One of Ghana’s (and Africa’s) most beloved voices and consummate storytellers, Ama Ata Aidoo, turns 70 on 23 March 2012. In celebration of the occassion, Nana Ayebia Clarke MBE, the Ghanaian publisher who teamed up with her British husband to set up Ayebia Clarke Publishing Limited in 2003 in the UK, will publish two new books by, and on, Ama Ata Aidoo to coincide with the event.
The following two-piece tribute is published in honour of one of Africa’s greatest female writers.
Ayebia Clarke Publishing, based in Banbury, Oxfordshire, UK, has come a long from its inauspicious beginnings in 2003. The testimony of its success is encapsulated in last year’s award of an MBE by Queen Elizabeth II to Nana Ayebia Clarke, the Ghanaian publisher who teamed up with her British husband to set up Ayebia Clarke Publishing Limited in 2003. On 23 March this year, Ayebia Clarke will launch two new books in the Ghanaian capital, Accra, written by, and about, Ama Ata Aidoo, one of Africa’s greatest female literary icons. It will be in celebration of Aidoo’s 70th birthday.
The first book is Aidoo’s latest collection of short stories entitled Diplomatic Pounds & Other Stories, and the second is a collection of essays by some of the most distinguished writers and critics in Ghana, Africa and the African Diaspora including Ngugi wa Thiong’o, Abena Busia, Emmanuel Akyeampong, Kofi Anyidoho, Kwesi Yankah, Atukwei Okai, Akosua Adomako Ampofo and Ivor Agyeman-Duah, entitled Essays In Honour of Ama Ata Aidoo At 70: A Reader in African Cultural Studies, edited by Anne V. Adams.
The date of the Ghanaian launch, 23 March, falls on Ama Ata Aidoo’s actual birthday. Nana Ayebia Clarke believes that one is not famous until one is famous at home. So she wanted the books to be first published in Ghana before subsequent launches take place in the US and elsewhere.
In April, the African Literature Association (ALA) will host the launch of the two new books at their conference in Dallas, Texas; and in May, the University of California, Santa Barbara, will be hosting a three-day symposium on the corpus of Aidoo’s writing. In November, the African Studies Association (ASA) will host Aidoo to give the keynote address – “The Abiola Lecture” at their conference in Philadelphia.
For those who don’t know Aidoo’s background, here is her Wikipedia entry:
“She grew up in a Fante royal household in Ghana, the daughter of Nana Yaw Fama, chief of Abeadzi Kyiakor, and Maame Abasema. She attended Wesley Girls High School in Cape Coast from 1961 to 1964. The headmistress of Wesley Girls bought Aidoo her first typewriter.
“After leaving high school, she enrolled at the University of Ghana, Legon, and received her bachelor of arts in English as well as writing her first play, The Dilemma of a Ghost, in 1964. The play was published by Longman the following year, making Aidoo the first published African woman dramatist.
“She worked in the USA where she held a fellowship in creative writing at Stanford University. She also served as a research fellow at the Institute of African Studies, University of Ghana, and as a lecturer in English at the University of Cape Coast, eventually rising to the position of professor there.
“Aside from her literary career, Aidoo was appointed minister of education under Flt-Lt Jerry Rawlings’ PNDC military government in 1982. She resigned after 18 months. She has also spent a great deal of time teaching and living abroad for months at a time. She has lived in America, Britain, Germany, and Zimbabwe. She is currently a visiting professor in the Africana Studies Department at Brown University in the USA.
“Aidoo’s works of fiction particularly deal with the tension between Western and African world views. Many of her protagonists are women who defy the stereotypical women’s roles of their time. Her novel, Changes, won the 1992 Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Best Book (Africa). She is also an accomplished poet, and has written several children’s books.”
According to Anne Adams, the editor of Essays in Honour of Ama Ata Aidoo at 70: “It is true that virtually every Ghanaian over 40 or at least those who finished secondary school will have been required to read one of Aidoo’s plays, as attested to in the volume by more than one contributor.
“During the Ghana at 50 celebrations throughout the year 2007, Aidoo’s plays were a key part of the programme of cultural events. Through the orality of her plays and her ‘codification’ of some forms of spoken English in Ghana, she has contributed to the recognition of Ghana’s unique brand of the language due to influences from the Ghanaian oral tradition.”
According to Ama Ata Aidoo herself: “We cannot assume that all literature should be written. One doesn’t have to be so patronising about oral literature … the art of the speaking voice can be brought back so easily … We don’t have to write for readers, we can write for listeners.”
Aidoo’s vocal feminism, through her creative writing, essays, speeches, support of women’s writing and personal example, has earned her the reputation of being one of the continent’s leading advocates of feminism and the first among Africa’s feminist literary artists. Her influence, particularly on social issues has been transformative.
Says Aidoo: “When people ask me rather bluntly every now and then whether I am a feminist, I not only answer yes, but I go on to insist that every woman and every man should be a feminist – especially if they believe that Africans should take charge of our lands, its wealth, our lives and the burden of our own development. Because it is not possible to advocate independence for our continent without also believing that African women must have the best that the environment can offer. For some of us this is the crucial element of our feminism.”
Diplomatic Pounds & Other Stories has been praised by the Ghanaian scholar Abena Busia: “With Diplomatic Pounds Ama Ata Aidoo shows once again why she is one of the continent’s most beloved voices,” Busia said. “She is a consummate storyteller. We do not so much ‘read’ her stories as listen to them, or rather, overhear them.
“Since the publication of her first collection No Sweetness Here all those decades ago, Aidoo has developed her own inimitable style that draws us into the intimacy of overheard confessions and revelations. It is always the voice of her narrators that registers; their lyric cadences, the breathlessness of phrases that arc around their subject to a pause, a phrase of wonder, an understated joke.
“And her narrators are women, women who unveil the details of their lives, or the lives of their friends and loved ones, in shared stories and whispered secrets. And the secrets in the end are the shared realities of our everyday lives, the minutiae of cultural realities observed in wry detail.”
Another scholar, Carole Boyce Davies at Cornell University, says of Diplomatic Pounds: “This collection reveals again Ama Ata Aidoo’s skill and mastery of the short story form and her amazing ability to make ordinary lives significant. One of the most prolific of African writers, Ama Ata Aidoo continues to experiment with style and content with all the boldness that we expect from her.
“Using her art of storytelling, [she] draws us in to a certain orality she creates in conversations with and for the reader. She sees value in women’s lives and continues to model this for us in every single line.”
These tributes are testament to the standing of this Ghanaian and African woman of letters not only in Africa but also in the wider international literary community.