Ama Ata Aidoo is a year older today.

Over the seven decades of her career, she has published award-winning novels, plays, short stories, children’s books, and poetry, and influenced generations of African women writers.

Before Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie of the award-winning bestselling novels and viral TED talks, before Doreen Baingana, Helen Oyeyemi, Sefi Atta, Taiye Selasi, NoViolet Bulawayo and any other of the number of rising female literary stars out of Africa, Aidoo was blazing trails. In fact, in her endorsement of Aidoo’s most recent book, Adichie writes “I occupy the space of a ‘Black African Happy Feminist’ because writers like Ama Ata Aidoo came before me. Her storytelling nurtured mine. Her worldview enlarged and validated mine.”

The legendary author was the subject of the excellent 2014 documentary film, The Art of Ama Ata Aidoo, directed by Yaba Badoe. Her accomplishments have been heralded in Essays in Honour of Ama Ata Aidoo at 70: A Reader in African Cultural Studies, edited by Anne V. Adams.

She received numerous awards and recognition including the 1992 Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for her novel, Changes, and the Nelson Mandela Prize for her 1986 poetry collection, Someone Talking to Sometime.

In further testament to her influence, the African University College of Communications established the Ama Ata Aidoo Centre for Creative Writing March 17, 2017 as a learning facility dedicated to furthering the institution’s role in the development of a national literature.

The Centre has since created numerous opportunities for literary connection and exchange and stimulated cultural expression, primarily in the Accra city area.

Aidoo was born into a royal family as Christina Ama Aidoo on March 23, 1942 in the village of Abeadzi Kyiakor near Saltpond. She recalls in Badoe’s documentary her mother telling her stories in the early hours of the morning during her childhood.

Prof. Aidoo’s writing journey earnestly begun when she decided to enter a Christmas short story contest sponsored by the The Daily Graphic for the prize money to buy a pair of shoes.

Pencil work of Ama Ata AIdoo by Obiri Daniel

“On the 24th of December, my auntie and I were in the kitchen…I opened the center page of the newspaper and saw my name.” With the money from her first publication, she bought the coveted pink shoes. She was 18 years old.

While still a student at the University of Ghana in Legon, she wrote her first play, The Dilemma of a Ghost, about a Ghanaian man who returns from a sojourn in the United States with an African-American wife, much to his family’s dismay. The play, initially staged in 1965, was published the following year, making her the first published African woman dramatist.

Prof Aidoo has spent much of her career in academia. Her first position, immediately after graduation, was as a junior research fellow at the Institute of African Studies at the University of Ghana. She has also served as a visiting professor and distinguished visiting professor to the English, African, and American Studies departments of several universities and colleges in the United States, including, most recently, Brown University.

In 1982 she was appointed minister of education in Ghana, making her the first woman to hold that position. Frustrated by her inability to effect change and by her desire to write, she left her post after only 18 months.

Throughout her career, Aidoo has been unabashedly feminist. Women in general, and mothers and daughters in particular, figure prominently in her work.

In 2000, recognizing the needs of women writers, Aidoo established Mbaasem (“Women’s Words”), a foundation dedicated to promoting the work of Ghanaian and African women writers. She currently serves as executive director.

Join us in wishing this amazing woman a wonder-filled day!


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