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Nigeria’s Thriving Community of Female Romance Novelists

13 March 2016

From Slate:

Glenna Gordon was working on a project about Nigerian weddings when, in 2012, she traveled to the northern part of the country to photograph a mass wedding. Traveling to the north can be arduous, both because of the journey and the culture outside of the coastal city of Lagos where Gordon was based. In order to prepare for what she might see there, writer Carmen McCain advised her to read a romance novel written by a Muslim woman, Balaraba Ramat Yakubu, titled Sin Is a Puppy That Follows You Home. The idea of a culture of romance writers living in a part of the country where Sharia law is widely followed was intriguing.

“I instantly knew I wanted to do something on this,” she said. Gordon was told that if she were able to track down some of the authors, there would be a good chance none of them would want their portraits taken; she was undaunted.

Gordon was given a few of the author’s phone numbers and tracked down writers who would want to be part of the project, which was published last month by RedHook Editions as a book Diagram of the Heart. McCain did the translations for the book. While there is a large Hausa literary movement in Nigeria composed of men and women who write across a number of genres, Gordon said she decided to focus on female romance novelists for a number of reasons.

“The photographs in my book are also sort of about daily life in northern Nigeria,” she said. “I’m using romance novels as cues; I’m looking for moments of love and romance and intimacy.”

. . . .

The plots of the novels range from complex issues like child marriage and human trafficking to stories about a poor girl marrying a rich man or about how to please your husband. Some of the novelists said there were subjects that were too far-fetched to seem plausible including an anecdote about a husband comforting his wife by wiping away a tear from her cheek.

Gordon said a few years ago the writing was a bit more risqué, but things have changed after the state governor burned books that were thought to corrupt youth or that might lead to moral indecency. Many of the writers censor themselves a bit in order to avoid hassle. Most of the women don’t have computers so they write in composition books that are then transferred to a computer either by middlemen who act as editors or the publishers themselves.

Link to the rest at Slate where there are some great photos and thanks to Tim for the tip.

Non-US, Romance

11 Comments to “Nigeria’s Thriving Community of Female Romance Novelists”

  1. Nigeria has a long, proud literary tradition. If you take the time, you can find a bunch of amazing female Nigerian idie authors. I’ve read… 3? 4? books written by Nigerian women in the past couple months. Here are a couple of the titles off the top of my head~
    Legend of the Walking Dead.
    Mirror of Our Lives, Voices of Four Igbo Women.

  2. When they send their notebooks through the system, who gets how much of the money?

  3. Child Marriages?

    While I understand there is a difference in culture, let’s just say in the US, that topic wouldn’t be allowed by Amazon in the Romance category. (Unless she escaped or was helping a child flee from that arrangement).

    In erotica, that would be an outright block and possibly ban on the account.

    In other genres, it would be fine. But that doesn’t make it Romance. Is the author of this article using the term Romance the way we do here in the US?

    • I suspect it’s a very different concept in Nigeria. And their concerns are quite different from ours. Child marriage is relatively common there, very much accepted and even expected among certain groups – it’s an issue Nigerian women attempt, with varying degrees of success, to deal with. One of the ways they bring this issue and others to our attention is by writing about them.

      • I wonder if they write about the imprisonment and death sentences to gays in Nigeria, too.

        • First time commenting here, although I’ve been lurking for ages.

          To the best of my knowledge, Nigeria has never imprisoned or killed anyone solely on the basis of thier sexuality (I may be wrong). There is a law that makes homosexuality a crime in Nigeria, punishable by 11 years imprisonment, but I don’t think it has ever been enforced. It’s more of a statement of the political class (some of whom have married girls as young as 13), than any other thing.

          Child marriage on the other hand, is another issue. It is endemic in parts of the country that have arab/muslim values. I have not read any of the northern female writers who have written on the issue, but I expect their writing is geared towards exposing it as a social problem, rather than celebrating it. Hence I doubt ‘romance’ would be the best genre to classify such writing.

          • I read the pitch yesterday on Amazon. It appears to be a collection of stories that cover several issues. Perhaps one of them is a romance, but the main article seemed to lump in social issues with Romance, which is confusing (and might be a detriment to the book’s sales).

            Anyway- I hope these brave women get a monetary benefit from the risk that they took (and take every day).

        • I get the feeling you’re hinting that I’m all right with child marriage as a cultural norm in Nigeria, you know, like it’s all relative. Nothing could be further from the truth. What I’m saying is that many women there have very few avenues of expression open to them. Writing is one, and even in this case it is open to very few. And it’s a risky proposition. So, I consider women who continue to take such risks to be very brave people. Girls who merely attend school in certain areas of Nigeria have much more courage than I.
          And yes, Nigeria does have a long literary tradition, mostly male authors, but women participate as well.

    • “Is the author of this article using the term Romance the way we do here in the US?”

      your questions is a very good one ‘other diana’… I wonder also. I tend to think of usa romance, although for sure, not an expert opinion from me, as having a certain devotion, a certain often finetuned, high striving to be with, and overcome all obstacles. No matter the voice or ways and means, including whatever combo of genders or races or kink or professions or or or. All the way from chaste to impassioned. I could be wrong. I’m afraid if I wrote romance it would more be about saving wild mustangs and going to the line for them. lol. So I’m probably not the best person to try to say what romance writing is. Prob about as many kinds/tones/ as there are writers. As in other genres…?

  4. If youre speaking to me julia [sorry cant always tell in the cascading strings], I was asking a sincere question, not ‘hinting’ at anything, in fact hadnt read your prior comment til just now.

    However, since writing the question, I did google Nigeria/ Homosexuals/ death. And what I see are stiff prison penalties, including caning and whipping and that Sharia law which condemns and orders stoning to death is mingled according to some, in northern provinces with various legislations. I’d heard that some from the usa had gone to Nigeria over the last many years to attempt to influence government there to ban/outlaw gays, as it appears they failed to do here in the usa.

    I dont know. Trying to learn. And would like to hear directly from citizens born and living in northern provinces.

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