This book is about the place of African women writers in African literature. Its primary aim is to provide a more comprehensive definition of the contemporary African literary tradition than is available in current criticism, a definition that includes, rather than excludes, women’s writing.
In characterizing African literature, critics have ignored gender as a social and analytic category. Such characterizations operate to exclude women’s literary expression as part of African literature. Hence what they define is the male literary tradition. When African literary discourse is considered from the perspective of gender, it becomes evident that dialogic interaction between men’s and women’s writing is one of the defining features of the contemporary African literary tradition. Such a redefinition has important implications for both critical and pedagogical practices. What it indicates is that neither men’s nor women’s writing can be fully appreciated in isolation from the other.
This study also has two secondary aims: to supplement current definitions of the male literary tradition and to define the features of the emerging female tradition in African fiction. I will begin, however, by examining some of the ways in which women writers have been written out of the African literary tradition.
African women writers and their works have been rendered invisible in literary criticism. General surveys have neglected them as have more theoretical works such as Abdul R. JanMohamed’s Manichean Aesthetics. The first book-length treatment of African fiction, Eustace Palmer’s An Introduction to the African Novel, refers only once to a woman writer—a reference to Flora Nwapa that labels her ‘an inferior novelist’ (61). Women authors are also notably absent from Palmer’s The Growth of the African Novel, as they are from other standard surveys such as David Cook’s African Literature: A Critical View and Gerald Moore’s Twelve African Writers. In his introduction,