Women Doing Literary Things: "Toward A Certain Liberation" by Mary Ashun

Dr. Mary Ashun, who also writes under the names Asabea Ashun and Abena Apea, is Assistant Professor of Education at Redeemer University College, Ontario. She is the author of Mistress of the Game (Kente Publishing, Ghana) and The Adventures of Kobby Badu-Smith (Kente Publishing, Ghana, and her new book This African Child is agented by The Bukowski Agency, Toronto. She is the creator of (and the host for) the literary show Book ‘Em TV on Rogers TV.

Visit her website at www.maryashun.com

"There’s an African proverb about a lion, a wolf and a fox—three ‘friends’ that go hunting. Everyone is hungry after the chase and they finally settle down to share the sumptuous meal they all deserve to have. The lion asks the wolf to give a portion of the spoils to each of them. The wolf does so, reserving the best portion for himself. The lion raises one of his mighty paws in anger and kills the wolf, after which he asks the fox to ‘share the meat better’. The fox gives everything to the lion, an action that surprises the latter. “When did you learn such wisdom?” the lion asks. “When I heard the wolf’s head crack,” replied the wily fox.

Ah…to be fox-y…

The only female writer I remember having to read in High School Literature class was Ama Ata Aidoo, author of Changes; every other writer was male. In my teen mind, women didn’t get published--otherwise there’d be more of them. Aidoo's stories chronicling the challenges and achievements of her female characters have always taught me something about the reality of being a woman in postcolonial Africa, 21st century Africa or the Diaspora. I’m trying to be like the fox in learning from the experiences of female writers but lately, I’ve become acutely aware that for me, there’s always going to be another layer; being a woman of colour. No lie—the stories I want to tell don’t often jive with what my western audience wants to hear. I don’t want to write about African women in slavery, African women with AIDS or African daughters sold as brides for five cowrie shells, some kola nuts and a cow. I’m not saying they don’t exist—they do, but they’re not all that African women are about. I’m drawn to give voice to narratives that explore why an African-born woman living in Canada, is afraid of losing her ‘Africanness’ —whatever that is —and why a dark skinned woman has three children with three different men – all white – because she thinks the tanned look of biracial children is superior. I want to tell the story of the widowed woman in a village who is quietly building a business empire based on shea butter, as well as the African woman whose husband buys her flowers every week because…he just loves her. Which makes it disconcerting when an agent or editor says,

“Lovely…but this writing isn’t African is it? – Isn’t someone going to flee something?”

How can I march with my global sisters towards total liberation when I don’t write stories of the liberated? A friend recently read the first draft of a novel I’m writing (it's tentatively called ‘Serwa Akoto’s Diary’) and made an acute  observation; (try to say this with an African accent).

“Ei, be careful ohhhh….you always have this strong, no nonsense type woman in all your stories ohhhhhh!”

As if that’s a bad thing, I retort. Why not write about the strength of a woman? Why not show how deeply women think about themselves, their men, their children and their lives?

My grandmother Nana, an unschooled farmer, was the first feminist I ever knew, and she looms large in my work. Nana left me her oral proverbs because she couldn’t write in English. In a culture where she knew I’d constantly be reminded that a man was the de facto head of the family, she would remind me that power resided in the neck.

“…have you ever seen a head move by itself? The neck turns the head whichever way the neck thinks best.”

I think she’d be charmed to read what I now write. High Five Nana!"


This post also appears on the Women Doing Literary Things site.

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Comment by Mary Ashun on August 5, 2011 at 4:49pm
Thanks Lovenia, Katherine and Valarie; Indeed I am in the company of beautiful women!
Comment by Lovenia Leapart on August 5, 2011 at 4:58am
I love it! Female protagonists of colour as heroines instead of victims! We definitely need more of that kind of perspective. Thank you for this post!
Comment by Katherine J. Barrett on August 4, 2011 at 4:25am
Thanks for such a thoughtful post. There's so much great writing from Africa now -- about all sorts of people and on all sorts of themes. It's a shame some publishers lag behind! I think your stories are fascinating and relevant. I look forward to reading more. Katherine (in Cape Town)
Comment by Valarie Rocha on August 3, 2011 at 1:09pm
I think you have such a beautiful energy to you. And I agree that we are all connected. As women and writers  we should support and help each other be liberated.


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