A diverse gathering of dozens of women writers from Africa and its diaspora will meet in Accra, Ghana from May 16-19. And you can help make it happen by joining the indiegogo campaign that will help women writers attend.
The Organization of Women Writers of Africa Inc (OWWA) is sponsoring Yari Yari Ntoaso: Continuing the Dialogue—the third Yari Yari event held over the past 15 years. The word yari, from the Kuranko language of Sierra Leone, means “future,” while ntoaso, from the Akan language of Ghana, translates as understanding and agreement. “This Yari Yari will extend the dialogue of the first two Yari Yaris, which put hundreds of women writers and scholars in discussion with thousands of people,” says conference director Rosamond King, a poet and an assistant professor of English at Brooklyn College.
The legendary activist-poet Jayne Cortez founded OWWA, a nonprofit literary organization concerned with developing and advancing the literature of women writers from Africa and its diaspora, along with Ghanaian writer Ama Ata Aidoo in 1991. Since its inception, OWWA’s has been creating opportunities for exploration and exchange. In 1997 it sponsored “Yari Yari: Black Women Writers and the Future,” and in 2004 it held “Yari Yari Pamberi: Black Women Writers dissecting Globalization.” Both were held at NYU, co-sponsored in part by the Institute of African-American Affairs, and documentation of the events are available for viewing in their archives at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in New York City.
Previous attendees have described Yari Yari as empowering and welcoming. Cornell University Professor Carole Boyce Davies (Trinidad/U.S), who participated in both, says, “Yari Yari provides affirmative space always for black women writers worldwide to show again that we speak, think, write, theorize, imagine, create. From the start this has always been a space for creative encounters with writers from all corners of the Black World.”
Adds Susquehanna University assistant professor of English Angelique V Nixon (Bahamas/U.S.), “I went to the Yari Yari conference in New York in 2004 and it was a life changing experience. It was incredibly affirming and supportive to my writing/poet self in ways that I had never experienced before. And I am forever blessed and grateful for that beautiful experience. This is why I’m so honored to be included as an invited writer this year!”
The dialogue slated to continue in Accra this spring will congregate an international group of writers of multiple genres, ranging from children’s literature, to fiction to playwriting, and including scholars, organizers, publishers, filmmakers, journalists, poets, performers and visual artists. The feminists and womanists from Africa, the Caribbean, North America and the U.K. who will be attending include Ama Aita Aidoo (Ghana), Yolanda Arroyo-Pizzaro (Puerto Rico), Sokhna Benga (Senegal), Tara Betts (U.S.), Gabrielle Civil (Haiti/U.S.), Angela Davis (U.S.), Alison Duke (Canada); Philo Ikonya (Kenya), Kadija George Sessay (U.K./Sierra Leone), Jason King (U.S.), Kinna Likimani (Ghana), Natalia Molebatsi (South Africa), Virginia Phiri (Zimbabwe), Tess Onwueme (Nigeria), Sapphire (U.S.) and Veronique Tadjo (Cote d’Ivoire/South Africa). For a draft of the program and list of participants, see here.
The conference, as always, is a free public event, consisting of plenaries, panels, performances and a film and video series as well as receptions and exhibitions. First time invitee, Haiti’s Evelyne Trouillot crystalizes the spirit of the coming encounter:
To travel to Africa, for a Haitian, can be a very emotional journey. It can stir a genuine desire to remember a reality one could not possibly have known, a willingness to connect with a dramatic past. For me, as a Haitian woman writer, I feel that this trip to the Yari Yari conference in Ghana is an opportunity to go beyond the beautifully sentimental journey, to discard the fabrications learned in misguided history books and to shatter the silencing that has for so long hindered our reflection. Meeting and sharing with other women writers and artists from Africa or from African descent provides an opportunity to derive more sense from our past and find novel ways to look at ourselves and create new ties that rise above the ordinary paths.
But exciting as the symposium promises to be, OWWA still needs funding to defray the travel costs of invited independent writers without institutional affiliations—especially those coming from Kenya, Nigeria and Zimbabwe. Many of us who will attend (I am one of them) are able to do so because we have support, so we are doing what we can for those with less means. As Nixon says, we are “thrilled to be invited writers—and truly blessed to have funding from my university. But there are some writers who do not.”
To bring greater awareness of Yari Yari and help fundraising efforts, Zoramagonline kicked off a digital salon series featuring interviews with invitees. It debuted with U.S. poet Camille Dungy invoking the phenomenal bell hooks’ Remembered Rapture: The Writer at Work: “No black woman writer in this culture can write ‘too much.’”
Indeed, in order to write, one must first know one has a voice. And we’re inspired in this by Jayne Cortez who sadly passed away on December 28, 2012. We still can hear her instructing us to find our own voices and use them. Indeed, Yari Yari Ntoaso will be held in her honor.
To help African and diaspora writers attend the Yari Yari, please go to indiegogo and donate what you can to the support fund that has been set up.