Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Another Conversation With Patrick Hemingway

On May 22, I called and talked with Patrick Hemingway again. I wanted to tell him about Papa's Shadow, Jimmy Gildea's documentary about Ernest Hemingway, which drew from my Hemingway in East Africa course. He was happy to know that he will soon be able to see the documentary. When I told him that I had watched and liked it, he said: "Since you liked it, we will like it too." He meant his wife Carol and himself.

As always happens when I call Patrick, we talked about many things, from his time in Tanganyika (later Tanzania), including places such as Iringa, Rukwa, Babati, Moshi, Dar es Salaam and Pangani. We talked about his father, Ernest Hemingway's experiences, from bull fighting in Spain to fighting tsetse flies in the Tarangire National Park, Tanzania.

I told Patrick that, as we were talking, I had, in front of me, the book Hemingway on Hunting, which carries his Foreword. That led us to talking about Hemingway's ideas on hunting, and I said I like to think of Hemingway as a philosopher, since he theorized about hunting and defined true hunting as  as an artistic pursuit, contrasting it with what he called shootism.

To my great amazement, Patrick told me that a new edition of Green Hills of Africa is in the pipeline, and that it contains his mother Pauline Hemingway's diary, which she wrote during the 1933-34 trip with Hemingway in Tanganyika. I was thrilled to hear this. I told Patrick that I knew about this diary and that for years I had been thinking about going to Stanford University where it is kept, to read it.

We dwelt on Hemingway's encounter with the person he calls Kandinsky in Green Hills of Africa. who was actually a real person, Hans Koritschoner, an ethnologist popularly known as Hans Cory. We talked about how, after his encounter with Kandinsky, Hemingway traveled to Tanga and onwards to Lamu, on the Kenya coast.

We talked for one hour and fifteen minutes. As usual, when I spend so much time talking with Patrick, I start thinking about his age, fearing that I might be straining him too much. I start telling myself that perhaps I should suggest that we end our conversation and talk another day. Accordingly, I cautiously mentioned that I was afraid of tiring him out and that perhaps we should talk another day.

Patrick quickly calmed my fears, saying there was really nobody for him to talk with about Africa. He said that people tell him about their trips to Africa and all they talk about is the animals. With that, we continued our conversation. He continued sharing with me his memories and ideas about many things, such as the experience of colonialism in Africa, relations between Europe and the Americas, the problems of urbanization in the world and the state of African cities, the migrations of animals in south Africa and in the southern highlands of Tanganyika.

There is no way I can report in this blog post everything we talked about. I need only express, once again, my admiration for Patrick's prodigious memory and my gratitude for his graciousness and generous spirit.

(The photo above was taken on April 27, 2013, at Patrick Hemingway's home in Craig, Montana).

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Afrocentric Dialogues for a Peaceful World

Today I went to Minneapolis for a small meeting of several people convened by Mohamed Dini, founder and director of the Center for African Peace Research (CAPR). Four of us met, at the Somali Mall in South Minneapolis: Mohamed Dini, Ajar Quevi, Mohamed Salad Muhamad, and Joseph Mbele.

We introduced ourselves and affirmed our commitment to the goals of CAPR. We agreed to retain those goals and focus on their implementation. We affirmed the idea that came out of the last meeting: to start where we are, here in the Twin Cities.

We should work with communities, organizations, agencies, schools,and other institutions interested in, or in need of, creating cultures of peace. This will build both real life experience and more credibility for CAPR. We briefly discussed funding opportunities and agreed to consider these as the need arises.

After the meeting in the Somali Mall, three of us went to Columbia Heights to meet with colleagues from the Department of African American and African Studies (AAAS) of the University of Minnesota whom Mohamed Dini had contacted--Vanessa Abanu and Yuichiro Onishi. In less than an hour, we covered much ground, exploring areas of mutual interest between the AAAS program and CAPR.

The AAAS program is planning to revamp its curriculum and foster more engagement with the community. We can work together in the areas of coalition building, fostering unity among disparate African and African Diaspora organizations, including student associations to help promote pan Africanism. The resources and methods we can use include performances, workshops and outreach programs.

One of our most memorable conversations concerned the opportunities our collaboration is bound to create for students, especially internships. Through participating in our programs, students will gain first-hand experience of real life issues affecting our communities--such as conflicts--and ways of addressing them. In many ways, such as demographic and cultural, the Twin Cities and adjacent areas are a microcosm of the world.

(The photo above, taken at the Big Marina Grill & Deli in Columbia Heights, features, left to right, Mohamed Salad Muhamad, Mohamed Dini, Joseph L. Mbele, Vanessa Abanu, Yuichiro Onishi).

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

My Adventures in Literary Theory and Criticism

Today, I spent some time in my office, grading papers. Out of the blue, and for no apparent reason, I pulled out from my shelves some books of literary theory and criticism, arranged them on the floor, and photographed them. I thought I would just feature them on my blog even though I did not quite know what to say about them. Knowing, however, that it would be awkward to not say anything, I chose to say a few words.

I have enjoyed literary theory and criticism ever since my undergraduate days at the University of Dar es Salaam. I studied Theory of Literature under the late Mr. Mofolo Bulane of Lesotho. We focused on Marxist Literary theory.

That grounding in Marxist Literary theory came in handy for me when, as a graduate student at the University of Wisconsin Madison, I took a theory of poetry course--which was Marxist oriented--taught by the late Professor Lawrence Dembo in the English Department. In the Department of Comparative Literature, I encountered Formalism, Structuralism, New Criticism, Semiotics, and Deconstruction.

I read essays that made a lasting impression on me and continue to inform my teaching. Two of these are by Cleanth Brooks: "The Language of Paradox" and "The Heresy of Paraphrase." The other is "The Intentional Fallacy" by William K. Wimsatt Jr. and Monroe C. Beardsley. Roland Barthes's S/Z greatly influenced my understanding of the reading process, as did Reader-response and Reception theories.

I was fascinated by the concept of literary evolution, intertextuality, and the interface between orality and literacy as articulated especially by Walter Ong. I became interested in psychoanalysis, especially in the context of my study of Folklore. Alan Dundes, one of the world's foremost psychoanalytic folklorists, came to Madison and gave lectures which compounded my interest in the psychoanalytic approach.

In the more than twenty years I have been teaching at St. Olaf College, I have developed a keen interest in Post-colonial Theory and Feminism, and have been following debates around issues of language and decolonizing the mind.

I find reading literary theory and criticism fascinating despite the challenge posed by an ever-increasing diversification of trends. Fortunately, the books I buy, such as the few featured in the photo above, embrace most of the key theorists, especially of the twentieth century and this early part of the twenty first.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Pursuing Peace, One Step at a Time

Today I went to Columbia Heights, Minnesota, to meet Mohamed Dini, a Minnesota resident originally from Somalia. A mutual friend, Abshir Daacad, who is a great fan of my work as a cultural mediator, had told Mohamed about me and my work, including my book, Africans and Americans: Embracing Cultural Differences.

When Abshir connected us, by phone, I learned that Mohamed had founded a non-profit organization called the Center for African Peace Research. During our meeting today, Mohamed told me more about his organization, and we talked about how I could contribute to its work, which is to promote peace, human rights and good governance in Africa.

I shared with him the work I do as a cultural consultant, emphasizing, for example, that unlike others who focus on conflict resolution, I concentrate on preventing conflicts by fostering understanding among people of different cultures, since many conflicts stem from cultural differences. Since he had read my book, he readily understood my perspective.

We explored many aspects of these goals, as well as strategies and  modalities of advancing them. We agreed we can work together fruitfully.

Talking with Mohamed, one gets the idea that he is a serious person with big dreams. In addition to the pursuit of peace in Africa, he is passionate about promoting a true and realistic image of Africa, irritated, like the rest of us Africans, by the stereotypes and negativity that characterize conventional representations of our continent.

For more information, please visit the Center for African Peace Research and Africonexion: Cultural Consultants.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Self Publishing

In the academic world, self published books do not carry as much value as peer reviewed ones. Self published books are supposed to be second-rate. I have doubts about this conventional wisdom.

My Notes on Achebe's Things Fall, a self published work, has been, and continues to be, widely used in academic settings. It featured, for example, as a resource for students of Cornell University studying Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart.

My Matengo Folktales, also self published, has been used by academic institutions such as the University of California San Diego, College of St. Benedict/St. John's University, Colorado College, St. Olaf College, and Montana State University.

My Africans and Americans: Embracing Cultural Differences has been, and continues to be, used in study abroad programs of such institutions as the Associated Colleges of the Midwest (ACM), Augustana College, Gustavus Adolphus College, South Central College and Minnesota State University Mankato.

My other book, CHANGAMOTO: Insha za Jamii, is in Swahili and not well known. It might, some day, attract the attention of some Swahili instructor and be used as a reader for advanced students.

These works are not perfect. No work is, even with editorial input or peer review. It is possible that my books might have benefitted in some way from a professional editor's input, but I wanted them to speak with my own voice.

If society allows me to speak in my classes without the intervention of reviewers, I do not see why I should be required to submit my work to peer review simply because it is meant for publication. I am skeptical of the cult or fetishism of peer review, mindful of the clever prank Alan Sokal perpetrated on it.

I know the justification of peer review. I do submit articles to peer reviewed journals and have published that way. But I do want to exercise my right to decide which of my works to submit for peer review and which to publish as I see fit, to project a voice that is truly mine.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

I Got My National Flag Today

Today, I got the flag of my country, Tanzania. Its colours bear symbolic significance. The green represents our beautiful land, the yellow our minerals. The black stands for the people, while the blue represents our country's water bodies, notably the Indian Ocean, lakes, and rivers.

The immediate impulse for my buying the flag has been my experience in festivals where participants represent their countries bearing their national flags. I felt bad being in those situations without my national flag.

One of the most unforgettable, if not embarrassing, experiences was the International Faribault Festival held on August 23, 2014. I watched from my vendor table while other Festival participants stood on the main stage bearing their national flags, said a few words about their countries, and then paraded in single file, to place their flags in the middle of the open space where they fluttered the whole day. I vowed to get my own flag.

Like most people, I love my country, but I was also taught, as I was growing up, to respect all countries. We desired to be friends with any country on the basis of mutual respect, and we would not allow anyone, even our friends, to choose our enemies for us. Such was the blend of nationalism and internationalism our first president, Julius Nyerere, inculcated in us, which has guided our country since the earliest days.