I attended the last Ake Arts and Book Festival   and of course, asides the intellectual discourse that took place and was the main source of my interest, one of the major things that intrigued me was the hairstyle worn by many of the African leading writers. It is true that many of our female writers are admired largely by the West for their fierce stance on issues like feminism, and they go on and make bold statements on their African background, making sure that their authenticity as African writers is preserved.

So consciously or unconsciously, these women have put a trend on the African literary scene where a particular image is associated with the African female writer. This is not to say that I don’t like their choices, they might in fact not be aware that they seem to fit into this image of the African female writer seemingly created as a statement to advance ideologies like feminism, and therefore are fulfilling their roles as African female writers.

I am a young writer and I have a token of advice to my fellow young female African writers.

1. Dress like a true African mama

Number one, when you win the Caine Prize or any award, make sure you wear an African imprint top or dress with giraffes and lions or one of those West African multicolored traditional wears that pronounces you as a proud African writer.

This shows that you are not forgetting where you come from and that you are deeply ingrained with your African origin. When you wear that African attire, make sure you tie a scarf on your head to complete the dressing.

2. Use your traditional family name

Stick to your African name and make sure you correct everyone that doesn’t pronounce it well. If you have an English, kindly drop it and use the name your grandparents gave you during your naming ceremony.

Make sure that you don’t allow any British or American accents spoil the pronunciation of your name. In fact, as you teach them how to pronounce your name, give them the historical, etymological and spiritual background of your name. Don’t and I repeat don’t allow your name to be mispronounced.

3. Burn the fake hair

When you become a famous female African writer, you dare not put attachment to your hair. All those Brazilian, Indian, Peruvian or whatever hair you used to attach to your head, you must burn them. You are an African writer for Christ sake. Either go on low cut or keep your natural hair. Weave it or twist it but don’t dilute it. You are an African and you must be proud of your hair. You might inspire a low self-esteemed teenage girl that keeps relaxing her hair to actually believe that her hair doesn’t have to be relaxed out of its stubbornness.

4. Be inspired by the oldies

This is important. Make sure you have read Flora Nwapa, or Chinua Achebe or Bessie Head. How else would you have been inspired to write as a lady? And also make sure that you read their books when you were twelve or ten.

5. Be a feminist

Lastly, you can’t be inspired by the likes of Flora Nwapa and Bessie Head and not be a feminist. Are you out of your mind? That is what completes the icing on the cake. And your characters must also be strong female characters that refuse to fall into the patriarchal system they find themselves in. or your female characters must be sharp witted, who give the way forward in your stories.

And please, constantly deny that your characters and you are the same or have anything in common.

So my dear young African female writer make sure you remember the above guidelines, and when you move out of your African country, don’t forget to always refer to how you grew up.

I wish you all the best in your writing career.

Image Credit: Etsy

About Author

A writer, my muse is poetry. My hands do the work better than my mouth. My pen is my gun and my fingers the trigger. I read, think and write. When I write, I live, when i am with other writers, I am filled.


  1. abdullah Omar on

    there is a world of difference a writer of African origin and an African writer.where do you intend your advice to fall?

  2. Phanis Obwaya on

    So true. What we write is majorly inspired by what surrounds us. Despite the viral spread of westernization, I understand that deep inside I am an African. That fact must be portrayed in My literally works as well as physical figure.

  3. Abdullah Omar (@abdulla55912013) on

    is love any different written by a Caribbean or Egyptian is Nadine to be judged by her color or the content of her writings?is tolstoy known for his russianness?

  4. Being an African artist right now is exciting because there are vast waters that are yet to be chartered, but I want to consider freedom, because what the article is doing is limiting the female writer to a stereotype, to a certain dress code, and one who is skewed to the ideology of feminism. I actually thought it was a supposed to be sarcastic like Binyavangas “How to write about Africa.

  5. abdullah omar on

    if sarcasm was all there was to it then i pity those writers who as njeri says are stereotypes.but i can see the article draws in other views Obwaya for example.african writers or writers of african origin.the former puts emphasis on race Obwaya and the latter
    the universality of literature Njeri with racial barriers knocked down.Soyinka summed it well on negritude by asserting the tiger shows its tigretude by pouncing!

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  7. I read this, hoping it was a sarcastic piece but shockingly it seems that you espouse these beliefs! It is ridiculous that you believe that African writers should drop their names and wear ankara for the sake of seeming ‘African’. In my opinion this is patronising and demeaning, as you cannot expect all African women writers to fit into this stereotype. I will wear my hair as I please and use my Christian name; I will not drop it for the sake of seeming more African! And besides, what is the true test of African identity? Is it only superficial as you claim it to be? And while we’re still on it, do these standards apply to men? Utter hogwash.

  8. Mark Lekan Lalude on

    I did imagine, that as an African writer, I was making a strong statement by wearing African garments to literary occasions. I have, however discovered to my utmost chagrin, that the greatest critics of such, ‘affectation’ as if you could affect your own identity, are Africans.

    • Well Mark, Ayaan Hirsi is as African as they come. She doesn’t rock Ankara, and that’s not a problem. Africa is in our blood, not in our clothes. Maybe your ankara was just plain awful. And as the Africans who know it best could, they called you out for what it was!

  9. An African writer (in this case a woman) can still portray authenticity as African without seemingly wearing Ankara going Natural or no weave…Its about what you write and how you show it to the world, your image shouldnt really be factor of how far your status as a writer goes or is dictated. Its an annoying stereotype.

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