Ama Ata Aidoo (née Christina Ama Ata Aidoo)
March 23, 1942 –
Notable: Author & Playwright
Christina Ama Ata Aidoo was born near Salt Pond, Ghana (then Gold Coast). Her father, Maame Abasema, was a Fanti chief. At the time, Ghana was still under British colonial rule but Aidoo was raised deeply immersed in the culture of her tribe. Her family was anti-colonial and those feelings deepened after one of her grandfathers was killed by neocolonialists.
As is the case with many other writers, Aidoo developed a love for storytelling as a child. Some of the earliest stories she was exposed to came from her mother, Nana Yaw Fama. During her childhood, Nana would tell Aidoo stories in the morning. Outside of her home, there was a griot in the village who would tell the children stories. Those experiences combined with living in a vibrant village nurtured Aidoo’s imagination and lit a lifelong spark for storytelling.
Aidoo had a fairly privileged upbringing as a result of being a child in the royal family. Her father’s position and his value of education provided opportunities for Aidoo to obtain an extensive education some of which included Western education. Aidoo was enrolled at the Wesley Girls’ High School in Cape Coast. While there a teacher bought her a typewriter in support of her desire to become a poet.
The publication of Aidoo’s first piece was the result of her winning a contest. A local newspaper held a Christmas short story contest and Aidoo participated. At the time, she entered the contest less concerned with literary fame than winning the prize money which would enable her to purchase a pair of pink shoes. She won and bought the shoes but it also marked the beginning of her professional literary career.
After completing her studies at Wesley’s, Aidoo next enrolled at the University of Ghana. It was during this time that Aidoo began to take writing seriously. She participated in writing workshops at the Ghana Drama Studio. Aidoo came to realize that having grown up in Ghana, attempting to write in the voice of an English girl would affect the quality and authenticity of her work. Instead, she decided her writing would be unapologetically and genuinely African.
She penned her first play, The Dilemma of a Ghost, a drama about a Ghanaian man who marries a Black American woman while studying abroad. Upon returning home to his family with his new wife he has failed to mention, they are disappointed by both the woman and the marriage. To make matters worse, he now finds the traditions and expectations of his family oppressive. The play was produced in 1965 and with its publication, Aidoo became the first African woman dramatist to be published.
Throughout her career, Aidoo produced several plays, novels, and short stories some of which are considered controversial. Anowa is a play that discusses the slave trade. In her view, it remained a topic that many African writers avoid while the play has found an audience in America.
A novel about a Ghanaian immigrant in London, Our Sister Killjoy, brought criticism from those who regard same-sex relationships as being taboo. And those who felt Aidoo didn’t explore the subject thoroughly or correctly. Changes: A Love Story, discussed a woman who leaves her husband after a traumatic assault and feels ambivalent about being a mother.
Discussions of women and their expected roles in society would be a constant theme in many of Aidoo’s writings. This was a result of Aidoo being an unapologetic and outspoken feminist. Aidoo’s work in the 1960s resulted in a fellowship at Stanford University where she spent the rest of the decade. Her time abroad and experiences under colonial rule would also impact her work.
Upon returning to Ghana in 1970, Aidoo became a teacher in Cape Coast. She continued writing but her output slowed as she experienced various forms of oppression as the country went through a period of repression. In the early 1980s, Aidoo served as Ghana’s minister of education before going into self-exile in Zimbabwe. Over the next few decades publication of her work would be sporadic with some gaps of a year or two while other breaks would last four or five years.
In 1994, she co-founded the Women’s World Organization for Rights Development and Literature, an organization aimed at pushing for women’s rights. Later in 2000, Aidoo founded another organization, Mbaasem, which promotes African and especially Ghanaian women writers. Aidoo had one daughter and made the conscious decision not to have any more children.
- “AIDOO, (Christina) Ama Ata 1942–.” 2022. Encyclopedia.com. ELITE CAFEMEDIA. October 7, 2022. https://www.encyclopedia.com/arts/educational-magazines/aidoo-christina-ama-ata-1942.
- Burger, Bibi. 2022. “A Short Story by Ghana’s Ama Ata Aidoo Offers a View of Humanity’s Place in the World.” The Conversation. February 27, 2022. https://theconversation.com/a-short-story-by-ghanas-ama-ata-aidoo-offers-a-view-of-humanitys-place-in-the-world-177227.
- The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica, ed. 2022. “Ama Ata Aidoo.” Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc. March 19, 2022. https://www.britannica.com/biography/Ama-Ata-Aidoo. Kamata, Suzanne. 2016. “A Profile of Ama Ata Aidoo.” Literary Mama. February 2016. https://literarymama.com/articles/departments/2016/02/a-profile-of-ama-ata-aidoo-draft.
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