Spotlight on Hawa Jande Golakai

Africa39 author, Hawa Jande Golakai.

Hawa Jande Golakai was born in Liberia and has lived in several African countries. Her debut novel, The Lazarus Effect, was shortlisted for the 2011 Sunday Times Fiction Prize, the University of Johannesburg Debut Prize and longlisted for the Wole Soyinka Prize. She works as a medical immunologist and is currently completing her second novel.

Africa39 authors, Hawa Golakai and Chibundu Onuzo in conversation (New African Women Writers Rising).

Hawa Golakai in conversion with Yewande Omotoso.

I’ve always as a child been obsessed with crime, how things work, due process, death, those were things that I was never squeamish about.  I was never a girl who ran from blood, like animals and all that stuff.  I used to love messing with all sorts of living creatures and I think writing crime is like a bridge between what I do as a scientist and what I do as a writer because I like to tackle things that other people may find fearful; but to present it in a way that they may actually see that it’s not really fearful but it’s actually more like a part of daily life. So crime really is a cross cutting in any society, I don’t care where you live in this world. […] I think with the way the world is now, crime is becoming a fascination for the public. So I think writing crime for me now, it gives me a lot of satisfaction personally and also knowing that there’s a huge readership in the area of crime now because people are getting more and more interested in how the law works, and how people who tackle crime work and how forensic scientists work. The whole process of crime has now gotten to be sort of a sensation globally. And I always read crime, it is my favorite genre, and you know they always say, write what you know. And so, for me, that comes easily.

Hawa Jande Golakai’s debut novel, ‘The Lazarus Effect’.

(source: Interview with Hawa Golakai, Author, The Lazarus Effect , Liberian Observer.)


Namwali Serpell, Zambia’s first Caine Prize Winner

Namwali Serpell (left) and  Africa39 editor, Ellah Allfrey at the 2015 Caine Prize award ceremony.

Africa39 author, Namwali Serpell (left) and Africa39 editor, Ellah Allfrey at the 2015 Caine Prize award ceremony.

Namwali Serpell, an associate professor of English in the University of California, Berkeley, won the £10,000 Caine Prize award for ‘The Sack’(pdf), published in the ‘Africa39: New Writing from Africa South of the Sahara’ anthology. In the hallucinatory story, two men and a boy are haunted and trapped by the memory of a woman. Serpell’s previous story, ‘Mzungu’, was shortlisted for the 2010 Caine Prize. In 2014, she published ‘7 Modes of Uncertainty’, a book of literary criticism.

Serpell said her story was about two men who had known each other since childhood, how they have gone through “a long process of trying to build a political movement together, which failed, and in the process falling in love with the same woman, who died. It’s about trying to come to terms with that”.

“It has multiple inspirations,” she added. “When I was 17 I had a dream about a sack, and I didn’t know if I was on the inside or the outside. I found it very disturbing. The Japanese horror director Takashi Miike’s Audition, which also involves a sack, is another inspiration, and it also draws from an encounter I had with [another student] when I was a graduate student.

“I was studying American and British fiction, and she was studying African contemporary fiction, and her theory was that any time you saw a sack in African literature, it was a hidden reference to the transatlantic slave trade. I was kind of writing my story against that.” (Source: The Guardian)

Serpell shared the prize money with the other short-listed authors:

“It is very awkward to be placed into this position of competition with other writers that you respect immensely,” she says to BBC News. Taking the full award makes her feel like she is in some kind of “American Idol or race-horse situation.” Literary competitions are not about fighting to the death to win a prize but about supporting people you respect. […] Still Serpell’s decision to split the cash is a first. (Source: Ainehi Edoro, Why This African Writer Wins 15,000 Dollars But Receives Only 3000)

Last year’s Caine Prize winner was Africa39 author, Okwiri Oduor.

Writing for Africa in Words, Lilly Kroll was one of the many readers who predicted Serpell’s story would win the prize this year:

I am leaning toward a prediction that Namwali Serpell will be the winner of this year’s Caine Prize for a number of reasons. For starters, a win for Serpell would go some way to deflecting one of the major criticisms the Caine Prize has faced in recent years: that its winners are from a disappointingly small pool of African nations, even considering its Anglophone criteria. Serpell is the only shortlisted writer not from Nigeria or South Africa – two countries that have been well represented on Caine shortlists since its start – and would be the renowned prize’s first Zambian winner. She is also a writer very much ‘on the rise’; since appearing on the 2010 Caine Prize shortlist for her first published story ‘Muzungu’, Namwali has become an associate professor in the English Department at Berkeley, authored a book of literary criticism and been selected as one of Bloomsbury’s ‘Africa 39’, firmly assuring her status within the so-called new generation of African writers. […] (Source: Blogging the Caine Prize: Namwali Serpell’s ‘The Sack’, Africa in Words)

'7 Modes of Uncertainty' (2014) by Africa39 author, Namwali Serpell.

‘7 Modes of Uncertainty’ (2014) by Africa39 author, Namwali Serpell.

African literature scholar, Aaron Bady, wrote about Serpell’s story, that:

[…] If “The Sack” is about reading—if “reading” is what’s inside the sack—then it’s a sack whose outside contains everything else in the world: call the outside of a sack “the inside,” and suddenly it contains the whole world, bounded in nutshell, troubled only by bad dreams. If it’s about race, then it’s about how we struggle to look beneath surfaces that reveal nothing more than new surfaces. As we oscillate between white and black, between J and J, the inadequacy of the only thing we have becomes ever more perilously obvious. And if the story is about gender—and this, too, is what it’s primarily about—then it’s about the inevitable flattening of masculinity into violence when men are deprived of an other to be masculine against, the narcissism of the subject which men use women to blunt and muffle. Or perhaps it’s about something else entirely? Perhaps it definitely is.

I found these things when I looked in this sack, in part, because I dreamed about them and then they came to life. You might dream something different, and find it. You might have no choice but to do so, because you have to choose. As Serpell observes in ‘Seven Modes of Uncertainty’, this is where reading cannot escape the problem of ethics: literature produces free choice because the reader must decide what something means,and yet it’s a free choice which the text forces on us. That’s an uncomfortable place to find yourself, as reader, to be forced to take responsibility for what you chose to put in the sack. Passivity can be an alibi for readers who prefer to keep their hands clean, to let the author carry the burden. But what if, instead of playing detective, soothsayer, code-breaker, psychoanalyst—instead of being readers who follow the trail of breadcrumbs as mindlessly as ants—what if we are projecting our dreams forward as we read, living out what we imagined into existence? One retreat from that paradox—that freedom which becomes mandatory as you slide your hand along the Möbius strip and inside turns seamlessly into outside—is to take refuge inside the withheld narrative object, the un-said, to disown responsibility for the dream by finding it in the sack, suspending it there, burying it there, waiting for it there. It’s not in me, you might say, it’s in the sack. But if there is one thing “The Sack” does, it turns out, it’s to insist on turning that sack inside out. (source: Inside Out: Namwali Serpell’s “The Sack”, The New Inquiry)

In Issue 39 of The Quarterly Conversation, a review of the Africa39 anthology highlighted Serpell’s work and the peculiar beauty and innovation of ‘The Sack’.

Namwali Serpell (Zambia/U.S.A.) is an academic (UC Berkely), critic, and writer of astonishing ability and range. Two recent texts serve to highlight her versatile gifts: “The Book of Faces” (n+1, Online only, 25/07/2014)—an ekphrasis of a Facebook news feed—and “Skin Her” (n+1, Issue 21, Winter 2014)—a consideration of Scarlett Johansson’s recent alien forms.

“The Sack” is a grim gothic. Three generations of men are in a house together where they are haunted by a woman—presumably dead—and her history, a part of which they have each been. Comrade J. runs the household, while “the man” awaits his death, and “the isabi boy” hangs around in disconcerting quietude. “The boy’s mind was empty but for a handful of notions—love, hunger, fear—darting like birds within, crashing into curved walls in a soundless, pitiless fury.” A big fish is slaughtered early in the day, and the big man (“bwana”) is slaughtered in the evening. They all dream of the woman, Naila. J. “dreams of her used cunt” but “had long ago decided to hate that woman: a feeling which had clarity and could accommodate the appetite he had once felt for her body.” The sick man “still loved her . . . scratched invisible messages to her in the sheets.” The thoughts of the three swirl and mix in a dismal dreamscape. Reality is slippery and unwieldy, like the bream they capture and eat, like the body in the sack of which the man dreams, like the pregnant baby slipping out of Naila—“She is gone. / She has been gone for a long time.”—of which J. dreams, and like their dreams themselves. The terrible sack about which the man dreams, which moves about as though the corpse or limbs within it are alive, recalls that other terrible sack (a makeshift body-bag) containing a brutalized and maimed undead body in the film adaptation of Ryu Murakami’s horror, The Audition (Takashi Miike, 1999). The men’s shared nightmare, Serpell’s surrealism, are chilling and enjoyable. (source: ’39 Africans Walk into a Bar’, The Quarterly Conversation, Issue 39)

The Africa39 Anthology.

The Africa39 Anthology. (Click to purchase from Amazon.)

If you or your book club haven’t yet purchased the anthology, do so now and read ‘The Sack’ by Namwali Serpell, ‘Rag Doll’ by 2014 Caine Prize Winner, Okwiri Oduor (Kenya), ‘Sometime before Maulidi’ by 2014 Morland Scholar, Ndinda Kioko (Kenya), ‘The Banana Eater’ by 2009 Caine Prize Winner, Monica Arac de Nyeko (Uganda), as well as many other impressive stories by authors from Africa South of the Sahara and its diaspora.

Reading the Africa39 anthology: “Mama’s Future” by Nana Ekua Brew-Hammond

We are currently reading and writing about the stories in the Africa39 anthology, as well as linking to interesting commentary on them from various sources. (The previous review was of “Sometime Before Maulidi” by 2014 Morland Scholar, Ndinda Kioko).

The Africa39 Anthology.

The Africa39 Anthology. (Click to purchase from Amazon.)

If you or your book club haven’t yet purchased the anthology, do so now and read along with us.

This review is of “Mama’s Future” by Nana Ekua Brew-Hammond who was kind enough to visit our virtual offices to talk a bit about her story and what motivated her to write it.

Q: “Mama’s Future” is perhaps the most explicitly allegorical story in the Africa39 anthology. Why the use of allegory? What work did you want allegorical political narrative to do that an essay, for instance, couldn’t?

I chose allegory for “Mama’s Future” because I wanted to express and examine a range of very personal emotions I have concerning my native Ghana, and Africa as a whole. In many ways, Ghana/Africa is an old woman still muttering about the good old days even as she sits in her own squalor. But this old woman is my mother, so I can’t walk away. I am responsible for her. With “Mama’s Future”, I hoped to make Africa’s glory, bounty, and challenges similarly personal to readers, and invite them to take a stake in a better future for the continent.

I also aimed to challenge the “minority” label blacks living outside Africa are often branded with. The slave trade and voluntary migration from the continent dispersed Africans to every corner of the globe. As a result, in many of the communities we live in today, black people make up a small percentage of the whole. But according to 2014 population data, there are over 1 billion people of African descent on the planet — which amounts to a majority, second only to Asians. I wanted to imagine what could happen if Africans resident on the continent and blacks outside Africa connected, across both the petty and serious divides, to effect sustainable change to current dire conditions.

Sure, a straight essay could have detailed all of this, but story offers a more engaging portal. We’ve all heard the axiom “truth is better than fiction” — it’s also true that the narrative remove of a tale can give us fresh perspective on the truth, especially the truths we have become inured to.

Q: “Mama’s Future” seems to suggests that Africa’s hope lies in a reverse brain-drain — Mama says, “I want more than the money you give to assuage your guilt. I want you to come home and take care of me till you find the Future.” — a conscious concerted reversal of the human cost of emigration and slavery. Mama reminds her children that, “Elsewhere is for strangers.”

I don’t know how practical it is for every black person living around the world to pick up and permanently leave the communities they are now part of to return to help Africa. Nor am I sure that a reverse brain drain is the solution to quashing Africa’s problems. In “Mama’s Future”, Mama tries to emotionally manipulate her children into pledging to stay, but they refuse to make any promises. This said, I do see the difference it makes when one has a personal stake in Africa. If you have close relatives, property, or a business on the continent, news of a coup or flood or currency devaluation is no longer abstract, merely another link to share or tune out of.

Additionally, racism and the minority identity imposed on many in the diaspora have negatively impacted the self-esteem of many Africans outside Africa and impeded their progress. Blacks living outside the continent, are always being reminded overtly and subliminally that they don’t belong in their resident/natal countries. They are mostly absent from popular culture except in the most extreme representations. They experience pressure to downplay their African heritage in order to gain access to opportunities that will enable them to flourish. And they are viewed with suspicion and more harshly punished for the same crimes committed by other races.

Most Africans in the diaspora accept this reality and carry on, but as economies across Europe and America contract, while African economies are projected to grow exponentially, many diaspora Africans are taking the opportunity to re-plant roots on the continent. For these returnees, Africa offers some reprieve from the stranger syndrome that plagued their existence Abroad, however, many find that the time they spent overseas has made them “others” in Africa too.

Obviously, it’s a complicated situation, but I think it’s necessary to grapple with these issues now, and hopefully arrive at some resolutions that could benefit future generations.

Q: The metaphor/image of digging — Mama exhorts her children that, “You dig until you find it” — for your future is used to indicate what kind of work is needed to secure/rescue Africa’s future. But while “digging” itself points at tilling the land, digging to find treasure evokes the image of an uncertain search for something that may or may not be there, but which, if found would be a huge windfall. It also brings to mind the image of mining, and we recall how damaging the war for mineral resources has been in Africa. But treasure also implies the possibility of a big score than changes one’s future completely. The story seems to urge African descended peoples to take a collective leap of faith — Mama says she’s “talking about the Long Term; where I hid a reserve for all of you.” But in order to believe in the Long Term, a leap of faith, rather than a strict cost-benefit analysis (which is what economic or developmental models would propound) is required. What, beyond cultural self-belief, should inspire this faith?

The answer to this question differs for different people.

For some on the continent, frustration with inept and corrupt governments, and a resultant poor quality of life, might be all it takes to inspire action toward a better future. For some in the diaspora, the experience of being marginalized in the countries they live in could be the proverbial straw.

We all have to evaluate the situation as it is in Africa and weigh the cost of allowing things to go on as they are against the risk of pursuing something better, uncertain as the outcome might be. Throughout history, change has come when people reach their tipping point with respect to the condition they find themselves in and start to organize toward improvement.

Q: The story opens with the death of Mama Africa. By the end of the story it seems clear that Mama’s death is certain, that she can’t be saved from dying, but that a future for her children lies beyond her death. Indeed, it seems as though her death is necessary. What exactly is dying when Mama dies? Do you feel that it is necessary for a certain image/vision of Africa to die in order for the future to be found?

I chose to open the story with Mama on her deathbed because I think, in many ways, Africa is treated as a comatose patient—talked over, theorized about, and made to submit to endless tests and experiments she might not have chosen if she were in better health. Her power of attorney seems non-existent, signed away in multiple aid deals and agreements. And then are the realities of poverty, poor infrastructure, corruption, war, coup, disease, and terrorism that prevent many Africans resident on the continent from actualizing their full potential, and cause many to emigrate to foreign countries. My hope and prayer is that this period in the continent’s ongoing story will die as the older generation yields to the next.

To be clear, I see this period as a phase, albeit a long one, in Africa’s winding story. I think we often forget what Africa was — the wealthiest place in the world — before slavery and colonialism attempted to strip it bare. Even today, in spite of centuries of exploitation and its current challenges, Africa is rich in resources, both human and material.

Q: Why “Mama” and not “Baba”/”Papa”? Why did you choose to figure Africa as a woman?

I suppose I was influenced to portray Africa as a mother because of the term “Mama Africa” which so many people are familiar with. I was trying to inspire a personal connection to Africa with the reader and I can’t think of an individual more personal to somebody than his or her mother/mother figure.

Mothers represent a tangle of conflicting emotions. For example, children don’t ask to be born, but every child owes their existence to their mother; entitlement, resentment, guilt, and deep love emanate from there. With “Mama’s Future” I wanted to consider this: If Africa is our mother — where we come from — what do we owe her? What does she owe us?

Q: What is your vision for the African woman in Africa’s future? Are you a feminist? If so, what does it mean to you to be feminist and African?

I look forward to a future that will give rise to more Jamila Abasses, Akindele Abiolas, Duro-Aina Adebolas, Farida Bedweis, Bello Eniolas, Linda Kwambokas, Susan Oguyas, Faleke Oluwatoyins, and Lorna Ruttos.

These women and girls are just a few of the many African females creating apps, repurposing waste, manufacturing alternative energy sources, and solving other problems in their localities that everyone can benefit from. But the reality is, many African families believe their girls are less valuable if they are off in school acquiring the skills to create these solutions. They would rather the girls sell at the market, or help tend the other children in the house, or fetch an income as a housegirl for a wealthy employer, or marry a local suitor with means to pay a dowry and take care of the family.

According to findings from the International Center for Research on Women, 30% of girls in the developing world are married before they are 18, with the highest prevalence in Sub-Saharan Africa. ICRW’s statistics show that these child brides are more likely to contract HIV and experience domestic violence, among other complications. Conversely, educated girls are less likely to marry before they reach adulthood.

This being the case, it just makes sense that everyone would want a better outcome than vulnerability to disease and abuse for their daughters, sisters, cousins, aunties, and mothers. To paraphrase the author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s popular TEDx talk-turned-book, shouldn’t we all be feminists?

Q: Where do you see Africa fitting in the world now, politically? What does “Africa rising” mean to you, or to the young African, the diasporic African, now.

We are at an interesting and familiar point in the rotating cycle of history. Just as western economies launched the slave trade and colonialism when they found they needed to tap foreign resources to survive, today, individuals and corporations from Europe and America are leaving the shrinking and recession economies of their countries and setting up shop in Africa.

Economists project exponential growth on the continent over the next 30 years. The question is, will history repeat itself? Will Africa yield to a new incarnation of captivity and exploitation? For Africa to truly rise, Africans must rise too, not just the continent’s privileged elites.

Q: What does “Afropolitan” mean to you?

Africa39 author, Taiye Selasi, described “the Afropolitan” in her article, “Bye-Bye Babar”, as a “cultural mutt” whose values, style of speech, and fashion sense, among other things, are informed by multiple international references due to upbringing and/or exposure. I certainly fit this description, but I prefer to call myself “African”.

People have coopted the Afropolitan concept and stripped it from the questions of identity Selasi initially raised. Now, it seems to be a euphemism for privileged Africans with American or European accents, grossly out of touch with the continent’s concerns.

There is value in speaking honestly about the feelings these micro-identities raise. As an African who is a cultural mutt, my authenticity as an African is often called into question by Africans born/resident on the continent. There is a lot of tension between Africans in Africa and those in the diaspora. And I understand it to some extent.

Many Africans at home feel that the diaspora should not be able to swoop in and out with their dollars/euros/pounds to implement their ideas now that Africa is “rising” when they were missing in action during periods of famine, coup, and/or war. And even as diasporans fly to Africa for vacation or to live and work, they can form exclusionist circles closed to those who can’t share stories of trips and life Abroad.

Conversely, Africans in the diaspora contribute $40 Billion every year to Africa in remittances and have schools, businesses, charities, and other initiatives on the continent that benefit the people. They want to help, yet they are often blocked by Africans who refuse to help them navigate the system. After a few months or years knocking against this opposition, many leave frustrated and take their resources to other markets that will benefit.

We have to work through these very real issues and come together to work toward the betterment of Africa. I loved the way Africans at home and Abroad came together to make #BringBackOurGirls a global rallying cry (Africa39 author, Chibundu Onuzo is one amongst many who has been consistently, vociferously bringing attention to the plight of these girls as well as Nigeria’s broader political situation). We need one another and we work well together.

“Powder Necklace” by Nana Ekua Brew-Hammond.

Nana Ekua Brew-Hammond: “A shower is a daily reminder of a metaphorical truth…”

Africa39 author, Nana Ekua Brew-Hammond (Ghana/U.S.) speaking about “African Women In Literature And Publishing.”

"Powder Necklace" by Nana Brew-Hammond.

“Powder Necklace” by Nana Brew-Hammond.

Speaking about the process of writing her novel, Brew-Hammond said:

I write better when I have pockets of time rather than when I have a big stretch of time in front of me, which can be frustrating and annoying but that’s just my process right now. I am also sensitive to the fact that my writing process often changes, for instance sometimes I can write for hours and hours at a time and I won’t sleep or eat. I am just writing.

And I actually love those moments. But when I don’t have those moments, I just take the little time that I have when I feel inspired and write without any restrictions. I can write using my Blackberry or go to the park during my lunch break. I just try to write as often as I can every single day. There are definitely days that I am not inspired and I try to use those days to still stay connected to the creative process and do something towards the book. I can use that time to do research or write up a character study of my main characters. (source: Essence)

She also spoke about her love for Buchi Emecheta and Chinua Achebe, as some of the authors that inform her approach to fiction and that shaped the writing of her debut novel, “Powder Necklace”:

I like being part of a community of voices telling new stories – African writers, black writers, women writers,” Brew-Hammond said. ”I want people to know that Africa is a diverse place. I want people to know that our stories are not just sad stories – stories of war or children dying of AIDS or malaria. Africa is not a dark continent that needs to be saved. Too many of our own leaders have set policies in motion that have kept people down. But now, we need right those wrongs.” (source:

Nana Brew-Hammond modelled for critically acclaimed photographer and artist, Manjari Sharma‘s “Shower Series”, and spoke about the body, pride in one’s self-image, performing nudity, and daily truth:

Africa39 author, Nana Brew-Hammond
Photo credit: “Shower Series”, Manjari Sharma, New York.

Thankfully, I grew up in a home where the naked body was seen for what it is — something everybody has under their clothes. Though nudity is often misrepresented through the lens of sexual objectification, ironically, we are most often naked when we’re doing very asexual things like changing our clothes, using the toilet, or showering. This truth is what drew me to participate in Manjari Sharma’s Shower Series. At once cleansing and cathartic, a shower is a daily reminder of the metaphorical truth that oftentimes we have to strip ourselves of all the layers we accumulate in this life to get clean. (Source: Manjari Sharma)

Spotlight on Dinaw Mengestu

Africa39 author, Dinaw Mengestu, talking about his latest novel, “All Our Names”.

Talking about the genre increasingly known as “immigrant fiction”, Mengestu argued for a more metaphorical usage of the word “immigrant” as a metonym for loss and its various manifestations/representations:

We often think that the immigrant story is unique to people who have left their homes. But for me it has increasingly become a story of people who have lost something essential to who they are and have to reinvent themselves and decide who they are in the wake of that loss. How do they find someone to love again? How do they find another home? How is this tied to the experience of violence? How does it reshape our sense of identity and how do we come to terms with it?
(source: DW)

In a review that is worth reading in its entirety, Professor Aaron Bady was intensely critical of the politics of “All Our Names”, drawing links between V.S. Naipaul’s worse impulses and Mengestu’s work; criticisms to which Mengestu responded at length on Twitter. Bady wrote:

I’m unsettled by the extent to which Dinaw Mengestu’s “All Our Names” (2014) seems to have absorbed V.S. Naipaul’s vision of Africa, and the brutal hopelessness of revolution. Mengestu is fond of Naipaul; he recently called A Bend in the River (1979) “a harsh and surprisingly prescient account of the Congo’s dissolution,” and wrote that “[a]s the country slowly fractures, so do the lives of the characters, making it one of the most intimate portraits of revolution—in the broadest sense of that word—in literature.”

If I may make so bold, I suspect it was his own novel he was thinking of, but put that aside for a moment: V. S. Naipaul is a fine writer and a bigot, both were true of “A Bend in the River”, and it’s a problem for me that All Our Names aspires to tell such a similar story, about revolution gone wrong. “All Our Names” is a truly lovely novel, but I can’t really enjoy it; to be blunt, it stinks of Naipaulian ideology. I am torn between a sound that’s halfway between a snort and nothing, as was Ifemelu in Chimamanda Adichie’s “Americanah”, when a white friend starts waxing eloquent about Naipaul […]
(source: The New Inquiry)

"All Our Names" by Dinaw Mengestu.

“All Our Names” by Dinaw Mengestu.

Mengestu responded:

 - From now on I want to be known as a settler rather than an immigrant

 - @zunguzungu what a strange and utterly distorted reading of the novel, my characters:

 - In 2006 I crossed the border from Chad into Darfur on the back of a pickup truck with a group of Sudanese refugees returning home.

 - After two days of driving, we ended in Muzbat, one of the few partially inhabited  villages left at that time.

 - I slept outside with a group of teenage boys who were members of the Sudanese Liberation Army, then the largest rebel group in Darfur

 - They all claimed to be revolutionaries; they had no ideology other than wanting a better future for themselves and their villages.

 - They had followed their elders to war before they were old enough to fully understand its consequences.

 - If the peace negotiations taking place far from Muzbat was beyond them,  they understood far harsher, and more important truths.

 - They next morning, over tea, they spoke of wanting to go to school. They were revolutionaries, but above all they wanted to be students.

 - They knew as well that the odds of that ever happening were diminished slightly each day. They grew older; the war grew more intractable

 - By the end of our conversation, one of the youngest boys offered a sort of confession.

 - He knew his time had already passed (he was still in puberty) but there was another generation waiting

 - and perhaps for them his revolution would have meaning.

 - I thought of those young revolutionaries constantly while writing this novel.

 - In "All our Names", my characters are contemptuous of the privileged students who merely talk of revolution

 - that stands in contrast to their admiration for what they believe to be the true revolutionaries

 - who, like those boys in muzbat, have given more than just words to their revolution

 - @zunguzungu warped, and false interpretation of my characters, of my ideas, couldn’t be a more flagrant distortion of my work.

 - Perhaps that I could live with, but @zunguzungu suggests that I refer to these revolutionaries as “boys” as some sort of belittling gesture

 - As someone who’s been called *boy* many times in my life, to have that idea imposed upon me by someone who has no idea what "boy" means is…

 - well, let's say its tiring, to use a bit of my own gentle phrasing.

 - Last night after a wonderful conversation with @LailaLalami a young woman and her mother came up to me to say hello.

 - The daughter, like my own children, was white half-white, half-Ethiopian. Her mother, like my character Helen was a social worker.

 - Her father was Ethiopian, and had come to American during the start of Ethiopia’s revolution.

 - @zunguzungu says he hates that narrative. The Obama narrative, as he refers to it.

 - Unfortunately, that narrative is not yours, or anyone's to hate. The only thing to hate here is....

(Source: 03-04/2014, @dinawmengestu)

Taiye Selasi on sex in another language

Africa39 author, Taiye Selasi. Image credit: The Independent, UK.

Arifa Akbar reports on Taiye Selasi recounting her experiences writing for GQ Italia and attending the Iceland Writers Retreat (IWR):

Writing about sex in Italian for magazines gives her a freedom she wouldn’t have in English, she says: “I write about sex – women sleeping with Italian men – for GQ Italian. I write directly in Italian, particularly when I want to have a bit of distance from myself. I started writing in English and thought ‘This is a cheap Sex and the City and I’m not Carrie Bradshaw’.”

"Ghana Must Go",  by Best Young British Novelist (2013) and Africa39 author, Taiye Selasi.

“Ghana Must Go”, by Best Young British Novelist (2013) and Africa39 author, Taiye Selasi.

For Selasi, a key factor is her limitations in Italian. As counter-intuitive as this sounds for good writing, I see her point: a smaller, more utilitarian vocabulary can’t accommodate the obfuscations and hiding places that her boundless English could allow: “My vocabulary is limited in Italian and it should be when you describe sex, really. I’ve found that simple subject verbs in sex are wonderful. It means the writing is direct and honest because you can’t dissemble with an adverb.” It’s a method exercised by English language novelists such as Geoff Dyer who succeed in writing such scenes in convincing ways by using exact, almost clinical, language. Not everyone can achieve this effect though, which is Selasi’s point.
(source: The Independent, UK)

Clifton Gachagua: “a definition of Kenyan identity has to have in it our continuous state of mourning”

In the wake of Kenya’s Garissa tragedy, Africa39 author, Clifton Gachagua, writes:

Africa39 author, Clifton Gachagua.

What might a poem about grief and the immediate shock that precedes it look like? I’d like to imagine a long meditation, something about a collective hurt and shared pain, empathy and a call to a renewal to faith. But I find myself more drawn, in the wake of what is happening in Kenya, and in particular to the 148 lives lost in the Garissa attack, to a poem that should be short, a brief poem, almost to the point of not existing at all. Perhaps my initial reaction should not be to rush into poetry. In September 2013 I was supposed to be sitting next to Kofi Awoonor on a panel about the distinctions between East and West African poetry. At the same time, or moments before, a number of gunmen had taken the Westgate mall hostage. Awoonor was among the people in the mall at the time. By the end of the panel we learnt that he had died. This was the first time I was old enough to experience the shock that follows a terror attack. I remember later at Awoonor’s vigil I held a candle in my hands and I’d never seen how dark and quiet the sky above Nairobi can get. I mean I experienced something heavy in and around it but could not name it, did not know how to think about it. […]
(source: Harriet, Poetry Foundation)

Spotlight on Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: “My family says to me, ‘Oh, you’re such a man!’”

Image credit: Akintude Akinleye, Vogue UK.

  • In an interview with Erica Wagner, Adichie talks about fashion, film, food, and feminism:

The oppression of women, she says, “Makes me angry. I can’t not be angry. I don’t know how you can just be calm. My family says to me, ‘Oh, you’re such a man!’ – you know, very lovingly… But of course I’m not, I just don’t see why I shouldn’t speak my mind.” She got into trouble for speaking her mind in Nigeria: when an interviewer addressed her as Mrs Chimamanda Adichie, she corrected him, saying she wished to be known as “Ms”, which the journalist reported as “Miss”. Her insistence on her own family name was all over the news here last spring. She should be happy to be addressed as “Mrs”, she was told, since she was, after all, married. She laughs now, but it’s clear the story still disturbs her. “It was the lack of gratitude on my part for having a husband. And yet I didn’t want to proclaim it: I wanted to claim my own name.” (source: Vogue UK)

  • About her recent story, Apollo, Adichie says:

I am drawn as a reader to stories of childhood told in an adult voice, stories full of the melancholy beauty of retrospect. I am interested in the regrets we carry from our childhoods, in the idea of “what if” and “if only.” A novel I love, “The Go-Between,” by L. P. Hartley, does this very well.

I’m also drawn to brave endings that stun you and make you reconsider the beginning, and I’ve just read the recent novel “Hausfrau,” which does that very well. I think of Okenwa’s attraction to Raphael as a certain kind of first love, childhood first love, that early confusing emotional pull, that thing filled with an exquisite uncertainty because it does not know itself and cannot even name itself. (source: This Week in Fiction, The New Yorker)

  • In January 2015, Adichie published the short story, “Olikoye”, described by Ainehi Edoro as a story “about immunization [that] will warm your heart,” and about which Katy Waldman wrote that:

The graceful and moving “Olikoye,” which goes on to praise the official for treating people “like human beings,” for refusing gifts, and for being the “best health minister this country has ever had,” is propaganda. It is a story raised in captivity rather than in the wild. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation commissioned Adichie, along with more than 30 other international writers and artists – including Geraldine Brooks, Mia Farrow, and Lang Lang—to participate in a project called The Art of Saving a Life, which sets out to educate people about the power and value of vaccines. According to Jacque Seaman, who represents the campaign, Adichie was provided with “2-4 storylines to choose from,” based on the Foundation’s judgements of what “would resonate most with the artist.” Her task: To fashion a narrative that might “break into new audiences who may otherwise not be paying attention to the issue” of vaccination. As for how it ended up online, the Foundation reached out to Matter, the longform arm of Medium, with the story. “I leapt at the chance,” Matter’s Mark Lotto wrote in an email, “to publish such a gorgeous, moving, illuminating piece of fiction—our first!—from a writer we admire hugely.” (Source: Slate)

Spotlight: Who is Zukiswa Wanner?

(source: Her Zimbabwe)

On publishing and literary initiatives in Africa, Wanner says:

I am all for a thousand literary initiatives taking place. The more the platforms we have, the better. In regards to my brother the Binj’s comments on the Caine Prize, I have never entered my works for the Caine myself so he knows better what goes on behind the scenes as a former winner. But as an outsider looking in, while I agree with some of his sentiments, I feel that if we feel so strongly about what the Caine is (not) doing perhaps instead of bashing it, we should actively work on fund-raising to have some literary prizes for us, by us, the way we would like them to be. You and I have talked about this before.

(source: This is Africa)