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‘I refuse to be burdened by anything’

In recent years, the gap between Anglophone and Francophone Africa has widened such that the feat of the likes of Senegalese writers Mariama Ba and…

In recent years, the gap between Anglophone and Francophone Africa has widened such that the feat of the likes of Senegalese writers Mariama Ba and Ousmane Sembene, whose works were translated into English from French, in lording it over both divides now seems all the more phenomenal.
Ivorien writer, Veronique Tadjo and Congolese Alain Mabanckou are the contemporary francophone writers who are making evident inroads into the Anglophone world. And not too far behind, Renee Edwige Dro is trying to make an impression.
She is a force and she knows it. She thrives in this knowledge. She walks into a room and her presence resonates instantly, as does her prose from the pages. Her debut to much of the Anglophone literary world is her story in the famous Africa39 Anthology titled, The Professor, a story stirring with love and nostalgia, a story about a woman who had a thing for her teacher and memories of what was, and fantasies of what could have been.
“I like that improper relationship. Where did the story come from? It is partly based on reality and a lot of imagination,” Edwige said, her confident voice resonating in one of the hallways of the Hotel Presidential.
“I had a good teacher for a few years when I went to high school. I like to read a lot but he made me fall in love with reading French literature. I like any man who is intelligent and challenges my brain and he did that. I had a little bit of Oooh, for me and I believe he might have had a little bit of Oooh for me but of course, nothing happened,” she said.
It was her first visit to Nigeria, to the oil rich city of Port Harcourt. She is on a journey to conquer the literary world and her story takes the reader down the lanes of recollections reminding one of that teacher you might have crushed on.
It is an interesting love story and for Edwige, love is an very important instrument in her writing life.
“I write more when I’m in love,” she said. “ I just want to write because I want the person to read my work and just wake up happy. I feel alive when I am in love and my subject tends to be more love and romance. And right now I am in love with my daughter so there could be something there.”
Edwige had just had a daughter before coming to the Port Harcourt Book Festival. That is the extent of her commitment to her craft. She is uncompromising and assured.
And when questioned about motherhood and the burden of the female writer to comply to societal norms, Edwige, who lives on her own terms said, “ I don’t think there is an unfair demand on women to do anything. It is women themselves who have chosen to take these pressures on. You can’t wander around and have other people’s expectations of you. I do not have other people’s expectations on my shoulders. I am the way I am. If people want to judge me for something, that is their problem.”
And firmly resisting any societal pressure, Edwige extends the same courtesy to being listed among the Africa39.
She doesn’t feel burdened by this appellation and refuses to have the weight of expectation intimidate her.
“I do not believe it places a burden on me because I am one of those people who choose to live free of expectations and other people’s expectations. What it does for me is to encourage me to write more, to publish more,” she said. “I refuse to be burdened by anything.”
Edwige is spoilt for choice though. For her, the language of her writing is not an issue for contemplation, it is a matter of whim. Having worked as a community journalist in the UK, Edwige can afford to write in either English or French or Nouchi, a local Ivorian slang. It depends on what she feels like really and often by who she wants to read her works.
But her next project is in French, a poetry collection she hopes to have published in her native Cote D’Ivoire.
“I am writing them in French because I want to be published in Cote D’Ivoire because of the whole migration thing. So I am exploring that theme and I am very interested in my country,” she said.
But at the same time, Edwige expresses frustration over the elitism and conservative approach to writing in her country.
“A lot of people are still writing that French-French. I want us to explore all the nuances of the Ivorian French, but we are not exploring that, people just speak normally and there is nothing much in that,” she said, waving her hand.
And concerning the publishing trend in the country, her sentiments aren’t any different. Despite being publishing in nine magazines, Edwige still feels accessing publishers is a challenge for many writers.
“It is difficult to access publishers because you need to know people and so on,” she said.
Despite these frustrations, Edwige is a fighter and she had never buckled. Her writing has been ingrained in her for way too long to even contemplate giving up. Writing came to her through reading, through the influence of her father, the first black Mathematics teacher in the north of Ivory Coast and through his expatriate colleagues, he acquired books for his daughter.
 “Most of these books were set in France. The characters weren’t like me so I didn’t see the point in reading them,” she said.
She started reading more African writers and by the time she was 10, Edwige had written her first creative work.
“I wrote a story in a book and told my dad that I had written a novel, very pretentious. He said ok, let’s see, so I gave him the book and there were only three pages. He said, you are very intelligent, so keep at it.”
And she had never looked back since.
Now she is actively involved in the literary scene in her country having set up a reading group, AfricaLit.
“We are trying to be active,” she said about the writing community in Abidjan. “However, we have great problems, too much ego, in Cote d Ivoire. We are not very active but we are trying to organise things. People are doing wonderful stuff but I will like us to unite and do more great things and collaborate with other African writers, not just Cote D’Ivoire but Senegal, Burkina Faso and other countries.”
With her zeal and delectable storytelling, it won’t take Edwige long to storm to the top.

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