Africa Wo/Man Palava offers the first close look at eight Nigerian women writers and proposes a new vernacular theory based on their work. Flora Nwapa, Adaora Lily Ulasi, Buchi Emecheta, Funmilayo Fakunle, Ifeoma Okoye, Zaynab Alkali, Eno Obong, and Simi Bedford are the writers Chikwenye Okonjo Ogunyemi considers. African womanism, an emerging model of female discourse, is at the heart of their writing. In their work, female resistance shifts from the idea of palava, or trouble, to a focus on consensus, compromise, and cooperation; it tackles sexism, totalitarianism, and ethnic prejudice. Such inclusiveness, Ogunyemi shows, stems from an emphasis on motherhood, acknowledging that everyone is a mother's child, capable of creating palava and generating a compromise.
Ogunyemi uses the novels to trace a Nigerian women's literary tradition that reflects an ideology centered on children and community. Of prime importance is the paradoxical Mammywata figure, the independent, childless mother, who serves as a basis for the new woman in these novels. Ogunyemi tracks this figure through many permutations, from matriarch to exile to woman writer, her multiple personalities reflecting competing loyalties—to self and other, children and nation. Such fragmented personalities characterize the postcolonial condition in their writing. Mapping geographies of pain and endurance, the work opens a space for addressing the palava between different groups of people. Valuable as the first sustained critical study of a substantial but little known body of literature, this book also counters the shortcomings of prevailing "masculinist" theories of black literature in a powerful narrative of the Nigerian world.