#ReadGhanaian🇬🇭 updates / check-in

Hello everyone! How is the #ReadGhanaian🇬🇭 book challenge going? The year isn’t over yet!

So far I’ve only read 3 out of the 5 books for the challenge. I’m currently a final year dental student and it’s been a struggle to find time to read recently, but I am determined to complete the book challenge. I’m currently reading Tampered Press Vol. 2 – Braided Quilt. This edition of the magazine features many more stories by young Ghanaian writers, which are excellent so far.

On my #ReadGhanaian🇬🇭 TBR, I want to read Black Gold of The Sun by Ekow Eshun, From Pasta to Pigfoot by Frances Mensah-Williams and complete The Prophet of Zongo Street by Mohammed Naseehu Ali. This is an ambitious TBR if I’m being honest, but I will complete this challenge oh!

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My artist brother – AduKofs, created a cool template for the #ReadGhanaian🇬🇭 book challenge! To those who are unfamiliar, templates are pretty popular on Instagram/ Bookstagram. This template is to help those participating in the book challenge to track the books they’ve read thus far.

Share the books you’ve read by posting the filled-in template on your Instagram stories or Facebook and Twitter for others to see which books they are missing out on! Including the hashtag also helps others see what books by writers of Ghanaian descent are out there! If you are not active on social media, you can print out this template and simply record the books you have read or plan to read for the book challenge.

Template created by AduKofs

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Last month, the Malala Fund featured African Book Addict! and the #ReadGhanaian🇬🇭 book challenge on their digital publication and newsletter – Assembly. It was such an honor to shed light on this book challenge with Malala’s audience! Do check out the feature if you have time. Thanks again to the Malala Fund Assembly team!

via the Malala Assembly feature

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For more recommendations of books by writers of Ghanaian descent, check out:

GH at 60 | Our Writers & Their Books part 1

GH at 60 | Our Writers & Their Books part 2

GH at 60 | Our Writers & Their Books part 3

+ Kid Lit recommendations by Booksie:

#ReadGhanaian🇬🇭: KidLit Edition

Please note: These recommendations are not exhaustive by any means! The book challenge includes even reading short stories/non-fiction by writers of Ghanaian descent in anthologies, magazines, cookbooks, poems etc. 

 

What books have you read thus far for the #ReadGhanaian🇬🇭 book challenge? Please share some of your reads!

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A Particular Kind of Black Man by Tope Folarin

Date Read: August 30th 2019

Published: August 6th 2019

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Pages: 272

 

The Blurb

A stunning debut novel, from Rhodes Scholar and winner of the Caine Prize for African Writing, Tope Folarin about a Nigerian family living in Utah and their uncomfortable assimilation to American life.

Living in small-town Utah has always been an uneasy fit for Tunde Akinola’s family, especially for his Nigeria-born parents. Though Tunde speaks English with a Midwestern accent, he can’t escape the children who rub his skin and ask why the black won’t come off. As he struggles to fit in and find his place in the world, he finds little solace from his parents who are grappling with their own issues.

Tunde’s father, ever the optimist, works tirelessly chasing his American dream while his wife, lonely in Utah without family and friends, sinks deeper into schizophrenia. Then one otherwise-ordinary morning, Tunde’s mother wakes him with a hug, bundles him and his baby brother into the car, and takes them away from the only home they’ve ever known.

But running away doesn’t bring her, or her children, any relief from the demons that plague her; once Tunde’s father tracks them down, she flees to Nigeria, and Tunde never feels at home again. He spends the rest of his childhood and young adulthood searching for connection—to the wary stepmother and stepbrothers he gains when his father remarries; to the Utah residents who mock his father’s accent; to evangelical religion; to his Texas middle school’s crowd of African-Americans; to the fraternity brothers of his historically black college. In so doing, he discovers something that sends him on a journey away from everything he has known.

Sweeping, stirring, and perspective-shifting, A Particular Kind of Black Man is a beautiful and poignant exploration of the meaning of memory, manhood, home, and identity as seen through the eyes of a first-generation Nigerian-American.

 

Review – ★★★★ (4 stars)

I was so excited when Simon & Schuster sent me Folarin’s debut. I’m a fan of Folarin’s Caine Prize shortlisted stories – Miracle and Genesis and I had been waiting for this debut since 2016 – when he was shortlisted for the second time for the Caine Prize.

A Particular Kind of Black Man is a coming-of-age tale that follows Tunde and his family, in Utah and later in Dallas. Throughout the novel, Tunde is trying to understand himself while enduring various changes that emotionally rock his family.

While reading this debut, I was hoping it wouldn’t be the cliché immigrant story of the first-generation American character trying to strike a balance between their American-ness and their African-ness – I’ve honestly read ENOUGH of such stories over the years. This novel did touch on those identity issues, but Folarin gave us more. I love that Folarin shed light on the importance of a mother’s love in the development of the boy child; the effect a mother’s abuse and absence have on the boy child’s psyche. Throughout the novel, it’s clear that Tunde childhood with and without his mother affected him in a plethora of ways. I always knew mothers/mother figures were important in families, but this novel somehow made me see their importance from a whole different angle, especially with Tunde’s lack of his mother’s love.

Tunde’s dad is such an important character in this book – if this debut is ever read for a literature class or discussed in a book club, soooo much can be said about him! He was a loving, strict father, who was deeply affected by the demise of his marriage(s). He was a proud Yoruba man, yet desired to assimilate into American culture (especially in his need to acquire an American accent) just so he could keep a job. Stress gets the best of him and readers see hints of depression, as he fought to stay jovial and positive for his family. Reading and relating to his character felt so real, because in real life, many immigrants don’t always achieve the ‘American dream.’ I wish Folarin gave more insight into Tunde’s dad’s life towards the end of the novel, because he just vanished when Tunde went off to college.

Folarin made this debut more exciting for me with how he played with perspective and memory throughout the novel. At one point, the novel is written in first person (Tunde’s voice) and in some chapters it’s written in the third person. With chapters that are written in first person, Tunde admits to readers that the re-telling of various events discussed in the book may be false, as he seems to suffer from double-memory. I found this both upsetting and fascinating, because Tunde himself isn’t sure of anything anymore, to the point where he thinks he possesses symptoms of his mother’s Schizophrenia. Tunde steadily tries to be a particular type of black man, and Folarin’s use of various perspectives help us witness Tunde’s performance from various aspects.

What I’ve always liked about Folarin’s writing is how lucid and artfully descriptive his stories are. This debut shows Folarin’s poetic and funny side, as various passages display bits of humor and poetic melodies. I will continue to read anything Folarin writes! Read this book if you can.

Special thanks to Simon & Schuster for a copy of this book!

★★★★ (4 stars) – Great book. Highly recommend!

Purchase A Particular Kind of Black Man on Amazon

Frying Plantain by Zalika Reid-Benta

Date Read: July 21st 2019

Published: June 4th 2019

Publisher: House of Anansi Press

Pages: 272

 

The Blurb

Kara Davis is a girl caught in the middle – of her Canadian nationality and her desire to be a ‘true’ Jamaican, of her mother and grandmother’s rages and life lessons, of having to avoid being thought of as too ‘faas’ or too ‘quiet’ or too ‘bold’ or too ‘soft’.

Set in Little Jamaica, Toronto’s Eglinton West neighbourhood, Kara moves from girlhood to the threshold of adulthood, from elementary school to high school graduation, in these twelve interconnected stories. We see her on a visit to Jamaica, startled by the sight of a severed pig’s head in her great aunt’s freezer; in junior high, the victim of a devastating prank by her closest friends; and as a teenager in and out of her grandmother’s house, trying to cope with the ongoing battles between her unyielding grandparents.

A rich and unforgettable portrait of growing up between worlds, Frying Plantain shows how, in one charged moment, friendship and love can turn to enmity and hate, well-meaning protection can become control, and teasing play can turn to something much darker. In her brilliantly incisive debut, Zalika Reid-Benta artfully depicts the tensions between mothers and daughters, second-generation Canadians and first-generation cultural expectations, and Black identity and predominately white society.

 

Review – ★★★ (3 stars)

The title of this collection is so cool! Everyone loves fried plantain, so the title is truly inviting (Fun fact – fried plantain is called kelewele in Ghana (when diced & spiced), dodo in Nigeria, alloco in Cote d’Ivoire). Frying Plantain is a coming-of-age collection of interconnected short stories that follow Canadian-Jamaican girl, Kara Davis. Initially, I thought with each successive story, I’d be engrossed into Kara’s journey as she went through childhood into adolescence. But now, a part of me feels a little disappointed by this collection. While reading, I felt like I was drowning because I found the characters relentlessly toxic, hence making my reading experience a bit sour.

The collection commences with a story called ‘Pig Head.’ In ‘Pig Head’, we’re introduced to Kara who is on holiday in Jamaica with her family. While on holiday, Kara is sent to get something from the freezer and is terrified by the sight of a huge severed pig head stored there. Kara goes back to her 4th grade classmates in Canada and tells fibs about the pig head. She brags about how she helped kill the pig and gives her classmates gory details of the killing, which eventually land her into trouble with her school’s principal and her mother. Kara fabricates the story in an effort to seem unique and to claim her Jamaican roots even though her neighborhood friends call her ‘stush’ (posh/boujee).

Throughout this collection, Kara tries to fit in by either lying, falling prey to peer pressure or staying quiet to keep the peace. As a child, she spends a lot of time with (toxic) neighborhood friends, who are also of Caribbean heritage. Among her group of friends, some are even straight from the Islands and they impose their Caribbean authenticity by constantly reminding others within the group – including Kara, of how un-Jamaican/Caribbean they are –

Miss Canada gwine fi bust out the patois? Yuh need to stop Ja-fakin’ it, Kara – pg. 32

 

I enjoyed the short stories that explored Kara’s relationships with boys and wanted more! I found the descriptions of her first kiss so cringey yet hilarious, as Reid-Benta aptly portrays the awkwardness –

I told him he could kiss me, and then he inched forward and meshed his lips with mine… My own lips were still puckered when he started to open his mouth. He pressed the tip of his tongue against my teeth until I unclenched and allowed him access. I couldn’t figure him out… I hunched my shoulders instead, trying to show eagerness, and twirled my tongue around his, but he got excited and shoved his tongue so far down my throat I gagged. I pulled away – pg. 116

But Kara’s mother’s sharp gaze always marred my joy of witnessing Kara find love (or have fun, in general). Kara is raised by a single mother – Eloise, who seems pretty miserable. Initially I didn’t feel any love between mother and daughter, but later I realized Eloise’s brash, over-controlling manner was driven by fear. Eloise raises Kara on her own but with the help of her own parents, who come with their own set of issues. *sigh* Eloise’s relationship with her parents (Kara’s grandparents) is tragic – there is a lot of emotional abuse, verbal abuse, manipulation and gaslighting between Eloise and her parents, but also between Kara and her grandparents. Eloise’s parents also have a dysfunctional marriage – but I don’t even have the energy to get into their marriage. Kara’s family dynamics in this book are just A LOT.

Since Kara is raised in an over-controlled, stern environment, her personality is unassuming and quite unclear. She comes off as meek, subdued and repressed; but she can defend herself or react to unfair treatment when pushed to her limit, which is often.

According to other readers on Goodreads, this collection is very Canadian. I wasn’t sensitive to the Canadian-ness of this collection, as I wouldn’t even know where to catch the nuances. I’ve only visited Canada three times (Toronto when I was about 5 years old, Montréal as a sophomore in college and Windsor when I was a senior in college), so I didn’t have the eye for spotting the Canadian vibes from the collection. I did like the mention of poutine though, when Kara and her friends trekked through a snow storm just to eat some.

I thoroughly enjoyed Zalika Reid-Benta’s writing style. She has a beautiful way with words such that I vividly saw Kara’s quiet awkwardness; I could hear Eloise shouting at Kara to stop crying; I could feel Kara’s desire to fit in with her fellow Caribbean friends. Zalika Reid-Benta’s writing is the reason I finished this collection. She has a gift with words, and I surely admire that!

I think I would have enjoyed this collection more if I was new to African Diaspora literature. But I’ve read countless stories like this, so it didn’t really stand out to me as super unique. I just find it very interesting how Caribbean women writers always seem to touch on strained mother-daughter relationships in their work. I haven’t read a ton of work by Caribbean women writers, but so far Jamaica Kincaid, Edwidge Danticat, Naomi Jackson, Alexia Arthurs ALL touch on this strained relationship in their stories. Why is this type of relationship so prevalent in their work? Anyway, even though I wasn’t blown away by this collection, I look forward to reading more of Reid-Benta’s work! She’s a pretty damn good writer.

Thank you to House of Anansi Press for sending me a review copy of the book!

★★★ (3 stars) – Good book. I recommend it, I guess.

Purchase Frying Plantain on Amazon

You Too Will Know Me by Ama Asantewa Diaka (Poetra Asantewa)

Date Read: July 16th 2019

Published: June 11th 2019

Publisher: Akashic Books

Pages: 30

The Blurb

“Here is a poet whose practiced weaving of talk and song is a testament to her devotion to language and her clarity of vision. Those of us who have encountered Diaka with excitement invite you to listen with us as she offers us a new song, one which will surely not be her last” – Tjawandwa Dema

 

Review – ★★★★ (4 stars)

You Too Will Know Me is a chapbook that reads like a series of confessions, in an effort to better love and accept oneself. Through the sincere truths and feelings revealed, Diaka shows that ‘any day is a good day for redemption’, that there is joy in the morning and we can all start over again. Most of the poems speak to the challenges of adulthood, abandonment of lovers, unrequited love, (un)forgiveness, feminine strength + beauty and more.

Diaka’s writing style is bold – bold enough to have the words ‘God’ and ‘blowjob’ in the same stanza! Bold enough to capture the essence of what it’s like to be deeply disappointed in your home country for not loving its citizens enough (from my favorite poem – And I’ve Mastered The Art of Receiving Hand-Outs Because I Come From This Place).

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Favorite quotes from various poems in the chapbook:

‘how do I distract myself from myself in order to free myself?’ – Before The Gag, page 12

 

‘What’s the English word for someone who still has hope in lovers who cause too much anxiety?
Tell me so I can spit it out.’ – Spit, page 13

 

‘Damn everybody!
Do they not know
that the sun borrows light from your fingertips?
Do they not know
that you give color to the rose?
Do they not know
that your breath is studied by the highest of connoisseurs
to make the best perfumes?
There’s something about you
that makes looking away impossible’ – Suicide Sarah, page 15

 

‘I am hungry for a love my country cannot afford…
I want a love
that doesn’t require me to be ridiculously multifaceted
in order to have a fraction of an equation at being equipped for survival;
a love that doesn’t wait for another suitor to sing the praises of my genius
before recognizing my worth,
or worse, only after I’m dead.
I am hungry for a love my country cannot afford,
the way white lusts for a backdrop to outshine.

And I’ve Mastered The Art of Receiving Hand-Outs Because I Come From This Place, page 18

 

‘I have been fretting over things that God shakes his head at
toying with faith as if it were a disappearing act.
One minute I’m full of it,
the next, I don’t exactly know the shape of it.
I fret over now and tomorrow,
giving myself and God a headache.
Spoon feed myself faith,
and come up hungry again…’ – Let It Be, page 22

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Bloom is an unapologetically Ghanaian poem, that reads like a vivid short film. In the poem, the narrator takes readers to Accra, Ghana- Labadi, to be precise. The narrator describes the ordinary Ghanaians she sees on the road, simply living. The laugh and smiles of a porridge seller – Ms. Atta, keeps her customers coming for more, despite the deep pain and hurt she feels within.

‘These people teach me,
that if you are from Accra and you are placed anywhere in
the world,
there’s no way you won’t know how to bloom’ – Bloom, page 24

 

This collection is meant to be read more than once. Multiple readings will reveal different truths – about the poet and even you, the reader! Diaka’s work allows readers to meditate and examine their feelings towards their present lives. You Too Will Know Me is honest, visceral and necessary. Also, it’s Ghanaian AF!

 

★★★★ (4 stars) – Great book. Highly recommend!

You Too Will Know Me is part of a series published by Akashic Books in collaboration
with the African Poetry Book Fund:
New-Generation African Poets: A Chapbook Box Set (Sita) (African Poetry)

Purchase it on Amazon

AND THE 2019 CAINE PRIZE WINNER IS…

In less than a month, the 2019 Caine Prize winner will be announced!

For those who are not familiar, the Caine Prize for African Writing, which was first awarded in year 2000, is an award “open to writers from anywhere in Africa for work published in English. Its focus is on the short story, reflecting the contemporary development of the African story-telling tradition” (source).

Some notable winners of the Caine Prize include (click on links to my reviews):

  • Leila Aboulela, from Sudan (2000) – author of novels Minaret, The Translator, Lyrics Alley, among other works. 
  • Binyavanga Wainaina, from Kenya (2002) – founding editor of Kwani?, author of memoir One Day I Will Write About This Place and the essay How To Write About Africa found in various literary magazines. *sigh* Rest In Power, Binya!
  • Yvonne A. Owuor, from Kenya (2003) – author of the novel, Dust.
  • E.C Osondu, from Nigeria (2009) – author of the novel This House is not For Sale and collection Voice of America: stories.
  • NoViolet Bulawayo, from Zimbabwe (2011) – author of the novel, We Need New Names. 

Previously shortlisted writers include: (2001) Mia Couto from Mozambique, (2002) Chimamanda Adichie from Nigeria, (2006) Laila Lalami from Morocco, (2013) Chinelo Okparanta from Nigeria, (2013) Pede Hollist from Sierra Leone, (2014) Tendai Huchu from Zimbabwe, (2013 & 2015) Elnathan John from Nigeria, among others!

The Caine Prize and the shortlisted stories play huge roles in the authors I read from Africa. Many Caine Prize winners and shortlisted writers have found great success and I’ve reviewed a good number of these writers’ works here on African Book Addict!


This year, the Caine Prize shortlist comprises of five talented writers with unique short stories (left to right):

(Image via caineprize.com)

Lesley Nneka Arimah (Nigeria) – Read her story: Skinned

Meron Hadero (Ethiopia) – Read her story: The Wall

Cherrie Kandie (Kenya) – Read her story: Sew My Mouth

Ngwah-Mbo Nana Nkweti (Cameroon) – Read her story: It Takes A Village Some Say

Tochukwu Emmanuel Okafor (Nigeria) – Read his story: All Our Lives


There’s finally some diversity in the countries represented on this year’s shortlist! Ethiopia and Cameroon! And women are dominating, once again – I love it. So far, I’ve only read 3 out of the 5 stories and I’m feeling pretty good about them.

Cherrie Kandie starts Sew My Mouth with- “My lover can only love me behind drawn curtains,” taking readers on a rollercoaster ride of the relationship between two women lovers/friends and their forbidden love. I think I liked Kandie’s short story. The writing was very matter-of-fact, in that, she doesn’t mince her words in her descriptions. She does a great job of gradually creating tension and remorse between the characters, as one of them isn’t quite out as a lesbian, which causes heartbreak and pain (literally). The ending of the story was quite disappointing though. I found it anti-climatic and it left a bitter taste in my mouth. I do hope Kandie is writing a novel though! I’d like to read more of her work.

Tochukwu Okafor’s short story – All Our Lives was very easy to read. I enjoyed how accessible and lucid his writing was. But Okafor’s story is not new to readers of African fiction. It actually reminded me of NoViolet Bulawayo’s We Need New Names which I have conflicting feelings about. All Our Lives paints the picture of poverty in a Nigerian city – from the descriptions, probably Lagos, Nigeria. We follow the desperate lives of Yahoo boys/419 boys, trying to catch a break via deceit, ‘The cybercafes are our second home. They are tight spaces on ground floors in one- or two- storey buildings… Do not think we are searching for love. Love does not exist in this city. We are men of the night. Our reward is money.’

Okafor describes the plight of the poor very vividly, constantly reminding readers of the dire conditions in the city. But the ending of this short story had me confused! It briefly describes how some of these Yahoo boys all of a sudden start viewing gay porn and have a ‘longing to be explored by men’ and touches briefly on the consequences of these desires. I found this random mention of same-sex desire too brief, almost oversimplifying the true lives of LGBTQIA in Nigerian cities. For those who’ve read this short story – was the ending as random to you as it was for me?

The Caine Prize shortlist hasn’t been this exciting in years, so obviously I had to read the story by Meron Hadero, from Ethiopia! The Wall is a slow burn type of short story… I actually hope she’s developing this story into a full-fledged novel. I’m assuming the story is semi-autobiographical, as Hadero’s personal life seems to coincide a bit with the main character of the story.

In The Wall, readers follow an un-named young girl refugee, who recently moved to the US with her family from Ethiopia via Berlin. She knows very little English, but is fluent in German and her mother tongue – Amharic. By chance, she meets Professor Weil aka – Herr Weil, at a community potluck who generously offers to teach the young girl English after school, and they form a beautiful friendship. While Herr Weil helps this young girl learn English, he mostly creates space for her to express herself and her feelings about her new environment – in German. As I was reading, I was so scared that this old German man would take advantage of her in someway, but I was pleasantly surprised by his pure heart. There isn’t much to say about this short story with respect to an exciting plot, but Hadero tackles various issues – such as, loneliness, same-sex attraction, courage versus regret, friendship, ageism, the plight of the lives of refugees etc. The ending of this story had me wanting more and I will read anything Hadero writes henceforth!

I haven’t read Lesley Nneka Arimah and Ngwah-Mbo Nana Nkweti’s short stories yet. This year marks the third year of Arimah making the Caine Prize shortlist. I wonder why she continues to compete for the prize, given the success of her short story collection from two years ago… but then again – why not? I raved about Arimah’s phenomenal work back in 2017 via What It Means When A Man Falls From The Sky, and I have no doubt that her current shortlisted story is breathtaking.

Even though I haven’t read all the stories yet, my money is on Hadero’s, The Wall to win the prize. It’s truly just a beautiful story. I hope you all get a chance to read some of the stories linked above. May the best story win!

Which story is your favorite? Who do you think will win the Caine Prize this year?

The winner will be announced in London at Senate House Library in partnership with SOAS, on 8th July 2019. Good luck to all the shortlisted candidates!

 

You can also check out past commentary on the Caine Prize below:

2014 | 2015  | 2016 | 2017 | 2018

How To Love A Jamaican: Stories by Alexia Arthurs

Date Read: March 5th 2019

Published: 2018

Publisher: Picador

Pages: 256

The Blurb

Tenderness and cruelty, loyalty and betrayal, ambition and regret—Alexia Arthurs navigates these tensions to extraordinary effect in her debut collection about Jamaican immigrants and their families back home. Sweeping from close-knit island communities to the streets of New York City and midwestern university towns, these eleven stories form a portrait of a nation, a people, and a way of life.

In “Light-Skinned Girls and Kelly Rowlands,” an NYU student befriends a fellow Jamaican whose privileged West Coast upbringing has blinded her to the hard realities of race. In “Mash Up Love,” a twin’s chance sighting of his estranged brother—the prodigal son of the family—stirs up unresolved feelings of resentment. In “Bad Behavior,” a couple leave their wild teenage daughter with her grandmother in Jamaica, hoping the old ways will straighten her out. In “Mermaid River,” a Jamaican teenage boy is reunited with his mother in New York after eight years apart. In “The Ghost of Jia Yi,” a recently murdered student haunts a despairing Jamaican athlete recruited to an Iowa college. And in “Shirley from a Small Place,” a world-famous pop star retreats to her mother’s big new house in Jamaica, which still holds the power to restore something vital.

Alexia Arthurs emerges in this vibrant, lyrical, intimate collection as one of fiction’s most dynamic and essential authors.

 

Review – ★★★★ (4 stars)

My 4 stars rating for How To Love A Jamaican doesn’t mean I loved all the stories. In fact, out of the 11 short stories, I absolutely loved just 4 of them. But I give this collection 4 out of 5 stars because I LOVED how this collection made me feel. I carried this book everywhere with me for the two weeks it took me to finish it. I was always eager to pick it up again and didn’t mind re-reading some stories just to be in the world of the characters again. It took me a while to finish this collection mostly because of school (this is ALWAYS my excuse, have you noticed?), but also because I wanted to take my time and imbibe myself into the stories! It took me forever to get my hands on this book, so I just wanted to savor every word. Special thanks to my friend Kobby from @bookworm_man on Bookstagram who initially lent me his copy, then later allowed me to keep it 🙂

While some stories fell flat for me – especially ‘Bad Behavior’, ‘Mash Up Love’, ‘Shirley From a Small Place’ (I wasn’t fond of how Shirley’s story resembled Rihanna Fenty’s career trajectory), I mostly enjoyed how accessible Arthurs’s writing was – especially the patois. At the beginning of the book, she makes it clear that this collection is ‘For Jamaicans’ and she is true to her words. Reading stories about Jamaicans, mostly IN Jamaica or Jamaicans who were born and bred in Jamaica without migrating out of the Island, was definitely refreshing and inspiring.

••

My favorite stories were:

Island – This story is excellent. Island is about three girlfriends who travel to a Caribbean island for a wedding. One of the girls in this group is a lesbian and her friends subtly malign her throughout the trip. The tension within the friend group was palpable and maddening. It had me thinking about friendship – why we call certain people our friends and how our choice of friends reflects who we are, or who we aren’t.

On Shelf – This story was pretty ordinary from beginning to end. But Arthurs’s ability to just tell a normal story about an academically successful 40 year old Jamaican woman in the US, settling with a man below her standards in order to move forward with life and bear a child felt very real.

Light-skinned girls and Kelly Rowlands – I love that the collection commences with this story! It kept me wanting more and I eagerly anticipated reading the rest of the stories, thanks to this one. This story follows two young women in college – NYU, who become friends unexpectedly. Cecelia is dark-skinned; upper class; only dates white men; of Jamaican heritage but was born and bred in California. Brittney on the other hand is from a low/middle-class family; prefers dating black men; was born in Jamaica but moved to Brooklyn when she was six years old. I loved the sisterhood these friends shared, but I also despised the tension between them, especially when they had disagreements. I felt Brittney constantly tried to undermine Cecelia’s Jamaicanness/Blackness, because she was more or less an ‘oreo’ and had never been to Jamaica before. The ending of this story just reminded me of gnawing issues I have with folks born and raised in their native lands versus pure Diasporans.

The recurrent themes in this collection include: good ole’ problematic Jamaican pigmentocracy (aka- colorism), mother-daughter relationships (I find many Caribbean women writers love writing on this theme! So far Edwidge Danticat, Jamaica Kincaid and Naomi Jackson all touch on this theme and always suggest a fraught relationship between mothers and daughters in their writing), mermaids, being haunted by ghosts, love & relationships. I especially LOVED when queer characters and issues surrounding members of the LGBTQ spectrum were introduced into stories – they were the most compelling.

★★★★ (4 stars) – Great book. Highly recommend!

Purchase How To Love A Jamaican on Amazon

KidLit Book Chat | with founder of Booksie, Edem Torkornoo

Children’s literature is a genre I rarely blog about. I don’t have any children yet, so kid literature is almost never on my radar. But there are sooo many African/Black authors writing phenomenal books for children nowadays. Last year, Edem Torkornoo founded BOOKSIE, which is a pan-African child-focused company on a mission to inspire young African readers by intentionally giving them access to books that tell African realities.

This week in celebrating Ghanaian excellence, I chat with Edem Torkornoo as we discuss Booksie, the Booksie Box (which ships worldwide!), African children’s literature + some recommendations for children aged 3-12!

(note – ‘ET’ represents Edem Torkornoo’s responses)

[image via mybooksiebox.com]

•••

  • Booksie as a pan-African company primarily focuses on making children’s literature more accessible. Why did you decide to focus on kidlit?

ET: It’s something that came to me naturally. I’m a huge bookworm and I’ve always loved working and playing with children. I enjoy their company so kidlit allows me to bring my two loves together.

Looking back though, I think my interest in kidlit piqued when I heard about Deborah Ahenkorah and the Golden Baobab Prize in my first year of college, so that would be 2009. I found it fascinating that Deborah had started a prize to promote African literature for children and it stuck with me.

As I went through college and started working, I explored my interests and realised that I want to create entertainment (books and TV shows) for African children and I want that entertainment to have characters that look like the children they are for. I want my nephews Ian (5) and Joel (3) and cousins Nana Araba (5) and Afua (2) to see themselves in books and on TV. You can call them my muses. There’s something very powerful about representation and it may not always be obvious but seeing images of people who look like you in the media you consume does something to your confidence.

 


  • What’s My Booksie Box all about? How does it work?

ET: My Booksie Box is Booksie’s flagship product. It’s a subscription service that curates children’s books written by African authors and/or with primarily African characters and delivers it individuals and schools on a regular basis. The books are categorized by age (3-5; 6-8; 9-12 years-old) and subscribers can choose how often they want to receive books (monthly, bi-monthly or quarterly).

My Booksie Box has three main goals:

  • make children’s books written by African authors easily accessible
  • nurture a love of reading
  • give authors and publishers on the continent a channel to sell their work.

We’ve also created the Afterschool Book Club, a community for young book lovers that runs from 3-7pm weekly. We work with children who are just learning to read and help them to improve their proficiency. On one hand, children get to read a good book, do their homework and explore their passions through engaging in creative activities. On the other hand, parents are able to bridge the gap between school and home time by leaving their children in a safe environment. We call it a win-win situation.

Finally, we host book club events on the weekend so that children who can’t make it to the weekday one are still able to join the community.

[images kind courtesy from Booksie]

 


  • Are books selected for the subscription box primarily by African authors or other Black authors? Will Booksie include children’s books by other Black authors?

ET: Yes, the books are primarily by African authors but we’ve discovered some amazing books with African characters or based on African cities that are written by non-Africans so we will include them. There are also African writers who have written fantastic books with non-African characters so we’ve started to relook at our selection criteria.

We’re open to books by Black authors but the primary focus is those written by Africans.

 


  • How do you select the books & genres featured in the Booksie Box? Is there a plethora of writers and books to choose from?

ET: There are 3 main criteria:

  1. Is the book written by an African author and does it have primarily African characters?
  2. Is the book telling a fun, engaging and memorable story that children can relate to?
  3. Does the book have beautiful, eye-catching illustrations? This is particularly important for books in the 3-5 year-old and 6-8 year-old category.

The last ‘secret’ criteria is, will my nephews Ian and Joel be drawn to the book or will they snob it?

There are a plethora of books to choose from in the 6-8 year-old age category. I’m discovering that when it comes to children’s books many writers cater to that age group. However, there aren’t many to choose from in the 3-5 and 9-12 year-old age groups so we’re always on the lookout for them.

The African kidlit space is also missing board books for babies and toddlers. I haven’t come across any yet so please let us know if you know any.

 


  • Do you remember the first children’s book you read as a child? If so, was it by an African author? How was the experience?

ET: I remember some lines from the first book I learned to read by myself. I memorized it. But I don’t remember the title. Haha. It says something like “the sky is grey and it is pouring, sitting here is very boring, I’d like to go out to play …”

It wasn’t by an African author. In terms of experience, I think I felt accomplished reading that book because I could read it by myself. I read it over and over again. That’s why I can remember some lines.

My vivid reading memories though are from the time I discovered the Baby Sitters Club, Nancy Drew, Enid Blyton and Sweet Valley. Those were magical times and all I’d do on the ride to and from school was read. I think this was in class two or three.

 


  • For beginners of African kidlit, where should one start? Could you give three of your favorite books for children aged 3-12?

ET: I love Dela Avemega’s Lulu Series and Niki Daly’s books about Jamela. I’ve also heard amazing things about Atinuke’s Anna Hibiscus series but I’m yet to read any of them.

I’ll give one favourite from each of the age categories that My Booksie Box caters to:

ages 3-5: A is for Accra by Ekow and Nana Afua Pierre

 

ages 6-8: Where is Jamela? by Niki Daly

 

ages 9-12: The Necklace of Relur: Kagim Chronicles by Linda Masi

 


  • When should we be expecting a children’s book written by you, Edem?

ET: Fingers crossed, soon!

 


P.S – If you haven’t checked out Booksie’s #ReadGhanaian🇬🇭: KidLit Edition where nine Ghanaian children’s writers & their books are highlighted, what are you waiting for?

For more information on how to discover amazing African children’s books, kindly check out Booksie’s website for more information; where all FAQ’s are answered!

Also, be sure to contact Edem / the Booksie team via WhatsApp – +233 24 131 6433 | Instagram | Twitter

 

 

 

 

Edem Torkornoo is the Founder and chief bookworm at Booksie, a pan-African book subscription service and book club for 3-12 year-olds. Prior to Booksie, she served as a Teaching Fellow at MEST-Africa and was on the Founding Team at the African Leadership University (ALU) where she managed all things digital. Edem is a child at heart and likes to make people happy through food.

#ReadGhanaian🇬🇭 mini book/author collage + LIT links

Once again, the month of March is here! Ghana gained independence in March (TODAY, March 6th 1957), so I like to dedicate this month to celebrating Ghanaian excellence! As a reader of Ghanaian heritage, I enjoy discovering new Ghanaian writers and learning about our pioneer writers. If we don’t celebrate our own, who will?

The #ReadGhanaian🇬🇭 book challenge is well underway and it’s great to see lots of folks participating in the challenge of reading at least 5 books by writers of Ghanaian descent! Below is a mini collage showing a snippet of some of the Ghanaian books and writers highlighted two years ago in the GH at 60 | Our Writers & Their Books series ~

GH at 60 | Our Writers & Their Books part 1

GH at 60 | Our Writers & Their Books part 2

GH at 60 | Our Writers & Their Books part 3

While the 3-part series is not exhaustive by any means, it highlights over 80 Ghanaian writers & their books! With the plethora of Ghanaian writers and books highlighted in the series, there is no excuse if anyone claims they don’t know (m)any writers from Ghana!

Check out: #ReadGhanaian🇬🇭: KidLit Edition

by Edem Torkornoo, founder of Booksie.

 

•••

Below are lit(erature) links I’ve been enjoying lately. These are links to some great short stories, poems and articles on the interwebs, showcasing Ghanaian EXCELLENCE:

I was stuck in a position where I had to learn.



How I came to possess the name of the boxer who was once the most famous and baddest man on the planet happened by accident.



  • I add the leaf of the cocoyam plant to dried mudfish, mushrooms and snails, and think of my indomitable ancestors.


[This story was published as the winner of the 2018  AFREADA x Africa Writes Competition. + Maame Blue is one of the 20 Black British writers who will have work published by Jacaranda Books in 2020!]



Raised by a single, independent mother, one young woman struggles with her familial inheritance and the relationship between self-sufficiency and social isolation.


The links between knowing history, media and political agency in northern Ghana.