What does Ake Festival 2019 theme ‘Black Bodies, Grey Matter’ mean to you?
It reminds me of Franz Fanon’s seminal book ‘Black Skins, White Masks.’ In it he argues that colonialism and exploitation has resulted in the stripping away of black people’s cultures and identity. They are left with low esteem, constantly imitating their white master. Whiteness becomes their one and only goal. Fanon’s caution can increase our self-awareness and sense of agency, but his argument can also provoke insularity and regressive positions.
Which African or Diasporan novel do you think best explores the Black Body?
‘Petals of Blood’ by Ngugi wa Thiong’o for the connection between the body and the land.
‘The Joys of Motherhood’ by Buchi Emecheta for its focus on women’s fertility.
‘Season of Migration to the North’ by Tayeb Salih for its vision of black sexuality as a distorted weapon against imperialism.
You are asked to write an African femme fatale as an alien. What physical attributes would she have?
I have never met a femme fatale African or otherwise. I think the concept is a male fantasy so there is no need to invent an alien version.
What book would you give to a dark-skinned young woman who has expressed an intent to buy bleaching cream?
Books like ‘The Bluest Eye’ by Toni Morrison will stop only a minority of women from buying bleaching cream. This is why it is the duty of governments to ban these harmful products.
Does the African writer have a specific role to play in the current world order?
He/she is already doing so and already exceeding expectations.
Which person do you think best represents an African perspective in the ongoing discourse on gender?
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.
You’re giving a talk at a symposium on mental health, which African novels will you reference?
‘Mr Happy and the Hammer of God’ by Martin Egblewogbe. Most fiction writers emotionalise mental health or goggle at it. Martin Egblewogbe knows better. His superb novella has intelligent things to say and says it well. More people should read it.
Name a character from an African novel that you could rewrite as a different gender, and why.
I would never do that. My characters are my own.
What two things should every teenager understand about mental health?
– Drugs, even the legal ones, can trigger in some people serious mental illnesses such as schizophrenia and psychosis.
– You won’t know if you’re in that susceptible group until it’s too late.
What is your vision for the Black Body?
Respect and appreciation.