Mariama Ba catapulted onto the African literary scene with her first novel, 'So Long a Letter', which received much acclaim and admiration. The Senegalese writer who was born in Dakar, Senegal, in 1929, was educated - unlike many other women of her generation - at the Ecole Normal for girls in Rufisque. Brought up as a Muslim by maternal grandparents, she studied the Koran during school holidays. Ba began writing at school and in her early essays there are hints at the critical approach that she was to adopt in her writings to society around her. A pioneer of women's right, she became involved in several Senegalese women's organisations. Her commitment to eradicating inequalities between men and women in Africa led her to write So Long A Letter. The novel, originally written in French, was translated into sixteen languages and won the first Noma Award for Publishing in Africa. The English translation of the novel was first published in 1981. A school teacher and inspector by profession, Ba promoted the crucial role of the writer in a developing country. She believed that the 'sacred mission' of the writer was to strike out 'at the archaic practices, traditions and customs that are not a real part of our precious cultural heritage.' So Long a Letter succeeds admirably in its mission. Ba died tragically in 1981 in Dakar after a long illness, just before her second novel appeared.