The pioneering Ghanaian author and African literary legend Prof. Ama Ata Aidoo has passed on at the age of 81. She died on May 31, 2023.
The news of her passing was made public by her family earlier today. She reportedly passed after ‘a small illness.’ The African literary community is shocked by the news, as good will messages pour in. Nigerian novelist Chika Unigwe remarks on Facebook: “Grateful for who she was, for what she was, for how she used her voice. May she Rest In Peace.”
Prof. Aidoo’s work is instrumental in shaping African literature as we know it today, so her passing is the indeed the loss of a literary giant. Her writing boldly addressed difficult societal issues such as colonialism and patriarchy. She wrote about African women’s lives and centered their experiences at a time when it was not thought to be important to do so. She has over the decades made space for women writers to flourish. Her life and work have inspired many.
Born Christina Ama Ata Aidoo in 1942 (some sources say 1940), she was raised in Abeadzi Kyiakor, a town near Saltpond in Ghana’s Central Region. While studying at Wesley Girls’ High School, Aidoo discovered her passion for writing and decided to pursue a career as a writer. In 1964, she earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in English from the University of Ghana Legon. That same year marked a significant milestone in her career as she became the first African woman dramatist to have her work published with the release of her debut play, The Dilemma of A Ghost.
Prof. Aidoo has also had an academic career. Following a fellowship in creative writing at Stanford University, she taught at University of Legon as a lecturer and eventually moved to the University of Cape Town where she became a full professor. She has held visiting professorships at universities in the United states, as well.
Prof. Aidoo published 11 books, in addition to an edited volume on African love stories. Some of her acclaimed works include Dilemma of a Ghost, Changes and Our Sister Killjoy. She is bold, brilliant, and luminous in her writing, inspiring readers to grapple with difficult questions about imperialism, slavery, colonial violence, and patriarchy through captivatingly beautiful writing.
She has also held political office. In 1982, Prof. Aidoo became Minister for Education in Ghana where she worked towards providing free education. A year later, she continued her work in education in Zimbabwe, developing curriculum for the Zimbabwe Ministry of Education.
Prof. Aidoo’s accolades include a Fullbright Scholarship in 1988 and the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize in 1992 for Changes. Several initiatives have also been named in her honor, including the Ama Ata Aidoo Centre for Creative Writing launched in Accra in 2017 and The Aidoo-Snyder Book Prize, awarded by the Women’s Caucus of the African Studies Association “for an outstanding book published by a woman that prioritizes African women’s experiences.”
We are devastated by the news of her passing but also sending her love and goodwill as she joins the ancestors. May her soul rest in peace.
Last year, Brittle Paper collaborated with Radical Books Collective and Africa is a Country to celebrate 45 years of the publication of Our Sister Killjoy. Watch here and please celebrate her live and work with us.