Every star has a mastery of its own
every being, a lifetime of their own.
Ursula Le Guin
If Ursula K Le Guin was still alive, she would be celebrating her 92nd birthday today.
But even though Ursula is no more, she lives subconsciously in the mind of many of her readers. She lives in my mind too, consciously at times.
I may not be able to tell why I’ve been thinking about her lately, regurgitating and musing about her works.
But what I know is that every time she creeps into my consciousness and causes me to start devouring her works again, I am ‘deep in admiration.’
I guess it is because Ursula was a woman that gave her all to bless the world with the fruits of her literary hands.
Because if she hadn’t, I wouldn’t have ever heard of her. Millions of her readers all across the world wouldn’t have known her either. She would have died as an ordinary woman.
But let me pause there.
Between Ordinary and Extraordinary
The phrase ‘ordinary woman’ is worth paying attention to before I move further. I know. I used the phrase intentionally.
But is there anything like an ordinary woman? Are some people ordinary and some extraordinary?
Granted, we could say that what some women do makes them extraordinary. Changing or affecting the world with your invention through science, paintings, literature, art, architecture and politics can be termed extraordinary feats.
But we know that only a few women could have done that. Mabe less than 1% of every woman that has walked the earth.
When we think of all other women who have walked the earth, are still working the earth and will work the earth, we may think of them as ordinary because not everyone has the privilege to do something everyone will hear about.
Everyone famous is adjudged to have done something eventful. But not everyone who does something eventful will be famous.
After the Queen of England passed away, someone said the only reason her death was known all the world round was because of her popularity and status.
Many people died in their 90s on the same day the Queen passed away. But the world did not know whether those people ever lived. And that’s because they were neither wealthy nor popular.
Not everyone will receive worldwide grief or recognition when they’re gone. But everyone will be remembered, at least, by someone.
Ursula was a great woman in her lifetime. She had a literary career that spanned nearly sixty years and produced, according to Wikipedia, ‘more than twenty novels and over a hundred short stories, in addition to poetry, literary criticism, translations, and children’s books.’
She has been referred to as a ‘major voice in American letters’ and known by many as ‘one of the 20th century greatest writers.’
All this means that she’s worthy of being remembered by everyone who comes across any of her writings.
But Ursula was one in a million and we both know there are millions of women who never got that kind of popularity.
On February 21 1990, exactly four months after Le Guin turned 60, a woman was due to deliver her third child at a hospital in Mushin, Lagos Nigeria.
The woman’s name is Felicia Oyeyemi, a native of Abeokuta, Nigeria, married to the late Olufemi Oyeyemi, both devoted ministers at the Mountain of Fire Ministries. He was an indigene of Ibadan south LG, Oyo State, Nigeria.
When the baby arrived, she was a girl and her parents named her Ebunoluwa Christiana Oyeyemi.
Ebunoluwa grew up in Mushin with her parents and three siblings and attended Shepherdhill Baptist Girls High School Obanikoro.
She graduated from Sheperdhill in 2006 and went ahead to study Soil Science at Obafemi Awolowo University between 2008 and 2014.
In November 2017, Christiana got married to her beloved husband, Pastor Mayowa Daramola, at the age of 27 and became Christie Mayowa-Daramola. They had two boys together.
By now, I believe you’re already wondering how a graduate of Soil Science came to be placed side-by-side with one of the most famous literary women that ever lived in the history of literature.
I also wondered about it too.
But I figured that the literary world is a cult. And every member of the writing community—whether they’ve authored a book or not—is a member of that cult.
This is how Christie came to be placed side-by-side with Ursula. She had a literary touch in her lifetime. A literary touch that influenced her thought patterns, expressions, desire and goals. All of these are evidenced by her dear unpublished work.
This literary touch of hers, as unpronounced as it seemed, gave me a reason to consider her as someone who deserves a literary epitaph that can be engraved on the tombstone of time, something that cannot be washed off by rain, sun or the passing of years.
But before I go about pouring candlelight into the mystery of Christie’s literary expressions, let me first unravel what a literary epitaph means and how it fits into what you’re reading.
What is a Literary Epitaph?
After searching everywhere online, I discovered that the phrase, ‘literary epitaph’ is not common on the internet.
The few usages I found describe a literary epitaph as an epitaph written on the tombstone of a renowned literary figure.
These epitaphs are either written by the literary figures before they passed or by loved ones. Examples of such epitaphs are linked here on Interesting Literature and Paste Magazine.
But in this piece, I deem it necessary to give background information on what I mean by ‘literary epitaph,’ even though the phrase appears to be self-explanatory in itself, especially if you consider the two words individually.
While an epitaph is an inscription on a tombstone about the person buried there, it can also be used generally to describe a statement of commemoration for a dead person.
But I believe a literary epitaph should only be used for people who were of literary minds in their lifetime, whether renowned or not. Of course, it could be written on their tombstone or be a statement of commemoration.
Most especially, a literary epitaph should refer to a written piece that details the life and work of a writer on earth, whether renowned or not.
The phrase, ‘literary epitaph’ will distinguish the individual as a writer, author or literary critic.
The Literary Rising of Two Suns
The stories of the two women told in this piece describe this fact. They both exhibited a unique level of literary achievement in their lifetimes.
One was a sun that rose in the morning, travelled to her destination and set at the close of the day, having completed her journey.
But while undergoing the journey, she shone as bright as the sun and had the rays of her impact touching people of different races and cultures.
Though the other also had a literary mind, she had a different path to follow. Of course, she was also a sun, just like the first.
She rose in the morning, beaming in her full radiance. A cultured mind she bore and a promising future she had.
But she didn’t wait till the end of the day before she set. She set in the zenith of her time, while she was still shining and the day was full of strength. Or while—some would say—she was just about to begin her shine.
The Setting of the Two Suns
Exactly five years ago, a woman the world knows today as one of the prominent voices of science fiction writing was taking her last breath.
The woman’s name was Ursula K Le Guin. A woman that shook the world for more than 50 years out of the 88 years she lived.
Less than three years later, another woman was taking her last breath. She just had her second child and just stepped her feet on the first rung of her third decade.
But she left all of that behind to answer eternity’s call.
How I Met Christie
Even though Christie and I attended the same church for more than two years, we were just acquaintances.
It was how I got to know about what she was up to. Otherwise, we would have just been acquaintances all through her lifetime and I wouldn’t have had any reason to put this piece together nor consider her as someone I could place side by side with Ursula.
But ‘tiny and small things in our lives carry monumental meanings,’ says Lydia Yudnavitch. Considering what later happened to Christie, I’d say I was a lucky one. And that was because she reached out to me about a year before she passed.
On Sunday, 7th March 2021, Christie called and told me that she heard I edit books.
I told her yes.
Then she asked if we could work together.
She said she was trying her hand at some stories and that there was a particular one she wanted to submit for a competition. She wanted me to go through the story before she sent it.
When I got home that day, I sent my email to her and she acknowledged it. Ten days later, she forwarded the manuscript to my email.
It was a well-written short story of about 4000 words. It followed a single plot and was garnished with the cultural colour of the Yoruba tradition.
It only took me some hours to read and note down the few corrections the story needed. Then I emailed the manuscript back to her together with my suggestions on how to improve it.
Daramola and the Fight against FGM
On 28 March 2021, I had an opportunity to speak with her about the content of the short story.
She was in the last stage of her pregnancy. Forty-four more days and she would be gifting the world with another child, a cute little boy that would be named Ifeoluwa.
We were present with many others on the third floor of a building in Ikeja, Lagos and she wanted to pick something on the ground floor. She said she would like to take the stairs as a form of exercise, so I accompanied her as she ambled the stairs one by one.
During the long journey downstairs and back upstairs, I told her my view of her short story. It was about female genital mutilation (FGM).
Before that time, I’d read and also heard people talk about the ills of FGM and how it affects girls. I even had to teach it to a group of secondary students in a Civic Education class.
As I taught the students, most of whom were girls, I knew I didn’t understand what I was teaching. I was simply reading the textbook and explaining whatever I read.
I told them that FGM was bad and shouldn’t be done to any girl. I went ahead to mention that it is unfair to perform the wicked act on any girl just because it is a traditional act.
But some of the girls were just looking at me as if I had a knife in my hand to perform the same act on them.
Lost, I asked what the problem was.
That was when one of them told me that she was circumcised. I was still trying to escape from that shock when two other girls told me they too were circumcised.
The girls went ahead to tell me there was nothing wrong with being circumcised as a girl.
They said they were fine and in good health. They’d never experienced any health problems due to circumcision.
Even though I had previously read about female genital circumcision before that class and didn’t totally like the whole idea, I concluded that if the girls who had had a first-hand experience of it said there was nothing wrong with it, then who was I to say there was?
This was the narrative I presented to Christie Daramola that day. I told her there was nothing wrong with FGM and I had proof of it from my female students who had been ‘cut’ while they were little.
Then she smiled and started schooling me. She said the girls were yet to understand the effect of genital mutilation until they grow up.
By the time we were climbing the last steps of our journey back upstairs, she had given me instances of women who had experienced complications due to FGM.
After the conversation, I had a clear understanding of the negative effect of FGM on girls.
As for the short story, she told me she planned to turn it into a playlet because FGM is a subject everyone should know about.
That was my last discussion with her until she passed.
What Ursula Le Guin and Christie Daramola Had in Common
As I reminisced about these conversations with Christie Daramola, I started noticing some salient relationships between her and Ursula Le Guin.
Ursula had a passion for women’s freedom and many of her works convey this. She has to her record, a number of works that reflects the theme of gender and sexuality.
In 1969, Ursula published The Left Hand of Darkness, a science fiction that would go on to become one of her most acclaimed works.
In the novel, she built a world of no wars, no exploitation and no gender. But behind the curtains of these thematic leanings, Ursula attempted to downplay the role of gender in humans and extol the humanity of our characters, whether male or female.
She painted this in the novel and explained the theme further in her 1976 article, Is Gender Necessary?
In Ursula’s words, ‘I eliminated gender to find out what was left. Whatever was left would be, presumably, simply human. It would define the area that is shared by men and women alike.’
Of course, the sole writing of Daramola I’m relying on in this piece is also built on this theme, the need to stop the ills of female genital mutilation which has more adverse effects on the victim than good.
Borrowing the words of Daniel Older during his speech at the last tribute held for Ursula, Christie was a ‘newly-hatched writer’. She was just starting her career and no one would be able to say exactly what direction she was going to take her writing career.
But from the trend of her lifestyle, writings, podcasts and my conversation with her, she desired to defend the female gender and their rights. One can easily contend that this is a topic she was going to stand up for always as long as she lived.
The Unpublished Short Story
In the unpublished short story, Christie created a protagonist who advocates for girls. This protagonist speaks out against FGM and even has a podcast through which she expresses this.
If anyone who knew Christie closely read the story, they would discover that she deliberately wrote herself into this protagonist, for Christie herself had a podcast in her lifetime.
In the introduction to the podcast which she called, ‘Light and Love Podcast,’ Daramola states that she has ‘unlimited privilege to dissect topics on a child, parenting [and] gender-based violence with particular reference to female genital mutilation.’
Then it became obvious to me that putting a part of herself into her character was a way of expressing her passions and what she would like to see in her society and the world at large.
Even though Ursula Le Guin was a feminist, Christie Daramola wasn’t a declared feminist. But her works and recorded words suggested that she wanted a better world for women. She felt the pains of girls being circumcised against their will and she took diverse steps trying to sensitise people about the ills of the act.
I doubt if Christie ever read or knew about Ursula, but indirectly, she was trying to achieve ‘in words what cannot be said in words,’ a statement Ursula had made in The Left Hand of Darkness.
And I must say at this juncture that though this essay was birthed by the fame of Ursula Le Guin and my love for her works, the writing is sustained by the brief communications I was privileged to have with Christie Daramola while she was alive and my desire to see people read about her.
It took me a while before I could gain access to Christie’s podcast. When I eventually did, I realised that the way her life was playing out was never a mistake. She didn’t just put the short story together because there was a competition she needed to submit for. It was a deliberate attempt to hit the same message of his podcast home into the minds of her would-be readers.
It was also a means for her to increase her audience, meaning that those who never got to hear about her podcast may watch the playlet she intended to make out of the short story.
From the look of it, she had a good plan for her creative content. And she had a lot of information to give us on the topics she had chosen on her podcast.
Just before she delivered her second child, she released two podcasts in less than two weeks. That was about two months before she passed.
In those podcasts—the first of which was posted on 2021’s International Women’s Day—she interviewed Ireti Awopejo and Funke Ajayi on what it means for a woman to be whole, complete and fulfilled.
Between publications and non-publication
Daramola wasn’t published but she had a literary mind and wrote—I believe—quite a number of literary pieces the world may never get to see.
I have read one of those pieces and it is evident from the short story that she was a skilful writer.
But here is the irony between being published as an artist and being unpublished. Ursula was published, lived long and received worldwide fame in her lifetime and after her passing.
Her work is still being read today by millions of people around the world and no one can say for how long that will last.
But as far as I’m aware, no one is reading Daramola’s work anywhere and that’s because she wasn’t published. Though, I’m sure she would have if she lived longer.
Ursula published her first book at age thirty. Christie passed away at age thirty-one. She had a mind driven by creative ideas and a skilful hand that could transfer those ideas into life-changing words.
That means at one point or the other, she would start collating her literature for publication and the ones meant for stage acting would be acted upon.
But I am bold to declare that the fact that she wasn’t published doesn’t mean she didn’t live a fulfilled life. Even the word ‘fulfilled’ itself could mean different things to different people.
To Christie’s husband and everyone who knew her, she lived a good and fulfilled life. And that is what matters.
In the End
While putting this piece together, I spoke with several people. I interviewed Christie’s friends, colleagues, coursemates, siblings and husband.
From speaking with them, I discovered some amazing deeds she achieved before she passed, most of which could not make it into this write-up.
In fact, I could only use about ten per cent of the information I got from people. Interestingly, the remaining ninety per cent will live as a memory in these people’s minds as they may never get to share it with anyone again.
Possibly, some of them had not thought about her for a long time until I came to disturb the calm water of their memory of her and stir their mind to start thinking about her again.
It makes me wonder about the transient nature of life, the fact that as soon as we pass, the only things left of us are the memories we created, which sooner or later, will also start diminishing in people’s minds.
Still, it matters that we live a good life and leave good memories for people to think about whenever they think about us.
This is what Ursula K. Le Guin left for us.
This is what Christie Mayowa-Daramola left for us.
Every star has a mastery of its own
every being, a lifetime of their own.
But the uniqueness that makes them recognisable
Can live beyond a lifetime—a precious gift.
2 thoughts on “Ursula Le Guin and Christie Mayowa-Daramola: A Literary Epitaph of Two Distinctive Women in an Uneven World”
This is a beautiful compilation. Both women lived extraordinary lives and they will never be forgotten.
Thank you. In fact I believe written words will never be able to express everything about their lives.