Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 330
Mariama Bâ's first novel, So Long a Letter, features two female characters—Ramatoulaye Fall and Aissatou Bâ—whose lives follow trajectories similar to the author's own. Like these women, Bâ was educated in a Western-type school in her native Senegal. She, again like her heroines, not only witnessed Senegal's transformation from a French colony to an independent country, but as a teacher was active in easing her country through the transition. However, while Bâ's heroines seek personal fulfillment after their marriages fail, Bâ herself became an advocate for women's rights. Divorced, like her character Aissatou, Bâ joined several feminist organizations in Senegal. Particularly, Bâ pointed out the problems women face in polygamous marriages.
Bâ, who was born in 1929, lived a somewhat privileged life. She was given the opportunity to study at the Ecole Normale at a time when many Africans, and especially women, did not have access to education. Raised by her maternal grandparents because her mother had died, Bâ was also schooled in traditional Muslim values. As her father, to whom she was close, worked as a politician and civil servant, Bâ learned early the importance of civic duty. This is reflected in her own choice of careers. Upon graduating, she became first a teacher and then an inspector of schools. Bâ's character Ramatoulaye may be speaking for the author when she proudly reflects on teaching: ‘‘Teachers...form a noble army accomplishing daily feats, never praised, never decorated. An army forever on the move, forever vigilant.... This army, thwarting traps and snares, everywhere plants the flag of knowledge and morality." Bâ also married a powerful man, Obeye Diope, Senegal's Minister of Information. The couple had nine children before divorcing.
In 1980, Bâ published So Long a Letter. Praised by reviewers, the novel won the Noma Award for Publishing in Africa. This novel was soon followed by Scarlet Song in 1981. Bâ, however, would not live to see her second novel's publication. She died after a long illness in 1981.