What does Ake Festival 2019 theme ‘Black Bodies, Grey Matter’ mean to you?

There is a certain racist narrative that suggests black people are inferior intellectually. The festival theme responds differently by showing that black bodies are intellectual. In doing it among other black bodies, it’s less to try to explain itself to whiteness and more to empower each other.


Which African or Diasporan novel do you think best explores the Black Body?

Sulaiman Addonia’s Silence is My Mother Tongue.


You are asked to write an African femme fatale as an alien. What physical attributes would she have?

She’ll be telekinetic and a mind-reader. Though I am not sure I would, since Africans are already alienated enough.


What book would you give to a dark-skinned young woman who has expressed an intent to buy bleaching cream?

Angela Makholwa’s The Blessed Girl.


Does the African writer have a specific role to play in the current world order?

The job of a writer, African or otherwise, is to write and write the best work they can. If their best work educates, critiques or pricks the reader’s conscience, then that’s great; but art should never take a back seat to some supposed bigger messaging.


Which person do you think best represents an African perspective in the ongoing discourse on gender?

Academic and poet Danai Mupotsa.


You’re giving a talk at a symposium on mental health, which African novels will you reference?

Novuyo Rosa Tshuma’s House of Stone, Tsitsi Dangarembga’s This Mournable Body, Akwaeke Emezi’s Freshwater, Old Drift by Namwali Serpell, and finally, The Quiet Violence of Dreams by K. Sello Duiker.


Name a character from an African novel that you could rewrite as a different gender, and why.

Okonkwo in Things Fall Apart as a woman. I reckon her treatment of son, Nwoye, would have been different AND she would not have had Ikemefuna’s death on her conscience in the patriarchal world she lived in.


What two things should every teenager understand about mental health?

Just as one seeks help when the body is unwell, it is equally important to seek help and take time out when one is feeling mentally unwell, and, mental illness is not something to be ashamed of.


What is your vision for the Black Body?

That it is not so easy to disrespect and violate worldwide but that it’s treated as an equal to any other colour body.