Best Decisions of the Week (art finds for Jan 12 – Jan 17)

A spin-off of my web finds.


On Thursday, I went to see ‘A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night’. Given who’s been hyping the film, I was pretty ambivalent about seeing it. (I wish I could remember at what point VICE put a bad taste in my mouth).

It turned out to be a good decision, maybe even the best decision of 2015 so far. I’m looking forward to the release of the soundtrack and to seeing the film again. I also kinda want to be a vampire superhero.

Equally important to my desire for vampirehood is that the film pushes me to be a better writer, to be more imaginative, to commit to producing fantastic work that is uniquely me.

A thing that caught my eye before I made the decision to watch the film, the director Ana Lily Amirpour talking about the usefulness of film school:

 I think film school is a tool, and a tool by itself is useless. A tool needs many other things in order for it to have a purpose, it’s there to create something else. There are so many tools. You can watch movies, you can read scripts from your favorite movies, watch bonus features of your favorite directors and see how they do things, get a camera and try filming things, you can travel the world, read books, listen to music. Use everything and anything to put yourself in the place where you feel creative and fascinated by what you’re doing and by life. Films really are about living life, and that part doesn’t happen inside a film school.


An essay by Troy L. Wiggins on being a black expat in Korea. Something about the “bitter expat” was triggering. I’ve been thinking a lot about my most recent trip to Ghana. It was the first time I ventured into the expat community. It can be pretty horrifying. At some point my thoughts should become an essay or a blog.


A major reason for my most recent trip to Ghana was for family but a small part was for a relationship that dissolved months before. Here is something I don’t feel that I can properly articulate: my last relationship was, in part, a search for home/belonging to Ghana. In an interview with BOMB magazine, Maryse Condé said this of her marriages:

The first time I was married to an African, a man from Guinea, and there was a confusion for me between the man and the country behind him. Because Guinea was the first African country to say No! to General DeGaulle, the first African country to take independence in the French-speaking arena. So I confused a man, love, and marriage with making the revolution. Of course, the marriage did not work at all. It was a failure, and we divorced a few years after. So I was already conscious that marriage is an individual matter—only two persons are concerned, and there is no question of putting on the shoulders of the man you are going to marry all your idealistic views about your country, about your cause. I became very wary of that kind of confusion. So when I met Richard, I was already informed of the mistake I could make. But it was difficult for a politically minded person to pay attention to a white man. For me, he belonged to the enemy, and moreover, I had four children from my first marriage. For them, it was completely impossible to have a white man for a stepdaddy; that is why we refused to marry. We lived together. After having lived together for 12 years we had to accept that we were in love, seriously, and we had to follow the consequences.

While that was personally triggering, the entire interview is worth the read. Maryse Condé is fascinating. Disappointingly, I haven’t given her work any time at all. In a few months, I’ll be reading Condé’s novel ‘Segu’ with my book club.


I really love The Brother Moves On. I ripped this live performance from Youtube and it’s one of maybe 10 tracks that I’ve got on my phone. This week, I gave some time to a few TBMO tracks that I hadn’t before, including these:


I’m still trying to wrap my head around this TNI interview with The Jeane Dixon Effect but I really like the sound of the line bolded below:

Sometimes it’s not the other person bothering you; it’s the relationship with the other person itself. I’m thinking here about when you happen to be totally in love with some so-called straight dude as long as it’s just y’all two in the one on one, fucking and playing basketball. But then maybe you’re not so excited about relating to this third thing, which is to say the relationship you make beyond your closed engagement, and you don’t like the social means or ends of what you produce together. Sometimes relating back to that thing can be a deal breaker for people.

I chuckled the first time I read it then went back a few times like how did those words come together? why do they sound so good to me? (probably: hooked with “y’all” –> the sound of “in the” makes “one on one” so much more intimate –> “fucking and playing basketball”: two things I have little to no interest in but I like their seeming randomness).

that’s all i got.

Finding homes in art // ‘juke’ by Nate Marshall

Last month, Akosua Adoma Owusu screened a collection of her short films at Black Cinema House. Following the screening, she and Professor Terri Francis, spoke a bit about her work. At a point, Owusu mentioned that the initial motivation for her film work was a search for home and belonging. She’s Ghanaian but was born and raised in the United States.

Professor Olasupo Laosebikan, who was in the audience, replied that he believes Owusu had found a home in the art she creates. Francis added that she’d felt like she found a home of her own within Owusu’s work. There was something illuminating about this idea of finding/creating home in your own work or others. It explains why I revisit certain works, why I keep them close even when I’m not reading them. It adds purpose to my own work.

This past Saturday night I was reading the latest issue of the Indiana Review. I’ve been reading it for the past week or so and and it’s filled with some good-weird fiction. It’s been entertaining and a series of craft lessons. But Saturday night I was reading it because I wanted to avoid the fact that the NYPD had just officially declared war against civilians. When I came to this poem by Nate Marshall ‘juke’, I immediately thought of what Laosebikan said. I kept going back to it, wanting to stay inside of it:


Resilient Whores & Broken Virgins, A Review of ‘Virgin Margarida’

In Mozambique’s re-education camps, the women were the first to be imprisoned. Sex workers, dancers, and any woman working/living independently could be arrested. Licínio Azevedo’s fictional film Virgin Margarida is a primer to that history. You can read my review of the film on Shadow & Act. It is cross-posted below:  Continue reading

#Chicago: The Black Ink Book Exchange

A project I’m very excited about:

Black Ink Book Exchange is a pop up library open for the exchange of books by black authors, and about black culture. The project aims to create a space around books as a cultural currency, and consists of creative workshops, a reading lounge and book barter. The project will begin at the Arts Incubator in Washington Park this spring, and with support, will continue through the end of the summer in other South Side Chicago locations.

Contribute to the IndieGoGo. Like the Black Ink Book Exchange on Facebook.

Event Recap: Ghana Must Go at Shacks & Shanties

IMG_1322It was maybe a few years ago that I first learned the name of these bags that I had seen often in my childhood home. I was reading a post on a blog from Oroma Elewa. I was immediately confused as to her naming of the bag — Ghana Must Go. Reading the Google search results for the term infuriated me. How could a traumatic event such as the mass expulsion of immigrants be trivialized so? Last year, was probably the first time I heard my mother use the phrase. We were in standing in her friend’s kitchen in a suburb of Accra. She pointed at stack of empty bags and asked me to hand her a Ghana Must Go bag. When I asked her why she would use that term, she said it’s no different from Black people using the N-word. As writer invested in migration, identity, and postmemory, it was a bit disturbing to hear but my mother’s language is not reflective of all Ghanaians, of course. I’ve heard that some reference the bag with a phrase that means “A White man has died.” Needless to say, I was intrigued when I heard that a Nigerian-American artist (Abbéy Odunlami) created an installation and performance inspired by the Ghana Must Go bags as part of the Shacks & Shanties Project. My recap follows:

Abbéy Odunlami‘s performance at Shacks & Shanties was, according to an attendee, much different from his other performance pieces. On a wooden platform situated in front of the shack (the physical structure for the installations in the Shacks & Shanties Project), Odunlami, sat at a small white table with his laptop in front of him. Instead of seeking an active participation from the audience during the performance, he read an essay that was interluded with tracks he played from his laptop. The effect — at least in the eyes of Faheem Majeed, organizer of Shacks & Shanties — was newscaster-like. Even so the performance was engaging (check the guy holding his chin in the picture below).

For Odunlami’s installation, entitled “Ghana Must Go!” he covered the shack with the plaid plastic material that is used to make Ghana Must Go bags. Inside the shack, were stuffed Ghana Must Go bags. On top of a plastic US postal service container sat a red boom box. A track (comprised of six individual tracks that Odunlami layered on each other) emulated the sounds of a busy market in the space. Odunlami’s essay began with a few examples of the appropriation of “poverty culture”: cowboy gear donned by those who could well enough make beyond the median salary of a real cowboy (20,000 USD); overalls worn by non-farmers who probably don’t run businesses that are consistently in the red; ripped jeans that may cost hundreds of dollars; and lastly, high-end bags made by designers like Louis Vuitton that feature the patten of Ghana Must Go bags.IMG_1327

As Odunlami noted in his essay, the Ghana Must Go bag and pattern didn’t originate in West Africa, yet it holds historical significance in the region. During the 1970s, the Nigerian oil boom attracted many Ghanaians to the nearby nation. In the 1980s, as Ghana was dragged into greater political and economic instability, increasing numbers of Ghanaians left their homeland (or chose to remain wherever they had migrated for school or work). As the oil boom began to subside and conditions in Nigeria began to deteriorate, immigrants became a target. In 1983 and again in 1985, the Nigerian government expelled significant numbers of immigrants, most of whom were Ghanaians. Those being expelled packed their belongings in these plaid plastic bags that were subsequently referred to as Ghana Must Go bags.

Ironically, Odunlami’s installation was hosted in a garden adjacent to a building that supposedly houses many Ghanaians.

For more images of last Saturday’s Shacks & Shanties performance, check them out here. And for the remaining installations schedule, click here.

Writing an Immigrant Narrative

BeautifulThingsI have these three works-in-progress — melancholic short stories of people in search of something and hoping that some place (other than where they are) will give them that thing. The protagonists are all Africans, they are all displaced (away from home), and two have become immigrants in the United States. I recently workshopped one of these pieces at a two-week creative writing program. One of the workshop instructors suggested that I read Dinaw Menegestu’s The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears as a way to see how a narrative about Africans living in the U.S. could be constructed.

I was a bit hesitant at first, given the book’s low rating on GoodReads, but browsing the reviews gave some insight as to why it only averaged 3.5/5. Quite a few people have very specific expectations of what an immigrant narrative should be. One reviewer stated that the first person narration didn’t work because it was too insightful for someone who was a shopkeeper. Another reviewer didn’t like how downbeat the novel was. There was another reader who was frustrated that the protagonist could not help himself enough, that it was his own mind holding him back, not his environment. You get the picture. These people want the ultimate immigrant narrative. The escape of death in a dark country, the commitment to work hard regardless of circumstance in the new country, then the humble yet exciting rise to success or some other type of fulfillment. They want something insightful and evocative, but not in the voice of the actual man who has become an immigrant.

Mengestu disrupts these expectations with his debut novel. His style of writing is both uncomplicated and unassuming but his characters are in no way as simple. They are navigating displacement on multiple levels. The protagonist, Sepha Stephanos was forced to leave Ethiopia during the revolution. Nearly two decades later, he plays a Name That African Coup Leader game with two of his other friends who are also navigating displacement. Joseph, who is from the Congo, works as a waiter at a restaurant called The Colonial Grill. Kenneth, originally from Kenya, works as an Engineer. The three men met while working at the Capitol Hotel. Now, they often gather in the shop that Stephanos owns — a convenience store located in the gentrifying Logan Circle neighborhood of Washington, D.C.

Mengestu idealizes nothing in the narrative. Even Sepha’s attempts at romance are far from any romanticized notions of love. Judith is a single mother and professor of American history currently on sabbatical. She and her daughter have moved into a large, reconstructed home in the Logan Circle. Sepha and Judith are near opposite ends of the economic class spectrum, yet equally matched in their loneliness. Together they are awkward and uncomfortable. As a reader you may want them to win, just as you may want your own unsuitable relationships to win. You know it’s not a good thing for anyone involved. Not to spoil the story, but the narrative around the romance is as real as every other aspect of the novel.

I don’t know that this novel has directly impacted my work, other than to reaffirm that “immigrant” is a label that doesn’t characterize one’s identity in any universal way (or maybe not at all). If I were to put (black) immigrant narratives on a (non hierarchical) scale of 1 to 5, 1 being a novel like Teju Cole’s Open City and 5 being like Taiye Selasi’s Ghana Must Go. I think The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears lingers around a 2. If you like quiet stories with many layers of subtext, you’d appreciate the narrative that Mengestu has created.

I picked up this copy from my local library. You can purchase a copy from
Barnes & Noble