Monday, February 29, 2016

My Book at the Associated Colleges of the Midwest (ACM)

On February 26, I attended a meeting of the board of the ACM Tanzania program in Chicago. Little did I know that my book, Africans and Americans: Embracing Cultural Differences would come up in the conversations. Yet that happened.

Just before the meeting began, Professor Paul Overvoorde of Macalester College who had accompanied ACM students on their study abroad semester in Tanzania talked to me about my book. He said he had used it, and he praised it as a valuable resource.

After the meeting started, Professor Karl Wirth, also of Macalester College, mentioned the book and later suggested that the ACM use it as a resource for recruiting students for the ACM Tanzania program and the ACM Botswana program. Eventually, more voices joined in and the idea of a webinar was proposed, which would be based on the book and would involve participants from ACM colleges. Mariah Wika, ACM campus outreach coordinator would work with me on the webinar.

This was pleasant news to me, bearing in mind that the genesis of the book owed some of its impetus to the ACM Tanzania board, more than ten years ago. During one of the meetings of the board, Professor John Greenler, then of Beloit College who was getting ready to accompany ACM students to Tanzania, urged me to write a document, even just several pages long, for cultural orientation.

I set out to write those several pages, but ended up producing a book manuscript. The late Kim Tunnicliff, then ACM vice president, was one of the most enthusiastic supporters of the book manuscript. On one occasion, as he was preparing a report on the ACM Tanzania program for the ACM deans, he kindly asked me to allow him to use what I had written on gender issues. He thanked me for letting him use my work that way.

Those are some of the memories I have of the connection between my book and the ACM board. What transpired several days ago at the ACM Tanzania board meeting was not out of the ordinary. I am, nevertheless, very pleased that ACM board members continue to regard the book as a valuable resource and are exploring new ways of using it.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

My Visit to the Hemingway Home and Museum in Oak Park

Yesterday, for the first time, I visited the Hemingway home and the Hemingway Museum in Oak Park, Illinois. I had wanted to do so for some years, as my interest in Hemingway grew and deepened. Yesterday, our group of five visitors was taken around the house by Michelle, one of the tour guides.

There are many things to see in this house: a sitting room, a dining room, a kitchen, a library, and bedrooms. The are many items of furniture, kitchen appliances and utensils, as well as photographs. We learned that this house was one of the earliest in Oak Park to have electricity. We were delighted that we could take pictures freely, in the house and in the Museum.

On the left is the bedroom in which Ernest was born. It was good to be taken back in time and learn that in the early days of this house, and when Ernest Hemingway was a child here, this area stood on the edge of the wilderness, and some of Ernest's earliest encounters with wildlife and the outdoors took place here. Animals and birds were hunted, for meat for the family. Ernest's mother, passionate about music, sought to inculcate the love of music in the whole household. Parents sat around and listened to the little Ernest's tales of adventure, even fabricated ones.

After about an hour in the Hemingway house, I walked the short distance down Oak Park Avenue to the Hemingway Museum. This is a rich repository of materials, including photographs, reports and captions, memorabilia from Hemingway's war experiences in Europe. and a lengthy documentary by the BBC which can only be viewed here.

I was particularly touched by materials relating to Ernest's early school days, including photos and information about his teachers, such as the English teacher who supervised the publication of the student newspaper for which Ernest wrote. I knew about this early writing experience of the young Ernest, but the Museum provided more information. I got a clearer sense than before of the background he had when he went to Kansas City as a teenager and worked as a cub reporter for the Kansas City Star.

In the Museum I also saw Ernest's statement from this tender age that he wanted to write and travel. I had known for years that as a school boy, Hemingway had written that he wanted to explore far away places when he grew up. I was delighted, nevertheless, to encounter in the Museum a reiteration of those sentiments. 

Saturday, February 13, 2016

The Spring Semester Has Started

The spring semester started on February 8 here at St. Olaf College. I am teaching three courses: First Year Writing, Folklore, and Muslim Women Writers. I have taught First Year Writing many times and Folklore a number of times, but will be teaching Muslim Women Writers for the first time.

Teaching a course again and again does not diminish its freshness. It is always a different experience, even if we are discussing the same texts. My Muslim Women Writers course is going to be even more of a novelty, as I have noted, and I wish to say a word about it.

I will be teaching the following texts:

1. Aboulela, Leila. Minaret. Grove. 
2. Ali, Monica. Brick Lane. Scribner.
3. Ba, Mariama. So Long a Letter. Waveland Press, Inc.
4. el Saadawi, Nawal. The Fall of the Imam. Telegram Books.
5. Hossein, Rokeya S. Sultana's Dream. Feminist Press.
6. Mattu, Ayesha. & Nura Maznavi. Love, InshAllah. Soft Skull Press.
7. Nafisi, Azar. Reading Lolita in Tehran. Random.

Of all these works, I have only read Minaret, So Long a Letter, and The Fall of the Imam. In preparing for the course, I have been reading other works, particularly Amina Wadud's Qur'an and Woman and Opening the Gates: A Century of Arab Feminist Writing, edited by Margot Badran and Miriam Cooke.

I have already talked to the class about Islam, dwelling on Muhammad, The Qur'an, the hadiths and the five pillars. I will be saying more based on the readings, the first of which will be Sultana's Dream.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

I am Struggling to Write

For the past several days, I have been struggling to write. I should say, rather, that I have been labouring on revisions of several projects: short articles for a sequel to my Africans and Americans: Embracing Cultural Differences and a review of Isidore Okpewho's book, Blood on the Tides, for Western Folklore.

I have been trying to be productive, but have constantly hit a snag. On each attempt, after revising a mere paragraph or a little more, I have routinely felt tired. All writers experience writer's block, but that knowledge has been no consolation, especially because my predicament has been somewhat protracted.

In the midst of all this, I have found myself recalling Ernest Hemingway's description of the writing process:

There's no rule on how it is to write. Sometimes it comes easily and perfectly. Sometimes it is like drilling rock and then blasting it out with charges.

I know that I will eventually complete my current tasks to a satisfactory degree, but in the meantime, the work does feel like drilling rock.