What does Ake Festival 2019 theme ‘Black Bodies, Grey Matter’ mean to you?
This theme resonates in so many ways. My books embody these themes, tackling the social, physical, psychological, and emotional impact of post-colonial trauma. Black bodies have always been grounds for exploitation and violence. We have never had ownership of our bodies, especially as black women. Also, as a people we carry our traumas, assuming time and silence would bury them. We’re told how strong we are, how our “Africanness” or “Jamaicanness” trumps vulnerability; yet we ignore the psychological and physiological impact. I believe that having discourse about our bodies, sexuality, traumas, and mental health can be healing and empowering.
Which African or Diasporan novel do you think best explores the Black Body?
I would say my first novel, Here Comes the Sun, and The Gerald Kraak Anthology: African Perspectives on Gender, Social Justice, and Sexuality (As You Like It, Vol II).
You are asked to write an African femme fatale as an alien. What physical attributes would she have?
Lupita Nyong’o’s gorgeous complexion; and Michelle Obama and Angela Bassett’s arms.
What book would you give to a dark-skinned young woman who has expressed an intent to buy bleaching cream?
To be honest, I’d give her any book featuring dark-skinned black girls and women. I know I write about colourism in my works, but I’d start off a young girl with an image with affirming messages about being dark-skinned and beautiful
Does the African writer have a specific role to play in the current world order?
All writers have a special role to play by challenging reader to transcend their own understanding of the world and empathise with others.
Which person do you think best represents an African perspective in the ongoing discourse on gender?
Nana Darkoa Sekyiamah and Pulma Dineo Gqola.
You’re giving a talk at a symposium on mental health, which African or Diasporan novels will you reference?
My second novel, Patsy; and Breath, Eyes, Memory by Edwidge Danticat.
Name a character from an African novel that you could rewrite as a different gender, and why.
I wouldn’t do anything different from what the writer intended. There is a lot of labour behind choosing who gets to tell the story.
What two things should every teenager understand about mental health?
That mental health is as important as your physical health; and it’s okay to acknowledge the need to take care of it.
What is your vision for the Black body?
My vision for the black body is that one day we, especially as black women, can achieve the ultimate freedom in our bodies.