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Women's literature in África

Today , the 8th of March, is International Women’s Day. As per tradition, we wanted to bring forth unknown stories written by women who often are not given a voice. That is why today, the 8th of march, we have translated and published the book The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives, written by Lola Shoyenin. Furthermore, along Shoyenin, we are introducing 13 female writers from the great and unfortunately ignored continent that is Africa, that you might not know already.

Beginning with this short anthology, we have a writer, teacher, and illustrator from the Ivory Coast, Veronique Tadjo. Her highly prolific literary body encapsulates from poetry and novels to young adult and children’s literature. In her works, she deals with the literary movement of blackness, denouncing colonialism and corruption from African governments while reclaiming women’s societal role. When it comes to her narrative style, its conscious proximity to oral narration shines. We can find her work in French, although some texts have been translated into Spanish, such as Imana’s Shadow (2001), or her book of tales, Life’s Song and Other Tales (1989).

Going further east to Nigeria, we introduce you to Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, a feminist writer who is doubtlessly the most influential African writer in the west. Her literary work expands from poetry and novels to essays and tales. Her protagonists are often women; her themes are feminism, migration, and race-related sexism. She began to write in 2003, but her most transcendent works globally have been We Should All Be Feminists (2014), where she reflects upon being a feminist in the 21st century; Half of a Yellow Sun (2006), which speaks of the Nigerian civil war; and Americanah (2013), a novel about love, identity, racism in the United States, and life in Nigeria.

Now heading south, we have Remei Sipi Mayom, widely known as Auntie Remei, a writer, educator, editor, researcher, and stage director from Equatorial Guinea. She was also the president of the Federation of Guinean Associations in Catalonia and has been awarded the Sabino Arana Award for her contribution to the human rights movement for African women. Her work primarily concerns women, ethnic minorities, and migrants’ rights. She has also made breakthroughs in the association movement for African women, which made her reflect upon gender and migrant women’s roles in her work. Currently, she runs a publishing house that releases Guinean-Ecuadorian literature. She has personally published several books about migrant African women, such as Our Elders Told Us: Bubis Tales (2021) and African Women. Beyond the Trope of Joviality (2018), or essays like “Immigration and Gender: The Case of Equatorial Guinea ” (2004) and “Female Voices from Equatorial Guinea: an Anthology” (2015).

Also from Equatorial Guinea is Ángela Nzambi, a writer and activist occupied with racial feminism and migration. At present, she volunteers for CEAR (Committee for Refugee Relief). Among her most common themes, she reflected on her thoughts about gender, culture, and migration. She has two short story books translated into Spanish, Biyaare (2015) and Mayimbo (2019).

Further south, we have writers from Zimbabwe.

Firstly, we would like to introduce Tsitsi Dangarembga, a writer and film producer. As an author, she has had a significant body of work that ranges from short stories to novels. From all of them, we would like to highlight Nervous Conditions (1988), considered one of the masterpieces of contemporary African literature and one of the 100 books that have changed the world. However, what most characterizes her is her political and social compromise centered around discourse in Zimbabwe. Other matters that stand out are her contribution to education, aiding for more creative and less memory-based schooling, her feminist activism from an African perspective, and her criticism of her country’s policies.

Next up, we have Elizabeth Zandile Tshele, known as NoViolet Bulawayo. The prose writer’s most known novel, We Need New Names (2013), narrates the childhoods of Zimbabwean children as they migrate to the United States and adapt to an entirely different culture. This work was among the finalists of the Booker Prize, making Bulawayo the first black woman and the first Zimbabwean to be selected for this award. She has also won the Etisalat Award for Literature and the Hemingway Foundation/PEN Award, among others. In 2022 she published her second novel, Glory, which has not been translated into Spanish yet.

We also have Petina Gappah, a lawyer and author, who writes both in English, and her mother tongue, Shona. Gappah mainly writes about Zimbabwe, reflecting on the country’s political history. Her stories, novels, and essays have been published in eight countries. Her only work translated into Spanish is The Book of Memory (2017), about a woman with albinism incarcerated in a maximum safety prison in Chikurubi, Zimbabwe, for her adoptive father’s murder.

From Mozambique, we have Paulina Chiziane, the first African female writer awarded the Camões Award, the highest recognition in the humanities field in Portugal, and the José Craveirinha award. She writes about Mozambique, its culture, linguistic plurality, socio-economic situation, and women’s role in society. Her work, The Joyful Song of the Quail (2011), Winds of the Apocalypses (2002), and The First Wife: A Tale of Polygamy (2001), have all been translated into Spanish.

Lastly, from South Africa, we find Kopano Matlwa, a doctor and author who was awarded the European Union Literary Award and the Wole Soyinka Award for African Literature for her debut novel Coconut (2007). Apart from this, she has another two books translated into Spanish, Water Under the Bridge (2010) and Florescence (2018). Her works deal with race, xenophobia, misogyny, and sexism. Furthermore, she founded the campaign Grow Great, which works against child malnutrition in South Africa.

After these brief introductions to a few writers known in their majority for their prose, we will present you with two writers who have distanced themselves from this hegemonic genre.

Firstly, Upile Chisala, a narrator and sociologist from Malawi. Chisala self-publishes her poems, posting them on social media and later compiling them into books to be published. She has published three books: soft magic and nectar (2019) and a fire like you (2020), of which only the first has been translated into Spanish. Her short poems usually deal with the self, happiness, and blackness. Moreover, she is the creator of the Khala Series. This project aims to publish black women’s and non-binary people’s poetry.

Many times, it is us in the west who, without even thinking about it, have attributed to specific areas certain tropes. We stop thinking about them if they do not live up to them. In the case of Africa, the media has ensured that our image of the continent is made up of wars, famine, and misery, ignoring everything else.

Marguerite Abouet is a writer from the Ivory Coast who fights against these stigmas, showing us different points of view of her country through the mundanity of her characters. In 2006 she received the Award for Best First Album in the International Festival of the Angulema Tale alongside Clément Oubrerie, with whom she collaborated in the creation of her most known comic, Aya of Yopougon (2009), which is composed of 6 tomes and is currently translated in its entirety into Spanish. Furthermore, these stories have been adapted to the screen, with Abouet co-directing the animation herself.

To bid goodbye to this entry, we will finish with the last African authors we translate and edit ourselves: Lila Momplé and Lola Shoyenin.

Starting with Lila Momplé, a writer from Mozambique who has pioneered narrative in her country. She has also been awarded several distinctions, such as the José Craveirinha Award or the Camões Award. Her most recurrent themes are education, women’s role in society, and social issues like race, social class, or gender. Among her work, only Neighbours is translated into Spanish.

Finally, we have Lola Shoyenin, a writer and poet born in Nigeria who writes both prose and poetry. Her most common themes are female sexuality and domestic problems in Africa. In fact, her first novel, The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives, deals with polygamy and denounces current Nigerian society’s hypocrisy. If you want to learn more about this author, we invite you to read this blog entry, where we go more in-depth:

Before we finish, we want to remind you that the African continent is full of great writers who are not given visibility, but this does not mean they do not exist. From Libros de las Malas Compañías. We wanted to bring you closer to this very complex literary paradigm, and we encourage you to read and listen to these brilliant writers.

Clara Colás

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