Mariama Bâ (April 17, 1929 – August 17, 1981) was a Senegalese author and feminist, who wrote in French. Born in Dakar, she was raised a Muslim, but at an early age came to criticise what she perceived as inequalities between the sexes resulting from African traditions. Raised by her traditional grandparents, she had to struggle even to gain an education, because they did not believe that girls should be taught. Bâ later married a Senegalese member of Parliament, Obèye Diop, but divorced him and was left to care for their nine children.
Her frustration with the fate of African women—as well as her ultimate acceptance of it—is expressed in her first novel, So Long a Letter. In it she depicts the sorrow and resignation of a woman who must share the mourning for her late husband with his second, younger wife. Abiola Irele called it “the most deeply felt presentation of the female condition in African fiction”. This short book was awarded the first Noma Prize for Publishing in Africa in 1980.
Bâ died a year later after a protracted illness, before the publication of her second novel, Scarlet Song, which describes the hardships a woman faces when her husband abandons her for a younger woman he knew as a youth.
Scarlet Song (1986, gained international attention). This book deals with the critically urgent need for women to create “empowered” spaces for themselves, meaning, women need to create a space where they are not considered the “weaker sex”. Scarlet Song is about a marriage between a European woman and an African man.
As So Long a Letter, Scarlet Song gained international attention. Mireille, whose father is a French diplomat gets married to Ousmane, son of a poor Senegalese Muslim family. Moving back from Paris to Senegal, Ousmane once again adopts his traditions and customs. But, as an occidental, Mireille cannot handle this kind of life, especially when Ousmane takes a second wife. She severs the marriage. Most notably, the book criticizes the tyranny of tradition and expounds upon the despair of cross-cultural marriages.