#100AfricanWomenWriters: 3. Alda do Espírito Santo

Little may be known about the literature produced in São Tomé and Príncipe in the English-speaking world. However, poetry is the most common form of literature on this Portuguese-speaking island off the coast of central Africa. And as mentioned by Geoff Wisner in a short piece on poem[s] from ‘a very small place’, while São Tomé has produced little literature, what little is available is worth seeking out. One of the most famous poets from the island is Alda do Espírito Santo – recommended to me by a reader of this blog (thank you!).

Image Source: Templo Cultural Delfos

Wisner goes on to explain that while Alda's work is included in a number of anthologies, such as Stella and Frank Chipasula's 1995 edited volume The Heinemann Book of African Women’s Poetry:
her life is so little known that she appears in three of them [anthologies] with a misspelled name (Aldo rather than Alda) that transforms her into a man. 
Of her verses, however, the Chipasula's note that they 'were once considered subversive and dangerous by the Portuguese colonial authorities.'

This relegation of Alda do Espírito Santo’s work (like that of most Lusophone African writers, and especially women writers), to the periphery of African literature seems to be a recurring theme in my research. This in itself is a separate post, and there are many scholars who have written on it, but here's an interesting piece on Lusophone African Women's Writing. Of note, however, is how very influential Alda do Espírito Santo's work and poetry was. Indeed on Alda do Espírito Santo and her poems, Marisa Bruno who translated one for Double Speak magazine, writes:

... as both writer and government leader, [Alda] played an essential role in São Tomé and Príncipe’s transition to independence from Portugal. She writes as a woman, to women and for women, presenting her readers with images of strong women who have the power to liberate the islands from Portuguese colonial oppression. Despite her privileged upbringing, she dedicates her words to the working class women of the islands who carried, both figuratively and literally, the future of the islands on their backs. The women she describes in poems like “By the Água Grande” are mothers, workers, and, most importantly, fighters.

English translation of one of Alda's poems

Alda do Espirito Santo was born April 30 1926 to a prominent Creole family - primary education in São Tomé, secondary school in Porto, and training as a primary school teacher in Lisbon from 1948. It was in Lisbon that she joined an association of students from Portuguese colonies known as Casa dos Estudantes. There she published one of her first pieces, a feminist article, in 1949. It was also at Casa that she came in contact with future nationalist leaders of Angola, Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau and Mozambique, and where her poetry was published in the collection Caderno: A Collection of Poetry by Portuguese Speaking Black African Writers

A write-up of Alda do Espírito Santo on the Afrotourism website further reveals her fascinating life story: 
Alda returned to São Tomé in January 1953, and started work as a primary school teacher. That same year, she assisted Palma Carlos, a Portuguese lawyer who was in São Tomé to investigate the atrocities committed by the colonial authorities during the Sao Tome massacre, in February barely a month after her return to the country.In 1951, together with Mário Pinto de Andrade, Amilcar Cabral, Marcelino dos Santos, Agostinho Neto and other African students inspired by nationalism, Alda Neves da Graça do Espírito Santo founded the cultural association, Centro de Estudos Africanos.  
Along with the lawyer, they collected testimonials from survivors of the massacres. Her most famous poem: Onde Estão os Homens Caçados Neste Vento de Loucura was written about the February 1953 massacre.  Titled Where are the men chased by that mad wind?, and translated from Mario de Andrades French version by Jacques-Noël Gouat, the poem was included in The Heinemann Book of African Women's Poetry, and here's an excerpt via the Woyingi blog:
Ze Mulatto in the annals of the wharf
Executing men
Amidst the thump of falling bodies.
Ah! Ze Mullato, Ze Mullato
Your victims cry out for revenge.
And the sea, the sea of Fernao Dias
That has swallowed up those human lives
The sea is red with blood.

Of course, there is more to Alda do Espírito Santo's life as indicated in the article on the Afrotourism website. This includes being detained or two and half month with sixteen other São Tomé indigenes on accusation of intent to create a subversive movement on the archipelago - this was in Lisbon in December 1965; becoming one of the leaders of Associação Civica pró-MLSTP after the Portuguese revolution of April 25, 1974 - they organised political actions; and on September 19, 1974 leading a group of women clad in black in a demonstration in front of the governor’s palace against the alleged poisoning of salt and drinking water by the Portuguese - after Independence, September 19 was declared National Women’s Day.

Letter written to Mário Pinto de Andrade in August 1984

Alda do Espírito Santo’s excellent credentials also include being a member of the Political Bureau of the Movement for the Liberation of São Tomé and Príncipe, part of the transitional government that led São Tomé and Príncipe to independence, a former Minister of Culture and Education, Social Affairs and Culture Minister, the first woman to become Deputy Head of State and the founder of the National Union of Writers and Artists of Sao Tome– another badass woman in this series. Alda also wrote the lyrics of Sao Tome and Principe’s national anthem, Independência Total:

Working, struggling, struggling and conquering,
We go ahead with giant steps
In the crusade of the African people
Raising the national flag.

Alda do Espírito Santo passed away in 2010, at the age of 83 in Luanda - and the government declared 5 days of national mourning in her honour. 

#100AfricanWomenWriters: 2. Miriam Tlali

'A good book - if it has the right message in it -  it can change a whole human being into something he never thought he would be'. Those are the words of Miriam Tlali in an interview she did in 2014, as part of Adrian Stern's 21 icons of South Africa project - a visual celebration of 21st century South African icons. 

Photo by Gary Van Wyk as part of 21 icons. It features a famous quote from Tlali's work inscribed across glass. Image Source: HRW

Tlali wrote her first novel in 1969. It was eventually published in 1975 as Muriel at Metropolitan - making Tlali the first black woman in South Africa to publish a novel. Although it almost was never published as revealed in an interview she did with Human Rights Watch
My mother used to carry a copy of the manuscript around, wrapped in a cloth. There were quite a number [of publishers] whom I tried and they all turned it down. Finally, the system gradually changed, and in 1974 somebody told me about Raven Press. However, they changed the title to 'Muriel at Metropolitan' and took out words and whole passages. They said it would be banned otherwise and they would not be making any money off it. 
I refused for a year to give my permission to publish. 'Not under that title,' I said. But my mother started complaining : 'I am getting old and I shall die without seeing your book. Let them publish it.' And so it was published [and almost immediately banned].

It also took so long for Muriel at Metropolitan to be published, largely because it was very critical of the apartheid state, as Tlali explains 'Most would read it and return it to me and say, "Sorry, we can't publish this."'

Clip from Southern African Review of Books.

Muriel at Metropolitan, a semi-autobiographical work that drew from Tlali's experience as a bookkeeper in a furniture shop, was banned in 1979 by the Apartheid government. However, it was published internationally as Between Two Worlds by Longman African Classics in 1979. Tlali's next book, Amandla, published in 1980, was also banned weeks after it was published. It was based on the 1976 Soweto uprising when young people in the township 'rose up against the decision to make Afrikaans compulsory as a medium of instruction in black schools'. Similar to Muriel, it gained international recognition and was translated into several languages, including Japanese, Polish, German and Dutch. In 1984, she wrote a collection of short stories, interviews and non-fiction, Mihloti. Both Muriel and Amandla were unbanned in 1986. In 1989, Footprints in the Quag (named Soweto Stories by Pandora Press) was published.

A look at Miriam Tlali's publications 

Yet, Mariam Tlali never thought she would become a writer, as indicated in her 21 icons feature. Born in Doornfontein in Johannesburg in 1933, Tlali grew up in Sophiatown - a legendary black community in Johannesburg in which, under apartheid, black residents were forcibly removed and the area then demolished. Tlali studied at the University of Witwatersand until it was closed to Black students during apartheid. She later went to the National University of Lesotho, but eventually had to leave due to lack of funds. Tlali eventually took up a job as a bookkeeper at a furniture store. It was this job, and the experiences at it that inspired her first novel, as she explains in her interview for 21 icons:
You know, while I was still working there, I grew to become very unhappy and restless ... Every Sunday, we would take our children to the freedom square to listen to our leaders speaking. People like Oliver Tambo, like Nelson Mandela. So I was very restless because I found that I was doing the kind of work which is done by people who are busy stalking Africans ... [so] I decided to leave my work.
It was this 'restlessness'  that fed into Muriel, as well as 'the things I learned about the kind of life that we had to lead, our poverty, everything about us. I wrote that.'  Knowing how critical the book was, Tlali clearly wasn't surprised when it was banned four years later:
I knew it was speaking against the system. against what I saw happening ... I knew it wouldn't be accepted. But I didn't really mind about that. At least I had vented out all that was hurting me inside.'
Miriam Tlali also co-founded Staffrider - one of South Africa's most important literary magazines in the 1970s and 1980s - and wrote a regular column 'Soweto Speaking'. Here's a look at Volume 3, Issue 2 of Staffrider published in June 1980, which included an excerpt from Amandla. Images from the volume are all via South African History Online

Tlali also founded Skotaville in 1982 - the first black-owned publishing house in South AfricaOf course, Miriam Tlali had many other achievements, as noted in 21 icons
In 2001, she was officially recognised as the first African woman to publish a novel in South Africa by  the Department of Arts, Culture, Science and Technology. In 2005, they again honoured Tlali as a recipient of their Literary Lifetime Achievment Award. Three years later, she was awarded the Presidential Award for her immense contribution to South African Literature ... As a member of the Women's National Coalition, Tlali slo assisted in the drafting of the Preamble to the South African Women's Charter.
An absolutely phenomenal woman, check out more photos of Miriam Tlali from 21 icons on this Pinterest page, and watch the stunning short film where Tlali shares her lifestory.

UPDATE: It is with sadness that I write that Miriam Tlali passed away on February 24, 2016, as announced by the Department of Arts and Culture in South Africa on twitter. So this post is in her memory. The Department also paid tribute to the late author, which can be found here.

#100AfricanWomenWriters: 1. Lina Magaia

I begin my journey in Mozambique - Maputo to be exact, or as it was called before independence, Lourenço Marques. This is where the Mozambican writer Lina Magaia was born in 1945. Writer, journalist, agricultural development specialist, activist and member of the FRELIMO liberation army, Magaia was a significant figure in post-independent Mozambique. 

Image Source: The Delagoa Bay Review

Learning about Lina Magaia's life is absolutely fascinating - from her three month stint in jail in 1965 for attempting to join the FRELIMO armed struggle in Tanzania, to her nine month FRELIMO training in 1974 to join the liberation army, to establishing Maputo's Organisation of Mozambican Women (the OMM) - agricultural cooperatives for women, and becoming the Director of Agricultural Development for Manhiça District in 1986. Hilary Owen has a brilliant chapter on Lina Magaia in her book Mother Africa, Father Marx: Women's Writing of Mozambique, 1948-2002, but as this is all about literature, I will focus on Magaia the writer.

Leaflet advertising a talk by Lina Magaia in New York in 1988. Source: African Activist Archive

In her chapter on Magaia, Owens writes that joining the youth movement Nucleo dos Estudantes Secundarios Africanos (NESAM) in 1957 is what eventually inspired her first oppositional writing activities in the 1960s with short pieces for the press, O Brado AfricanoA Voz AfricanaDiario de Mocambique, and Tribuna. As such, when she got older - in addition to her role in FRELIMO politics and agricultural development - Magaia continued writing with a weekly column reporting from Manhiça in the national newspaper Noticias in the 1980s, which 'was popular for its attacks on incompetent officials'; and a series of reports, chronicles and travelogues for the government-run weekly news magazine, Tempo.

A lot of Lina Magaia's writings focused on the horrors of Mozambique's civil war. Magia's first book, Dumba Nengue: Historias Tragicas do Banditismo, published in 1987 drew 'from [her] experiences and those narrated to her by peasants and plantation workers in Manhica'. Owens goes on to explain that the stories in the books come from a collection of chronicles that appeared in the 'Aspectos da guerra' (Aspects of the war) series of Tempo. These chronicles, along with others not originally part of the series, were published in a single expanded volume, Dumba Nengue, and appeared in 1987 in Tempo's 'depoimentos' or 'words of witness' book series. The English translation of Dumba Nengue,  was published in 1988 as Dumba Nengue: Run for your Life. Peasant Tales of Tragedy in Mozambique, and 'remains one of the best internationally known Mozambican texts about the war.' 

Magaia's second collection, also of eyewitness accounts, as well as reports and photographs, was published in 1989 - Duplo Massacre en Mozambique: Historias tragicas do banditismo II (Double Massacre in Mozambique: Tragic Stories of Banditry). It specifically documents the Renamo massacre of 424 civilians in the southern town of Homoine in 1987.

Lina Magaia also published two novels - Delehta: Pulos na vida (Delehta: The Return to Life) in 1994 and A cobra dos olhos verde (The green-eyed snake) in 1997. Delehta is a part-fiction, part-autobiographical, 'first-person account of the final years of the war, the build-up to the 1992 Rome Peace Accord, and the tentative vision of a post-war democracy'

Magaia passed away in 2011, but her final publication was Recordacoes da Vovo Marta (Memories of Grandma Marta) published in the same year, was based on interviews with one of Mozambique's oldest women, 99-year-old Marta Mbcota Guebuza, mother of former Mozambican president Armando Guebuza.

I end with a chilling excerpt from Dumba Nengue, which is an unflinching account of the terror of war, and might be difficult for some to read:
It happened at night, as it always does. Like owls or hyenas, the bandits swooped down on a village in the area of Taninga. They stole, kidnapped and then forced their victims to carry their food, radios, batteries, the sweat of their labour in the fields or in the mines of Jo'burg where many of those possessions had come from.   
Among the kidnapped were pregnant women and little children. Among the little ones was a small girl of nearly eight ... And the hours went by and dawn broke and finally there was a halt. They put down their loads and the bandits selected who could return home and who had to carry on. Of those who had to keep going, many were boys between twelve and fifteen. Their fate was the school of murder -- they would be turned into armed bandits after training and a poisoning of their conscience. Other were girls between ten and fourteen, who would become women after being raped by the bandits. Others were women who were being stolen from their husbands and children. 
To demonstrate the fate of the girls to those who were going back, the bandit chief of the group picked out one, the small girl who was less than eight. In front of everyone, he tried to rape her. The child's vagina was small and he could not penetrate. On a whim, he took a whetted pocketknife and opened her with a violent stroke. He took her in blood. The child died. 


Earlier this year, I wrote that I would love to start a series of post focused on African women writers, which not only showcased their amazing works, but also enabled me to learn more about African women writers I may not know of. After I wrote that post, I began documenting in my notebook the different women writers I knew of - first going through my personal library, then through previous posts on this blog, and then beyond to the interwebs. 

As my list grew, my thinking evolved. I also started challenging myself by asking - how long can I make this list? Can it get to 70 women writers? What about 80? As I kept asking myself these questions, my list kept on getting longer and longer. So I thought why not focus on 100 African women writers?

#100 by a.k.a of West Port Five
Why 100? Because it gives me the flexibility to explore a wide range of writers and the different medium they work in - short stories, plays, novels, poetry etc. Because it reveals the variety of genres African women are writing in - literary fiction, fantasy, crime, romance and so on. Because it enables me to look at women writing in different languages - English, but also French, Portuguese and indigenous languages. And because, on a personal level, being able to write about 100 African women writers is (simply put) pretty awesome! 

I am sure my list will grow as I continue my research. It might even become 100 plus African women writers. Who knows? For now, do join me in my new series - #100AfricanWomenWriters, which I aim to do throughout 2017. 


Even More New Releases from African Writers for 2017

Towards the end of last year, I shared 14 new and exciting books that would be published in 2017. Since then, the cover for J J Bola's debut No Place to Call Home has been revealed, as well as Nnedi Okorafor's Akata Warriorand there's also Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's Dear Ijeawale

Well, there are even more new releases - and here are 5 more. Honestly, I might need to make reading a full-time job. 

A Thousand Tales of Johannesburg: A City Novel by Harry Kalmer

A spellbinding ode to Johannesburg and its people. 

This is the story of Sara, who poses stiffly for a photo with her four children at Turfoontein concentration camp in 1901, and of Abraham, who paints the street names on Johannesburg's kerbs. It is the tale of their grandson Zweig, a young architect who has to leave Johannesburg when he falls in love with the wrong person, and of Marceline, a Congolese mother who flees to the city only to be caught up in a wave of xenophobic violence.

Spanning more than a hundred years, A Thousand Tales of Johannesburg is a novel that documents and probes the lives of the inhabitants of this incomparable African city - the exiled, those returning from exile, and those who never left. 


Spanning three decades of work, the poems in this collection address themes of colonialism, independence, motherhood and gender in intimate, personal ways alongside commentary on broader social issues. After the Ceremonies is arranged in three parts: new and uncollected poems, some of which Aidoo calls 'misplaced or downright lost', selections from Aidoo's An Angry Letter in January and Other Poems; and selections from Someone Talking to Sometime.

Black Moses by Alain Mabanckou

It's 1970, and in the People's Republic of Congo a Marxist-Leninist revolution is ushering in a new age. But over at the orphanage on the outskirts of Pointe-Noire where young Moses has grown up, the revolution has only strengthened the reign of terror of Dieudonné Ngoulmoumako, the institution's corrupt director. So Moses escapes to Pointe-Noire, where he finds a home with a larcenous band of Congolese Merry Men and among the Zairian prostitutes of the Trois-Cents quarter. But the authorities won't leave Moses in peace, and intervene to chase both the Merry Men and the Trois-Cents girls out of town. All this injustice pushes poor Moses over the edge. Could he really be the Robin Hood of the Congo? Or is he just losing his marbles?Black Moses is a larger-than-life comic tale of a young man obsessed with helping the helpless in an unjust world. It is also a vital new extension of Mabanckou's extraordinary, interlinked body of work dedicated to his native Congo, and confirms his status as one of our great storytellers.

Forbidden Fruit by Stanley Gazemba

Desperate to make ends meet, Ombima commits a 'harmless' crime. When he tries to conceal his misdeed, the simple farm labourer becomes a reluctant participant in a sinister affair. If discovered, the consequences could be disastrous for Ombima's family, friends and a spate of unwitting, gossipy villagers. 

A delicious tale of greed, lust and betrayal, Stanley Gazemba's Forbidden Fruit is more than a dramatic tale of rural life in western Kenya. The moral slips and desperate cover-ups - sometimes sad, sometimes farcical - are the stories of time and place beyond the village of Maragoli. Gazemba's novel, first published in Kenya as The Stone Hills of Maragoli (Kwani? 2010), won the prestigious Jomo Kenyatta Prize for Literature. 

Beasts Made of Night by Tochi Onyebuchi

Packed with dark magic and thrilling action, Beasts Made of Night is a gritty Nigerian-influenced fantasy. 

In the waled city of Kos, corrupt mages can magically call forth sin from a sinner in the form of sin-beasts - lethal creatures spawned from feelings of guilt.

Taj is the most talented of the aki, young sin-eaters indentured by the mages to slay the sin-beasts. But Taj's livelihood comes at a terrible cost. When he kills a sin-beast, a tattoo of the beasts appears on his skin while the guilt of committing the sin appears on his mind. Most aki are driven mad by the process, but 17-year-old Taj is cocky and desperate to provide for his family. 

When Taj is called to eat a sin of a royal, he's suddenly thrust into the centre of a dark conspiracy to destroy Kos. Now Taj might fight to save the princess that he loves - and his own life. 

Debut author Tochi Onyebuchi delivers an unforgettable fantasy adventure that powerfully explores the true meaning of justice and guilt. 

Dear Ijeawele, or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions

Remember Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's feminist manifesto that was published on her facebook page in October 2016? It had 'fifteen suggestions' on how to raise a feminist child, including: 
'be a full person' (not being defined solely by motherhood); 'do it together' (because parenting should not be done solely by the mother); 'teach her that "gender roles" is absolute nonsense (because truth); 'beware the danger of what I call Feminism Lite' (which 'uses the language of "allowing"'); 'teach Chizalum how to read' (because awesome); 'teach her to question language' (because important) ... ' 
Well, her powerful statement, which was written as a letter to a friend, is soon to be published - March 7 to be exact. 

                                                   UK cover                                                                              USA and Canada cover

And here's the blurb
A few years ago, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie received a letter from a dear friend from childhood, asking how to raise her baby girl as a feminist. 'Dear Ijeawele' is Adichie's letter of response. 
Compelling, direct, wryly funny and perceptive, the 15 suggestions in 'Dear Ijeawele' offer specifics on how to empower daughters to become strong, independent women. Here, too, are ways parents can raise their children - both sons and daughters - beyond a culture's limiting gender perceptions. 'Dear Ijeawele' goes right to the heart of sexual politics in the twenty-first century. It will start a new and urgently needed conversation about what it really means to be a woman today.

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