It’s FREE!!! It’s happening in 3 WEEKS!
I’m registered! And…I’m moderating the panel on “Writing Sexuality”…go figure!
SEVEN NIGERIANS FEATURED IN MAJOR CONFERENCE ON WOMEN WRITERS OF
AFRICAN DESCENT, MAY 2013 IN ACCRA, GHANA
The Organization of Women Writers of Africa (OWWA) and New York
University (NYU), in collaboration with the Ghanaian Mbaasem Foundation and the Spanish
Fundación Mujeres por África (Women for Africa Foundation), will present Yari Yari Ntoaso:
Continuing the Dialogue – An International Conference on Literature by Women of
African Ancestry. This major conference will put writers, critics, and readers from across
Africa, the USA, Europe, and the Caribbean in dialogue with each other in Accra, Ghana, May
Seven talented Nigerians, including celebrated playwright and scholar Tess Onwueme,
journalist and blogger Wana Udobang, novelist Lola Shoneyin, performance artist
Wura-Natasha Ogunji, editor and publisher Bibi Bakare, children’s author Akachi
Ezeigbo, and young adult novelist Nnedi Okorafor will speak about their work on topics
ranging from identity, to the craft of writing, to literary activism. These authors will be joined by
other well-known writers such as: Angela Davis (USA), Ama Ata Aidoo (Ghana), Natalia
Molebatsi (South Africa), Yolanda Arroyo Pizarro (Puerto Rico), Sapphire (USA),
Veronique Tadjo (Côte d’Ivoire), Evelyne Trouillot (Haiti), and many others
Yari Yari Ntoaso will consist of panels, readings, performances, and workshops, and will be
devoted to the study, evaluation, and celebration of the creativity and diversity of women
writers of African descent. Yari means the future in the Kuranko language of Sierra Leone;
Ntoaso means understanding and agreement in the Akan language of Ghana. Fifteen years
after OWWA’s first major conference, Yari Yari Ntoaso continues the dialogue of previous Yari
Yari gatherings, connecting writers, scholars, and readers.
In addition to the exciting panels, the conference program includes a Saturday morning
“storytime” for children, workshops for adult and youth, and the opportunity to meet writers and
purchase their books. All events are free and open to the public, and Nigerians interested
in literature – whether as readers or as writers, both youth and adults – are encouraged
Register at http://owwainc.org/gettingthere.html Most events will be held at the
lovely facilities of the Ghana College of Physicians and Surgeons (No. 54 Independence
Avenue, near the Ridge Roundabout) in Accra.
Participants have received national and international awards from Nigeria, Sierra Leone,
Trinidad and Tobago, England, Côte d’Ivoire, Senegal, the USA, and other countries. They
have been poet laureates and are provocative bloggers. They teach at – and have received
degrees from – universities in Nigeria and around the world, and they have also created and
work with grassroots community organizations.
So far, the 21st century has witnessed the creation or reestablishment of women’s and writers’
organizations throughout Africa and its diaspora. Often these organizations both support and
are staffed by emerging writers or those whose writing has yet to receive international
recognition. Yari Yari Ntoaso marks this moment and provides an opportunity for these
organizations, as well as individual writers and scholars, to share information and to build
About The Organizers
Founded in 1991 by African-American poet, performing artist, and activist Jayne Cortez and
Ghanaian playwright and scholar Ama Ata Aidoo, the Organization of Women Writers of Africa,
Inc. (OWWA) establishes connections between professional African women writers around the
world. OWWA is a nonprofit literary organization concerned with the development and
advancement of the literature of women writers from Africa and its Diaspora. OWWA is also a
non-governmental organization associated with the United Nations Department of Public
The Institute of African American Affairs (IAAA) at New York University was founded in 1969 to
research, document, and celebrate the cultural and intellectual production of Africa and its
diaspora in the Atlantic world and beyond. IAAA is committed to the study of Blacks in
modernity through concentrations in Pan-Africanism and Black Urban Studies.
Mbaasem (“women’s words, women’s affairs” in Akan) is a foundation created by Ghanaian
author Ama Ata Aidoo to specifically support African women writers and their works through
addressing problems that all Ghanaian and African – but especially women – writers have to
struggle with, including the absence of appreciation of the essential role creative writing and
other arts play in national development, and women writers’ diffidence in showcasing the
results of their creative efforts.
The Fundación Mujeres por África is a private organization. It was founded with the intention
of becoming an exemplary body in Spain and internationally with its commitment to
sustainable economic and social development, human rights, peace, justice and dignity for
people and especially for women and girls in Africa.
Jayne Cortez was the driving force behind the first two Yari Yari conferences. Yari Yari: Black
Women Writers and the Future (1997) and Yari Yari Pamberi: Black Women Writers &
Globalization (2004) were the largest events of their kind, putting hundreds of women writers
and scholars of African descent in dialogue with thousands of people, and resulting in two
In late December 2012, amidst organizing this third conference, Cortez passed away. The
conference organizers are presenting Yari Yari Ntoaso in her honor. Described by The New
York Times as “one of the central figures of the Black Arts Movement,” Cortez often performed
with her band The Firespitters, was identified as a jazz poet, and was honored with the
American Book Award and many other accolades.
Yari Yari Ntoaso Participants as of March 2013
(list in progress):
Bibi Bakare-Yusuf (Nigeria – Publisher)
Akachi Ezeigbo (Nigeria – Children’s author)
Wura-Natasha Ogunji (Nigeria/USA – Performance artist)
Nnedi Okorafor (Nigeria/USA – Young adult novelist)
Tess Onwueme (Nigeria- Playwright)
Lola Shoneyin (Nigeria – Novelist, poet)
Wana Udobang (Nigeria – Journalist, blogger, radio host)
Ama Ata Aidoo (Ghana – Fiction writer, OWWA Co-Founder)
Monica Arac de Nyeko (Uganda/Ghana – Fiction author)
Yolanda Arroyo Pizarro (Puerto Rico – Fiction author)
Ayo Ayoola (Ghana – Children’s author)
Laylah Amatullah Barrayn (USA – Photographer)
Samiya Bashir (Somalia/USA – Poet)
Faith Ben-Daniels (Ghana – Scholar of Ghanaian literature & folklore)
Tara Betts (USA – Poet)
Carole Boyce Davies (Trinidad & Tobago/USA– Scholar of African diaspora literatures &
Joanne Braxton (USA – Scholar of African-American poetry)
Margaret Busby (Ghana/UK – Editor, publisher)
Gabrielle Civil (Haiti/USA – Performance artist, poet)
Nana Darkoa Sekyiamah (Ghana – Blogger, writer)
Angela Davis (USA – Scholar of prison abolition)
Latasha N. Diggs (USA – Performer, poet)
Camille Dungy (USA – Poet)
Alison Duke (Canada – Filmmaker)
Ira Dworkin (US/Egypt – Scholar of African-American literature)
Zetta Elliott (Canada/USA – Fiction writer, scholar of literature & publishing)
María Teresa Fernández de la Vega (Spain – Fundación Mujeres por África)
Donette Francis (Jamaica/USA – Scholar of Caribbean literature)
Gladys M. Francis (Guadeloupe/USA – Scholar of African & Caribbean literature)
Kadija George (UK/Sierra Leone – Publisher, poet)
Ruby Goka (Ghana – Children’s author)
Wangui wa Goro (Kenya – Translator, poet)
Philo Ikonya (Kenya – Author, journalist)
Rashidah Ismaili (Benin/USA) – Poet
Tayari Jones (USA – Novelist)
Mamle Kabu (Ghana – Novelist)
Madhu Kaza (India/USA – Fiction writer)
Jason King (USA – Scholar of music & popular culture)
Rosamond S. King (Poet, Performance Artist, Yari Yari Ntoaso Conference Director)
Kinna Likimani (Ghana – Blogger)
Fungai Machirori (Zimbabwe – Blogger, poet)
Michelle Martin (USA – Scholar of children’s literature)
Molebatsi (South Africa – Poet)
Roshnie Moonsammy (South Africa- Arts administrator)
Angelique Nixon (Bahamas – Scholar of literature & tourism, poet)
Famia Nkansa (Ghana – Poet)
Naana Opoku-Agyemang (Ghana – Scholar)
Virginia Phiri (Zimbabwe – Novelist)
Hermine Pinson (USA – Poet, scholar of African-American literature)
Sapphire (USA – Novelist)
Eintou Springer (Trinidad & Tobago – Poet, playwright)
Cheryl Sterling (Jamaica/USA – Scholar of African & diaspora literature)
Esi Sutherland-Addy (Ghana – Scholar of African education & culture)
Veronique Tadjo (Cote d’Ivoire/South Africa – Novelist)
Coumba Touré (Mali – Children’s author)
Évelyne Trouillot (Haiti – Novelist)
Dzodzi Tsikata (Ghana – Scholar of land reform)
Dorothy Randall Tsuruta (USA – Scholar of African-American women’s literature)
Gina Athena Ulysse (Haiti/USA – Performance artist, scholar of Caribbean anthropology &
Rachelle Washington (USA – Literacy scholar)
Crystal Williams (USA – Poet)
Helen Yitah (Ghana – Scholar of African literature)
Kuukua Dzigbordi Yomekpe (Ghana – Memoirist)
Yari Yari Ntoaso is FREE and open to the public; attendees should register online at
“Like” the Organization of Women Writers on Facebook!
“Follow” OWWA’s tweets at http://www.twitter.com/owwainc !
For more information on Yari Yari Ntoaso or to interview conference participants, please
contact OWWA at OWWAYariYari@gmail.com .
“Kafui!” Grandmother yelled from the living room.
“Yes Ma! I’m coming!” She responded with a little bit too much emphasis on the last word.
“Wo nua no wo hen?”
“I think my sister went to Selassie’s to rehearse for the church play,” Kafui said.
“Are you sure?” Grandmother asked. “ARE you sure?” She probed as if looking for a sign that Kafui would crack under more pressure. “Did she say when she would be back? She should not have been gone this long!”
“But Ma, she left barely thirty minutes ago!”
“Are you being insolent?”
“No Ma, but she really did just leave.”
“Hmmm…Yoo! Bebia wSa kε shε bia, onwhε no ho yei! Ma Snfa nyinsen mba fie ha o!” Kafui rolled her eyes subtly as she listened to Grandmother’s usual rant about boys and pregnancy as if these were a teenager’s greatest downfall. Perhaps it was her experience since she raised three children and two-grandchildren single-handedly.
Anyway, today Kafui hoped she was right about her sister’s whereabouts. Enyo often confided in her when she needed to go out and meet up with her boyfriend, but tonight she had plainly said, “Selassie and I have some work to do. I’ll be back.” There was no hint of illicit behavior, at least none that Kafui could detect. Kafui wondered if her sister had stopped trusting her.
She decided to return to her French homework, but before that she thought she’d read a few chapters of her latest illegal copy of Mills & Boon that one of her mates had slipped her in class. She had devised a way of doing so stealthily because if Grandmother discovered her reading these, not only would she be grounded and the book seized, but also her teacher would know about their practice. By then her mate’s parents would have to be brought into the equation. The adults made sure that such inappropriate reading material was kept from the hands of these “innocent” adolescents. She smirked as she thought of this, but the smirk was replaced by a smile at the thought that she and her mates had managed to pass five copies so far this school year. In any case, she knew she couldn’t afford this drama so she always kept the books hidden in pages of whatever textbook she was using at the moment. In between the turn of the pages, even as she kept up with the drama of unrequited love, her thoughts kept returning to her sister.
In the meantime, Enyo had arrived at Selassie’s and the two of them were getting ready to leave for their rendezvous. Selassie had also told her mother that she and Enyo had work to do, never quite explaining what that “work” was. Her mother trusted them because she felt that Enyo was a good influence on Selassie.
Growing up Kafui and Enyo were not allowed to have their hair relaxed. When Enyo told Selassie that she wanted to try it before the semester ended, Selassie encouraged her, and finally got her to acquiesce to getting it done. They decided that after class one day, the two of them would go to Selassie’s first cousin’s house to get the job done. The real problem with this act was that, relaxed hair could not be easily returned to its natural state, and Grandmother was bound to notice the very next day. At the moment of making the decision, Enyo, at sixteen, felt legally justified to do with her hair as she pleased.
As they walked over to the house, Enyo began to ponder the real significance of the act she was about to take. Sure, it would feel good to not deal with kinky hair—the weekly washing and combing out followed by hours of twisting and squirming under Grandmother’s fingers. It would also be nice to have hair that fingers could run through all the way without getting caught in a knot of kinky curls. She would look just like those white girls on TV tossing their hair ever so delicately. Somehow, she also had the impression that this new look would make her more popular in school. There was so much riding on this decision! On the other hand the consequences like the irreversible nature of having a relaxer, the burnt scalp (oh she had heard stories!), and Grandmother’s reaction at her outright disobedience plagued her. For Grandmother, everything was an affront to her personally, not to mention the family name. God forbid, anyone did anything for his or her own benefit with no intention of tarnishing the family name! Unconsciously, she began to drag a bit behind Selassie. Selassie, whose mother had allowed her to relax her hair at twelve, caught this change in my mood. She put her hand in Enyo’s and quickened her pace.
“Ko ko ko. Knock Knock.” Selassi’s cousin came to the door and after the usual greetings and hugs, Selassie explained to her cousin that Enyo was fast losing her resolve so they needed to hurry on with it and continue to assure her it would be perfect!
Selassie helped her cousin set up the kitchen with the hair relaxer crème, the combs, and some Vaseline mixed with pure Shea butter for those unavoidable scalp burns. Enyo had finally gotten excited about the process, and began helping Selassie partition her hair by holding down portions while Selassie wrapped rubber bands around them. Selassie rubbed the concoction of Vaseline and Shea butter around Enyo’s ears, neck, and temple. Her cousin came over and began slathering the crème in the partitions that Enyo and Selassie had made earlier, each from bottom to top. Once the whole can was gone, Selassie’s cousin began combing the crème through taking care not to touch the scalp. She began to feel the itch and then the burn, just as they had described it to her. She carefully to swiped the comb and began agitating her scalp to soothe the itch. Snatching the comb, Selassie stared Enyo down as she sat sullenly in her seat.
Eventually after what seemed like an hour, but in reality was only twenty minutes, Selassie’s cousin took Enyo to the sink and helped rinse out the relaxer. She put some conditioner in and then allowed the scalp some rest. She then walked her to the mirror, showed her the new hair and helped her comb it through. She couldn’t help but smile at the look in the mirror. Now she really looked like a Barbie doll…except she was brown. Enyo shrugged off that feeling and turned around to see her hair fall down past her shoulder blades. They had said the relaxer had the ability to straighten out the kinks and lengthen the hair! Up until this moment, she had not believed it. Selassie called to her saying that it was time to go. Her heart began to beat faster. Now that the scalp burns were out of the way, she had to contend with the reality of returning home.
As they walked home, Selassie reasoned with her. Grandmother could do Enyo no harm physically. The hair looked fabulous; Grandmother might actually want to give Kafui a relaxer too so she would spend less time grooming hair every weekend. She was not buying it. Enyo was lost in my thoughts when Selassie gasped. Enyo looked up. There was Grandmother. She was waving her flashlight wildly about with one hand and dragging Kafui with the other. She began yelling and reprimanding Enyo for staying out too late. She noticed Selassie and sent her home right away saying her mother was worried sick about her whereabouts. We later learned that this was a lie. Grandmother was more furious after Selassie left and she gave Enyo a lecture, not much unlike the usual. She dragged Kafui and Enyo behind her as she stomped towards home, Kafui looking forlorn because she had gone through her own mini hell when Grandmother had finally lost patience and gone in search of Enyo. Once inside the walls of the compound, she grabbed the cane she kept for such occasions, and gave Enyo fifteen lashes. With each one, she winced but refused to cry.
Enyo had gotten what she wanted. Grandmother could not take that away from her. Her hair was like Barbie. She would have all the boys gazing at her, and the girls dying to touch it, in school tomorrow. This thought, that everyone at school would be envious of her, kept her from crying out. When Grandmother felt satisfied, she sent them both to their rooms. Safely inside, Enyo unwrapped the scarf on her head and showed Kafui the hair she had acquired in a matter of an hour. Of course, Kafui was amazed. So would the kids are school, tomorrow.
Enyo fell asleep dreaming about the new day. She tossed a lot trying to find a comfortable spot because her legs and back stung from the lashes. She knew that Grandmother wasn’t done. She had punished her for being out late. Tomorrow, she would deal with the actual change in hair texture, but for now, she had gotten what she had dreamed about for years. Barbie-doll hair! Never mind that this doll was brown!Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 3 so far )
Thanks Nana!Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
In her third publication of the year, PSR alumnae, Kuukua Dzigbordi Yomekpe, writes about the experience of negotiating identities as an immigrant to the US. She writes about changing her name, straightening her hair, and practicing her “American” accent to assimilate successfully into her new environment.
The anthology, African Women Writing Resistance, was published by University of Wisconsin Press and released in August 2010.
The editors of the anthology will be speaking about the book on a panel at the 53rd Annual Meeting of the African Studies Association held in downtown San Francisco.
Although she will not be speaking on the panel, she will be at the book reading and signing later on.
Please Facebook her or email her (firstname.lastname@example.org) for more information.
Thursday, November 18, 2010
Westin St. Francis
335 Powell Street
Panel: African Women Writing Resistance: Voices from the Diaspora
Chair: Jennifer J. Browdy de Hernandez, Bard College at Simon’s Rock
Patricia M. Chogugudza, Langston University, The Impact of Gender, Culture, and Migration on the Lives of Sub-Saharan African Women Living in the Diaspora
Discussant: Anne M. Serafin, Independent Scholar
This is the third piece that was published in the African Women Writing Resistance anthology in August.
Musings of an African Woman: Life in the Land of Opportunity
I. IMMIGRANTS IN A FOREIGN LAND
The leaves on the tree right outside my window gently stir with a wind that only blows about every ten minutes. The air is hot, sticky, and humid. The leaves rustle and move yet no breeze enters my room to ease the stifling heat. The air condition units of the neighbors kick on and drone out the sing-song voice of the man who is having a highly animated conversation next door.
As I gaze out and try to take in my surroundings, I realize how this crowded apartment complex reminds me of the Korle Bu flats back in Ghana, which houses civil servants who work for the government hospital. I think to myself, life in America is just a coated version of life in a so-called “third world” country. True, the thickness of the coating makes it easy to dismiss this theory. People work so hard all day only to retire to this in the evening–a conglomerate cacophonous display of miniscule living quarters! For the amount of money people pay for a place here, they could be living in a 5-bedroom ranch house in some developing country free from all the stresses of life. Sure, some of the finer amenities of life could be missing, but these should be minor inconveniences given the amount of space and peace of mind one would enjoy.
…I have finally gotten my body to understand that lying still, perfectly still, is the fastest way to staying cool and sane.
So, really, what makes this different from an average Akua (insert “Joe” or “Jane”) living in a developing country? Maybe it is the convenience of constant running water here whereas Akua would certainly have to be rationing or walking some few miles to a well or a community pipe. Or the electricity that seems to burn all day long, by which these people in the other apartments are cooling their living spaces. Or could it be the microwave, coffee maker, or George Foreman grill? All seemingly necessary appliances for existence in America yet, I beg to differ! These are all mere trappings of the life we choose to lead in this here “freedom country” to which members of “developing countries,” en masse, escape with hopes of amassing wealth and returning to establish a mini-America in their homelands.
Noble goals, no doubt! But realistically, how many of these people ever end up leaving America to return to their homelands? How many actually achieve that goal of returning home to recreate better versions of the lives they had here in America? I would like to purport…very few! The average immigrant Jane usually ends up caught in the lifestyle of consumerism. With the onslaught of bills, even a trip home to visit aging relatives or bury a dead family member becomes unaffordable, a debt to be added to the credit consolidators list, or for some a risk, the imminent danger of not being able to return because of immigration regulations.
As I write I wonder, whom I am really writing for. Who is my audience? My people, my fellow “developing country” citizens who, like me, have left oftentimes, better living conditions to come to America with the hopes of “finding greener pastures” and “making their fortunes” in this land of opportunity? If this is my audience, do they even care?
Funny, mass amounts of immigrants make up the bulk of the population in America; almost everyone left somewhere to come and “make it” here. Different reasons propelled each ethnic group that migrated here, but the one underlying reason, regardless of which group, seems to be the promise of something better.
In the process of “making it” we all lose important parts of ourselves: an accent, a-difficult-to-pronounce-name, the foods with which our clothing used to reek, the culture that used to emanate from our very beings. We lose these parts of ourselves in an attempt to blend in, become one of the majority. Sadly though, (or would it be fortunately?) for most immigrants, we can never quite complete that process of blending in.
Just when you think you’ve perfected the pronunciation of a word, or got the meaning of some idiomatic expression, some person somewhere comes up to you on the pretense of making conversation and asks, “so where are you from?” or my all time favorite, “what are you?” I love to give people like these hernias because I calmly proceed to say casually “the Midwest, Ohio!” Of course, they don’t get the subtle hint and so they continue to probe: “no, I mean where are you really from?” At this point they are practically beside themselves with frustration at you, oh no, not themselves! They know they are right, you look different, you sounded different just then, you must be different!
That’s when I kick myself for ever leaving my country, where I was not “different,” to “seek greener pastures.” What most people do not realize or refuse to acknowledge is the fact that this country, America, truly only belonged to one group of people, and much like my country, colonized by the British, these original owners were sacked and maltreated. America today is made up of centuries of people from other places; people who looked and sounded different back then when they first arrived, some brought in by force, others driven by the search for a better life, others escaping persecution; these very same reasons continue to bring immigrants in today.
So if we’re going to be so darn fussy, about who is “different” then shouldn’t we all return to our original homelands? But of course, there are quite a few Americans today who cannot trace their ancestry back to their original locations, so where does that leave them? May I suggest: Ambassadors for peace, embracing and extending warm welcomes to all new immigrants?Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 6 so far )
II. I AM BEAUTIFUL THE WAY GOD MADE ME!
It is such an awesome feeling when you finally come to the realization that you love yourself, and I mean the whole person—the hair, that is not quite straight but not entirely nappy, the thick or thin lips, the hips that may be too much, or not quite nearly enough, the body that never entirely does what you will it to, or the fingers that are short and stubby, or long and skinny—you, the whole package!
As I stand in the shower washing my hair, I run my palms over it and smile to myself. I could tell the story of my life with the stages through which my hair has gone…from the nappy short afro days when I was espousing my “black” identity, to the days when I was trying to become more white and attempted several of the painful procedures to which most women of African descent resort in an attempt to straighten out that same nappy hair.
As I rinse my hair and put in the conditioner that promises to “detangle the nappies.” As I proceed to scrub my chocolate-brown skin, yet another thought comes to mind. I am recalling my mulatto grandmother’s lessons on how to become hygienically “white” or at least attempt to. “Scrub that body!” she would scream, “maybe eventually some of that black will come off and you can start to look and act more like your mom and I.”
Normally, this would be followed by lectures on how my mother ruined her identity and the family name by marrying my father, whose tribe was not Europeanized enough. She would top off these lectures with how none of us, my mother’s children, took any of that silky “bronyi” (white) hair that was in our genes; this hair would have given us the white (almost passing) identity she and my mom had. After such lectures, I would dutifully scrub away, or be scrubbed on those days when my childish hands and love for water had made it impossible to complete the task. Little did I know then that I would later on grow to hate the very vein that carries that hint of British in me, to despise that identity formation that supposedly ensured my place in a mulatto-preferred society.
So today, recalling this history that lies behind taking showers, I slow down the habitual and automatic scrubbing that has become an unconscious routine; I refuse to scrub away any of that beautiful chocolate-brown skin! I refuse to be “white.” I refuse to have my identity defined by another.
It has taken me all my life to become comfortable in the body god gave me. I am five feet seven, with chocolate-brown skin, brown eyes, and black hair which now has traces of faded “cherry coke” color in it, and I am thankful everyday for this black woman that god created. After years of paying to have bone straight, sleek, relaxed hair which I was sure would allow me to pass for a member of my grandmother’s British family, (if I were to ever wish to be inducted into that secret society!), I have settled on growing my natural nappy hair and loving the new identity formation process of re-claiming that which was god-given and mine to begin with.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 2 so far )
“Inhabiting the Inter-Spaces” (pg. 5)Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 1 so far )
« Previous Entries