International Women’s Day (March 8) is a universal commemoration of the social, economic, political and cultural achievement of women.
The following quote by Nigerian author Chimamanda Adichie encapsulates both the necessity of celebrating a day committed to the empowerment of women, and how writing can aid the continuing empowerment of women worldwide:
“Many stories matter. Stories have been used to dispossess and to malign. But stories can also be used to empower, and to humanize. Stories can break the dignity of a people. But stories can also repair that broken dignity.”
Here follows a list of African woman writers whose stories matter:
1. Leila Aboulela: Acclaimed – one of the most suitable adjectives to describe Sudanese author Leila Aboulela. She has published five novels in 16 years, wowing literary critics with her debut The Translator, which was nominated for the Orange Prize and chosen as a Notable Book of the Year by the New York Times. Her novel second novel, Minaret, also received a nomination for the Orange Prize and her third novel, Lyrics Alley made the longlist for the same prize in 2011. Lyrics Alley was awarded the Fiction Winner of Scottish Book Awards and was shortlisted for the Commonwealth Writers Prize. In 2000, Aboulela was awarded the coveted Caine Prize for African Writing for her short story The Museum. Aboulela’s work has been translated into 14 languages, and is predominantly influenced by the Muslim faith and her experiences of cross-culturalisation.
2. Tsitsi Dangarembga: Zimbabwean author, poet, activist and filmmaker Tsitsi Dangarembga was born in Bulawayao and schooled in England. Her debut, the semi-autobiographical Nervous Conditions (1988), is themed around race, colonialism, and gender in post-colonial and present-day Zimbabwe. Nervous Conditions was awarded the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize in 1989, and is still regarded as a significant contribution to African feminism and post-colonialist narratives. (PS – Dangarembga will be delivering a Women’s Day lecture in Johannesburg on whether feminism is divisive, unAfrican and anti-Black this coming Friday.)
3. Lauren Beukes: When it comes to writing about contemporary sci-fi cum fantasy cum speculative fiction, no one does it quite like Lauren Beukes. With a slew of awards behind her futuristically inclined pen, including the Arthur C. Clarke award for the perennial favourite and much-lauded Zoo City, Beukes has established herself as a South African author to be reckoned with. Her debut novel, the Cape Town-based cyberpunk Moxyland (2008) was nominated for the South African Sunday Times Fiction Prize; 2013′s time travel thriller The Shining Girls was the recipient of four prestigious South African literary awards; and – lest we forget – 2014′s Broken Monsters was commended by The Guardian for its unique adoption of the horror trope as means to explain the crazy reality we live in. And no one quite does crazy reality like Lauren Beukes…
4. Nadine Gordimer: A fearless political activist and recipient of the 1991 Nobel Prize for Literature, Nadine Gordimer garnered international recognition for her work which dealt with moral and racial issues, and a constant questioning of power relations and truth during South Africa’s apartheid regime. Gordimer’s The Late Bourgeois World, A World of Strangers, Burger’s Daughter and July’s People were either banned or placed under censorship by the apartheid government, owing to the strong anti-apartheid stance and her criticism of racial division. Gordimer is not only one of the most notable literary figures to emerge from South Africa, but also one of its most notable women.
5. Kopano Matlwa: Addressing race, class and colonisation in modern-day Johannesburg, Kopano Matlwa had South African bibliophiles buzzing with her debut novel Coconut, published in 2007. Coconut was awarded the European Union Literary Award in 2006/07 and also won the Wole Soyinka Prize for Literature in Africa in 2010. Her second novel, Spilt Milk (2010), published to equally great acclaim, delivers an allegorical perspective on the born-free generation. Matlwa’s recent Period Pains explores social issues from the point of view of a young female protagonist, delivering an insightful and honest look at growing up in a post-1994 South Africa.
6. NoViolet Bulawayo: The first black African woman and the first Zimbabwean to be shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, NoViolet Bulawayo rose to international acclaim with her debut novel We Need New Names (2013). Born Elizabeth Thsele, Bulawayo’s literary approach towards displacement, childhood, globalisation, social class and gender delivered subtle, yet powerful commentary on the existential realities of Africa. Named a ‘five under 35′ by the National Book Foundation in 2012, the recipient of the Caine Prize Award for African Writing in 2011, and a Hemingway Foundation/PEN Award winner for We Need New Names, there’s no stopping NoViolet Bulawayo.
7. Chimamanda Adichie: No ‘must-read-African-woman-writers-list’ will be complete without mentioning this critically acclaimed author and MacArthur Genius Grant recipient whose TEDx-talk on
feminism was appropriated in Beyoncé’s “Flawless”. Mense: take note of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. As a globally renowned writer, an advocate for gender equality, and vocal supporter of the representation of African culture in the international literary sphere, Adichie is one of the most influential authors – and women – of the 21st century. Viva, Chimamanda, viva.