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Out from the margins: meet the New Daughters of Africa writers

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More than 25 years after her groundbreaking Daughters of Africa anthology, Margaret Busby reflects on the next generation of black women writers around the world

Time was when the perception of published writers was that all the women were white and all the blacks were men (to borrow the title of a key 1980s black feminist book). At best, there was a handful of black female writers – Toni Morrison, Alice Walker, Maya Angelou– who were acknowledged by the literary establishment. This was the climate in which, more than 25 years ago, I compiled and published Daughters of Africa. It was critically acclaimed, but more significant has been the inspiration that 1992 anthology gave to a fresh generation of writers who form the core of its sequel, New Daughters of Africa.

The critic Juanita Cox told me: “I received Daughters of Africa as a birthday gift from my father. Two things immediately struck me about the book. It was huge and it contained women like me. Even though I’d been brought up in Nigeria, I had had very little exposure to black literature. At school the only black characters I’d ever read about occupied the margins: figures like the Sedleys’ servant Sambo and the mixed-race heiress Miss Swartz in Thackeray’s Vanity Fair. Daughters of Africa introduced me to a huge number of writers I’d never previously been aware of. And on a more personal level it made me realise that I was somehow valid. The anthology was peopled not just by women of ‘pure’ African descent, but also women of mixed ancestry, and just like the women the book contained, I too could have a voice.”

Tradition, romance, sexuality, race and identity all are explored, in ways that are surpris­ing, angry and joyful

I do not remember when I wrote Audre but I did, and I remember that she answered immediately and sent me a copy of A Burst of Light with the inscription, “Sister Survivor – May these words be a bridge over that place where there are no words – or where they are so difficult as to sound like a scream!

It wasn’t until I met the force of the unflinching stories of our mothers and grandmothers and aunts and sisters written by black women that I was compelled to find an answer to the question: “what did it mean to be a black woman in my grandmother’s time?”

The book reveals works in progress, shapeshifting sensibilities, a delicious mash-up of expectations

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