Opening this substantial volume - the second of four in the series " Women Writing Africa", a project conceived in 1990 by members of the Modern Language Association, the reader immediately realizes that this is not a book to read from page 1 to the end. Instead, browsing, picking up and getting absorbed in a story or a poem, is the most likely reaction. It is a companion book for any interested reader curious or knowledgeable about West African writing. Its great value lies in this being a very rare, rich reference collection of West African women's writing, going back to the eighteen hundreds and covering any form of writing, from poetry and songs to letters to stories. It took years to bring the material together and the editors and many contributors deserve praise for having achieved this rich compilation of thought, experience and - in short - glimpses into life, of a great diversity of peoples and cultures. The book's index is very well structured and easy to use, first by broad time-lines and within those, by themes. The themes cover the domestic life from rituals to love songs to lullabies, the various work situations for women, political issues with the rise of nationalism in countries to "Negotiating New Social Identities" and more. A comprehensive list of sources and bibliographic references assists those who want to pursue one or the other author's writing or theme in substantive ways.
In their highly informative preface the editors place the collection into the wider historical and cultural contexts and address the question a reader might have, why concentrating on "women writing"? They also stress that the selection was difficult, given "the intense richness and complexity of the West African Region... a mosaic of ethnic groups, languages, cultures, histories, and countries". Twelve "nations" were eventually chosen to be featured by their writers, poets and thinkers: Benin, Burkina Faso, Cote d'Ivoire, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea-Conakry, Liberia, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone. Especially helpful are theme-focused introductions, especially relating to more historical themes that add to the understanding of meaning and context. For example, the brief poem "Bamako" - then the capital cit of French Sudan and now of Mali, expresses the wailing of the women as their lovers depart for Bamako; for them the "city was close to hell":
I do not bemoan my mother.
I do not bemoan my father.
I bemoan my lover who has no clothes
To go to Bamako
And that is tough!
on March 14, 2006
The second volume in "The Women Writing Africa Project" from The Feminist Press, Women Writing in Africa: West Africa And The Sahel, is ably co-edited by Esi Sutherland-Addy (Senior Research Fellow and Head of the Language, Literature and Drama Section at the Institute for African Studies and Associate Director of the African Humanities Institute Program at the University of Ghana) and Aminata Diaw (Professor of Philosophy in the Faculty of Arts and Humanities at the University Anta Kiop in Dakar, Senegal). The writings are drawn contributors in Benin, Burkina Faso, Cote d'Ivorie, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea-Conakry, Liberia, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, and Sierra Leone. Twenty languages are represented in these writings ably translated into English from 132 texts derived from stories, songs, letters, drama, oral history, diaries and historical documents. Each of these sources is provided with an authoritative head note explaining its cultural and historical context. Women Writing Africa: West Africa And The Sahel is a confidently recommended addition to academic library collections in the areas of Women's Studies in general, and African Studies in particular.