Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Preparing to Teach a Seminar on Ama Ata Aidoo

When my Department asked me to teach, next spring, a seminar on West African Literature, I thought about various options. I have taught the works of a number of West African writers, such as Chinua Achebe, Wole Soyinka, Sembene Ousmane, Mariama Ba, Ama Ata Aidoo, Ben Okri and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. I have even, several times, taught an advanced course on Soyinka.

This time, however, I thought of doing something different, something I have not done before: a seminar on Ama Ata Aidoo, a writer who has been producing work from the mid sixties, in drama and fiction, and has continued to create.

Nobody would be surprised if someone offered a seminar, on, say, Ayi Kwei Armah, Achebe, or Kofi Awoonor. But a seminar on woman writer seemed out of the ordinary. Yet, there are such writers, including Flora Nwapa and Buchi Emecheta. I therefore thought Ama Ata Aidoo would be an appropriate choice and a great learning experience for me and for the students.

In the late sixties, as a secondary school student in Tanzania, I enjoyed the short stories of Ama Ata Aidoo. I still remember, for example, the story-telling skills she displays in her "In the Cutting of a Drink." Even as a young reader, I found this story fabulous.

I have taught several of Aidoo's works, especially The Dilemma of a Ghost, which I find profound in its exploration of the differences and tensions between Africans and African Americans. I have also taught her other play, Anowa and her novel Our Sister Killjoy.

I look forward to trying to place Ama Ata Aidoo in the context of the last several decades of African writing in English, and in the context of African women's writing.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Another Conversation With Patrick Hemingway

Three days ago, November 25, I had another wonderful conversation with Patrick Hemingawy. I called him at 5:50pm, and we talked for half an hour.

It is clear that Patrick enjoys our conversations as I do. He was, again, very generous with his comments about Hemingway, and very insightful. I set out to ask him a pecifically about his time in Iringa, Tanzania, and Hemingway's visit there, in 1954.

He told me a great deal, with his characteristic humour and amazing ability to remember details, without mixing up the chronology. He remembers other people who lived there. He gave me valuable hints for a research project I want to undertake this summer in that area, to document Patrick's time there and related matters.

It was very nice to hear him say, again, that when Hemingway hunted in the area, what we call Ruaha National Park today was not yet a national park. That designation came later, with much assistance from Chief Adam Sapi Mkwawa.

Patrick told me about how pleasant life was in the area, for the Africans, without the kind of increased population he knows exists. There was a hotel not far from Sao Hill, owned by an English lady who was an early activist within TANU, the nationalist movement. I knew at once that he was talking about the late Lady Chesham, for he had told me about her in a previous conversation.

The more I talk with Patrick, the more I discover how much he has taken after his father, including an alert mind a great sense of humour. I don't think I have ever met anyone with Patrick Hemingway's sense of humour about wideranging topics, anyone who talks and laughs so much. But he talks about important subjects.

It is a great joy to be or talk with him. He never gets bored and he always holds the audience captive. He is a gifted story teller.

I am always amazed and humbled when he mentions my book,Africans and Americans: Embracing Cultural Differences, describing it as a very well written book. He has done this every time we have talked, and this time he said plainly that he wishes he could write Swahili as well as I write English. Such a tribute from such such a very famous person, who has written great introductions to Ernest Hemingway's books, and is very highly respected in his own right, is truly humbling.

For an earlier blog post about my first encounter with Patrick Hemingway, read here,

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Reflections on The 2013 Twin Cities Book Festival

The Twin Cities Book Festival on October 12 in St. Paul, Minnesota, was another memorable, successful event. In order to be on time for the opening of the Festival, I left early, at 8:00am, arriving at 9:00am. As I was setting up my table, many other exhibitors were doing the same.

I had paid $80 for a half table, and was assigned table number 12. I had registered my exhibition under the name of Africonexion, a little company I own and run, which publishes my books and coordinates my seminars, workshops, and  presentations. The focus is the challenges and opportunities presented by cultural diversity.

As usual, people started arriving early, and when the doors opened, the exhibition hall became a hive of activity. It was heartwarming to observe so many people moving from table to table, talking with authors, booksellers, and publishers, browsing through books and buying books. 

I hear much about the declining fortunes of the book and the book industry as we know it, but being in an event like this festival makes you forget completely that there is such a decline. The number of publishers alone, and the many many titles on display, is enough to give you second thoughts.

Above all, none of these people seemed despondent. On the contrary, they exuded good cheer and optimism. The large number of readers and book buyers underlined the point, at least for me, that the book is here to stay.

Because I was at my table the whole time, I did not get the opportunity to hear the guest writers and observe other programs which were part of the Festival. But this could not be avoided, and it did not diminish the fullness of my satisfaction.

I met and had conversations with a good number of people, and was pleased to see them browse though my books, giving me an opportunity to talk about my work. I cannot express well enough how humbled I was when the people who bought my books asked that I sign them.

It was another very memorable Festival, thanks to the hard work, diligence, and commitment, of Rain Taxi and the many volunteers who worked hard and cheerfully, throughout the day answering questions and helping anyone who needed help. I look forward the 2014 Festival.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Twin Cities Book Festival, October 12

The Twin Cities Book Festival, the biggest book festival in the upper Midwest, USA, is here already. It will be held tomorrow, October 12, at the State Fairgrounds in St. Paul. An annual event, this Festival brings together thousands of book lovers, writers, editors, publishers, booksellers, illustrators and critics.

I have participated in a number of these festivals, and I am ready for tomorrow. I look forward to talking with many people, sharing ideas and experiences about writing, publishing, and related subjects. As usual, I will be exhibiting my books. In the video below, you can hear me talking briefly about my most popular book: Africans and Americans: Embracing Cultural Differences


Wednesday, October 9, 2013

St. Olaf International and Off-campus Studies Open House

Today, here at St. Olaf College, we held another international and off-campus studies open house. An annual event, around this time, it is an occasion to showcase the many international and off-campus study programs we run. St. Olaf is a top-ranked college in the USA in this field.

We have programs in different parts of the world, a number of them in African countries, including Senegal, Ghana, South Africa, and Namibia. I am the advisor for the ACM Tanzania and ACM Botswana programs.

Students interested in, or curious about, these programs get the chance to learn more by talking with program advisors.

It is always a pleasure to talk with students seeking to study abroad, to tell them about the countries they are thinking about, the educational system, the people and the culture, and such things.

Studying abroad is a valuable part of the students' education, and we encourage it seriously.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Afrifest Foundation Board Meeting, October 5

Yesterday, we had another Afrifest Foundation board meeting, at the Center for Families in Minneapolis. We noted that we have received our much awaited 501c 3 from the International Revenue Service. This is great news. With this status, the Afrifest Foundation will have more opportunities to explore and more independence in certain actions.

The meeting was attended by Nathan White, who chaired it, Wycliff Chakua, Denise Butler and Joseph L. Mbele. We also welcomed two new board members: Dayolin Pratt and Dennis Omwenga. We told them how Afrifest has, over the years, braved all kinds of challenges including naysayers and prophets of doom, and built a strong organization which knows exactly where it is going, and which has already built a large network of, collaborators, friends and well-wishers.

We had a rich agenda, including reviewing the Afrifest festival we held on August 10. We are grateful that we decided to go ahead with the festival, even though the situation made it difficult for us to plan as elaborately as we normally do. We were driven by the idea that, no matter what, having the festival every year was very important. We noted the generosity of our sponsors, such as Wells Fargo Bank. We will soon start planning for the 2014 festival. With the 501c3 status in our hands, our spirits are experiencing a big boost.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Afrifest Went Well, Including a Visit by Senator Al Franken

It was a sunny day today in Minnesota and Afrifest 2013 took place, as planned, at the Northview Junior High School in Brooklyn Park.

As promised, there were children's games. There was not an idle moment for them. In addition to the games, the children  got to learn a little bit of African drumming. I stopped by several times to take pictures, and on one of those occasions, I was able to hear the master drummer telling the children the place of the drum in traditional African culture. I heard him talk about how Africans used the drum to communicate messages.

The "gates" were open at noon, and people came and went throughout the rest of the day.

There were a number of vendors, such as Liberation Clothing and Gifts & which was also present at last year's Afrifest.

Wells Fargo, a major sponsor of Afrifest, was there, just as in the past. Many festival volunteers came from Wells Fargo. They were very visible in their red t-shirts.

The festival proceeded against the backdrop of music from different parts of Africa. The DJs did a remarkable job, playing a wide variety of African music.

Here is the food stand. Their food, including rice and chicken, was terrific.

As an educator, I share knowledge about the African experience. In addition to my books, I hung posters on the fence behind me. These posters--text and pictures--deal with Africa, Africans, and African diaspora across the ages. They describe and discuss Africa as the origin of human beings, the evolution of African kingdoms, slavery and the slave trade, with particular emphasis on the global nature of slavery and the slave trade, not just the trans-Atlantic dimension. There are posters on colonialism, the struggle against it, panAfricanism, contemporary challenges and future prospects.

A few minutes after 4:30, Senator Al Franken (Democrat, Minnesota) showed up. There was much excitement as people crowded around him to greet him and talk with him. What a generous and gentle man. He genuinely appears to enjoy meeting people. Everyone who wanted to take pictures with him did so. It was a truly memorable day.