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273 Beyond Mariama Bâ: Senegalese Women Writers in the Classroom Deirdre Bûcher Heistad University of Northern Iowa Those who teach Francophone literature survey courses, in French or in translation, would find it essentially impossible to create a curriculum void of Senegalese writers. From the Négritude movement to today, Senegalese writers have played and continue to play a crucial role in African literary history. While certain writers like Leopold Sédar Senghor, Cheikh Hamidou Kane, Birago Diop, Ousmane Sembène and even Mariama Ba will rarely be overlooked, others are yet to be included in the Euro-American curriculum. Further, while the works of Senegalese male writers have long been included in what might be considered the canon of (Francophone) African Literature, Senegalese women writers are still struggling to be recognized to the same degree as their male counterparts. The Senegalese woman writer's arrival onto the literary scene may certainly be characterized as contemporary. Though some Senegalese women writers like Awa Thiam, Nafissatou Niang Diallo, and Kiné Kirama Fall had published novels, essays, and poems during the 1970s, their work remained virtually ignored in international literary circles. It was not until Mariama Bâ's Une si longue lettre won a literary prize that Senegalese women writers began to achieve international notoriety. Still today, the Senegalese woman writer lives in the margins, both at home and abroad. She lives in the margins at home in that her chosen profession, characterized by the act of speaking-out in public, runs counter to sociopolitical roles ascribed to women within Senegalese culture. In a book titled The Senegalese Novel by Women, Susan Stringer quotes the Senegalese writer Aminata Sow Fall (interviewed by Françoise Pfaff), who claims that "writing is seen as a form of boldness, shunned by women because they have been taught to be discreet"(10). In other words, the act of writing becomes, for the Senegalese woman writer, a journey into the margins. Though often overlooked, Senegalese women writers have made substantial contributions to Francophone literature. What may have begun as a tentative journey of self-discovery has evolved into a sea of literature that confronts the sociopolitical issues reshaping women's lives and their roles in society. In a recently published book, Femmes rebelles: naissance d'un nouveau roman africain au féminin, Odile Cazenave examines the various tendencies that characterize Francophone African Literature written by women. In a general way, this large corpus of literature tends to fit into two major categories. First, 274FRENCH AND FRANCOPHONE WOMEN one encounters the literature that relates to the reader one's personal story or autobiographical testimony. According to Cazenave: Up to the early 1980s, the protagonist had spoken in a biographical or semi autobiographical mode: Speech bore witness to her difficulties, particularly the suffering she experienced as part of a couple, part of a polygamous social structure, and confronted with the issue of sterility. The recording of feminine daily life has allowed women writers to single out various mechanisms of oppression that control women's status. From this point on, what was once considered the private domain passed into the public sphere. (4) While the most well-known work within this category is still today Mariama Bâ's So Long a Letter, many other Senegalese women writers, like Nafissatou Diallo, have also made substantial contributions to this body of literature converging on the process of self-discovery. The second substantial category in which this literature falls is that of sociopolitical militancy. Here we find female authors 'writing back' to the male dominated society in which they live, while simultaneously looking at new solutions for postcolonial Africa. Cazenave considers this writing as partaking in a "process of rebellion: " I believe that this process of rebellion has been infused within a larger systematic provocation, which is itself articulated in two different movements: first through a choice of female protagonists who are marginal in relation to their societies, through the exploration of cultural zones that until recently have been either taboo or dismissed as unimportant, and through reflection on the hidden mechanisms that explain the increasing instabilities of modern Africa; second, through a search for alternatives to sociopolitical questions about a stagnant postcolonial...


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