New Ghanaian Writers
In his travels to Ghana, Koye Oyedeji encountered several members of the new crop of literary talent making their presence felt in the country and beyond.
On the surface, a whole calendar of celebrations dedicated to 50 years of independence in Ghana appears to be the reserve of visitors, tourists and dignitaries. Life for the nationals rolls on without much hue and cry and the measure of change continues to be both a gradual and residual process, like the turn of a season, a foreboding dry period that gently rumbles into rainy downpour. Or perhaps, in Ghana’s case, vice versa.
The same you could argue could be said of Ghana’s great literary canon. The changing of its guard will not be marked by calendar. A corpus of works by such names as Ama Ata Aidoo , Ayi Kwei Armah , Kofi Awoonor and Kofi Anyidoho amongst others will not be replicated overnight.
In the fervour of a week in which Accra was hosting dignitaries from all over Africa and the rest of the world, I went off in search of those quiet individuals that were hinting to have big voices in years to come.
In Accra I meet the talented Mamle Kabu , born in Ghana; she studied in the UK and spent ten years there before returning home in 1992. A writer of Ghanaian and German descent, she had been writing fiction and poetry for over ten years now but feels that more opportunities arose with the rise of the internet, “Its relevance is even more to us [Ghanaians], because we are less connected to an international scene”.
Her catalogue of work is steadily growing with short stories published in 'Mixed: An Anthology of Short Fiction on the Multiracial Experience’ , 'Women Writing Resistance' and the forthcoming story 'The End of Skill' , aired on BBC radio in 2005, is to be published in the 'Anthology of New African Writers' edited by Caine Prize winner Helon Habila and Kadija Sesay . Kabu is currently working on a novel.
Kabu points to a thriving literary scene in Ghana, and points me in the direction of the University bookshop at Legon where I’d find local books that have a Ghanaian circulation. However the country still has a large illiterate population and of those that are literate the majority do not spend their disposable income and hours reading fiction. There is a preference for self help books and work that features heavy Christian themes, such preferences could well echo the social climate of the country.
Poetry would appear to suffer an even worst fate but the poet Benjamin Dowuona is undeterred. “Poetry is a truth based on different perceptions. It is an attempt to tell the truth in a fuller and more authentic manner. The great theatre of the world is written in verse, and its poetry reconciles us to the absurdities, injustices and cruelties of our nations”.
Dowuona, in his duties as the Liaison Officer of the Border Crossers writers’ club, also takes a vice like grip to whatever opportunities emerge for writers in Accra. Dowuona participated in Crossing Borders, a British Council initiative that used information technology to link young writers from ten different countries in Africa with experienced mentors in the UK. When the project in Ghana ended Benjamin sought to keep the network of participants together and created “Border Crossers”, a diverse range of writers who meet regularly to take a leading role in the development of literature in Accra.
Ellen Mulenga Banda-Aaku’s play was currently being critiqued by her colleagues in the Border Crossers group. Banda-Aaku was raised in Zambia but currently resides in Accra. Her work has been featured internationally, her short story will be published in Women Writing Resistance and in 2004 she won the MacMillan Writer’s Prize for Africa. As a result her first book, 'Wandi’s Little Voice' was published that same year. It is a tale for young readers, a story of a young adolescent girl torn between the suburbs and the shanty town, a crevice between innocence and social consciousness. Last year she went on to serve as a judge for the 2006 Prize. “My work” she says “has benefited from having another set of eyes; we offer each other support and feedback. This is something I hope to keep doing, to give back to people, to mentor and to teach.”
I came to find in Accra that there were more writers than time would allow me to meet. In the rich legacy of a nation that led the way for independence in Africa, to have voice is still just as important. Fifty years of important fiction has passed, fiction that has often served its use in correcting distorted facts. Ghana does not know who will be the custodians of its rich history by the time the nation reaches its first century but it could take heart in Kabu, Dowuona, Bandu-Aaku and many others that aspire to continue its literary legacy.