Grace Ogot’s novels and short stories
Like 1945 and 1958, 1966 is a significant date in African literary history. For in that year Grace Ogot’s The Promised Land, the first novel by a woman to be published by the East African Publishing House, and Flora Nwapa’s Efuru, the first work by a woman in the Heinemann African Writers Series, both appeared. The year 1966 can thus be said to mark the advent of a contemporary female tradition in fiction. This event has not been written into the literary records, as critics have tended to treat the publication of the two novels as a non-event. Recently, however, several feminist critics, with no reference to Ogot’s The Promised Land, have assigned paradigmatic status to Nwapa’s text. Thus according to Susan Andrade: ‘Efuru [is] the first published novel by an African woman and the text that inaugurates an African women’s literary history’ (97). It is ‘the “mother” text of (anglophone) African women’s literature’ (100). 1 In ordering my chapters, I have given priority to Ogot, partly because she has a legitimate claim to it in that she became a published author before Nwapa, with several of her short stories appearing in journals in the early 1960s. 2 I also hope to show that, in terms of the strategies of resistance it inscribes, The Promised Land, too, can be deemed a ‘“mother text”’.
Ogot is the most forgotten of the women writers I examine. She also provides a particularly striking example of the invisibility of African women writers. Bernth Lindfors describes her as ‘Kenya’s best-known female writer’ (‘Interview’ 57). But as his own data on the canonical status of African authors shows, the title ‘best-known female writer’ is an empty epithet. For Ogot’s ranking on the first of Lindfors’s two tests is only twenty-ninth—whereas that of Kenya’s ‘best-known’ male writer, Ngũgĩ, is third (‘Famous Authors’’ 141-2); and she scores so poorly on his other test—where Ngũgĩ moves into second place—that her name doesn’t appear at all (‘Teaching’ 54-5).
Ogot has had a fairly productive career as a writer. She has to her credit