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Saturday, 8 October 2016

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.

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