Beyond heartache and Boko Haram: Nigerian women prove love is universal

Story highlights

  • Love literature is a burgeoning cottage industry for many women in Kano state, Nigeria
  • Subjects are wide ranging, from tackling child marriage to providing marital advice
  • Photographer Glenna Gordon has documented the growing craft in a new book

This article was first published in February 2016

(CNN)Balaraba Ramat Yakubu was 12 years old when she was married off. By 19 she was divorced, jilted by her husband; left to fend for herself in Kano state, northern Nigeria.

But this isn't a sad story.
    Instead it's one of community and independence -- from the unlikeliest source.
      Yakubu began writing. And writing. And writing. The subject she chose was strangely fitting for this child marriage survivor: romance.
      Soon entire novels emerged. Written and printed in her native Hausa language, they spurred on a whole literary subgenre -- "Littattafan Soyayya" (love literature) -- which years later has grown into a prosperous cottage industry for the women of Kano.
      Balaraba Ramat Yakubu in her home.

      Kano's 'most subversive' author

      New York-based photographer Glenna Gordon has extensively documented this invisible industry in new book "Diagram of the Heart." Working with translators, like Carmen McCain, Gordon hopes to take the blossoming local enterprise and introduce these unheard of voices from Kano to the world.
      She first journeyed to the northern state with a copy of Yakubu's most famous novel "Sin is the Puppy that Follows You Home," recommended by a friend. The novel is one of the most accessible of the Hausa love literature; the first by a woman to be translated into English, and available on Kindle.