- Wife of the Gods
- Children of the Street
- Murder at Cape Three Points
- Gold of our Fathers
- Death by His Grace
- The Missing American
- Death at the Voyager Hotel
YEAR OF THE WOMAN
To understand why 2020 will be the true Year Of The Woman, we must step back a little in time. By the end of 2017, I had completed my fifth Darko Dawson novel, Death By His Grace. In it, Darko’s new sidekick is a young female cop, Mabel Safo, who has been transferred to the Criminal Investigation Headquarters in Accra after she has been sexually assaulted by her commander. My original idea was to have Mabel continue with her own series while Darko was in the background or on a parallel track. However, in what would turn out to be a wise decision, my editor urged me to develop a brand new female protagonist quite separate from the Darko series. Thus, Emma Djan was born, making her debut appearance in The Missing American. I don’t believe it was by accident that I created a female detective. She was developing in my subconscious and being shaped by the events of 2017-2019, which have in turn set up 2020 to be the Year Of The Woman.
THE IMPORTANT WOMEN’S MOMENTS OF 2017-2019
Time magazine’s 2019 Person Of The Year is a diminutive but fierce Swedish teenage girl called Greta Thunberg. Beginning in August 2018, she made the world sit up and pay attention to climate change in a big way. In 2020 we hope for more international action in response to Greta, who has roundly chastised world leaders for doing little or nothing to ameliorate climate change.
In that same year, more than 100 women were voted into office in the U.S. House of Representatives. The Citadel, the Military College of South Carolina, announced Sarah Zorn as the first woman in its history to serve as regimental commander, the highest-ranking cadet officer, leading the 2,350-student corps. Meanwhile, New Orleans swore in LaToya Cantrell as the first female mayor in the city’s history; now, Louisiana’s three largest cities—Nola, Baton Rouge, and Shreveport—are all led by black women.
Stacey Cunningham put a chip in the glass ceiling over Wall Street when she became president of the New York Stock Exchange; with Cunningham’s promotion, and Adena Friedman as head of Nasdaq, both of the world’s largest stock exchanges are women-led for the first time.
Rachel Morrison, director of photography on 2017’s Mudbound, was the first woman to receive an Oscar nomination for Best Cinematography in 2018.
In 2018, Ava DuVernay, director of A Wrinkle in Time, joined the “$100 million club” of directors with films surpassing $100 million in earnings, and Jennifer Lee, the Oscar-winning screenwriter and codirector of Frozen, is named chief creative officer of Walt Disney Animation Studios.
For most of us, awareness of the Me Too (or #MeToo) movement began to dawn in 2017 when The New York Times (NYT) and The New Yorker first reported that dozens of women were accusing American film producer Harvey Weinstein, formerly of The Weinstein Company(TWC), of rape, sexual assault and sexual abuse over a period of at least thirty years. In fact, credit for the name Me Too goes to Tarana Burke, a black female activist and advocate who created the term more than 10 years ago in 2006 to remind women, in particular those of color, that they were not alone in their experiences of the sexual assault scourge.
On October 15, 2017, American actress Alyssa Milano, crediting Burke for the origins of Me Too, tweeted, “If all the women who have ever been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote ‘Me too.’ as a status, then we give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem.”
NYT reporters Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey won the 2018 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service for exposing Harvey Weinstein’s decades of sexual harassment and assault in Hollywood. (The prizes are awarded by Dana Canedy, the first woman and first African-American to administer the prizes.) On January 1, 2018, as a crushing tsunami of sexual abuse allegations against Weinstein and many other powerful men broke the dam, Hollywood celebrities founded the Time’s Up movement against sexual harassment and gender inequality in the workplace.
One of the most horrific tales that came to light with Me Too was that of Larry Nassar, the former USA Gymnastics national team doctor and now-convicted serial offender who assaulted at least 250 young women and girls over a span of decades beginning in 1992. His victims included numerous Olympic and US women’s national gymnastics team members. Nassar confessed to ten of the accusations and on January 24, 2018, he was sentenced to 175 years in a Michigan state prison after pleading guilty to seven counts of sexual assault of minors.
Later, in September 2018, during a particularly cringeworthy congressional hearing, an anguished Christine Blasey Ford testified to allegations that Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh had sexually assaulted her in high school.
To end the tumultuous 2017-2018 year, it was fitting that Nadia Murad, a 25-year-old Yazidi woman abducted by ISIS in 2014, shared the 2018 Nobel Peace Prize for tireless work to end sexual violence.
FICTION IN THE ME TOO ERA
(A tidbit of interest: J.K. Rowling, has once again topped Forbes magazine’s list of the world’s highest-paid authors. Rowling, the fantasy author and well-known outspoken feminist, raked in $92 million in 2019, the magazine reports.)
Cultural shifts are reflected not only in real life–news, articles, and non-fiction books–but also in fiction. Three recent novels, Milkman, by Anna Burns; His Favorites, by Kate Walbert; and Those Who Knew, by Idra Novey, have Me Too episodes within their pages. No doubt, there are other books that tackle sexual assault and there will be more to come. Fiction in the right hands–from Morrison to Atwood–can awaken us to ideas, experiences, and truths about which we heretofore knew little or nothing. Writers of fiction should be sensitive to cultural phenomena, which may play major or minor roles in their novels or contribute to the milieu of the work in subtle yet important ways.
From a personal standpoint, Me Too has brought into laser-sharp focus my already-existent awareness of just how pervasive men’s bad behavior is, and how women face men’s boorishness, unwanted advances, and sexual assault all day, everyday. Men–offenders and non-offenders alike–must face that fact and become sensitive to it.
I always considered myself a feminist, but Me Too anchored me. A seedling began to grow and blossom as I wrote The Missing American, in which Emma Djan first makes her appearance. Like Me Too, her time had come. Things happen when the time arrives. Five years ago, the Emma Djan of 2020 could probably not have been created, but she’s here now. I like Emma a lot. I find myself relaxed and soothed around her while in retrospect I realize I was tense and jumpy with Darko–perhaps the inherent male tendency to compete with another male–a remarkably prevalent characteristic across many animal species. Since I was able to see the world through Emma’s eyes, it will be interesting to see how male readers respond to Emma. In an interview with Terry Gross, Meryl Streep has observed how women have learned to look at the world through male eyes, but that the reverse is probably not the case.
What is Emma like? She’s a regular churchgoer without being evangelistic. She’s a millennial but has made an old-fashioned decision to remain a virgin until marriage. Still, she isn’t a prude and certainly has a discerning eye for men. She’s wiry and rather thin, particularly as she skips meals often and fails to eat as much as she probably should. Many of Emma’s solid morals and determination come from her late father Emmanuel, who died tragically and prematurely of a stomach ulcer. He had been a detective, and as a little girl, Emma had watched him and learned from him as she strived to emulate him to the extent of becoming a detective as well.
As the Me Too movement progresses and becomes more mature in 2020, we welcome our new heroine Emma Djan as she arrives at the perfect moment very early in the Year Of The Woman.