Friday, July 31, 2015

Afrifest 2015 is Here, August 1

Time flies, and the much anticipated Afrifest is no longer months, weeks, or days away. It is tomorrow, August 1. I wrote about it in an earlier blog post.

Stop by and experience a rich and varied display of Pan African history and culture, through exhibits, performances and interactions with people of different regions of the Pan African world and beyond, ranging from children to adults.

Afrifest, a family event, is an occasion for enlightenment and entertainment. It will take place from 10am to 9 pm, at Northview Junior High School in Brooklyn Park, Minnesota.

For the full festival program visit this site.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

My African Literature Summer Course, 2015

On July 13, I started teaching a summer course on African Literature. I have chosen to use the following texts.

1. Leila Aboulela's Minaret.
2. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's The Thing Around Your Neck.
3. Ama Ata Aidoo's The Dilemma of a Ghost and Anowa.
4. Mia Couto's The Tuner of Silences.
5. Athol Fugard's Valley Song.
6. Dinaw Mengestu's The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears.

I have decided to teach Leila Aboulela's Minaret after teaching it last spring and seeing the impact it had on my class, as I mentioned in a previous blog post. Leila Aboulela is interesting for a number of reasons, not least because most us do not consider Sudan when we think about Anglophone African Literature. We equate Sudanese Literature with writers like Tayeb Saleh, who write in Arabic, and have their works translated into English. Having seen how well Leila Aboulela's Minaret worked for my class, I am already thinking about teaching her other works in the future.

I am familiar with the works of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, having taught several of them, as I mentioned on this blog. I have not, however, read The Thing Around Your Neck. That is why I wanted to teach it this summer. Having greatly enjoyed Adichie's Americanah, I want to keep teaching her works.

Ama Ata Aidoo's Dilemma of a Ghost is one of the African works whose profound implications I have been discovering in the course of teaching it again and again. This summer, I wanted to focus in a particular way on Aidoo's use of the techniques of oral storytelling and folklore in general. I wanted to dwell, for example, on the roots and ramifications of the theme of the dilemma, common in African folktales, and on the motif of the bird of the wayside.

Athol Fugard is another writer whose works I have taught, as I wrote in a previous blog post. So far, his Sorrows and Rejoicings has been my favourite play. I wanted to try a different work by Fugard and settled on Valley Song. We discussed it early this week, and it has left a lasting impression on me.

I have never taught any Mozambican writer here at St. Olaf College. Yet, I have always remembered how I used to enjoy Mozambican writing since my undergraduate years at the University of Dar es Salaam, 1973-76. These ranged from the short stories of Louis Bernardo Honwana to the poetry of Marcelino dos Santos, Noemia de Sousa, Jose Craveirinha, Valente Malangatana and others, all translated into English. As I was planning my summer course, I decided to revive my old love for Mozambican writing and chose Mia Couto's The Tuner of Silences. We have just started reading it.

Dinaw Mengestu is another writer I am teaching for the first time. When most of us think about Anglophone African literature, we rarely think about Ethiopia, just as we do not think about Sudan. Yet, Ethiopia has a steady stream of writing in English, going back to Sahle Sellassie. In the subsequent years, names such as Nega Mezlekia have come into the picture. From the available options, I settled on Dinaw Mengestu's The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Afrifest 2015, August 1

Planning for Afrifest continues apace, as the date of the festival, August 1, approaches. The board of the Afrifest Foundation held a final teleconference on July 16 to review progress.

Our plans have continued to take shape, not only in the broad outlines I mentioned in a previous blog post, but also in the specifics. The City of Brooklyn Park, which has stepped in as a sponsor of the festival, has already started publicizing the festival in various media and avenues, in addition to paying for t-shirts. The KMOJ radio station has been broadcasting a memorable advert.

We will have soccer matches, vendors, and children's games. On my part, in addition to displaying my books and talking about my work as an author, educator, and cultural consultant, and in addition to offering a panoramic view of the global African experience, I will also share African folktales. This is a new thing for Afrifest. Using traditional tales, such as Matengo Folktales, I will offer a taste of the African contribution to world culture. Traditional tales embody and express the African ways of thinking about life, the human condition, relationships, and values.

I will share something else congruent with the mission of Afrifest. For some years, I have been studying Ernest Hemingway and discovering his life-long interest in and respect for Africa. He exemplifies the kind of ideals Afrifest stands for, especially understanding, respecting, and appreciating different cultures.

Readers and fans of Hemingway might be interested to know that they will soon be able to see a documentary, "Papa's Shadow," which features me in conversation with Patrick Hemingway, the only remaining child of Hemingway--now 88 years old--about Hemingway's life, his philosophy, his travels in East Africa and his writings based on those travels.

Afrifest is more than a cultural event in the conventional sense. It fosters understanding of Africa and the African Diaspora through exhibits and performances. A family event not to be missed, Afrifest will be held on August 1, 2015, from 10am to 9pm, at the Northview Junior High School, in Brooklyn Park, Minnesota.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Memories of the 28 June Deep Valley Book Festival

The Deep Valley Book Festival, which I mentioned a few days ago, took place, as planned, on June 28, in Mankato. It was organized by the Betsy-Tacy Society.

My daughter Zawadi and I arrived at the Festival venue about 11: 10am and set up our table. I displayed my books and several other items.

When we arrived, most vendors had set up their tables, and visitors were already streaming in. I always enjoy watching people coming to book festivals. I am both impressed and inspired by their interest in books and their authors, publishers, editors, and illustrators. Like them, I find it hard to miss such events.

Across from us, we saw author Becky Fjelland Davis, whom we knew. She had invited me to South Central College in Mankato a few weeks before, to give talks as part of the orientation for a group she was taking to South Africa. Zawadi came with me on that trip, which Becky wrote about on her blog. In the photo on the left, Becky, on the right, is sitting with writer Kirstin Cronn-Mills, who told me she had attended my talk at South Central College.

Becky had also invited me in 2013, to speak with a group of students she was taking to South Africa. My visit was part of the orientation for the trip, and she reported it on her blog.

I enjoy attending book festivals. I am touched in a particular way when I see children. Fortunately, the Deep Valley Book Festival, like other festivals I have attended, featured children's authors.

We had barely settled down when the first visitor came to our table. From then onwards we had a string of visitors, coming at manageable intervals, enough to keep us occupied but not overwhelmed. Most memorable were visitors who had been to Africa: Botswana, Namibia, and Tanzania. It is, indeed, a small world.

My daughter and I went to the Deep Valley Book Festival expecting to meet people who had traveled to South Africa with Becky. Our expectations came true; we saw several of them.

In the photo on the left, my daughter and I are seen with Becky and Paul Dobratz. They regaled us with tales of their adventures in South Africa. It was a memorable reunion, considering that we had met in Mankato before their trip.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

A Note on Leila Aboulela's "Minaret"

One of the works we read in my Post-colonial Literature course this Spring was Leila Aboulela's Minaret. I planned to focus on two areas of the Post-colonial world: Africa and South Asia. We started with Athol Fugard's Sorrows and Rejoicings, read  Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's Americanah, and then Minaret, before venturing into South Asia.
Minaret explores the lives of Sudanese Muslims in Sudan--especially Khartoum--and in England. It unfolds initially at the University of Khartoum, where we encounter Najwa, the main character. We see how she relates to the community around her, especially fellow students, whose adherence to Islamic principles--such as praying five times a day--she observes with a certain aloofness.

Mostly middle or upper class, the characters in Minaret are a diverse community in terms of their political beliefs and their degrees of attachment to Islam. Cosmopolitan in outlook, they embrace, or easily coexist with, foreign, especially Western, influences. They communicate with friends and relatives abroad, and are able to travel abroad themselves.

Following a coup in Sudan, and the execution of her father by the new regime, Najwa finds herself in exile in England, together with her brother. Though she had not been particularly religious back in Khartoum, after arriving in England and experiencing alienation and other social problems, she embraces Islam, finding meaning and comfort in being a pious Muslim woman. Leila Aboulela presents this transformation in a seamless, persuasive manner.

Minaret offers a refreshing image of Islamic Sudan, a place which many associate with a rigid, conservative society. In contrast to conventional negative stereotypes, Minaret humanizes the Muslims, showing them as people like any other. My students and I liked this novel, and I plan to teach it again this summer.