Celebrating Women’s Writing



There is the implication that women’s writing is somehow trivial (or perhaps there is a tendency to trivialize writing by female authors). Thus, a lot of female writers bristle at the label “woman writer.” However, I feel that literature written by women should be singled out, not to place it in some literary ghetto, but because it is important that women write about their unique experiences, as men have done for millennia.

Women who write often have to overcome greater obstacles to their craft. Many times, they are juggling a greater burden of familial responsibility and sometimes, a greater lack of confidence about their ability. (It’s been my experience as an editor that I have to work harder to get a woman whose talent I admire to write more and believe in herself than it is to persuade a man.)

Also, there is a tendency for all of us – male and female – to privilege the male voice. Somehow, we think that the stories that men tell are “universal” while those told by women are “regional.” The truth is, women’s stories and men’s stories illuminate us, they deepen, enrich and enhance us. They are both universal and specific. The only difference is that male writing is considered so normative that we do not need to talk about male writers just like we do not need to talk about European writers; after all they are the symbolic that all must aspire to. There is power to being part of a recognised collective.  And I have no problem with being an African female writer.

For me, literature written by women has brought me a unique clarity and insight into the human experience. The first time I had an “ah-ha” moment reading a work of fiction by an African woman was when I first picked up Mariama Ba’s So Long a Letter at sixteen. It tells the story of a woman’s struggles after her husband takes a second wife and virtually abandons her. It resonated with me because it mirrored the story of my grandmother’s mother who had had similar problems with her husband.

I had a similar moment when I read Ama Ata Aidoo’s Changes last year and Buchi Emecheta’s Joys of Motherhood the year before. These books managed to put into concrete words what up until now had only been vague feelings of discontent– the feeling that something was wrong with my society, even though I was not quite sure what it was. It was as if some kind soul had touched me on the shoulder and said “no, dear, it’s not all in your head.”

So to celebrate International Women’s Day, go out and pick up a book by a female author. Or tell us which book by female writer impacted you the most. I know there’s been at least one.

Comments

  • I love that, I think women writers should be celebrated and served their niche. Books written by women about the typical women experiences in African have always moved me deeply, for instance: Joys of Motherhood, so long a letter, the thing around your neck, the housemaid and a host of others. They’ve all had the common ability of being able to produce empathy in the readers. So let’s go on and celebrate women, feminism aside. I love you guys, I really do, keep up the good work.

    Posted by julianah ogunseiju on April 16, 2012

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