September 21, 2023

With her narrative style of writing, Ama Ata Aidoo challenged the pigeonhole role assigned to the African woman, and she was able to chart a course as a foremost feminist writer…

By Joy Chukwujindu

In 1960, an 18-year-old Ghanaian girl caught a glimpse of a pair of pink shoes in a local store. She knew she had to enter a short story contest to afford those shoes. Horned with the determination to win, young Ama Ata Aidoo put her pen to paper and submitted her entry. Her victory heralded her expansive literary career which spanned from the 20th to the 21st century.

Ama Ata Aidoo was a playwright, poet, short-story writer, novelist, and academic. She has been regarded as a trailblazer for African female writers in modern times. With her narrative style of writing, Ama Ata Aidoo challenged the pigeonhole role assigned to the African woman, and she was able to chart a course as a foremost feminist writer. One of her famous quotes, “Nobody could tell me writing was a man’s job,” is proof that she defied the conventional patriarchy nuances.

Most of her works like The Dilemma of a Ghost (1965), Anowa (1970), Our Sister Killjoy (1977), and Changes: A Love Story (1991) promoted African feminists ideology at a time the subject was shrouded by stereotypes. Aidoo has been described as very vocal and critical. She also explored themes of the black diaspora, western education, colonialism, the slave trade, and the non-glorification of marriage and fostering divorce when a marriage fails.

When she passed away on 31 May 2023, we were reminded of the daring and accomplished life she led. Afrocritik has listed ten interesting facts many may not have known about the literary icon.


  1. Ghanaian-British documentary filmmaker, Yaba Badoe, gave us a slice into the life of Ama Ata Aidoo in her documentary film, The Art of Ama Aidoo, which showcased the artistic endowment of Aidoo’s work in African literature and culture. The filmmaking began in 2012, a significant year for Aidoo who had just clocked 70. Dressed in colourful African prints and adorned with dangling earrings, one cannot dismiss the sheer passion on Aidoo’s face as she read excerpts from her work in a clear Ghanaian accent. With this documentary, Badoe gave Aidoo a platform to tell her story in her own words to the world.
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Ama Ata Aidoo
  1. In January 1982, Ama Ata Aidoo was appointed as a secretary for education during the military regime of former Ghanian Head-of-State, Jerry Rawlings. She took on this role intending to make free education attainable in Ghana. However, her ideas were ridiculed at cabinet meetings, and it became evident that she would not achieve her goals. Aidoo tendered her resignation just after 18 months of service. This came as no surprise to Ghanaians since Aidoo was known to be outspoken and refused to be silenced when she needed to express her opinion on societal concerns.

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  1. Perhaps, one of the most remarkable feats of Aidoo was being crowned the first published African female dramatist for her satire play, The Dilemma of a Ghost at the age of 23. The play was first performed in 1964 at Open Air Theatre, Ghana but was later published by Longman in 1965.

 

  1. Not only was Aidoo a feminist-in-words, but she was also a feminist-in-deeds. In 2000, she established a non-profit foundation, Mbaasem Foundation, with the mission “to develop and support the sustainability of the work of African women writers who are usually sidelined in the industry.” Unsurprisingly, she chose the Ghanian Akan name “Mbaasem” which means “women’s words” or “women’s affairs.”

 

  1. Sometime in the 1980s, Ama Ata Aidoo relocated to Harare, the capital of Zimbabwe, where she excelled as a curriculum developer for the Zimbabwean Ministry of Education. In the ministry, she developed materials and learning objectives for instructors to use. She was also an active member of the Zimbabwe Women’s Writer Group.

 

  1. Aidoo’s debut novel, Our Sister Killjoy, was among the earliest African literature which explored queer African relationships with the main character, Sissy, an African living in the diaspora, contemplating a relationship with a female European. However, Aidoo did not unravel plots that explored same-sex relationships, but merely tugged on the concept. Published in 1977, the novel attracted critics and resistance from conservative Africans.

 

  1. As a literary mastermind, Ama Ata Aidoo attracted notable awards and recognition. In 1988, she won the Fulbright Scholarship award, a United States prestigious cultural exchange award. She proceeded to win the 1992 annual literary award, Commonwealth Writers Prize for Best Book (Africa) for her modern feminist novel, Changes, published by the American publisher, Feminist Press. Also, Aidoo as well as the American social scientist, Margaret Snyder, were named after the Aidoo-Snyder Book Prize. In recognition of her service to Ghana, she was awarded the nation’s highest civil honor, the Order of the Volta.

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  1. Born Christina Ama Ata Aidoo, she was raised in a Fante royal household and was a daughter of a Chief. She has cited growing up in the small village of Abeadzi Kyiakor, located in Fante, in the Central Region of Gold Coast (now Ghana). Her origin had a major influence on her writing career. Most nights, she looked forward to the traditional tales told by her mother and the village storyteller.

 

  1. Ama Ata Aidoo showed great pedagogic skills as an academic. After graduating from the University of Ghana with a Bachelor’s degree in English, Aidoo landed a job as a junior research fellow at the Institute of African Studies at the same University. She was a visiting professor at the Africana Studies Department of Brown University, United States, and taught English at Hamilton College, New York.

 

  1. Her father, Nana Yaw Fama, was recognised as the pioneer of the first school established in the water-logged village of Abeadzi Kyiakor. The village was mostly surrounded by water, especially during the rainy season, and students, including Aidoo, could not access the nearest school in another town. Chief Fama, who had always encouraged education, especially for young women, began a campaign in the town’s district for a school. Aidoo fondly recalls her father quoting the Ghanaian intellectual and missionary, Kwegyir Aggrey, “If you educate a man, you educate one person, but if you educate a woman, you educate a nation.”

 

Joy Chukwujindu is an art and entertainment lawyer. She is also an environmentalist with a keen interest in history, art and sustainable development.
When she’s not lawyering, she’s designing spaces and planning events. You can connect with her on Instagram @joyjindu and Twitter @joy_jinduu.

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