Book Club

Ama Ata Aidoo, A Playwright Legend

By Aisha Kabiru Mohammed | Sep 28, 2022

Last week, Document Women celebrated Ama Ata Aidoo with her exceptional debut, Our Sister KillJoy, published as Reflections of a Black-eyed Squint in 1977. She has since then become a literary force both on the continent and abroad and a trailblazer for contemporary African feminist writers, shaping a new dimension in the ways African women are portrayed in literature.

We spoke with Angel Nduka Nwosu, our in-house culture writer and journalist, about her thoughts on Ama Ata Aidoo's influence through her writing and advocacy for education in Ghana. 

"I love her. She inspires my feminism,’’ Angel said. She then pointed me to a thread she wrote about Ama Ata Aidoo’s characters being a source of warning and a reflection of the state of women in Africa.

The Dilemma of a Ghost, performed in 1964 at Legon (first published in 1965), and Anowa, published in 1971 and performed in London in 1991, are two plays Ama Ata Aidoo has written.

Her novel explores the conflict between African and Western worldviews. Her debut book, Our Sister Killjoy, which was released in 1977, is still one of her most well-known ones. It is noteworthy for presenting a divergent viewpoint on sexuality in Africa, particularly LGBT+. While there is a common belief on the continent that homosexuality is foreign to Africa and an influx of Western ideals into an exclusively heterosexual "African" culture, Aidoo depicts the main heroine of Killjoy as having her own lesbian fantasies, upholding empathetic bonds with characters that identify as lesbians.

As in her play Anowa, many of Aidoo's other main characters are female characters who reject the conventional roles women played during the period. The 1992 Commonwealth Writers' Prize for Best Book went to her book Changes (Africa).

"Men are never worth making sacrifices for. In fact, the words sacrifice, compromise & submission shouldn't be in your dictionary as a woman," Angel says. "In Changes, we see the character Ali discourage his wife Fusena from teaching & getting a university degree because: 'It's a waste of time'."

Early Life and Education

Ama Ata Aidoo was born in Saltpond, Ghana, and was raised in a Fante royal household – her father, Nana Yaw Fama, was the chief of Abeadazi. Her father believed in the importance of educating children in the village on the history and events of British neocolonialism. This led him to open the first school in the village and send Aidoo to the Wesley Girls’ Senior High School in cape coast. After high school, she obtained a Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of Ghana, Legon, and it was during her time at university, she wrote her first play, The Dilemma of a Ghost.

Ama Ata Aidoo established the Mbaasem Foundation in 2000, a non-governmental organisation which she co-runs with her daughter Kinna Likimani, a board of directors. Its goal is "to encourage the growth and sustainability of African women writers and their creative output."

Ama Ata Aidoo was chosen to serve as the Provisional National Defence Council's minister of education in 1982. After 18 months, she announced her resignation after realising she would not be able to recognise her goal of making education in Ghana freely available to all.

She depicted the position of African women in modern culture. She believed that recent presidents have used nationalism as a tool to put people under oppression. She attacked educated Africans who claim to love their nation but are drawn away by the advantages of the industrialised world. She embraces a distinctively female African identity that she believes in.

Aidoo is the editor of the 2006 anthology African Love Stories. In 2012, she launched Diplomatic Pounds & Other Stories, a compilation of short stories and another, a collection of essays by renowned writers in Ghana, Africa and the African Diaspora.

She gave the Walter Rodney Visions of Africa speech in London in 1986, sponsored by the Bogle-L'Ouverture publishing company support group. In the early to mid-1990s, Aidoo served as an English instructor at Hamilton College in Clinton, New York. 

She is presently a visiting lecturer in Brown University's Africana Studies program. She has also authored several children's books and is a skilled poet; her collection Someone Talking to Sometime was awarded the 1987 Nelson Mandela Prize for Poetry.

Sisterhood Is Global: The International Women's Movement Anthology, edited by Robin Morgan, included her essay "To be a woman" in 1984.

The 1992 anthology Daughters of Africa, edited by Margaret Busby, contains her short story  "Two Sisters’’.

Ama, together with Dele Olojede, Ellah Wakatama Allfrey, Margaret Busby, Sarah Ladipo Manyika, and Zakes Mda, was a patron of the Etisalat Prize for Literature, established in 2013 as a forum for African authors of first novels. She won the Mbari Press Short Story Prize and a Fulbright Scholarship in 1988.

The Art of Ama Ata Aidoo, a 2014 documentary directed by Yaba Badoe, features her as its subject. She has received several awards, including the 1992 Commonwealth Writers' Prize for Best Book (Africa) for her novel Changes.

The Aidoo-Snyder book prize, awarded by the Women's Caucus of the African Studies Association for an outstanding book published by a woman that prioritises African women's experiences, is named in honour of Ama Ata Aidoo and of Margaret C. Snyder, who was the founding director of UNIFEM.

Launched in March 2017, the Ama Ata Aidoo Center for Creative Writing (Aidoo Centre), under the auspices of the Kojo Yankah School of Communications Studies at the African University College of Communications (AUCC) in Adabraka, Accra, was named in her honour the first centre of its kind in West Africa, with Nii Ayikwei Parkes as its director.