Monday, September 27, 2010

Know Your Laureate of African Origin Part I

Albert Camus, Nobel Laureate 1957
Beginning today, I would profiling Nobel Laureates of African descent every Monday. Since there aren't many of them this postings would last all through October, unless new events come in. 

Today we talk about Albert Camus. Camus (November 7, 1913 to January 4, 1960) is the first Nobel Laureate in Literature of African descent. He is a French Algerian Author, Philosopher and Journalist. His biography at the Nobel website states that he was a representative of non-metropolitan French literature. His origin in Algeria and his experiences there in the thirties were dominating influences in his thought and work. Of semi-proletarian parents, early attached to intellectual circles of strongly revolutionary tendencies, with a deep interest in Philosophy (only chance prevented him from pursuing a university career in that field), he came to France at the age of twenty-five. 

Camus joined the resistance movement during the occupation and after the liberation was a columnist for the newspaper Combat. He retired from journalism and became active in writing fiction and essays. Similarly, he was also active in the theatre as a producer and a playwright.

Camus' essay The Myth of Sisyphus, 1942, expounds his notion of the absurd and of its acceptance with "the total absence of hope, which has nothing to do with despair, a continual refusal, which must not be confused with renouncement - and a conscious dissatisfaction".

"We refuse to despair of mankind. Without having the unreasonable ambition to save men, we still want to serve them"--Camus.

Camus was awarded the Nobel in 1957 but died less than three years later in a car accident, aged forty-six.

  • The Stranger (1942)
  • The Plague (1947)
  • The Fall (1956)
  • A Happy Death (1971, posthumously)
  • The First Man (1995, posthumously)

Short Stories Collections
  • Exile and the Kingdom (collection) (1957)
  • The Adulterous Woman (1937)
  • The Renegade or a Confused Spirit
  • The Silent Man
  • The Guest
  • Jonas or the Artist at Work
  • The Growing Stone
Non-Fiction Books
  • Betwixt and Between (Collection, 1937)
  • Nuptials (1938)
  • The Myth of Sisyphus (1942)
  • The Rebel (1951)
  • Notebooks 1935-1942 (1962)
  • Notebooks 1943-1951 (1965)
  • Notebooks 1951-1959 (2008)

  • Create Dangerously (Essay on Realism and Artistic Creation) (1957)
  • The Ancient Greek Tragedy (1956)
  • The Crisis Man (1946)
  • Why Spain (1948)
  • Reflections on the Guillotine (Extended Essay 1957)
  • Neither Victim Nor Executioners (1946)
  • Caligula (Written 1938, performed 1945)
  • Requiem for a Nun (1956)
  • The Misunderstanding (1944)
  • The State of Siege (1948)
  • The Just Assassins (1949)
  • The Possessed (1959)
  • Resistance, Rebellion and Death (1961- ) a collection of Essays Selected by the author
  • Lyrical and Critical Essays (1970)
  • Youthful Writings (1976)
  • Between Hell and Reason: Essays from Resistance Newspaper "Combat", 1944-1947 (1991)
  • Camus at "Combat": writing 1944-1947 (2001)
Read about Albert Camus here and there.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

37-39. Non-African Books I have Read this Year

This blog is aimed at promoting African Literature. Consequently, all interviews, reviews, events, and profiles concern African authors, published or unpublished. However, a suggestion was made that once a while I let others in on non-African authored books I have been reading and so to resolve this, I tried conducting a poll. Unfortunately, the question got lost in the dark background of the blog and there was no way I could edit it.

What I am doing today is to also solicit your views concerning the inclusion of non-African authored books. The reasoning behind this blog is simple. I have read a lot of book blogs and almost always, about ninety-nine percent of what they read, reviewed or talked about were Western books. Only a few book bloggers profiled  authored by Africans and even then the usual authors comprising Chinua Achebe, Wole Soyinka, Ngugi wa Thiong'o, Ben Okri and recently Chimamanda were the most discussed books. So I decided to use this blog to fill that gap, blogging for a niche readers, those ready to know about Africa's literary folks, up and coming and those already established.

Initially, I was scared of not having much to talk about. And I am glad to say that I was wrong to be scared. New books are published on daily basis by Africans, and if one wants to talk about then, one would publish a blog a day. However, like most of you, I also keep a 8am to 5pm job; hence my inability to reach out fully.

So for those who want to know what I do read in addition my African books, today I present those non-African authored books I have read this year, not much though considering the fact that my readings this year has severely been affected. Last year September I read 8 books, whilst keeping an 8-5 job; this year I have read only two or three. However, this post would not be frequent because I don't want to risk populating this blog with non-African authored books; I don't want to fall under the Western literature spell; I don't want to lose sight of my vision for this blog. So books presented here would not be reviewed, I would only talk about them. Matter of semantics? Wait and see!

99. Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood
My followers on twitter would know how much I loved this book. The simple reason is that I enjoyed the vision of Atwood and it reflected mine. I have always talked to friends about my fear of Science. Not as a subject but the misapplication of its boundary-pushing researches and findings. Like nanotechnology, like artificial intelligence, like anti-matter, like DNA splicing and many others. I am afraid that humans would be the cause of their own extinction and that if I were God, I would create no Hell for man, with time, would annihilate itself. We are more than capable. What haven't we done with the Nuclear bombs? Baghdad, Kabul, Vietnam, Hiroshima and Nagasaki are all there for us to see.

100. Possession by A.S. Byatt
This book was too academic and again, my followers on facebook and twitter would know that I abandoned this book and picked it up again. Its abandonment is not a result of disinterest but the difficulty in penetrating certain sections. The overall story is interesting, yet it is too academic and draws a lot of attention to the writer. It makes you always realise that there is someone writing something. Besides, I didn't like the small fonts. It makes reading tedious. What about the reading of long diary entries? I hated them. Sometimes you lost yourself. The poems were way beyond my comprehension. However, I love the use of diary entries in the telling of the lives of Randolph Ash and Christian Lamotte and the parallels it draws with Roland and Maud. Byatt reached for much and came with a work too academic. Yet, I rushed to look for Randolph Ash only to realise that it is a fictional creation of Byatt. Why wouldn't I congratulate her then?

101. A House for Mr. Biswas by V.S. Naipaul
Alright so this is the last of Naipaul's books I would ever read and thank God I have none unread in my shelf. The other only other book I read was A Bend in the River. This book is dystopian; very depressing. I wonder how fun could be created from a life so dejected. What I never understood was how Mr. Biswas couldn't make himself happy from the academic performance of Anand. The character of Mr. Biswas is one of depression filled with the I-can-do-nothing behaviour. Always blaming someone. I think his wife was also too attached to her parents; never wanting anything his other sisters don't yet have. Everything Mr. Biswas tried doing was causing her shame, especially if her other sisters don't already have it. I was bored to the core. I really didn't like any of them but I sympathised most often with Mr. Biswas. I also like his gradual upgrade in life and had it not been his fear of absolute progress, partially fortified and entrenched by Shama, his wife, he would have made a big impact. And for him to die shows the extent of Naipaul's love for depression. 

Dear readers, kindly let me know what you think: Should this be a quarterly affair or should I drop it?

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Criterion Calls for Submission

The Criterion: An International Journal in English, ISSN (0976-8165) invites academic articles, poetry, short fiction, book reviews, interviews with author or critic for its forthcoming issue, Vol. I, Issue III (December 2010). Deadline is 1st November 2010. Send your submission(s) to Editor-in-Chief Dr. Vishwanath Bite to this email: 

Visit their homepage for details.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Interview with Ngozi Achebe, Author of The Blacksmith's Daughter

Today, I interview Dr. Ngozi Achebe, a Medical Practitioner, a mother and an author. Dr Achebe's novelist first novel, The Blacksmith Daughter has just been published. 

This interview is the last of six-interviews I scheduled with six new authors from three different countries. It started with Tendai Huchu (Zimbabwe), Nana Ekua Brew-Hammond (Ghana), Osundolire Ifelanwa, Myne Whitman (both from Nigeria) and Bryony Rheams (Zimbabwe). However, I also interviewed Fred McBagonluri (Ghana) along the line.

Can you tell us something about yourself?
I'm a medical doctor and a mother of two. I currently live in the States where I practice medicine and also write. Onaedo is my first published book.

When did you begin your literary writings?
As a child, especially growing up around people that wrote a lot and read a lot.

Which books did you find yourself reading whilst growing up and which are you currently reading?

I read quite a variety of books growing up. I was lucky that way. Everything from Agatha Christie to Flora Nwapa to Kofi Awoonor to Ngaio Marsh to Ernest Hemingway were in my father's or Uncle John's library and were in my repertoire. I loved crime writers and whodunits.

How do you combine your medical practice with your writing?
If you are interested enough in something you'll make the time. I'm passionate about my writing as I am about medicine and I'm truly lucky to be able to be able to do both.

Your choice of genre, Historical Fiction, has not been widely written about by Africans novelists. Are you writing for a niche market? And would future works follow suit?
I hope historical fiction will not be a niche market in Africa. I think we should be interested in our history and in telling it ourselves instead of letting others tell it for us. I will write of other things that interest me and also hope that it will interest others.

What particularly motivated you to write Blacksmith's Daughter? And what motivates you to write in general?
I wrote Onaedo because I came across an interesting story that I felt needed to be told and luckily I found an audience. I like books, even fictional ones, to tell me something new I didn't know before or something familiar told in a new way.

How does having prominent writers in your family affected and/or influenced your writings?
It has been positive because I have in-built role models- luckily for me.

More often e find that if a family member creates a following for himself or herself in an area, it becomes difficult for other relations to command a unique following without that person being linked to his or her primogenitor. Have people compared you with Chinua Achebe? And if yes how do you take it?
I have had one or two favorable comparisons to my uncle Chinua Achebe and I have been extremely flattered because being compared to him in any way at all is like being compared to Shakespeare or similar giants or legends of literature. It has made me try even harder to improve my craft and hopefully continue to create my own personal style.

What difference are you bringing to the Nigerian (African and World) Literature?
The love of history and an inquiring mind; to begin to ask questions about the past. History by definition is the past but it is always relevant to the present in unexpected ways.

What do you intend to achieve with your writing?
To entertain, to inform and hopefully to change lives. For every writer the emphasis is different. 

Which writing style are you comfortable with and which do you find challenging?
The narrative style is what I used for Onaedo. I will try something different maybe in my next book.

How difficult was it for you to become published?
Quite difficult but I persevered. I had faith in my story.

Tell us something about your book, Onaedo: The Blacksmith's Daughter?
It is set along the West African coast at the time of Portuguese exploration and tells the story of those early interactions and how things went so badly wrong.

How did you feel when you saw your name on the cover of the book?
Very excited and grateful.

Where could one get your book to buy, within and outside Nigeria?
In the US, it is in all the bookstores, Barnes and Noble, Borders etc. You can also order it online. In UK and Canada for now it is only online but is making its way into bookstores. In Nigeria, it will be available on the November 5, 2010 and for the rest of Africa in a month or two after that.

Any work in progress?
Yes. I'm hoping it will be out towards end of next year.

Is there anything you would want your readers to know?
I want to thank the ones who have read it and offered their opinion, whether good, bad, or ugly. All is appreciated. And for those who haven't, here's to hoping they do.

Thank you for your time
The pleasure is mine. Thank you.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Library Additions and Other Award News

What would you do when you have searched for a book for so long and the time you found it, at a bookshop, you had only as much money as would take you back to the office? Do you buy it and walk, knowing that the distance between your current location, the bookshop, to your destination, the office, can in noway be covered by walking; or would you forgo it and risk spending another ten years or more searching for it? I chose the former and prayed for a miracle. And this is how come I have in my possession Ayi Kwei Armah's The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born. Yeah! But I did not walk after the purchase. Miraculously, I met a friend who also love Ayi Kwei Armah and he lent me some money for transport and also got himself a copy.

In Other News
Shachi Kaul
The Commonwealth Short Story Competition 2010 winners have been announced. The overall winner was Shachi Kaul from India with Retirement. Shachi is a banker and former hotelier. She started writing during a sabbatical from work. Chief among her goals is to tell stories rooted in contemporary India that resonates with people everywhere. Her writing--both prose and poetry--is beginning to appear in thematic anthologies in Asia. Currently, she is working on her first novel.
Karen Jennings

The African Region winner was Karen Jennings from South Africa with From Dark. Karen was born in Cape Town in 1982. She holds Masters degrees in both English Literature and Creative Writing from the University of Cape Town. In 2009, she won the English Section of the Maskew Miller Longman (South Africa) Short Story Competition with her story The Shark. 
Shola Olowu-Asante
The Antie Isong Special Prize for a story coming from Nigeria was won by Shola Olowu-Asante with Dinner for Three. Shola was born in Nigeria but lives in Edinburgh with her husband and two children. She is a freelance broadcast journalist and has only just begun to try her hand at creative writing.

Read the rest here.

The Short Story Genre: Chimamanda and Uwem in The New Yorker

Adichie, in TNY
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, author of Half of a Yellow Sun, Purple Hibiscus and The Thing Around Your Neck, has published a short story in The New Yorker titled Birdsong. Follow this link to read so that we can discuss in the comment box.

Also, in January of this year, Uwem Akpan, author of the dystopian short story collection, Say You're One of Them, an Oprah Book Club selection, published another short story in The New Yorker titled Baptizing the Gun. Read this piece and let me know what you think. Follow the link here.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

A Curve in the Tell

There is a curve
deeply seated in their tell
of how things that must be
of how the bird
instead of flying

and becomes no longer
a bird
but a frog.

I cannot see
with borrowed eyes
or think
with(in) a mind not mine

but must unity's quest
merge all selves
into a homogenous consistency
such that you curve
the tale of your tell?

when our survival
is only insured
through gene-crossing
at conception point?

So you cal me this-and-that
for refusing to be

There is a curve
in your tell.

copyright by Nana Fredua-Agyeman

It's been a long time since I last posted a poem of mine here.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

36. Before I Forget by Andre Brink, A Review

Title: Before I Forget
Author: Andre Brink
Genre: Novel (Reflective)
Publisher: Vintage
Pages: 311
Year of First Publication: 2004 (this edition, 2008)
Country: South Africa

"You died at seventeen minutes to ten" is the first sentence in this reflective novel by Andre Brink, a two-time Booker Shortlist author of An Instant in the Wind (in 1976) and Rumours of Rain (in 1978).

The story, written in the first person but shifting between the present and the past, is a tribute by Chris Minnaar, a writer at the twilight of his life and career, addressing a loved one, who had just passed away. This love one is young Rachel who, though married, together with her husband, has kept Chris Minnaar, the first person writer and narrator, as a friend and a member of their family. Chris reminisces all the fun he had had with her and how he appreciated it. However, Chris intelligently tells his life story through this 'address' by digressing from a given point he is making or rather linking an incident he is describing with another that had happened many years past, mostly with the involvement of a woman. A romantic or erotic involvement as such. Yet, this digression seemed to be unintentional and the gap between the present and past is difficult to point out.

Though Chris Minnaar, hadn't written a novel or better still completed one since the mid-nineties he uses this address, this talk of his life to write something like a memoir. The book (or memoir) was written like the rantings of an old decrepit man, who is eager to record his lascivious deeds before he dies. As a result it is achronological, moving back and forth to tell the story according to how best his memory serves him. Again, since it is like a rant, an intelligent and readable rant, the book has not been divided into chapters but in un-numbered sections, marked by spaces. 

In the story, parallels are made between erotic love and the war in Iraq, and Chris's love for Opera, especially Don Giovanni.

With the many encounters with women, which almost always results in sex, one is likely to describe the book as sexist. But is the book sexist? May be yes! Emphatically no! However, it has a sex twists to every incident including the war in Iraq. This is what Chris has to say about the Bush's war in Iraq:
There may be much more behind the whole war than oil. Perhaps macho America is finally finding a way to break out of a terrible depression brought on by women's liberation and by the crushing blow inflicted by 9/11 on the two phallic towers that embodied the national male ego. A Bush in hand is worth two birds (Page 105)
Iraq may well be Bush's big wet dream, his passage into his own warped notion of manhood. It is sickening to behold (Page 121)
Besides, over ninety percent of the women in the novel had sex with Chris including a German lecturer Grethe who, as a visiting lecturer, had sex with thirteen (13) male lecturers and died of cancer a month later and a 'Hotnot' South African girl who had sex with both Chris and his father, when the Immoral Act was at its peak. There was also a girl who begged to be strangled during sex. This lewd representation doesn't mar the quality of Brink's prose. It elevates it, for he is able to handle his subjects with such dexterity that it salvages it from utter baseness.

Though some may feel the book to be filled with Freudian concepts, this is what Chris wrote concerning one of his relationship with a particular lady
Andre Brink
... I was up in arms with her, against the world of men deranged by testosterone. I wanted to protect her, I had to protect her; and for once the very fact that she was beautiful, and vulnerable, ensured that I would never dream of taking advantage of her... (Page 142)
And Chris Minnaar is neither a sexist nor patronising of his women. For it was after his non-amorous encounter and friendship with Rachel and his husband George that he realised, perhaps, the futility of his earlier libidinous encounters; that he realised that marriage, after all, may have something good in it.

Again, the book isn't all about sex and wine and fun. It was written on the backdrop of a country that was struggling through political uncertainties: the Sharpeville event, the Soweto '76 crisis, and the release of Mandela. The narrative-author, Chris, had a lot of bushes with the government of the day in relation to what he wrote in his novels.

Chris's main interest in writing about his life is because of his amnesiac mother, who at 102 years couldn't hold one regular conversation with his son without digressing. Thus, Chris at 78 years wanted to write down his deeds before he forgets, like his mother. However, his mother, even at that age spoke of freedom that was denied her and it was something that came up constantly in her irregular conversations with her son. This is what he said to Chris during one of his visits to her at her old age home
Nobody said a word about his philandering. They all looked up to him, envied him. But if I dare to go out with a man on a Saturday night, even if it is for a meal or a film, all the fingers point at me (Page 280)
And this was after the death of her husband.

My problem with the book is that, scenes are too predictive. One can easily guess what would happen to a lady who has just been introduced into the story. There were some diversions but they didn't pull me in. And this made the scenes and the telling to monotonous. I also think the character, Chris, could have been more complex. Besides, it took too long for us to know what really happened to Rachel and even when it came it was like a sentence or so long.  In effect, I enjoyed Praying Mantis more than I enjoyed this.

However, there is a lot to be learnt from this novel and  I would recommend it to any reader. But if you detest reading about sex please don't read it, though it is not so detailed and too graphic to cause much discomfort.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Interview with Fred McBagonluri

Fred McBagonluri, PhD
Keeping this blog has brought me into 'virtual' contact with great personalities whom, even in my wildest and widest daydreams, I would not have met let alone communicate with. I am glad that ImageNations has done this for me.

Last Tuesday, September 7, I profiled Dr Fred McBagonluri, a scientist who finds time to write. Dr McBagonluri promised to grant ImageNations an interview even though he is busy as a Sloan Member of MIT. Yes, you read it well. He deals with complex mathematical equations and computerised innovations and still finds time to write. This interview has shot my heart and mind on a joyous trajectory. So here is the interview.

You have achieved great feat as an Engineer, almost nearly making it to Space. Dr. McBagonluri, can you please tell us something about yourself? Not related to your fiction writing.
I was raised by my grandparents in East Legon (Bawaleshie), who never had any formal education. Obviously, they were the wisest people I knew. They always believed in my potential and never relented. I am a testimony to their lives. Without them I'll be nobody. I speak a lot of Ghanaian languages fluently--Dagaare and Ga.

An article I read about you said you corresponded with NASA when you were in primary school at the University of Ghana during the period Astronauts made it to the moon. Were you thinking of being there at that age?
I have heard this as well but I don't remember this correspondence. Although I was always enamored with Astronauts and Space since I was a child. I read about them in Time Magazine and Newsweek, when I was a child. Space for me was man's last boundary of ignorance that had to be unraveled. I never doubted that I would vigorous contest that chance in later life. Anyone, who knew me then would not have doubted that.

Since when did you discover that you would want to write fiction?
My Form Four English Teacher, Moses Donneyong was a major source of inspiration. He was the best teacher I ever had. He demystified the language for me. His feedback from my essays convinced me that I could write. My friend Francis Egu was another inspiration. He summarized for me all the African Writers Series that he read. Thanks to him the only one I ever had to read myself was Ngugi's Weep Not Child. Finally, I had the chance to sit across Prof. Ngugi wa Thiong'o as Smith College around 1997. He was an impressive man.

As an engineer, and a top grade one, how are you able to engineer time to write fiction?
I write mostly on Friday nights. The stress of the week and the anticipation of a restful weekend provide unique creative spur. I also write when I am traveling. There is a lot of musing one gets from the clouds.

I see top grade engineers as individuals who don't have time for earthly issues like fiction. I always picture them reading voluminous books with complex mathematical equations and formulae. The kind of things that could scare people who are not privileged enough to be within such a coterie of minds. Where did this passion for writing come from and how do you get the time to even write?
I have had a unique life. My writing is a reflection of that. I have always been fascinated about human nature and the human experience. And that features in my writing. I have never doubted that the brightest star of nature is humanity. When one can understand how such a superior and complex creature is capable of both kindness and evil one is obliged to write about it.

My grandparents were the best storytellers in the world. Our home in East Legon was a legendary center of convergence for the surrounding villages in the 70s and 80s. Stories were a part of this. The sociology of that interaction left images in my mind that with time translated to words. Writing for me is an outlet, albeit a sociological one.

How are you able to demarcate the line between the writing of very technical scientific papers and fiction?
Technical writing is an attempt to create a better future for humanity. Fictional writing is an attempt to provide humanity with the opportunity to live that future.

In fact you amaze me. You have published three books in three years, two in 2009 alone, February and March. How did you achieve this?
I write not for fame or wealth. I write because I enjoy it. I love to see ideas translate to words. I love to see those words bound nicely and slapped with an amazing cover. There is no greater joy than to hold your own book fresh from the press.

Did you struggle for publishers?
I think there are a lot of publishers, however most of them are looking for published authors, which is a contradiction. The challenge is finding a good book agent. I am still struggling with that. Fortunately, I have been able to finance my work.

Your titles sound more feminine and about love: When Tears Stand Still (2007) and A Woman to Marry (2009). What motivates you to write? And what end do you want to achieve with your literary writings?
This is an interesting question! Men need love too. Perhaps when men start to cry the world will be more peaceful. Yes, I do focus on the fundamental underpinnings of life. We need to live and we need to share tears to maintain sanity. They are simply outcomes of human experience. There is really no feminine or masculine writing. There is great work and mediocre work.

Dusk Recitals: The Growing Years, is autobiographical. What made you write an autobiography or a memoir? And why at this time?
I live my life believing that every moment is the right time. There is actually not enough time in man's life. Life is a series of stages and each has to be documented. Evolution is what ultimately forced our ancestors to give up on their forearms. I believe that my life could be an inspiration to others, the more I share it in real time, the better. I do not want others to come to this in retirement. I want the impact now. In short, that if anyone can dare to dream you can challenge life itself to a precipice.

Your wife Mrs. Diana Bamford McBagonluri is also a writer. Tell us something about her and her works.
She is uniquely an African writer. Her space is broad. She was the lead author of the current English Text for Grades 1-4 in Ghana. She's both a novelist and a dramatist. She focuses squarely on the African literary framework both in plot and in characters.

Who reviews the other's works?
She does. She ensures that the language is amenable to Christian norms. It is always a tango.

Which literary books are you currently reading? And which did you read growing up?
I just read The Sea, John Banville for the fourth time. Currently, I am reading A Journey, Tony Blair. I read Ngugi, Cyprian Ekwensi, Kalu Okpi, Wole Soyinka, Salman Rushdie and J.D. Salinger and E.K. Mickson's Who Kill Lucy and When the Heart Decides.

Any favourite books or authors? Influences?
I am told my work is similar to Ayi Kwei Armah's. I am deeply flattered. I am still trying to find his work. I feel ashamed to say I have never read him. I think John Banville's The Sea, in my opinion, is the best prose I have ever read.

What is your writing style?
I write about the individual confronting the 'stolid barriers of nature.' I like short sentences and concentrated prose. I like the flirtatious flexibility of the English language. I like complex plots. This encourages a complete picture only when entirely read.

How would you describe your stories and your writing?
My stories are poignant. They are those one may have experienced, knows someone who has experienced it or could experience. They are real and human.

Any work in progress and when should we expect your next novel?
I am in the final stage of Harvest of Jenes and in advanced stages of Flames of Will. There are both fascinating stories.

Thank you for your time
The pleasure is mine. Thanks for making time for me. I look forward to talking to you soon. Thanks.

Visit Mcbagonluri's site here...

Penguin Prize for African Writing

The winners of the Penguin Prize for African Writing was announced on September 4, 2010. There were two categories for the awards: fiction and non fiction.

The Fiction prize was won by Ellen Banda-Aaku with Patchwork. Ellen was born in Zambia but now lives in London.

About Patchwork: Destined from birth to inhabit very different worlds--that of her father, the wealthy Joseph Sakavungo, and that of her mother, his mistress--this emotive tale takes us to the heart of a young girl's attempts to come to terms with her own identity and fashion for herself from the patchwork of the life she was born into.

The Non-Fiction prize was won by Pius Adesanmi with You're Not a Country, Africa! Pius was born in Nigeria but now lives in Ottawa, Canada.

About You're Not a Country, Africa!: In this groundbreaking collection of essays Pius Adesanmi tries to unravel what it is that Africa means to him as an African, and by extension to all those who inhabit this continent of extremes. This is a question that exercised some of the continent's finest minds in the twentieth century, but which pan-Africanism, Negritune, nationalism, decolonisation and all the other projects through which Africans sought to restore their humanity ultimately failed to answer.

Read the rest here.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Man Booker Shortlist 2010

The Man Booker Shortlist came out yesterday, September 7, 2010. The list has been shortened from the longlist of thirteen (13) to a shortlist of six (6). This time the brouhaha that always follows a shortlist has been slightly muted as most people agree that all the shortlisted authors deserve to be there. Yes! But The Man Booker Prize, worth 50,000 Pounds, would not be Man Booker without the slightest controversies concerning those who are shortlisted. So the absence of Christos Tsiolkas, the Australian author of The Slap and David Mitchell's The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, has become an issue and it is very well being discussed by literary enthusiasts.

ImageNations interest is in Damon Galgut's In A Strange Room. If Damon's shortlisted book wins the Man Booker Prize he would be the third South African to win the prize, after Nadine Gordimer won with The Conservationist in 1974 and J.M. Coetzee won with Life and Times of Michael K in 1983 and with Disgrace in 1999. He would also be the fourth African to win the Booker Prize, after Ben Okri won the award in 1991 with The Famished Road.

Damon Galgut
In a Strange Room, voted 7/1 to win the Booker, is a tale of longing and thwarted desire, rage and compassion. The author, Damon Galgut, was born in Pretoria, South Africa, in 1963 and wrote his first novel, A Sinless Season, when he was 17. He was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2003 for The Good Doctor. His other books include Small Circle of Beings, The Beautiful Screaming of Pigs and The Imposter.

The Shortlist
  1. Parrot and Olivier in America by Peter Carey
  2. Room by Emma Donoghue
  3. In a Strange Room by Damon Galgut
  4. The Finkler Question by Howard Jacobson
  5. The Long Song by Andrea Levy
  6. C by Tom McCarthy
ImageNations wishes him well.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Meet Fred McBagonluri, a Scientist and Novelist

Dr Fred McBagonluri
If you have no time to write, you definitely were not born to write. All those who have the passion to write find time to do so including one person who was a finalist in the selection interview for NASA astronaut in the USA and had it not been financial constraint that limited the number of those to be chosen at the time, he would have made a name for himself as the first black African born outside of the USA to go to Moon and would also have achieved his long-held dream.

Fred McBagonluri is this man. This man of multiple talents who, upon hearing of the Apollo 11 lunar landing, started corresponding with NASA, whilst still a pupil at the University of Ghana primary school, was born in East Legon, Ghana. He was the second of three sons and his grandfather was the chief of the Upper West Region of Ghana. He attended the St. Louis Prep School and graduated with a distinction from Nandom Secondary School. He briefly attended the St. Augustine's College in Cape Coast before attending Central State University, graduating with BS (summa cum laude) in Manufacturing Engineering. Later he obtained MS Engineering Mechanics from Virginia Tech and a PhD, Materials Engineering from the University of Dayton. He is married to an equally excellent novelist Diana, who consider herself as a true African writer (more about her later).

Dr. McBagonluri was a former employee of Siemens Hearing Solutions and headed the Research and Development department of the company. He was voted in 2008 as the Most Promising Black Engineer of the Year and in that same year won the New Jersey State Healthcare Business Innovator Hero Award. He is a co-inventor for three issued US patents. Currently, he is a Sloan Fellow at MIT. And Fred, whom I got to know through a friend Francis Kwaku Egu, exudes humility. For in spite of all his tight schedules, he took time to reply my all my emails. 

And Fred is a novelist too. He has two published novels and a memoir to his credit, with a fourth one due in December, ceteris paribus. Below are a list and synopsis of his novels.

Dusk Recitals: The Growing Years--March 2009
In this autobiographical novel, Fred McBagonluri delivers the startlingly rich and compelling story of one boy and the infinite courage and confidence he musters to break free from a life of famine and hardship. Through unparalleled determination and a keen intellect, he finds his way to America, where he creates for himself a life of learning and, in the end, international respect as a leading scientist. In this poetic and evocative novel, the author has delivered a lyrical tale that lingers in the mind and heart long after the final page is read. Get Dusk Recitals: The Growing Years from amzon.

A Woman to Marry--February 2009
Fred McBagonluri's lyrical novel, A Woman to Marry, is a fascinating and compelling look into one man's journey across three continents. The saga of Dery and Trish transcends the concept of love story and carries the reader across a lifetime of struggle and discovery. Dery, an American of Ghanaian heritage, succeeds academically as an innocent young man at Harvard. As he matures, however, he cannot separate the brutal death of his father in Africa and the deceptions heaped upon him by the women he loves. In his quest for the truth, he meets Trish, and together they share his desperate need to bring his father's assassins to justice, in a world where justice has rarely prevailed. Only through renewed love and trust is this tormented protagonist finally able to put to rest a lifetime of anger and pain. A copy of A Woman to Marry is available at amazon.

When Tears Stand Still--February 2007
This is the tragic and poignant story of Lemo, a young woman full of praise and ambition, whose life was cruelly cut short by AIDS. Born into the royal family of Putiha, in West Africa, her idyllic early life is described with great charm. But misfortune seemed to dog her. Men and women alike were attracted by her great beauty, but rape and seduction led, all too soon, to her downfall and death. This story is in a sense a morality tale for our age; Lemo stands for so many, in Africa and elsewhere, who have had their lives curtailed by the tragic plague of our time.
When Tears Stand Still is available at amazon.

Jenes--(possibly December 2010)

Dr. Fred McBagonluri keeps a website here... Also, he has agreed to be interviewed by ImageNations. We would bring him closer to you soon.

Monday, September 06, 2010

ImageNations on The Criterion

ImageNations review of Ayi Kwei Armah's The Healers has been published by The Criterion, An International Journal in English (ISSN 0976-8165). The Criterion is a peer-reviewed academic e-journal and is designed to publish theoretical articles and book reviews on interdisciplinary cross-currents in the humanities adn social sciences. The Criterion encourages interpretative crticism and fresh insights into new and established authors and texts and seeks to generate a serious debate on different academic issues. It also ecourages literary contributions in the form of original as well as translated poetry and fiction.

I am happy to know that the little things I am doing here is getting recognition from various and important sources. However, it is not me who deserves to be happy but you; you readers who keep coming back and keep commenting and through these actions keep me encouraged. You who do not give up on me and who believe in the little things that is going on herer. It is you who deserve all the praise. Thank you all and keep coming back.

Friday, September 03, 2010

An Interview with Bryony Rheams, author of This September Sun

We continue today with our interviews with new authors, which began about two weeks ago. Today we interview the fifth author in the series, Bryony Rheams, author of This September Sun. Bryony Rheams was able to make some time to answer some questions for ImageNations. Soon after its release, This September Sun has won an award for first book in Zimbabwe. 

Can you tell us something about yourself (place of birth, school and anything in between)
I was born in Kadoma, Zimbabwe in 1974. We moved around a bit in my early years before finally moving to a mine just outside Bulawayo when I was about eight. I went to school in Bulawayo, completing my A levels in 1992. I then went to the UK on a gap year and also spent another year working in Zimbabwe before going back to the UK to go to university.

Which writers or people have influenced your writing?
Doris Lessing and Virginia Woolf

How would you describe your style of writing?
People tell me my writing is very easy to read, conversational in tone. I like using first person narrator who builds up a relationship with the reader.

How difficult was it for you to become publish?
AmaBooks were familiar with my work, so they were keen to read This September Sun when I told them about it. However, finding a publisher outside of Zimbabwe has proved quite difficult. I think that publishers have quite set ideas about what they want from Africa in terms of storylines.

How did you feel when you saw your name on the cover of the book?
It was very exciting. I felt a huge sense of accomplishment.

Tell us something about your book, This September Sun.
It's basically the story of the relationship between a young girl, Ellie, and her grandmother, Evelyn. Evelyn is not your conventional grandmother: she separates from her husband and finds herself a job, a flat and a boyfriend. Ellie finds herself as the go-between her grandmother and the rest of the family, who all feel she has done the wrong thing. Ellie eventually grows up and goes to live in the UK, where she studies literature. She longed to leave Zimbabwe, but now finds the UK cold and lonely. She returns to Zimbabwe on hearing that her grandmother has been murdered and is assigned the task of going through her things. On discovering Evelyn's letters and diaries, she discovers another side to her grandmother and unlocks some long-concealed family secrets.

What particularly motivated you to write this novel?
I started off with the first line which came to me after a conversation with friends in which someone said that the British flag was burned at Brady Barracks in Bulawayo at Independence in 1980. Then I wrote the first chapter and thought, what now? It all came from there.

What do you intend to achieve with your writing?
At the moment, my motivation is almost purely financial. I want to have enough money to stay at home and spend time with my young daughter and write without pressure of a job. I don't have any particular message, but I do feel that I had something inside of me that needed to be expressed and now I've done that I think my next book might be quite different.

Has being published changed your life?
Not dramatically, but it's very nice when people tell me that they've really enjoyed reading the book.

Who are your target audience when you write?
I don't think of anyone in particular and I know that a wide variety of people have enjoyed my book. It seems to have an equal appeal to those who also grew up in Bulawayo around the same time, but is not limited to them.

What do you intend to add to the Zimbabwean Literary-Scape, which I see to be growing day by day?
I'd like to think that I've opened a different perspective onto white Zimbabwean life and also shown that subject matter need not be limited to poverty, AIDS, suffering and the like.

What is it that makes Zimbabwean writers stand out? For instance, Irene Sabatini won the 2010 Orange Prize for New Writers with The Boy Next Door.
I haven't actually read Irene Sabatini's book so I can't comment on that score. I think partly there is a longer history of writing in Zimbabwe than in other countries, Zambia, for instance, and so Zimbabwean writing has had time to develop. I also think there has been greater interest in Zimbabwe over the past ten or so years because of the political and economic situation there. Times of crises traditionally spawn good writing as well.

Your book has just won the Zimbabwean Book Publishers Award for 2010. What does this mean to you? And does it put some pressure on you regarding your next novel?
I was pleased to win the award as it means my writing is valued, especially in my own country. Yes, I do feel the extra pressure to get on with writing another novel.

What do you do apart from writing?
Mainly look after my two daughters. That doesn't leave me much free time! I love reading, though, and enjoy taking the opportunity to curl up with a good book. 

Where could we get copies of your work, outside Zimbabwe?
At the moment in the UK, it is available through Books of Zimbabwe. It is on sale in certain bookshops in South Africa and Zambia.

Any work in progress?
Yes, I have started my second novel and also have lots of ideas for a third.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

35. Powder Necklace by Nana Ekua Brew-Hammond

 Title: Powder Necklace
Author: Nana Ekua Brew-Hammond
Genre: Young Adult Fiction
Publishers: Washington Square Press
Pages: 280
Year of Publication: 2010
Country: Britain, Ghana, USA

Where is home? Where your parents come from? Or where you were born? Or where one chooses to call home? The quest for an identity, for belonging to a group, either based on colour or language or thought, has become a quest that has proved and would continue to prove insurmountable. It would be with us for many generations to come, until such a day when we shall wake up and say 'We are people of the earth'. 

Powder Necklace is a coming of age story about a young girl whose divorced Ghanaian parents, living on opposite sides of the world (America and England), was herself born in England. Does she become English? Of course that's how she described herself, at least that's how she felt when her 'overprotective' mother sent her to Ghana after seeing her with a boy in their house. Lila, the girl in question, became furious and resented her mother for punishing her for something 'that didn't happen'. In Ghana, Lila refused to accept or respond to the phrase 'welcome come home' as most people she met greeted her with, when they saw her skin colour.

Though the novel does not claim to solve or has answers to the problems that children born in foreign lands undergo, its strength lies in bluntly portraying the cultural shock these children go through when forcefully plunged into these strange lands of their parents. The vast disparity in thinking and action between cultures and people, and in development and accessibility to basic utilities that make life comfortable such as warm shower, wears them down and begins to tell on every aspect of their lives. Yet, with time they adjust and become one with this strange place as Lila, even after all her complaints, made some friends, drank fermented kenkey with them, and began to lose her British accent. 

Nana Ekua Brew-Hammond, author of Powder Necklace
Whilst in Ghana Lila attended Dadaba Senior Secondary School, (one of) the best secondary schools in the country; yet Lila complained not because she was choosy but because the best she saw truly couldn't compare with what she had left behind. And just when Lila felt she's settled in, her whimsical mother sent for her to be brought back to England but that wouldn't be her end. That not being her end of cross-continent travels. She was again sent to live with her father whom she had had a lackluster relationship. Ironically, it was with her ghostly father, a personality she knew only through his voice that used to boom through the phone ear-piece, that all pieces began falling together (not revealing anything here). All I would say at this point is that I personally don't believe that children are always right, for even though Lila thought her mother is only interrupting her life, not making her live the way she wanted, we observed that her thoughts were different from the reality.

Nana Ekua wrote this story like it is, portraying accurately how children always think that they are right and their parents are wrong; how they think they can manage their own affairs without any parental help or intervention but are quick to blame parents when problems begin to set in, when things refuse to go as they (the children) think they would or should or must go.

For instance, when Lila's respect towards her mother began to decline and her mother decided to send her away to her father, this is what young Lila said:
I resented mum for putting me in this situation again and for not being strong enough to handle her full responsibility to me. She wasn't allowed breaks from me, just like I wasn't allowed breaks from her. She was my mother and I was her daughter (page 196)
The imagery in the novel is so strong that the scenes run through the mind like cinema reels. The author did justice to all the cultural shock that she encountered and things that I usually take for granted took on new meanings. For instance, though I always read the inscriptions of cars and stores and kiosks, I never really considered their link to faith. Besides the imagery, the metaphors and similes were unique and not clichéd, at least according to my ears. This is how Lila described her 'lethargic' relationship with her father:
Ever since that day we'd spoken on the phone in Auntie Flora's flat, the day he'd told me he'd just had twins, my father had become to me like something I had left on the bus (page 195)
In writing this story, the author--Nana Ekua Brew-Hammond--who herself is a product of this cross borders procreation, did not think of hurting feelings or even portraying her story to suit her changing understanding and acceptance of issues. For instance, she still wrote about the ugly looking school desks, the dusty, bumpy roads, the bad odour at places, even when she realised that the country isn't all about that. These're what make this book an interesting read. No cover ups, no pretensions, writing things as they occurred to Lila and remaining true to all her experiences. 

Writing in the first person singular, which makes the story read almost like a memoir, Lila was able to tell her story in a way that makes the reader feels as if he or she was Lila, feeling, seeing, smelling and sensing everything Lila felt, saw, smelled, and sensed and yet able to laugh at those that were laughable.

This is one of the few stories I have read that ring true to my ears. Powder Necklace, the first novel by Nana Ekua Brew-Hammond is a must read and I would recommend it for all.

Read my interview with the author here...
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