Professor Ama Ata Aidoo dies at 83

According to the family, Ama Ata Aidoo passed away in the early hours of Wednesday 31 May 2023 after a short illness

The renowned Ghanaian poet and author Professor Ama Ata Aidoo has died after a short illness, the family said in a statement issued on Wednesday (31 May 2023).

Ama Ata Aidoo was born on 23 March 1940 in Abeadzi Kyiakor near Saltpond in the Central Region.

She was 83 years old.

“The family of Prof Ama Atta Aidoo with deep sorrow but in the hope of the resurrection, informs the general public that our beloved relative and writer passed away in the early hours of this morning Wednesday 31 May 2023, after a short illness.”

“Funeral arrangements would be announced in due course. The family requests privacy at this difficult moment,” the statement added.

With a career spanning more than five decades, she received international recognition as one of the most prominent African writers of the 20th and 21st centuries.

Her first play, The Dilemma of a Ghost, was published in 1965, making Aidoo the first published African female dramatist.

As a novelist, she won the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Changes (1991), She was the Minister of Education under the Jerry Rawlings administration.

In 2000, she established the Mbaasem Foundation to promote and support the work of African women writers. She also lived and taught in the United States, Europe and Zimbabwe.

Aidoo attended Wesley Girls’ Senior High School in Cape Coast, from 1961 to 1964. After high school, she enrolled at the University of Ghana, Legon, where she obtained the degree of Bachelor of Arts in English and also wrote her first play, which made its stage début in 1964.

The play was published by Longman the following year, making Aidoo the first published African woman dramatist.

After graduating, Aidoo held a fellowship in creative writing at Stanford University in California, before returning to Ghana in 1969 to teach English at the University of Ghana.

She served as a research fellow at the Institute of African Studies there, and as a lecturer in English at the University of Cape Coast, where she eventually rose to the position of professor.

Aidoo was appointed minister of education under the Provisional National Defence Council (PNDC) government in 1982. She resigned after 18 months, realising that she would be unable to achieve her aim of making education in Ghana freely accessible to all.

She has portrayed the role of African women in contemporary society.

Aidoo has opined that the idea of nationalism has been deployed by recent leaders as a means of keeping people oppressed. She has criticised those literate Africans who profess to love their country but are seduced away by the benefits of the developed world.

She believes in a distinct African identity, which she views from a female perspective.

In 1983, she moved to live in Zimbabwe, where she continued her work in education, including as curriculum developer for the Zimbabwe Ministry of Education, as well as writing.

In London, England, in 1986, she delivered the Walter Rodney Visions of Africa lecture organised by the support group for Bogle-l’Ouverture publishing house.

Aidoo received a Fulbright Scholarship award in 1988, and she was writer-in-residence at the University of Richmond, Virginia, in 1989, and taught various English courses at Hamilton College in Clinton New York, in the early mid-1990s. She was for seven years, until 2011, a visiting professor in the Africana Studies Department at Brown University.

Aidoo was a patron of the Etisalat Prize for Literature (alongside Dele Olojede, Ellah Wakatama Allfrey, Margaret Busby, Sarah Ladipo Manyika and Zakes Mda), created in 2013 as a platform for African writers of debut books of fiction.

Her works

Aidoo’s plays include The Dilemma of a Ghost, produced at Legon in 1964 (first published 1965) and Pittsburgh in 1988, and Anowa, published in 1971 and produced at the Gate Theatre in London in 1991.

Her works of fiction particularly deal with the tension between Western and African world-views. Her first novel, Our Sister Killjoy, was published in 1977 and remains one of her most popular works. It is notable for portraying a dissenting perspective on sexuality in Africa and especially LGBT in Africa.

Whereas one popular idea on the continent is that homosexuality is alien to Africa, and an intrusion of the ideas of Western culture into a pure, inherently heterosexual “African” culture, Aidoo portrays the main character of Killjoy as indulging in lesbian fantasies of her own and maintaining sympathetic relationships with lesbian characters.

Many of Aidoo’s other protagonists are also women who defy the stereotypical women’s roles of their time, as in her play Anowa. Her novel Changes won the 1992 Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Best Book (Africa).

She was also an accomplished poet – her collection Someone Talking to Sometime won the Nelson Mandela Prize for Poetry in 1987 – and wrote many children’s books.

Aidoo contributed the piece “To be a woman” to the 1984 anthology Sisterhood Is Global: The International Women’s Movement Anthology, edited by Robin Morgan. Her story “Two Sisters” appears in the 1992 landmark anthology Daughters of Africa, edited by Margaret Busby.

In 2000, Aidoo founded the Mbaasem Foundation, a non-governmental organization based in Ghana with a mission “to support the development and sustainability of African women writers and their artistic output”, which she ran together with her daughter, Kinna Likimani, and a board of management.

Aidoo was the editor of the 2006 anthology African Love Stories. In 2012, she launched the compilation Diplomatic Pounds and Other Stories, as well as a collection of essays by famous writers from Ghana, other countries in Africa and the African diaspora.

Editor’s note: This article was edited on 9 July 2023 to correct Ama Ata Aidoo’s date of birth. Family records show she was born in 1940, not 1942.

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