Book 19: Taiye Selasi: Ghana Must Go

Books I've read
Taiye Selasi - Ghana Must Go

Taiye Selasi – Ghana Must Go

Ghana Must Go is one of the most beautiful books I have ever read. Each sentence is finely crafted prose poetry. This is a book that you should dedicate your time to, not read in between meetings or on bus trips. This is a book that commands you to sit down and listen to its characters.

I, of course, started it whilst on my daily commute to work. The trains I take are unreliable, often over-crowded, and often the reason I’m late for work. This can cause stress on an ordinary day (or be a good excuse to be late) but the week that I read this book I was grateful for every train delay.

The story follows the Sais, a Nigerian-Ghanaian family living in the United States. Each of these characters is fascinating, has a different way of thinking and talking that marks them as distinct from the other. We begin with Kweku, a man who has made mistakes, the biggest one of all in not acknowledging them, and (this is not a spoiler – it is the first sentence) “dies barefoot on a Sunday before sunrise, his slippers by the doorway to the bedroom like dogs”. And following from his story we meet the members of his family, Fola, Olu, Taiwo, Kehinde and Sadie.

This is not a family that has been unscathed by heartache and pain – each one has experienced it in a different and particular way. And yet they have survived it. In that survival they have had to transform a part of themselves, close off a portion of their hearts, or perhaps open up another portion that required grief as a key. Sometimes this has allowed them to do something they didn’t expect, and others it has made them unrecognisable to the people around them. It can be cold to be on the inside of a closed heart, and equally cold to be on the outside of it.

I cannot go on enough about the beauty of the prose in this text. Selasi has a skill for conveying so much about a person with a single sentence. It’s clear she is an astute observer of the way the world is constructed, and how we continue to impose structures on living people as though they would neatly fit into them. For example, this section:

“…there was a sense in her house of an ongoing effort, of an upswing motion, a thing being built: A Successful Family, with the six of them involved in the effort, all, striving for the common goal, as yet unreached. They were unfinished, in rehearsal, a production in progress, each performing his role with an affected aplomb, and with the stress of performance ever-present for all as a soft sort of sound in the background. A hum.”

And so it was on the platform of my own train station, and sometimes in the stifling heat inside the carriage, crammed against the bodies of strangers that I had no interest in knowing, that I wondered about the limits to our abilities to understand another person’s heartache, and the impact of that pain on us. Trauma, they say, is contagious. That’s true even when it is ignored.

Ghana Must Go is a beautiful book that reaches into the depths of the reader, and leaves a piece of itself there.

 

Book 5: The Pumpkin Seeds and Other Gifts

Books I've read, Writer profiles

fiction, poetry, women, Uganda

The Pumpkin Seeds and Other Gifts is a collection of writing from FEMRITE, the Ugandan Women Writers Association.

The women writers in the book are from all around Africa and the collection emerged from them coming together at the 2008 FEMRITE Regional African Women Writers Residency. Lucky fishes!

FEMRITE was the organisation that along with the AWDF hosted the African Women’s Creative Non-Fiction Writing Workshop in July 2014 in Entebbe, Uganda. It was here that I bought all three collections from the residencies, and there will be no doubt that I’ll be reviewing them all. As Helen Moffett describes it in the Foreword, “the residency was magical.”

The residency produced some great writing, and instead of trying to capture the diversity of the stories in it, I’ll tell you a little bit about each of the writers. Part of the point of this project is to explore new women writers from Africa, so this was a welcome start. This exercise also made me realise the importance of documenting women writers, because I couldn’t find much information on some of the writers in this collection. So if you know a woman writer who doesn’t have a wikipedia page, go and add one!

  • Kingwa Kamencu

Kingwa Kamencu is a Kenyan writer and her novella To Grasp at a Star has won numeorus awards in Kenya including the second prize from the National Book Development Council of Kenya, and the first prize in the youth category of the Jomo Kenyatta Prize for Literature.

  • Hilda Twongyeirwe 

Hilda Twongeyeirwe is from Uganda and is one of the founders of FEMRITE, and is currently the coordinator there. She has published numerous short stories and a number of children’s books in Uganda. Her children’s book Fina the Dancer was highly commended by the National Book Trust of Uganda Literary Awards

  • Yaba Badoe

Yaba Badoe is a Ghanaian-British documentary film maker and journalist. She has also published a number of short stories, and a full length novel, True Murder. Whilst at the AWW14 workshop in July, we watched her incredible doucmentary, the Witches of Gambaga, which details the treatment of women labelled as witches in a camp in Ghana. It is an incredible documentary, and also led me to discover the music of Dobet Gnahore. So you see, reading African women writers is a whole new journey.

  • Colleen Higgs

If you’re a woman writer in Southern African then the name Colleen Higgs won’t be unfamiliar to you. Colleen founded Modjaji Books, and incredible publishing label that publishes only Southern African Women’s fiction. This label has put out more than fifty titles since 2007 and they are always getting nominated for awards so major kudos to Colleen for all the hard work she has put in! She is also a poet and writer herself and has published Lava Lamp Poems, the Half Born Woman, and Looking for TroubleFollow Coleen on Twitter at @modjaji_bks

  • Betty Mukashema

Betty Mukashema is from Rwanda who writes mainly for the media, and is a teacher by profession. Her dream is to help Rwanda establish a women writers association.

  • Winnie Munyarugerero

Winnie Mugyarugerero is a Ugandan writer who has published short stories in anthologies, magazines and newspapers. Her stories mainly explore the position of the woman and girl-child in Uganda. Winnie is a teacher by profession.

  • Constance Obonyo

Constance Obonyo is a Uganda writer who writes mostly for newspapers, but has also had several short stories published.

  • Mastidia Mbeo

Mastidia Mbeo is from Tanzania and is a member of the Tanzania Writers Association. She is a published editor and writer, and writes mostly in Swahili.

  • Philomena Nabweru Rwabukuku

Philomena Nabweru Rwabukuku is a Ugandan teacher of Language and Literature in English. She has published short stories and poems in different anthologies. She also recites poetry and performs oral literature. She is very interested in issues of women and children.

  • Margaret Ntakalimaze

Margaret Ntakalimaze is a writer from Uganda, and was the Founding coordinator for the Uganda Women and Children organisation. She has published numerous short stories in various collections.

  • Olivia Jembere

Olivia Jembere is a Zimbabwean writer, and at the time of the residency was one of the youngest members of the Zimbabwe Women Writers Association.

  • Helen Moffett

Helen Moffett is a writer and editor extraordinaire from South Africa. She is one of the three writers involved in the ‘Girl Walks Into a Bar‘ choose your own adventure erotica, and also writes poetry (I’ll be discussing Strange Fruit soon), and articulate rage articles about the failure of the South African government to do anything meaningful on women’s day (read them 2012, 2013, 2014).

  • Lilian Tindyebawa

Lilian Tindyebawa is a writer who has published both poems and short stories in various anthologies and is also a founding member of FEMRITE. She has published a young adult novel Recipe for Disaster, which is used as a supplementary reader in Ugandan schools. She has also published three children’s books.

***

So there you go. I feel somehow cheated that before reading this anthology I didn’t know about all of these women.It was a welcome experience to read so many new writers all in one collection. I think short story collections are going to be my go to for trying to read as many women writers as possible in this project.

What does that mean about the types of writers we are told to celebrate and to read? What does that mean about the categories of power involved in the books that we’ve read at school, or have been required to read at university? Why aren’t we asking those making the decisions why they are not including more women?

 

Book 2: Mamle Wolo – The Kaya Girl

African women writers on Facebook, African women writers on twitter, Books I've read, PIECES FROM THE AWW14 TEAM

Mamle Wolo, Mamle Kabu, The Kaya-Girl, Ghana, Accra

The Kaya-Girl is the first young adult fiction I have read since I was a young adult (which seems a very long time ago). I often think about what young women are reading about, and how it influences their ideas of their world and their own power, but I haven’t engaged much with what’s out there at the moment.

Mamle Wolo was one of the facilitators for the AWW14 workshop in Uganda this year and was one of the people who made me really excited to visit Ghana, a country I knew hardly anything about. She is a great facilitator and a great writer, with lots of advice on technique. I was in her discussion group where we each got to write a little bit and get some feedback, and it was a wonderful experience.

I bought a copy of her award winning book (it won the Burt Award for African Literature) whilst in Uganda and it is the second book I read for this project. It tells the story of Abena and Faiza, two similar girls from two very different backgrounds. They meet whilst Abena is on school holidays and is staying with her aunty in Accra. Her aunty has a shop in the Makola market which looks like an incredible place.

Faiza is a Kaya girl, who works at the market carrying people’s purchases for them. They are from two startlingly different worlds – rich/poor, educated/uneducated, privileged/underprivileged – and yet they manage to connect on a level that goes beyond words and past experiences. I loved how Mamle captured the innocence of both of them, and how they learn so much from one another. The market itself is another character in the book, making you keenly aware of space and place. I really want to go there and see it!

One of the main things I think about when I think about writing a young adult novel is how I’ll get the ideas I want to get across without becoming didactic. The Kaya-Girl does this using such clever devices such as an internet search, a talk with a father, and the use of a love-interest to reflect back onto the main characters.

If you are a parent and you want your child to learn about privilege, love, and friendship, then I’d recommend getting this book for them. I think it would be a great book to read to your child or teen, because it would spark so much dialogue.

I really enjoyed it and it certainly made me curious to find out even more about Ghana (I am so so keen to go there) and to read more young adult novels. Mamle also writes adult novels under the name Mamle Kabu.

Find her on twitter here and like her on Facebook here