Friday, June 8, 2018

Teaching Yaa Gyasi's "Homegoing"

On June 4, here at St. Olaf College, I started teaching a summer course on African Literature, which I have taught several times before. Following my introduction to the course, we started reading Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi, a young Ghanaian writer raised in the USA. I met her on March 2 at the Hemingway Festival in Moscow, Idaho, where she was the guest of honour as winner of the prestigious PEN/Hemingway Award for 2017. She gave a magnificent reading and signed copies of her book.

Homegoing takes us several centuries back to the country known today as Ghana and portrays the life of the people then. Apart from themes such as marriage, the family, and the customs associated with them, as well as racial and ethnic relations and consciousness, the novel delves into the issue of slavery and the slave trade. The characters--African and European--who ran the slave trade describe it as a business.

The novel depicts life in the Cape Coast Castle, with Europeans and their families living quite comfortably while beneath them, in the dungeons, the enslaved Africans endure abominable conditions. Seamlessly, the novel transports us to the United States, where we witness the lives of the African slaves and the slave owners on the plantations. From the Castle to the plantations, we witness a continuation of the monstrous tale of human suffering wrought by human beings.

My students and I are still reading the novel, but I think it would be a great idea to read it alongside Ama Ata Aidoo's The Dilemma of a Ghost, first performed in 1964 and published in 1965. A comparative study of the two works would be rewarding. Apart from their common preoccupation with the African and African American experience, and the theme of slavery, both draw inspiration from African folklore in significant ways.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

I Have Met a New Reader

On May 25, I went to the High School for Recording Arts in St Paul to attend a meeting of the Nu Skool, a program run by Solidarity Twin Cities. The topic for discussion on that day was "The Language of Black America." At the end of the session, when people were continuing informal conversations and some leaving, a lady who happened to be standing in a group with me told me that she was reading my book.

I was pleasantly surprised and deeply touched when she said that the book was helping her discover the roots of who she is as an African American. She said, essentially, that she discovered her African essence through reading the book. That testimony, given in front of several of our Nu Skool friends, meant a great deal to me. This lady, I learned, is  preacher, and that means much to me.

I have always been anxious about how African Americans might respond to my book, even before I published it, because I talk about differences between them and Africans which I feared might not go down well with some African Americans. To my surprise, African Americans have tended to embrace and promote the book. I am truly grateful for this. Pastor Iris joins this list of supporters to whom I am most grateful.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Your Chance to Review my Extra-curricular Work

In the world outside the college classroom and academic conferences, I am a cultural consultant, under the auspices of Africonexion. If you have attended any of my presentations, talked with me at a cultural festival, or used my books, especially Africans and Americans: Embracing Cultural Differences, I invite you to share your experience at Public Reputation.

Friday, May 11, 2018

The 2018 Amani Festival in Carlisle, Pennsylvania

On May 5, I attended the Amani Festival in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. I have known about this festival for over 15 years and attended it several time in the past as an educator and cultural consultant.

This year was not different. I had a table, displaying some of my books and had great opportunities to talk with many people who came to my table. These included an American lady who had worked as a volunteer in South Africa for three years as a volunteer as well as a young woman who told me that a friend of hers was going to Tanzania as a Peace Corps volunteer. These conversations were very meaningful. I was touched in a particular way by a reporter who interviewed me and later wrote about the festival in The Sentinel.

My table is always colorful, attracting people. Approaching my table, the lady on the left pointed at a copy of Matengo Folktales and said, "I have read that book!" Completely surprised, I started talking with her. She said that she had bought the book and had me sign it years ago. I think this might have been 2005. She said that she and her husband belong to  a church that has a partnership with the Konde diocese of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania.

I was not able to move around and visit the many vendor booths--about 70--but I had a busy time talking with people at my table.

There was plenty of entertainment, including musical and dance performances.

Some of the dances were performed by students of Harrisburg High School shown in the four photos here.

Friday, May 4, 2018

The Rochester 2018 World Festival

On April 28, the Rochester International Association hosted the 2018 World Festival.This is an annual event that brings together people from various countries to showcase their countries. I was there, and had great opportunities to talk with various people about my work and about our world, which is steadily becoming a global village. There were vendors of different products and displays by different organizations. There were musical and dance performances and from different cultures.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Awaiting the Rochester World Festival

On April 28, the Rochester International Association (RIA) will host its annual World Festival. I will be there, displaying my books and spreading the word about my work as an educator and cultural consultant.

I am proud to be a member of the board of the RIA and to be involved in planning programs and events that are meaningful and vital in our world which is increasingly becoming a global village.

Saturday, March 31, 2018

My Faithful Nebraska Readers

A word from readers never fails to elicit my gratitude as a writer. A good word warms my heart, naturally. This week, I have stumbled across good news from the Nebraska Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. They run vision trips, a program through which Americans travel to Tanzania "to learn about the culture of Tanzania and the ministries of the Northern Diocese."

I am pleased that, year after year, the organizers of these trips have recommended my book, Africans and Americans: Embracing Cultural Differences, to the travelers. The Traveler's Manual for 2018 says:

For those persons wanting to more deeply explore cultural differences between Africans and Americans, the book Africans and Americans by Joseph Mbele is recommended. This book is available at:

I appreciate that the book is recognized as a useful resource, just as I intended it to be. Nebraska has always been on my mind as a place where I have faithful readers. A few years ago, I acknowledged them on this blog. I think about them, and all my other readers, as I continue to work on a sequel to Africans and Americans: Embracing Cultural Differences, which I plan to publish this year with the title Chickens in the Bus.