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Sisters’ Voices: African Women Writing Course

What does it mean when America’s best-selling musical artist and Africa’s best-selling author are women, women who hold a global conversation on the status of women? In 2013, a top trending topic on social media was Beyonce sampling Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s TED talk speech, including Adichie’s call to arms “We teach girls to shrink themselves, to make themselves smaller.” At the very least, it means that if you have not been reading African women authors’ novels and memoirs, it is time to start.

Twelve books written by African women were included on the now famous list of “Africa’s 100 Best Books of the Twentieth Century” from the 2002 Zimbabwe International Book Fair. Since that 2002 list was made, outstanding African women authors have been publishing important books with a global impact. In this upper-division seminar, we will spend the first half reading some of the novels on the Zimbabwe list and the second half reading some of the twenty-first books published by African women since 2002. As a result, students will learn about the richness of novels and memoirs written by African women over time while foregrounding questions of aesthetics and style. As an antidote to misconceptions of African women as silent, students analyze African women’s self-representations and how they theorize social relations within and across ethnic groups, generations, classes, and genders. The course aids students’ ability to think, speak, and write critically about African literature and gender.

Required Novels and Memoirs (2017)

  • Galawdewos, The Life and Struggles of Our Mother Walatta Petros: A Seventeenth-Century African Biography of an Ethiopian Woman, (orig. in Gəˁəz) Ethiopia 1672 (525 pages, but we read 120 pages of it)
  • Mariama Bâ, So Long a Letter (orig. in French, Une si longue letter) Senegal 1979 (96 pages)
  • Buchi Emecheta, Joys of Motherhood Igbo, Nigeria 1979 (224 pages)
  • Nawal El Saadawi, Woman at Point Zero (orig. in Arabic) Egypt 1975 (128 pages)
  • Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie Half of a Yellow Sun Igbo, Nigeria 2006 (543 pages)
  • Yaa Gyasi, Homegoing 2016 (320 pages)
  • Bessie Head, A Question of Power Botswana 1974 (206 pages)
  • Sefi Atta, A Bit of Difference Nigeria 2012 (212 pages)
  • Marguerite Abouet, Aya: Love in Yop City (orig. in French) Cote d’Ivoire 2009 (384 pages)
  • Ama Ata Aidoo, Anowa 1970 (drama)

Other African Women's Novels, Memoirs, and Biographies

Under 150 pages

  • Aminata Sow Fall, The Beggars’ Strike (orig. in French, La Grève des bàttu) Senegal 1979 (112 pages)
  • Yvonne Vera, Butterfly Burning Zimbabwe 1998 (144 pages)
  • Balaraba Ramat Yakubu, Sin Is a Puppy That Follows You Home Nigeria 2012, 130 pages (Hausa romance novel; on Kindle)
  • Sindiwe Magona, Living, Loving and Lying Awake at Night [short stories] (1991) (166 pages)

Under 250 pages

  • Bessie Head, A Question of Power Botswana 1974 (206 pages)
  • Ama Ata Aidoo Anowa [drama] (1970)
  • Assia Djebar, Fantasia: An Algerian Cavalcade (1983) (227 pages)
  • Nozipo Maraire, Zenzele: A Letter for My Daughter 1996 (208 pages) (letter to daughter at Harvard)
  • Ken Bugul, The Abandoned Baobab 1999 (192 pages) (autobiography, controversial)
  • Kopano Matlwa, Coconut 2007 (190 pages) (2 girls in South Africa)
  • Shenaaz Nanji, Child of Dandelions 2008 (213 pages) (Indians in Uganda)
  • Leila Aboulela’s The Translator Sudan 2006 (208 pages)
  • Lindsey Collen, The Rape of Sita Mauritius, 1995 (232 pages)
  • Charlotte H. Bruner, Unwinding Threads. Writing by Women in Africa (anthology) 1994. Ibadan:  Heinemann (245 pages)

Over 250 pages

  • Maaza Mengiste, Beneath the Lion's Gaze Ethiopia 2010 (308 pages) (Red Terror in Ethiopia)
  • Mamphela Ramphele, and Johnnetta B. Cole.Across boundaries: The journey of a South African woman leader. Feminist Press at CUNY, 1999.
  • Tsitsi Dangarembga, Nervous Conditions (1988) (taught in my Intro to African literature class)
  • Nadine Gordimer, Burger’s Daughter (1979) (364 pages)
  • Ahdaf Soueif, The Map of Love 2000 (529 pages)
  • Alexandra Fuller, Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight 2003 (336 pages)
  • Margaret A. Ogola, The River and the Source 2004 (292 pages) Jomo Kenyatta Literature Prize, and the Commonwealth Writers Prize Best First Book in the Africa Region
  • Aminatta Forna, The Memory of Love 2010 (445 pages)
  • Nadifa Mohamed, Black Mamba Boy 2010 (280 pages)
  • Marié Heese, The Double Crown 2011 (384 pages)
  • Nana Ekua Brew-Hammond, Powder Necklace: A Novel 2010 (304 pages)
  • Taiye Selasi, Ghana Must Go 2013 (336 pages)
  • Esi Sutherland-Addy and Aminata Diaw. eds. Women Writing Africa: West Africa and the Sahel. New York: The Feminist Press, 2005.
  • Amandina Lihamba, et al. eds. Women Writing Africa: The Eastern Region. New York: The Feminist Press, 2007.
  • Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani, I Do Not Come to You by Chance Igbo, Nigeria 2009 (400pp)
  • NoViolet Bulawayo, We Need New Names Zimbabwe 2013 (304 pages)