Ama Ata Aidoo was born in 1942 in pre-independence Ghana. The daughter of a village chief in the town of Abeadzi Kyiakor, Aidoo was raised in a comfortable and progressive household that not only supported but also encouraged her education. Aidoo’s father opened the first school in their village, and sent Aidoo to the prestigious Wesley Girls High School in Cape Coast, where she first began to consider herself a writer. She published her first short story in 1958 after winning a writing competition, which encouraged her to keep writing. Three years later, Aidoo entered the University of Ghana at Legon where she continued to write short stories, poetry, and plays. In 1964, Aidoo’s first play, The Dilemma of a Ghost, was staged and later published. The play was one of Aidoo’s earliest explorations of several prominent themes that would dominate her later works. In the play, two young college graduates, one Ghanaian and the other African-American, fall in love and marry. This sets off an exploration of cultural differences and colonial legacies. Aidoo’s work led to the formation of a strong, female literary presence that would be vital to her work and to African literature as a whole.
Following Aidoo’s graduation from the University of Ghana in 1964, she worked as a research fellow at the Institute for African Studies. Six years earlier, Chinua Achebe published his novel Things Fall Apart. Achebe’s novel marked a dramatic turning point in African literature. With its incorporation of both African and Western literary traditions, Things Fall Apart served as a model for discussing Africa’s colonial legacy while simultaneously reaffirming the traditional values of African culture. This novel offered the first and most significant example of the style of postcolonial African literature.
As Ghana and most of the rest of Africa struggled to break free from colonial rule and assert its cultural and economic independence, Aidoo was acutely aware of a woman’s role in traditional African society. An ardent feminist, Aidoo wanted to incorporate into her art a representation of women that highlighted not only their place but also the changing role of women in the post-colonial Africa. For Aidoo, there was no separation between the liberation of African countries from colonial rulers and the liberation of women from traditional patriarchal authority. In addition, there remained few strong female characters within African literature. Following the publication of The Dilemma of a Ghost, Aidoo published another play, Anowa, and one novel, Our Sister Killjoy. Both works further developed the themes in The Dilemma of a Ghost, particularly the role of women in African society, and the structure of patriarchal authority.
At the same time that Aidoo continued to write increasingly influential works, she held several prominent posts as both an academic and political figure. From 1972 to 1982, Aidoo served as Coordinator of the African Literature Program at Cape Coast, while also serving at various points as the director of Ghana Broadcasting Corporation and of the Arts Council of Ghana. In 1982, Aidoo was appointed to serve as Minister of Education in Ghana. Aidoo used her position to begin campaigning for affordable, universal education for all. Aidoo’s strong-minded position lead to a falling out with the Ghanaian government, and after little more than a year, she abandoned her post to move to Zimbabwe in order to write full-time.
In 1991, Aidoo published her most famous and influential work, Changes: A Love Story. Although the introduction states that the novel is “not meant to be a contribution to any debate, however current,” it is full of characters and themes that reflect the emergence of a new, highly educated class of men and women struggling to understand their contemporary identities in conjunction with their ancient traditions. Aidoo critically examines the tensions and changing dynamic within the next generation of Africa’s emerging middle class through the lives of the novel’s main characters, Esi Sekyi and Ali Kondey. Changes: A Love Story brought international acclaim for Aidoo, winning her the Commonwealth Writers Prize Africa Division. She has since published another novel, The Girl Who Can and Other Stories, along with several children’s books and collections of poetry.
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