This is a beautiful, challenging and triumphant collection of writing that increases our understanding of humanity and entertains royally. There is a danger with any anthology that it has a theme but lacks a heart, even when the content is well written and appropriate to the theme. Not so with New Daughters of Africa, I’m just bowled over by the quality and breadth of contributions here but also the way they coalesce. The writing is, depending on each author’s style, sharp, funny, romantic, confrontational and politically astute. This book has a heart and a sense of purpose and I think it’s fair to say it is important and so relevant for our times. Anyone interested in Africa, gender politics, good storytelling and writing that pushes the boundaries of the form will love this book.

As a reader you will probably want to dip in and out of this epic tome; as a reviewer I had the pleasure of reading it from cover to cover, I can tell you it was no chore. This is a full on sensory experience, a stimulation for the brain and for the heart and some of the writing here stirs the blood and twists the gut. The material ranges from poetry to essays, short stories to political tracts, journalism to autobiography, letters and diary entries to drama and oral histories, memoir to speeches. Remarkably diverse material both in genre and approach. There are pieces representative of many generations of African women, from North of the Sahara to the southern tip. From early pieces to twentieth century contributors and then writing by a new younger generation, some of whom are having their voices heard outside of their homeland for the first time. There are over two hundred contributors, writers living and working in Africa, others part to the diaspora, and natives of the US and Europe. Women from different religious and political backgrounds; all with vital, vibrant and meaningful stories to tell. These are stories of simple romance and friendship, of loss and longing, of political import – gender politics, feminism, race and identity – tales of exile, of embracing new countries, slavery and visions of equality, of traditions (customs) and breaking taboos, and of sexuality. There is a sense of sisterhood, a shared experience, these women have connections to all corners of the continent and the world; they address issues such as class, race and gender – oppression, personal freedom, clash of cultures, diversity, independence and religion. I speak of the sisterhood but it’s also clear from this collection how universal these issues, they matter to all of us, to all our societies.

This collection opened my eyes in so many ways, to women’s issues and experience, to colour in countries and stories I knew so little about, and many nuances on race and gender. I think I learned something of myself at the same time.

The depth of psychological, political, economic and cultural insight here is awe inspiring. There are so many examples of pieces that cut to the intellectual and emotional heart of an issue/story. From lost, or at least neglected, historical works to modern young authors, this collection contains writing of extraordinary beauty, elegance, perception. Popular authors, famous writers, others little known, these are remarkable story tellers whatever the genre. Of course there are highlights, some I didn’t personally enjoy so much, but none that don’t add to the collective wealth of the book. With so many entries it seems almost unfair to pick a few out, which I would usually attempt. There are 800 pages, as I said 200 contributors, some vignettes others more in-depth pieces. New writers such as Chibundu Onuza, Panashe Chigumadzi, Zakia Henderson-Brown. Established author such as Donika Kelly, Afua Hirsch, Zadie Smith, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Roxane Gay, Jesmin Ward. Writers from centuries passed; Nana Asmáu, Effie Waller Smith, Meta Davis Cumberbatch. So I’ll restrict the tendency to delve too much into particular writers, here are a few I wasn’t familiar with but who drew my attention.

Yasmin Abdel-Magied is a Sudanese-born Australian. A former engineer, now a writer and broadcaster. Eulogy for My Career opens as a reminiscence on childhood and the past when visiting the old family home. Tinged with humour the story gradually becomes a exposition on grief and survival. Elegantly written and poignant.

Anais Duplan is a Haitian poet, now living in the US. This from her poem, “I Know This Is No Longer Sustainable,” Etc.

“You are too eager to get on with it. You haven’t the blood of the sages. You plaster his face onto your faces. The inherent danger of strangulation…”

Selina Nwulu is a London-based writer, poet, and essayist. She was the Young Poet Laureate for London 2015-16. This from The Audacity of Our Skin:

II

Hostile, a definition:

Bitter; Windrush citizen: here until your skin is no longer needed

Cold; migrants sleeping rough will be deported

Militant; charter flights, expulsion as a brutal secret in handcuffs

Unwilling; women charged for giving birth after the trafficking, after the rape

….”

I feel slightly ashamed that I was completely unaware of Margaret Busby’s first anthology Daughters of Africa, published twenty-five years ago. This mammoth follow-up is a magnificent collection and it’s a staggering achievement to have collated and edited the work. This is a book I will keep close and dip into from time to time. I hope it helps to raise the profile of a number of writers whose voices deserve a much bigger audience.

Paul Burke 5/5

New Daughters of Africa: An International Anthology of Writing by Women of African Descent edited by Margaret Busby
Myriad Editions 9781912408009 hbk Mar 2019