“What I’m reading” by Maimouna Abdoulaye Barro

Dr. Maimouna Abdoulaye Barro is the Associate Director of the Center for African Studies. 


I have several books on my to-read list or that I am already reading. I used to pick books as I came across them, but the current demands of my family and professional lives require that I be much more strategic in my choice of books to read.

Women Writing Africa: West Africa and the SahelI can’t wait to get to Women Writing Africa: West Africa and the Sahel (2005). It is an anthology that is part of a series of four volumes that present the rich cultural legacy of African women across the continent, with each volume focusing on West, East, Southern, and Northern Africa. My choice of this book is not random, as I am currently preparing a presentation on emerging approaches to West African women’s empowerment through writing. The texts are presented in women’s own words and in a variety of genres including poetry and fiction, as well as communal songs and lullabies, letters, and speeches. If you are looking for works by and about African women that get away from the usual rigid compartmentalization based on language, ethnicity, class, and on the distinction between oral and written intellectual traditions, this is one you should definitely read.

Une Si Longue Lettre (So Long a Letter) by , Mariama BâA perfect parallel reading to this anthology is Une Si Longue Lettre (So Long a Letter) (1981), a novel by internationally known Senegalese female writer, Mariama Bâ. It is written as an autobiographical letter by a woman to her best friend. This will be another re-read, as I have read it many times since my adolescent years. The novel has been used continuously in American classrooms and in classrooms in the West in general since its publication over thirty years ago. I have used the book in my own African Studies survey course, and my students’ reactions always open new approaches to Ba’s work. I am, therefore, re-reading it with a completely different lens. In addition, this will be the first time I am reading the novel in its English version. I also plan to pass it on to my teenage daughter to get a sense of her reading and reaction to it, given her position as a first generation Senegalese and the various lenses with which she examines a society and culture she interacts with directly and analyses and approaches in ways that we do not necessarily always share. I believe her reaction will provide an important view of the way the novel is perceived across two generations, where factors of time, place, and cultural positionality are key ingredients in our analysis.

An example of a family read-aloud we are reading is Leila Azzam and Aisha Gouverneur’s The Life of the Prophet Muhammad (1999). Furthermore, we are able to perfect our Arabic language reading skills as we progress at our own pace reading the Quran.

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The Illinois Program for Research in the Humanities at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign was established in 1997 to promote interdisciplinary study in the humanities, arts, and social sciences.
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