Monday, November 12, 2012

Know Your Author: Ama Ata Aidoo

Know your author: Ama Ata Aidoo

Monday, 12 November 2012 00:00
Marcia Gore

Professor Ama Ata Aidoo is a Ghanaian author, playwright and academic whose work, written in English, emphasises the paradoxical position of the modern African woman and is one of the most versatile women in African writing. Born Christina Ama Aidoo in 1940, near Saltpond, Gold Coast now Ghana, Aidoo grew up in a Fante royal household, the daughter of Nana Yaw Fama, chief of Abeadzi Kyiakor, and Maame Abasema.

Her father had opened the first school in the village and was a strong influence. At the age of 15 she decided that she wanted to be a writer and within just four years, she had achieved that ambition.

“At the age of 15, a teacher had asked me what I wanted to do for a career and without knowing why or even how I replied that I wanted to be a poet.

“About four years later I won a short story competition, but learned about it only when I opened the newspaper that had organised it and saw the story had been published on its centre pages and realised the name of the author of that story in print was mine.

“I believe these moments were crucial for me because . . . I had articulated a dream . . . it was a major affirmation for me as a writer, to see my name in print,” said Aidoo.

She was sent by her father to the Wesley Girls’ High School in Cape Coast from 1961 to 1964.

The headmistress of Wesley Girls bought her her first typewriter.

She was encouraged to enter a newspaper short story competition and only discovered that she had won it when she saw her name in the newspaper.

After leaving high school, she enrolled at the University of Ghana in Legon and received her Bachelor of Arts in English as well as writing her first play, “The Dilemma of a Ghost”, in 1964. The play was published by Longman the following year, making Aidoo the first published African woman dramatist.

She worked in the United States where she held a fellowship in creative writing at Stanford University. She also served as a research fellow at the Institute of African Studies, University of Ghana, and as a Lecturer in English at the University of Cape Coast, eventually rising there to the position of Professor.

Aside from her literary career, Aidoo was appointed Minister of Education under the Provisional National Defence Council in 1982.

She resigned after 18 months. She has also spent a great deal of time teaching and living abroad for months at a time. She has lived in America, Britain, Germany, and Zimbabwe.

Aidoo’s works of fiction particularly deal with the tension between Western and African world views. Many of her protagonists are women who defy the stereotypical women’s roles of their time. Her novel Changes, won the 1992 Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Best Book (Africa). She is also an accomplished poet and has written several children’s books.

Their dilemma of a Ghost reflects Aidoo’s characteristic concern with the “been-to Africa educated abroad system, voiced again in her semi-autobiographical experimental first novel, Our Sister Killjoy or, Reflections from a Black-Eyed Squint (1966).

Aidoo herself won a fellowship to Stanford University in California, returned to teach at Cape Coast, Ghana, and subsequently accepted various visiting professorships in the United States and Kenya.

In No Sweetness Here (1970), a collection of short stories, Aidoo exercised the oral element of storytelling, writing tales that are meant to be read aloud.

These stories and Anowa (1970), another problem play, are concerned with Western influences on the role of women and on the individual in a communal society.

Aidoo rejected the argument that Western education emancipates African women. She further exposed exploitation of women who, as unacknowledged heads of households when war or unemployment leaves them husbandless, must support their children alone.

Some of Aidoo’s works include; The Dilemma of a Ghost (play) which was published in 1965 No Sweetness Here: A Collection of Short Stories published 1970, Anowa (a play based on a Ghanaian legend), 1970, Our Sister Killjoy 1977, When Someone Talking to Sometime, a collection of poetry 1986.

Later titles include The Eagle and the Chickens 1986; a collection of children’s stories, Birds and Other Poems 1987, and the novel Changes: A Love Story 1991, An Angry Letter in January (poems), 1992, The Girl Who Can and Other Stories, 1997.

She has added two more works to her profile namely, Diplomatic Pounds & Other Stories and African Love stories which is an anthology.

She moved to Zimbabwe to become a full-time writer and also lived and taught in the United States.

She has won many literary awards including the 1992 Commonwealth Writers Prize for Best Book (Africa) for the book Changes.

Changes is a story about Esi, an independent woman who leaves her husband, Oko, because he intrudes on her time and personal space. Confronted with the difficulty of finding love and companionship on acceptable terms, Esi meets Ali and falls in love, but she must decide if she is willing to make the changes necessary for a relationship.

In Changes, Aidoo addresses various issues in contemporary African women’s lives: love, career, betrayal and family, without offering simple solutions.

Aidoo who once moved to Zimbabwe to concentrate on her writing has excelled in her work and can be proudly named among the women who encouraged other female writers to join in this male dominated field of literature.

Her book Dilemma of a Ghost was also used here in Zimbabwe as an ordinary level set book.

— Wikipedia/BBC/The Herald.

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