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Last week, we shared the news of an Abidjan-based library focused on women’s writings from the continent and the Diaspora. [Click here if you missed it.]

It’s the brainchild of Edwige-Renee Dro an Ivorian writer and literary translator. 

When we initially heard about the project, we instantly fell in love with it and reached out to Dro to find out more. Here is the conversation in which she shares interesting insights about the project.

Libraries are great additions to communities because of how enriching they are. But a library centered on women’s work and their history is even more so. It’s a necessity. There is so much to celebrate about this project, how timely it is, how needed it is, and just how inspiring it is.

Dro has created a space where the community can gather around questions about women’s lives and their histories. Please join us in celebrating her work!

 

Brittle Paper

The 1949 Library is a brilliant project!

Edwige-Renee Dro

Thank you.

Brittle Paper

Tells us more about the project.

Edwige-Renee Dro

1949 is a library of women’s writings from Africa and the black world. We opened our doors on March 5 (during Women’s month, although that is a total coincidence) but announced on social media on February 29— that is not a coincidence because it was in February 1953 that Marie Koré died. She is one of the leaders of the women’s who matched in Grand Bassam, Côte d’Ivoire against the colonizers.

Brittle Paper 

Why 1949?

Edwige-Renee Dro

1949 is the year that female politicians in Côte d’Ivoire marched, first in August 1949 in a match that was successful, and then in December 1949. The name of the library then is to pay homage to those women and to all the black and African women who contributed to the stories of the black world, but who have been erased from history.

Brittle Paper

What inspired the 1949 Library?

Edwige-Renee Dro

Writing the fictionalized biography of Marie Koré who led the women’s march against the colonizers, I decided to write her story first of all because in the popular narration of that story, people reduce her and the other 2000 women to just being the wives of 8 prominent men in the struggle. I mean, what’s the ratio of wives per husband then in that case? I got also tired of the rampant misogynistic and sexist attitude in my country. I was sick and tired of people wanting to know why I didn’t cook or asking if I had any children. I was sick and tired of some women’s favorite insults to other women being that their sisters were infertile. I wanted mentality to change. I want mentalities to change.

Brittle Paper

Where is the library located, and when is it usually open?

Edwige-Renee Dro

1949 is located in Yopougon, Abidjan. Yopougon is one of the most populous neighborhoods of Abidjan with over one million people. The library is open Thursdays to Sundays from 11am till 7pm.

Brittle Paper

What kinds of activities do you plan on hosting at the library?

Edwige-Renee Dro

We have activities for schoolgirls aged 14 to 18. Book readings, English book chats and a monthly event called Inspiration’Elles. Inspiration’Elles or Inspirational is a session where we will invite great sisters aged 16 to 32 doing wonderful things in their society. It will act as inspirational sessions for our teenagers.

Other activities in the program are to do a collage of the photos of great women without whom some things couldn’t have happened, or would have taken a long time.

I mean, had Paulette Nardal not introduced Senghor to Baldwin, would the conversation on Négritude have happened then? These men drank the Nardal sisters’ coffee, yet the Nardals are not mentioned in all this Négritude movement stuff.

So that’s for the collage. And we want sayings of the women. Comedy. Plays, etc. We have a residency planned. So a lot of things to be done.

Brittle Paper

What do you hope the library will do for the community, African literature, feminism, etc?

Edwige-Renee Dro

Well, first of all, we will have a library in the community. We have another private library mostly targeted at children, but nothing else in the vicinity. So we are offering a space to the community where they can come and read of just chill out. The official slogan of 1949 is “Know to be.” The unofficial one that I say in my head is: “I’m not my vagina.” We want the community and the whole country to realize just how much African and black women contributed to writing the stories of these women. Just yesterday (12th, March), I was reading that Mariam Sankara was a lawyer. But these days, she is just the widow.

As for African literature, I want people to cite names of women’s writers and for those names to roll off the tongues.

Brittle Paper

How do you fund the project?

Edwige-Renee Dro

Own funds at the moment. Maybe we get money in the future. At the moment, my own books. So we need books. In French and in English. If I get donations, we will see how we arrange shipping. Can you see me begging there?

Brittle Paper

Are you the only one running it or do you have a team?

Edwige-Renee Dro

I work with a fantastic sister. She is a powerhouse and she is going to lead the conversations on reproductive health. She will be the first person we interview for Inspiration’Elles actually.

Brittle Paper

Thanks for talking to us about your project. We wish you all the best!

Edwige-Renee Dro

Thanks!

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Ainehi Edoro is an Assistant Professor of English at the University of Wisconsin-Madison where she teaches African literature. She received her doctorate at Duke University. She is the founder and editor of Brittle Paper and series editor of Ohio University Press’s Modern African Writer’s imprint.

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