What does Ake Festival 2019 theme ‘Black Bodies, Grey Matter’ mean to you?
It reminds me of the theme for a particular Ake edition, ‘Beneath This Skin’ – that talks about blackness and the recurrent killings of black people in the US. For a people that have been made to think that their skin colour isn’t anything to celebrate; for a community of people who have been repressed, discriminated against, dehumanised and segregated from conversations for a long time, this year’s theme explores the dynamism of black bodies – a much-needed respite from being looked down upon. The theme exhorts us to celebrate blackness.
Which African or Diasporan novel do you think best explores the Black Body?
I think Thando Mgqolonza’s ‘A Man Who is Not a Man’ does justice to the exploration of black bodies. Using a Xhosa rite of passage as an anchor, it interrogates cultural traditions that are associated with the black body.
You are asked to write an African femme fatale as an alien. What physical attributes would she have?
A pair of eyes that automatically suck out the patriarchy accentuated misogyny and sexism in both men and women.
What book would you give to a dark-skinned young woman who has expressed an intent to buy bleaching cream?
Definitely ‘A Caged Butterfly’ by Marian L. Thomas. And ‘Dark’, by Acan Innocent Immaculate – it’s an essay in ‘Selves: an Anthology of Creative Nonfiction’ – that examines the politics of skin, and the use of bleaching creams.
Does the African writer have a specific role to play in the current world order?
Writers have always had specific roles to play in the order of things. Coming home, I think African writers, by virtue of being descendants of a struggling race, have roles to play in creating an alternative narrative to the gory narrative of blackness.
Which person do you think best represents an African perspective in the ongoing discourse on gender?
Akwaeke Emezi, for me, stands as a symbolic figure in the politics of gender. Because they represent a gender symbol that many Africans aren’t ready to accept.
You’re giving a talk at a symposium on mental health, which African novels will you reference?
‘Freshwater’ by Akwaeke Emezi, ‘Butterfly Fish’ by Irenosen Okojie, and maybe ‘The Fatuous State of Severity’ by Phumlani Pikoli.
Name a character from an African novel that you could rewrite as a different gender, and why.
Baba Segi in ‘The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives’ by Lola Shoneyin. Although, this would definitely alter the entire plot, I just can’t stop imagining Baba Segi as a female character. The roundness of the character, his politics, ideologies; I imagine what they’d look like in a woman.
What two things should every teenager understand about mental health?
- It is not your fault. B. Leaving it “in the hands of God” doesn’t change shit.
What is your vision for the Black Body?
Universal acknowledgment and acceptance. A world where blackness isn’t looked at with suspicious attention. Basically, a world where black is not a crime.