Where beauty lies in the work of Ama Ata Aidoo

1st Dec 2015

Where beauty lies in the work of Ama Ata Aidoo
Image: filmafrica.org.uk
For the fourth edition of our African Women Writers feature, it would only be appropriate to honour my surrogate mother (she has no idea about this, but I’m claiming it!) Ama Ata Aidoo. Afrikult's Marcelle Mateki Akita writes.

Aidoo is an accomplished writer who, without having many examples to follow from, defined the dimensions of her writing territory and command. She once wrote: ‘They had always told me I wrote like a man.’ [To Be a Woman]

Yeah, okay, whatever that means. The success of Aidoo unravelled the unprecedented: women could write, and write to an enviably high standard that was only recognised, for a time, as attainable by men. Her achievements illustrate the hard-wired tenacity of not just any wonderful writer, who seamlessly transcends and mends all forms of genre, but more specifically of an industrious African woman writer and editor from the 1960s to present. It is because of her enduring efforts that we (young African women of our generation) can call on Aidoo for inspiration and championship through her poetry, plays, stories, activism and academic work to believe that our own art matters. Here are five notable things you should know about Ama Ata Aidoo.

1. She’s royalty – like for real…

This is real life people. Ama Ata Aidoo is a princess – and not just the tenuously skewed links of “I come from this faraway village with an obscure name in said country and my distant uncle cousin twice removed so-and-so is a chief, a king like, making me, you know, a prince/ss”. None of that contrived BS for our woman of the hour. Aidoo grew up in a Fante royal household where her father, Nana Yaw Fama, was chief of Abeadzi Kyiakor in the South-Central Region of Ghana. Honestly, you can’t make this stuff up. And for those who hold onto those tenuous claims of royalty, I stand in solidarity with you, screw it…I’m royalty too. Just not like Aidoo. *fixes crown*

2. Her first play was published when she was eighteen. Yup. I’ll let that marinate.

As though being royalty wasn’t enough Aidoo continued to stunt on us! Like flat out, she decided to screw with us normal folks and say whuddup homies, I’m running tings. Aidoo wrote her play The Dilemma of a Ghost in 1964 during her undergraduate degree at University of Ghana, which was then published a year later. The Dilemma of a Ghost is tortuously comical while scrutinising the hard questions on relationships between Africa and the diaspora, identities, assimilating customs, cultural disenfranchisement, gendered domestic roles and how these all intersect and bubble in the microscopic love of Ato Yawson and Eulalie. On a side note, you should also check out her play Anowa.

3. Not only is she a creative artist, she was also a politician (brains, beauty and the works!)

There was a time when a creative artist could do the impossible (or rather, the unfavourable) which is to enter into politics. Ama Ata Aidoo did just that by taking on the position as Minister of Education, under Jerry Rawlings’ governmental administration in 1982. Needless to say, she resigned after eighteen months and went back to trailblazing the literary scenes with her writings.

4. She’s award-winning…you know, like that’s just casual news for Aidoo.

Her novel Changes won the Commonwealth Writers Prize for Best Book in 1992. The novel Changes, well…you should read it. Especially if you’re down for the modern woman and polygamy. Yes. Polygamy.

5. She’s a patron and activist in supporting African women writers.

One of the newest and exciting competitions, Etisalat Prize for Literature, honours African writers with fresh, debut novels. The prize is highly sought after, and you guessed it, our surrogate mother is a patron.

In 2000, Aidoo founded an non-governmental organisation called Mbaasem Foundation which focuses primarily on supporting promoting the writings of Ghanaian and African girls and women, tackling and broadening the scope of the African literary scene.

6. Okay I know I said five, but I thought I’d nip in a sneaky one… No Sweetness Here and The Art of Ama Ata Aidoo.

Forgive me, but I couldn’t leave this without mentioning the short story collection No Sweetness Here which, once you read it, will leave your head full and spinning with rich, buzzing, and accented voices. This collection of eleven stories rendered my absolute appreciation and respect for Aidoo’s craft. Her characters always speak, uniquely, to me.

If you want to know more about the all-round wonder woman, I’d highly recommend the documentary The Art of Ama Ata Aidoo. She truly is phenomenal.


Written by Marcelle Mateki Akita

1/3 of Afrikult.

In the month of July 2014, three friends came together to consummate their love for African literature. This auspicious encounter led to the birth of Afrikult. an online forum for people to connect, explore and expand knowledge on African literature and culture combined. Afrikult. aims to make African literature less exotic, less highbrow and more accessible. All materials on the site are cleverly presented in a simple language and in a bite-size format for easy readability. Check us at www.afrikult.com or follow us on facebook.com/afrikult,Twitter and Instagram @afrikult.