Marie Claire (South Africa) - - CONTENTS -

In Kano, the big­gest city in north Nige­ria an area more known for eth­nic strife and the hor­rors of Boko Haram - an un­usual genre of lit­er­a­ture is sell­ing in the hun­dreds of thou­sands. Called lit­tattafan soy­ayya ('books of love'), the cheap and short books writ­ten in the Hausa lan­guage are mostly by and for de­voutly Mus­lim women, and cover not only ro­mance, love and mar­riage, but also dif­fi­cult top­ics such as forced mar­riage, hu­man traf­fick­ing, the education of girls and HIV/Aidds. Award win­ning pho­tog­ra­pher GLENNA GOR­DON pho­tographed some of the au­thors for her new book, Di­a­gram of the Heart - she speaks to Marie Claire about the ex­pe­ri­ence

Are peo­ple sur­prised that such de­voutly religious women are writ­ing nov­els about love and ro­mance?

Many are - as I was when I first learned about this! That's part of what's great aobut it, that it has the power to chal­lenge peo­ple's mis­con­cep­tions. How of­ten do you learn some­thing about this world you truly had no sense of? To me, that's what this job is about.

The writ­ers have to reg­is­ter with the moral­ity po­lice be­fore they can start work­ing. How much in­flu­ence do the po­lice have on their work?

The his­bah [the Is­lamic moral­ity po­lice] is very hap­haz­ard. A few years ago, the state gov­er­nor of Kano, where most of the writ­ers live, pub­licly burned books and said that ro­mance nov­els were im­moral. Af­ter that, the nov­els be­came less racy and the au­thors now act more cau­tiosly. The his­bah are there as a loom­ing threat, but are mainly hands off.

Have you read many of the books? Which is your favourite?

Sin is a Puppy That Fol­lows You Home by Balaraba Ra­mat Yakubu is great. Un­for­tu­nately, most of th­ese nov­els aren’t avail­able in English and I don’t speak Hausa. But I was glad we were able to have some of them trans­lated for my book with the help of the Open So­ci­ety Foun­da­tion. There’s also an in­cred­i­bly heart­break­ing story about child mar­riage avail­able in English, called Mace Mu­tum [see side­bar for an ex­cerpt].

What did you learn about love and re­la­tion­ships?

When I started work­ing on this pro­ject, one of the most ex­cit­ing things was meet­ing feisty young women who had such a di er­ent out­look from me yet shared a com­mit­ment to a life spent mak­ing work. But when one au­thor tried to se­ri­ously get me to con­sider be­com­ing the se­cond wife of a lo­cal lawyer, I un­der­stood the in­cred­i­bly wide chasm be­tween us. I did learn a lot about what it means to be re­spected and pow­er­ful de­spite an in­tensely dom­i­nant pa­tri­archy. Th­ese women hold their ground, make their own money and live their own lives, de­spite the con­straints of their cir­cum­stances and the rigid­ity of ex­pec­ta­tions. Di­a­gram of the Heart ($35 [about R580], Red Hook Edi­tions) is avail­able at Glen­nagor­

Au­thor Khadija Gu­daji works on her novel in her home in Kano, north­ern Nige­ria


A bride at a wed­ding in Kano


Stacks of

lit­tattafan soy­ayya (‘books of love’) on sale at the lo­cal mar­ket in Kano, north­ern Nige­ria

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