As the saying goes, “legends do not die, they multiply”. This is undoubtedly true when it comes to the late Ghanaian author, poet, playwright, and academic, Prof. Ama Ata Aidoo. Her influence and inspiration was so great, you don't need to have read her works yourself to have likely been touched by her life and career. In Gen Z language, she is goated.
Following Aidoo's death on May 31, 2023, messages of grief and an outpouring of thanks and respect for her work flooded in from some of the world's leading literary figures.
Aidoo, as highlighted by The Conversation, was a central figure among the first generation of African women writers of the post-independence era. After Ghana gained independence in 1957 she became a leading feminist voice in postcolonial writing and her literary prowess bloomed internationally — addressing issues central to African women's lives, touching on areas including race, class, and gender inequalities.
Aidoo was not only a storyteller, she was also an academic, a politician (including being a former education minister of Ghana), and an advocate. She was rooted in movements of women empowerment, feminism, and social justice.
Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is one of the many contemporary literary giants whose work is influenced by Aidoo.
“When I first discovered Ama Ata Aidoo’s work — a slim book on a dusty shelf in our neighbour’s study in Nsukka — 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,” Ngozi Adichie wrote for the Africa Report.
"I occupy the space of a 'Black African Happy Feminist' because writers like Aidoo came before me," she continued. "Her storytelling nurtured mine. Her worldview enlarged and validated mine. I feel a deep gratitude to her for her writing and for her wisdom."
The Modern Ghana names Aidoo — along with other pioneers such as Flora Nwapa and Buchi Emecheta from Nigeria, and Senegal's Miriama Ba — as having broken down barriers and paved the way for the new generation of leading women writers who now dominate African literature.
Another writer and activist who has spoken about Aidoo's impact on her work is Tsitsi Dangarembga. In one of her interviews, Dangarembga talks about how Aidoo’s experiences inspired those of a character from Dangarembga's book Nervous Conditions.
“It was Ama Ata Aidoo who said she didn’t even know there was such a thing as racism until she came to Germany," Dangarembga said. "That’s where she learned she was black. So it was a bit the same for Tambudzai. She knew she was poor, and she knew she was uneducated because she could see the poverty of her home and she could see the differences with her relatives who were educated.”
I smiled yesterday reading WaAma Ata Aidoo's tributes to WaMicere Mugo in WaNdirangu Wachanga's great book. This morning I hear that our dear sister bring-joy Ama Ata Aidoo has joined the ancestors. Condolences to her family & friends. We have lost a granary of wisdom & knowledge— Tsitsi Dangarembga (@EfieZethu) May 31, 2023
In memory of Aidoo and her extraordinary influence across literature, social justice, gender equality, and much more, here are some of her most powerful words.
1. On colonialism
"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?" BBC News — also quoted in Burna Boy's 2020 song "Monsters You Made".
2. On African women
“To a certain extent, African women are some sort of riddle.This is because, whether formally educated or not, "traditional" or "modern" they do not fit the accepted notion of them as muted beats of burden. And they're definitely not as free and equal as African men.” From Aidoo's 1992 essay, "The African Woman Today".
3. On the power of the people
“There are powerful forces undermining progress in Africa. But one must never underestimate the power of the people to bring about change.” From a February 1993 interview.
4. On African literature
“For us Africans, literature must serve a purpose: to expose, embarrass, and fight corruption and authoritarianism. It is understandable why the African artist is utilitarian.” Quoted by OpenDemocracy.
5. On money
“Money-making is like a god possessing a priest. He never will leave you, until he has occupied you, wholly changed the order of your being, and seared you through and up and down. Then only would he eventually leave you, but nothing of you except an exhausted wreck, lying prone and wondering who are you.” From Aidoo's 1970 play "Anowa"
6. On the courage of writing
“Once in a while I catch myself wondering whether I would have found the courage to write if I had not started to write when I was too young to know what was good for me.” Quoted by the Commonwealth Foundation.
7. On time and value
“Time by itself means nothing, no matter how fast it moves, unless we give it something to carry for us; something we value. Because it is such a precious vehicle, it is time.” Quoted by the Africa Report.
8. On history and the present
“We are victims of our history and our present. They place too many obstacles in the way of love. And we cannot enjoy even our differences in peace.” From Aidoo's 1977 novel "Our Sister Killjoy".
9. On negativism
“Negativism is malign, like cancer. It chokes all life within its reach as it grows.” From Aidoo's 1977 novel "Our Sister Killjoy".
10. On new growth
“Old yam has to rot in order that new yam can grow. Where is the earth? Who is going to do the planting?” From Aidoo's 1969 short fiction collection, "No Sweetness Here".
11. On considering both sides
"The best way to sharpen a knife is not to whet one side of it only. And neither can you solve a riddle by considering only one end of it." From Aidoo's 1970 play "Anowa"