Saturday, December 15, 2018

Waiting to Meet Gustavus Adolphus Students

I have received an invitation, once again, to meet students of Gustavus Adolphus College, who will be traveling to Tanzania on a study abroad program that has been in place for many years. The invitation reads:

Todd and I are once again taking a group of students to Tanzania this January, and would LOVE to have you come and talk with our students about Tanzania!  The students are assigned to read your book: Africans and Americans: Embracing Cultural Differences and, as usual, they will have questions for you!

For many years, I have been privileged to talk with Gustavus Adolphus students going on this trip, and it has always been a rewarding experience. The students come after reading my book and we have lively conversations about issues I raise in it. As has been the case for a number of years, we will meet at the Mount Olivet Conference & Retreat Center in Lakeville, Minnesota.

Saturday, November 24, 2018

The Day Matengo Folktales Hit the "Jeopardy" Show

This time, last year, my book Matengo Folktales, jumped into the limelight by being mentioned on "Jeopardy," the famous American TV show.  This happened on 23 November, as I reported on this blog.

Knowing very little about "Jeopardy," I had to be told what it meant, and many people did tell me. A Macalester College professor, for example,  told me that I had reached "the pinnacle of American popular culture." I don't know how my book reached "Jeopardy," but I enjoy telling Americans about it at book festivals and at my African storytelling events.

Saturday, October 20, 2018

A Meeting With a Fellow Writer

On October 13, I participated in the Deep Valley Book Festival in Mankato, Minnesota. This was my fourth experience in this annual event. I knew, in advance, that one of the writers who was going to be there was my friend Becky Fjelland Brooks.

Becky teaches at South Central College in Mankato. We first met when she and Professor Scott Fee of the Minnesota State University Mankato invited me to talk to students they were preparing for a study trip to South Africa, as part of their orientation.

Many people attended my talk on cultural differences and subsequently got copies of my book, Africans and Americans: Embracing Cultural Differences. I was invited in subsequent years to speak to other groups of students going on the South Africa program.

Becky and Scott are among the Americans who like Africa and strive to educate others about it, in different ways, including study trips. Challenging as this work is, it is invaluable, in terms of promoting mutual understanding in the world.

Becky is a gifted writer, who has already published a number of books, for children, youths and adults. Her work continues to gain attention and appreciation, as is exemplified by the Midwest Book Awards. I am humbled that this gifted writer greatly likes my work, as she says here and here.

Since I knew that Becky was going to be at the October 13 Deep Valley Book Festival, I brought with me my copy of Slider's Son which I had bought a few months before, for her to sign. I have her other books, signed by her in the past. We were happy to meet again, and Becky posted the photo above on Facebook with the following message: "With my dear friend Joseph Mbele, author of the enlightening and humorous book, "Africans and Americans," sharing stories and friendship at the Deep Valley Book Festival today...."

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

My Book Displayed in Barnes and Noble

I visited the Burnsville Barnes and Noble bookstore on September 24 after hearing that my book, Africans and Americans: Embracing Cultural Differences, was on display as one of the books recommended by store staff. A store attendant showed me the shelf and I saw my book accompanied by the following recommendation:

Short and sweet. A wonderful read about the differences between Africans and Americans. I feel wiser to the world after reading this. -- Recommended by Dan.

There are countless books in a Barnes and Noble store, but only a few get to be on the staff recommendation list. I am humbled by the honour accorded my modest book.

This has been a great year for my book. A number of influential people have come out and recommended it publicly. I am not surprised. I knew, when I was writing it, that it would touch people because it deals with real-life problems. I thank all these people for helping me spread the word, as the saying goes.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

The Launching of the "L MAGAZINE"

On September 8, I attended the launching of a new publication, the L MAGAZINE, at the Civic Center in Coon Rapids, Minnesota. On the same occasion, several people received awards for notable achievements.

For Bukola Oriola, the launching of the magazine was a dream come true. This inaugural issue features writers talking about book writing, publishing and marketing. It is a rich treasure of experiences, reflections, and lessons. It also contains information about human trafficking, one of Bukola Oriola's central concerns.

Producing this magazine must have involved an incredible amount of work, and Bukola and her team deserve great credit. I see a bright future for this magazine, as a forum especially for people involved with books, but also those interested in advertising their businesses and services. You can get a copy of the magazine at

Friday, September 7, 2018

My Fall 2018 Folklore Texts

I wish I could teach folklore without books. We would just be sitting around telling stories, singing and talking about folklore. We would be watching video recordings of folklore performances from different parts of the world and discussing them.

Trapped in the culture of writing, I have selected six books for my folklore class this fall: The Vanishing Hitchhiker, Russian Folk Lyrics, How to Read a Folktale: The Ibonia Epic from Madagascar, The Bootk of Dede Korku, Gilgamesh, Matengo Folktales. I want to say a word about Matengo Folktales.

For years, I had misgivings about including my own book in my course. I began to change my mind after learning that professors in several colleges and universities had used or were using it. One even invited me to speak in her class.

I was also aware that I could do my best teaching of the folktale if I used my own Matengo tradition. That would benefit my students the most, since I know the language, the performance tradition, and the cultural references of the tales. I also can sing the songs.

Still, I had misgivings, which I only overcame when I decided that the students would buy the book and use it and then sell it back to me after the course, if they wished. I am pleased with that policy.

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Another Note on Yaa Gyasi's "Homegoing"

I have been teaching Yaa Gyasi's Homegoing, as I noted on a previous blog post. Now that we have read the whole novel, I can say another word on it.

This is an ambitious novel, covering the African experience in Africa and America over several centuries. Starting from the country now known as Ghana we enter society founded on communal principles and but also tensions between ethnic groups. We see people being captured and enslaved for domestic servitude or sent away to Cape Coast Castle, to await the sea voyage to America.

The horrors of life in the Caste,and of the slave trade in general, are graphically represented. The struggles of black people in America and Africa are covered in this novel which ultimately is an epic story of the resilience of the human spirit. It is a story of greed and grief, but also of hope.

Although great numbers of black people perished in the course of centuries, the black man and woman survived and persisted, like the little stone that we see passed on from generation to generation in the novel. The novel uses flashback and other techniques and abounds with imagery, especially of fire and water. In the background there is an intriguing crazy woman.

Homegoing touches on cultural and other differences between Africans and African Americans but also brings up Pan Africanism. I suggest, as i did in a previous post, that  it be read alongside, or following, Ama Ata Aidoo's The Dilemma of a Ghost.

Friday, June 8, 2018

Teaching Yaa Gyasi's "Homegoing"

On June 4, here at St. Olaf College, I started teaching a summer course on African Literature, which I have taught several times before. Following my introduction to the course, we started reading Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi, a young Ghanaian writer raised in the USA. I met her on March 2 at the Hemingway Festival in Moscow, Idaho, where she was the guest of honour as winner of the prestigious PEN/Hemingway Award for 2017. She gave a magnificent reading and signed copies of her book.

Homegoing takes us several centuries back to the country known today as Ghana and portrays the life of the people then. Apart from themes such as marriage, the family, and the customs associated with them, as well as racial and ethnic relations and consciousness, the novel delves into the issue of slavery and the slave trade. The characters--African and European--who ran the slave trade describe it as a business.

The novel depicts life in the Cape Coast Castle, with Europeans and their families living quite comfortably while beneath them, in the dungeons, the enslaved Africans endure abominable conditions. Seamlessly, the novel transports us to the United States, where we witness the lives of the African slaves and the slave owners on the plantations. From the Castle to the plantations, we witness a continuation of the monstrous tale of human suffering wrought by human beings.

My students and I are still reading the novel, but I think it would be a great idea to read it alongside Ama Ata Aidoo's The Dilemma of a Ghost, first performed in 1964 and published in 1965. A comparative study of the two works would be rewarding. Apart from their common preoccupation with the African and African American experience, and the theme of slavery, both draw inspiration from African folklore in significant ways.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

I Have Met a New Reader

On May 25, I went to the High School for Recording Arts in St Paul to attend a meeting of the Nu Skool, a program run by Solidarity Twin Cities. The topic for discussion on that day was "The Language of Black America." At the end of the session, when people were continuing informal conversations and some leaving, a lady who happened to be standing in a group with me told me that she was reading my book.

I was pleasantly surprised and deeply touched when she said that the book was helping her discover the roots of who she is as an African American. She said, essentially, that she discovered her African essence through reading the book. That testimony, given in front of several of our Nu Skool friends, meant a great deal to me. This lady, I learned, is  preacher, and that means much to me.

I have always been anxious about how African Americans might respond to my book, even before I published it, because I talk about differences between them and Africans which I feared might not go down well with some African Americans. To my surprise, African Americans have tended to embrace and promote the book. I am truly grateful for this. Pastor Iris joins this list of supporters to whom I am most grateful.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Your Chance to Review my Extra-curricular Work

In the world outside the college classroom and academic conferences, I am a cultural consultant, under the auspices of Africonexion. If you have attended any of my presentations, talked with me at a cultural festival, or used my books, especially Africans and Americans: Embracing Cultural Differences, I invite you to share your experience at Public Reputation.

Friday, May 11, 2018

The 2018 Amani Festival in Carlisle, Pennsylvania

On May 5, I attended the Amani Festival in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. I have known about this festival for over 15 years and attended it several time in the past as an educator and cultural consultant.

This year was not different. I had a table, displaying some of my books and had great opportunities to talk with many people who came to my table. These included an American lady who had worked as a volunteer in South Africa for three years as a volunteer as well as a young woman who told me that a friend of hers was going to Tanzania as a Peace Corps volunteer. These conversations were very meaningful. I was touched in a particular way by a reporter who interviewed me and later wrote about the festival in The Sentinel.

My table is always colorful, attracting people. Approaching my table, the lady on the left pointed at a copy of Matengo Folktales and said, "I have read that book!" Completely surprised, I started talking with her. She said that she had bought the book and had me sign it years ago. I think this might have been 2005. She said that she and her husband belong to  a church that has a partnership with the Konde diocese of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania.

I was not able to move around and visit the many vendor booths--about 70--but I had a busy time talking with people at my table.

There was plenty of entertainment, including musical and dance performances.

Some of the dances were performed by students of Harrisburg High School shown in the four photos here.

Friday, May 4, 2018

The Rochester 2018 World Festival

On April 28, the Rochester International Association hosted the 2018 World Festival.This is an annual event that brings together people from various countries to showcase their countries. I was there, and had great opportunities to talk with various people about my work and about our world, which is steadily becoming a global village. There were vendors of different products and displays by different organizations. There were musical and dance performances and from different cultures.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Awaiting the Rochester World Festival

On April 28, the Rochester International Association (RIA) will host its annual World Festival. I will be there, displaying my books and spreading the word about my work as an educator and cultural consultant.

I am proud to be a member of the board of the RIA and to be involved in planning programs and events that are meaningful and vital in our world which is increasingly becoming a global village.

Saturday, March 31, 2018

My Faithful Nebraska Readers

A word from readers never fails to elicit my gratitude as a writer. A good word warms my heart, naturally. This week, I have stumbled across good news from the Nebraska Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. They run vision trips, a program through which Americans travel to Tanzania "to learn about the culture of Tanzania and the ministries of the Northern Diocese."

I am pleased that, year after year, the organizers of these trips have recommended my book, Africans and Americans: Embracing Cultural Differences, to the travelers. The Traveler's Manual for 2018 says:

For those persons wanting to more deeply explore cultural differences between Africans and Americans, the book Africans and Americans by Joseph Mbele is recommended. This book is available at:

I appreciate that the book is recognized as a useful resource, just as I intended it to be. Nebraska has always been on my mind as a place where I have faithful readers. A few years ago, I acknowledged them on this blog. I think about them, and all my other readers, as I continue to work on a sequel to Africans and Americans: Embracing Cultural Differences, which I plan to publish this year with the title Chickens in the Bus.

Friday, February 23, 2018

An African Storytelling Event in Red Wing, Minnesota

On February 17, I went to Red Wing, Minnesota, to make a presentation on African Storytelling. The event, organized by the Red Wing Public Library and the Goodhue County Historical Society, was well publicized.

I highlighted the significance of Africa as the cradle of the human race, where language and storytelling began, together with other forms of folklore. The evolution of human consciousness and the capacity to reflect on life, the world, relationships, and values found expression in folklore. I shared several proverbs to illustrate this point.

Then I told the tale of "Spider and the Calabash of Knowledge" and "The Lion's Advice," both from West African Folktales by Jack Berry, as well as "The Chief's Daughter," from West African Folktales by Steven H. Gale. We spent the last ten minutes on questions and answers.

Although I had visited Red Wing several times, over the years, this was my first presentation there. Lindsey, Education & Outreach Coordinator at the Goodhue County Historical Society, planned my visit well. At her suggestion, I brought copies of Matengo Folktales and Africans and Americans: Embracing Cultural Differences and people were able to buy them. That makes me feel that I left a legacy beyond my one hour presentation.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Thirty Days of Motivation by Penny Jones

On November 18, 2017, I participated in the Minnesota Black Authors Expo, as I reported on this blog. I got to know and talk with another author, Penny Jones-Richardson, whose table was next to mine. We shared our professional experiences--hers as a life and transformational coach, motivational speaker and author, and mine as an educator and cultural consultant. Later, to learn more about her work, I visited her website.

At the Expo, I bought her book, Thirty Days of Motivation: A Guide to Reaching Your Goals and Staying Focused. It is a collection of thirty short articles, each less than a page and half, but laden with useful reflections and encouragement.

Each article deals with a specific topic about life's challenges and offers advice on how to deal with and overcome them. It identifies typical obstacles to personal success, such as fear, procrastination, lack of selfconfidence and complacency. The author shares personal experiences and anecdotes, and addresses the reader in a personal way. You feel she is talking to you, asking questions and inviting you to think about issues in new ways. Whatever you are going through, and whatever doubts you might have about your situation, she offers assurance and hope.

I have enjoyed this book, not only for what it says, but also for how it communicates. I have learned, from the success of my own book, Africans and Americans: Embracing Cultural Differences, that storytelling, rather than abstract theorizing, is the best way to reach and touch people. Thirty Days of Motivation is such a book. Anecdotal and confessional, it communicates simply and clearly. It is a book one can read again and again. I recommend it, especially to young people, who might not be sure where they are going in life and who might have doubts about themselves and their prospects.