Academic journal article ARIEL

Women Writing Nationhood Differently: Affiliative Critique in Novels by Forna, Atta, and Farah Annie Gagiano

Academic journal article ARIEL

Women Writing Nationhood Differently: Affiliative Critique in Novels by Forna, Atta, and Farah Annie Gagiano

Article excerpt

  And what I wanted ... to show, is--are--the contradictions   in [the women's] minds, the experiences which are ... kept   down, which are in their minds, and I wanted to reveal that.   So that men, or people in general, or the nation--can be as   close as possible to women's experiences.    --Yvonne Vera, "The Place of the Woman is the Place of   Imagination" (380)    Write the poem, the song, the anthem, from what within you   Fused goals with guns & created citizens instead of slaves.    --Dambudzo Marechera, Cemetery of Mind (195) 

The initial overwhelming predominance of male voices in fiction, criticism, and literary theory concerning Africa' is outlined in Biodun Jeyifo's contribution to the text Africa in the World & the World in Africa: Essays in Honor of Abiola Irele (2011), where he refers to the "race men" whom he identifies as "African or African-American male intellectuals whose lifework consists primarily in the elucidation and affirmation of the traditions of thought, imagination and spirit of Africa and its diasporas, seen in Pan Africanist terms as a racial community with common or related destinies" (68; emphasis in original). Earlier, Jeyifo argued that those authors whom he identified as belonging to Soyinka's generation occupied the "highly gendered postcolonial national-masculine tradition of the patrimonial big man of national, continental or 'racial' destiny" (Wole Soyinka xx). Susan Andrade in her recent study suggests that the earliest female African Europhone writers were in general oblique and tentative in their references to their nations, while their seemingly domestic focus often failed to be recognized as functioning "allegorically" (Nation 1). She describes novels by male African authors as "evolv[ing] out of their understanding of the economic and legal underpinnings of cultural acts" and sees earlier African women's novels (written between 1958 and 1988) as "converg[ing] around the sphere of the familial as the orchestrating unit that looms over and plays out in national dramas" (34). While this distinction is possibly overstated--many male authors give considerable space and prominence to the familial, while several of the earlier female authors evince strong awareness of "the economic and legal underpinnings of cultural acts"--Andrade is right in suggesting that the national consciousness of the continent's women writers was often overlooked or underrated. (2) Evidently, for women writers of African origin, making their voices heard as important evaluators of their societies was itself a struggle in the literary sphere even as they sought to delineate the unjust stifling of African women's thoughts and feelings "on the ground" as one of the gravest faults of their cultures and communities.

Bessie Head, Assia Djebar, Nawal El Saadawi, Lauretta Ngcobo, and Yvonne Vera are the women writers who opened the way for contemporary writers including Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, (3) Unity Dow, Delia Jarrett-Macauley, and Valerie Tagwira, as well as the three writers whose texts are discussed in this article (Aminatta Forna, Sefi Acta, and Cristina Ali Farah) to demonstrate not only that female authors throughout the continent have a strong sense of nationhood but that they can articulate their awareness powerfully, critically, and in complex, individual ways. This surge in African women's writing that clearly and skilfully evinces these authors' interest in recording politically and morally evaluative accounts of their nations is one of the most interesting features of the new(er) corpus of fiction by African authors. It is worth noting that diasporic authors such as Forna, Atta, and Farah do not assume "cosmopolitan" perspectives in their writing, even as they eschew the anti-colonial gestures of earlier generations. The nation is neither romanticised nor sentimentalised, but it is nevertheless acknowledged as an ongoing emotional as well as cultural-political presence in the authorial imagination. …

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