Senegalese Author Mariama Bâ’s Only Poem Resurfaces After 46 Years

Senegalese author Mariama Bâ’s only poem “Memories of Lagos” has resurfaced after 46 years. Professor Tobias Warner has written the introduction and translation to Bâ’s forgotten text in PMLA’s Little-Known Documents series.

Mariama Bâ (1929-1981) was a Senegalese author and feminist, whose two French-language novels were both translated into more than a dozen languages. She wrote Scarlet Song and So Long a Letter, which was awarded the first Noma Award for Publishing in Africa in 1980.

“Memories of Lagos” is the first piece of new writing by Bâ to be seen in decades and her only known poem. The text records Bâ’s experiences at the 1977 Second World Black and African Festival of Arts and Culture (FESTAC), held in Lagos, Nigeria. This text appeared in a Senegalese periodical several years before Bâ’s novel So Long a Letter, but it has remained unknown to scholars.

Tobias Warner is Assistant Professor of French and Francophone Studies at the University of California, Davis. His work is grounded in the study of modern African literatures with a particular focus on Senegal.

In his article, Warner notes that although Bâ is one of the twentieth century’s most prominent African authors, “Memories of Lagos” slipped under the radar. There are several reasons for this omission – the publication of the poem under Bâ’s married name Diop, and the limited terms through which African authors of Bâ’s generation tend to be recognized via the novel and the nation.

Warner adds that such framing may lead scholars to neglect periodicals, poetry, and transnational affinities, of which he was guilty of as well until he made the discovery of Bâ’s poem:

When it came to Bâ, I was as guilty as anyone of not looking past her most famous novel. Having written extensively on So Long a Letter for my first book, I had no plans to do so again soon. That changed when David Scott invited me to respond in the pages of Small Axe to Annette K. Joseph-Gabriel’s Reimagining Liberation, a book that models an innovative approach to recovering the neglected writings of Black feminist intellectuals. Joseph-Gabriel’s work inspired me to return to a writer I thought I knew well. After coming across the reference to the Lagos trip in Ndiaye’s biography of Bâ, I checked L’Ouest Africain just to see if Bâ might have written anything about FESTAC. And there I found this poem.

Warner remarks that “Memories of Lagos” sheds important light on Bâ’s poetic abilities and highlights a pan-African dimension to her thought.

Read the first few lines of Bâ’s beautiful poem “Memories of Lagos” below:

Festac . . . Memories of Lagos
Lagos airport . . .

Slowness of administrative formalities; slowness of luggage arriving!

Slowness again: the journey to the city . . .

Finally, fraternal and revitalizing handshakes!

And the atmosphere of Festac surrounds me . . . Festac?

It is everywhere: badges on chests, multicolored fabrics with geometric designs,

Brightening up the streets!

Objects or animals prominent on sparkling copper rectangles!

This is an absolutely remarkable discovery for Senegalese literature and we are thrilled that Warner’s efforts led to a new look at the African literary landscape of the 1970s and 1980s. Read Warner’s article about Bâ’s poem and the full poem here.


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