BOOKS: Busby anthology evokes black pride

Saturday September 21 2019

'New Daughters of Africa' by Ghanaian-born writer and editor Margaret Busby.

'New Daughters of Africa' by Ghanaian-born writer and editor Margaret Busby. PHOTO | TEA 

KARI MUTU
By KARI MUTU
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Twenty-seven years after her first anthology, Ghanaian-born writer and editor Margaret Busby has released another literary feat titled, New Daughters of Africa; An International Anthology of Writing by Women of African Descent.

It contains stories by more than 200 female authors spanning over 100 years.

Busby’s first anthology was titled Daughters of Africa and was released in 1992. Once again, she has highlighted international writers and added more emerging voices in literature.

New Daughters of Africa is divided into 10-year periods beginning in the pre-1990s into the 1990s. There are stories, poems, articles, book excerpts and reviews by women from across Africa, America, the Caribbean and the UK. But other than the chronology of time periods and featuring only black authors, there is no cohesive theme to tie the book together.

There are familiar names like Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Aminatta Forna, Lola Shoneyin, Zadie Smith and Nnedi Okorafor.

There are also new female writers from the first half of the 20th century who present their life experiences, contributions to literature and their societies at a time when women’s public role was quite limited.

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Busby digs out names from the late 1800s such as Nina Asama’u, a Muslim Northern Nigerian princess and women’s educator who is still admired today for her progressive thinking during a very patriarchal time and place.

Former slave Elizabeth Keckley bought her freedom and went on to become the dressmaker of President Abraham Lincoln’s wife. In elegant prose she describes her early life and the tender relationship between her beloved parents who were separated by slavery.

Guyanese author and activist Andaiye presents a moving assessment of female friendship, loss and battling cancer. Sadly, she died in May.

Acclaimed British children’s writer Malorie Blackman, 57, first started writing after she was diagnosed with sickle cell anaemia at 18 years old and was expected to die before the age of 30.

Wanjiku Ngugi, daughter of author Ngugi wa Thiong’o, reminisces on her Kenyan childhood and the young son she left behind when she moved to America, where she suffered from food intolerance, a shaky marriage and social isolation.

With poignant candidness, Nigerian-born journalist Donu Kogbara talks about her 2015 kidnapping experience in Losing My Fragile Roots.

She calls kidnapping “the most intelligent and justifiable crime” and by the time of her release she has developed a rapport with her “loquacious kidnappers.” Yet the experience spooked her enough to leave Nigeria forever.

Modern socio-political issues are delved into in narratives like Yvvette Edwards’ tale titled Security, about a 78-year nursing home assistant called Merle who is being expatriated from the UK to Jamaica, a country she hasn’t visited in 50 years.

The story brings to mind the recent Windrush scandal in the UK involving the callous deportation of Caribbean-born migrants who have been long-time residents in Britain.

In Tuk-Tuk Trail to Suya and Stars, Uganda’s award-winning Doreen Baingana retells her experience of eating the popular Nigerian dish called Suya.

She takes us on a tuk-tuk ride to inner-city Nigeria followed by an intense devouring of the super-spicy meat dish.

Excerpts like Sapphire from the book Push are a bookmark for reading the full-length novels from which they were derived.

African-American author Ramona Lofton (aka Sapphire) wrote the semi-autobiographical in 1996 and the movie version, called Precious, won two Academy Awards.

New Daughters of Africa explores topics ranging from sexuality to feminism, female circumcision, women’s rights, migration and sisterhood. But the rich variety of tales can also be a handicap not least because it is onerous to read through over 700 pages of short stories.

This is not a book to be rushed through as each narrative is preceded by a lengthy introduction of the authors. I felt a purposelessness in a few of the narratives or an ending arrived at too quickly, leaving the reader dissatisfied.

Nevertheless, this anthology inspires a great sense of pride in discovering the enormous number of black women writers and their rich body of literary works going back over a century.