More than 25 years after her groundbreaking Daughters of Africa anthology, Margaret Busby reflects on the next generation of black women writers around the world
Time was when the perception of published writers was that all the women were white and all the blacks were men (to borrow the title of a key 1980s black feminist book). At best, there was a handful of black female writers Toni Morrison, Alice Walker, Maya Angelou who were acknowledged by the literary establishment. This was the climate in which, more than 25 years ago, I compiled and published Daughters of Africa. It was critically acclaimed, but more significant has been the inspiration that 1992 anthology gave to a fresh generation of writers who form the core of its sequel, New Daughters of Africa.
The critic Juanita Cox told me: I received Daughters of Africa as a birthday gift from my father. Two things immediately struck me about the book. It was huge and it contained women like me. Even though Id been brought up in Nigeria, I had had very little exposure to black literature. At school the only black characters Id ever read about occupied the margins: figures like the Sedleys servant Sambo and the mixed-race heiress Miss Swartz in Thackerays Vanity Fair. Daughters of Africa introduced me to a huge number of writers Id never previously been aware of. And on a more personal level it made me realise that I was somehow valid. The anthology was peopled not just by women of pure African descent, but also women of mixed ancestry, and just like the women the book contained, I too could have a voice.
Ivorian Edwige-Rene Dro said: It was as if the daughters of Africa featured in that anthology were telling me, their daughter and grand-daughter, to bravely go forth and bridge the literary gap between francophone and anglophone Africa. Bermudian writer Angela Barry, meanwhile, spoke of her thrill at coming across a contributor whose father was from her island, allowing her to feel that I also was a daughter of Africa and that I too had something to say. Writer Phillippa Yaa de Villiers recalls: We were behind the bars of apartheid we South Africans had been cut off from the beauty and majesty of African thought traditions, and Daughters of Africa was among those works that replenished our starved minds.
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