Africa: Women Writers of African Ancestry Hold Conference in Accra
There were women of different colours, dressing and a myriad hair styles. An intense informal interaction was taking place, as many exchanged greetings by hands and by kisses, others were busy taking photographs with those they had not seen in a while, and could not hide their joy at the opportunity of meeting again. Others were happy to meet their heroine writers for the first time, and expressed such joy in various ways.
Once the female artistes from the School of Performing Arts, University of Ghana, got onto the stage, there was quiet and one could feel the sense of pride and belonging sweeping across the auditorium.
This was a large gathering of women of African ancestry in Accra, Ghana, to attend the international conference on literature, the third conference, and first to be held on African soil, last Thursday.
The four-day conference, under the theme, “Yari Yari Ntoaso: Continuing the Dialogue”, was organised by the Organisation of Women Writers of Africa (OWWA), and hosted by Mbaasem Foundation, in Accra.
The Conference Director, Rosamond King, speaking at the opening ceremony, said the entire conference was a tribute to the legacy of the Co-Founder of OWWA, Jayne Cortez, a renowned poet and performer, who passed into glory in December 2012, at age 78.
She said Jayne was the originator of Yari Yari, and explained “Yari” as “the future” in the Kuranko language of Sierra Leone, and “Ntoaso” as understanding and agreement in the Akan language of Ghana.”
According to Ms. King, Jayne chose the theme “Continuing the Dialogue” for the panels, workshops and performances to continue the dialogues of the two previous conferences: Yari Yari: Black Women Writers and the Future (1997), and Yari Yari Pamberi: Black Women Writers Dissecting Globalisation (2004).
She noted that these conferences, together, connected hundreds of women writers, scholars and artistes of African descent in conversation with thousands of audience members. The conference gathers more than sixty participants from more than twenty countries, the majority based in the global South, to “have exciting and informative conversations about women’s literature and activism,” she added.
She emphasised that “this gathering will connect our current work to our ancestors, elders, youth, and future descendants. We will explicitly and implicitly dialogue with Jayne’s work and that of other Yari Yari attendees who have passed away since 2004, including Octavia Butler, Elizabeth Catlett, Bob Chrisman, Lucille Clifton, Lily Golden, Ousman Sembene, and Fatou Ndiaye Sow – and all our predecessors.”
Here in Accra, the women writers of African origin dialogued about their creative and political work, from the challenges of getting and keeping their work in print, to the necessity of responding to their political and environmental realities, and the complexities of their creative processes.
Ms. King indicated that in order to dialogue across generations, Yari Yari, for the first time, included programmes for children and the youth.
Also, she observed that the 21st Century had witnessed the creation or reestablishment of women’s and writers’ organisations throughout Africa and its diaspora, and often were supported and staffed by emerging writers, or those whose writing were yet to receive international recognition.
In view of this, Yari Yari Ntoaso aims to provide an opportunity for the exchange of ideas to encourage, support, and promote the work of young and emerging writers, as well as the older and more established authors and audiences.
Additionally, it seeks to address issues relating to the planning and development of cultural institutions, and to encourage ongoing communication amongst attendees, through new technology.
She encouraged attendees to “tweet frequently at Yari Yari, and to post your reflections and photos on social media.”
The Co-Founder of OWWA, Founder of MBAASEM Foundation, and Award Winning Author, Ama Ata Aidoo, paid glowing tribute to her Co-Founder of OWWA, Jayne Cortez. With kind words and full of admiration, she acknowledged one of the guest speakers, Angela Davies, a world renowned author of nine books.
Angela, a Professor Emerita, known for her work as an educator both at the university level and in the public sphere, has always emphasised the importance of building communities of struggle for economic, racial and gender justice.
She draws on her experiences in the early 1970s, as a person who spent eight months in jail and on trial, after being placed on the FBI’s “Ten Most Wanted List”. She is also a founding member of Critical Resistance, a national organisation dedicated to the dismantling of the prison industrial complex.
On her part, the Minister for Women, Gender and Social Protection, Nana Oye Lithur, who graced the occasion, first sung Ama Ata Aidoo’s “Dilemma of a Ghost” song in admiration for her work.
She said the conference was a wonderful and historic experience, because, for her, “I don’t get it when I watch movies, but I do get it when I read.”
She noted that the conference was also timely, because the international community, in recent times, had seen an increase in the production of literary work, which was also taking place in Ghana.
According to her, Ghanaians were becoming more interested in literature and the Ghanaian culture, hence, it was time these were input into the school curriculum to sustain the momentum.
“This is critical, because our children don’t know our history, so we need to go back and teach them. This is what makes us women and African women,” she ended.
The Conference was sponsored by the Organisation of Women Writer of Africa Inc, and the New York Institute of African American affairs, and supported by the New York University Africa House, New York University Accra, New York University Africana Studies programme and the Haiti Illumination Project.