News & Current Affairs

Ama Ata Aidoo: Ghana's Legendary Feminist and Author Dies At 81

By Azeezat Okunlola | Jun 1, 2023
Ghanaian Ama Ata Aidoo, one of Africa's most renowned novelists and playwrights, passed away at the age of 81.
Her family gave a statement saying that "our beloved relative and writer" had passed away after a brief illness and that they would appreciate privacy during their time of mourning.
In her works of literature like The Dilemma of a Ghost, Our Sister Killjoy, and Changes, this well-known feminist portrayed and honoured the lives of African women.
Ata Aidoo, a professor, won numerous literary accolades for her novels, plays, and poems. Her work Changes, which is about a statistician who divorces her first husband and enters a polygamous marriage, won the 1992 Commonwealth Writers Prize.
Her plays, such as Anowa, along with those of other greats like Wole Soyinka and Chinua Achebe, have been required reading in classrooms across West Africa.
She held the post of education minister in the early 1980s but resigned after failing to secure funding for universal free public schooling.
Our Sister KillJoy, originally published as Reflections of a Black-eyed Squint in 1977, was the subject of a dream catchers project and a celebration of her 50 years as a writer by Document Women.
In 2014, during a BBC HARDTalk interview, when asked if she considered herself a writer with a mission, Ata Aidoo said, "In retrospect, I suppose I could describe myself as a writer with a mission. But I never was aware that I had a mission when I started to write."
"People sometimes question me, for instance, why are your women so strong? And I say, that is the only woman I know."
Ata Aidoo decided to become a writer when she was 15 years old, and after being persuaded to enter a competition, she published her first book four years later.
She inspired a new generation of writers, one of them being the Pulitzer Prize winner Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie of Nigeria.
Adichie penned the following about the Ghanaian in the 2011 issue of The Africa Report:
"When I first discovered Ama Ata Aidoo's work - a slim book on a dusty shelf in our neighbour's study in Nsukka [in south-eastern Nigeria] - I was stunned by the believability of her characters, the sureness of her touch and what I like to call, in a rather clunky phrase, the validating presence of complex femaleness."
"Because I had not often seen this complex femaleness in other African books I had read and loved, mine was a wondrous discovery: of Anowa, tragic and humane and many dimensional, in Aidoo's play set in the 1800s in Fantiland; of Sissie, the self-assured, perceptive main character of the ambitious novel Our Sister Killjoy, who wryly recounts her experiences in Germany and England in the 1960s; or of the varied female characters in No Sweetness Here, my favourite of Aidoo's books."
In his 2020 song Monsters You Made, Nigerian Afrobeats musician Burna Boy sampled her scathing critique of colonialism and the persistent plundering of Africa's natural riches.
"Since we met you people 500 years ago. Look at us, we've given everything. You are still taking. In exchange for that, we have got nothing. Nothing. And you know it. But don't you think that this is over now? Over where? Is it over?"
Reminiscing on her career, she once stated, "I won a short story competition but learned about it only when I opened the newspaper that had organized it and saw the story had been published on its centre pages and realized the name of the author of that story in print was mine."
"I believe these moments were crucial for me because... I had articulated a dream... it was a major affirmation for me as a writer, to see my name in print."
She then went on to attend the University of Ghana to study literature, where she eventually taught, and published her first play in 1964.
After engaging in politics for 18 months, she withdrew into self-imposed exile in Zimbabwe and focused only on her writing.
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.
The Ama Ata Aidoo Center for Creative Writing (Aidoo Centre), founded in March 2017 and named after her, is the first centre of its kind in West Africa. It is housed within the Kojo Yankah School of Communications Studies at the African University College of Communications (AUCC) in Adabraka, Accra, and is directed by Nii Ayikwei Parkes.

Last year, Document Women in collaboration with Dream Catchers Academy—a dance school founded by Seyi Oluyole for girls from low income homes—worked on the "Women Giant" photo project, recreating photos of remarkable women in world history.