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New Daughters of Africa: amplifying black women's voices

LEAVING A LEGACY: Panashe Chigumadzi and Carolyn Cooper have both contributed to the new anthology

IT’S FITTING that New Daughters of Africa was launched in March, because there is an undeniable feeling around the book that history is in fact being made.

The anthology, the brainchild of Margaret Busby, brings together 200 black female writers from across the diaspora. It’s less of a follow up from the first, more of a wonderful and exciting child that’s a testament to the impact of the previous publication of its kind by the writer.

Speaking to Life & Style about the need for the book now, Busby said: “There are so many writers who need to have a light shone on their work, that’s why.

EMPOWERING WOMEN: Margaret Busby, right, with Angela Davis

“And I could have made it 10 times the size. “It’s not as if there are only 200 women of African descent around the world who are worth reading. If you did that for European women, could you stop at 200? No, you couldn’t.”

She added: “What I love about this volume is this legacy of the award, the SOAS award.” In conjunction with the release of the book, a £20,000 award for black African women studying select subjects at SOAS has been launched. Proceeds from the book will go towards financing it.

Busby has also donated her royalties from the anthology to the cause and all of its contributors waived their fee to support the cause.

“That’s really important, so every time somebody buys a book, I think, well, that’s something towards the award,” Busby said.

This additional element to what’s likely to be seminal publication has been wholly welcomed by the writers, who include Malorie Blackman, Zadie Smith and her mother Yvonne Bailey-Smith, the late Andrea Levy, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Reni Eddo-Lodge, Warsan Shire – the list goes on.

“When I was asked to waive my fee, that was no question,” Carolyn Cooper, writer and journalist at The Gleaner and contributor to the anthology said.

“There’s a proverb in Jamaica we have which says, ‘One, one coco full basket’. It’s a proverb from farming, it’s a proverb about collective action.

“Your little one contribution may not make a big difference, but if all 200 writers say I’m going to waive my fee, you end up with a substantial amount which can become the basis of a scholarship.

And, so now, all of us are honoured to know that Margaret’s name is going to be recorded and ours as the daughters of Africa for this scholarship that will help to produce another creative writer, so it’s fantastic.”

New Daughters of Africa isn’t just shaping a legacy for the future, it’s also building on one from the past. It’s 27 years since Busby’s Daughters of Africa anthology was released and its reputation is among the reasons why there is so much buzz around the potential of this new release.

“I have a copy of the first edition of Daughters of Africa, so it was such an honour to meet [Margaret],” contributor and author of These Bones Will Rise Again, Panashe Chigumadzi, said.

Chigumadzi said she thinks the book’s impact will cross generations and encourage conversations.

Referring to the Shona proverb that you should know where you’ve come from because tomorrow might be dark, Chigumadzi said: “I think that’s really, really important. You’re seeing that tie in of all these generations coming together for this book and that’s what is so powerful – seeing all these generations of black women from across the world.

“I think it’s such an important intervention in terms of restating a pan-Africanist vision and a woman’s centred pan-Africanist vision for the future, and I think for the global black world this is such a visionary work. And the fact that [Margaret] continues to do this and continues to unite black women from Antigua to Zimbabwe.”

Chigumadzi says she fangirled when she first met Busby and her admiration of the woman who put the anthology together is shared by her fellow contributors. All that we spoke to expressed a real respect and amazement at what she’s achieved and her ability to bring diverse voices together from Africa and across the diaspora.

“I didn’t really believe it,” British poet and writer Bridget Minamore said reflecting on being contacted by Busby to be a part of the project.

PICTURED: Bridget Minamore, right, with fellow contributor Carmen Harris

“I was really overwhelmed, I think. Even just before we knew any of the other contributors. It was just getting that email from Margaret herself being like, we’d love you to be a part of it, especially because I’m still pretty young.” While some writers submitted works that had already been published, which were then edited for the anthology, Minamore wrote a short story especially for it. Her piece, which shares its title with the book, explores what it’s like to be a new daughter of Africa, particularly in London.

“I was writing a lot of south London based poems, looking at womanhood and girlhood and I feel like that sort of comes out in the piece,” she said. Being included in a book alongside Blackman was also a very big deal for Minamore. The author’s acclaimed Noughts and Crosses story was the first book she read in a night on a World Book Day almost 20 years ago.

“All these years later, it’s obviously such a privilege and an honour to be in a book with Malorie,” she said. Minamore hasn’t been able to get her hands on a copy of the first anthology.

It’s an indictment on the British publishing industry that there are so few copies of it around, she says, but she’s hopeful this one will be able to affect change – both in terms of individual black girls who read the writings of her and the other 199 women, and the British publishing landscape.

“I hope that people read it and one day I’m like 60 and I get to look back and feel as proud as some of the writers in the first edition who are here now as proud as they seem to be.

“The publishing industry in this country doesn’t move as quickly as it should, particularly for writers of colour, particularly for black writers,” she said.

She added: “I’d like to hope that a book like this would introduce so many young black women to loads of not just newer writers like me and some amazing other younger writers, but also all of the sort of foremothers who have come before us.

“We don’t teach ourselves our sort of writing history and this is a really good first place to start.”

New Daughters of Africa is available to buy now

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