Book reviews, Comments, Culture, In Focus

African sisterhood

“Daughters of Africa” is an anthology of writing by women of African descent that appeared in 1992, edited by Margaret Busby. This was a time when the number of black women writers known to the literati could be counted on the fingers of one hand so the more than 1,000 pages put together by Busby was a wakeup call.

 

Sean Sheehan

 

A companion volume, “New Daughters of Africa”, was published last year in hardback and costing £30 but now it is available in paperback at a very affordable price.

Busby has copied nothing from the first, although her book also approaches a thousand pages in length, and all the contributors waived payment in order to fund a new scholarship at London University’s School of Oriental Studies for a female African student.

When Busby became Britain’s youngest and first black female publisher in 1967, she broke new ground and should have heralded the start of something new.

This has not happened: the publishing industry is still predominantly a white one and, like a number of other professions of influence, continues to be disproportionately represented by people whose parents could afford to send them to private schools.

More writing will appear next year by black authors than ever before but this is mostly prompted by considerations of commercial gain and an eye for public relations.

As Busby puts it: “What we’re seeing now is traditional industry choosing what they think should be published. It’s not people within the industry who are African or black British, or whatever, choosing what they want.”

Margaret Busby. Photo by Andy Mabbett – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0

“New Daughters of Africa” is as exciting and revelatory a collection as the earlier book.

Its 200 contributors write in various ways -short stories, novels and plays; memoirs, essays, blogs, poetry, speeches, journalism- and their subject matter is equally diverse, crossing borders and boundaries: race, slavery, feminism, capitalism and class, literature, love and relationships.

The contributors are either born in Africa or are descendants of those who were, like Diane Abbott whose parents were Jamaican migrants to Britain in the 1950s.

Her heartfelt speechto Parliament in 2004 calling for more recognition of the Caribbean diaspora is deeply ironic in light of the Windrush scandal that would emerge over a decade later.

The book is arranged chronologically by the decades of the twentieth century with a pre-1900 section that begins with a moving poem by Nana Asma’u, a Nigerian poet and activist (1793-1863), about the death of her lifelong friend. The book concludes with eight women writing in the 1990s.

This is an anthology to dip into regularly, a treasure house of experiences from the pleasurable to the painful and most emotions that lie somewhere in between.

It would be nice to think it helps nails the coffin on chick lit – if only – but it certainly does make for essential reading because nothing in it is superfluous.

“New Daughters of Africa”, edited by Margaret Busby, is published by Myriad Editions.

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