Ama Ata Aidoo was a Ghanaian author, poet, playwright, and scholar, born on March 23, 1942.
She was recognised internationally as one of the best-known African authors of the 20th and 21st centuries, with a career spanning more than five decades.
Aidoo became the first published African woman dramatist in 1965 when her debut play, The Dilemma of a Ghost, was released.
She was the Minister of Education, in Ghana under Jerry Rawlings’s administration. As a novelist, she won the Commonwealth Writers’ Award for Changes in 1991. She also founded the Mbaasem Foundation in 2000 to assist and promote the writing of African women.
Aidoo resided and worked in Zimbabwe, Europe, and the United States.
Raised in the Central Region of Ghana, Aidoo grew up in the Fante royal household. She grew up during a time of resurgent British neocolonialism in her homeland. Her grandfather was tragically killed by neocolonialists, an experience that changed her father’s perspective on the importance of providing the children and families in their village with a more comprehensive understanding of history and events. This led him to open up the first school in their village and influenced Aidoo to attend Wesley Girls’ High School, where she first decided she wanted to be a writer.
From 1961 to 1964, Aidoo attended Wesley Girls’ Senior High School in Cape Coast. Upon graduation, she enrolled at the University of Ghana at Legon and earned her Bachelor of Arts Degree in English Literature.
In 1965, the playwright published her initial work, titled The Dilemma of a Ghost, via Longman. During this time period, the creative genius came up with this inspiring piece. This made Aidoo the first African woman dramatist to be published.
Aidoo returned to Ghana in 1969 to start teaching English at the University of Ghana after receiving her degree and holding a fellowship in creative writing at Stanford University in California, where she worked as a research fellow at the Institute of African Studies and at the University of Cape Coast as a lecturer in English before becoming a professor there.
Under the Interim National Defence Council, Aidoo was appointed Minister of Education in 1982. After 18 months, she announced her resignation after realising she would not be able to realise her goal of making education in Ghana freely available to all.
She relocated to Zimbabwe in 1983 and kept up her writing and work in education, serving as a curriculum developer for the Zimbabwe Ministry of Education.
In 1986, she delivered the Walter Rodney Visions of Africa speech in London, UK. The event was sponsored by the Bogle-L’Ouverture publishing firm support group..
Aidoo was given a Fulbright Scholarship in 1988. In 1989, she served as the University of Richmond’s writer-in-residence, and in the early to mid-1990s, she taught a variety of English classes at Hamilton College in Clinton, New York. She served as a visiting professor in the Africana Studies Department at Brown University for seven years, from 2007 to 2011.
Aidoo, together with Dele Olojede, Ellah Wakatama Allfrey, Margaret Busby, Sarah Ladipo Manyika, and Zakes Mda, was a patron of the Etisalat Prize for Literature, established in 2013 as a forum for African authors of first novels.
Aidoo’s plays include The Dilemma of a Ghost, produced at Legon in 1964 (first published in 1965) and Pittsburgh in 1988, and Anowa, published in 1971 and produced at the Gate Theatre in London in 1991.
Her works of fiction particularly deal with the tension between Western and African worldviews. Her first novel, Our Sister Killjoy, was published in 1977 and remains one of her most popular works. It is notable for portraying a dissenting perspective on sexuality in Africa.
Her novel Changes won the 1992 Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Best Book (Africa). She is also an accomplished poet—her collection Someone Talking to Sometime won the Nelson Mandela Prize for Poetry in 1987—and has written several children’s books.
Aidoo contributed “To be a woman” to the 1984 Robin Morgan-edited collection Sisterhood Is Global: The International Women’s Movement Anthology.
The 1992 anthology Daughters of Africa, edited by Margaret Busby, contains her short tale “Two Sisters.”
In 2006, Aidoo edited the African Love Stories anthology. Six years later, in 2012, she released Diplomatic Pounds and Other Stories, a collection of essays by Ghanaian writers in Africa and the Diaspora. Aidoo’s work is dedicated to furthering understanding and appreciation for African literature.
Writer Ama Ata Aidoo passed away on May 31, 2023, after a brief illness. She was 81 years old at the time of her passing. According to Aidoo’s loved ones, she died peacefully in her home.