POV: Southern Comfort, Southern Fear > Black Versus •

Southern Comfort,

Southern Fear

Last weekend I chaperoned a group of young people on a youth retreat in Mississippi.  Our lodgings consisted of three cabins divided among girls and boys.  I’d volunteered to chaperone the high school girls’ cabin. After settling in for the night, I got a phone call from one of the boys.

“Ms. Thena, something strange is going on in our cabin.”

When I arrived at their cabin, there were many concerns. There was the broken window that no one had an explanation for.  The porch lights were mysteriously flickering on and off. Someone reported seeing car lights in the middle of the night and heard sounds of a car outside.  There were no curtains in the cabin to shield everyone from someone peering inside.  And the historical artifacts on the cabin walls were disturbing — iron shackles and chains along with portraits of scary looking white people from the 1800s.  Above all, there were fears about being housed in a cabin in the middle of the dark woods of Mississippi.

“This isn’t a place for black kids to be,” said one young person.

I was struck by how Mississippi’s legacy of racism and violence was alive and real for these kids, some as young as 11 years-old.  But how could it not be? Certainly Mississippi’s reputation for white terrorism was well-earned.   I knew the history, too, but had somehow found a way to convince myself that this was a threat that we no longer needed to worry about. And it felt unfair to single out one state, especially since racism was an American problem — not unique to Mississippi.  In college, I was always amused by the New Yorkers and northerners who refused to travel to places like Mississippi.  I’d tease them, “Do you think the KKK will be greeting you at the state line?”

Maybe I dismissed these fears because I’m from the south, myself. Born in Richmond, Virginia and raised in a small Texas town. But of course, as soon as I get cocky about my so-called southern survival skills, those Mississippi anxieties resurface in the headlines.   Indeed, it was only last month that Mississippi ratified the 13th amendment that outlawed slavery.  Mississippi, Goddam, for sure.

That night, in the cabin, I tried to convince our young retreaters that they had nothing to fear out there in the peaceful, serene, Mississippi woods.  But their fears forced me to confront my own biases.  For one thing, I’d made inappropriate assumptions about “courage” because they were boys. This was unfair. And I also learned a little something about fear.  It never crossed my mind that these boys would feel unsafe in Mississippi.  They were from New Orleans, after all.  Guns, poverty, and racism were all forms of violence that these young people were experiencing on a daily basis.  


But what’s the difference between the fear of a white Klansman racing through the woods to kill black kids and the fear of gun violence on the streets of New Orleans?  Fear is fear.  And all of it is bred from the same sickness.  I asked them, “What will it take for you to feel safe tonight?”


As we went around the circle to hear from everyone, there were no easy answers. Many of the kids just wanted to express why they felt afraid.  Eight young black boys, in the dark woods with nothing but Mississippi’s tragic past running through their minds like an infomercial. How could I not understand their fear?  But for the pressure that comes along with being a grown up and in-charge — perhaps I would have been under the covers myself.

I thought about what it would have taken for my 12 year-old self to feel safe.


“Let’s cover all the windows,”  I suggested. “We’ll use sheets and blankets to block out that darkness. No one looks in, and no one looks out.”  


“Let’s turn on the television, get a card game going. Does anyone know how to play spades?”


“I’ll sleep in the cabin with you all tonight. I’ll bring my air mattress right here in the open living room.”


Over the next hour, the high school girls and I shuffled out into the dark, Mississippi night and moved our belongings to the boys’ cabin. We turned on the television and a few more lights.  We brought all of the mattresses into the living room. Within an hour or so, they were laughing, playing cards, and flipping television channels.

By 3:00am, everyone had fallen asleep.


Violence in New Orleans is real. Most of our young retreaters live in neighborhoods exposed to crime.  The sounds of gunshots are a familiar reality.  Many have been personally affected by the loss of classmates, relatives, and neighbors.  Our city and our schools are not equipped with the resources to address the trauma that comes with this fear and pain. Mental and behavioral health services for poor children are often the first programs to be eliminated from state budgets.

It is tragic that violence and terror are realities that black children have been forced to confront throughout history. Even in that serene and calm Mississippi cabin, with no real threat in sight — our kids did not feel safe.  But the same fear was just as real in our beloved New Orleans. If only sheets over windows, card games, and television laugh tracks were enough to ease the fear of every black child forced to make sense of violence and death so early in life. How do you soothe that kind of fear?


—Thena Robinson-Mock



VIDEO: Stevie Wonder - Live in Germany 1974


funkyflyy2 — Stevie Wonder 1974 concert on German TV show Musikladen/Beat Club.
I recorded from the European TV channel VH1 in 2003. I wish this would be released on DVD! If someone can help me identify the musicians, it would be great. One of the ladies, Afro and a polo shirt, singing backing vocals is Denice Williams. She was part of Wonder's female background singing group Wonderlove. I think this is the partial lineup, based on what Stevie says at 23.15: Reggie McBride plays bass. Michael "Mike" Sembello on guitar and keys, Ollie E. Brown on drums.

Song list:
1. Jam
2. Contusion
3. Higher Ground
4. Don't You Worry 'Bout A Thing
5. I Can See The Sun In Late December
6. He's Misstra Know-It-All
7. Living For The City
8. Superstition


The London-based nine-piece band are a hot melting pot of identities with backgrounds that span the world map: Cuba, Argentina, Venezuela, Chile, Ghana, Congo, Spain and the UK. Wara formed in 2009 and soon found that they were doing what no one else was: namely portraying what Latin Americans face when moving to UK, using the music to bend stereotypes, genres and combine stories. “We reinterpret what has already been done [in Cuban music] so it applies to young people living here in the UK in 2013,” says Latin powerhouse Eliane Correa, MD and keyboard player. The rest of the line-up includes Congolese-Argentinean lead vocalist Juanita Euka (niece of legendary Congolese musician Franco), London’s Josh Solnick aka Murmur (FUR) as multiple-personality lyricist. Add to this Nana Aldrin Quaye on backing vocals, George Cole on bass, Tauarean Antoine-Chagar on saxophone, Ernesto Marichales tight on percussion, Leandro ‘Lele’ Mancini on drums and Greg Sanders-Gallego on guitar, whose West African inspired riffs add another geographical twist to the Wara sound.


WARA EP by Wara

PUB: Call for Submissions for an Edited Collection of Essays: Islam and Postcolonial Literature > Writers Afrika

Call for Submissions
for an Edited Collection of Essays:
Islam and Postcolonial Literature


Deadline: 1 May 2013

Religion has long been a marginal topic in postcolonial studies. Robert Young has observed, “an absolute division between the material and the spiritual operates within postcolonial studies, emphasizing the degree to which the field is distinguished by an unmediated secularism, opposed to and consistently excluding the religious that have taken on the political identity of providing alternative value-systems to those of the west.” In particular, Islam, outside the fundamentalist or extremist expressions, has been absent from critical conversations. Far too often in postcolonial scholarship—and indeed, in literary studies generally— Islam is identified as simply a form of oppression or as a vehicle for political manipulation.

A tendency within postcolonial scholarship to link Islam with terrorism, and an overwhelming focus on radical manifestations of the faith, has led to a complete disregard for moderate positions within that faith community. Such critical formulations are obviously counter-productive: the absence of a range of Islamic subjectivities within postcolonial scholarship has created a void where misinterpretations and hostilities thrive, and where faith becomes synonymous with violence. This lack of discussion persists even as Muslim immigration to the West continues to increase and as Islam becomes an ever-more central part of modern Western life and culture.

With this in mind, we seek submissions which explore various depictions of Islam and Muslim identity in postcolonial literature. The possible topics include but are not limited to the study of

  • the formation of Muslim diasporic communities in the West and the notion of resistance and integration

  • the relationship between Islam and other religions in the West

  • the differentiation between cultural and theological practices as well as local and transnational formations of Islam

  • the identification of a range of Muslim subject positions—be they secular, moderate, fundamentalist, or extremist

  • the impact of 9/11 and 7/7 in and on literary narratives

  • gender ideology and female agency in Islam (including contested symbols such as the veil)

  • sacred spaces and their influence on cultural practices

  • teligions’ challenge to hybridity

  • secularism within the Islamic context

  • the role of the ummah (the Islamic community) within the national/transnational space

  • Islamic minorities in the West and the notion of the Muslim subaltern

  • Islamophobia
This collection does not intend to intensify or indeed even enter into the sensationalistic debate about Muslim “allegiances.” Nor does it aim to treat the Muslim subject as an uncomplicated, uniform entity. Rather, it aims to understand the impediments to the integration of the Muslim “Other” in the current cultural/political climate and analyze the way literature responds to such apprehensions through an empathetic lens.

The deadline for submissions is May 1, 2013. Please send abstracts (500 words maximim) and a short CV both to Esra Mirze Santesso (santesso@uga.edu) and James McClung (jmcclung@uga.edu).


For queries/ submissions: santesso@uga.edu, jmcclung@uga.edu



PUB: Call-for-Submissions - BARRANCA PRESS

Call for Submissions
for a new collection: 
Tiananmen Square 25

In remembrance of the Tiananmen Square events of 4th June 1989, Barranca Press will be publishing a 25th Anniversary collection to reflect on the movement and its impact.


Deadline: July 15, 2013


Genre: poetry, short fiction, creative non-fiction, memoir, 
or photo-essay


Entry Fee: none


Work will be accepted until July 15, 2013.

Please see http://tiananmensquare25.com for details or read all the general guidelines immediately below PLUS the guidelines specific to your genre of interest.

Tiananmen Square 25

Genre: poetry, short fiction, creative non-fiction, memoir, graphic narrative or photo-essay

Entry Fee: none; Authors whose work is chosen for publication in the collection will receive four copies of the book.

Concept: In remembrance of the Tiananmen Square events of 4 June 1989, Barranca Press will be publishing a 25th Anniversary collection to reflect on the movement and its impact.

Submissions should reflect on the topic. Considerations from the perspectives of international observer, international resident in China, national observer, the Chinese government, or participant are all welcome. There are no restrictions with regard to the nationality or age of the author.

All submissions should be original to the author, anonymous (the author’s name should not appear on the text), and written in English (or translated into English). You will be able to add cover sheet information with your name and other pertinent information after you click on the genre appropriate to your submission.

Notification: Authors will be notified of the status of their submission by late October 2013.





Lisa Maria Noudehou and Becky Soglin taught English at Tsinghua University from 1988 to 1989, before and during the Tiananmen Square events of spring 1989.  

Lisa Maria, editor, earned her doctorate in literature at the University of Pennsylvania and has taught literature and creative writing at Howard University (USA), Rhodes University (South Africa), and the University of Dar es Salaam (Tanzania). While in Tanzania, she edited a collection of writings by students and staff at UDSM (Tell Me Friends: Contemporary Stories and Plays from Tanzania. Dar es Salaam: Mkuki na Nyota Publishers, 2009) and wrote a handbook for literature students (Literary and Rhetorical Techniques: Texts for Analysis and Workbook. Dar es Salaam: Mkuki Na Nyota, 2012).  

Becky, guest editor, earned an MFA degree in nonfiction writing from the University of Iowa and an MS degree in comparative literature from Binghamton University. She also holds an MS degree in urban and regional planning from the University of Iowa and a BA degree in French and English from Washington University. Her book reviews, articles, and creative work have been published in The Christian Science Monitor, The Des Moines Register, Icon, Iowa Woman, North Dakota Review, and 100 Words. She has edited numerous academic manuscripts and reviewed submissions for inclusion in The Iowa Review and 100 Words.


PUB: Call for Writers - Caribbean Literary Program (June 2013) > ARC

Call for Writers – Caribbean Literary Program (June 2013)

By ARC Magazine Thursday, March 28th, 2013


Caribbean Cultural Theatre seeks established and new writers of published works to participate in “Celebration of The WORD 2013″.  In late June, authors and storytellers, readers and literary curious come together in Brooklyn, NY – the world’s largest Caribbean meeting place –  to fete the ongoing Poets & Passion series, a literary lime entering its 8th year.  Young writers, first-time published writers, and those writing with a youth focus are especially encouraged to respond.Interested writers should contact poets@caribbeantheatre.org with a brief outline of published work and/or work to be presented.


Image courtesy Caribbean Cultural Theatre


Previous presenters include:

Robert Antoni (Bahamas)
E. R. Braithwaite (Guyana)
Kamau Brathwaite (Barbados)
Merle Collins (Grenada)
Linton Kwesi Johnson (Jamaica)
Earl Lovelace (Trinidad)
Elizabeth Nunez (Trinidad)
Anthony Winkller (Jamaica)

The Company

Caribbean Cultural Theatre is a theatrical immersion experience presenting the work of Caribbean based and/or influenced writers, performers and other creative practitioners that entertains, enlightens and honours a balanced rendering of Caribbean culture and the Caribbean-American experience.

The Series

Poets & Passions is designed for lovers of the magic of the written word. The program is a mix of literary salon with critically acclaimed, award-winning featured writers, emerging literary talents, open mic performances, electrifying spoken word artists and stimulating discussion that positions the writer's work as part of a larger conversation on identity, aspiration, heritage and the immigrant experience.


VIDEO: 5 New Films to Watch, N°21 > Africa is a Country

5 New Films to Watch, N°21

5 new documentaries this week. Crop: Talking About Images is a film directed by Marouan Omara and Johanna Domke. The film, quoting its website, “reflects upon the impact of images in the Egyptian Revolution and puts it in relation to the image politics of Egypt’s leaders. Instead of showing footage from the revolution, the film is shot entirely in the power domain of images — Egypt’s oldest and most influential state newspaper Al Ahram.” From the top-level executive office down to the smallest worker, the documentary follows a photo journalist who missed the revolution due to a hospital stay. Here’s an excerpt: 


Même pas Mal (No Harm Done) is a film by Nadia El Fani and Alina Isabel Pérez that follows up on El Fani’s ‘Securalism – Inch’Allah’. The tone in ‘No Harm Done’, according to first viewers, has become darker, the director’s attitude noticeably more radical. “This may be due in part to her personal history: her cancer, the operation, chemotherapy on the one hand, paralleled by the unprecedented radical Islamist hate campaign against her film in Tunisia, which culminated in death threats against the director published on the social networks.” French-Tunisian Nadia El Fani received the best documentary film award at Fespaco this year. The film hasn’t been screened in Tunisia yet. Nor can the filmmaker return home.


The documentary Creation in Exile: Five Filmmakers in Conversation follows Newton Aduaka, John Akomfrah, Haile Gerima, Dani Kouyaté and Jean Odoutan: five African filmmakers in the diaspora (Paris, Washington, London, Uppsala), their everyday lives echoing sequences of their films. A film by Daniela Ricci:

Returning the Remains (“A Khoe Story 2″) is poet, writer and filmmaker Weaam Williams and Nafia Kocks’ 50 minute documentary about the history of the “unspoken of genocide” on South Africa’s Khoe/Khoi people. “The most challenging documentary film we’ve ever made,” Williams describes it in a recent interview. Here’s a first clip:


On a lighter note, Geoff Yaw’s King Me explores the world of competitive checkers play as seen through the eyes of South African Lubabalo Kondlo. In 2007, Kondlo, with the help of some sympathetic Americans, traveled to the U.S. to compete in the U.S. National Championship of Checkers in Las Vegas, Nevada. A relative unknown in the legitimate checkers world, Kondlo crushed the competition and earned the right to challenge 20+ year reigning World Champ, Ron ‘Suki’ King:



VIDEO: Big Daddy > African Digital Art

  • March 28th, 2013


Not for the fainthearted, Big Daddy is a short film written and directed by Chris Ihidero and produced by Amaka Igwe. The film is about rape and sexual abuse in Nigeria addressing the frightening statistic that 20% of Nigerian women experience emotional, physical and sexual violence

We decided to make a film on rape because we believe that, for our society to truly combat this abnormality, we need to lay our collective shame bare. We need to strip off the layers upon layers of coverings that hide the realities of rape and sexual abuse. We believe that we all need to come clean and accept the blame for whatever part we have played, consciously or not, in ensuring that rape victims continue to lack support and justice, and lives continue to get ruined. We fear that unless we collectively do something quickly, anarchy may be loosed upon us all in the very near future” – Chris Ihidero


Director: Chris Ihidero
Executive Producer: Amaka Igwe
Cast: Zara Abimbola Udofia, Yemi Adeyemi, Tunbosun Aiyedehin
Released: 2011




    Founder and Creative Director at African Digital Art Network
    Jepchumba is an AFRICAN DIGITAL ARTIST and DIGITAL ENTHUSIAST who works hard to combine her two passions: Digital Media and Africa. Originally from Kenya, she has lived around the world developing her interest in philosophy, art and technology. An African digital artist, Jepchumba loves experimenting with motion, sound and various digital effects and techniques and has an extensive background in digital art, web design and development, audio/visual production and social media strategies.



    LITERATURE + VIDEO + AUDIO: Taiye Selasi

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    Taiye Selasi on discovering

    her pride in her African roots

    The debut author of the eagerly anticipated novel, Ghana Must Go, writes about her shame at her family history and how she learned to be herself in Africa

    Tanye Selasi
    'My mother was seven months pregnant when she learned her lover already had two wives' … Taiye Selasi in Lomé, Togo. Photograph: Taneisha Kamali Berg 2012

    The crisis began – as crises are wont to do – at my best friend's wedding. Jamaica wasn't the obvious choice for what Jess likes to call "the whitest wedding on Earth". But there we sat smiling at the Rose Hall Ritz-Carlton, the hotel's all-brown staff smiling too. The salad had been served, the bread rolls broken and buttered, and now the reception began properly with polite conversation: how do you know the happy couple, where have you flown in from? I'd been placed between Clara, fair fellow alumna of Milton Academy and Yale University, and Percy, the third and presumably final husband of Jess's grandmum. With graceful concision, Clara told our tablemates where she came from: Brookline, prep school, Harvard Law School. Percy turned to me.

    "And where are you from?" he asked in that accent I've only heard on Beacon Hill, in films about the Kennedys, and drinking with my agent. Boston Brahmin, baritone. A bit of extra weight on "you", as if the question mark belonged to me (the questionable thing), not "from". I gave the answer I always give, the answer I'd give if you asked me now, refined by years of daily practice, available in multiple languages. "I'm not sure where I'm from! I was born in London. My father's from Ghana but lives in Saudi Arabia. My mother's Nigerian but lives in Ghana. I grew up in Boston." Here I'll pause for reaction – soft chuckles of confusion, some statement along the lines of "You're a citizen of the world!" – then open the floor to any follow-up questions about any of the countries I've mentioned. Until last autumn at my best friend's wedding, I'd never really noticed the shame in this answer – which isn't to say that I'd never considered my angst about the question.

    I had thought about it most cogently in 2005, having abandoned a DPhil in international relations to follow my dream, then some 20 years old, of writing for a living. Taking baby steps from footnotes to fiction, I wrote a short and personal essay on Africans who shared my trouble with the question "where are you from?". The piece – "Bye-Bye, Babar: Or, What is an Afropolitan?" – struck a chord with young Africans and people who love us, and by 2011 I was watching in wonder as my personal essay grew wings. It was a writer's dream: to have put into words some single truth of individual experience, to watch those words find a home in the world, that truth a thousand mirrors. "I am not an alien!" my self rejoiced. "I am not alone! There are others!"

    There were. But they weren't at the whitest wedding on Earth. And here began the crisis. "How in the world did Jess find you?" asked Percy, chuckling. I bristled. My rattling off of disparate countries, well rehearsed, was meant to speak of international savoir faire, not render me a "find".

    Clara kindly intervened. "Taiye went to Milton and Yale with me."

    Still, Percy furrowed his bushy brows. "So you didn't grow up with your parents?"

    "My mother raised my sister and me in Brookline," I offered.

    "Without your father?"

    "He's lived in Saudi Arabia for most of my life." I drained my wine and looked for more. Only now did I notice the room's demographics. "He's about to retire to Ghana," I added.

    "Retire? Oh my! How old is he?"

    "Seventy-five next year. My mum's much younger. She came third."

    "Your father had three wives at once?"

    A Jamaican waiter arrived with wine. But I couldn't steady my wine glass. I excused myself to go to the restroom and stumbled down the carpeted hallway, kicking off my platform heels and trying not to cry. A waitress, passing me, nodded with meaning and I nodded equally meaningfully back, in that gentle way in which brown people often acknowledge each other's presence. The instant's exchange reminded me of what I often overlook: my minority status. I'd just locked the stall when I started to sob, without quite knowing why.


    Thus spoke Ileane Ellsworth, my healer-cum-therapist-cum-psychic-cum-life-coach, attempting to release my solar plexus in her office on East 20th. It was an emergency session: I'd returned from Jamaica in emotional disrepair, unable to sleep or eat or stop crying, all because of one comment. "I wasn't ashamed! I was angry!" I raged. "He's a third bloody husband himself, for chrissake. If I were white, he'd never have thought my dad had three wives at once."

    Ileane, beside me, pressed on my chest. "Why does this make you so angry?" she cooed.

    "Because he's racist!" I cried. This may well not have been true. The truth came next. "And he's right."

    Percy was right. My Saudi-based father, an incredible surgeon trained in Edinburgh, had two wives in Ghana when he proposed to my mother, his student in Lusaka. None the wiser, my mum said yes, and was seven months pregnant, in London, in love, when she learned that her lover was two women's husband and promptly went into labour. My twin sister and I arrived two months early, weighing three-and-a-half and four pounds respectively; our mum, herself an incredible paediatrician, nursed us back to health. Our father beat a swift retreat to King Faisal University in South Arabia to teach trauma surgery. Twelve years later we'd meet him again at Heathrow airport. Here – the year I transferred to Milton, befriending Jess my BFF – is where I first remember ever seeing the second of my parents. My mum had decided that it was time for us to know our progenitor and chose England as a halfway point between Al-Khobar and Brookline. Backstory: single, still living in London, she'd gone on a date with an American professor on sabbatical from MIT, visiting his cousin, the wife of the Senegalese ambassador. It was love at first sight. They married months later and returned to his faculty housing in Boston. A decade on, she'd left the husband but kept the job at Children's Hospital. So it was that I flew from Boston at 12 years old in LL Bean loafers, a British citizen with a suburban American accent, to meet my father.

    Of course, all of this was missing from that standard issue answer in which I appeared a browner, younger Carmen Sandiego. "My father's from Ghana but he lives in Saudi Arabia" omitted the fact of his decade-long absence, while implying that I, too, was somehow "from Ghana", a tenuous claim at best. I was 15 years old when I first went to Ghana. I'd spent more time in Switzerland (where my godfather was a diplomat) and Spain (where my half-Scottish grandmum was mastering flamenco) than in Africa. I'd been to the continent only once before: to Nigeria, at seven and without my mum, whose painful adolescence in London and Lagos had left her with no love of home. "My mother's Nigerian but she lives in Ghana" omitted this fact: that she'd starved as a child, abandoned by her mother to fend for herself and her siblings on her grandfather's cocoa farm. It was my great-aunt who took me at seven years old to this family estate in Abeokuta, the famed hometown of Fela Kuti. I absolutely loved it. But my mum never taught me Yoruba – which I'd study, with comical results, at Yale – and I heard not a word of my father's Ewe until I turned 15. When I finally went to Accra that Christmas I discovered among other things: sugarloaf pineapple, hip-life music, and my father's other offspring. One was the child of his first wife Vivian; three of his (late) second wife Juliana; a fifth, of yet a different mum, had died under mysterious circumstances. As much as I adored the city of Accra, preferring it to Malaga and Lausanne by far, my first trip to Ghana was tainted by these fraught familial dynamics.

    In the years to come I'd return for Christmases, not with my father but with friends of my mum. When she moved to Ghana in 2001 Accra became our base. My writing about Afropolitans took its texture from this sense of place, the tastes and smells and sounds that still make Ghana feel like home. And yet, hidden in my earnest exultation of Afropolitan-ness was an old and deep unease with being, very simply, African. In giving a name to a demographic, I'd assumed the role of advocate for more accurate portrayals of Africa – but wasn't sure I deserved it. Once, at a dinner for VS Naipaul, I was asked to toast Sir Vidia; I said, very genuinely, how much I admired how little he heeded his critics. Who was he to speak on behalf of the Caribbean, his detractors cried. Mine had a similar axe to grind: how African was I, really? Funny thing is, I'd resolved this particular identity crisis, at least for me. I was Afropolitan, dammit! I spoke for the Body AfroPolitic! It wasn't the identity issue – was I African enough to write about Africa? – that compromised my advocacy. No, the problem was my family.

    There I was, heartily lauding Ghana in all of its peace-loving, hard-working glory, only to spiral out at one comment about my Ghanaian father. I was passionate about Africa, yes, but wasn't proud. I couldn't be. My tie to Africa – my African father – was standing in the way. Ileane was right. What I'd felt in Jamaica was shame about my family saga: the poverty, polygamy, one stereotype of African dysfunction after another. It had always seemed a matter of mere politesse to skip these sordid details when describing to a stranger who I was. But my grief at Percy's (spot-on) guess suggested something else at work: a need to obscure both where and who I came from. Intellectually, I perceived myself as a product and champion of modern west Africa. Emotionally, I perceived myself as a west African polygamist's daughter. What I needed was some other way to know myself as African, apart from as heir to my parents' hurts.

    For this, I had to go home.


    That very heavy word, with all the flaws of all ideals, a standard nowhere ever meets, a gold and leaden star. For 15 years I'd gone to Ghana desperately seeking home writ large, ignoring my role in the relationship, the "I" in "I had to go home". For half my life I'd travelled home and left myself, my truth, behind: arriving in Ghana and assuming the role of (illegitimate) Prodigal Daughter. I was disappointed, naturally, in the ways that home-seeking prodigals are, dismayed to find my otherness in tact among my own. But I had never been myself in Ghana. The self I'd become in 30 years: the author, photographer, screenwriter, traveller, designer, thinker. I'd spent months at a time in Oxford, Paris, New York, New Delhi, and always felt at home: for I experienced those cities, experienced myself, as a creator, not a creation. Returning home after Jess's wedding – to Rome, my latest choice of city – I wondered at this: I'd never created an experience in Africa. My father had, my mother had; they'd dreamed and learned and loved, and left. I'd walked in their shadows, but not in my shoes. It was time for a trip.

    The summer I finished my first novel Ghana Must Go, I drove across west Africa: from Accra to Lomé to Cotonou to the deliciously named Ouagadougou. This time I took myself along, my writer-traveller-photographer-self, with a project: photographing twentysomethings in 54 African cities. The stated aim was a photography book, a collective portrait of the young adults so conspicuously absent from western media's portrayals of urban Africa. The politically minded observer in me had grown weary of the imagery: the wizened elders, the wide-eyed children hugging volunteers. So I armed myself at B&H Photo and asked two friends to come along: Bliss Holloway the cinematographer and Taneisha Berg the documentarian. Our cheery if cash-strapped crew set off to capture the birth of my photo project – but six weeks in it was suddenly clear that there was a film to be made. We've now resolved to fundraise for a full-length documentary: a lively look at the days and dreams of African twentysomethings.

    Of course, my deepest aim was personal: not to "find myself" in Africa but to be myself on African soil. This I did. And how. In Ouaga I danced until 5am at Allapalooza, a western-themed club, watched movies at a feminist film festival, wandered a sculpture park in the desert. Adama, our charming host, was an Afropolitan of the highest order: a Muslim musician with a Viennese wife, studying German at the Goethe Institute, uninterested in living anywhere else apart from Burkina Faso. Togo was a seaside treat: like Malibu with motorini, miles and miles of white-sand beach and perfect rows of palm trees. Thursday at midnight, we stood on that beach with hundreds of super-cool Togolese hipsters, assembled for the weekly late-night car tricks show and drag race. Cotonou was magic, too: I learned to sail in a hidden lagoon, swilled Eku (Afro-Bavarian beer) at Saloon, a riverfront bar. But the hometown – Accra – was the real revelation, what with its International Salsa Congress, midnight swimming at La Villa Hotel, guitarist Serwaa Okudzeto. The city had changed, but not so much; I felt it differently, intimately. I could see myself in these African cities: a designer in the vibrant clothes, a screenwriter in the desert scenes, a poet in the rhythms. I began to say that I wanted an "I ❤ Heart of Darkness" T-shirt, and only half in jest. The journey had cured my Percy Problem at last. This wasn't my parents' Africa, the past, that static site of hurt and home. It was mine: dynamic now. This wasn't some "real" west Africa either. It was my west Africa, my version of home, not just a place, but a way to be in – a way to know – the world.

    Leaving Accra to fly back to Rome, I presented my passport at customs. The Ghanaian agent, reading my name, didn't bother with "where are you from?". "Selasi! So you're an Ewe!" He beamed.

    "My father's …" I started, then stopped. I smiled. "Yes. I am."

    "Safe journey," he said. "Come home soon."

    "I will."



    Writing Women

    In our latest Podcast, Sigrid Rausing, publisher of Granta, is joined by Rachel Cusk – one of Granta’s Best of Young British Novelists, and Taiye Selasi, who makes her fiction debut in Granta 115: The F Word, to talk about which writers passed feminism down to them, and what the word means to them today. The three were in conversation for the launch of Granta 115 at Foyles bookshop.

    To listen to the podcast, either click on the player below, or visit our iTunes page, where you can subscribe to make sure you receive every episode.

    To read Rachel Cusk's and Taiye Selasi's stories, buy a copy of our ‘F- Word’ issue now.

     >via: http://www.granta.com/New-Writing/Writing-Women




    A Struggle To Fit In

    And Overcome Stereotypes

    In 'Ghana Must Go'

    March 27, 2013

    Hardcover, 318 pages 

    Taiye Selasi brings the African immigrant experience to readers in her debut novel, Ghana Must Go.

    The novel begins with the Sai children preparing to travel from the United States to Ghana for the funeral of the family patriarch, Kweku Sai. Before they leave, Selasi gives readers a glimpse into the events that unfolded while they were growing up in the Boston suburb of Brookline, Mass.

    Fola raised her four children while Kweku worked as a gifted surgeon. But their picture-perfect life comes tumbling down when Kweku leaves the family and Fola is faced with raising the children by herself on a florist's salary.

    Depressed over the failure of her marriage and desperate to find a way to help her children succeed, Fola decides to send her twins to live with an uncle in Nigeria, something Selasi says is not uncommon for the immigrants she's observed.

    "West African immigrants ... often send their children to family members and don't perceive it in the same way that, I think, perhaps, an American family would perceive that — as sending your kids away," Selasi tells host Michel Martin.

    The move provides a cautionary tale, Selasi says. "One of the things I think I may be critiquing in that practice is something that is very fundamental to brown families," she says, "which is that I think we often have such a fundamental trust in our family members that we fail to see those family members who are, quite simply, dangerous."

    The novel also tackles some of the stereotypes of African immigrants. In one scene, the eldest Sai son, Olu, goes to his girlfriend's father to talk about marriage. Like Olu, Dr. Wei is an immigrant to the U.S., but he is not enthusiastic about his daughter marrying an African man. He cites the family structure of many African families with an absent father and the typical news stories out of Africa — about rape, child soldiers and ethnic conflict. It prompts him to ask Olu: "How can you value another man's daughter, or son, when you don't even value your own?"

    The question, though harsh, is one Selasi felt obligated to have the character ask. "While Dr. Wei is speaking in a hugely reductive, in a hugely generalizing, in a hugely stereotyping manner, he is also touching, in so doing, on some things that are true," she says.

    Ghana Must Go author Taiye Selasi.

    Ghana Must Go author Taiye Selasi. / Nancy Crampton /Penguin Press

    Members of the Sai family find that their own truths are painful. When told, stories that have been kept secret for years from other family members reveal deep wounds.

    Critics have pointed out that certain characters in the novel bear striking similarities to Selasi's own family. Selasi is the daughter of immigrant parents and the product of an Ivy League education. But she says that's pure coincidence: "I've told the anecdote — I was at a yoga retreat in Sweden when these characters sort of appeared to me. I think probably the longer, deeper, truer story is they'd been on their way for a very long time."

    When she's pressed on whether her own experiences give her pause when tackling some of the stereotypes of Africans in her novel, she says, "As a novelist, I ask of myself only that I tell the truth and that I tell it beautifully."

    >via: http://www.npr.org/2013/03/27/175466870/debut-novel-tackles-african-immigrant...