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May Ayim. Radikale Dichterin, Sanfte Rebellin

May Ayim. Radikale Dichterin, Sanfte Rebellin (in English: May Ayim. Radical Poet, Gentle Rebel, not yet translated) was released on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of May Ayim’s death in August 2021. The book is edited by her three friends and companions Ika Hügel-Marshall, Nivedita Prasad and Dagmar Schultz.

Today, May Ayim is known primarily as an Afro-German activist and representative of the Black Movement in Germany. The anthology Farbe bekennen. Afro-deutsche Frauen auf den Spuren ihrer Geschichte, which Ayim edited in 1986 together with Katharina Oguntoye and Dagmar Schultz, is not only considered a ground-breaking reference work in research on Black German history, but also continues to be of enormous importance for the Black German community. A close friend of the African-American Audre Lorde, May Ayim developed the term Afro-Deutsch, or Afro-German, with other Black women. This gave them a political language for their lived experience. Ayim is also one of the founding members of the Initiative Schwarze Menschen in Deutschland (ISD). Ayim’s work was publicly honoured when the Berlin district assembly of Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg decided to name a street after her in 2009. The street had previously been named after a Prussian general who, as founder of Fort Groß Friedrichsburg on the West African coast, was actively involved in furthering German colonial efforts. All the same, this woman and her work are deserving of even more attention.

May Ayim was not only an activist, but also a poet, a researcher, a friend and much more besides. All these facets are illuminated in May Ayim. Radical Poet, Gentle Rebel. The book begins with contributions from her family and friends, which read a little bit like one of those friendship books from younger days, in which schoolchildren have nice things said about them by everyone they know. These contributions are very personal and let May Ayim emerge as a person everyone would surely like to meet. But almost all the contributions also mention the challenges Ayim had to deal with in her life. For example, this daughter of the Ghanaian Emmanuel Nuwokpor Ayim and a white German mother grew up with a white foster family in Münsterland. This family, named Opitz, is repeatedly described as strict, and having given Ayim a sense of her otherness. Even though Ayim apparently kept in touch with at least Mr Opitz until the end of her life, it is significant that no member of the family contributed to the volume. Ayim experienced racism, against which she always defended herself – sometimes with thoroughly humorous poems and absolute eloquence, sometimes in academic papers on racism in different kinds of therapy and socio-historical expressions of racism. Both poems and essays are also to be found in the book. Ayim offered herself up for these issues, and to an unspeakable workload. The latter culminated in the organisation of a Black History Month and led her to a psychological crisis. At the clinic, she was also diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Her friends describe how she withdrew and began to avoid contact with people. In 1996, she committed suicide. 

May Ayim’s life and the book that her friends have now published are testimony to racist violence, but they also show courage, strength and creativity that is admirable, motivating and worth remembering. 

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