Men Who Write Women

Ishmael Beah, Giles Foden, Toni Kan

Moderator: Zukiswa Wanner

The moderator, Zukiswa Wanner starts off the panel on men who write women by asking the three male panellists to read specific excerpts from their books. Toni Kan reads first from his new book, Carnivorous City. After the reading, she asks them specific contextual topics. For Toni Kan, she wants to know about Women and sexuality. He says: “Women know what they want but want you to do what you want to do. The women provide the anchor and the stories revolve around them in certain way.”


For Ishmael Beah, she asks about Power and women in his book, Radiance of Tomorrow. He talks about the old woman who first returned to the village after the violence that wrecked it. “Men have illusion of controlling women which is not true. In this narrative, there is a lot of injustice.  Basically, when there is violence, women are used as a way to dismantle the functionality of the society. I wanted to show how this was happening. In the midst of war, life could change, people laugh and love. The human condition does not cease to exist simply because things are difficult. The war stops and people continue their lives again. I wanted to show that resilience and innovation. People find ways to live.”

Zukiswa comments that the book is very deceptive because it is called radiance of tomorrow and there is no radiance. “It was beautiful and very much the reality in a lot of communities –violence meted on people in our communities.” she says

To Giles Foden she poses the question of women and intellect which arises from the context of the excerpt of his book, Last King of Scotland that he has just read. “When the man meets her he does not realize how intelligent she is even though she is the one that helps him at the end. Do you think that women downplay their intellect?” She asks

“Male characters in novels misread women. I think the novel is tied up with the question of relationship between genders. I don’t think my book is very unusual having a female character that seems at first like an object of desire and then surprises the other character. She surprised me as a writer too.”

She goes back to Toni. “What I absolutely enjoyed your book is how you took us around Lagos. Can you talk about Lagos?”

Toni Kan starts by talking about how the island is cut off from the mainland by the bridge and how people on the island only come to mainland when they want to go to the airport. “Mainland people go to work on the island. Lagos big boys don’t have a job but they have money. They go to bed with a dollar wake up with millions and no one asks questions.” He concludes by explaining that his description of Lagos in the book was very deliberate “I wanted to draw a map of Lagos” he says

Ishmael also talks about the heavy influence his grandmother was, on his book. “In my tribe the women are the ones who carry the story and pass it to daughters. The women support the home in ways men are not capable of. It’s a bit of autobiography. I grew up with my grandmother. Though she had no formal education she was the most intelligent woman I knew. I learned to tell stories from her because she always told me stories. I was paying homage to her by having that strong feminine quality. When people from outside the continent speak of African women as weak I say I don’t know what African women you have met.”

Someone from the audience asks if they do any research like asking women questions before they write about them. Without directly answering the question, Toni Kan says that writing about women is a battle you’ll never win. You can never write about women well.

Ishmael says that his editors and publishers and women. He also looks to his wife to read it and criticize it. “My next book is from the point of view of a woman. I have two daughters and I look at them when I’m writing. But it is difficult to remove your masculinity. There’ll always be sentiments. Writing about women is a lifelong learning.”

Opeyemi Adedeji



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