What does Ake Festival 2019 theme ‘Black Bodies, Grey Matter’ mean to you?
To me it means Africans all over the world, particularly in Africa, and their thinking. That black body matters and uses its grey matter, which is our mind; and with the use of our minds, we can liberate ourselves from all types of challenges.
Which African or Diasporan novel do you think best explores the Black Body?
Chinua Achebe s book ‘Things Fall Apart’ is one of my favourite books. I fell in love with African writers then.
You are asked to write an African femme fatale as an alien. What physical attributes would she have?
Dark skin, big lips with a smile that reveals white teeth. African figure, hips (smile).
What book would you give to a dark-skinned young woman who has expressed an intent to buy bleaching cream?
I would give them my book ‘Life with Albinism Filled with Pearls.’ Reason is that: it’s not the skin, but allowing to be dictated to by others what beauty is. I mean, I have Albinism, lighter than any bleaching they can try, but most people with Albinism are not happy. It is not the skin colour but finding yourself that will make you beautiful. It is accepting your African self that will show that everything you need is in you. You are an African. Dark skin is a pride we should wear with honour.
Does the African writer have a specific role to play in the current world order?
Yes. As writers we need to reveal the pride in our Africanness. We need to see Africa as one. Paint a picture with words, the need to work as one, the need to accept ourselves. The need to not look to Europe for definition of beauty, skills, and brains.
You’re giving a talk at a symposium on mental health, which African novels will you reference?
Again, my book. ‘Life with Albinism Filled with Pearls.’ It takes such strength to accept yourself, to face whatever challenges that try to push you down. We need to take mental health seriously. It isn’t as portrayed or believed, that one is bewitched when they have mental challenges. It needs to be treated with seriousness. I would also talk on depression and the need to pay attention and also seek professional assistance when you feel like you are going down. It is not weakness to need help.
What two things should every teenager understand about mental health?
- It is not witchcraft. People who are struggling with mental health deserve assistance and not ridicule.
- It can happen to anyone. It isn’t for those who are selected. And again whatever issues we have, it’s key that we try and resolve them. Ask for help and not say, “a man doesn’t cry,” like they like saying in my country.
What is your vision for the Black Body?
That we get along, that we prosper, that we are led by people who won’t be fooled by materialism; and they need to see the importance of Africa shining, because we have minerals, oil, everything. Leadership and selflessness is key.