Late last year, I received an email from a woman I hold in high regard in the publishing industry. Ghanaian-born Margaret Busby was the youngest and first black woman publisher in Britain when she co-founded Allison & Busby in the late 1960s. Among the books she published is an eternal favourite of mine, Sam Greenlee’s The Spook Who Sat By the Door, a woke novel before wokeness became de rigueur. She also, 25 years ago, edited an ambitious anthology of short stories, essays and poetry by black women from Africa and the diaspora entitled Daughters of Africa. More recently, Busby was on the board of the now-defunct, but for a brief period, beautiful Pan-African project that was the Etisalat Prize for Literature. That was the woman who was emailing me.
Was I interested in being part of the New Daughters of Africa anthology that she hoped to bring out this year? “… we’re asking contributors to waive fees in favour of a contribution to a charity supporting African women”, the email read.
I do not know any black woman writer alive who would say no to the gentle yet determined Margaret Busby. Who was I to buck the trend? I said yes.
My contribution was a short story, This is Not Au Revoir, which I hope will make the reader question toxic relationships even as they enjoy the craft. I wrote it after a chat with a friend about yet another case of intimate partner violence in Johannesburg. But I was keen to pursue the violence in relationships that often come long before the physical abuse commences; the emotional and psychological violence that many suffer but whose scars are often not visible to others and, therefore, tend to be dismissed.
I was proud of my contribution but, at the time the book was launched in London in March this year, that was the only piece I knew of in the anthology.
Two months ago, I picked my author’s copy of New Daughters of Africa from the post office. Although I was anxious to write about it, I felt I would be doing the readers and myself a disservice if I did not read every piece in the anthology first. And so I started reading this book, which is a veritable who’s who of black women in literature gone and present. Beginning with 19th-century poet, social activist and scholar from northern Nigeria, Nana Asma’u, and ending with my friend and another Nigerian, Chibundu Onuzo, born in the 1990s, most of the stories, essays and poems are beautiful, heartfelt and bring, in one book, the intersectional experiences of black women the world over. While reading it I was introduced to Sarah Parker Remond, an American anti-slavery orator who would later move to Britain and become, in 1866, one of the 1 500 signatories to a petition requesting votes for women.
Finding out about Remond was a revelation because my knowledge of the suffragist movement in England had had only white women and white male allies at the forefront. To then discover that someone who may have looked like me signed a petition for women’s votes when one of the Suffragists’ most spoken of allies, trade unionist and founder of the Labour Party Keir Hardie was a mere 10 years old, speaks a lot to why this anthology is important in resuscitating black women names in literature that history may have decided to ignore.
South Africa, with 13 contributions, is well represented in this anthology of more than 200 writers. Nomavenda Mathiane’s Passing on the Baton is a reflection on her grandmother and her own life as a journalist and the parallel worlds she and her grandmother inhabited. Diana Ferrus contributes two poems including the memorable tribute to Sara Baartman, I’ve Come to Take You Home. Makhosazana Xaba’s #TheTotalShutdown: Disturbing Observations brings the reader on to the streets of Braamfontein and in the presence of male drivers during that protest on August 1 last year. Her last paragraph before she ends with a poem should make each of us pause and question our engagement with patriarchy. It reads: “I have begun to wonder whether my expectation of men can, in fact, be viewed as complicity. I am reminded of how I have never had the courage to ask my two brothers if they have ever raped a woman. I am not ready for their answers. Does this, too, make me complicit? Is it most disturbing to acknowledge that our violators are our people?”
Other South Africans in the anthology bring equally poignant works in poetry or prose. They, and other contributors from across the world, make this anthology a necessary addition to the library of any lover of good literature. Or give it to a friend. You will be contributing to at least one black woman’s scholarship at a tertiary institution.