- Notes toward the Bibliography of Nigerian Women’s Poetry (1985–2006)
Since the publication of Ifi Amadiume’s Passion Waves (1985), so many remarkable single-authored volumes have appeared on the Nigerian literary scene that it has become necessary to attempt a bibliographic count of the many collections produced by women authors in the past two decades. In a general sense, so much discourse of contemporary African literature has underrepresented the works of the few women poets on the continent that the appearance of The Hei-nemann Book of African Women’s Poetry by Stella and Frank Chipasula in 1995 was a salutary textual turn towards a revisionist scholarship of postcolonial African poetry. Although the book featured the works of four Nigerian writers, among others on the continent, it did not include the poetry of Mabel Segun and Flora Nwapa, both regarded as path-breakers and important members of first generation of Nigerian literary tradition. Other anthologies that have featured representative women writers include Frances Ademola’s Reflections: Nigerian Prose and Verse (1962), the Festac Anthology of Nigerian New Writing (1977) edited by Cyprian Ekwensi, The Penguin Book of Modern African Poetry (1984)1 edited by Gerald Moore and Ulli Beier, Harry Garuba’s Voices from the Fringe (1988), Adewale Maja-Pearce’s Heinemann Book of African Poetry in English (1990), Tijan Sallah’s New Poets of West Africa (1995), Uche Nduka’s … und auf den Straßen eine Pest: Junge nigerianische Lyrik (1996), Toyin Adewale’s Twenty-five New Nigerian Poets (2000), and The New African Poetry (2000) edited by Tanure Ojaide and Tijan Sallah. I have also presented a number of Nigerian “Third Generation” authors, including the women poets, in the issues of Drumvoices Revue.2 These and similar integrative anthologies have encouraged recognition of some of the significant women’s voices of contemporary Nigerian poetry.3
At the present time, even more women authors have emerged as significant representative voices of the new Nigerian literary tradition so that it has become necessary to focus closely on the literary output and, in this respect, to draw specific attention to the yet unacknowledged presence of the woman’s persona as “author” in anglophone Nigerian poetry. To date, I have collated over fifty works that have been published in the past two decades by Nigerian women poets. The cumulative collection of these works, dating back to 1985, is what I have referred to as the developing “album of Nigerian female poetry.” This album draws attention to the progressive symbolism of the erasures of silence and self-effacement, a significant gesture towards a new textual means of self-representation.4 [End Page 198]
There have been two major periods during which clusters of poetry collections were published: 1985–1988, and 1993 to the present time. The 1980s witnessed the publication of seven collections: four in 1985—by Ifi Amadiume (Passion Waves), Catherine Acholonu (Nigeria in the Year 1999, The Spring’s Last Drop), and Molara Ogundipe-Leslie (Sew the Old Days and other Poems); two in 1986—by Mabel Segun (Conflict and Other Poems) and Flora Nwapa (Cassava and Rice Song); and one in 1988—by Iyabo Fagbulu (Poems). Incidentally, it was in the year 1988 that Garuba’s anthology of new Nigerian poetry introduced new names onto the national literary space, thereby functioning as a kind of temporal textual watershed.
The second track of Nigerian women’s poetry became noticeable in the early 1990s, first in 1993 with the publication of three collections by a new “generation” of Nigerian women authors: Emilienne Motaze (Her African Face), Chika Unigwe (Tear Drops), and Promise Onwudiwe (Jigida: Songs in the Folk Tradition and Marry Me to the Rain God).5 These collections were quickly followed by Toyin Adewale-Nduka’s Naked Testimonies (1995),6 whose appearance received exciting as well as interrogative criticism in major literary circles and the national media.
Apart from the two highlighted tracks, or epochal developments in poetry by Nigerian women writers, it is also useful to point to the relatively new tradition of anglophone poetry by women from the northern part of the country, with the first notable collections being Maria Ajima’s Cycles (1996...