d 1 – Writing Freedom


David Walker’s Early Years:

I could only start where all stories start, at the beginning, with David Walker’s free-born entry into the world in Wilmington, North Carolina, in 1795 or 1796.  No amount of research will reveal where or from whom Walker acquired his impressive education, though his hometown black church was the most likely resource.

As a young adult, David Walker moved to Charleston, South Carolina, which boasted a sizable free black community. There, he became active in the First African Methodist Episcopal Church of Charleston[1], which was the locus of Denmark Vesey’s sabotaged slave insurrection of 1822. Scholars think it likely that Walker was active in the insurrection attempt.

Likely a fugitive revolutionary post-1822, Walker roamed the country widely, seeing South and North and human oppression in its many ghastly forms. That he ended up in Boston by 1825 is of special note, for Boston was the abolitionist movement’s smoldering hot bed.

[1] This is the same church at which white supremacist Dylan Roof slaughtered nine people in 2015.

See full essay here

While widely known amongst Black Studies and African-American literature scholars, David Walker’s life and work is virtually unknown amongst the wider public.

The Subversive Women who Self-Publish Novels Amid Jihadist War

In conservative Northern Nigeria, women write wildly popular, cheaply printed romances in the Hausa language. Their devout Muslim heroines free themselves from patriarchal traditions like forced child marriage, female illiteracy and polygamy. They become brilliant students, excel in careers and find passionate love in monogamous marriages. The writers inspire thousands of enthusiastic fans to find a voice in this society where a conservative trend of Islam mixes with long-standing local custom to devalue women.  This is, moreover, the region where the extremist jihadist militia Boko Haram (Hausa for “Western education is sinful”) terrorizes the population and kidnapped 276 girls from Chibok school for enforced marriage. We hear a lot about Boko Haram and Northern Nigerian women as victims, but very little about these thousands of women seeking freedom through romance fiction.  Yet their movement is more enormous by far.

See Glenna Gordon, Diagram of the Heart

Laura Mallonee: Northern Nigeria … is not …  a place you’d expect a literary movement of Muslim women to flourish, especially one that sells pulpy novels in the very marketplaces targeted by jihadists.

Whatever the plot, these stories frequently denounce child marriage, sex trafficking, and slavery in all its forms. They are often handwritten, transcribed onto a computer, self-published and sold in markets throughout the Sahel region of Africa. The women who write them brave censorship and become leaders of their community, working within the bounds of society even as they shape it.

“The women fearlessly raise pressing societal issues while promoting literacy among women,”  says Kano literature scholar Abdalla Uba Adama.
Read more here

“Written in Hausa, these romantic novels are the work of mostly female authors, who have been printing their own works in Kano since Nigeria’s publishing industry fell apart in the 1980s.”
Read more here

Femke van Zeijl: “Even though soyayya (love) novels are deeply pious in tone and portray marriage as the single most important goal in a woman’s life, in the strict Islamic north of Nigeria – where senators defend the right to marry 13-year-old girls… – these entertaining and affordable books challenge taboos and empower women.”
Read more here.