What does Ake Festival 2019 theme ‘Black Bodies, Grey Matter’ mean to you?

Focus on the totality of blackness (body and mind); black excellence.


Which African or Diasporan novel do you think best explores the Black Body?

Tsitsi Dangarembga’s Nervous Conditions in the way it explores the black female body and notions of identity.


You are asked to write an African femme fatale as an alien. What physical attributes would she have?

Antennae to detect bullshit, fire-breathing tongue that burns misogynists to cinders, wings with which to fly (above the fray).


What book would you give to a dark-skinned young woman who has expressed an intent to buy bleaching cream?

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou, because in it she celebrates the freedom that comes from confronting oneself, and loving oneself.


Does the African writer have a specific role to play in the current world order?

Yes. Everybody has a role to play, and writers more than most.


Which person do you think best represents an African perspective in the ongoing discourse on gender?

Chimamanda Adichie comes to mind because she’s the most visible (and therefore most heard) representative of (African) feminism.


You’re giving a talk at a symposium on mental health, which African novels will you reference?

Harare North by Brian Chikwava.

Nervous Conditions by Tsitsi Dangarembga

Things Fall Apart.


Name a character from an African novel that you could rewrite as a different gender, and why.

Okonkwo, from Achebe’s Things Fall Apart. It would be insightful to place a strong woman at the centre of a novel that examines pre-colonial Igbo society and the influence of colonisation on it. It might remind us that the idea of women as frail was more Victorian England than African.


What two things should every teenager understand about mental health?

That mental health is important.

That when we do suffer from mental health challenges, it is important (and not shameful) to seek help.


What is your vision for the Black Body?

Joyous, glorious, freedom.