June 16, 2019

Dr. Joyce Ashuntantang, fondly called Dr. Ash or Dr. J, has appeared as a Keynote speaker, poet, and scholar in many countries around the world including, England, Germany, Nicaragua, Greece, Costa Rica, Colombia, Nigeria, Morocco, Cameroon, and the USA. She is a dynamic presenter who draws from her personal experience, interdisciplinary education and extensive encounter with many cultures to make an impact on diverse audiences around the world. A graduate of three continents, Dr. Joyce Ash received a B.A in Modern English Studies with a minor in Theater Arts from the University of Yaoundé Cameroon, a Masters in Librarianship from the University of Wales, Aberystwyth and a Ph.D. in English on African Literature from the City University of New York.


WIL: How is the scenario worldwide about women getting into writing?

JA: The world is a huge place so I can’t speak for women worldwide, but what I know is that women are still finding their voice, so women writing and publishing is still a novelty in many parts of the world. Remember, due to various patriarchal societies around the world, women still have limited access to education. In order for women to write in any language, they need to be literate in that language. Despite the gains that women have made there is still gender disparity between men and women when it comes to literacy.  In 2008, 796 million adults worldwide (15 years and older) reported not being able to read and 2/3 of that number were women.


WIL: Would you say you have found your voice as a writer? 

JA: That is an interesting question. I am still finding my voice. I believe like many women in Bangladesh the double bind of patriarchy and colonialism stifled my tongue. I am still working on my confidence to write on ALL subjects. For example, writing explicitly about female sexuality is still, for the most part, a taboo area in my society, so writing poems that exude female sexuality is my attempt at claiming my tongue.


WIL: What do you think is the single most impediment to women who want to write?

JA: I believe the greatest obstacle is still what Virginia Woolf called “a room of her own.” This room is not just a physical space but a metaphorical one as well which includes financial independence. Thus while a man also needs a “room of his own” to write, for women it is a daunting task since in most societies women are still solely responsible for daily household chores and raising children. I can attest to these challenges. Nevertheless, women are making strides and overcoming these challenges. New women writers are emerging every day, especially in so-called developing countries, but the same socio-economic forces making their bodies invisible obscure their works.  For example, I was at the Ekushey festival in Bangladesh last year and was privileged to meet a number of women writers whom I did not know existed, and would never know if I did not travel to Bangladesh.


WIL: What role can parents play to encourage daughters who may have the inclination to write?

JA: Just like their mothers, young women, especially in economically challenged environments, are overworked. They are expected to help their mothers cook and clean, as well as take care of younger siblings. Consequently, writing may be seen as a waste of valuable time. However, for parents who are aware and want to encourage their daughters, the first thing is to encourage them to read voraciously. Great writers are readers! They also have to write each day. In addition, they should feel free to experiment. For example,  if they could write in the first person and also try writing in the 3rd person. They could also experiment with different genres, poetry prose, and drama. Above all, they should not be hard on themselves. Good writing takes time and the good ‘olé adage holds true, “Practice makes perfect.”


WIL: What message do you have for women during this women’s history month?

JA: My message is to keep completing the homework from history. Our foremothers were not allowed to do so many things, and it is our duty to keep checking those boxes that they were not allowed to check. Women’s rights may not be where we want them to be, but we must take advantage of the opportunities that come our way and to create those same opportunities for younger women.


Interviewed by Ahmed Tahsin Shams


IDENTITY – Joyce Ashuntantang

My daughter, you tell me you did not fall from a tree

You have a father, and you want his name

And so today you carry a piece of paper with

A new name, a flashlight of identity

They say I am a good woman

Because I do not tell you how your father laughed

At the love that brought him into my thighs

And hung my hymen like a pendant on his neck

They say I am a real African woman

Because I do not tell of my nine-month agony

His mother daily mocking my mother at the market place

Saying his son is no dog to fall for trash like me

They say my stomach is a guarded store

Because I do not tell you that my brain

Could find x even in the absence of y

But his P made me a “slut” fit for no school

They say I have the brain of a tortoise

Because I allowed your father to drive that big car

Through our family’s honor and pain

In exchange for your visa into “bush”

They say you must be grateful to me

Because I gave up my life for yours to be

But my daughter, a paper is a paper

Your identity is a woman. Someday!

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