By Leke Giwa (Ghana)
It never ceases to amaze me the variety of writers and factors that somehow come together to make African literature in particular something to celebrate - not only the writers, but those working behind the scenes to make it all work.
I have in mind right now some special women in Africa who have contributed a lot to literature, cutting across the generations. Like Flora Nwapa of Nigeria, and Ama Ata Aidoo of Ghana; they started writing, and encouraging literature and literacy from their youth. They were pioneers who will always be revered, legendary figures now.
The late Efua T Sutherland (above) did remarkable things for writing and drama in Ghana. All testimonies reveal that she was far ahead of her time with her innovations and vision, she worked, worked, mobilised...she was selfless. And in many ways she has been immortalised now. A woman who gave her all to the arts and culture.
In South Africa, the modern aficionado is inspired by the contributions of women like Sindiwe Magona and Miriam Tlali, as far as actual writing is concerned. More recently, I have been intrigued with those who have worked behind the scenes in that country, to ensure black people appreciate the world of breathing books. One such fascinating woman is actually white, Jacomien Schimper (below) of the Free State, an area which has now produced so many fine black writers.
Mrs Schimper is actually a long-serving librarian who many years ago began to pull out all the stops to ensure that thousands of books written by burgeoning black writers in that area were purchased by the many libraries. This would have a multiplier effect - one of them being the emergence of outstanding writers like Hector Kunene, Pule Lechesa, JahRose, I M Soqaga, Mr Qoopane, and of course the remarkable chief Bolaji of Nigeria.
Bolaji, who at the time lived in the Free State for many years, continues to attest to the pivotal impact of Jacomien Schimper; for example he has written: "To be honest, the phenomenal success of writing in that area would not have been possible without Mrs Schimper's encouragement. She facilitated a ready market for the works, and dozens of fine writers would emerge. I personally believe at least a library should be named after her..,". (Windmills of the Dames).
Also in South Africa (nowadays) we can mention Charmaine Kolwane (also from that Free State) who has published important books, is a popular poet and performer, and she publishes other writers regularly. She is one of the new-wave African female literary practitioners doing great things for writing.
Let us not leave north Africa out. The late Assia Djebar (from Algeria) did excellent things for women's writing too, as many experts continue to point out. Hers was "a life-long interrogation of Algerian heritage, self-definition and historical violence" "She eulogises the unsung heroes of Algeria's war, emphasizing women as witnesses, survivors and weavers of the social and economic fabric of the country". Djebar (below) has gone down in history too; we salute such awesome women who continue to put African writing in the spotlight...