By Delali Kumapley
Published September 2, 2014
Africa Writes 2014, an annual festival of literature that is considered as ‘UK’s biggest celebration of contemporary African writing’, had a special focus on Ama Ata Aidoo, a playwright, poet, novelist and academic from Ghana.
Aidoo’s address—conducted in the form of a moderated interview or conversation with translator and critic Wangui wa Goro—was preceded by a short film on her life and literary achievements. Dr wa Goro had in her introduction said that the aim of the conversation, that she hoped would be ‘our fireside conversation’, was to reflect on Aidoo’s expansive literary career and the main themes that have emerged from her work.
And Réhab Abdelghany, a doctoral candidate specialising in African and New Zealand Maori literatures at the University of Sussex who attended the 90-minute event on July 12, 2014 and wrote about it on the website of Africa Writes, says that wa Goro’s prayer for a ‘fireside conversation’ came to be fulfilled in more ways than one: “Aidoo was also unwilling to answer questions without questioning what was in them for her audience.”
The highlight of the evening, writes Abdelghany, was “ Ama Ata Aidoo emerging from wa Goro’s questions as an oral storyteller: telling us about her beginnings, sharing memories of some unforgettable situations that shaped her life, and retelling one of her mother’s stories.”
Aidoo is a member of the Advisory Board of the Accra (Ghana)-based Golden Baobab Prize for African Literature. Also attending the annual festival that features book launches, readings, author appearances, panel discussions and workshops for children and youth were Zahrah Nesbitt-Ahmed, a member of the 2014 Golden Baobab Prize for African Literature evaluations team and Davida Wulff Vanderpuije, who provides Public Relations support for Golden Baobab and who speaks about Africa Writes 2014 festival. Enjoy the excerpts:
Africa Writes is an annual event; how often do you attend it?
This year was my second time at Africa Writes festival. I first participated in it in 2013.
What made this year’s event special to you?
Making new connections with people in literary circles, and running into familiar faces from the previous year. The festival is such great ground for stimulating conversations about the ever expanding boundaries of writing from and about Africa.
What was your impression of Ama Ata Aidoo’s interview with Wangui wa Goro?
This segment was the highlight for me. I was in enthrall of Ama Ata Aidoo’s verve and engaging personality. She spoke with feeling about each of her works, including an anecdote on how people still haven’t forgiven her for the death of Anowa. As an interviewer, my personal opinion is that wa Goro did not make the most of the broad scope of questions she could have asked AAA. The segment was interspersed with a docu-film on AAA (shot by YabaBlay), and it seemed to me some of her questions had already been addressed by AAA in the film, thus we could have benefitted from other perspectives not covered by the film. In fact, to some of her questions, the witty AAA told her people could easily Google that, confirming to a certain extent, the feeling that parts of the conversation were ‘wasted’ on questions we already knew answers to. However, AAA more than made up for it. She was introduced as a ‘living literary legend’ by wa Goro, and appreciative laughter and applause from the audience say we all agreed. From the moment AAA started to speak, it was obvious we were in the hands of a master storyteller, taking us on the journey of her early life and school days in Wesley Girls High School, to the body of works and teachers who fuelled her passion for writing. Naturally, the WGHS old girls in the audience hooted delightfully with a most unladylike sound at the mention of our great school (or maybe that was just me..:-) In all, it was a great conversation, leaving us feeling like time flew by too quickly and it was over before we knew it.
What were the effects of seeing Ama Ata Aidoo on that platform being interviewed by Wangui wa Goro?
I had a very proud moment, because this was the main event of the entire festival. For me, it was the double draw of having not only a Ghanaian, but a leading author whose protagonists have often been women who make radical choices and defy traditional gender roles at that. As she reflected on the main themes of her works of fiction, I got a real sense of her heart and work for the empowerment of women, and it was inspiring to see.
What are some of the impacts you think such events will make on the literary scene in Africa?
Africa Writes is fertile ground for showcasing established and emerging talent from Africa and the diaspora, so it brings the knowledge of these writers to a wider audience. The festival has become a big celebration of contemporary African writing that is expanding and pushing new boundaries. This bodes well for the literature scene in Africa. African writers are diverse in their approach to telling their stories, and challenging the very notion of ‘African literature’. This is exciting for the continent and its diaspora because we get the benefit of the rise in genre fiction and the development of different narratives. Crucially, it challenges us to be the authors of our own stories.