Saturday, October 20, 2018

A Meeting With a Fellow Writer

On October 13, I participated in the Deep Valley Book Festival in Mankato, Minnesota. This was my fourth experience in this annual event. I knew, in advance, that one of the writers who was going to be there was my friend Becky Fjelland Brooks.

Becky teaches at South Central College in Mankato. We first met when she and Professor Scott Fee of the Minnesota State University Mankato invited me to talk to students they were preparing for a study trip to South Africa, as part of their orientation.

Many people attended my talk on cultural differences and subsequently got copies of my book, Africans and Americans: Embracing Cultural Differences. I was invited in subsequent years to speak to other groups of students going on the South Africa program.

Becky and Scott are among the Americans who like Africa and strive to educate others about it, in different ways, including study trips. Challenging as this work is, it is invaluable, in terms of promoting mutual understanding in the world.

Becky is a gifted writer, who has already published a number of books, for children, youths and adults. Her work continues to gain attention and appreciation, as is exemplified by the Midwest Book Awards. I am humbled that this gifted writer greatly likes my work, as she says here and here.

Since I knew that Becky was going to be at the October 13 Deep Valley Book Festival, I brought with me my copy of Slider's Son which I had bought a few months before, for her to sign. I have her other books, signed by her in the past. We were happy to meet again, and Becky posted the photo above on Facebook with the following message: "With my dear friend Joseph Mbele, author of the enlightening and humorous book, "Africans and Americans," sharing stories and friendship at the Deep Valley Book Festival today...."

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

My Book Displayed in Barnes and Noble

I visited the Burnsville Barnes and Noble bookstore on September 24 after hearing that my book, Africans and Americans: Embracing Cultural Differences, was on display as one of the books recommended by store staff. A store attendant showed me the shelf and I saw my book accompanied by the following recommendation:

Short and sweet. A wonderful read about the differences between Africans and Americans. I feel wiser to the world after reading this. -- Recommended by Dan.




There are countless books in a Barnes and Noble store, but only a few get to be on the staff recommendation list. I am humbled by the honour accorded my modest book.

This has been a great year for my book. A number of influential people have come out and recommended it publicly. I am not surprised. I knew, when I was writing it, that it would touch people because it deals with real-life problems. I thank all these people for helping me spread the word, as the saying goes.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

The Launching of the "L MAGAZINE"

On September 8, I attended the launching of a new publication, the L MAGAZINE, at the Civic Center in Coon Rapids, Minnesota. On the same occasion, several people received awards for notable achievements.

For Bukola Oriola, the launching of the magazine was a dream come true. This inaugural issue features writers talking about book writing, publishing and marketing. It is a rich treasure of experiences, reflections, and lessons. It also contains information about human trafficking, one of Bukola Oriola's central concerns.

Producing this magazine must have involved an incredible amount of work, and Bukola and her team deserve great credit. I see a bright future for this magazine, as a forum especially for people involved with books, but also those interested in advertising their businesses and services. You can get a copy of the magazine at Amazon.com.

Friday, September 7, 2018

My Fall 2018 Folklore Texts

I wish I could teach folklore without books. We would just be sitting around telling stories, singing and talking about folklore. We would be watching video recordings of folklore performances from different parts of the world and discussing them.

Trapped in the culture of writing, I have selected six books for my folklore class this fall: The Vanishing Hitchhiker, Russian Folk Lyrics, How to Read a Folktale: The Ibonia Epic from Madagascar, The Bootk of Dede Korku, Gilgamesh, Matengo Folktales. I want to say a word about Matengo Folktales.

For years, I had misgivings about including my own book in my course. I began to change my mind after learning that professors in several colleges and universities had used or were using it. One even invited me to speak in her class.

I was also aware that I could do my best teaching of the folktale if I used my own Matengo tradition. That would benefit my students the most, since I know the language, the performance tradition, and the cultural references of the tales. I also can sing the songs.

Still, I had misgivings, which I only overcame when I decided that the students would buy the book and use it and then sell it back to me after the course, if they wished. I am pleased with that policy.

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Another Note on Yaa Gyasi's "Homegoing"

I have been teaching Yaa Gyasi's Homegoing, as I noted on a previous blog post. Now that we have read the whole novel, I can say another word on it.

This is an ambitious novel, covering the African experience in Africa and America over several centuries. Starting from the country now known as Ghana we enter society founded on communal principles and but also tensions between ethnic groups. We see people being captured and enslaved for domestic servitude or sent away to Cape Coast Castle, to await the sea voyage to America.

The horrors of life in the Caste,and of the slave trade in general, are graphically represented. The struggles of black people in America and Africa are covered in this novel which ultimately is an epic story of the resilience of the human spirit. It is a story of greed and grief, but also of hope.

Although great numbers of black people perished in the course of centuries, the black man and woman survived and persisted, like the little stone that we see passed on from generation to generation in the novel. The novel uses flashback and other techniques and abounds with imagery, especially of fire and water. In the background there is an intriguing crazy woman.

Homegoing touches on cultural and other differences between Africans and African Americans but also brings up Pan Africanism. I suggest, as i did in a previous post, that  it be read alongside, or following, Ama Ata Aidoo's The Dilemma of a Ghost.

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.