56 Years of Nigerian Literature: 'Zulu Sofola

Today, as part of my celebration of Nigerian women writers, I focus on the first published female Nigerian playwright and Africa's first female Professor of Theatre Arts, 'Zulu Sofola.

Photo via

In a blog post I found celebrating 'Zulu Sofola, the author writes that Sofola 'was perhaps, the most important female playwright in Africa during her time'. Particularly in 

... a male-dominated world where the voice of women seemed unheard and under-appreciated, 'Zulu Sofola stepped forward and distinguished herself as a literary icon and an excellent dramatist.

Sofola's plays were diverse and could feature tragedy, satire, myths or crime (to name a some). As noted by Abiodun Abe (a director of a number of Sofola's plays and Technical Director of Nigeria's National Theatre) in the aforementioned blog post, her plays:

... are largely traditional and instructive and they tell tales of love and royalty through tragedies and the various experiences of human life in such a way that readers and audience alike are both entertained and informed in one scenario or the other.
In her own words via In Their Own Voices: African Women Writers Talk, Sofola shares what motivates her writing:

I am motivated by human problems that confront us all. It depends on the spirit of a problem before i get the kind of inspiration which makes me want to write about it. Then I do my research.
And via Womanism and African Consciousness, we get what Sofola says she questions through her writing 
... most of my writing questions the 'isms' that have been superimposed on the African people.
Some cool facts on Profoessor Sofola: her works include 17 plays, 15 published plays, along with other manuscripts discovered at the time of her death. These include Wedlock of the Gods (1972), King Emene: Tragedy of a Rebellion (1974), The Sweet Trap (1974), Old Wines are Tasty (1979) and  Memories in the Moonlight (1986). And the first play Sofola produced and publlished was The Disturbed Peace of Christmas - staged first at Yejide Girls' Grammar School in Ibadan, and then published by Daystar Press (also in Ibadan).

Covers via 

Even more cool facts, in an interview with Adeola James, Sofola notes how music got her into writing:

... music was my original interest. But when I was studying in the United States, I had to select another subject in addition to my main line. That was what landed me in drama. But I found that in dram I was also in music because I could produce plays with a musical background and I could use music for the mood. So it was through music that I got into writing.
Sofola's last play -  Queen Omu-Ako of Oligbo - was written and produced while she was a Fulbright Scholar in the Sates. A historical play about the Nigerian civil war, as explained in this article on Aidoo's feminism and Sofola's de-womanisation 

[Sofola] shows how the dual-sex system of government functions with an Omu, the leader of women controlling the female are of the government. Being the granddaughter of an Omu, Sofola uses the leadership role of the Queen to debunk notions of female powerlessness and passivity propagated by European culture.
Find out more about 'Zulu Sofola and her works on her official website, and here are some posters and stills of scenes of Sofola's plays.

Virgo Foundations production in London in 2011. Image via
Still from the performance of Wedlock of the Gods  in London via

Chi Ife Productions in  Atlanta in 2013. Image via

Still from performance of Wedlock of the Gods in Atlanta. Image via

Mosaic Theatre Production in Lagos in 2014. Image via lindaikeji


56 Years of Nigerian Literature: Kiru Taye

This month I am celebrating Nigerian women writers, and up next is Kiru Taye - who writes romance and erotica stories. And whether they are historical, paranormal or contemporary, they are said to always be sensual and passionate

Photo via blackandoutspoken
With over 12 books, fan-fiction erotica and (I think) 5 series, Taye's works include the historical romance series, Men of Valor, set in pre-colonial West Africa. When asked by Myne Whitman why she writes historical romance, Kiru Taye explains how she: 

... wanted to write stories that showcased African heritage and culture positively. There are several misconceptions about African before colonisation. One such is that love and romance didn't exist in Africa until the colonials dropped by and taught us. This is totally wrong. Love and romance have always existed in Africa, although expressed in different ways ... So I wanted to write stories that showed Africans falling in love with a historical context while still dealing with other cultural issues that might impact relationships.

Taye further stresses on This is Africa how important it is to write about how 'West Africa  ... was rich and diverse with kingdoms like Nri, Benin, Oyo, Ashanti, Aro, Nok', and 'redress[ing] the imbalance and showcase our beautiful heritage through [her] historical romances. 

A look at some of Kiru Taye's works via her website.

Taye also writes about sex in her work - as she particularly enjoys 'romance novels which include sex scenes', and as she explains in this interview with Adura Ojo, she is:

... unapologetic about what [she] read[s] or write[s] and really owe no one any explanation. There are loads of young women (and men) that get into relationships or marriages without fully understanding what healthy and pleasurable sex feels like. I hope to educate and entertain them at the same time. Nigerians have sex. So why is talking or writing about sex a taboo?
Plus if you do want to write a sensual, passionate sex scene here's 'lesson number 1' courtesy of Kiru Taye

Do not be a prick tease ... You either write it fully or you exclude it all together. Don't tease the reader by getting characters frisky and practically through fore-play and then chickening out by slamming the door on the actual consummation.

Kiru Taye is also a founding member of Romance Writers of West Africa and a 2015 Romance Writer of the Year at the Nigerian Writers Award. Although I mentioned earlier she has 5 series, it seems there might be a 6th one soon to be added to her collection - Outcast, a paranormal romance set in Ancient Africa and part one of the Sacred Amulet. What's it about, you ask. Well according to the blurb

Ugo'ji is an outcast, an untouchable. She lives on the fringe of society as the lowest of the low, a living sacrifice to the gods. The only person she interacts with is her aged grandmother Nne who nurtures her powerful gift of healing. Until the day she meets Ebube, a strange warrior to their lands. He ignites a yearning within her she's unable to ignore. 
Ebube is drawn to the young maiden with the emerald green eyes who possesses the body of a goddess and the healing touch of an angel. But he is forbidden from mating with a human and the consequence is the wrath of the gods.  
Moreover he is on a mission. If he fails, the gates of hell will be opened and the earth plunged into darkness. He cannot stay and she cannot go with him.  

I am actually intrigued. And you can find out more about Kiru Taye, part one of the Sacred Amulet and her other romance series on her website. PS. Here's a teeny excerpt via Kiru Taye's website.


56 Years of Nigerian Literature: Adaora Lily Ulasi

The only photo I found of Ulasi via Wikipedia.
Up next in my celebration of Nigerian women writers is Adaora Lily Ulasi, who between 1970 and 1978 published 5 books - Many Thing You No Understand (1970), Many Thing Begin For Change (1971), The Night Harry Died (1974), Who is Jonah? (1978), The Man from Sagamu (1978) - all of which (as far as I am aware) are out of print. Although I've heard of Adaora Lily Ulasi, I didn't know much about her and her works until I started researching for this post. To be honest, one of the reasons I'm celebrating women writers is to be able to learn more about writers who I know little to nothing about.

In her chapter on Adaora Lily Ulasi - in the 1996 book Africa Wo/Man Palava: The Nigerian Novel by Women - Chikwenye Okonjo Ogunyemi describes Ulasi as 'the most misunderstood writer from Nigeria', particularly as 'she does not appear interested to throw a little light on her life or her works' (p183). Later in the chapter, Oguyemi explains how Ulasi is in 'the limbo of forgotten writers, whose books are rarely read' (p195).

The little that does exist on Ulasi (and a lot of which I got from Ogunyemi's book) sheds some light on this fascinating woman who was said to be the first West African woman to obtain a degree in journalism and worked in a predominantly male world at the Times complex in Lagos

Ulasi was also said to be one of the first Nigerians to write detective fiction in English. Although Ogunyemi believes that Ulasi's works are not 'run-of-the-mill detective stories' and are 'larger than, the detective story' (p195) as Ulasi 'creates a hybrid form by fusing the detective story, steeped in the material world, with the magical, the tall tale, the super natural' (p196). While Ulasi did write mystery novels: 

 ... it is clear that she has produced five mysteries. The novels are indeed mysteries ... set in what Hortense Spillers, in another context, refers to as the "terrain of witchcraft" (1987, 189). In Ulasi, seeing is not always believing or deceptive. Her intriguing genre, the juju novel, appears to be Nigeria's answer to the gothic and magic realism ... Ulasi's terrain covers the occult, dark, impenetrable tropical forests; in short, vestiges of the supernatural world, which proliferate the Nigerian imagination. (p193)

For Ogunyemi, Ulasi did more than that, and with her 'conflation of mystery and juju' (p184) writes in a genre Oguyemi terms 'juju fiction'. What is juju fiction?

a bewitched crossroads, where many literary aspects intersect: juju, the mystery novel, fantasy, the ghost story, the tall tale, the gothic, etc.' and her writing 'baffled critics straining to classify her'. (p184)

Ulasi also experimented with language, writing in pidgin - although it was 'anglicised to make the dialogue accessible for her European audience' (p190) and often referred to as 'terrible pidgin' (p191).

Excerpt from The Man from Sagamu via Ogunyemi (p191)

Her novels are also based on her experiences: 
as an Igbo girl growing up in colonial Nigeria, an undergraduate student in the United States, a journalist in the Nigerian Times complex, and a wife and a mother in an interracial marriage. (p192)
Basically Ulasi's works sound like the perfect combination of my kind of read - and I am on a mission to find them. Although it does seem like there are a copies of her books available on Amazon, if anyone has leads of where I can get them please do share.

56 Years of Nigerian Literature: Ijeoma Umebinyuo

Today, it's all about writer and poet, Ijeoma Umebinyuo in my celebration of Nigerian women writers. A brilliant writer, her words have been described as 'intimate', 'beautiful, heartbreaking and affirming'. Umebinyuo was named one of sub-Saharan Africa's top ten contemporary poets by Writivism, listed as one of seven African women poets that will keep you calm, cool and collected for the summer by okayafrica, and members of the Buzzfeed community chose her words from disapora blues to be among 21 of the most powerful things said by immigrants.

From diaspora blues

She started writing poetry at the age of ten - although as stated in an interview on Femme Feministe her father insists she started writing when she was seven. Her debut collection of poetry - Questions for Ada - was published in 2015, and described as 'a floetry of poetry that will sweep readers away on a wave of pure emotional beauty and alluring artistry.' It is, as discussed by Umebinyuo in an interview on Afroelle magazine, 'a collection of narratives on love, colonisation, depression, pain, grief, Diaspora, self-care, heartbreak. Love. A safe place.'

Photo via

Passionate about reproductive rights, about women in politics, about women owning their narrativesUmebinyuo sees herself - as she explains in her interview with Femme Feministe - as a feminist, a womanist who writes:
... for a lot of people who do not see themselves represented in literature. For black girls. For women with colour. For immigrants. For those who feel alone. For mental health. For everyone and anyone who believes that healing is needed, that narratives like mine are not only important but very necessary.

Umebintuo also seems to write what she wants, and without fear - tackling topics we rarely speak about or discuss in African communities, and honestly Black communities. Depression, for example, which comes up in her interview with Afroelle magazine: 

I wrote 'Love letter to Adeyemi' to say that even African women can suffer from depression. We deny that depression is real in Africa. They told me African women cannot suffer from depression, so I wrote the truth.

On tumblr you will find her words, but also on twitter and instagram - and even this pinterest page.

Ijeoma Umebinyuo on pinterest

Her words really are powerful:

For black girls ... Source:
For Pretoria High School. Source: 
An answer to a question. Source:

While Umbeinyuo's first published work is a poetry collection, she actually wanted to be known first for her fiction - a genre she is also well versed in. So to also get a taste of that here's a short story The Incident on The Stockholm Review of Literature. And if you want some more poetry, here's Farewell  and The Clinic both on The Rising Phoenix Review.

56 Years of Nigerian Literature: Suzanne Ushie

Photo via the writing disorder

It's day four of my celebration of Nigerian women writers, and today the focus is on Suzanne Ushie, whose recently released story, Let's Talk About Something Else, I had the absolute pleasure of reading yesterday. Published by Saraba - in anticipation of their forthcoming Power Issue - the story follows Uzilibe - a young woman living in Lagos, who quits her job after her boss gropes her, and then heads to London to clear her head and stays with her friend, Bendeustu. But leaving a great job is ridiculous, right? Especially when it was just a grope, right? It's really not a big deal? All he did was brush against her breasts and squeeze her bum? Clearly she overreacted, right? Totally overreacted! Beautiful story on a not-so-beautiful topic, sexual harassment in the workplace and how people react when you react (instead of ignore it).

Cover photograph by Magda Kapa. Source: Saraba

Beyond this new fiction supplement, Ushie - who (used to?) work in advertising and has an MA in Creative Writing from the University of East Anglia - has had her stories in a number of print and online publications, including Dissembling and The Ghost of Joy in Sentinel Nigeria, Above the Line in Overtime, Swans in Conte Online, From an Empty Place in Fiction Fix, We Don't Sweep at Night in The Writing Disorder, Home is Home in Lunch Ticket and Fine Red Dust in Gambit: Newer African Writing. 

Speaking of Gambit, four years ago in an interview with Emmanuel Iduma for The Mantle, Ushie shares her thoughts on the art of creating and more, such as what fascinates her about the writing process: 'The inexplicable thrill that comes with finding a potential good story.' And on the internet as a platform for new and emerging writers: 'The Internet has made life easier for me and tons of other emerging writers.' As well as how her 'experiences as an ad woman occasional show up in [her] work.' There's also this op-ed Ushie wrote a few years ago on finding writing:

For as long as I remember I've always wanted to be a writer. I wrote my first book titled 'The Mahogany Caves', borne out of an imagination shaped by Enid Blyton, just before I turned nine. In those early years I played ten-ten and hopscotch with my sisters in our compound in Calabar, and during our frequent adventures, I imagined that the orchard where my father grew his precious fruits was really a secret garden. There was always something to daydream about, to write about.
Although in the earlier interview on the Mantle, Suzanne Ushie states 'I don't really write nonficiton ...  I may write [it] to help clear my head in those moments.' There are a number of non-fiction pieces written by Ushie, which can be read here: The Serious Guide to Becoming a Seriously Unfashionable Writer republished in Saraba's Fashion issue, with some satire which even provides a handbook with 10 points on how to look more like a writer: No. 2 -  say goodbye to that 'sixteen inch Brazilian weave for a brand new dreadlocked diet', and maybe even cancel that 'eyebrow waxing appointment at the Day Spa.' There's also The Gravity of Faith and Lipstick, Eyeliner & Everything in Between in Brittle Paper. 


56 Years of Nigerian Literature: Jumoke Verissimo

Photo via

Up next in my literary celebration of Nigerian women writers is Lagos-born poet Jumoke Verissimo - who is one of the most exciting contemporary Nigerian poets. Verissimo has penned two poetry collections: I am memory in 2008, which was described by Biyi Bandele as 'passionate [and] sensual' and The Birth of Illusion in 2005. On the theme of memory in Verissimo's first collection, she notes in this interview on Canopic Jar that she was:
... suffused with so much emotion at the time I chose the title 'I am memory'. Actually, it seemed easy to become a totem of several struggles at that time too. This was also because I discovered that in trying to forget, one remembers much more than is necessary. The chapters, 'Memory Lane 1, Memory Lane 2 ...' came to me as one walking several paths of memory, so, I chose to forget by remembering these things in a way that it turns into a collective pain - like the death of a favourite cousin, anxieties for my country, the misunderstanding of love, the loved and a suffering beloved in love.

In the same interview, Verissimo whose poems have also been translated into a number of languages, including Arabic, Chinese, French, Norwegian and Spanish, reflected on the current state of poetry in Nigeria: 
... poetry has blossomed immensely in the Nigerian public space. There is some sense of relevance and recognition. Especially, on the performance front. This also means there's a perpetual 'battle' of what is and what isn't poetry? 
The internet has been rather significant too. In response to the several rejections from poetry magazines in other countries, Nigerian online magazines are flourishing too. We have online magazines like Saraba, Praxis, Brittle Paper etc. making efforts to showcase Nigeria to the world. 
Festivals like Lagos Books and Art Festival and Ake Arts and Book Festival have offered a significant presence to poetry. Recently, Lagos International Poetry Festival brought attention to the genre even more. Initiatives like Ibadan Poetry Foundation are offering background efforts to institute the culture of poetry into everyday life.

But how did Jumoke Verissimo become a writer? Well, when Chris Ogunlowo was out and about with Verissimo in Lagos, he did ask that exact question  
She mentioned how she was a science student, but with a love for literature and a gift for storytelling. A change in academic career became necessary with support from her father. The Church, it turned out, also played a role in the making of one of Africa's leading poets. 

You can check out some of Verissimo's poetry on Bakwa Magazine (Three Poems by Jumoke Verissimo)on Canopic Jar (Refugee Paradigms IThe Birth of Poets, Punctuated, Symptoms I, and Unresolved I) and on The Missing Slate (Quarter to War, Transgendered)There's also this poetry chapbook, Epiphanies, published by Saraba Magazine which contained thirteen poems.

Excerpt from one of the thirteen poems in Epiphanies
Beyond poetry, Verissimo has worked as a journalist, copywriter, sub-editor and editor. Her manuscript A Night Without Darkness was longlisted for the 2012 Kwani? Manuscript Prize. Verissimo's writing can also be found on Africa is a Country and Africa in Words

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