In Kano, a majority-Muslim city in northern Nigeria, a group of devout women writers have built a cottage industry out of romance novels. The books, known in Hausa as littattafan soyayya, or “love literature,” are printed in stapled softcover editions and sold in markets across the Sahel, typically for the equivalent of one or two dollars. The novels tend to focus on courtships, weddings, and marriages; many feature poor female protagonists who marry rich suitors.
Kano is Nigeria’s second-largest city, and in recent years it has been subject to frequent bombings by Boko Haram, a radical separatist movement that has kidnapped and raped hundreds of women and girls. Before the advent of Boko Haram it was not unusual for women in northern Nigeria to spend most of their time at home, but the group’s attacks have restricted the opportunities for work and socialization even further. Though government and religious authorities have accused littattafan soyayya of corrupting the youth, the novels have become a medium for Hausa women to discuss some of their most pressing concerns, including H.I.V., purdah, forced marriage, and the education of female children.
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