Glenna Gordon's "Diagram of the Heart" with Translations by Carmen McCain

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Last month, the New York Times published an article, Nigeria's Literature of Love, about the romance novelists in Northern Nigeria Glenna Gordon spent two years photographing, who shattered her notions of what is possible for women in conservative Islamic society. 
Photo by Glenna Gordon via NYT of Soyayya novelist Fauziyya D. Sulaiman reading a book at the market after she dropped her newest release for sale.
Glenna Gordon is a documentary photographer who 'aim[s] to find the unexplored and seldom mentioned' with her images. She has lived and worked as a writer and reporter in a number of African countries since 2006, and has been commissioned by the New York Times, Time Magazine, the Wall Street Journal, Le Monde and many others. The genesis of Gordon's project on Muslim women writing romance novels, as explained in the NYT article, is that she :
' ... had been working in Lagos documenting local weddings for her "Nigeria Ever After" series, when she learned about a "mass wedding" in the north. Intrigued, she read up on the area, including "Sin Is a Puppy That Follows You Home," by the Nigerian author Balaraba Ramat Yakubu. It was not a guidebook or political treatise, but a romance novel. 
That book was in the genre of littattafan soyayya  ... So when she went to photograph the 2013 wedding, Ms. Gordon also sought out many authors of these novel in order to make portraits of them.'
Glenna Gordon's series of photos led to Diagram of the Heart. Out December 1st, and published by Red Hook Editions, with photographs from Gordon and translations by Carmen McCain, Diagram of the Heart  is a photo book exploring romance, tradition, love and loss in the lives of women in Northern Nigeria. 

Carmen McCain, lecturer at Kwara State University, who translates short excerpts of soyayya novels in this book, shares on her blog how she first got involved in this project a few years ago after Glenna Gordon got in touch with her to learn more about culture in northern Nigeria :
' ... I told her that the best thing for her to do would be to read Balaraba Ramat Yakubu's novel translated as Sin is a Puppy by Aliyu Kamal. Glenna read it as was enchanted, featuring it as her "springtime read" at Guernica, where she is photo editor. And later when she came to stay with me for a week in Jos while working on her wedding project, she photographed some of my collection of "soyayya" novels and told me she wanted to do a photography project on Hausa women who wrote ... So, I contacted several writers' groups asking women if they would be interested in being photographed for the project, and I put her in touch with a few other writers I knew. She took it from there ...
Earlier this year, she told me she would be exhibiting the photos with Open Society's "Moving Walls" series in New York and asked me if I would travel to Kano to purchase some novels from the market for exhibition, as well as help with summarising some of the novels and translating excerpts for them for the exhibition.'
McCain also goes on to explain the process of translation, which she did, along with a friend Sa'adatu Baba Ahmed, on her blog.

I first featured littattafan soyayya novels a few years ago on the blog and Fatimah Kelleher wrote a great article last year, which explores how, '[t]hrough the evocative power of prose, northern women's voices are subverting oppressive norms'. So it's really great that the writers behind these novels are being featured in Harper's Magazine, the New York Times, and this new book. Diagram of the Heart features 75 photographs of this small, but vibrant industryand here are some of of Glenna Gordon's exquisite photos (and captions) via her website
A young woman reads a romance novel in Kano

Romance novels at a market in Kano

Many of Kano's romance novels concern lavish traditional weddings
... and a sneak peek inside the book with one of Carmen McCain's translated excerpts via Red Hook Editions.

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