Book Chat | On Being ‘Well Read’ (part 2)

Welcome back to Part 2 – the final installment of this book chat!

•••

When you hear the words – ‘well read’, what comes to mind? What does it mean to be ‘well read’?

From my observations over the years, I realized being ‘well read’ was synonymous with being knowledgable in the ‘Classics’ – which typically comprise the works of English writers like William Shakespeare, Charles Dickens, Jane Austen, Joseph Conrad, Charlotte Brontë ; American writers like John Steinbeck, Harper Lee, Louisa May Alcott, Mark Twain, J.D. Salinger, F. Scott Fitzgerald ; Canadian writers like Margaret Atwood‎, Lucy Maud Montgomery and a myriad of other books by WHITE writers.

Image via Arao Ameny’s Instagram

The concept of being ‘well read’ is very subjective and personal. In my opinion, there’s more to being ‘well read’ than being well-versed in the work of white writers or books we were forced to read in English Literature class.

I wanted to know how other readers defined being ‘well read’, so I asked some of my favorite readers and writers I follow and interact with via Twitter, Goodreads and Instagram. In this book chat, three of my favorite readers and writers will enlighten us on what it means to be ‘well read’, with some recommendations on which authors and/or books we should indulge in to be considered ‘well read’, per their views on the concept.

Enjoy!

 

Efo Dela is a book lover I frequently see at book readings and other bookish events here in Accra. He’s an avid reader and writes poetry as well. I always look forward to reading Efo’s (funny) opinions on Twitter, so I just had to include him in this conversation. Check out what being ‘well read’ means to him:

  • What does being ‘well read’ mean to you? 

Being well read means being able to enjoy a wide spectrum of writing genres. For me good writing is good writing it doesn’t matter the genre. I will read it. I’ve found myself reading academic work unrelated to what I do just because the writing is good. I don’t know if it’s because I have an interest in many topics that I read so wide or if I have an interest in many things because I read wide.

  • Which books and/or authors should be on our reading lists, given your take on what it means to be ‘well read’?

Born a Crime – Trevor Noah

Akata Witch – Nnedi Okarafor

Prey – Michael Crichton

The Last Day – Glenn Kleier

Teaching My Mother How to Give Birth – Warsan Shire

A Song of Ice and Fire (6 books) – George RR Martin

The Three-Body Problem – Cixin Liu

Go Tell it on the Mountain – James Baldwin

Ghana (the autobiography of Kwame Nkrumah) – Kwame Nkrumah

Catch 22 – Joseph Heller

 


Zaynab has a way of making reading look so sexy, via her photographs on Instagram, where she goes by – @bookminimalist. Zaynab, who is based in Nigeria, is a passionate reader and a popular Bookstagrammer (which is the Bookish community of Instagram) who promotes African literature through her photos and fearless commentary on the books she showcases. Check out her views on the concept of being ‘well read’:

  • What does being ‘well read’ mean to you?

What it means to be well-read? Well read? I have to be honest this question gave me sleepless nights.

The week you sent the question I wrote: “it meant reading all genres; science fiction, romance, speculative fiction, etc. Reading your favourite genre alone or classics alone doesn’t make you a Well-read person.”  I just realised how naive this answer was days later.

And then I swapped it to, Well-read means reading books from all corners of the world. North Africa, Indian Ocean African Islands, Middle East, reading books published in every region in the world. And this sounded too pompous, and very bombastic. Does this mean someone who lives in a village in Nigeria who doesn’t have access to some of these books is not well read?

And then minutes ago, it changed to reading at least 10 books on the ‘100 books you should read before you die’ list. Haha.

Now writing this, I suddenly had an epiphany, being well read should not only be about the number of books, or how many translated works you have read (even though I think this is important too), being well read is reading at a level in which you digest and absorb what you’re reading and are able to incorporate it into your life. Reading in such a way that allows you to think and converse about the human experience intelligently.

Being well read means becoming a better human being from something you have read from Toni Morrison, from an anecdote you saw in Wole Soyinka’s book. Speaking out against corruption, bad governance after reading Achebe, realising your silence in the face of evil is cooperating with evil itself after reading Baldwin.

Speaking out against sexual assault, racism, after drowning yourself in Angelou. Ranting against those who kill intellectuals and writers after reading a Sontag. Speaking up for women who are hated by their community and families after read a Flora Nwapa.  Speaking up for children who lost their innocence after reading a Danticat.

Being well read means reading thoughtfully, by engaging with the world, breaking away from horrendous tradition and questioning dreadful established ideas.

This is what being well read means to me.

  • Which books and/or authors should be on our reading lists, given your take on what it means to be ‘well read’?

I have more than 50 Books I have enjoyed reading this year but I am going to mention the ones written by African women on this list (because they don’t get hyped enough):

The Kindness of Enemies by Leila Aboulela, Longthroat Memoirs, by Yemisi Aribisala, The Woman Next Door by Yewande Omotoso, Butterfly Fish by Irenosen Okojie and Kintu by Jennifer Makumbi.

 


Bwesigye Bwa Mwesigire is a powerhouse. I first encountered Bwesigye last year when I was in correspondence with him as the Editorial and Partnerships Director for the Writivism Festival (a Kampala-based initiative that promotes African Literature). Since then, I always look forward to his passionate threads on Twitter which mostly aim to decolonize the mind. He’s currently a graduate student of English Language and Literature at Cornell University. Enjoy his thoughts on the concept of being ‘well read’:

  • What does being ‘well read’ mean to you?

This is a very hard question. It is hard because the response speaks volumes about the person answering it, than it does about anyone else, or about the idea of reading itself. Because I am a graduate student of English Language and Literature, this question is even more difficult to answer. Do I want to expose myself this way? While we were being told about preparing for our PhD Qualifying Exam, one of the three exams an English student does before they graduate, our instructor encouraged us to select books that make one sound ridiculous if they are English grads and have not read them.

We went through a confession moment where some members of our class mentioned the books they are embarrassed to say they haven’t read because it is expected that everyone has read those books. You get the picture. If you are an English Major, or grad, surely, you have read Shakespeare, right? That type of thing. The greatest books. To use a more academic term, the canonical texts from various periods.

These books permeate the English language itself. New words have been created from them. There is another word I learnt late in life, and I can’t pronounce with my Rukiga inflected accent. The word is ‘zeitgeist’. The books that capture the ‘defining spirit or mood of a particular period of history’ are what some versions of well read expect one to have read. I am not a fan of English Literature in that way. In the way it is used as the standard, given its history of not only exclusion, but active dehumanisation and destruction of other ways of being, other literatures, other cultures.

Because in secondary school, when I studied Literature in English, we were forced to read Charles Dickens, the Bronte sisters, RL Stevenson, DH Lawrence, Jane Austen, Robert Bolt, Arthur Miller, Ernest Hemingway, and all those types of people, my experience of their work has become one of resentment. I after all attended secondary school in Uganda, a country that celebrates having attained independence in 1962 but still holds onto these colonial notions of what it means to be ‘well read’.

Operating in what Mukoma wa Ngugi has called the ‘English metaphysical empire’, where the language and the world it makes possible in one’s imagination, means that one can’t run away from these writers, their books and their influence. The Strange Case of Jekyll and Hyde shows up in conversation as something whose meaning everyone listening, knows. And so, if one does not, they have to Google to understand it. To the colonised, in the metaphysical sense, familiarity with the English canon is one way to understand what it means to be ‘well read’. Because most spaces in which we operate, (speaking from my position as an aspiring academic whose dominant language of engagement is English), are yet to be decolonised, it means that however much one hates the ways in which one experiences the English canon as violence, one can’t wish away the fact that it is what dominates as the idea of being ‘well read’. So in one way, the idea of being ‘well read’ and what it instantly means is something I experience as violence.

Despite my positioning in the imperial and colonial structure that defines being ‘well read’ in a Eurocentric and limited way, I am interested in small acts of subversion. Your question about what being ‘well read’ means to me is an important subversive act because it centres me, as the one determining what being well read means. I am currently torn between an anti colonial approach and something else, for which I am still figuring out ways to define.

So, on one hand I will say, that for me being ‘well read’ means being well versed with an alternative, a subversive archive. This anti colonial approach unfortunately focuses unduly on responding and countering the Eurocentric colonial and imperial framework. And so, being well read here would mean being familiar with the works of resistance to colonialism. This somewhat implies being familiar with the colonial archive to begin with. The binarism. To know black, you must know white, because black is the negation of white, type of thing (thank you Fanon for the language).

I am still thinking about a radical decentering of Europe and colonialism and imperialism. This would mean going beyond the resistance. The resistance is important for showing us that we matter, that we can write, that we have, and can create a counter-archive. What does it mean to be well read without the anxiety of creating a counter archive? What does the counter archive become when it is no longer countering the Eurocentric colonial and imperial archive? How would I understand being ‘well read’ in that space where I am the centre and not necessarily the opposite of. What would being well read mean, in that space? I have no answer right now. Ultimately, being well read depends on how one is reading. What they are reading, may be not much as how they are reading. I mean, in 2017: some people read Conrad and miss all the colonial and imperialist bullshit in his work, so go figure.

  • Which books and/or authors should be on our reading lists, given your take on what it means to be ‘well read’?

Jennifer Makumbi’s Kintu. Kintu is important because it is the book and Makumbi, is the author that has pushed me into imagining what it could mean to centre ourselves in our work without an anxiety to write back to empire. What about our own worlds? What is there in our own worlds? Kintu is one clear example of an imagination that ultimately pays due homage to those who resisted and built a counter archive but is continuing from where they stopped by centering an archive that sees ourselves without reducing us to countering Europe.

Panashe Chigumadzi’s work, the non fiction and post Sweet Medicine fiction – (look out for her forthcoming books, aren’t I privileged to have had a look at both), also take me to that world. Some of the essays in the non fiction book have been published online, and Small Deaths, a short story from the forthcoming fiction book was published in Transition. Panashe, perhaps, more than Makumbi acknowledges and deals head on with Imperialism and its continued violence, but from a centre where we are the subject, and without the anxieties of building a counter archive. In the new archive that was yesterday’s counter, and today’s centre, Panashe’s work reminds us of the need to continue resisting an imperialism that mutates.

Everything bell hooks. I do not have to give reasons why. Do I?

And Audre Lorde. I know I also do not have to give reasons, just as bell hooks above.

I follow most of the people whose thoughts give me life and some of these aren’t necessarily contained in books, but some are, people like Grace Musila, people like Dina Ligaga, people like Caroline Mose, people like Wandia Njoya, people like Mshai Mwangola, people like Keguro Macharia, and I just now realised all these are Kenyan, so I guess, follow the Kenyan public intellectuals of today, the ones who are on Twitter.


Special thanks to Leslie Reese, David DaCosta, Zahrah Nesbitt-Ahmed, Zaynab, Efo Dela & Bwesigye for taking the time to engage with us in this book chat series. It’s been enlightening! THANK YOU 🙂

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Book Chat | On being ‘well read’ (part 1)

Hey everyone!

When you hear the words – ‘well read’, what comes to mind? What does it mean to be ‘well read’?

From my observations over the years, I realized being ‘well read’ was synonymous with being knowledgable in the ‘Classics’ – which typically comprise of the works of English writers like William Shakespeare, Charles Dickens, Jane Austen, Joseph Conrad, Charlotte Brontë ; American writers like John Steinbeck, Harper Lee, Louisa May Alcott, Mark Twain, J.D. Salinger, F. Scott Fitzgerald ; Canadian writers like Margaret Atwood‎, Lucy Maud Montgomery and a myriad of other books by WHITE writers.

Image via Arao Ameny’s Instagram

The concept of being ‘well read’ is very subjective and personal. In my opinion, there’s more to being ‘well read’ than being well-versed in the work of white writers or books we were forced to read in English Literature class.

I was curious to find out how other readers defined being ‘well read’, so I asked some of my favorite readers and writers I follow and interact with via Twitter, Goodreads and Instagram. In this book chat, three of my favorite readers and writers will enlighten us on what it means to be ‘well read’, with some recommendations on which authors and/or books we should indulge in to be considered ‘well read’, per their views on the concept.

Enjoy!

 

Zahrah Nesbitt-Ahmed is an African book lover who’s the creator behind the blog – Bookshy, where she’s been blogging about African literature since 2011. Her wonderful African Book Covers (ABC) Tumblr page, which celebrates African book cover art inspired my book covers showcase here at African Book Addict! Check out her thoughts on being ‘well read’:

  • What does being ‘well read’ mean to you?
The first word that popped into my head when I read the question was ‘informed’, then I thought ‘very informed’, but that word (like ‘well read’) can take on many different meanings.

By ‘informed’ I mean that the reader knows a lot about many things because they have been able to read a lot.

Similar to a well-travelled person, who has been to way too many places. In that sense, a well-read person has read way too many books and so is informed by so many things.

That was my initial thought.

As I kept on thinking, I felt that ‘well read’ is pretty subjective. How many books does it take to become well read? Also, you might be well-read in one particular genre, but not in every single genre ever.

You might be well-read in your field of research. For example, ask me about gender and urbanisation or about paid domestic work and I’ll probably be able to list the key authors and what their arguments are. Ask me about contemporary African literature (in English) and I would like to think I’d able to hold my own with other ‘well-read’ African lit readers. Ask me about Literature from Ethiopia in Amharic (don’t bother), about anything IT or tech-related (seriously, don’t bother).

So, I wouldn’t take well-read purely as the number of books you’ve read since you started reading. I would take it as being very informed as a result of the number of books you’ve read. I also wouldn’t necessarily see well read as being well read in one genre, but being well read across a range: say, fiction, history, non-fiction, art etc.

Although I try not to be prescriptive as to what that entails, a lot of the ‘well-read’ people I know have read the classics, read a lot of non-fiction, as well as newspapers and magazines, and a variety of fiction.

  • Which books and/or authors should be on our reading lists, given your take on what it means to be ‘well read’?

Tough and I wouldn’t even know which 5 to select, but I would definitely include Buchi Emecheta on my list and bell hooks. Currently reading Zora Neale Hurston’s “Their Eyes Were Watching God” so would include that. Sylvia Tamale’s “African Sexualities: A Reader”. My list could go on and on. So I’ll leave it at 4 and leave the 5th one blank – as there are many possibilities.

 


David DaCosta is a Goodreads friend and author who’s views I admire. Since 2002, he’s written an autobiography, two novellas set in Jamaica, a book of poetry, and is currently working on his debut novel. Whenever I’m looking for my next read by a Caribbean writer, I usually like to pick books that DaCosta has reviewed on Goodreads. I appreciate his critical book reviews and hope you all enjoy his thoughts on the concept of being ‘well read’:

  • What does being ‘well read’ mean to you?

‘Well read’ encompasses the spectrum of various mediums of writing, whether literary, newspaper, magazine etc.

  • Which books and/or authors should be on our reading lists, given your take on what it means to be ‘well read’?

As a person who has alternated between living in Jamaica and Toronto for decades now, I have a natural leaning toward Caribbean literature. Earl Lovelace is the greatest author the Caribbean has produced. “The Dragon Can’t Dance” and “The Wine of Astonishment” are masterpieces. Trinidad & Tobago holds Earl Lovelace in high esteem, as they should.

Haitians should hoist Edwidge Danticat high on their shoulders. Her output over the past decade has been stellar. “Create Dangerously” and “Claire of the Sea Light” are both first-rate contributions to the literary world, each representing the best in fiction and nonfiction. Danticat’s latest offering “The Art of Death” further exemplifies her significant talents.

Octavia E. Butler is the definition of genius. I’ve had the privilege of reading five selections of her work (Xenogenesis trilogy, “Parable of the Sower” and “Fledgling”). The common thread that connects them all is a frighteningly authentic sense of realism. As an author, she really takes you there with well researched narratives and immaculate character development. It always amazes me how a black woman became the greatest author in a white dominated genre like Science Fiction. May she rest in peace.

I’ve read my share of works by African authors, mostly Nigerian. “Kehinde” by Buchi Emecheta remains my favorite. The novel truly represents female empowerment in its purest form. Having been raised by a strong woman, I gravitated to this particular protagonist’s character arc. I literally just learned that Miss Emecheta passed away earlier this year. May you rest peacefully my sister.

I’d be remiss If I didn’t make mention of author Uwem Akpan. I stumbled across his powerful collection of stories from the continent one day in 2008 while perusing the ‘Recommended’ shelf at a local library in Toronto. “Say You’re One of Them” stared back at me, daring me to pick it up. Taking its challenge, I did so, studying the front and back covers and eventually checking the book out. Once I began reading, I was hooked. The fact that it explored various countries throughout Africa made it all the more engaging. I can’t say enough about the exceptional level of writing contained within. Oprah eventually introduced the book to the world by making it an official Book club selection the following year.

 


Leslie Reese is the curator of the blog – Folklore & Literacy, where she muses on reading, writing, people, and culture. I enjoy Leslie’s thoughtful pieces as well as her love of literature and occasional book reviews that go beyond the books and storylines, but delve into her past experiences, her skilled photography, her appreciation for first edition book covers and artwork. Leslie is also a loyal visitor and commenter here on African Book Addict! which I deeply appreciate! Check out her thoughts on being ‘well read’:

  • What does being ‘well read’ mean to you? 

I kind of love this question, and I would probably answer it differently for ever year of my reading life!  Today, I’m going to say that being well-read means having an insatiable appetite for reading books that:

(1) nourish my imagination and spirit and tickle my “funny bone;”

(2) challenge me, that teach me things, and make me feel compassion for myself and others;

(3) make me feel connected to my ancestors, as well as connected to people with whom I never expected to share an affinity;

(4) inspire me to be more of myself;

(5) make me feel awestruck/ “blow my mind!”

  • Which books and/or authors should be on our reading lists, given your take on what it means to be ‘well read’?

The only way I can not be overwhelmed trying to answer this question is to select a sampling of works that made me feel awestruck/“blew my mind!” on my first encounter, and continue to feel fresh and striking anytime I open their pages to read from them, again.   

Sula by Toni Morrison

One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

I Love Myself When I Am Laughing and Then Again When I Am Looking Mean and Impressive (A Zora Neale Hurston Reader) edited by Alice Walker

The Collected Poetry of Aimé Césaire translated and with notes by Clayton Eshleman and Annette Smith

A People’s History of the United States 1492 – present by Howard Zinn (1999 edition)

Art on My Mind by bell hooks

The Book of Embraces by Eduardo Galeano

The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson

What does being ‘well read’ mean to YOU?

LIT LINKS MÉLANGE IV

Hey everyone!

I hope the month of October is treating everyone well. Over the weeks and months, I’ve been consuming some great literature finds and gems online. Below is a compilation of some of the LIT links I highly recommend you indulge in:

 

  • This Land is My Land  is a Kickstarter project by three students from Macalester College (Saint Paul, Minnesota) who are publishing a children’s book to build empathy. I really love the unique illustrations (I especially love that the characters are dark-skinned with kinky/ tightly coiled hair!) and strong premise around a necessary character trait everyone must strive to embody – empathy.

I think adults could learn a lot from this children’s book as well. The ways of the world have become quite disheartening and we could all learn to have more empathy with one another. Check out their website and donate to the kickstarter if you can, so they can meet their goal of $7,500 by November 2nd! #WeAreWithAmina

Image via This Land is Our Land website


  • Book bloggers are real readers via The Irish Times. Tunrayo of the blog Tunrayo’s Thoughts tweeted this AMAZING article to me some months ago. I’ve shared this article before in the last LIT Links Mélange, but I just have to share it again. The article articulates and defends the role of book bloggers and the influence we hold. Golden!

  • Pa Gya! Literary Festival in Accra this weekend!! I always feel like I’m missing out whenever there are book festivals in other parts of the continent and in the US when I’m not there. I’m thrilled that Writer’s Project Ghana will be hosting this 3-day literary festival, starting this Friday! Check out the packed schedule and start planning which events you’ll attend, if you’re in Accra :).

Image via Writers Project Ghana website


  • Writing Between Countries and Across Borders via The Lit Hub via Issue 20 of PEN America: A Journal for Writers and Readers is a brilliant conversation between authors – Kwame Anthony Appiah, Marlon James, Jamaica Kincaid, Valeria Luiselli, and Colum McCann. They speak about their creative processes, identity, the concept of home, immigration, their writing careers and more! I wish Jamaica Kincaid spoke more in this conversation, but here are two quotes I LOVED from this conversation, by Jamaica Kincaid –

We are on a powerful continent, and this powerful continent produces so much disturbance that the citizens of the continent would like, when they sit down to read a book, for that book to offer some solace about the human condition. I insist on offering none. 

When I’m writing, I am only true to the thing I’m writing. I find the contemporary obsession with the consideration of others in writing really disturbing, and I almost can’t respect a readership that would expect me to please them.

If you haven’t read any of Jamaica Kincaid’s work yet, I hope these quotes and my book reviews of her work pique your interest! Enjoy this conversations and gain wisdom from these geniuses!

Image via The Lit Hub


I love that she tries to encourage African writers to do away with appealing to foreign/white readers by setting their stories abroad and watering down their texts to accommodate the white gaze. But this article seems to give ‘African literature’ a specific criteria; it also suggests that being ‘African’ or an ‘African writer’ is monolithic and frowns heavily on Afropolitanism. It’s always problematic and divisive when people impose their rigid standards of identity onto others. I have so many thoughts on this article! If you don’t have time to read any of the links in this post, I strongly recommend you indulge in this excellent, yet polarizing article, so we can discuss in the comments!  

Image via Okay Africa


  • Edwidge Danticat on Memory and Migration via The New Yorker. I like to believe Haitian writer – Edwidge Danticat, is known for her beautiful, melancholic writing which really speak to the heart. Enjoy this interview where Danticat talks about Alzheimer’s, family, and hanging on to the past even through heartbreak. (Her short story collection – Krik? Krak!, has been reviewed on this platform. I’m yet to find the words to review her beautifully painful novel – Breath, Eyes, Memory soon)

  • The Elma Lewis Center (of Emerson College in Boston, MA) has blessed us with the The Hidden Figures Syllabus! The syllabus was launched on September 15th, on what would have been Elma Lewis’ 96th birthday.

In honor of Lewis, and in gratitude for the powerful legacy she has left, this syllabus was carefully curated with lists of texts and other resources by and about Black women and femmes from around the African diaspora. This is a resource I will be referring to often, especially when I want to find my next read and raise my awareness on Black literature & culture.

Click image to download the Hidden Figures Syllabus below:

Image via Hidden Figures Syllabus website


  • bone by Yrsa Daley-Ward has been re-released by Penguin Books! I read and reviewed the poetry collection last year, from the self-published edition. This Penguin edition is just as good as the self-published edition but better, as it has new breathtaking poems full of Daley-Ward’s raw, healing writing. If you love poetry by Black women poets, I highly recommend this collection!

Image via African Book Addict! Instagram/ Bookstagram


  • Diriye Osman has launched his new website! In case you’re wondering who Diriye Osman is, he’s the British-Somali author, visual artist, critic and essayist whose short story collection – Fairytales For Lost Children, was my favorite book last year! The collection follows characters who desire to live their lives free from hate, criticism, and scrutiny, while trying to understand the intersectionalities of their identities. Fairytales For Lost Children is probably the best LGBTQ-themed African fiction out there.

The new website looks wonderfully Afro-futuristic and is a compilation of all of Osman’s work – fiction, interviews, essays and reviews of other works. Enjoy!

Image via Diriye Osman’s website

Book chat | The Sankofa Book Club

Are you a member of a book club? If you haven’t found the right book club or you haven’t had time to seek one out where ever you are in the world, I introduce to you a super rich and engaging DIGITAL book club, in the form of a podcast – The Sankofa Book Club.

[collage created by African Book Addict! ; images via The Sankofa Book Club]

I stumbled upon The Sankofa Book Club when I was participating in a book chat (on Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi) on Twitter, last year. I resonated with some of the responses the co-founder – Akua, was tweeting and decided to check out the podcast via iTunes. The Sankofa Book Club is a digital book club with a focus on African literature. The co-hosts are of Ghanaian descent who engage in intelligent and honest conversations around books I adore. The podcast is currently 10 episodes deep and my favorite episodes so far have been their discussions on Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi and Everyday is for the Thief by Teju Cole.

Enjoy the conversation I had with The Sankofa Book Club team where we discuss their origin story, their favorite writers of African descent, favorite snacks to indulge in while reading and more!


  1. What’s the story behind the book club’s name – The ‘Sankofa’ Book Club?

Sankofa is an Adinkra symbol – Adinkra is a collection of symbols from the Akan tradition in Ghana. You can see the symbol incorporated in our logo. The term “sankofa” translates from Twi as “return and get it” and it symbolizes the importance of learning from your past. As we were thinking about what to call the book club, this just seemed so apt. The co-founders are both Ghanaian and we want this book club to be a platform for people to learn about Africa – especially those of us Africans born and raised outside of Africa.


  1. Who’s behind the scenes of The Sankofa Book Club? Briefly tell us about the team members and co-hosts. 

We’re a small team of three. Akua and Mel are co-hosts of the podcast and co-founders of the book club. We focus on producing the podcast and growing our community. Sam is our curator – she researches the books and allocates them every month. However, we are looking to grow, so get in touch if you’re interested!


  1. What was the inspiration for starting a digital book club in podcast form? Will there be book club meet-ups in the future where the team is based?

The inspiration was several different thoughts popping up in my head in no particular order:

  • I (Akua) worked on podcasts through work in digital marketing.
  • It was an exciting new media but like most things in this world, it was whitewashed.
  • Mel and I have thought-provoking conversation anyway.
  • I really like African lit and wished I could join a book club like that.
  • I don’t live in London, don’t have the time or energy to do that in London.
  • Why are we limiting ourselves to London?
  • Let’s do a podcast on African lit.
  • It may as well be a book club.

We love that we’re digital and interacting with people all over the world and we don’t want to lose that. However, a live recording in London will definitely be happening in the near future.


  1. How do you decide on which books to read? Why focus on African Literature?

Sam does research into the themes, what people are currently reading and uses that choose a book each month. It helps us stay relevant and prevents us from being repetitive.

Africa is more than the world’s charity case, and who better to tell the true story of Africa than Africans. That’s why we focus on African literature. We want to hear a different narrative. We want to be a different narrative.


  1. Who is your target audience? How has the reception been, after the 10 episodes (and counting) that are available?

Anyone interested in Africa, literature and/or both! What we’d really love is for people who don’t feel connected to the continent to use this as a relaxed and fun way to learn, or just read something different. There’s loads of brilliant African literature out there getting very little attention. We want to change that.

The reception of SBC has been really positive. It’s interesting to see that a lot of our audience is actually in Africa, who just appreciate the discussion.



6. Random Bookish Facts:

  • a) How do you like your books – Hardcovers, paperbacks, audiobooks or e-books?

Akua – Paperback.

Mel – Paperback mostly, hardback if it’s affordable; not a fan of audiobooks.

Sam – Paperback until quite recently. E-books are more handy and make my commute less boring and bulky.

••

  • b) Do you usually read – New books, used books, borrowed/stolen books (from friends) or library books?

Akua – A brand new book from Waterstones.

Mel – Usually brand new books but I’m also a lover of borrowed/stolen books.

Sam – Definitely new books (I do steal a lot of book lists though).

••

  • c) What is/are your favorite book genre(s)? (Poetry, thrillers, romance, short stories, literary fiction, non-fiction etc.)

Akua – Poetry. It’s simple but deep.

Mel – Thrillers. I enjoy the suspense and drama.

Sam – Historical Fiction! I love a good mystery too.

••

  • d) Favorite snacks/beverages to indulge in while reading?

Akua – Biscuits or cake.

Mel – Peppermint tea all day everyday.

Sam – Potato Chips and chocolate. There’s something about the crunch that keeps me going.


  1. Who are your top three favorite African writers, and why?

Akua – Her Majesty Queen Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Chinua Achebe and Afua Hirsch. The first two are authors of my favourite books so by default my favourite writers. Afua Hirsch is a journalist, half English, half Ghanaian. When I see a cutting edge, non-conformist article on current affairs, I just know she wrote it. Such an intelligible Black British voice! I so appreciate her. She has a book coming out in January 2018.


Mel – Chimamanda Ngozi and Chigozie Obioma. I’m still on the hunt for my third favourite African author. Chimamanda is amazing for her attention to detail and empowering me as a women and an individual of African descent. Chigozie is special for his gift of reflecting his literary influences in his novels. He also has a knack for eloquently describing a mere moment, allowing the reader to see it from an in-depth perspective.


Sam – I’m pretty old school so I’m going to say Ama Ata Aidoo because of her style and her pioneering work in African Literature with regards to female independence and empowerment. Wole Soyinka next because I love his sense of humour and the wisdom in his writing. I will have to concede that more recently I too have developed a soft spot for Chimamanda Ngozi. She just embodies everything. She is intelligent, eloquent and still relatable. She has a way of dissecting literally all things that matter to young black women so plainly yet extremely intuitive.


  1. Finally, what can listeners and readers look forward to in the future for The Sankofa Book Club?

Akua – Amazing guests on the podcast and more interaction with our book club members! We know we have a consistent audience out there, we see you and we love you!

Mel – I’d like to echo what Akua has said and add that listeners can also expect that we will continue to encourage their inner book worm.

Sam – More exciting and representative books!!


Catch up with The Sankofa Book Club: Website | Soundcloud  | Twitter | Instagram

Caribbean Literature chat with writer, Joanne C. Hillhouse

How do you feel about literature from the Caribbean? Who are some of your favorite writers of Caribbean descent? 2 months ago, I sent out a Tweet asking for recommendations of book bloggers & blogs that focus on Caribbean literature/culture. I received a good number of responses, with most of them having a focus on Caribbean Kid Lit & Mommy blogs.

(click image to see responses via Twitter)

As I was receiving recommendations, I realized that I had been following writer Joanne C. Hillhouse’s website and blog for almost 2 years now. For those who don’t know, Joanne C. Hillhouse is a writer of Antiguan descent, based in Antigua. She’s the founder of Wadadli Youth Pen Prize (founded in 2004), which is ‘an annual writing challenge, guiding young Creatives toward culturally relevant literary expression, and nurturing and showcasing their best efforts.’ Hillhouse’s website and blog have been staples of mine when it comes to getting my Caribbean literature fix, as she often gives lots of recommendations and shares her experiences reading various books from the Islands.

Joanne C. Hillhouse was gracious enough to chat with me via email on Caribbean literature, the reading culture in Antigua, her favorite writers/Caribbean (book) blogs and the Wadadli Youth Pen Prize. Get your TBRs ready, because they will definitely grow after you indulge in this wholesome book chat, with writer Joanne C. Hillhouse. (note – ‘JH’ represents Joanne C. Hillhouse’s responses).

Enjoy!


  1. At what age did you read your first novel by a Caribbean writer? How was that experience?

JH: I can’t remember. My introduction to Caribbean literature, the way I remember it, was primarily through the oral tradition (jumbie stories, folk stories, Anansi stories, even calypso the more narrative of which I still sometimes use in workshops) and through short stories used in school. I remember short stories like the one about Millicent with her prideful nature and her organdy dress, by Merle Hodge, though I’m not sure I registered who the author was at the time as this was primary school or at highest first form of secondary school, and Millicent and her classroom tyranny was what resonated.

I remember excerpts of Michael Anthony’s The Year in San Fernando standing out as well. Actually, this is unlocking a memory of what might, emphasis on might, have been the first Caribbean book I read, Miguel Street by V. S. Naipual. My brother was in secondary school and I believe it was one of his, but I read it, recognized it, loved it.

I also remember reading Sam Selvon’s A Brighter Sun, I think it was A Brighter Sun, in secondary school over the summer in third form maybe, and then by the time term started it had been dropped from the reading list; I remember that because I remember being disappointed. It didn’t help that I didn’t fall in love with the Caribbean book I ultimately did have to study – no further comment on that.

A book that stands out though, though this would have been later teens, is Jamaica Kincaid’s Annie John, which hit close to home in many ways, not least of which because I, too, was a girl from Antigua and I recognized the physical, socio-cultural, and emotional landscape of the book. I mark this as one of the books that opened up a portal of possibility for me in terms of me becoming a writer.

 


  1. What’s the reading culture like in Antigua and Barbuda? Is Caribbean literature required reading in the school system?

JH: Most of the reading of Caribbean literature that happens, I would say, happens in school and even there it’s limited, though I can’t speak specifically to what’s required reading or what isn’t and how much it’s changed since my school days. I’ve been fortunate to have some of my books read in the schools, including The Boy from Willow Bend which has been on the schools reading list here in Antigua and in Anguilla for years. I have been fortunate, as well, to meet some of the young people who did have to read my books in school and they didn’t seem to hate it the way we tend to things we’re obligated to do, which is always the danger. They seem to like them actually.

But the reality is that outside of school, Caribbean books are not widely read, though it’s perhaps better than it was. I grew up reading more books from England and the U.S. –they were just more readily available (and weren’t school books) and I don’t think that has changed as much as I’d like to wish. I would distinguish though between reading and storytelling, and though one of our leaders, reportedly, once said that we’re not a reading public, I would venture to say that we have always been a storytelling public – stories handed down have sustained our culture from the time when we didn’t have agency over our own lives (slavery) to present (post-Independence), and I think people appreciate seeing some of our stories written down.


  1. How prevalent is African literature in Antigua? Are books by African writers sold in bookshops and/or read & raved about among book lovers on the Island?

JH: Not very. Some are sold, yes, but honestly perhaps more so those who’ve been embraced in Western culture – like a Chimamanda Adichie.


  1. You’ve successfully published six books and I plan on getting my hands on your recent novel – Oh Gad!, especially after Trinidadian-American writer Elizabeth Nunez recommended it on NPR’s Weekend Reads. How long have you been a writer? Do labels like ‘Antiguan writer’ or ‘Caribbean writer’ limit how you identify as a writer?

JH: How long have I been a writer… I remember going to see Chariots of Fire on a class trip in primary school and not really getting it but liking the theme music and making up lyrics, that I still sort of remember, to that theme music. There are probably other moments like that, but that’s one I remember. Then I remember journaling and attempting my first story in a black and white note book my Tanty used to own and write in, when she died. Her death was very traumatic, and that notebook and the silver bracelets I still wear were things of hers that I held on to. Then, in my teens, probably earlier, entering school essay competitions – around tourism and Independence themes; won a trip to another Caribbean island once and my mom sent my big sister with me, I imagine because I was too young to travel alone though she is only a year and change older than me.

Lots of writing activity in my teens, poetry, short fiction, song lyrics, including one that I worked out with my guitar teacher and submitted it with the youth choir I was then a part of to a sub-regional radio Christmas carol competition; I still have that prize plaque. I remember taking my stories to show to one of my English teachers when I started the Antigua State College, one of the first times I sought critical feedback. Then at the College, between age 16 and 18, I would write plays, soapy melodramas in retrospect, that were performed by the College drama group; on to the University of the West Indies where I was both taught (fiction) and mentored by Mervyn Morris, who then recommended me for my first fiction writing workshop, the Caribbean Fiction Writers Summer Institute facilitated by Olive Senior at the University of Miami. It was there that I started work on what would become my first book.

I’m not a fan of labels and I try not to think in terms of limitations, though I’m certainly aware of and have encountered the obstacles in the path of a writer from a small place – first within the wider Caribbean and then internationally. The world of publishing is paradoxically both crowded and vast. But as far as the writing goes… every writer comes from somewhere, right? New Orleans pulses in the writings of Anne Rice and Ireland was richly rendered by Maeve Binchy, Mario Puzo embedded his readers in a particular part of the Italian-American experience, Junot Diaz provides a window to the Dominican-American experience and Edwidge Danticat to the Haitian experience; their locales/cultures enriched the work rather than limiting them. Antigua and the Caribbean are in my skin, on my tongue, and in my writing. I embrace that. One of my favourite reviews – plural because it’s been said more than once, about more than one piece of writing – has come from readers, Antiguan or otherwise, who have described my writing as unapologetically Antiguan/Caribbean. My stories are particular, and, I like to hope, potentially universal not in spite of but because of that.


  1. You’re the founder and coordinator of the amazing Wadadli Youth Pen Prize, which promotes the literary arts among young people in Antigua and Barbuda. What inspired you to start this writing program and how has the reception been since its launch in 2004?

JH: I was at a luncheon in Canada, the Caribbean-Canadian literary expo, maybe the first off-island literary event I was invited to as a published author, in 2003; and the featured speaker at the luncheon was a Guyanese writer of my generation (Ruel Johnson) who spoke of the lack of nurseries for potential or emerging writers in the region. As I had felt that lack keenly coming of age in Antigua, I foolishly resolved to do something about it, and when I got home I fired off a proposal to my first two partners without fully understanding the commitment I was making or the work involved.

It has experienced peaks and valleys in terms of the response; this was our best year numerically and also our most challenging because of those high numbers. It’s hard for me to assess its reception; I’m too deep in it. I only know that it has come to mean as much to me as anything I’ve written, I’ve seen people who’ve come through it go on to do things creatively, I believe that it is now part of the cultural landscape and at the same time something that still has a lot of growing to do…and that it’s been something like a labour of love that has got to become more institutionalized if it is to survive me (or my ability to do it), and I want that.

The breakdown on Wadadli Pen and its works and impacts can be found here: https://wadadlipen.wordpress.com/about


  1. I enjoy visiting Wadadli Pen, as well as your personal website Jhohadli as there’s always fresh content on the literary happenings in the Caribbean! Do you frequent other websites or book blogs that focus on Caribbean literature? If so, please recommend your top 3 favorite websites/blogs.

JH: I follow many book, arts, and cultural blogs Caribbean and not Caribbean. Top three Caribbean? I’m much too indecisive to ever have a definitive top 3 but the Caribbean(ish) blogs I have most recently interacted with are Island Editions by a Canadian author who divides her time between Canada and Bequia and blogs on publishing and writing mostly; Repeating Islands which curates Caribbean themed content from different sources; and Random Michelle, an Antiguan blogger who regularly posts photo prompts to which I like to challenge myself to respond. So, I’ll mention those with a shout out to the Paper-Based book blog, the blog of a Trinidad based bookshop, written by poet and reviewer Shivanee Ramlochan, who also reviews books for the Caribbean Beat magazine and at her personal blog Novel Niche: A Place for Books and who recently published her debut collection – the blog reviews Caribbean books, including my own Musical Youth and a blog, Jamaican Woman Tongue, run by one of my favourite former professors from the University of the West Indies, Carolyn Cooper.


  1. I’ve enjoyed works by Jamaica Kincaid, Edwidge Danticat and Austin Clarke and I hope to indulge in more novels from the Islands, including yours. For those who are new to literature from the Caribbean, which books and/or authors do you highly recommend?

JH: Some of my favourite Caribbean books of fiction would be:

The Farming of Bones by Edwidge Danticat

Lucy by Jamaica Kincaid

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz

The Lonely Londoners by Sam Sevlon

Fear of Stones by Kei Miller

Gone to Drift by Diana McCaulay

The Book of Night Woman by Marlon James

Waiting in Vain by Colin Channer

White Woman on the Green Bicycle by Monique Roffey

Buxton Spice by Oonya Kempadoo

A good introductory read to contemporary Caribbean fiction, meanwhile, would be Pepperpot: Best New Stories from the Caribbean.

Other links on my blogs:


  1. Finally, do you have any new books or projects in the works for readers and writers to look forward to in the near future?

JH: Works in progress, at least three, one of which is a sequel to Musical Youth, the first book was a finalist for the Burt Award; one of which is a novel with two main women characters from very different worlds; and one of which I can best describe as character vignettes in a moving space. I have been trying to get funding or a residency or something that would allow me to just sit and work on digging in to these for a long uninterrupted while, but short of that I continue incrementally and have been for some time. Bills have to be paid, you know, and I freelance as a writer, editor, workshop facilitator, and writing coach, I love it but the hustle can be draining. But those three that I mentioned, which is more than I’ve said publicly before, more than I like to say at all about works in progress, but maybe saying it will push things along, lol, those three are the works in progress that may be books someday. But there are various works, non-fiction to short fiction to poetry, in various stages of progress. I try to write a bit every day, so I’m always working on something.

Coming soon, a re-issue with new art of my first picture book Fish Outta Water, so look out for that, totally new aesthetic, and I have to note that still new, so I’m still in promotion mode on that, is With Grace, my second picture book, a Caribbean fairytale which debuted in December; and I’m still hoping more people will discover the previous books all of which are listed on my website.

Works by Joanne C. Hillhouse


Thanks so much for taking the time to chat with me on literature from the Caribbean. I hope we get to do this again soon!

JH: Thanks for the interest and the opportunity.

2015 at the University of the (US) Virgin Islands Literary Festival & Book Fair where Hillhouse (on the right) was a panelist and Jamaica Kincaid (on the left) was the featured speaker.

Photo via Joanne C. Hillhouse – Wadadli Pen