Category Archives: Thoughts raging in my head

‘Boring Immigration Literature’ and our Publishing Conundrum

Before my self-imposed exile from Twitter this week (inspired by threats of physical harm against my family and a story for another day), one of the last stories I read was an opinion piece written by Siyanda Mohutsiwa entitled I’m Done with African Immigrant Literature. Here she describes her frustration and angst about having toread one more story that ends with the African protagonist being whisked away to America”. Her article has sent the African literary community into a tizzy, with lines sharply drawn either in support of her view or in fierce opposition to it. I think it bears repeating that this is Siyanda’s view.

I read the article thrice in hopes of extracting for myself what was making so many people angry, and how they’d managed to conclude from it that she was:

  1. Unaware of other pieces of African literature set on the continent
  2. Attempting to drive a wedge between the continent and the diaspora
  3. Attacking the authors whose work she singled out as examples for the boredom she feels with treatment of main characters in those tomes – or rather the settings in which those specific authors place them. Which is this case, Any City in the West.

Expressing a sense of boredom does not translate into an assertion that a topic/item is unimportant. No one in his or her right mind could ever claim that either Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie or Teju Cole occupy a space of irrelevance in literature… nevertheless we must acknowledge that it IS down to the reader to form a reaction about the work presented. Writers rely upon it, and Ms. Mohustsiwa’s boredom is merely that: a reaction. And a valid one too. I (partially) read ‘We Need New Names’ and was bored stiff. But as tedious as I felt the work was, that in no way negated the kudos and recognition NoViolet Bulawayo deserved, and still deserves. It’s no mean feat to pen a book of that length while dealing with the heavy subject matter therein. We still have to acknowledge that it is the reaction of the reader that gives any literary work relevance. You really want to hurt an author’s feelings? Tell them that you had no opinion about their book, whatsoever. It will crush them! To experience revulsion or disdain for a work is at least something. It means the writing struck a chord, even if it was negatively. But for you to experience and express neutrality for the 50,000+ words and the 3 months – 3 years spent crafting those words? Gosh. It would be less agonizing if you were to rip out the writer’s guts and demanded they use the blood of their exposed entrails for a re-write, perhaps with a femur for a quill.

Though many have made it their personal quest to find fault with Siyanda’s unfavorable response to what she calls African literature of the “Afropolitan” variety, I find that I am grateful for her honesty. She has pointed out a very real problem in the African literary world: Specifically, what kinds of books get lauded for (international) recognition. Overwhelmingly, those books do tend to feature a person of African descent struggling to navigate the rigors of immigrant life in the Western world. They do tend to have been written by people who either don’t live on, or only live on the continent part time.

Perhaps this phenomenon is a function of writers choosing to zero in on our migration patterns as they exist in this point in history because it’s familiar and emigration is the proverbial African dream to exploit; or Western publishers’ paternalistic, voyeuristic curiosity about our African lives; or both… But there is no denying that there is a certain type of “marketable” African author – and the stories they tell- that captures not only the imagination of the global reading audience, but the lion’s share of the pecuniary rewards that audience offers as well. For me, that is the bigger problem.

In combating Siyanda for her declaration never to read immigrant lit again, several people have pointed out that there does exist wonderful literature that uses the continent as the setting written by authors who have never left the continent. I don’t see where she denied that there was.

Chigozie Obioma’s “The Fishermen” and Petina Gappah’s “The Book of Memory” were just some of the titles shouted at her…both of which, the crier informed, could be found at OR Tambo or Exclusive. They are also available on Amazon (I checked) and ebook format. But are they available at local bookshops in Accra or Ouagadougou or Monrovia? How accessible is African literature for the African on the continent? And what percentage of Africans have access to e-readers? We all know the answer to that: Not very many. And that’s a problem!

Publishing on the continent is a dismal affair. I know this struggle firsthand, because its something I’ve grappled with since I debuted my first book, Daughters of Swallows. What one discovers is that authors have very little in the way of options when it comes to getting their work in the hands of their intended (African) audience, and the consequence is many good works languish – and eventually die – in near obscurity. (Unless they can get their books in the hands of some white people!)

In my search for a printer in Ghana, I was astounded by the quotes I received. Printing presses typically require a 1,000 minimum run before they will even consider your request. Anything lower will be deemed “unserious”. If you’re lucky, you can find a press that will run a minimum 200 copies of your book, but then the price per unit increases incrementally (and astronomically) with the lower quantity demanded. This is a trend that repeats itself all over the continent, not just in Ghana.

And then there’s the issue of quality.

I was warned that if I did decided to print and distribute in Ghana, I must inspect each book individually to make sure it met my standards. I did not heed this advice. The result was an entire run of one of my books printed with the spine running across the top. Yes, you heard me. One of my books looks like a calendar. Why would a printer do? Why would he not clarify if this  was the intent? Of course I had to pay for the work, and I’ve chalked it up to “mistakes and new styles” if anyone asks.

Next, if you are successful in financing the production of your book, then there becomes the question of distribution. Bookstores in Ghana are not very friendly to emerging local writers (actually, they are downright hostile), and will favor John Grisham, any book where religion is the subject matter and text books for space on their shelves before they do the uncelebrated African author. Of course, all this anxiety and exclusion can be circumvented with connections. Having privilege and connections is the only way to get things done in Ghana.

(Note: I’ve attempted to work with only one African publisher in the past and got horribly burned for the effort, so I can’t speak extensively on the inner workings of that endeavor. I would love to hear from anyone who has had success with an African based publisher and how they did it.)

Finally, self-publishing in Ghana – and I suspect the majority of Africa – takes tenacity, but it also requires wealth, or at least access to it. I find myself fretting over the thousands of stories from slum kids, fishmongers, and vocational school graduates that are lost every year because they can’t afford the $3-5,000 it requires to get their book in print, or the class structures that exclude them from making connections with people who have the power and influence to bring those stories to market, continent-wide.

At the end of the day, if we want to see more diversity in what types of African stories make it to the tops of best sellers lists, it’s going to be up to the African reader to make that possible. We can’t wait for the nominating board of the Caine Prize to tell us what’s worth reading and/or celebrating. We have to do that for ourselves by promoting ourselves among ourselves. Until we do that, our literary appetites will continued to be dictated for us by the West, and African writers will continue to churn out more tried and true immigrant tales. Shoot. I’m thinking of writing one myself. I want to be on the cover of Forbes, too!

Africa Map with books

source: fredua.wordpress

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In all seriousness, that’s why I appreciate individual initiatives and efforts of Under the Neem Tree and Kinna Likimani, just to name a few. They have made it their mission to promote literature in Africa. If we could get corporate Africa to buy into literary culture the way it has invested in telecommunications or entertainment, we would certainly be able to give a bigger, better and higher platform for more diverse types of African writing. When that day comes, no one can rightfully claim to be plagued by boredom.

Beyoncé Has Completely Taken Me Out of Formation, and That’s Okay

There are certain givens that I have always assumed would remain givens. You know what I mean? Don’t you have those for your own life? Like, as a woman of faith, there are certain variables I have expected to remain constant for as long as I drew breath.

newtons-first-law

  • The sun would always rise in the east and set in the west.
  • An object will remain at rest or in uniform motion in a straight line unless acted upon by an external force.
  • I would never care for Beyoncé.

It is that third given – that one constant that has remained unchanged in my universe since I first encountered Destiny’s Child in the late 1990s – that has been irrevocably altered as of February 6, 2016…and I’m not certain how to deal with it. It was on that day I was confronted with the reality that I like Beyoncé (or this Beyonce, at least), and that I’m elated about it. I have no idea what I’m supposed to do with these new feelings!

No doubt you have seen Bey’s new video Formation. And if you haven’t seen it, you’ve heard about it. And if you haven’t heard about it, you will. It’s inescapable. Unless you have dedicated yourself to a life of perpetual hermitage, you will be touched by the power of Formation. It has literally changed everything, for millions of people, everywhere.

The entirety of my Monday was spent reading one think-piece after another about what the song, the video and the artist responsible means for Black people, expressions of Blackness and what it means to exist as a person of color in this country. I couldn’t get enough. My entire paradigm had been shifted – and shifted in a way that I had not anticipated – by an entity that I felt sure was completely incapable of such a feat: Beyoncé, the capitalist, the pseudo-feminist, this Jezebel of the music industry! But you know what? No matter how you may feel (or have felt) about Beyoncé, there is no denying that she is a powerful woman. And let there be no confusion: Formation – and the reactions that is has wrought – are indeed powerful. Because if Beyonce has garnered the freedom to express herself completely Blackly, then it means there are a lot more changes coming down the pike for the game. Expect unapologetic Blackness everywhere.

I have no intention of boring you with my personal interpretation of the song’s messaging in either the lyrics and imagery employed, as numerous writers have accomplished this coup more eloquently than I ever could. Formation is a celebration of a peculiar sort of Blackness/queerness/Southerness that I feel unworthy to try to explain, although I do feel a sort of distant kinship to. Like, if you don’t know the significance of carrying hot sauce in your handbag or understand the magnitude of being treated to Red Lobster for a job well done, then it’s okay to keep it moving and just appreciate these cultural dynamics. That may not be your lived Black experience. There’s still plenty in Formation that ought to connect with you as a Black person living in America, though.

Police brutality.

The politics of colorism.

Exposing economic disenfranchisement.

Unapologetic Black pride.

Eschewing respectability while employing the use of Ebonics to communicate with a particular audience….

…essentially, all of the things that have been anti-Beyoncé up until this point.

If Beyoncé had just eased us into this, I could handle this in-your-face barrage country drag Blackness with more composure. But she didn’t. She just burst through the gate with it; and that is what has taken me out of my own formation, so to speak. And guess what? I’m fine with that!

I don’t know if it’s because she’s had a baby or got out from under her daddy’s management, but she has grown – dare I say evolved – in ways I never expected. This is the first time in our ‘acquaintance’ that I feel like Queen Bey and I are speaking the same language. Like I said, I dig THIS Beyoncé.

Echoing the thousands of people who have already uttered this phrase this week, I have never been a Beyoncé fan. In fact, I have been downright dismissive of her in the past, dubbing her vacuous and plastic on more than one occasion. Beyoncé has always been a product – a brand. She has been held up as an ideal for public consumption and/or worship. But somewhere between Christmas and Super Bowl Sunday, she decided she had no more damns to give and made sure that the world knew it. And that has made people (and by “people”, I mean white people) really uncomfortable. Or angry. And in some cases, a little afraid.

Now, lets be honest. By the standards of Black Power Movement of the 60s and 70s, Formation is patty-cake fare. Icons of the arts like James Baldwin, Harry Belafonte, and Eartha Kitt have delivered ‘harder’ messages to the mainstream. However, the frequency that those messages was carried on was narrow, deliverable only to a certain spectrum. What makes Formation so powerful is that this is Beyoncé,  and Beyoncé is not supposed to be this…well, Black. Hitherto, she could be relied upon to uphold Eurocentric beauty standards, pander to the ideals of capitalism and appear neutral in her approach to issues facing Black lives. Any work she has done in support of #BlackLivesMatter has been executed under a sort cloak, possibly so as not to offend the sensibilities of the mainstream.

Now here she was, on the whitest, malest, corporate American-est day of the year, clad in all black, syncing her all Black backup dancers in ‘X’ formation (ostensibly a nod to Malcolm X), singing about Afro hair, Negro noses and hot sauce swag! And we were all here for it. Save for conservative commentator Michelle Malkin (who gets paid to troll her own Blackness, poor child) and the odd Hotep, the reaction from the community has been one of universal delight, awe and pleasant surprise. Who WAS this woman?

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She’s unrecognizable… and that may account for all these white tears flooding these streets. My word, have you been on the Internet in the past two days?

It’s like a tidal wave of white tears outchea.

It’s like a monsoon of white tears outchea.

Like a tsunami of white tears outchea!

I’ve seen white people lose it before, but I’ve never seen y’all come unglued at the seams so completely. Not like this. This is some next level stuff. Calling for boycotts and turning your backs on the television like the woman could see you and reading into stuff that just ain’t there…

Here’s the thing white people who are uncomfortable with Brand New Bey may not understand: She wasn’t talking to you! Beyoncé, in that moment (and every time that video plays  or the song hits the airwaves), is a Black woman talking to Black people about Black circumstances. This is not about white people in any way, shape or form. I know it’s hard to accept, but we can’t spend the entirety of our collective Black existence worried about what you think, or how you feel, or how excluded you find yourself in this moment.

Save for the few tokens white supremacy has permitted in the past 412 years, Black people have been excluded from every facet of society and precluded from advancement since we got to these shores. Every aspect of our lives has been lived under and examined from the prism of whiteness.

How we’re educated.

What sort of housing is good enough for us.

What job opportunities we’re worthy of.

What constitutes “good hair”.

What our God looks like.

It’s endless! So forgive us – and Beyoncé – if this one time we chat amongst ourselves about ourselves in the public domain… even if that domain happens to be the Super Bowl, the last bastion of ‘Real America’.

I do understand your concern, though. It’s really disorienting when outsiders invade your space, ain’t it? Kind of an imposition? Kind of unnerving? Forces you to do some introspection and re-evaluate your interactions with the world as you knew it? Yeah… I know. But it’s going to be alright.

As Bey so aptly said, “You know you that b*tch when you cause all this conversation.”

source: business insider

source: business insider

I’d hand you a tissue, but I need it to dab the face of this queen when she’s reemerged from the depths after drowning this cop car.

I

Love

This

New

Beyonceeeeee!!!!

 

 

Janet Hubert’s Response to Jada Pinkett Was Vital. This is Why.

As much of the viewing public prepares to consume another episode of #OscarsSoWhite, there are a number of people – myself included – who will be abstaining from the ocular throwback to the Jim Crow Era when Black people had to enter the premises through the back door and in their servant livery. I suppose that the Academy, in preparation for the anticipated backlash for yet another whited-out Oscars event, sought out Chris Rock to host the gala with hopes that his consistent (Black enough) presence on stage would be enough to lull us into a state passivity.

we-all-dream-in-gold-7

And for some of us, it will be enough. That’s okay! Realistically, we ALL can’t boycott the Oscars. There are a handful of people of color for whom it’s a requirement to consume these cultural televised events, whether they agree with them or not. They have to report on them. They have to be able to refer to them knowledgeably in 20 or more years. In short, it’s their job. It’s for the rest of us to make a stand, should we feel the need to do so. This is the essence of nuance where race and culture are concerned. This is something that folks like Janet Hubert – and those who agree with her wild utterances – don’t get.

In case you missed it, Jada Pinkett Smith posted a video asking the question about whether it’s time that people of color recognize their power and influence over American culture (and global culture, but extension) and pull back from participating in events that continually put us in a place of begging for recognition. “Begging diminishes dignity,” she asserted persuasively. As far as I can tell, she never made a call for specific Hollywood actors to jeopardize their careers by participating in a boycott, but rather asking if it’s not time that we ALL consider shifting our focus and resources elsewhere…somewhere where they will be more appreciated.

This is not how Janet Hubert, the Blacktress formerly known as Aunt Viv, interpreted the sentiments of Jada’s message. In a grainy video described by the UK’s Daily Mail as a “take down” of the Smiths, Hubert launched into a personal tirade bringing up old allegations and foggy memories from 26/27 years ago. She ended her note to the family with the following admonishment: “You guys are not Barack and Michelle Obama. Get over yourselves.”

Ooookay.

I found Janet Hubert’s response petty and sorely lacking in focus where the issue at hand is concerned, but I’m grateful that she made it public; for even in the foolish things of this world there are lessons to be drawn…and both Hubert’s and Pinkett Smith’s messages provide us all with valuable lessons that transcend the Oscars.

Presentation Matters

This is probably the most obvious of all the examples, but it must be said nevertheless. Jada Pinkett took the time and effort to set the stage for which to deliver her message. She is a professional actress, and therefore used professional equipment to convey an important idea concerning her craft and her industry. Meanwhile, the Actress formerly known as Aunt Viv looked as though she was delivering her content as an afterthought from her bathroom/kitchen table using her grandchild’s discarded $49.99 DigiLand tablet. The glare from her glasses and the graininess of it were horribly distracting.

The culinary equivalent of Hubert's message.

The culinary equivalent of Hubert’s message.

If you are in any field – I don’t care if you’re a plumber or the president – presentation matters if you want to be taken seriously as a professional, or as someone whose opinion should be taken uncomicly. Show up to the public with the best tools you have at your disposal! And if you only have a DigiLand tablet, ask one of your neighbors to borrow an iPhone. Everyone has one!

I suppose one could argue that Janet Hubert was simply “keeping it real” and therefore didn’t HAVE to look/sound her best. Dave Chappelle did several skits about when keeping it real goes wrong. This qualifies as one of those incidents.

 

Have Some Understanding of Historical Events…and Your Opponent

Janet Hubert declared that she was unsure about whether or not to do the video and then threw caution to the wind. “I’m 60 years old. I’m gonna say it!”

There was no need for that. She sounds like one of those crazy African patriarchs who consistently forgets to take his Alzheimer’s meds yet insists on running the country despite the feebleness of his mind. If you have something to say, just say it! Wisdom is wisdom, regardless of age. Unfortunately, “wisdom” is nothing something Ms. Hubert exhibited this week.

Her assertion that Jada (and Will, be association) preoccupation with trivial things – such as the Oscars – made them disingenuous and out of touch when “young people are being killed and dying in the streets” doesn’t completely dovetail with her claim that the Oscars are not important, especially on “this day”. (This day being MLK Day.)

Contrary to Ms. Hubert’s confused beliefs, MLK would have been very concerned about a whited-out Oscars, because he understood that minority representation in the mainstream is vital.

One of my favorite stories about MLK concerns him and Star Trek star, Nichelle Nicols. (MLK was a Trekkie, y’all! You better get on board!) In this NPR report, Nichols, who played Lieutenant Uhura talks about how she almost quit the show to pursue other dreams. MLK convinced her to stay on the show because it she was an important fixture in the civil rights movement. Because pop culture representation matters.

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This is something that Jada Pinkett understands very well. Furthermore, no one can accuse Pinkett of developing the disease of New Blackness. She has been about Black causes for decades. If anything at all, she gives Will Smith street cred. It was foolish of Hubert to attempt to paint her otherwise, when articles abound to prove the contrary.

 

Stay on Topic

Whenever you find (or place) yourself in a situation for which you are attempting to garner public support, it is vital that you keep focus. Jada Pinkett’s message was clear and concise. You got a feeling that there will be some follow up action to her query. (And it was a query, not a directive.) Janet Hubert did not do this. She waffled. I hate to use the word “bitter” where Black women are concerned, but there’s no denying that she still holds an un-quantifiable amount of salt for the Smiths and any of their associates.

The issue at hand is #OscarsSoWhite. Hubert brought up failed alliances from the 90’s and what the Smiths’ production studio is or isn’t doing, conflating her personal disappointments with a broader issue. None of that has anything to do with the Academy’s voting process and/or who gets nominated. That said, I DO agree with her point that the power duo ought to expend more energy in developing other Black actors and behind-the-scenes talent. They certainly have the power to affect change there.

Consider Your League

If there is one thing I learned in 2015, it’s that you can retard your own growth by playing with people who are amateurs. This goes for cooking, driving, acting, policy making, anything.

Let’s be honest: Jada Pinkett Smith and Janet Hubert are not playing n the same league! OF COURSE Hubert isn’t concerned about Oscar snubs and lack of diversity. It has nothing to do with her! What was the last thing YOU saw her in? Certainly nothing on the big screen. And that’s not to say her opinion doesn’t matter…it does. It just shouldn’t matter to the Smiths, or Idris Elba, or David Oyelowo, or Spike Lee, or anyone else who is operating in a different class. She is just not on their level.

In other words, when grown folk are talking, hush.

shhh

Consider How Others Perceive You

In conclusion, it is important that we all understand how our actions affect the way others perceive us. I got a $20 discount off a $60 item at the mall yesterday, just because the merchant perceived me to be a ‘kind person’, the type for which Karma would provide her a reward if she favored. (Those were her exact words.) All I did was smile at the lady and speak to her respectfully.

Janet Hubert alleges that her departure from the ‘Fresh Prince of Bel Air’ was preceded by her refusal to kowtow to Will Smith’s ego. There are rumors that she was difficult to work with. Does this video help her cause in getting more work? Does it say the contrary about the allegations levied against her? I daresay it does not. I can’t think of a single Hollywood director who is sitting in his/her chair watching her rant thinking “Wow. This is EXACTLY the kind of person I want starring in Return of MLK, Rise of the Robots!”

How you act in the street can and does affect how often your bank account and a check meet.

 

I feel ambivalent about the release of the two videos. Sure, they served their instructional purpose for the reasons stated above, but Janet Hubert’s video has also served as “white noise”…the type of noise that gets us off focus, off track, and battling each other instead of the real enemy: White Supremacy.

Will you be watching the Oscars? Are you on Team Jada or Janet? Did you know that elephant seals can hold their breath for up to two hours?

Are White People Coming For Our Waakye?

There are things that grieve me – matters of such grave concern that they rob me of sleep when I should be resting at twilight and continue to plague my thoughts during the day. I obsess over these affairs incessantly. I have questions. Questions like:

“Is God pleased with my life?”

“Will the price of oil continue to slide and eventually wreak havoc on our economy?”

“What does it sound like when doves cry?”

“What DOES the fox say???”

“Is Annie okay?”

You see, there is SO much in the world to occupy our thoughts that one hardly knows how to place them in order of importance! But of all the queries in my head jostling for dominance, there is one that has taken center stage and commanded the spotlight. It has perplexed me for nearly two weeks now and I can no longer bear it. I am COMPELLED to ask: “Are white people coming for our waakye?”

You snicker, but it’s a serious question.

A little over a year ago, when the Jollof Wars were at their zenith, a British/Canadian/Other man whose name I have long since deleted from memory, had the absolute gall and impudence to suggest that jollof was actually not a dish of African origin at all. To quote his tweet loosely, he said “Jollof rice was most likely a French invention, as the jollof provided the French troops navigating their way through West Africa with a nutritious, one pot meal that could carry them on the go… Same way curry is a British invention.”

Saa? And yet jollof has not made its way onto the menus of France’s numerous cafes and eateries eh? You don’t grow coffee in France, and yet you have “French coffee”…but somehow jollof –  “a nutritious French invention” –  never managed to make its way onto the tables of either the French elite or working class? If I could have reached out and e-slapped him, I would have. The impudence! However looking back, I can’t blame him for wanting to Columbus something as life affirming as jollof rice. After all, whiting is as whiting does…but this time, he chose the wrong quarry to attempt to conquer. As Jamie Oliver and his lemon wedge discovered, we will fight any adversary who dares to usurp our jollof. In that one thing at least, Africans are united.

Look, my dear white people, many of whom I call friends; you have to understand that this is a very rational fear that we Black people hold. We always have to be on guard, watching and waiting for you to claim credit for our culinary/artistic/cultural intellectual property. You’ve been doing this to us for centuries! You did it with swing, you did it with the blues, you did it with rap, you did it with reggae, you’ve even done it with azonto! We have grumbled through the pain and for the most part accepted that this is the way our relationship is going to work. But when I saw what Whole Foods did to that pot of greens…putting peanuts in greens! … I knew then that waakye couldn’t be far behind; For indeed, waakye is the last frontier for whiteness to conquer and absorb. My heart races with the fury of 10,000 Native American braves just thinking about it!

Whole Foods' ratchet interpretation of what greens should consist of. If this doesn't inspire a slave revolt, I don't know what will!

Whole Foods’ ratchet interpretation of what greens should consist of. If this doesn’t inspire a slave revolt, I don’t know what will!

We beg you with almighty GOD, don’t take waakye from us! Don’t sully it with your blandness. It’s waakye, for chrissake! It’s manna from the heavens!

By the way side lunch at Miss Vern's. Talk about the itis! 😴😴

A photo posted by Malaka Grant (@malakagrant) on

What is waakye? If you are from the Carribean, the South or anywhere in West Africa, you’ve eaten waakye before. Your grandmother has cooked it. Your mother makes it when she’s feeling nostalgic for home. It most likely goes by a simpler name in your abode…something as mundane as “rice and peas”. But YOU know as well as I that rice and peas is not so ordinary a thing.

It is magic.

It is fantasy.

It is the foundation of every good working man/woman’s meal! And it is the simplicity of rice and peas that makes it so complex – that you could look at a bowl of brown rice and black-eyed peas and imagine limitless options to enhance its uncomplicated splendor.

Dinner is served!!! At last! cc @tosinger

A photo posted by Malaka Grant (@malakagrant) on

You might boil an egg and lay it on the side.

You might smother it in stewed beef.

You might garnish it with gari/shredded lettuce/spaghetti (if you want to get really fancy with it!).

There are SO many things to marry waakye with! … Except whiteness. Waakye must never unequally yoke itself with the darkness of the European culinary mind. Because suddenly, without warning, waakye will be paired with kale, or peaches, or peanuts, or some other ungodly thing.

I am shivering just thinking about it.

Friends, we must protect waakye. For if we do not, we will never recover from its loss. They will strip waakye of all its Blackness – just like Napoleon did when he blasted the noses and lips off the Sphinx – and we’ll be left with nothing but a fast fading memory of the once great thing we held in our possession. We will lose control of the narrative. You see what they did in the movie Gods of Egypt?

You KNOW Set ain't look nothing like this. Why you lying?!?!

You KNOW Set ain’t look nothing like this. Why you lying?!?!

Stand and fight! Don’t let them do that to waakye.

 

Monday Morning Blues: The Day We All Woke to News of David Bowie’s Passing

David Bowie passed away today and the tributes to his memory and his art are rushing through and flooding the Internet like a tidal wave.

I still remember the first David Bowie song I ever heard. It was Let’s Dance…a song that is actually incredibly difficult to dance to (if you’re Black). While we had Blondie, Johnny ‘Guitar’ Watson, Michael Jackson (of course) and Sting records in our home, we didn’t have any David Bowie. I don’t have fond memories of putting his LP on our record player, but I do distinctly remember the first time I heard Let’s Dance while channel surfing on the radio. There was something very different about that song – and the artist – from everyone else in music for me. It was the sharpness with which David Bowie delivered his lyrics, simultaneously and luxuriously drawing them out and then dropping them with a quick clatter. The guitar rifts and slight Island flair that set the tone of that particular song. And then there was his accent! I was a small child living in the Mid West, and the deliberateness with which he pronounced his words was completely foreign to me. Turned out it was because he was British. We didn’t have too many of them in Columbus, Ohio.

I decided very early that I liked David Bowie.

Dudes aren't 'supposed' to look like this and still draw legions of female fans. And yet...

Dudes aren’t ‘supposed’ to look like this and still draw legions of female fans. And yet…

By the time we got cable TV – and MTV by extension – my conception of what manhood was supposed to look like had been challenged. Between Prince, David Bowie, Boy George and that one dude who sang You spin me right round, right round, like a record baby, round round round round, I became more comfortable with the idea of a man in drag than 21st century society would turn out to prefer. I believe we all did. How else can Martin Lawrence, Eddie Murphy or the late, great Robin Williams account for their comedic cross-dressing success? I believe any man who gets paid well to dress like a woman owes his kudos to the glam rock legends of the late 70s and 80s, Bowie among them.

He was SO bloody beautiful! Do you remember how you felt when he and Iman announced their marriage? A lot of people found the pairing odd, but it made perfect sense to me. It was only natural that one of the most beautiful men on earth should marry the Earth’s MOST beautiful woman: A goddess. Someone who understood the importance of silk sleeves; and 3 hours to do make up; and the need to secure perfect high heels; and dedication to subtle sexiness. The average woman couldn’t have last 20 minutes in a marriage with David Bowie. Iman shared 24 years with him, only being parted by death. That he died at age 69 – a blush-inducing numerical symbol is strangely fitting. Subversive sexiness!

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I can’t get over the shock of David Bowie’s passing. I had no idea he had been sick. In my mind, he was still as vibrant and healthy as he was when I last saw him, which was about 3 weeks ago. I was watching ‘The Labyrinth’, a movie co-starring Jennifer Connelly and one of my favorite childhood flicks. He was in a blond wig and leather chaps, singing , growling and glaring into the camera in all his Bowie-ness. Honestly, I thought he would be immortal… which is silly, given that we all have a scheduled appointment with Death. Still…

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There has only been one celebrity death that has shocked me to this degree, and that was the untimely passing of Michael Jackson. He was robbed of his life when he still had so much more to give, planning tours and what not before his light was snuffed out. I suppose David Bowie was more fortunate as he could see his last days looming and was able to plan ahead. He had us – those who appreciated his art and his bold effervescence – in mind even until the moment he took his last breaths. As I understand it, he released an album of 7 songs just this past Friday. Music critics have called it his “parting gift”.

I also wonder if David Bowie had a gauge on how many people he inspired through his music and life. On the outside, his very existence was art itself. From his refusal to conform to cultural norms, to his performances, to the way he challenged the status quo, he was art in motion. Very few of us get to live that way: to live out our convictions, not without fear, but rather with bravery. He was a true global icon, and that’s not something one attains by taking the safe road.

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As the tributes come rushing in, we will take note of those made by Madonna, Kanye, Sting and a hoard of other celebrities. But David Bowie meant so much to so many other people. He was precious to 80’s and 90s kids who grew up in remote villages in India, bustling capitals in Africa and the odd 50-something glam rebel in Romania who probably still rocks out to the first ever Bowie album s/he heard to this day.

He was by no means the perfect man (which of us is?), but there is a lot that can be learned from watching his life. Everyone’s life has some value. For me, David Bowie’s life encourages us to be extraordinary. Don’t be afraid to question. Explore new risks. Leave them speechless when you walk into a room and set tongues wagging when you walk out. Live a life that’s worthy to be remembered…and fondly enough to inspire people to forgive your mistakes.

What was the first David Bowie song you ever heard? And better still, do you remember your first reaction when you saw him on TV or on a poster? What a weird way to start the week…

 

The Trouble With Our Tilapia

Two summers ago my husband built an aquaponics system in order to grow fruits, vegetables and herbs. He was inspired by several medium-to-small scale operations that we saw while on vacation in South Africa and decided to give it a try at home. In that time, he’s grown peppers, spring onions, lettuce, mint, basil, thyme, rosemary, green beans (those were not so successful), broccoli (not enough light, so they flowered, but died) and squash.

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An aquaponics system is a quirky little thing. It’s a self-contained ecosystem made of up PVC pipe, hoses, sawn off barrels, water and lots and lots of living organisms. Unlike hydroponics, aquaponics incorporates the use of an animal to create balance in the life cycle of the plant. These animals create waste, which contains ammonia, which feeds the plants. We decided to go with fish… about 12 gold fish initially and then two tilapia, one of which died within days. The last of the goldfish perished two weeks ago after a cold snap, and now only the more hearty of the tilapia remains. And my word, is he/she/it hearty! This is a 2-3 lbs fish we’re talking about here.

This is where the trouble begins.

As I revealed to you earlier this week, we will be leaving the country in a few months. That means we have to begin the process of storing, moving and discarding things. A tilapia is not a “thing”. At least not in my books.  It has been our guest for well over a year, faithfully providing animal waste for the plants we graze on whenever we have a mind to! Now we find ourselves in a quandary about what to do with it. Well, Marshall not so much. His solution is simple: If we won’t eat it, give it to someone who will.

“I don’t know how to approach one of my friends to ask them if they’d like a LIVE tilapia for dinner,” I said.

“Then we can ask Mrs. P if she would like it,” he shrugged. “She’ll probably jump at the chance to eat some fresh fish.”

You remember Mrs. P? She’s our Jamaican neighbor whose house I had to break into a few weeks ago. Anyway, it turns out she is not that sort of Jamaican. She admitted she has no idea how to clean or cut up a fish. Just as I am (apparently) no longer that sort of African. Although I am quite adept at how to skin and scale meat, I find myself reluctant to do so. In fact, I refuse.

While I have been putting myself through all these contortions about what to do with this fish that I can’t release into a river (it’s not native to Georgia), nor bring myself to turn into Friday dinner and that I hesitate to give away because I can’t figure out how to ask the Average City Dwelling American such a question, I suddenly found myself wondering about what my father would say. I could almost hear him, as though he were standing in front of me:

“Ah. But what is your problem? This is meat!”

“But, Daddddyyyyy!”

“Oh gerrout. Let me even cook it for you.”

Was I right in my supposition? Rather than speculate, I decided to tell my father about my dilemma to see what he’d proffer as a solution. I messaged him early this morning about what I’d been wrestling with all night. This is how our exchange went:

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You are laughing. Stop laughing!

The funny thing is, I know that his glibly offered solution to eat the fish isn’t an “African” thing. It’s a practical thing; Because I’m 95% certain that if I were to contact MX5 (who hails from a small town in North Carolina) with the same quagmire, she wouldn’t hesitate with advice about what to do with said fish.

“Girl, you brang that thang over here and I’ll have the grease HOT n’ ready by the time you arrive! That’s meat!”

Oh dear.

The entire dilemma has helped me realize how detached I’ve personally become from my food source(s). For all my talk about “survival skills” and a desire to “live off the grid”, I know that if it came down to it, I could not bring myself to eat this fish. Ever. The food supply chain I have adapted to – where I meander down brightly lit aisle with my shopping cart and gleefully taste samples of carefully prepared tidbits of cheese and chicken – won’t let that sit well with my spirit. I mean, if the tilapia were headless and grilled on my plate, I’d attack it with gusto…but to go to my back porch, capture him/her, gut it and THEN eat it? Nah.

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I have not yet decided to do with our guest/pet/potential main course, but I know a choice will have to be made soon. What would you do? Better yet, what would your grand daddy do? Grand daddy would have it ready by supper, wouldn’t he? Mmmhmmm….

Why Monique Kwachou’s Review of ‘Yaa Traps Death in a Basket’ Blessed Me So Much

Being a creative is easy. You get to lock yourself in a cocoon and create a fantastical world full of imaginary beings, wild, unlikely scenarios and color. So much color! The universe of the Creative Mind is capable of holding unimaginable amounts of joy, bliss and happiness.

Or not.

The Creative can frame his/her world with sadness, sickness, malevolence and revenge. It can be utterly dystopian. People can live or die or thrive as the Creative Mind wishes, and that’s what makes being a creative so easy: the complete control you have over events. The hard part is sharing these concepts and thoughts with the public. The public isn’t always guaranteed to receive the offerings of the Creative Mind with the same exuberance with which they were conceived…and that’s a tough pill to swallow for many creative people. It took me many years to understand and accept this.

Once one makes the move from being a Creative Mind to a Creative Entrepreneur, you’re adding another level of energy and influence into your cipher. It’s no longer you and your creative world, exclusively. Your world now includes hundreds, potentially millions, of people! These people will pass judgement on your work. Sometimes it will be positive, and sometimes it will be downright depreciatory. An unfavorable review has the power to destroy a Creative Mind; because for so many of us, that review feels like a judgement passed on us as a person…not simply a reflection of how the other person felt about our work. So many creatives are incapable of separating a disparaging review from who we are as people. This is how dreams are killed.

(I don’t know who I’m preaching to this morning, but hear what I’m telling you now, ya hear?!?)

When I first released Daughters of Swallows, its debut was at my in-laws house to a small group of people. My father in-law ripped it to shreds. I spent the rest of the night in tears, my throat in a vice from trying to muffle the sounds of my pain at having been so thoroughly verbally thrashed. He pointed out everything that was wrong with the book (the plot, the ending, the amount of sex the characters were having, the typos!) and I couldn’t take it. Finally, my Aunt Wilma said something that blessed me and that I still hold on to today whenever I put my work out there. Staring him dead in the face, she said in a cold, measured tone, “LOOK. Everythang ain’t for everybody.”

That ended the assault on my book, and in effect, what I felt was an assault on my existence. After further reflection, I realized they were both right. My book could use some work editorially. I had paid a “professional editor” close to $700 to edit my work, only for her to add even more errors to the work than what I’d submitted. That was a distraction for the readers. And of course with regards to the sex, it was a novel set in modern Accra, where women frequently have to negotiate a sexual or sexually charged/motivated encounter of SOME nature on a weekly basis. I wouldn’t expect a 70 year old man to understand or relate to this, which made Aunt Wilma’s statement ring all the more true. Daughters of Swallows ain’t for everybody.

As stated before, it took me a good while to reach this mature approach to how people receive my work. Last year I moved from romance/thriller/adult themed books to try my hands at children’s literature: African kid-lit to be precise. I wasn’t seeing enough in the culture about little brown girls taking over their spheres of influence, or being heroic or vulnerable, or any of the unrecognized things the average child does from week to week. So I wrote Yaa Traps Death in a Basket (what I consider my finest work to date) and left it at that. I didn’t ask any bloggers to review it or any critics to give their opinion because everythang ain’t for everybody and I wasn’t going to go soliciting for criticism. Bessie Winn- Afeku featured it on HuffPo, but outside of that, I’m not aware of any online reviews. So you can imagine my surprise when I got tagged in a blog post from Girdblog.com, advising me that Monique Kwachou had reviewed Yaa.

She admitted on Facebook that this was her first time doing a review and therefore was unsure of the quality of her novice attempt. It was a glowing review, so naturally I thought she did a phenomenal job. But as much as I appreciated that Monique liked the book, she isn’t the intended target audience: children between the ages of 8-13 are. I believe Monique recognized this, and made sure to include feedback from a young reader in her review.

“I gave this book to my nine-year-old mentee and after two days- considerable shorter time than it took her to finish the kid’s version of The Life of Mandela mind you- she could recite her favourite bits of the tale and of course, the moral. In her words, Yaa is “like Cinderella but without the man”. I hadn’t even thought of it that way. But I had seen the simplicity and ease with which the author shared heritage without patronizing culture, had noticed the strength of the young African girl protagonist, the lessons of endurance, fairness, truth conquering evil, consequences of one’s actions and more expertly woven into the tale without becoming downright didactic. I particularly like how the topic of death is treated as an eventuality, not patronizing kids’ ability to understand.”

READ THE REVIEW IN ITS ENTIRETY HERE

Can I tell you all how much this made my heart glad? MY reader got it. I wrote a particular portion of Yaa Traps Death in a Basket to show little girls that they don’t have to wait on a prince to come and save them or whisk them away from their drudgery. They can use their God-given gifts and talents to save themselves. That this unnamed nine year old understood and was able to articulate that means the world to me…and that’s why Monique Kwachou’s review blessed me so much. She connected me (and my work) with a the thoughts of reader and confirmed that I was able to accomplish my goal of evangelizing for African girl power! In my opinion, that’s what a top notch review does: connects all the dots and projects a bigger picture.

So in conclusion, I want to exhort all you writers, painters, designers, film makers, mermaid tail makers to keep at it. Not everyone will appreciate your work, but someone will…and someone is more than enough. You don’t need everybody to be a fan – just the ‘right body’.

Thank you, Ms. Kwachou for taking a shot at this and hitting it out of the park with your first review. Here’s to your long, prosperous career in writing and critical literary assessment. And if I ever write something that you think is not so hot, don’t be afraid to say so! I can take it (now). Iron sharpens iron, after all.

 

 

…But if you are too mean, I’ll come to Cameroon and beat you with my dirty son’s socks. Ahhh. Be warned.