This Ghanaian woman should be celebrated as Africa’s pioneer female playwright-activist

Efua Sutherland

Chances are that you have never heard the name Efua Theodore Sutherland before. If you actually have, then chances are that you either studied Theatre Arts or have great knowledge on Ghana and its Creative Arts scene. Even so, Efua Sutherland, Ghanaian Children’s author, poet, playwright, director, dramatist, educationalist, researcher and cultural activist is one of the most underrated African women achievers within the creative arts scene.

Born in Ghana on the 27th of June 1924, Efua Sutherland started reaching heights at an early age as one of the first African Women to study at both the Homerton College, Cambridge and the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies where she was very involved in activities.

The Creative Arts scene of Ghana in the late 40s and 50s was small and predominantly occupied by men. Few women who were in the scene were treated with disrespect and regarded as “loose” women with no morals or proper home training.

There was a very small number of women in the Music and Acting scene within the creative arts scene but none in the literary sector. Returning to her home country in 1951 after studies, Efua established a career in a space where women were outrightly discouraged or prevented from venturing into. A brave step that created a safe space and platform for women interested in the creative arts nurturing prolific female writers such as Ama Ata Aidoo.

Noticing the need for more input in the literary arts, Efua established what later became one of Ghana’s most recognized and important Literary magazines in the 1960s. The magazine was inspired by Nkrumah’s need for the creation of a new African identity and the need for a platform to uncover new African and Ghanaian voices in the literary art scene. After the successful establishment of the Ghana Society of Writers and the African Studies Department, the Okyeame Magazine was well established with publications twice a year.

After independence and the successful running of the Ghana Society of Writers and Okyeame Magazine, Efua, in 1958 founded the Ghana Experimental Theatre based at Ghana Drama Studio at the University of Ghana which was launched by Kwame Nkrumah.

It was Efua Sutherland who convinced Kwame Nkrumah for the pressing need of intellectual studies in Theatre and Literary Arts scene which later led to the launch of the School of Performing Arts. She introduced the study of African Traditional Performance in the University and sparked research in Theatre for Development and in 1970 established Afram Publications providing publishing opportunities for various writers.

Efua’s work was not only recognized in Ghana. In 1958, she led the Ghana delegation at the Afro-Asian Writers Conference in Uzbekistan and was mentioned by Maya Angelou as an outstanding supporter of Theatre and its study. Her work in Ghana and in Africa with the United Nations Conventions on the Right for Children inspired many African women to actively get involved in education, research and writing.

Efua Theodore Sutherland died in 1997 leaving behind a legacy as one of the greatest cultural activists in Ghana and Africa. Her works are continuously cited and remain relevant.

Last Edited by:Ismail Akwei Updated: June 28, 2018


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