So I’m gagging with excitement to share my thoughts on last weekend’s event “Africa Writes 2015,” the African Writers’ festival hosted by the Royal African Society at the British Library.
It was a bit of a whirlwind visit, but I’m so glad I attended. My bestie Miss Fu and I stepped into the auditorium just in time to catch the reading from Frances Mensah Williams, who was promoting her new novel “From Pasta to Pigfoot.” It’s the tale of a UK-born and bred Ghanaian woman who returns to Ghana, and the challenges she faces trying to settle into life in her home country. Guys… you know when you read a book that you could swear was written about you? For you? I got effing chills!
Let me spill some tea on my life real quick. I am Ghanaian. 100%. Both my parents are Ghanaian. However I have lived in several different countries, I have two passports and I call at least 4 different cities “home.” I can swear in 6 languages. I have never lived in Ghana for any extended period of time. A few years ago, after living in the UK for what seemed like ever, I tried to move back to Ghana to work. It was a nightmare- I was unprepared for how different everything was, and how I couldn’t fit in with my own people. I was too Nigerian (I grew up there), too British, too feisty, too… just too much. I was heartbroken and frustrated, and left after only a few months.
So when Ms Williams read from her novel, expanding on some of the struggles of a young woman trying to return home, I felt like I wanted to jump out of my skin with excitement. She described her novel as “a journey of self-discovery… not just a coming of age but also a coming of culture.” On being an African writer, she said “There is so little out there about us.” When she said “Going home is not the same as feeling at home,” I wanted to jump up and scream YAAAAAASSS.
At the end of the reading, there was time for questions. I piped up and asked Ms Williams what her advice would be for someone who wanted to try and return home for the second time (Me! More on that later) She was lovely. She looked me right in the eye across the crowd and said, “Moving back home is not just a physical move, it’s a mental one. When things get tough, when you are frustrated by the system, just remember: these are my people. This is my country. Forget your second passport and remember that you are home.”
It was then time for a panel discussion called “African Non-Fiction: Moving the Boundaries?” The panel featured Kwasi Kwarteng, Noo Saro-Wiwa, Jackie Kay, and Pede Hollist. I really enjoyed MP Kwasi Kwarteng’s reading from his book “Ghosts of Empire,” which touched on the colonisation themes from one of my favorite novels, Chinua Achebe’s “Things Fall Apart.” Now… all the intellectual chit chat was amazing but I’m not going to lie to you, I was thinking how nice it would be to have Uncle Kwasi read me a bedtime story! That clipped Etonian baritone though… I’m here for it.
Another highlight was the reading from Noo Saro-Wiwa’s book,”Looking for Transwonderland: Travels in Nigeria.” She was sassy and fabulous and I want to be her BFF. Noo, if you’re reading this, let’s totes do brunch? One of my favourite snippets was when she said, “I prefer to see where serendipity takes me… I had only a vague outline of where I would go.” She then gave us a few hilarious anecdotes on “prosperity gospel” in Nigeria, and the unintentional humour found in intense Pentecostal churches.
At this point there was a comment from a young woman a few rows behind me, who said she felt like it had been open season on Pentecostal Nigerians during the panel discussion. As a Pentecostal Nigerian herself, she felt it was unfair to tar everyone with the same brush. I turned around and was like O_O
Because it was only Chibundu Onuzo herself- author of “The Spider King’s Daughter.” At this point I was like “Lawd I am READY for this debate!” Whipped out the popcorn and watched. Definitely a lively and fascinating discussion…
I’d like to say a huge thank you to the peeps at Africa Writes- it was a great event and I can’t wait until next year! I’m so proud of the work you guys are doing.
I want to end with this inspiring piece of advice from Frances Mensah Williams: “Just write. Not enough of us are writing. African writing shouldn’t just be a niche. Eventually it should be known as just writing, not African writing.”
You betta write, hunty.