African women writers take a new turn

By Madhusree Chatterjee, IANS,

New Delhi : Epic tales of jungle safaris and human rights repression in Africa are making way for a new kind of contemporary literature in a changing continent where women are becoming an increasingly vocal force in influencing literary trends.

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Literary pundits are describing the current phase in contemporary African fiction as the “time of boom”.

“A new generation of African women writers is dabbling with a gamut of subjects like chick lit for the educated working women, thrillers, crime, humour, women’s issues and social realities to cater to a growing commercial fiction market in Africa,” South Africa-based editor and writer Helen Moffet told IANS.

Exchange and arrival of quality global literature are still very tardy in the continent, she pointed out.

She is in India to attend the Commonwealth Writer’s Foundation symposiums April 7-12.

Moffet said literature by African women was exhibiting two broad trends.

“One was the desire to write more commercially acceptable fiction and a proclivity to experiment with new literary formats like chick lit, thrillers, fantasies, changing economy, crime, whodunit, and even micro-issues like domestic violence,” she said.

Citing a list of upcoming women writers, Moffet said: “Names like Cynthia Jele, Jukiswa Wanner, Fiona Snyckers, Jassy Mackenzie, Margie Orford and Angela Makolwa are on the top of the best-selling women’s fiction list in Africa.”

The African market for books in English was very tiny because of poor literacy, lower than that of India, she said.

“The middle class is not interested to buy literary fiction. They would rather watch a sports event on television. In South Africa, the miniscule community of readers buy international best-sellers like novels by Dan Brown and Danielle Steele,” Moffet said.

“The new breed of pot-boiler writers in the continent are trying to fill the gap with light indigenous fiction. They are skilled writers and their tribe is growing,” she added.

“This is a period of boom in Africa. Readers will later look back on this time – the first decade of the century – that can be termed the golden age of African fiction in English,” she said.

The huge body of feminist literature from Africa was also metamorphosing, observed writer Elinor Sisulu, one of the judges of the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize jury.

“Feminist authors are now writing about the catastrophic effects of dictatorship on women, child abuse, economic subsidies in health and education, domestic violence against women, the sense of personal power that people have in personal autonomy and how African women are being affected by globalisation. The feminist writers are trying to identify new forms of repression,” she said.

“One of the subjects that women writers are concerned about is the impact of European Union engagements with the African nations and consequent issues like disparities in the north-south (the two regions into which the continent has been divided) economic policies which have affected women farmers in Africa,” she added.

“A large number of women – nearly 40 per cent – in the poorer African countries are farmers,” Sisulu, who is also in India for the Commonwealth Writer’s Foundation symposiums, said.

Sisulu, who wrote the acclaimed children’s book “The Gogo Went to Nile” about a great grandmother voting in the first democratic election in South Africa, is also trying to promote African children and ethnic oral literature through a new website, “” The site connects writers and readers across the continent.

“Children’s books do not travel fast in South Africa. It takes a long time to reach the audience,” Sisulu said.