(Christina) Ama Ata Aidoo Biography
Nationality: Ghanaian. Born: Abeadzi Kiakor, Ghana, 1942. Education: University of Ghana, Legon, B.A. (honours) 1964; Stanford University, California. Career: Lecturer in English, University of Cape Coast, Ghana, 1970-82; Minister of Education, 1982-83; writer-in-residence, University of Richmond, Virginia, 1989; chair, African Regional Panel of the Commonwealth Writers' prize, 1990, 1991; professor of English, University of Ghana, Cape Coast. Awards: Fulbright scholarship, 1988; Short Story Prize, Mbari Press.
Our Sister Killjoy; or, Reflections from a Black-Eyed Squint. London, Longman, 1977; New York, NOK, 1979.
Changes: A Love Story. London, Women's Press, 1991; New York, Feminist Press at the City University of New York, 1993.
No Sweetness Here. London, Longman, 1970; New York, Doubleday, 1971.
The Eagle and the Chickens and Other Stories. Engu, Nigeria, TanaPress, 1986.
The Girl Who Can and Other Stories. Accra, Ghana, Sub-SaharanPublishers, 1997.
The Dilemma of a Ghost (produced Legon, 1964; Pittsburgh, 1988).Accra, Longman, 1965; New York, Macmillan, 1971.
Anowa (produced London, 1991). London, Longman, and New York, Humanities Press, 1970.
Someone Talking to Sometime. Harare, Zimbabwe, College Press, 1985.
Birds and Other Poems. Harare, Zimbabwe, College Press, 1987.
An Angry Letter in January and Other Poems. Coventry, England, Dangaroo Press, 1992.
Dancing Out Doubts. Engu, Nigeria, NOK, 1982.
Contributor, Contemporary African Plays, edited and introduced byMartin Banham and Jane Plastow. London, Methuen, 1999.
Contributor, The Cambridge Guide to Women's Writing in English, edited by Lorna Sage. New York, Cambridge University Press, 1999.
Ama Ata Aidoo: The Dilemma of a Ghost (study guide) by Jane W. Grant, London, Logman, 1980; The Art of Ama Ata Aidoo: Polylectics and Reading Against Neocolonialism by Vincent O. Odamtten, Gainesville, University Press of Florida, 1994; Emerging Perspectives on Ama Ata Aidoo edited by Ada Uzoamaka Azodo and Gay Wilentz, Trenton, New Jersey, Africa World Press, 1999.
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Christina Ama Ata Aidoo's greatest strength is her ability to mix humor and hope with the serious issues of gender and social conflict. Her protagonists are caught in situations that are beyond their power to change; however, these characters' resistance to traditional roles and beliefs make them vibrant within these prescribed roles. Ghanaian critic Vincent Odamtten warns against using the terms of the (Western) liberal humanist tradition to describe the roles of these women: "individuality" and "independence" do not do justice to the different needs of African woman, he cautions. Their need for community, he believes, is greater than Western women's, and what they seek are relationships of equality with their men, not the wherewithal to live without them. Although this view is itself biased by Odamtten's own cultural and gender identity, it does appropriately state that Aidoo's protagonists seek fulfillment within their existing relationships rather than trying to live without men's love.
Aidoo's keen sense of drama is conveyed in both dramatic scripts and novels through witty, realistic, idiomatic dialogue and through careful juxtaposition of scenes that tell a story in pictures. In both plays, Anowa and The Dilemma of a Ghost, there are two sets of doubles to the main characters, whose scenes parallel the themes of the main duo. Characters called "Boy" and "Girl" bicker, slap, and insult the representative of the opposite sex, just as their grown-up counterparts do. The second set of doubles is the grandparent pair. Each play illustrates a social problem through the viewpoints of three generations. Aidoo surprises expectations through chiasmus: the grandfather figure speaks for the female protagonist's point of view, while the grandmother upholds the traditional view.
The plays discuss the social problems of gender roles and capitalism imposed on an agrarian society. The Dilemma of a Ghost features a strong woman married to a weak man who becomes corrupted by his own greed. When he decides to own slaves, she loses her mind because her values and love have been corrupted beyond her capacity of acceptance. In the contemporary setting of Anowa, on the other hand, the strong female protagonist is an African American who marries into a Ghanaian family. Her pivotal argument with his society is her belief in her right to delay childbirth. A side issue, which would provide an element of hilarity onstage, is that she smokes and drinks. The real issue of the play, however, is the imbalance of the day-to-day marital relationship: caught between the strong wills of mother and wife, the husband doesn't know who he agrees with. He wants whatever is easiest, not being able to make his own moral choices.
While Aidoo's dramas would make exciting stage productions because of their idiom, color, and tension, the novels make more entertaining reading. Our Sister Killjoy, written in 1966, is a precursor to the 1991 novel, Changes: A Love Story, in the same way that the play Dilemma foresees Anowa. The first novel tells the story of a sixteen-year-old Ghanaian girl who travels to Germany and London on an international government program for youth. The titular character, Sissie, earns her negative epithet of "killjoy" because she doubts the motives behind government programs such as student loans and grants to study abroad. Instead of celebrating the opportunity to expand their horizons, she deplores the suffering of her black brothers and sisters who live at poverty level in cold, unfriendly London, while deluding themselves that they are privileged to enroll in white education factories. Sissie urges them to return to Africa, to apply their skills to its economy instead. Many of her most "successful" compatriots are willfully blind to the horror they have bought into: soul-destroying white capitalism.
Sissie's idealism is touching, but it is not her only moral quality. The scene in which she "loses her innocence" is forceful and makes her seem cynical beyond her years. In rejecting a young German woman's love, Sissie observes her own enjoyment in causing pain to another. The reader wants her to connect her own enjoyment of power to her political ideas about white supremacy, to realize that she could be as abusive of power as a white person, but she does not make the connection.
Changes is the more polished novel: both narrator and protagonist are more mature. The protagonist, Esi, illustrates that, although the modern Ghanaian woman can "emancipate" herself by divorce, and obtain both love and independence by becoming another man's second wife, it is not enough. Although Esi's new lover is considered progressive in his views because he wants to honor her freedom and equality, his social status as an African male with the right to have many wives and girlfriends makes him different from Esi. Entirely honest in portraying the conflict between the need for love and the need for independence, Changes suggests that one thing that will not change, even if social structures do, is women's need for loving attention. Aidoo's characters are wise about gender differences; they do not blame everything on "the system" but recognize fundamental differences between men and women.