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Life in Words: African Women Poets

Often we see the dominance of men in literary writing; anywhere from poetry to novels. Strong women writers can many times be seen as a rare commodity or something that does not happen all the time. When it comes to women of color, and specifically African women, such writers and their skills are downplayed or not recognized. Even writings concerning the history of literary do their job in leaving out the importance and influence of women writers. Many times we see works which men give their perspectives and criticisms of women. Although there are many insightful writings out there which men have written on African women, no one can tell an African women’s story better than an African woman herself. Women poets especially, African women, have often been demoted and ignored. Even many African poetry compilations have done a poor job of showcasing the many different talents of our women by including only a couple poets in them, creating an imbalance and false representation. An anthology is a diverse collection of short literary works often including poetry, short stories or plays or songs. In the anthology, “African Women’s Poetry,” edited by Stella and Frank Chipasula, the works of many different African women is highlighted. The anthology includes poetry from 41 African women, with short biographies for each. The anthology showcases the unique differences of women poets from all over the African continent, while still showing a unity amongst all the countries. The women poets write about colonial rules, children, marriage, love, struggle, and a plethora of other topics. Many of the poems are translated from native African languages, and although some meaning is lost in translation, the traditional principles are still represented. While reading the poetry one will pick up on the struggles, hopes, and dreams of the African women represented in different forms.

The poetry of the women shows the search for healing and the need to give life through the use of words. Although many African poets are still considered ‘underground’ the emergence of vibrant women are finally coming to the surface. As stated by the authors, “As this anthology becomes well known we hope it will mother other anthologies that will fill the gaps that this one could not, in order to enlarge the picture of African poetry.”

We often hear about the famous female poets such as Emily Dickenson, Sylvia Plath, Maya Angelou, Nikki Giovanni, Toni Morrison, and Alice Walker just to name a few. Yes, those names are very important and they have written many great, beautiful works. But just as we recognize those names should we not also recognize, Noémia de Sousa of Mozambique, the first African woman to achieve an international reputation as a poet; or Ingrid Jonker of South Africa who was known as one of the most original South African poets; or Mwana Kupono binti Msham of Kenya, who was a pioneer for Swahili poetry; and Ifi Amadiume of Nigeria who was a runner-up for the Commonwealth-British Airway Poetry Prize. These are just a few of the many brilliant African women who have written poetry to represent our beautiful continent and our beautiful people. When African women write their own stories they are able to explain and represent themselves according to their own rules and present those exceptional perceptions into their innermost thoughts and feelings.

An excerpt:

The Woman by Shakuntala Hawoldar (Mauritius)

What you love in me
Is a woman
Who invites you to discover
The vast continent in her.
She has fevers too,
In her alones,
Isolated by her thoughts
She needs the groping fingers of gentleness
Which will let her be in quietness,
Will not ravage her tranquility

By convulsive thirst of breasts,
But consciously grasping
That sexless core of need
For she is a mother who warms her insides
Beside you,
Carrier of wombs for men
Who ache in their lost hours
For her who is the sea
Without change, without end.

-Deana Bolumbu


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