What does Ake Festival 2019 theme ‘Black Bodies, Grey Matter’ mean to you?
This theme is multi-layered and loaded but the first emotion that arises when I read the words ‘Black Bodies, Grey Matter’ is excitement. Blackness and Intellectualism coming together to fight for their right to exist in the age of information overload and nuanced racial bias.
Which African or Diasporan novel do you think best explores the Black Body?
I think any book by a black writer, whether African or from the Diaspora, explores the black body in one way or another. Zakes Mda does this with books like The Madonna from Excelsior and The Heart of Redness. He shapes this experience of the black body in such a haunting way. Coconut by Kopano Matlwa is also one such book; it brings into question this over-fetishised identity.
You are asked to write an African femme fatale as an alien. What physical attributes would she have?
I am not obsessed with humanising aliens. My alien friend does not identify as female or male. I will categorise her based on the following attributes: An arm-long neck with a hairy tube that can connect to what would be the mouth, an opening on her forehead that doesn’t close. She will have no reproductive organs but can lay eggs every seven days.
*PS: I answered this while I was feeling misanthropic, so don’t judge me.
What book would you give to a dark-skinned young woman who has expressed an intent to buy bleaching cream?
Toni Morrison’s God Help the Child, and if I can find copy a print of Wallace Thurman’s The Blacker the Berry.
Does the African writer have a specific role to play in the current world order?
Definitely. The writer will always have a role to play. Who else observes and indulges humanity in its own existence?
Which person do you think best represents an African perspective in the ongoing discourse on gender?
Romeo Oriogun comes to mind. His work is forcing Nigeria to have an open and earnest conversation around queerness.
You’re giving a talk at a symposium on mental health, which African novels will you reference?
The Quiet Violence of Dreams by K. Sello Duiker, this one more so because I can relate heavily; and I know that a lot of the African youth in higher institutions of learning relate with Tshepo, the main character. Americanah by Chimamanda Adichie and how she tackles and addresses the stigma that is still attached to mental health.
Name a character from an African novel that you could rewrite as a different gender, and why.
None. Every character in every book has a right to exist as they are. However, I have always wondered what kind of experiences would Toloki face if he was a woman in Zakes Mda’s Ways of Dying.
What two things should every teenager understand about mental health?
- It is okay not to be okay… seek professional help.
- Having a mental health illness does not equate to weakness.
What is your vision for the Black Body?
That it gets to a point where it is a body, just like any other body in a space, that it is not ‘other’ and is given the respect it deserves as a human body just like any other human body. That the fetishisation that contributes to the othering stops.
There will come a day (so says my optimism) when being black is no longer a violent interruption in the existence of other races.