African women arrived on the literary scene much later than their male counterparts. Cultural impediments to the education of women, coupled with the Western sexism of the colonial system, kept girls out of the earliest missionary schools. Flora Nwapa's (1931–1993) Efuru (1967) was Anglophone Africa's first female novel. Other Anglophone female novelists include Buchi Emecheta (b. 1944), Ama Ata Aidoo (b. 1942), Ifeoma Okoye Zaynab Alkali (b. 1955), Nadine Gordimer (b. 1923), Maryam Tlali (b. 1933), Bessie Head (1937–1986), and Grace Ogot (b. 1930). Some women also became accomplished playwrights, Efua Sutherland (b. 1924), Zulu Sofola (b. 1938), and Tess Onwueme (b. 1955) being the most famous. Thérèse Kuoh-Moukoury's (b. 1938) Rencontres essentielles (2002; Essential encounters) is the first novel to be published by a Francophone woman. But women's fiction from that part of Africa did not fully take off until the 1970s when two Senegalese women, Aminata Sow Fall (b. 1941) and Mariama Bâ (1929–1981), arrived on the scene.
Because women's writing arose out of the desire to introduce a female perspective to the sociopolitical vision of Africa portrayed by male writers and to address issues relative to female subjectivity in order to expose the cultural impediments to female agency, African women writers have treated a wide range of themes. The position and role of women as mothers and daughters within the institution of marriage, especially polygamy, the encumbrances attendant on societal/traditional role prescriptions for women, female circumcision, and gender inequality are all themes explored in such classics as Emecheta's The Joys of Motherhood (1979), Aidoo's Our Sister Killjoy (1966), and Bâ's two novels, Une si longue lettre (1979; So long a letter) and Un chant écarlate (1981; Scarlet song).
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