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Novelist Khadija Gudaji composes a book on her bed in Kano.

Littattafan Soyayya —roughly translated into “books of love”—is the pride and joy of contemporary Nigerian fiction. It refers to a large body of romance pulp-fiction produced and read in Northern Nigeria. 

Glenna Gordon who spent two years documenting life in northern Nigeria captured the lives of the brilliant and entrepreneurial women behind the Soyayya literary phenomenon. Many of these photographs, including others of day-to-day life in the north was recently published in a book titled Diagram of the Heart.

Soyayya literature is one of the few existing literary movements carried out entirely in an African language. Written in Hausa, these novels are consumed by a vast community of readers. 

It all started in the 1980s—a whole decade before Nollywood—with the publication of romance stories by writers such as Bilkisu Ahmed Funtuwa and Balaraba Ramat Yakubu. Today, these stories can be bought everywhere in the north, from Kano to Zaria.

There is so much that is amazing about Soyayya novels. Like Nollywood, the success of these writings has depended solely on informal book markets and grassroots support. Without the backing of established publishing houses, these writers have been able to build a vibrant literary industry. Of course, it matters that the leaders of this decades-long literary movement are mostly women. Kwara State University professor Carmen McCain is the go-to person for those interested in learning more about Soyayya novels [see here]. Dr. McCain also illustrated the soyayya passages excerpted in Gordon’s book. Soyayya stories are hard to find in English, so kudos to Dr. McCain for collaborating with Gordon on that front. 

Gordon’s images are hauntingly beautiful. But they are also so refreshingly real. They show a different side of life as an African writer—a side that is often lost in the global obsession over celebrity African authors. These are the writers down there in the trenches, working hard to open up new avenues for producing, circulating, and consuming African fiction.

Kudos to the writers and to Gordon for telling their stories so beautifully.

 

Firdausy El-yakub reads a romance novel in her bedroom in Kano, Northern Nigeria on March 21, 2013. Her university has been on strike for weeks, so she spends most of her days reading and dreams of one day becoming a novelist too. Her father allows her to go to the market and buy new books often. While Northern Nigeria is best known for Boko Haram, an Islamic terrorist group whose name means ‘Western Education is sinful,’ there’s a small but significant contingent of hijab wearing ladies writing subversive romance novels.

Firdausy El-yakub reads a romance novel in her bedroom in Kano, Northern Nigeria on March 21, 2013. Her university has been on strike for weeks, so she spends most of her days reading and dreams of one day becoming a novelist too. Her father allows her to go to the market and buy new books often.
While Northern Nigeria is best known for Boko Haram, an Islamic terrorist group whose name means ‘Western Education is sinful,’ there’s a small but significant contingent of hijab wearing ladies writing subversive romance novels.

Rabi on the phone.

Novelist Rabi Talle has multiple phones in her house. Readers will often call asking for love advice.

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Novelist Balaraba Ramat Yakubu whose book Sin is a Puppy That Follows You Home was made into a film and translated to English.

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Farida Ado, 27, is a romance novelist living in conflicted and rapidly Islamicizing Northern Nigeria. SheÕs one of a small but significant contingent of women in Northern Nigeria writing books called Littattafan soyayya, Hausa for Òlove literature.Ó

Farida Ado, 27, is a romance novelist living in conflicted and rapidly Islamicizing Northern Nigeria. SheÕs one of a small but significant contingent of women in Northern Nigeria writing books called Littattafan soyayya, Hausa for Òlove literature.Ó

Author Amina Hassan poses for a portrait in her home in Kano on April 21, 2014. She loves Jane Austin novels.

Author Amina Hassan poses for a portrait in her home in Kano on April 21, 2014. She loves Jane Austin novels.

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A computer in the home of a novelist in Kaduna. Some women write in computers while other work in long hand.

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Image by Glenna Gordon via Wired.com

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I hold a doctorate in English from Duke University and recently joined the Marquette University English faculty as an Assistant Professor. I love teaching African fiction and contemporary British novels. Brittle Paper is the virtual space/station where I play and experiment with ideas on how to reinvent African fiction and literary culture.

2 Responses to “Photographer Captures The Beauty of African Literature in Images of Hausa Novelists” Subscribe

  1. Yiro Abari High 2016/02/19 at 08:52 #

    Marketing and distributing your own book isn’t easy at all. It is easier when traditional publishers do the work for you.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Translator’s Note: Glenna Gordon’s Striking photobook Diagram of the Heart and its Many Reviews | A Tunanina... - 2016/02/21

    […] boy, are these novels “subversive” according to the Western media. “Meet the Women Behind Nigeria’s Most Subversive Novellas” trumpets Buzzfeed. Prison Photography features “The Muslim Women who Write Romance Novels in […]

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I hold a doctorate in English from Duke University and recently joined the Marquette University English faculty as an Assistant Professor. I love teaching African fiction and contemporary British novels. Brittle Paper is the virtual space/station where I play and experiment with ideas on how to reinvent African fiction and literary culture.

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