Biography of Ama Ata Aidoo

Ama Ata Aidoo was a Ghanian novelist, playwright, and feminist, perhaps most famous for her novel Our Sister Killjoy. She first attained literary fame in 1965 with her play The Dilemma of a Ghost.

Aidoo was born, along with her twin brother, on March 23, 1942 in the central region of Ghana then known as the Gold Coast. Her given name was Christina Ama Aidoo. Her father was a chief of the village, and helped open the first school in the village. At age fifteen, while at the Wesley Girls’ High School, she realized she wanted to be a poet, and four years later she won a short story contest. In 1961, she attended the University of Ghana, Legon, and graduated in 1964 with her B.A. in English. When she published The Dilemma of a Ghost, which she’d written the year she graduated, she became the first published female African playwright.

An expatriate like her character Sissie in Sister Killjoy, Aidoo moved to California to hold a fellowship at Stanford University in creative writing. Following her time in the United States, she went back to Ghana to teach and write.

She was Ghana’s minister of education for eighteen months beginning in 1982, but resigned when the barriers to achieving her goal of procuring free education for all became too glaringly obvious. The following year, she moved to Zimbabwe where she developed the curriculum for that country’s Ministry of Education. She also wrote a volume of poetry and a children’s book.

In 1988, she won a Fulbright Scholarship, which took her the following year to the University of Richmond, Virginia where she was a writer-in-residence. She also taught at Hamilton College and Brown University.

In 1992, she won the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for her novel Changes.

In 2000, she established an NGO, the Mbaasem Foundation (“Mbaasem” means “Women’s Words”), to support African women writers.

She was a fierce and vocal pan-Africanist and feminist. One obituary explained, “Ms. Aidoo was widely described as one of Africa’s most prominent feminists. She tried to clarify her goals. Feminism, she said, was an ‘ideology, like socialism or pan-Africanism’ that she supported but thought was too general. Ms. Aidoo saw her mission as trying to change the narrative around African women. She took offense at what she called Western stereotypes of the “downtrodden wretch” in Africa — women seen as incapable of taking control of their own lives and futures. ‘When people ask me rather bluntly every now and then whether I am a feminist, I not only answer yes, but I go on to insist that every woman and every man should be a feminist,’ Ms. Aidoo said at an African women’s conference in 1998, ‘especially if they believe that Africans should take charge of African land, African wealth, African lives, and the burden of African development.’”

Aidoo died on May 31, 2023 and was given a state funeral. Three days of rites were held in July before she was buried in her hometown of Abeadze Kyiakor. She is survived by one child.

Study Guides on Works by Ama Ata Aidoo

Ama Ata Aidoo published Our Sister Killjoy in 1979. Though a novel, it reflected her own experiences abroad. She explained in an interview, “I created [Sissie], it’s inevitable that a certain part of me will be reflected in her. But it is not an...