What does Ake Festival 2019 theme ‘Black Bodies, Grey Matter’ mean to you?
It is how blackness mines a reaching connectedness that defies the structural ‘otherness’ instituted in today’s world. This connectedness emphasises that the shared existence of Black Bodies is not a space of negation, but the base of production and potentials despite how it can sometimes translate into a site of trauma. ‘Black Bodies’ struggle to defy borders; travelling into experiences, imaginations and intentions to become a body requesting dignity, rather than one where dignity is denied. The theme acknowledges the centering of blackness as a convergence of worlds. In other words, it implies that black is always there; black is valued here.
Which African or Diasporan novel do you think best explores the Black Body?
In the context of what the theme means to me, I’d say, Christina Sharpe’s ‘In the Wake: On Blackness and Being’ (because it is everything in one book).
You are asked to write an African femme fatale as an alien. What physical attributes would she have?
They call her Nerves. She is the smallest in her clan and closest in appearance to the human species: five feet and seven inches tall, despite bowlegs that give the impression of one swaying from one side to another—a delight to watch when she wears tight-fitting pants. Her way of walking distracts from how she glides and floats with her feet never touching the ground. Her eyes, brown, soft, so closely human, sit in slightly dipped eye sockets. She could pass for a young adult in her early twenties except that she glows at night, in the dark. Her standing posture forming a slight arch and with the light, she radiates, gives one the impression that the moon crescent has dropped from the sky to the ground.
What book would you give to a dark-skinned young woman who has expressed an intent to buy bleaching cream?
Toni Morrison’s ‘The Bluest Eye.’
Does the African writer have a specific role to play in the current world order?
Everyone has a story to tell and indeed the world has many writers who retell the wheel of our collective experiences. Yet, as Anaïs Nin wrote, “The role of a writer is not to say what we can all say, but what we are unable to say.” The role of the African writer (implied in the ambiguity of this label) is to mediate how the imagination of labelling can become an experience of numerosity.
Which person do you think best represents an African perspective in the ongoing discourse on gender?
I’m not sure I have an answer for this. The question simplifies the idea of gender in Africa and assumes a collective philosophy among the many ethnic groups on the continent. It perpetuates the narrative of Africa as a country.
You’re giving a talk at a symposium on mental health, which African novels will you reference?
Tsitsi Dangarembga, Nervous Conditions.
Dambudzo Macherera’s The House of Hunger.
Irenosen Okojie’s Butterfly Fish.
Bessie Head, A Question of Power.
Akwaeke Emezi, Freshwater.
Yewande Omotoso, Bomboy.
Name a character from an African novel that you could rewrite as a different gender, and why.
I could rewrite Toundi Ondoua in Ferdinand Oyono’s Houseboy, not because he isn’t well-written in the novel, but because I wonder what the novel would read like if it was titled ‘Housegirl.’ For instance, how will the female agency operate in the context of Toundi’s position and relations with his father in the novel, as well as, the circumstances and relations between him, Father Gilbert, Father Vandermayer, the commandant and Sophie?
What two things should every teenager understand about mental health?
- Your mind is an asset. Resist its being tainted. Keep it, polish it. Don’t be ashamed to speak up.
- Guard your mind jealously—it is what you are.
What is your vision for the Black Body?
I already postured the black body as a site of positivity and possibilities rather than negation in the first question. I see the black body as the definition of abundance, the essence.