What does Ake Festival 2019 theme ‘Black Bodies, Grey Matter’ mean to you?
Black bodies conjure for me, images of black teens being shot dead by the police in America, being more likely to be subjected to stop-and-search in the UK, black people being kidnapped into slavery in Libya, drowning while attempting to cross the Mediterranean in inflatable boats… Grey matter brings to the fore the notion of cognition. Put together, the two puzzle my brain. I am black, I have a brain. This is me we are talking about. The brain might have named itself, but it still struggles to examine itself.
Which African or Diasporan novel do you think best explores the Black Body?
On Black Sisters Street by Chika Unigwe.
You are asked to write an African femme fatale as an alien. What physical attributes would she have?
Afro to die for.
What book would you give to a dark-skinned young woman who has expressed an intent to buy bleaching cream?
Easy Motion Tourist by Leye Adenle. My protagonist, Amaka, is dark-skinned and awesome.
Does the African writer have a specific role to play in the current world order?
My view is that every writer has a role to play for their audience, whoever they may be, and it is the role of a great storyteller. Doctors, architects, lawyers, politicians, athletes, coaches, therapists, dieticians, etc. are not questioned over their role in shaping the current world order. I think this is an unnecessary, inappropriate, and unfair burden often placed on writers. Sadly, some writers are deluded enough to accept it.
Which person do you think best represents an African perspective in the ongoing discourse on gender?
Not sure about this one.
You’re giving a talk at a symposium on mental health, which African novels will you reference?
My Sister the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite.
Name a character from an African novel that you could rewrite as a different gender, and why.
I wouldn’t dare rewrite another writer’s character as another gender, nor a different race. Why? Because acts of creation are perfect even in their imperfection. They are true representations of the way the creator sees the world. This, in itself, is invaluable information that should not be distorted or destroyed.
What two things should every teenager understand about mental health?
- Mental health problems are the same as any other health problems. You do not wish malaria away or try to hide it. You go see a doctor.
- Mental health problems are not your fault, just like getting malaria is not your fault.
What is your vision for the Black Body?
Rising again. History, told truthfully and far back enough, will show the true place of black people in the history of mankind before the dual crimes against humanity of trans-Saharan and transatlantic slave trades and colonial rule. We will rise again. Not to dominate, but to be full and equal partners in a world where colour is seen as what it is, melanin.