What does Ake Festival 2019 theme ‘Black Bodies, Grey Matter’ mean to you?
It means using books, knowledge and education in the black community to fight our different oppression. It means using books as a weapon. The phrase sounds like joy and pride to me. Because oftentimes, the world thinks people do not read, the world thinks we cannot read and the phrase reminds me to own the information I consume and to create books I want black bodies to consume.
Which African or Diasporan novel do you think best explores the Black Body?
I do not think there is one particular book. I think black bodies are vast and so different that choosing one would be a disservice. But I really love Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi. Each chapter in the novel follows a different descendant of an Asante woman named Maame, and subsequent chapters follow their children and following generations. I love Ayana Mathis’ The Twelve Tribes of Hattie. It revolves around the matriarch (Hattie) of a black family of The Great Migration and her children and grandchildren. I love both books because the characters are black and so completely different in how they see life and how they choose to do life.
You are asked to write an African femme fatale as an alien. What physical attributes would she have?
Ooohhhh… good one. An automatic whip so they can defend themselves. Ability to disappear (both physically and emotionally). Emotionally in that they can choose to “close” their emotions because being black and femme comes with a lot. I would not want the emotions to be gone-gone, because I think the ability to feel, is beautiful. I would also give them the ability to change their body whenever they want to; also for safety.
What book would you give to a dark-skinned young woman who has expressed an intent to buy bleaching cream?
The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison. It does not address bleaching creams, but it talks to black girls feeling ugly.
Does the African writer have a specific role to play in the current world order?
To write our stories in history in a way they should be.
Which person do you think best represents an African perspective in the ongoing discourse on gender?
I have a few in mind – Binyavanga Wainaina, Chinelo Okparanta, Ashley Tiyumba Wright, Me.
You’re giving a talk at a symposium on mental health, which African novels will you reference?
One Day I Will Write About This Place: A Memoir by Binyavanga Wainaina.
Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.
The Quiet Violence of Dreams by K. Sello Duiker.
The Yearning – Mohale Mashigo.
Name a character from an African novel that you could rewrite as a different gender, and why.
Cannot think of one… do not think there are traits for particular genders, so this would be hard to do.
What two things should every teenager understand about mental health?
- It can happen to anyone.
- It is okay.
What is your vision for the Black Body?