Much gratitude to Nnedi Okorafor for sharing my post on Akata Witch, it brought a lot of traffic to my site and introduced me to other bloggers and writers. I’ve been taking my time checking out P. Djèlí Clark’s blog. There’s a lot of good stuff for sci-fi/fantasy fans and for writers of all genres.
You can read the plot synopsis and my initial thoughts of Nnedi Okorafor’s Akata Witchhere.
I read Akata Witch a few months ago and I meant to write a piece about being a U.S. born Ghanaian soon after. In all honesty I’m a bit worn out by the discussions. African vs. African-American and all of its variations. I’ve reached a point in my life where I’m okay with not fitting into one category or another and I honestly don’t think anyone really does. But if you’re not yet there — if you’re are struggling with your racial/ethnic/cultural identity, I’m going to introduce you to a timeline of events you can expect to go through before you reach a level of not caring:
When you’re in elementary school, you’ll learn the process of Americanizing your name for easy pronunciation. However your first encounter with a substitute teacher will throw you for a loop. The substitute teacher will mispronounce your name and everyone will laugh. Next time you’ll know to arrive at class early to give her your Americanized name or you’ll interrupt her with a loud “HERE!” after she utters the first syllable.
You will notice that, beyond your funny sounding name, you really are different from your schoolmates. This can happen as early as elementary school if your parents boldly denounce assimilation by doing things things like sending you to school with banku and okra soup for lunch.
You will discover that being born in the States but connected to elsewhere makes you kind of unique in a good way. This typically happens in college. You will join cultural organizations on campus where you and your colleagues put together events in the best imitation of those parties and ceremonies your parents have been taking you to since you were a child.
You will visit “home” for the first, maybe second, time in your life and will be reminded that you are different. You’ll be annoyed when strangers call you American girl with absolutely no hesitation. Your annoyance will be furthered by everyone’s obsession with your skin complexion and refusal to relax your hair.
College is over and you are introduced to another type of lonely. It’s no longer as easy to connect with people “like you.” Though you will try with paraphernalia that says what you cannot or by boldly approaching people you hear speaking you mother’s language. If you’re lucky, they’ll be passive in their rejection.
In your loneliness new free time, you discover amazing people who seem to be documenting your experience. You meet characters like Sunny in Akata Witch who live in more than two worlds that seem to be in opposition of each other. You recall each encounter in which you have been told “you’re not _____ enough.” You come to a conclusion that this is all a game of hierarchy built on arbitrary rules of Africanness. You decide that you equally love grilled cheese sandwiches and spinach stew and will never choose one over the other.
As a writer working on a project that may be a bit self-indulgent and may be told through multiple mediums, Terence Nance is definitely an inspiration. And I relate to his idea of “the Swarm.” Read this recent S&A interview to see what all I’m talking about.
I’ve been in a few online book clubs, none successful. But I came across an active online book club with a focus on fiction by people of color. I can’t join because of my reading schedule, but you should consider if you’re looking for a reading community.
There’s so much in this interview: beautiful photos of Toni Morrison (some with her family), proof that artists are intent on feeling our full range of emotions, and affirmation for those who have questions about love
Particularly if you come from poor communities, you come from black communities in this country and you see a casual, systemic indifference to black life…you have to respond. It’s in your own self interest, it’s not even outstanding or courageous, it’s a survival issue. Either we gonna fix this or we gonna just agree to be slaves. And that don’t honor nothing that we ever been about — it don’t honor the legacy of everybody that came before us. -Yasiin Bey
I might as well put Teju Cole in charge of my reading list. His comments on Michael Ondaatje got me to add Coming Through Slaughter and Running in the Family to my reading list:
For purposes of marketing, writers are designated as poets, novelists, or something else. But writing is about matchmaking, an attempt to marry sensations with apt words. Ondaatje makes language translucent – the exact word, the exact placement of a comma – and the reader has the uncanny feeling of encountering ideas directly. His work is about the things I care most about: memory, threshholds, solitude, work (usually the work of hands), dangerous loves, half-remembered songs and scars of all kinds. It is a particular constellation of thoughts and experiences, so particular to me, I sometimes feel, that I’m unsure if I’m reading or if I’m the one being read.
The words of Emeli Sande are inspiration for any artists (h/t: Concreteloop)
James Baldwin in a 1984 interview with Jordan Elgrably. Baldwin gives us so many gems, but here are a few highlights:
Thank God for visual artists:
Was there anyone to guide you?
I remember standing on a street corner with the black painter Beauford Delaney down in the Village, waiting for the light to change, and he pointed down and said, “Look.” I looked and all I saw was water. And he said, “Look again,” which I did, and I saw oil on the water and the city reflected in the puddle. It was a great revelation to me. I can’t explain it. He taught me how to see, and how to trust what I saw. Painters have often taught writers how to see. And once you’ve had that experience, you see differently.
A Word to the shy:
Did what you wanted to write about come easily to you from the start?
I had to be released from a terrible shyness—an illusion that I could hide anything from anybody.
I was going to excerpt some of the highlights of this article but I would’ve had to repost the whole damn thing. Check out Teju Cole enlightening everybody on the White Savior Industrial Complex.
Silver Sparrow is a story about family — about relationships between husband and wife, between sisters, and between mother and daughter. It’s about many of the relationships through which I have experienced family.
I was born between a vibrant, older sister and a charming, younger brother. We were raised by a shy yet comedic father and a spirited and bold mother. I love them all. But familial relationships are never perfect and coming to terms with this fact is part of the transition from childhood to adulthood. Tayari Jones’s Silver Sparrow was a perfect literary piece for my own transition. Here are some of her words that I made sure to take note of:
Shay Youngblood is my first writer-crush. She’s so poetic in a non-dramatic way. When I discovered her in 2007, her words were the first to move me in strange ways; before her, no writer made me blush. And like any first, she’s opened me up to experiencing other writers in similar ways.
Youngblood’s second novel, Black Girl in Paris is based on her own experiences in Paris. The reason for her decision to travel to Paris is summarized by a quote found after the dedication page of the novel:
If you go there in the place where it was, it will happen again; it will be there for you, waiting. BELOVED, Toni Morrison
I was too young to understand or appreciate Beloved during my first attempt to read it, but in the space that I’m currently in, this quote resonates with me. I’m in the midst of what some call a quarter-life crisis, my Saturn’s return, my wilderness. I’m transitioning from childhood to adulthood. I’m trying to figure out who I am under the layers of these academic degrees; under the defenses I’ve built to navigate my circumstances.
Eden, Youngblood’s fictionalized self, is a 26-year-old writer born in Alabama and raised in 1960′s Georgia. Inspired by James Baldwin, Josephine Baker, Langston Hughes and other African-American artists, she sets off to Paris to live and create beyond the racism of the U.S. and to actualize the self she wants to be. She is, in essence, going to the place where it was for artists like Baldwin and Hughes so that it will happen again for her.
There is no physical Paris for me. Instead, my thoughts turn to my childhood when I was less afraid of trying new avenues of creativity and more centered in myself and the goals I wanted to pursue (no matter how often they changed). I decided to time travel – to go back to the places that would spark my imagination and re-center my self. I started by reading some of my literary favorites. Then I came across some of my old writings and photographs. I’m able to experience all these things through a different lens – with a self more open to experiencing emotions. And now these sparks have desires to become flames. I’m putting story ideas on paper and thinking through other projects that have come up over the years. Now it’s just a battle with self-doubt.