Roseline Olang is one of the editors at Enkare Review, also one of the in-house illustrators. Essentially, her role is to work with text and images and draw connections as to how these forms support/resolve/translate each other. Sometime in March, we had a quick chat via email about her Women’s History Project. Enjoy it.
Can you expatiate on the Women’s History Month project?
For women’s history month this March, we shared an illustrated list highlighting 30 female African writers. Every day in the course of the month, we shared one illustrated portrait of a female writer from a country on the continent along with a short bio listing the writer’s influences, some of her published works, (in some cases links to the works too) awards etc.
Why was this important and what did you hope?
The goal here was to create a fun, accessible way for whoever is interested to find a starting point when it comes to literature written by African women. This project was also an expansion of a list of African women writers that Alexis Teyie (poetry editor at Enkare Review) started working on. See here https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1-nIavadBsSxjKBtYVjOfIbCxvghPjtaaiVdMc1G6Wl4/edit#gid=192058763. Another reason I decided to work on this was thinking back to my second year of university when I took a class titled African Women Write The Postcolonial. This course introduced me to a whole other world of literature that I hadn’t been exposed to. I was familiar with a few of the contemporary writers – Warsan Shire, Chimamanda Adichie, NoViolet Bulawayo, but it was my first encounter with Ama Ata Aidoo (whom I now adore), Leila Aboulela, Buchi Emecheta, Yvonne Vera (another fav) among others. I couldn’t help but feel a bit cheated that I only came to know these writers in my university years.
What was the response like?
The response has been lovely so far. A few people has reached out to let us know that there were a lot of writers they didn’t know about, or have been looking to read more literature written by African writers and the project gave them a starting point. There has been a fair amount of engagement on our social media pages as well, which is always welcome and hopefully, the beginning of longer literary conversations.
In what ways do you think the media has contributed to the way women are seen in the society today?
I think, like most things, the mainstream media often has an angle/an outlook they are putting out. For a long time, because large broadcasting and publication companies are mostly run by men, there have been oversimplified characters given to women, often in extremes; too much this or too little that.
What can change about this?
For one, I must say that I am an optimist and I believe that things are slowly shifting (it’s about time). More women are creating media content of all kinds, allowing for more complexity of experience, the entire spectrum of womanhood and how this affects the way we move through the world.
On and on, people are having conversations and arguments on feminism and women rights. Do you think these make any impact considering how prevalent and persistent the issues of sexual abuse/harassment are?
I think they are, the progress is painfully slow but for me to think that nothing at all is changing would also imply that certain behaviour and attitudes can’t be unlearnt, and I think that is false. As global and online conversations are taking place, I think this change needs to happen in intimate spaces as well, for example in a Whatsapp group with three or four of your friends. If both men and women are less passive when incidences of sexual abuse/harassment occur in their immediate environments, then I think the sum of these efforts will amount to some real change.