Catherine Onyemelukwe

Author, Blogger, Speaker

Giants in Death and in Literature

Julian Bond in his role as Chair of the NAACP

Julian Bond in his role as Chair of the NAACP

Another Giant Falls

Julian Bond has died, I read this morning in my NYTimes alert. I’ve known his name for ages as a respected civil rights leader.

I recall being at Episcopal Relief and Development fourteen years ago with Coleen, now my dear friend, and hearing about an approach to Bond for a lead gift to the planned capital campaign. I know the gift did not come through. But his name reminds me of her.

When I spoke with her earlier today she gave me my header for this segment when she said, “Another giant falls.” I didn’t have a chance to ask who else she was thinking of – what giant had died recently. Who do you think she may have meant?

A Giant of Literature

Author Alexander McCall Smith @Chris Watt from website

Author Alexander McCall Smith @Chris Watt from website

I’m reading two books by Alexander McCall Smith now.

I say reading, but actually I’m listening to both – one in the car and one in the gym.

The first in the series of the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency is my entertainment at the gym. It makes the minutes fly by! I’ve listened to others in the series about Mma Ramotswe and her agency in Botswana.

The No. ! Ladies' Detective Agency

The No. ! Ladies’ Detective Agency

I’ ve just learned from Wikipedia that these – now fifteen in the series – are “of the subgenre of anthropological detective fiction, in which the culture of its characters plays a major role in the story.” I had no idea! I just knew they are extremely entertaining.

In the car is The Forever Girl, the story of an American – Scottish family living on Grand Cayman Island and the power of love.

I am amazed at Alexander McCall Smith’s versatility and breadth of knowledge. He grew up in Rhodesia, and later worked in Botswana for severaal years, so his knowledge of that part of Africa is deep. But he also knows life in Grand Cayman, and the heart of a teen-age girl!

The Forever Girl

The Forever Girl

He tells these two very different stories, and so many others, brilliantly!

Anthropology and The Caine Prize

Another take on anthropology in writing was expressed by Taiye Selasi, author of the delightful novel Ghana Must Go

First a sidenote: I  was surprised to read that, “Taiye means first twin in her mother’s native Yoruba.”

Yoruba is one of the three major tribes and languages in Nigeria. It’s the language I studied in Peace Corps training because I was assigned to Lagos, a Yoruba city. Since training I’ve known that Taiwo and Kehinde are the Yoruba names for twins, but I hadn’t realized ‘Taiye’ was a variation of Taiwo.

I’m talking about Taiye Selasi because she is quoted in an article on the blog Africa in Words called “Acts of mutiny: the Caine Prize and ‘African Literature.’”

The Caine Prize is a British award given for a published short story by an African writer. The blog author said, “the Caine Prize plays a key role in regulating not only how Africa’s writing is globally received, but also what passes for ‘African literature’.

She critques the very concept of Afrian literature and the role African authors are asked to play. Here’s what she quoted from Taiye Selasi: “Our art is subjected to a particular kind of scrutiny: it is forced to play the role of anthropology.”

Author Taiye Selasi

Author Taiye Selasi

Selasi would like to see the Caine Prize be a vehicle, “through which a wider variety of African writing becomes internationally visible. ‘African books for global eyes must be written by a broader range of Africans.”

She says, “We need more writers from more countries, representing more class backgrounds. We need more names,” in a riff on We Need New Names, whose author was the prize winner two years ago.

This year’s winner, Namwali Serpell, is from Zambia. When speaking to reporters, she rejected the whole concept of ‘African literature’ as absurd. She said it is a “grotesque abstraction . . to consider an entire continent and its literary output as whole entities.”

Namwali Serpall

Namwali Serpell

In addition to her challenging the very premise of a prize for African writing, she also announced that she will split her ten-thousand pound sterling prize with the other four finalists!

I’ve read the first pages of her short story ‘The Sack,’ and will read the rest after posting. If you read it too please share your comments.

Slavery to Mass Incarceration

Judy who is reading The Half Has Never Been Told – I”m waiting for her further comments on it – sent the link to this video from the Equal Justice Initiative, or EJI .

It’s called Slavery to Mass Incarceration. It’s a powerful overview of the history of black lives in America.

If you watch, you’ll be glad you did. And let me know what you think.

And in Nigeria: Corruption Commission

President Buhari has appointed a commission to advise him on how to deal with the endemic corruption in the country. The commission is made up of several academics and a couple of people called civil activists. No timetable for their work was announced.

The news I read included the announcement of a $5 million fund from Ford Foundation, Open Society Institute and MacArthur Foundation. Certainly a good sign, don’t you think?

To confront corruption means confronting many people who have benefitted. The members of the commission will have to be courageous.

Author: Catherine Onyemelukwe

Author, blogger, speaker. Born in New York, grew up in mid west United States, lived in Nigeria for 24 years, back in U.S. since 1986. Advocate for racial justice.

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