweetness Here, my favourite of Aidoo’s books.
In these stories of Ghana in the 1960s, the characters lie uneasily between old and new, live in rural and urban areas and struggle to deal with the unpleasant surprises of independence. There is a keen but understated longing for the past. But Aidoo is too good a writer to paint with overly broad brush strokes.
She does not suggest that the past was perfect, and there is no romanticising of culture. Instead, she bears witness to the realities of the time, her vision clear-eyed and pitiless, her role simply that of a truth-teller. Aidoo has a fantastic sly wit and humour. She never hits you over the head with any ‘message’, but after you have greedily finished each story, you sit back and realise that you have been through an intellectual experience as well.
And her writing itself.
Words strung together with the quiet rhythm of unselfconscious poetry. Lucid, clear sentences that remind me of George Orwell’s quote that prose should be as clear as a window pane. Aidoo is a writer of subtlety, one willing to engage with ambivalence, one confident enough to submerge her writerly ego, to sacrifice it for her characters and stories.
I occupy the space of a ‘Black African Happy Feminist’ because writers like Aidoo came before me. Her storytelling nurtured mine. Her worldview enlarged and validated mine. I feel a deep gratitude to her for her writing and for her wisdom.
This article was first published in the October-November 2010 edition of The Africa Report.
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