Thursday, November 23, 2017

Minnesota Black Authors Expo

On November 18, many roads led to North Minneapolis, where the Minnesota Black Authors Expo was taking place. I was there, as one of 40 authors presenting their works. It was the dream of De'Vonna Pittman and Jasmine Boulah to organize and host such an event to showcase Black writing. Working hard for four months, these dynamic ladies  pulled off a feat that impressed the many people who attended the Expo.

This event was well planned and seamlessly carried out. The picture on the left is the cover of the Expo brochure, which contained information about authors and their books.

Here De'Vonna is seen speaking, with Jasmine at her side.

Then it was Jasmine's turn to speak. These two hostesses warmly welcomed the guests and kept us engaged the whole time. There was music most of the time, performed by saxophonist Antonio Jackson.

People started coming to the Expo as soon as it was opened. if not earlier. I saw them when I arrived. I have participated in many books fairs, but the Minnesota Black Authors Expo was the one I liked the most.

What appeared to be space limitation actually fostered lively interaction among all of us. The sheer numbers of people talking simultaneously at the various tables, in seeming competition with the background music, produced an animated, delightful babel of voices which reminded me of  the typical African market as I describe it in my book, Africans and Americans: Embracing Cultural Differences:

Crowded and noisy, the African market displays the vitality and exuberance of African life. The language of the market place is vibrant and full of humour....Like many other contexts and situations in Africa, the market is a place for building relationships (p. 95).

That African spirit of the Expo really warmed my heart.

The conversations I had with people touched me very much. These people genuinely wanted to know about the work I do relating to Africa and the African Diaspora. Several of them, upon seeing my Notes on Achebe's Things Fall Apart, told me they had read Achebe's novel.

One lady told me that she wanted to go and live in Africa. At first I thought she was just talking, but I quickly realized that she meant what she said. She wanted to move to Africa next year, and wanted me to tell her what she should do to realize her dream. I gave her some advice, including information about African Americans who have settled in countries like Ghana, Senegal and Tanzania. I promised to connect her with people who can help her further.

Here I am, at my table, with several of my books.

Here I am with De'Vonna, who had come to my table and told me she wanted my "Africans and Americans" book.

This lady exemplified very well the spirit I witnessed during the Expo. She was eager to know about all the books I displayed and was genuinely interested in what I was saying. She bought a copy of Matengo Folktales which she is proudly displaying here.

Though I spent most the time at my table, of course, I did get to meet and talk with other writers. Here on the left, I am with Cavis Adams, author of Granddaddy, his first novel. We had an interesting conversation about our common desire for an Afrocentric focus in our works.

 Here is Penny Jones-Richardson, whose table was next to mine. We talked a great deal, having discovered that we had common interests, she being a life coach and I an educator and cultural consultant. She is the author of Thirty Days of Motivation: A Guide to Reaching Your Goals and Staying Focused.

Here I am with Rita Apaloo, author of African Women Connect, which describes how she formed and ran a networking group of African immigrant women.

My daughter Zawadi joined me at the Expo. She started accompanying me in these events from an early age. She knows what I do and is able to represent me when I am not around.

At one point, Zawadi spotted in the crowd a lady she recognized as her older sister Assumpta's friend. She approached her and brought her to our table where she introduced us. Her name is Cali Bianca. We enjoyed our meeting.

The Minnesota Black Authors Expo was a great experience for me as an African who eagerly seeks to learn about African Americans. Teaching at St. Olaf College, a predominantly white institution, I decided long to broaden my American experience by reaching out to the African American community. I thank De'Vonna and Jasmine for helping me on that quest.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Awaiting the Minnesota Black Authors Expo

Tomorrow, November 18, a much anticipated event, the Minnesota Black Authors Expo, will take place in Minneapolis. It will bring together 40 authors, and I will be there.

Among the day's activities will be a workshop for aspiring writers. Authors will also have an opportunity to give short speeches about their work.

This event was planned and is hosted by authors Jasmine Boudah, Tovias Bridgewater Sly, and De'Vonna Pittman.

Monday, October 23, 2017

2017 Faribault International Festival

On October 7, I participated in the International Faribault Festival. I have attended this anual event a number ot times as an educator, writers, and cultural consultant. This was another significant event that brought together people of different cultures to share their various traditions.

In the photo on the left are two students who led the proceedings in the auditorium, calling upon and introducing music and dance performers.

There were vendors displaying various cultural items, and there were also displays by various organizations. As usual, I displayed my books and other publications as seen in the photo at the bottom of this page. I had conversations with various people.

I also enjoyed talking with members of the Faribault Diversity Coalition, an organization I had worked for as a board member for some years. They are the ones who organize and run the festival. I salute them for their commitment to promoting mutual understanding in the world.


Sunday, October 1, 2017

The Africa Network 2017 Conference

From September 29 to October 1, the Africa Network held its conference here at St. Olaf College. About 50 scholars came together to discuss various topics concerning African studies in the undergraduate curriculum. We talked about study away programs, globalization, Afropessimism, and Afropolitanism. We heard presentations on teaching Africa through simulation, collaboration and fieldwork.

We talked about the necessity of studying and teaching Africa on its own terms, not through foreign perspectives. We talked about teaching and studying that inculcate empathy. We talked about misconceptions and stereotypes about Africa, such as the idea of tribe.

We explored the situation of Americans taking students on study abroad or internships in Africa. The point was raised that in such situations, local professors should teach the American students and the American professors who accompany the students should be taking notes, not teaching. I think, however, that professors should be able to both teach and learn.

There were topics that I had not encountered at previous Africa Network conferences, such as entrepreneurship, African sport history, and teaching Africa in Scandinavian studies courses. The issue of cultural differences came up again and again. This issue interests me in a special way as a cultural consultant.

I had proposed that Papa's Shadow, a documentary on Hemingway in East Africa, be introduced at the conference. This documentary is largely based on a study abroad course I taught in Tanzania titled "Hemingway in East Africa." We invited Jimmy Gildea, who had taken that course and produced the documentary. He showed a trailer of Papa's Shadow and trailers of two other Africa-related documentaries: one on Sudanese refugees at Kakuma refugee camp, Kenya, and the other on me presenting African storytelling.

Papa's Shadow features an extended conversation between Patrick Hemingway, the only remaining child of Ernest Hemingway, and me, discussing Hemingway's travels in East Africa, his writings about that experience, and his philosophy of life, writing and other matters, such as hunting, which he thought of as an artistic pursuit, alongside bull fighting.

One of the main aims of the Africa Network is to facilitate the sharing of academic, pedagogical and other resources. At this conference, an open access digital pedagogy journal was launched by editors Matt Carotenuto and Fiona Vernal.

From all accounts, this was a very successful conference in many ways, including the quality of presentations and the good number of attendees. The Africa Network continues to attract new scholars year after year.

I appreciate the experience I have gained of working on the conference planning committee, and I thank fellow committee members--Matt Carotenuto, Anene Ejikeme, Fiona Vernal and Todd Watkins. I thank St. Olaf College for readily taking on the role of conference host and ensuring that the conference went smoothly.