Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Nulla aliquam consectetur leo, id venenatis ipsum viverra sed. Nullam at lorem eget mi pellentesque ultricies in aliquam mi. Nulla porta commodo nisl ut malesuada. Aliquam porta rutrum lacus, id facilisis felis iaculis eu. Quisque ligula sem, egestas id ultrices ac, dignissim ac massa. Mauris pharetra lobortis leo, ac elementum nibh aliquam sit amet. Vestibulum at justo massa, vel bibendum massa. Ut nec metus sit amet turpis iaculis luctus. Aliquam gravida ullamcorper tortor, at elementum mauris pulvinar in. Aliquam sem nisi, dapibus ut convallis id, mollis eu metus. Suspendisse ornare nisl eu erat volutpat mattis. Suspendisse id massa tellus. In massa nisl, interdum sit amet malesuada in, congue eget est. Aenean molestie imperdiet felis, at tincidunt lorem rhoncus sed. In at erat at turpis ultricies malesuada porta ac ante. Nulla lacinia nisl ac libero porttitor a tristique dui iaculis.

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Phasellus lobortis erat quis justo congue ut accumsan orci congue. Vivamus egestas libero in nisi tincidunt egestas tempor lectus bibendum. Ut eu tortor at diam lacinia viverra. Nullam est lectus, rutrum vitae facilisis eu, imperdiet a purus. Vestibulum viverra nisl at lorem volutpat ut pretium justo adipiscing. Aenean commodo nisl sed turpis dapibus ultricies. Morbi ut metus quis felis ullamcorper fermentum. Quisque nulla tortor, tincidunt sed aliquam id, elementum vitae eros. Mauris dignissim orci ac magna imperdiet at facilisis ligula imperdiet. In non lorem nisi. Vestibulum accumsan ante in est dictum ac tincidunt risus placerat. Etiam a diam lorem, a volutpat velit.

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*Comunidades africanas en España

Sorry, this entry is only available in Español.

Donato Ndongo


Translated by Michael Ugarte

The frown made his face look deformed, convulsed in a final moment of dread and fury. A pasteboard mask, brilliant, livid and wrinkled, the consequence of the heat of the last struggle, an indefinable expression, something like pleasure, pain and shock all in one, like the ineffable cruelty of a scythe as it cuts away a haughty and exceptional life enjoying the supreme pleasure. The right hand of His Most Distinguished First Magistrate squeezed his left nipple tightly as if it were trying to contain a cry of intense pain.  The left hand lay motionless on the bed showing the palm in a mute and inconclusive interrogation. The stupefied faces contemplating him showed consternation, but their leathery bodies stood still like granite statues, motionless, incredulous, dejected: this was not possible, it couldn’t be true that they were living this momentous and dreaded event, unimaginable, unreal. Death was a common occurrence, vulgar, it only happened to others, never to them, and certainly never to him, the giver of all things bad and good that came from his stagnant universe. One could feel the vertigo circling his eyes from an unusual anxiety, from a thick silence broken only by the monotonous rhythm of the air conditioner and the barely repressed whimpering of young Anastasia, known as Niña Tasia. Anguish, stupor, tension, and an irremediable sense of irresolution saturated the atmosphere of that microcosm.  Not accustomed to decide on their own, their smallest actions were imposed by the incontestable will of the Guide of the People, they vacillated, unable to move, without understanding, terrorized, not knowing what to do now that the First Citizen, lying still on the bed, was reduced to nothing.  Tortured by doubts about themselves, about their capabilities and their destiny, they were the nucleolus of a regime that for nearly four decades took charge of everything and everybody without any limits other than those of satiety. Heads down, lost expressions, eyes whose humanity had been stripped as a consequence of centuries of inability to feel anything other than envy, or indifference, they saw from their obscurity the morbid remains of His Excellency, that proud body, always gesticulating, reduced to a minute figure stripped of its proverbial arrogance, a simple cadaver, helpless and naked, highlighted by an erect, proud and protruding organ perforating the air as an act of defiance against nothingness.  It was the sum total of his power, the foundation of his authority, symbol of his portentous virility, vestige of his energy and secular domination of all living beings.  Esom Esom, more moved by fear than tragedy, spoke in silence: my brother has died as he lived, like a real man, with his boots on, ready for a fight, as he always said. And he recalled the favorite saying of Nze Mebiang, his beloved father who was now sheltered lovingly in the world of the dead, a reputed sorcerer who had become the protecting spirit of the family and the clan, whose remains had been infused with wisdom by competent witch doctors whose powers protected them from all harm and conspiracy: the goat eats and dies in the same place he is tied.

The illustrious people who gathered there well knew they must react quickly to keep the crowds from contemplating such an irritating and grotesque spectacle, just what the enemies would like, both within and outside the country, either underground or in exile, since the first secretions of blood had begun to show from his half open mouth, running down his cheeks toward the pure satin white sheets; however, due to the usual lack of resolve, they awaited the orders of the Master without considering that the Founder had left this world, unable to give orders ever again. Brigadier General Esom Esom, Chief of Intelligence was known for his hunter instinct, despite the fact that he couldn’t even sign his name with an X, the most revered of the brothers, the only person to whom the Founder opened his heart. Now he was more hesitant than ever.  He had never made a decision on his own because his brother thought for him, even to the point of choosing his three wives, women who had warmed his bed and had given him an extensive progeny: privileges of the only male born to the parents of the Courageous Marshal  exceptional member of a numerous family, a man who had learned to read and write after his father, the revered Nze Mebiang, sent him to the Colonial Guard so that his military lineage would be kept intact, so that he would become tough and frugal, and so that he would learn the art of submission to authority from the whites. He was destined to become the guide and protector of his people, a plentiful tribe, as numerous as grains of sand in the sea. Even in the midst of the disaster, Esom Esom could not avoid dedicating certain moments of his pleasurable and tense life to the protection of his older brother, for whom he felt great devotion and admiration. He was so blinded by the terror of uncertainty that he continued to stare dauntlessly at the naked corpse. Or is it possible that he thought of the erection as evidence of the unequivocal magical powers of the Invincible Chief, powers that he had shown even after he had taken his last breath? What a rod, Lord! What a waste that singular apparatus was, desired and contemplated by his numerous women, soon it would be eaten by worms! What a pity that the Supreme Man’s modesty stood in the way of an initiative to erect a monument to his genitals, the source of the most glorious pages of the history of the Father Land, this according to a group of fervent and uncompromising women, activists in the Women’s Caucus of the Party who had become furious that the plan was not to be realized, women who had experienced –against their will at first– the unforgettable thrusts of that hardness satisfying them to no end, maddening them, as they fought for it in the market place. Now nothing would be the same.  What to do?  Why wasn’t he named the successor? Should he play his hand smartly by relying on his status as the most loved of the brothers and chief of Domestic Security, a position that would allow him to maneuver around all the irregularities and other dirty activity of which he had kept record? Politics are complicated, he told himself, intuiting that his hour had arrived, and he would not let anything get in his way. It was important to keep ahead of it all. His triumph, his power, would be inexorable if he managed to conserve the skull and ingest the brains and gonads of the corpse that he would exhume after the burial so that the abilities and qualities that solidified the leadership of the dead man would enter into him, transmitted by Nze Mebiang, his honorable father, whose skull was kept somewhere as a golden relic in a mysterious hidden sanctuary.  This would be the basis for his own supremacy.  It was necessary to get rid of that little kid at all costs, the nephew Gumersín, a frivolous and quarrelsome bon vivant who would make them lose everything and open the gates to the opposition, if he didn’t prevent it. And what were the intentions of his opportunistic and envious uncle, Lieutenant General Obigli, a man who had made a personal fiefdom of the Army, a man of dubious loyalty despite his persistent servility and his frequent highfalutin expressions of unquestionable allegiance? If he hadn’t organized a coup until then, it was only because of his superstition: he believed firmly in the ancestral norms that prohibited infliction of the slightest harm to any children of a sister, under penalty of death or madness. That norm favored him; he was as much a nephew as his dead brother.

His chin in his right hand, absorbed in the fascination of his nephew’s extraordinary phallus, the maternal uncle, Lieutenant General Obigli, was also mumbling his own thoughts. He struggled to find convincing arguments to change the customary rules without upsetting family ties and keep Esom Esom, Gumersín, and other interested parties from assuming leadership.  Although the traditional laws allowed him to make decisions regarding the funeral rites of the inanimate body of the deceased, the lines separating the public from the private were so tenuous due to dirty politics that it would be more prudent to wait lest they think that his zeal was actually ambition.  He did not even dare to have someone take care of the cadaverous odors by covering this strikingly indecent nakedness. The voluminous midsection of the First Leader looked as if it was about to burst, indiscreet and rhythmic flatulencies filled the large room with an air that made it more and more difficult to breathe, but none of those present dared to cover their noses thereby exposing themselves to the reprisals of the Maximum Leader for their disrespect and grotesque behavior. Despite the higher status over Brigadier Esom Esom and the little brother that was conferred to him by tradition, Obigli had never had the courage to express his own opinion in front of the Supreme Guide, and he was not sure how the taciturn and crafty Esom Esom might react. After all, it was Esom Esom who appeared to be the successor to the orphaned land, either he or the first-born Gumersín, however capricious, unpredictable, or immature. He was somewhat surprised when he became conscious of a terrible curse  that assaulted his brain: the carelessness of the Luminous Torch which had never specified the laws of inheritance during the time of the autocracy of traditional leaders.  These were delicate matters, taboos that no one had had the courage to bring up so that his own opportunity might be put in jeopardy, because impatience might lead to their expulsion to some dark place outside the land. He knew about the tragic end suffered by the crazy rebels who defied the all-encompassing authority of the Liberator. But the soothsayers seemed to be on his side: the sudden disappearance of the Perpetual Protector placed real power in his hands, since now as the chief of the Armed Forces, it would not be difficult for him to take charge of the situation in order to prevent chaos in the country: Esom Esom was a country bumpkin, filled with complexes, ignorant, tribal, he didn’t even know how to write his own name, and now that the man who was everything to him was extinct, he was reduced to his own shadow; and Gumersín, a pusillanimous dandy, a mere adornment, did not have what it takes to assume such high responsibility; the others were little people, minor characters, fortunate to be the favorites, easy to neutralize, they would never have the support of the people like him, the beloved, respected and feared, above all when he donned his gala uniform with all the medals exhibiting the crispness and military decorum of a genuine leader of the masses. No one else possessed his acumen, his courage, his audacity, qualities hidden during thirty-six years of submission. Now was the moment to put these traits to work. But he would leave nothing to chance, it was necessary to highlight his unquestioned merits. So all he had to do was to entrust the head of his nephew to the sorcery of agile and efficient witch doctors, always affirming the authority of the ancestors and the permanent protection of the benefactor-spirits. Everything was perfect. Failure impossible. He felt it in his gut, it was a good feeling. He smiled to himself.  Careful not to reveal such seditious thoughts that might give him away, since it was possible that the uncouth and silly Esom Esom might very well have the esoteric ability of mind-reading, powers transmitted to him by numerous medicine men and marabus  who made sure that the family would remain in power, assuring success in the arduous and dangerous task of governance, or by foreigners who trained him in the ignoble rudiments of scrutinizing the intimacies of others,  he stealthily checked around the room, and he rested easy only when he saw that all the eyes around him were fixed on the strange and admirable wonder in front of them: the overgrown erect member, whose silhouette fluttered in the whiteness of the bed sheets.

The unnerving quiet belied an intense inner agitation. They contemplated that strange and extraordinary phenomenon with feverous solemnity, the provocation presented by the death of a toreador as he lays proud and rigid with his sword, like the mast of a sail ship, another prodigy of the Supreme Master who had just embarked on the journey to eternity leaving them terrified orphans. Urgent action was necessary. What would be their immediate fate? Power? Exile? Imprisonment in one of those gloomy cells designed for subversives? Death? Would they taste the bitterness of poverty after so much opulence?  It all depended on who would get the biggest piece of the pie, and each one of them was betting on himself as the one in charge of administering the inheritance coming from the great Nze Mebiang. They trusted no one, suspicious of everything, aware of the great impending chaos. Demons had been unleashed. With the cunning of a tiger ready to attack or the danger of a trapped lion, the sons of the tribe measured their own weaknesses and strengths: the first offspring of the Grande Dame, Gumersín, fatuous and irresponsible, had been in charge of all the ministries and now was head of the Department of Special Cases, recently returning from who knows where, determined to push all the buttons to make sure he would receive the booty, with the assurance he would have the support of his mother, he intended to retire all those old retrogrades who were destroying the family; he would leave them in poverty, just as his father had done to the descendents of his predecessor; the half-brothers, coronels Monsuy me Nze, Governor of the Island Region, specialists in sophisticated torture techniques; the cousins, Commandant Ayecaba Mesaa, director of National Gendarmerie, and Eyi Medang, Admiral of the New Forces, whose fleet consisted of a single coastguard ship which was Uncle Sam’s gift and whose function was to transport the most conspicuous subversives into exile, it had once been a noble battle ship in the glory days of the war in Vietnam, and the nephew, Eyegue Asúu, an affable ruffian, eternal minister of Economy and Finances, not easy for him to navigate through the entanglements of macroeconomics, clueless in the management of the budget, yet rigorous and astute in his real responsibility: to kick back funds, to plunder state revenue in the benefit of Number One and to make sure the highest members of the tribe’s oligarchy would be compensated properly knowing that their mentor and commander would cover them; and at last there was Ela Ngomo, ambassador to the United Nations, an expert in verbal tricks to defend his uncles against persistent criticisms from the opposition having to do with violation of Human Rights, he painted a picture of the country as a model of democracy and prosperity, even more perfect than the United States; and above all that dangerous and arrogant hypocrite, Abaha Si Melén, the dead man’s brother in law, skillful at poisonous schemes that leave no trace, brother of the Grand Dame, lord possessor of Natural Resources. Each one devised ways to assume the place of the Elevated One, repressing any indication of resistance by keeping ahead of the others to fill the vacuum left by the dead man, with no regard to the means, imposing order so as to save themselves from the possibility of the opposition’s seizure of  power: that crowd of resentful malcontents claiming to be fighting for liberty when in reality their only program consisted of bringing down the government so that they could possess the public assets and bring back the people to colonialist slavery.  The dreaded time had come: it was all against all, either me or chaos.

Niña Tasia whimpered all huddled up in a corner, her eyes covered by the palms of her hands.  More than the misfortune of being widowed at the age of nineteen, what scared her was having been the cause of her husband’s death –the direct cause?– all because of the demands of her youthful body, demands the lustful old man could not satisfy; his legendary virility had been reduced to interminable, monotonous, and oniric harangues about his past adventures, all unbelievable to her, because he cried like a baby when he found he was incapable of deflowering her. But above all, she was terrified about the uncertainty of the future, how would my husband’s relatives react after the funeral, they’ll blame me for his death because he died between my legs. I’ll be mistreated, jailed, or separated from my children, I’ll be confined to my miserable little town where the cement house that my father asked for as a dowry is still under construction, all because of the miserliness of a man highly respected among the most upstanding magnates, the most powerful people on earth who humbled themselves in front of him even though they took him for a delinquent, an opportunist, a cretin who every week took great pleasure in counting the money that came to him in suitcases left at his various palaces, examining the numerous bills he distributed to certain international corporations; always taking great care in scrutinizing where every cent was going; his accumulated fortune was the cause of much merriment. This sly son of the renowned Nze Mebiang, whose enchantments had prepared him to be the leader among the leaders and the richest among the rich.  It was a great pleasure to look at the records showing the luxurious mansions he had here and there in the major cities in the world, all this the fruit of systematic robbery of the people’s resources leaving them in abject poverty. Why so much avarice, she thought, after all, we leave this world for eternity as naked as when we arrived. And even when it was not yet time for lamentation, or official mourning, Niña Tasia did all she could to show her sorrow at such an irreparable loss, although in reality all she felt was relief about that sudden moment that would change her life. She was only one of many prisoners in the harem.  It was necessary to act with intelligence and discretion, be cautious in every detail, study the gestures, steps, attitudes, words, in order not to end up in Esom Esom’s dungeons and not become a victim of Obigli’s fierce witchcraft, or tortured sadistically by the dissolute nephews, all of whom were standing right there contemplating the defiant prick: so he came out of the battle on top –they said– he was hiding the proof of his victory in his own body, proof that  the astute brother of brothers would soon discover.  Niña Tasia now regretted the haste with which she had alerted the guard on the other side of the door; the old man had fallen flat on her body as the last breaths of agony ceased: she barely had time to respond or think.  She should not have panicked. She well knew the habits of the spirits, and how they would frolic in their nights of witchcraft. This was a country in which the loyal ones went unpunished and the rest of the population was sentenced to death, excepting only the head man and his acolyte, Esom Esom, the only one who humanized him due perhaps to his loyalty. Although she had a dowry –she was as much a wife as the others–, in reality she was only the ninth official concubine of the Supreme Chief, and as much for her youth as for her status as favorite, her rivals could easily turn against her if they conspired with those close to the depraved old man and decided to sacrifice thereby doing what was right under the circumstances. Indeed it was possible to imagine such a concubinage. And what if, in adherence to tradition, Esom Esom was to inherit and marry her? She knew it: there was no possibility of escaping destiny; she could not let the inevitable happen; she would not allow it. I swear: better exile than a boor like that, better to be dead than possessed by a perverted criminal whose hands were dripping with the blood of innocents.

She felt uncomfortable in that ill smelling room; she could not get away from it.  What to do? She thought of her mother. Although she had consented to the plan to deliver her to the decrepit powerful man in his attempt to dismiss rumors about a cancer rendering him impotent, in the end Niña Tasia forgave her, for she knew that her mother could not possibly go against the relationship, not only because she was incapable of resisting the tyrant’s coercion, but also because her refusal would cause irreparable harm to her family and her clan. Her sacrifice brought security and well being. Who would dare deny it? Who would go against the family of His Excellency’s favorite? In that world of fear, agony, and baseness, it was the best solution: her brothers landed good jobs; her in-laws –in reality her sisters– all prospered; her friends envied her; she traveled in opulent cars; she had more than enough to eat, and she sent her mother entire sacks of rice and salted fish, pasta, chick peas, and boxes of canned tomato sauce. Her people now ate like the whites. And they got fat. She herself satisfied her own whims more than she could possibly imagine.  She traveled to Europe for a manicure or to replenish her wardrobe.  Yes, for abortions too. Two of them. It was painful to think of those two crimes, to kill the children of her one-and-only. It led her to a chemical solution with the same innocence–perhaps even with the same devilish attraction–as when she convinced him that the two first pregnancies were the result of his incomparable energy. Filled with pride, he swallowed the story. The old goat’s gullibility was beyond belief. A real fool. But she had to admit that they were both devoted to those seeds in her body: he, the supposed father, because they confirmed to an unbelieving world that his potency was unwavering; and she because she had conceived them in genuine acts of love. No one could ever discover the lie.  Only she knew the secret. But she did not dare to add to the scheme: anyone –the other wives, the in-laws, or even he– might doubt his portentous abilities; the whole thing was almost miraculous. Or it was possible that her Lover, heart-struck, might give away the lie. Men were not to be trusted, her mother used to say, and that’s why she aborted. Twice. For her security, her prosperity, and for the good of her family.  Later she discovered contraception, and that’s when the anxiety stopped…And she had convinced him a moment ago, that he should take the pill; no, two better than one, the effect would be twice as strong, she encouraged him, smiling, as her fleshy lips swelled, showing her fine white teeth, her clear skin, smooth and tight, and her lovely protruding breasts, like ripe mangos. It did not take long for him to fall on top of her, with his thing ready, as ready as it ever was,  a bit grotesque, really. It seemed a joke; later she was scared and she lost her wits. Terror devastated her.  As the God of Justice was here witness, it was not her intention.  It had all happened by His design.  She was merely an instrument in His will. Never had it occurred to her that two pills could lead to death. She only wanted to enjoy herself a bit at his expense, make merry with him, give him a pleasurable afternoon, nourish his petulance. But what was done was done, and no one would believe the truth, that a mere accident had accelerated History. She had managed to fulfill the wish of half the country; they could think of a treacherous intention, they could think of her as a shrew, an heartless monster at the service of the radical opposition or international terrorism, an enemy of the regime that had been feeding him so sumptuously, who knows… And in which case… Perhaps… Perhaps it was better to think of the facts in her favor, she was well respected, feared; she had climbed to the top and now she was “somebody” in society, not the anonymous girl, skinny, poor and pretty, until she danced for him as part of a public performance four years ago. It was then that she had begun to learn to be a Lady, as her subordinates and everyone called her, only to leave behind that rude peasant she was destined to be before then.  All that in return for silently putting up with his snorts, his repugnant hands all over her, his repulsive withering skin, his disgusting toothless mouth when he took out his false teeth before bed. Yes, security and prosperity in return for keeping his secrets, lying by omission, feign always, say nothing always, always. She did not remember being young.  She never enjoyed life. She was never happy. She became aware of this many years later, at first as the days passed, she was dazzled by the ideal of a soft and pleasurable life, from the first moment she had become older like him, obligated to move along those dangerous paths to keep her honor intact and not commit a carless error that might awaken the ire of the vengeful ogre. Always rise above the snares. Know how to contain his emotions. Fearlessly and vigorously stand off the adversity that plagued her miserable existence in her golden cage. But then melancholy became a permanent condition, just like the animals she saw one day in a zoo in Europe, where the frolic and noise of the lions, tigers, and monkeys lacked spirit, that spontaneous merriment of beasts not in captivity. Calculating each step, measuring each word, each gesture. Sadness, infinite sadness in her dry eyes, dry because they were tired of crying. Her body was yearning for tenderness, unsatisfied by the feigned submission to a conjugal obligation. She had suffocated herself in her luxurious dwellings, insufferable cages, without any companionship other than that of children, without any grip on reality, the irremediable tedium of the days and nights.  Was it worth it? She remembered her mother’s advice, be strong, my daughter, and very patient, and never forget that a woman’s success comes from being a mother, and from fortitude. She remembered her loving caresses, empathy that transcended understanding. She would have loved to have her by her side at that moment, lose herself in her mother’s warm embraces so as to  guide her at a time of such danger, but her mother was far away in her village. She was alone, atrociously alone. What to do? Although… Perhaps she was not alone: he too was thinking of her, yes, no doubt she needed him more than ever, nestling herself in his chest would calm her.  To her, he was the indubitable triumph of good over evil, the certainty of the end of an unfortunate destiny, the hope for future splendor. Only he, with his abnegation, brought the hope of such a banal life. Only he could suffer with her, compensate for all the bitterness. Only he, just a few steps away, behind the closed door, embittered by jealousy and spite, humiliated by powerlessness, eaten by hatred, suffering in silence, was always waiting impatiently for the sly one to leave. Waiting for him to dose off in one of those lethargic, humid afternoons, in a corner of any one of his palaces, then he would come to her, taking advantage of any interruption in his daily habits only to prize himself with whatever the rotten old man had left of her, to possess her stealthily in all her fire, desperately welded to her as if it were his last opportunity before the end of the ages. At times she would dream of killing him and they would live a new life together; it couldn’t be so difficult since he was always one step behind him, carrying his wallet and his mobile phones or offering him a thrown in which he could rest his voluminous rear end.  But she didn’t even allow herself the thought: fantasy gave way to anguish. Certain desires are more dangerous, more sinful than carnal infidelity, more than that love that smelled of death placing them at the edge of a disaster that passion fortified by the terror lacerating her senses both in the absences and each time she was with him. Was it worth it? What would become of him, of her, of the innocent children of all their family, now that she pondered the caressing possibility of feeling clean and free for the first time?

Less bewildered than the others in that dark enclosed room, spotless, tastefully decorated, Niña Tasia decided to wait. No one knew for what, it didn’t matter, only that they should make something good of this. Think. Measure. Calculate. Leave the enigma to the passing of time. Perhaps they had reached the end of the game. Perhaps the trumpets of Jericho had already sounded. Or perhaps not all was lost and there was a way to find salvation. These were indolent beings, brutal, now stupefied by the mist of their own tortured souls; they sensed that their time was ending as they prayed humbly and arduously to the protecting spirits and to all the gods of the universe that they would have the perseverance to control the situation and come out alright. They must not hurry. Never grow weak because miracles could happen: His Excellency Field Martial Don Gumersindo Nze Ebere Ekum, President of the Republic, Chief of Sate and Government, Commandant of The Army, President-Founder of the Party of the People’s Wellbeing, Invincible Head and Supreme Guide of the Nation, had passed the final test, and at any moment he could reappear from among the dead to restore the order, peace, and harmony that happily reigned in the country.

Valerie Mason-John


By Patricia Bastida Rodríguez (Universitat de les Illes Balears)

Born in Cambridge of Nigerian descent, Valerie Mason-John (a.k.a. Queenie, her stage name) spent most of her childhood in foster homes and childcare facilities which included a Dr Barnaldo’s Orphanage in Essex, UK. At 12 she spent a short period with her mother in London, but later returned to Dr Barnaldo’s after having attempted suicide. At 14 she was living in the streets but after some time she decided to start a new life. She studied Philosophy and Politics at Leeds University in the 1980s and in the 1990s she was a postgraduate student in Journalism Training, a period in which she also got a diploma in Mime and Physical Theatre at the Desmond Jones School. In 2003 she received an MA in Creative Writing, Education and the Arts at Sussex University and in 2006 a Teaching Certificate.

For years Mason-John was a journalist, working as an international correspondent covering Australian Aboriginal Land Rights or interviewing Sinn Fein prisoners in Northern Ireland, among other jobs. She also worked freelance for the BBC, Channel 4 and the Arts Council. In 2000 she received the Windrush Achievement Award: Arts and Community Pioneer for services to the black community in Britain. She has written articles for publications such as The Guardian, The Voice, The Morning Star or The Pink Paper. From 1992 to 1997 she was the editor of Feminist Arts News and she has also been artistic director of the Pride Arts Festival and the London Mardi Gras Arts Festival for several years. In 1997 she was considered one of Britain’s best-known black gay icons.

Her writing career was initiated when she was a journalist, when she co-authored and edited two books dealing with the lives of African and Asian lesbians in Britain: Lesbians Talk: Making Black Waves (London and Glasgow, Scarlett Press, 1993) and the anthology Talking Black: Lesbians of African and Asian Descent Speak Out (London, Cassell, 1994). In 1999 she published Brown Girl in the Ring: Plays, Prose and Poems (London, Get a Grip), her first collection of creative writing which included her literary production in different genres, among them her first play, Sin Dykes. After abandoning journalism Mason-John worked as an actress and performer – in this period she started to use the artistic name “Queenie” – and was Artist in Residence for the PUSH Festival at the Young Vic, the National Theatre and the Jerwood Space in London, as well as Holloway Prison and Elizabeth Garret Anderson School, among other institutions.

Her first novel, Borrowed Body (London, Serpent’s Tail), was published in 2005. It focuses on the difficult childhood and adolescence of Pauline, a black girl growing up in different foster homes in 1970s Britain who narrates her struggle to be accepted in a white racist society and to be loved by a Nigerian mother with rejects her “Englishness”. Partly autobiographical and deeply ironic in style, Borrowed Body, later republished as The Banana Kid (London, BAAF, 2008), depicts in original, humorous ways the innermost feelings and experiences of a child in her attempt to understand the world, to such acclaim that it received the Mind Book of the Year Award in 2006. The novel was also shortlisted for the Young Minds Award in 2005 and before its publication won the Black, Asian and Chinese Shoreline/Culture Word for First Chapters for a Novel Competition (2001) and the Culture Word Prize.

Mason-John has contributed to numerous literary and cultural publications. Among them we can highlight her interview in the journal Wasafiri (spring 2007) and her article in the critical volume Black British Aesthetics (Newcastle, Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2007), edited by Victoria Arana. She has also participated in radio and television shows and artistic exhibitions, sometimes as a performance poet. In 2007 she became an Honorary Doctor of Letters at East London University and was also the winner of the Lesbian, Gay Bisexual Transgendered Arts Award.

She is a woman of many interests: on her website she defines herself as an “author, playwright, performer, professional anger management and self-awareness trainer”. Thus, during the past years she has been a freelance trainer for anger management and conflict resolution designing programmes for schools, youth organisations and professionals. Her self-help manual Detox Your Heart (Cambridge, Windhorse, 2006) focuses precisely on how to control anger, hatred and fear. Another interesting aspect to be mentioned is the important role Buddhism has played in her life for the past sixteen years: she has even been ordained into the Western Buddhist Order. Her most recent book is entitled Broken Voices: Ex Untouchable Women Speak Out (New Delhi, India Research Press, 2008), a non-fictional exploration of the difficult position of Dalit women in India and the work carried out by Dr Ambedkar to help them. She has lived in London and also in the USA and is currently working on a new novel.

From The Banana Kid:   pp. 3-4, 130-132.

Poem “The Windrush” (from the author’s website).

Official website: http://www.valeriemason-john.co.uk/dr._valerie_mason-john_aka_queenie_index.html

Gee, Maggie 2007: “Bringing the Head and the Body Together. Valerie Mason-John and Dorothea Smart in Conversation”. Wasafiri, no. 50, spring 2007, 14-20.

Mason-John, Valerie 2007: “Aesthetics of the Trans-Raised Diasporic Black British”. In Victoria Arana (ed.), Black British Aesthetics, Newcastle, Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 337-344.

Cyril Lionel Robert James

C.L.R. JAMES (Trinidad, 1901 – 1989)

By Christian Høgsbjerg

The Trinidadian historian and writer Cyril Lionel Robert James was a towering figure of Pan-Africanism, a penetrating commentator on cultural matters and also one of the most remarkable revolutionary thinkers of the twentieth century who felt his ‘greatest contributions’ had been ‘to clarify and extend the heritage of Marx and Lenin’ and ‘to explain and expand the idea of what constitutes the new society.’

C.L.R. James was born on 4January 1901 in Trinidad, a tiny island then languishing as a ‘Crown colony’ in the economic backwaters of the British Empire.  His parents, Robert and Ida Elizabeth James, were black and lower middle class, and both their fathers had worked their way up from almost nothing as immigrants from Barbados.  On his father’s side, James’s grandfather made it as a pan boiler on one of Trinidad’s huge sugar estates (a post traditionally reserved by the white owners for other whites) and so into the nascent emerging black middle class of Trinidad after the abolition of colonial slavery in the 1830s.  His struggle enabled his son Robert James to escape a life of manual labour on the sugar estates to become a respected teacher, and later headmaster.  Possessing only ‘cultural capital,’ the James family invested this in the only place they could, preparing their son to sit the entrance examination for the island’s elite school, Queen’s Royal College (QRC).   CLR James was an uncommonly gifted boy and aged just nine, became the youngest boy ever to win the necessary exhibition.  Yet expectations that he would graduate from QRC with a scholarship to go abroad and study for a profession were to be dashed.  James clearly could have chosen such a route had he wanted to, but his interest was increasingly distracted by life outside the classroom.  Instead of paying full attention to Oxbridge educated teachers of Latin and Greek, James indulged his love for the game of cricket and for reading English literature.

After leaving QRC in 1918, though returning there as a teacher of English and History during the 1920s, all the contradictions of colonial rule – the hypocrisy, tyranny and injustice – slowly but steadily dawned on James.  When a mass nationalist movement took off around Captain Cipriani, a charismatic workers’ leader, who often declared himself ‘the champion of the barefooted man,’ James took notice and become a supporter of Cipriani’s mass social-democratic Trinidad Workingmen’s Association.  James’s first published book would be a political biography, The Life of Captain Cipriani (1932), though by then he had already made his name as a writer of implicitly anti-colonialist short stories for short-lived magazines such as Trinidad and The Beacon, as part of a wider awakening of West Indian literature.  As James later noted, ‘the basic constituent of my political activity and outlook’ was already set out in ‘the “human” aspect’ of Minty Alley (1936), the novel he wrote in 1928 about the working people of one ‘barrack-yard’ he stayed with that summer.

In 1932, James made the ‘voyage in’ to imperial Britain, spending ten months in the Lancashire cotton textile town of Nelson, staying with the family of his friend the legendary Trinidadian professional cricketer Learie Constantine.  James’s ten months in Nelson would be ‘ten months that shook James’s world’, and he witnessed not only the devastating effects of the collapse of the Lancashire cotton industry, but alongside mass poverty he also saw a working class community of resistance proudly fighting back.   In Nelson, James was also inspired by reading the Russian Marxist Leon Trotsky’s recent magisterial History of the Russian Revolution.  By 1934, amidst the rise of fascism across Europe on the back of mass unemployment created by the worst crisis in the history of capitalism, James politically radicalised towards Marxism, joining the tiny international Trotskyist movement.  The rise of Hitler onto the world stage proclaiming himself the saviour of the Aryan race meant James now defiantly adopted a more radical, transnational identification with other black people (and their culture) – evolving into a militant ‘class struggle Pan-Africanist’. The course of James’s life as a revolutionary intellectual was now set.

By 1934, James, having moved down to London had secured a prestigious job reporting cricket for the Manchester Guardian.  Within a year, James had established his reputation on the British Left for his leading role in attempting to organize opposition to Fascist Italy’s barbaric war against the people of Ethiopia, which began in October 1935. As Chair of the newly formed International African Friends of Abyssinia (IAFA), James cut through what he called ‘the mountain of lies and nonsense’ which surrounded the war, lies which had confused even sections of the Left in Britain, damning the role of not just Mussolini but European Imperialism in Africa more generally in a series of outstanding articles and speeches.  As a campaigner for ‘West Indian self-government’, James had long been interested in the rich hidden history of the Caribbean, and turned his historical research on the Haitian Revolution into a play, Toussaint Louverture: The story of the only successful slave revolt in history, starring the legendary black American star of the stage and screen Paul Robeson in the title role, staged in London in March 1936.  James now wrote a series of pioneering historical works, World Revolution, 1917-1936 (1937) an anti-Stalinist account of ‘the rise and fall of the Communist International’, A History of Negro Revolt (1938), a path-breaking history of revolutionary black internationalism, and his magnum opus, The Black Jacobins, his magisterial and panoramic classic account of the Haitian Revolution of 1791-1804.  James by now was also working closely with his boyhood friend and compatriot George Padmore, a former leading figure in the Communist International who in 1933 had broken away and in 1937 founded the militant Pan-Africanist International African Service Bureau (IASB), based in London.  Other leading members of this organisation during this period included Amy Ashwood Garvey, Jomo Kenyatta, Ras T. Makonnen, Chris Braithwaite and I.T.A. Wallace-Johnson, and James would edit the IASB publications Africa and the World and International African Opinion.

In 1938, James was delegated to an important international gathering of Trotskyists, and would be elected to the International Executive Committee of the newly launched Fourth International, ‘World Party of Socialist Revolution’.  In late 1938, after translating Boris Souvarine’s biography of Stalin, James left Britain to go on a speaking tour for the American Trotskyist movement[Paul1]  for sixth months, though he ended up staying in America for the next fifteen years.  In April 1939, James spent a week with Leon Trotsky himself in order to discuss the strategy and tactics of black liberation struggles in the United States. James’s radical and original attempt to solve what was then known as ‘the Negro question’, developed after actively organising among striking black sharecroppers’ in southeastern Missouri and carrying out wider anti-war agitation, would in the 1960s influence important groups in America such as the League of Revolutionary Black Workers.  After Trotsky’s murder in 1940, James under the pseudonym ‘J.R. Johnson’ alongside Raya Dunayevskaya (‘Freddie Forest’) and Grace Lee Boggs, formed the ‘Johnson-Forest Tendency’ within American Trotskyism in order to attempt to deal with the profound crisis the movement was now thrown into. The tendency made a highly original attempt to, as James wrote in 1948 in Notes on Dialectics, make a ‘leap from the heights of Leninism’ through breaking with ‘orthodox Trotskyism’ and returning to the writings of Hegel, Marx and Lenin in order to face up to the new realities after the Second World War world.  James’s refusal to treat Trotsky’s writings of the late 1930s as sacrosanct but instead attempt to theoretically develop Marxist theory so it could make sense of new realities shows his creativity.  The tendency’s development of a theory of state capitalism to understand the Stalinist regimes enabled them, like the French group ‘Socialisme Ou Barbarie’ around Cornelius Castoriadis and the Socialist Review Group around Tony Cliff in Britain to preserve an orientation around Marx’s central theoretical insight that the emancipation of the working class would be the conquest of the working class itself.  The Johnson-Forest Tendency also attempted to ‘Americanize’ Marxism and Bolshevism, and James’s wide-ranging writings on culture and society in this vein included American Civilization (1949-1950) and Mariners, Renegades and Castaways (1953) – a classic study of Herman Melville, the author of Moby Dick.

However for all James’s grasp of Marxism as a living, ever-evolving theory, his increasingly profound political isolation amid the rising tide of McCarthyism at the height of the Cold War, had inevitably damaging consequences.    In 1953, he was forced to return to Britain, and the Johnson-Forest Tendency soon broke up – despite seeing much of its analysis vindicated by events such as the rebirth of Workers’ Councils in the Hungarian Revolution of 1956.  James’s own lifelong anti-colonialism was also to be vindicated with the victories of national independence movements across Africa and the Caribbean, not least in Ghana under the leadership of Padmore’s disciple Kwame Nkrumah and Trinidad itself, with the rise to power of the People’s National Movement (PNM) led by James’s friend and former student Eric Williams.  In 1957, James took part in the independence celebrations in Ghana, but by the early 1960s had experienced not only the hope but also – as he detailed in Nkrumah and the Ghana Revolution (1977) – the despair of national liberation struggles, as Nkrumah’s victorious brand of ‘Pan-African Socialism’ steadily descended into autocratic dictatorship.

Aside from playing a leading role in achieving a significant symbolic victory in the appointment of Frank Worrell as the first black captain of the West Indian cricket team, James suffered an even more painful experience after returning to Trinidad in 1958 to play his part in the movement towards in independence across the Caribbean.  James became secretary of the Federal Labour Party, the governing party of the embryonic West Indies Federation, and took on editing the PNM weekly paper The Nation.  By 1960 however, as he detailed in his book Party Politics in the West Indies, he had broken with Williams as a result of the break up of the West Indies Federation, and the latter’s agreement to the retention of a U.S. naval base at Chaguaramas and more general abandonment of non-alignment in favour of support for America in the context of the Cold War.   The publication of James’s 1960 lecture series on Marxism, Modern Politics, was banned in Trinidad, and James returned to England a few days before Trinidad’s independence in 1962.

James now published his classic semi-autobiographical cultural history of West Indian cricket, Beyond a Boundary (1963), revised The Black Jacobins for a second edition and also revised his play about the Haitian Revolution – now also called The Black Jacobins (first performed in 1967) in order to take account of the new realities of liberation struggles in the age of decolonisation.  In 1965, James made a brief return to Trinidad as a cricket correspondent but was placed under house arrest by Williams for a short period until a public outcry ensured his release.  In the few months he spent in Trinidad, he founded and edited a new Trinidadian paper We the People and formed a new left-wing political party, the Workers’ and Farmers’ Party, though both projects were to be short-lived.  James now travelled widely between Britain, the USA, Canada and the Caribbean and initiated (but ultimately boycotted as a result of its support for authoritarian regimes) the sixth Pan-African Congress in Dar-es-Salaam in 1974.   In later years, he continued to write and lecture widely and while increasingly honoured as a living icon of twentieth-century Pan-Africanism and remaining an inspirational figure to many young black radicals, including Walter Rodney. In the 1980s, James lived in Brixton in London, and from his room above the Race Today collective organised by his great nephew Darcus Howe.  Here James not only witnessed not only the riots against unemployment and police racism by young black and white youth across Britain in the summer of 1981 but also felt some vindication of his courageous, creative revolutionary democratic politics of ‘socialism-from-below’, with the eruption of movements such as Solidarity in Poland and, just before his passing, the opening scenes of the 1989 revolutions.

Anthony Bogues, Caliban’s Freedom; The Early Political Thought of C.L.R. James (London, 1997).

Paul Buhle (ed.), C.L.R. James: His Life and Work (London, 1986).

Paul Buhle, C.L.R. James: The Artist as Revolutionary (London, 1993).

Margaret Busby, ‘C.L.R. James: A Biographical Introduction’, in C.L.R. James, At the Rendezvous of Victory; Selected Writings, Vol. 3 (London, 1984).

Selwyn R. Cudjoe and William E. Cain (eds.), C.L.R. James; His Intellectual Legacies (Amherst, 1995).

Robert A. Hill, ‘C.L.R. James: The Myth of Western Civilisation’, in Lamming, George, (ed.), Enterprise of the Indies (Port of Spain, 1999).

Christian Høgsbjerg, ‘C.L.R. James: The Revolutionary as Artist’, International Socialism, 112 (2006).

Scott McLemee and Paul Le Blanc (eds.), C.L.R. James and Revolutionary Marxism; Selected writings of C.L.R. James, 1939-49 (New Jersey, 1994).

Frank Rosengarten, Urbane Revolutionary: C.L.R. James and the Struggle for a New Society (Jackson, 2008).

Andrew Smith, C.L.R. James and the Study of Culture (Basingstoke, 2010).

Kent Worcester, C.L.R. James; A Political Biography (New York, 1996).


Contributor: Kristín Loftsdóttir,Professor of Anthropology, University of Iceland

During the last few years, growing numbers of people from Africa and of African origin have settled in Iceland. Until recently relatively few individuals of African origin were present at all, which reflects the low level of immigration to Iceland in the past. The connection between Iceland and different African countries has historically not been extensive. Iceland was, for example, not engaged in the imperial or colonial exploitations of past centuries, thus having no ex-colonies, being itself a poor Danish dependency until the mid 20th century. Africa has still been a part of Icelandic reality in several ways, in particular through various mediums discussing the continent, inhabitants and its different countries.  In Iceland racist and colonial images were, furthermore, created and recycled, Icelanders thus participating in the colonial ideology that shaped European identities in 19th and early 20th century.

My discussion aims at giving an overview of images of Africa in Iceland, in addition to mapping out the presence of Africans in Iceland and prejudice against people of African origin in Iceland. I start with a brief discussion on how Africa has been made available to Icelanders through the centuries, in images and texts even though there has not been an extensive connection between Africa and Iceland. I then give general information about African immigration to Iceland and contemporary images of the continent in addition to narrating experiences expressed by few individuals of African origin living in Iceland. [1]


[1] The information presented here is for the most part based on two connected research projects in 2009 and 2011 supported by the Developmental Fund for Immigrant Matters which is run by the Ministry of Social Affairs. The part of the data used here was collected with the assistance from Þóra Lilja Sigurðardóttir. In relation to these projects I have interviews with diverse group of people (focus groups and individual interviews) in order to capture the different views at stake in relation to racism and prejudices in Iceland. I have interviewed Icelanders with immigrant background, “ethnic” Icelanders, and individuals from several African countries.

Images of Africa existed in Iceland from the earliest time, many of whom were basing on works of other European scholars. One of the most extensive descriptions of Africa in medieval times, Hauksbók compiled in 1300, based on the work of Isidor from Sevilla who had great influence of medieval world view in Europe (Nordal, Tómasson and Ólafsson 1992). Images of Africa in Iceland during medieval times were still plural and not entirely negative (Loftsdóttir, in press). Looking at 19th and early 20th century images of Africa shows, however, a clear replication of racist and colonizing images found within European and American context. This is, for example, reflected in the teaching material for geography and history during this time. Geography books closely explain racial classifications, positioning them as objective scientific facts, often using subjective and degrading language. Colonialism is celebrated as a positive force in history books published during this time (Loftsdóttir, 2010). The annual journal Skírnir – being one of the most important sources of foreign news for Icelanders in the 19th century – reported occasionally on the continent even though usually not including extensive discussion. Very often the news were focused on Europeans in Africa, celebrating their masculinity and ‘civilization project.’ In that sense it is interesting how the Icelandic writers seem to have positioned Icelanders within these narratives as one of the collective ‘we’ that was civilizing and exploring the world – interesting due to that during that time Icelanders were few in numbers (only 78,000 people in 1900) and Icelandic society characterized by intensive poverty (Loftsdóttir 2009a).

When Iceland was occupied by the U.S. military forces following the Second World War there were great concerns with corruption of the Icelandic nation, leading to a strict regulations in regard to movements of the solders (Ingimundarson, 2004). Even though this has also to be contextualized within the resentment to an army occupation so recently after independence, it still shows particular attitudes toward foreigners. These attitudes were racialized because the Icelandic government even went so far as to demand that the USA government stationed no ‘black’ soldiers at the American base.  The ‘black’ solders were in particular seen as especially threatening to Icelandic women (Ingimundarson, 2004).

Moving rapidly to the current day Iceland, considerable changes have been in regard to the images of Africa in Icelandic context with more plural and vibrant image of the continent. To take schoolbooks again as a point of emphasis, many schoolbooks published around and after 2000 discussing Africa in one way or another, destabilize older views of homogeneity of the Icelandic nation. The authors seem to attempt to engage with the changing compositions of the Icelandic nation, along with acknowledging that diversity has always existed in Icelandic society. This can, for example, been seen as reflected in a book series used in primary schools to practice reading skills, where visual material shows Icelandic children with different skin shades, thus acknowledging children of African origin as Icelandic children (Loftsdóttir 2009b). This applies as well to some books addressing Africa as a continent. In one recent book teaching Icelandic history, the author tries to locate Iceland’s history within a wider historical framework and mentions in that respect briefly the West African Songhay kingdom. This discussion of the kingdom, in spite of being very brief, gives a view of dynamic and power state that is connected to the outside world, emphasizing agency (Helgason 2004:47). Even though there is certainly more work to be done in regard to this, the emphasis in some of these recent schoolbooks reflects still a drastic change from earlier schoolbooks presentation of Africa as traditional and uniform continent located in the past. The somewhat rapid change in how Africa is represented in the schoolbooks has to be contextualized with growing discussions about multicultural society in Iceland and emphasis that teaching material should reflect that diversity (Loftsdóttir 2009b). Schoolbooks do, however, of course not reflect on what happens in the classroom or school policies and practices in a wider sense. Analysis of the newest primary school curriculum in Iceland shows, for example, that increased plurality of Icelandic society is addressed in limited way and even occasionally by drawing a stark contrast between immigrants and native Icelanders (Loftsdóttir 2009c).

Simultaneously, one also sees a reproduction of racist images in Iceland in books and media. The nursery rhyme “Ten Little Negros” which bases on colonial image and texts was, for example, republished in 2007 after having originally being published in Iceland in 1922.  The republication caused a huge debate in Icelandic society where some native Icelanders protested the racism intrinsic to the book and its images questioning why it would be republished today. Others expressed that the book was not racist in any sense, some even positioning it within Icelandic heritage discussion (Loftsdóttir 2011). Another example of racist images is the symbol for a coffee house in down town Reykjavík named Svarta Kaffi, which literally translates as ‘Black coffee’. The name could refer to the black color of the house if it was not for the symbol of the coffee house: a caricature of a black man (big red lips, unintelligent grin). According for some of those I interviewed, the owner of the coffee shop had been asked to remove this racist symbol due to its offensive nature, but had refused to do so. Colonial and racist images are thus not to be necessarily contested by all within present day Iceland, in spite of more plural image of the African continent and African people existing as well.

According to information from Statistics Iceland (Hagstofa Íslands) statistical data about people of African origin in Iceland was only first collected in 1973 (see graph 1).  Prior to that time there is no information about the number of individuals of African origin living in Iceland. Only in 1998 statistic became collected in regard to country of origin of these individuals.[1]  To some extent the increasing numbers of individuals from Africa coincides with growing number of immigrants in Iceland during the last two decades, leading to foreign nationals rising from 1.8 % in 1996 to 8,1 % of the national population in 2011 (Statistical Series, 2009; Statistical Series 2011).


[1] Some individuals registering in the statistic could be children of missionaries or other Icelanders stationed in various African states for one reason or another

In 2011 there were 782 individuals from Africa living in Iceland. The number of individuals has grown somewhat steadily but between 1977-1978 there was no increase and between 1991-1992 decrease (41 persons) and again in 1992-1993 (11 persons), and then once again between 2009-2010 (6 persons).  Also, following more immigration to Iceland in general from other countries, it is likely that people from other continents that are identified with the African diaspora have also moved to Iceland. The gender distribution is relatively equal or 51% men and 49% women.  These individuals come from 42 countries and the largest group or 19% are from Morocco. Looking at gender distribution from nationality shows that it is quite uneven. For example, 64% of Moroccans are males but only 38% of South Africans (also relatively large group in Iceland). Within other nationalities where there are fewer individuals living in Iceland, the gender distribution is even more skewed.  For example, 77% of the 26 individuals from Egypt are males.

Iceland became a part of the Schengen area on March 25th, 2001, meaning that all African nationals must apply for a visa before travelling to Iceland, unless having a valid Schengen visa.  The inhabitants of the islands Mauritius and Seychelle Islands are exempted from visa requirement. Nationals of countries that are not part of the European Economic Area (EEA) need work permits to come and work in Iceland, meaning that African nationals cannot come to Iceland and work unless granted work permit. Also, according to the Icelandic laws, work permits are only given to residence of non-EEA countries after the employer has first sought someone local workforce and from the EEA area.  After change in the legal framework in August 1st, 2008, there are more types of residential permits, some of which do not grant the basis for permanent residential permit. Prior to that time there were only two types of residential permits both of whom gave the possibility of permanent residential permit, if certain conditions were granted. In that respect, the laws have been made even stricter for those interested in permanent residency.  It is interesting to observe how the laws distinguish between desirable and undesirable permanent residence, by permitting those coming in as “qualified professionals” to have the possibility of permanent residency but not those who are given residency permission due to ‘temporary shortage of labourers” [1]

The permits are also not granted to the workers themselves but to the employer and usually for only 12 months, even though they can be extended.  This has been strongly criticized by ECRI (European Commission against Racism and Intolerance), then especially on the premises that it puts the worker into a ‘vulnerable situation.’  It can be difficult for the worker to complain about bad or unfear treatment treatment of the employee due to fear of loosing the work permit. As ECRI notes, this has been criticizes by members of civil society and immigrant organization (ECRI 2007:25).


[1] see information on the homepage of the The Directorate of Immigration: http://www.utl.is/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=3&Itemid=4&lang=en).

Hate crimes are not specified especially within Icelandic laws but the sections 180 and 233a address discrimination, including discrimination basing on ‘race’ or ‘color’ (Ríkislögreglustjórinn 2008:7). Section 180 of the criminal code makes it punishable to deny goods and services in business or service transaction, or access to any public place intended for public use, for example due to someone’s color or race.  Section 233a states that person that ‘attacks another person by personally ridiculing, slandering, insulting, threatening them’ on the basis of various identifications including race and skin color (ECRI 2007:9).

There are, however, very few cases where racist discrimination is reported by the victims to the authorities. According to information from the office of the  National Commissioner of the Icelandic Police (Ríkislögreglustjóri) very few cases have been filed under these sections of the law.  During the years 2006 till 2010 no cases falling under section 180 have been reported and only 13 under section 233a, 7 of those 13 were in 2006 and no case in 2009 (information from the National Commissioner of the Icelandic Police). In their reports on Iceland, ECRI has stressed the importance of investigate better the ‘apparent unwillingness of victims to report cases’ (2007:9). In 2008, the National Commissioner of the Icelandic Police issued a report on hate-crimes in Iceland, where it is stressed how serious hate-crimes are within a European context and the importance of investigating it further in Iceland.  They also state that it is difficult to say much about the situation in Iceland but estimate that it is worse than the official statistics indicates (Ríkislögreglustjórinn 2008:17).

No research exists on structural racial discrimination in Iceland (ECRI 2007:14), and in my interviews it is difficult to distinguish whether discrimination in relation to housing or jobs is related to skin color or prejudice against foreigners in general.  Foreigners have experienced discrimination in the work place, such as in term of lower salaries and difficulties of upward mobility in the workplace when compared with native Icelanders (The Icelandic Red Cross 2006, Guðjónsdóttir and Loftsdóttir 2009). In my interviews with Africans living in Iceland some mentioned that that they believed that they were paid lower amount than an Icelander but to a large part ascribing it as a result of their status as foreigners, not to their skin color.

When asking in interviews individuals of African origin about their experiences in relation to prejudice, majority expressed that it was difficult to be seen as anything else than a foreigner in Icelandic society. When asked about racism in that regard, most people said that did not generally see it as a large problem in Iceland.  When the question was persuaded some said they had experienced racism in the form of verbal abuse and they had certainly meet Icelanders that were racist but generally did not experience much racism in Iceland. Fantu, who has lived in Iceland for 20 years refers, for example to his experience as a foreigner when asked about prejudice and racism, but not to his skin color. When asked more closely in regard to racism he says: “But about racism or discrimination based on race, look, we in Iceland are in many ways really lucky, if I can phrase it like that.” He concludes by stating that no one has succeeded in implanting what he calls ‘Nazi mentality’ in Iceland, because most people find that distasteful.

The jump between racism and xenophobia is clear in Daniel’s comment who is not able to distinguish these two phenomena clearly in an Icelandic contex:

“[…] there are people that are racist here, yeah, there is xenophobia. I think we have to separate a little bit beasue I mean, racism is one thing and xenophobia is another thing, so I think that in most cases it would not be about the color of the skin, but it’s the fact of the language. I think it is more xenophobia”

Some even mentioned unquestioned that the most racism in Icelandic society was directed at Polish people thus echoing the statements that I have often heard made by native Icelanders in regard to racism in iceland. My position as a white, ethnic Icelander could of course be at play in people downplaying the effects of racism, due to attempts to be polite towards me. Many of those I interviewed had also lived in other European countries, and had there encountered more violence in relation to racism, occasionally comparing their experiences directly with their experience elsewhere.


Icelandic nationalism has placed a strong division between Icelanders and foreigners; the Icelandic language and the heritage of medieval literature were essential for claims of independence. Language purity was conceptualized in terms of life in relative isolation from foreign influences and similar claims were also exhibited in relation to the Icelanders themselves stressing their isolation from foreign influences (Pálsson and Durrenberger 1992; Simpson 2000). When interviewing people from Africa living in Iceland, it is difficult to distinguish between the racism that they encounter as socially categorized as ‘black’ Africans and the prejudices that are expressed in general against foreigner in Iceland. Most individuals of African origin highlight the prejudices that they face as foreigners, still acknowledging that that some racism exists in Icelandic context. As highlighted in the ECRI report and in the report by the Ríkislögregluembættið it is important to look more closely at racism and prejudice in an Icelandic context.

ECRI.  2007    Third Report on Iceland. European Commission against Racism and Intolerance. Stratsbourg, European Commission against Racism and Intolerance

Helgason, Þorsteinn (2004). Ein grjóthrúga í hafinu: Kennslubók í sögu.  Reykjavík: Námsgagnastofnun.

Statistical Series (2011) Population  Development 2010.  96(18):1-24. Hagstofa Íslands. Downloaded, July 7th , 2011 from:  https://hagstofa.is/lisalib/getfile.aspx?ItemID=12311

Statistical Series (2009) Immigrants and Persons with Foreign Background 1996-2008.  Statistical Series, 9(4):1-24. Downloaded June 20th from http://www.statice.is/Pages/452?itemid=7c416da9-3596-4dd3-93c9-e07ba2ed2886

Simpson, Bob

2000    Imagined Genetic Communities: Ethnicity and Essentialism in the Twenty-First Century. Anthropology Today 16(3):3-6.

Ingimundarson, Valur

2004    Immunizing against the American Other: Racism, Nationalism, and Gender in U.S.- Icelandic Military Relations during the Cold War. Journal of Cold War Studies 6(4 ):65-88.

Kristín Loftsdóttir, “Margbreytileiki og fjölmenningarlegt samfélag í námsbókum: Sýn aðalnámskrár grunnskóla og gátlista Námsgagnastofnunar,” Uppeldi og menntun 18, 2 (2009c): 35-51.

— Pure manliness’: The Colonial Project and Africa’s Image in 19th Century Iceland.  2009a. Identities: Global Studies in Culture and Power, 16: 271-293.

—- The Diversified Iceland:  Identity and Multicultural Societies in Icelandic Schoolbooks.  2009b. Nordic Identities under Change, (ed.) Staffan Selander. Oslo: Novus Press (pp. 239-260).

—- Racist Caricatures in Iceland in the 19th and the 20th century. 2011.  Iceland and Images of the North. Sumarliði R. Ísleifsson (ed.) (p. 187-204).  Québec: Prologue Inc

—- In press. Imaging Blackness at the Margins: Historical Construction of Race and Africa in Iceland. Forthcoming 2011. Afro-Nordic Landscapes. Michael McEachrane (ed.).  University of Illinois Press.

Nordal, Guðrún, Sverrir Tómasson and Vésteinn Ólason. Íslensk bókmenntasaga. (Reykjavík: Háskólaútgáfan, 1992).

Guðbjört Guðjónsdóttir og Kristín Loftsdóttir. 2009. Íslendingar þrífa ekki herbergi: Skörun kyns og uppruna í störfum á hóteli.  Rannsóknir í Félagsvísindum X. (ritstj.) Gunnar Þór Jóhannesson og Helga Björnsdóttir.  Reykjavík: Félagsvísindastofnun Háskóla Íslands (bls. 447-453).

Ríkislögreglustjóri (2008).  Hatursglæpir: Áfangaskýrsla um stöðu og þróun hatursglæpa á Íslandi og innan aðildaríkja Öryggis- og samvinnustofnun Evrópu (ÖSE).  Skýrsla frá júlí 2008, gefin út af Ríkislögreglustjóra, Reykjavík.

The Icelandic Red Cross. 2006.  Vegvísir til aðlögunar innflytjenda að íslensku samfélagi.  Unpublished report from the Icelandic Redcross. Downloaded July 5th, 2011, from http://raudakrosshusid.is/redcross/upload/files/pdf/vegvisir.pdf

Pálsson, Gísli and Paul Durrenberger (1992) Individual Differences in Indigenous Discourse.  Journal of Anthropological Research, 48(4):301-316.

*The Black British Press

Contributor: Olive Vassell

The Black British Press began in the early 20th century and was created as a result of a united black-led push to rid Caribbean and African colonies of Britain’s political dominance.

The Pan-African

The Pan-African was the first publication for and by blacks in Britain and grew out of the first Pan-African Conference in 1900.  Its creator Trinidadian Henry Sylvester Williams also organized the conference. The publication, like those who followed it, tackled several issues of concern to blacks both inside and outside of Britain. Top of the agenda was freedom from British rule, but focus was also given to addressing negative stereotypes of blacks all over the world. It declared in its first issue “no other but a Negro can represent the Negro.”  Though the publication was short-lived, producing probably only one issue, it was soon succeeded by other anti-colonialist organs.

The African Times and Orient Review

The African Times and Orient Review was Britain’s first black political publication.  The magazine was created by Egyptian-born Duse Mohammed Ali and Sierra Leonean journalist and businessman John Eldred Taylor in 1912 following the Universal Race Congress in 1911. Ali, who lived mainly in Britain from 1883 to 1921 wrote in its first edition, the Congress needs “a Pan-Oriental, Pan-African journal at the seat of the British Empire which would lay the aims, desires and intentions of the black, brown, and yellow races—within and without the Empire—at the throne of Caesar.”  With its Fleet Street offices staffed with a multicultural mix, the publication attracted prominent blacks in Britain and beyond including composer Samuel Coleridge Taylor and activist Marcus Garvey. The journal’s international circulation was high with readership among intellectuals in Africa, North America and the Caribbean. It lasted eight years, with its final edition appearing in 1920.

The African Telegraph

The African Telegraph newspaper was founded by businessman John Eldred Taylor in 1914. It too served as an organ for an anti-colonial organization, this time the Society of Peoples of African Origin, created by Taylor. While it focused primarily on West African issues, the publication also exposed racial tensions in Britain with its reports on race riots in Cardiff (Wales) and Liverpool. Explaining its goals, the editor said: “We are here because we ought to be…because it can be demonstrated that the African colonies and all that pertain to their social welfare have received scan justice at the hands of journalism.”  The African Telegraph was forced to close in 1919 after Taylor lost a libel case.

The Keys, a quarterly journal of the League of Coloured Peoples in London, was published regularly from the summer of 1933 until the beginning of the Second World War.  The League attracted black professionals and intellectuals. During the late 1930s, The Keys was a watchdog, decrying and publicizing both injustices committed against blacks in Britain and abroad and advancing ideas for the betterment of blacks. Following an interruption at the beginning of World War II, it was revived as the League of Coloured Peoples Newsletter and focused on issues concerning the new influx of black servicemen and West Indian workers to Britain. It was published well into the 1940s.

The Jamaican Daily Gleaner

A British edition of the Caribbean-based Jamaican Daily Gleaner launched in 1951. The parent company, the Gleaner Company Ltd, was established in 1834 by Joshua and Jacob De Cordova, white Jamaican planters and publishes the Gleaner, a daily morning broadsheet, a Sunday paper and an evening tabloid, The Star. Designed to cater to the Britain’s increasing post-World War II Caribbean population, the Gleaner’s conservative stance earned the paper the nickname, “The Times of the Caribbean.” The newspaper, now named the Weekly Gleaner, still publishes in the UK.

The Caribbean News

The monthly newspaper was launched in 1952 by Billy Strachan, a Jamaican-born member of the League of Coloured Peoples. If the British edition of the Jamaican Daily Gleaner was considered to be conservative, then the Caribbean News was considered left wing in its leanings. Strachan was an active member of the communist party and all the paper’s correspondents, including its editor, Guyanese political activist, Ranji Chandisingh, were communists. In 1956, Trinidad-born activist Claudia Jones took over the reigns at the Caribbean News, before leaving to start another newspaper.

The West Indian Gazette and Afro-Asian Caribbean News

Claudia Jones launched the West Indian Gazette and Afro-Asian Caribbean News in 1958 with the assistance of Amy Garvey, the widow of the famed activist Marcus Garvey. Although Jones did not disguise her political leanings the newspaper’s primary goal was to encourage understanding between Britain’s diverse races, especially between West Indian settlers and the native population. Focusing on the local black community, the paper challenged the prevailing negative view of blacks in the country’s media. It also targeted institutional racism including immigration laws aimed at blacks. The newspaper was published until May 1965, five months after Jones’ death in December 1964.  Jones is also credited with starting the Notting Hill Carnival, now Europe’s largest street festival, in 1959, as a way to help foster relationships between blacks and whites following the Notting hill riots the previous year.

The West Indian World

The West Indian World first appeared on June 11th 1971. During its 14-year existence, the newspaper reported on key topics including the 1974 riots in Notting Hill, London. The publication was founded by business and economics graduate Aubrey Baynes, with the assistance of photographer Caudley George, barrister Rudy Narayan, journalist Lionel Morrison, Tony Douglas and Rhoden Gordon. The newspaper had financial problems within its first six months and Arif Ali, who owned the quarterly West Indian Digest bought out Baynes and took over the paper in its first year. George eventually won control of the paper from Ali and other investors. Felled by financial problems, it eventually folded in 1985.

The Caribbean Times

The Caribbean Times was first published in 1981 by Guyanese native Arif Ali. The paper was not Ali’s first media venture. In 1971, he started a weekly paper, the West Indian Digest with the aim of ‘improving community relations.’ Later Ali would build a publishing group, Hansib Publications, which included, Asian Times and the African Times; Ali would also acquire and lose its rival the West Indian World.

The paper was mostly read by immigrants from the Caribbean interested in ‘news from back home.’ During the mid-1980s, the editor of The Caribbean Times, Mike Massive, “The Caribbean Times, [sic] expresses that particular perspective of a campaigning newspaper that addresses political issues.” Ali sold the newspapers in 1997 to focus on book publishing.

The Voice newspaper

In Britain, the founding of The Voice newspaper by businessman Val McCalla in 1982 saw a new era in newspapers targeted towards blacks in Britain. It grew out of the Brixton riots in 1981, with a grant from the Greater London Council and unlike its predecessors, The Voice was produced by those born and raised in the nation. It spoke to the generation of young people like those who had taken part in the riots. According to former editor Onyekachi Wambu, “all other papers had one foot here and one foot there.”   Calling itself “Britain’s Best Black newspaper,” the weekly abandoned the notion that black newspapers served first generation settlers, connecting them with their former homelands. At its height, The Voice’s circulation reportedly peaked at 57,000 in the early to mid 90s. Later it abandoned its Audit Bureau of Circulations certification altogether. In 2004, Jamaica’s Gleaner company purchased The Voice for £4 million. By 2009, it was the only remaining black newspaper in the nation. McCalla also launched the short-lived The Weekly Journal, the country’s first national broadsheet targeting black professionals in April 1992.


Pride magazine

The lifestyle magazine, the brainchild of three young Londoners, launched in 1991.  It was later acquired by The Voice publisher Val McCalla, who re-launched the magazine in 1993, this time targeting women between 18 and 35. At once time, Pride had issues in other European countries including Holland and Germany, as well as in Jamaica, Ghana and North America. The only black media company of any size that still remains in black British ownership, in 2012 it celebrated its 21st year.

New Nation

Former Voice staffers started the New Nation, in 1996. Once a competitor of The Voice, the weekly newspaper, at times outpaced its rival as the number one selling black newspaper. The New Nation was published by Ethnic Media Group, a publisher of weekly newspapers, magazines, websites and digital newspapers for Britain’s African, Caribbean, Black British and Asian communities in the UK. When the New Nation ceased publication in January 2009, its former editor Angela Foster wrote an op-ed explaining that the paper had been felled by declining advertising revenues and competition from the Internet.

The African Times and Orient Review

The African Times and Orient Review was Britain’s first black political publication.  The magazine was created by Egyptian-born Duse Mohammed Ali and Sierra Leonean journalist and businessman John Eldred Taylor in 1912 following the Universal Race Congress in 1911. Ali, who lived mainly in Britain from 1883 to 1921 wrote in its first edition, the Congress needs “a Pan-Oriental, Pan-African journal at the seat of the British Empire which would lay the aims, desires and intentions of the black, brown, and yellow races—within and without the Empire—at the throne of Caesar.”  With its Fleet Street offices staffed with a multicultural mix, the publication attracted prominent blacks in Britain and beyond including composer Samuel Coleridge Taylor and activist Marcus Garvey. The journal’s international circulation was high with readership among intellectuals in Africa, North America and the Caribbean. It lasted eight years, with its final edition appearing in 1920.

The African Telegraph

The African Telegraph newspaper was founded by businessman John Eldred Taylor in 1914. It too served as an organ for an anti-colonial organization, this time the Society of Peoples of African Origin, created by Taylor. While it focused primarily on West African issues, the publication also exposed racial tensions in Britain with its reports on race riots in Cardiff (Wales) and Liverpool. Explaining its goals, the editor said: “We are here because we ought to be…because it can be demonstrated that the African colonies and all that pertain to their social welfare have received scan justice at the hands of journalism.”  The African Telegraph was forced to close in 1919 after Taylor lost a libel case.

The Keys, a quarterly journal of the League of Coloured Peoples in London, was published regularly from the summer of 1933 until the beginning of the Second World War.  The League attracted black professionals and intellectuals. During the late 1930s, The Keys was a watchdog, decrying and publicizing both injustices committed against blacks in Britain and abroad and advancing ideas for the betterment of blacks. Following an interruption at the beginning of World War II, it was revived as the League of Coloured Peoples Newsletter and focused on issues concerning the new influx of black servicemen and West Indian workers to Britain. It was published well into the 1940s.

Benjamin, I (1995). The black press in Britain. Stoke-on-Trent: Trentham Books.

Dabydeen D., Gilmore J., Jones, C (2007). Oxford: The Oxford companion to Black British History, Oxford University Press.

Duffield, I. (1976) `Duse Mohammed Ali: his purpose and his public,’ in The Commonwealth Writer Overseas: Themes of Exile and Expatriation, edited by Alastair Niven, Brussels: M. Didier.

Marton, E. ed. (2009) Encyclopedia of Blacks in European History and Culture. Westport: Greenwood Press.

Frayer, P. (1984), Staying Power The History of Black People in Britain.  London: Pluto Press.

Jones, C. (1964) “The Caribbean Community in Britain,” London: Freedomways V.

Lynch, H. (1967) Edward Wilmot Blyden: Pan-Negro patriot 1832-1912. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Sewell, T. “Val McCalla Founder of ‘The Voice newspaper,” The Independent newspaper.

OLIVE VASSELL, M.A., is a journalist and professor with over 27 years experience in the field. She has worked for the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), Channel 4 (UK) and has written for The Voice newspaper, (UK. She began her career at the pioneer West Indian World in London. In 2009, she launched Euromight, (www.euromight.com) the pioneering pan-European, news site that focuses on European communities of African heritage. Vassell holds a master’s degree in International Journalism from the leading City University in London, UK. She heads the journalism program at the University of the District of Columbia in Washington. D.C.

Abdulrazak Gurnah

Abdulrazak Gurnah is a fiction writer and academic. Although a permanent resident in the UK, he does not feel comfortable with the label of British and considers himself as a postcolonial cosmopolitan who has never abandoned his sentimental ties with his native land.

Abdulrazak Gurnah was born in the island Zanzibar where he received a British education. While many years later this experience would give the author a valuable insight into the discourses of imperialism, the young Gurnah felt that his colonial education came into conflict with other autochthonous knowledges such as his Koranic schooling, or the prevailing oral tradition. As a teenager, he witnessed the 1964 Zanzibari uprising and the subsequent installing of a Marxist revolutionary regime, and this historical event would mark him for the rest of his life. Gurnah (2004) assures that, ‘It was a time of hardship and anxiety, of state terror and calculated humiliations, and at eighteen all I wanted was to find safety and fulfilment somewhere else’ (26)[i]. In this light, he came to live in England amidst a moment of profound social upheaval and racial tension, epitomised by Enoch Powell’s Rivers of Blood speech. He has never returned to live in Zanzibar

Gurnah’s early writing was motivated by the immense difference he felt on arriving to the UK. Marginality and the tryst between self-image and how society constructs stereotypical images of the other are his primary concerns. The young Gurnah wrote about his sense of being alien from a position of weakness and, four decades later, this sense of being an outsider has not left him. This prevailing sense of estrangement finds its way into the lives of many of his protagonists who are predominately male and lead half-lives; with one foot in the diasporic present and the other foot in the past. The author’s own abandoning of Zanzibar and his recollections of those people left behind during Sheikh Abeid Karume’s oppressive regime are channelled into much of his writing through the trope of shame. It is perhaps for this reason that the author displays a penchant towards poetic pessimism, which primarily focuses upon how vulnerable mankind is.

Writing as a means of remembering is a premise that Gurnah holds high and his permanent ‘exile’ in England has afforded the author with a distance from where these memories can be distilled. For Gurnah, writing is also about resistance against dominant discourses; it is a space where his early intuitions about his own difference and the nature of imperialism could mature into a coherent literary discourse. In his writing, Gurnah makes much use of juxtapositions as a means of creating dynamism; harshness, self-contempt register and sentimental optimism are conflicting narratives he uses to create paradox. Throughout his literary career, Gurnah’s search for ‘truthfulness’ can be summed up as neither wishing to paint bleak pictures of ‘outpost’ of old empire, nor engage in a sentimentalism of homeland viewed from the comforts of exile.

Gurnah’s first novel Memory of Departure (1987) draws its inspiration from the authors’ early life in Zanzibar and his own subsequent departure On a formal level, Memory of Departure can be seen as a cross-over between novel and memoir. The action takes place in an East African coastal city after emancipation from colonial rule and, like Gurnah, its narrator speaks about the restrictions and sense of frustration he suffers within the postcolony. The Black African/Arab divide is seen as curtailing entropy and, through the archetype of the drunken father figure, local governance is portrayed as being ineffectual. African kleptocracy is also denounced in the novel when the protagonist visits his uncle in Nairobi. The book employs the trope of the wandering self through the first-person narrative of Hassan who traverses the conflicting emotions of expectation and loss when he abandons his home. On a conceptual level, the narrative examines how slippery the act of recollection can be; the narrator represses, distorts and selects memories so as to construct an identity that may appear coherent yet is not altogether factual.

Pilgrim’s Way (1988) borrows its title from the ancient causeway that links Winchester to the shrine of Thomas Becket at Cantebury, Kent, Gurnah’s adoptive home. The author draws upon the time he worked as a hospital orderly to develop the novel’s central character Daud who has come to the metropolis in search of a better life. The Tanzanian is a postcolonial wanderer who must deal with the incommensurable nature of the colour line in British society and how this marks the émigré. A victim of stereotyping, he develops a self-consciousness that borders upon the paranoiac. While Daud does not vocalise his psychomachia, the Liberian Karta, on the contrary, reaffirms the validity of his African identity by denouncing of the Atlantic slave trade, or reclaiming icons of white culture such as Pushkin, Saint Augustine, or Alexandre Dumas, for black culture (43). The novel arc looks at the motif of redemption through Catherine who poses him the question: ‘Why do you have to be so over-sensitive? Are you something special?’ (39). By challenging his hyper-sensitivity, she questions the self-fulfilling prophecies of assigned roles. The narrative, however, does not suggest that Daud’s association with a white woman will eradicate difference and finally there is no redemption to cure his cynicism and self-pitying, traits that mark him as an exiled man. Dottie (1990) explores similar themes of alienation through the character of Dottie Badoara Fatma Balfour, a woman of mixed origin who is marginalised from society. Set in the politically racially fraught late 1960s, Gurnah channels his own sense of deracination into the narrative and examines how a person like Dottie is doubly stigmatised by race and gender.


Paradise (1994) is a seminal novel in Gurnah’s career as it most vividly portrays the complexities of East African Arab-Swahili identity. The novel appropriates the Surah Yusuf, the most detailed of all the narratives in the Qu’ran that tells the story of Joseph, son of Jacob. It is set in the period 1900-14 in German East Africa, and it looks at Tanganyikan colonial society at a moment of its disintegration. The impulse behind writing Paradise was to challenge the Manichean discourses constructed by colonialism around the issue of ending Arab slavery, the falsification of history, and the crusade against Islam. The story is told through the eyes of Yusuf, a twelve-year-old boy who has been handed into the service of a Muslim trader as a ‘rehani’ (a kind of slave) and sent to work in the coastal city of what is modern-day Tanzania. The central part of the Paradise deals with a trading expedition into the heartland of Tanganyika, and this epic journey commences from the town of Kawa which lies upon the Tanganyika railway. It is from this strategic trading post that the Arab-Swahili elite freight raw materials and other goods procured from interior to the coast. Through Yusuf’s voice, the reader comes to see Kawa as the last outpost of civilisation, and as the expedition ventures towards ‘the Great Lake’, the narrative steers the reader towards perceiving the interior as a place of darkness and savagery. In this respect, the text signals those imperial narratives of explorers such as John Hanning Speke and Richard Burton and also becomes reminiscent of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. This perception of peril is born out when Uncle Aziz’s safari arrive at the kingdom of king Chatu, a ruler renowned for his cruelty and from whom they are hoping to buy ivory. No trade is conducted, the party is attacked, many are killed and Yusuf escapes with his life.  The only perception Paradise gives us about the black Africans of the hinterland is one of ‘savage’, yet we know that the prevailing colonial regime classifies both the Arab-Swahili elite and the black Africans under the same rubric of inferior other. Through the journey into the African interior, the reader vicariously lives out these paradoxes through Yusuf’s perceptions; he witnesses both the brutality of king Chatu and the cynicism and ruthless exploitation of the Arab elite who are implicated in slaving practices. In the novel’s final pages, Yusuf prefers to follow the Askari troups led by a German officer than return to his own people, which becomes a source of shame for him.

This is the double bind that torments many of Gurnah’s charcters and fuels their ambiguities. In By The Sea (2001), Saleh Omar looks back to his childhood and muses upon how the imperial pedagogy had selected him from a ‘ruck of native boys eager for their kind of education’ (17). Saleh Omar has cultivated a need for learning instilled by a Qu’ranic tradition, yet it is the colonial education with its ‘glamour’ and the sense of ‘being alive to the modern world’ (17) that draws him. The narrator admits that he secretly admires the British for their ‘audacity’, their ‘calling the shots’ such a long way from home (17). Arrival to the colonial metropolis, however, tempers this admiration. The book’s first pages narrate Saleh Omar’s interrogation at immigration control, Gatwick airport, and explore needless humiliation. (The scene finds its inspiration from Gurnah’s arrival at that same airport with his brother in 1969.) By the Sea returns to Gurnah’s premise of remembering as a fundamental process in identity, and one section of the novel is dedicated to Saleh Omar’ recollections of the past. For Gurnah, writing is a way of remembering, and the obsession with the abandoned homeland fuels the need to narrate and recreate it.

Desertion (2005) similarly revisits these concerns through Rashid’s narrative of arrival to the UK.  Rashid is at first dismayed at how English people perceive him. His image of self becomes disturbed by the hostile looks he receives and he must then go through a process of reconstructing his own previous relationship with the English coloniser in Zanzibar and how this was founded on many carefully constructed fallacies: ‘It took a long time to learn not to care, years, a lifetime.  […] I realised that I did not know very much about England, that all the books I had studied and the maps I had pored over had taught me nothing of how England thought of the world and of people like me’ (214).

The Last Gift (2011) returns to Gurnah’s concerns of identity as a shifting narrative that was present in Admiring Silence (1996). In this earlier novel, Gurnah’s unnamed narrator is a Zanzibari dissident who has fled his native land. He finds asylum in the UK, becomes a school teacher, and marries an English woman. However, below this surface of stability we find a much more fragile scenario where the unnamed narrator must fabricate details of his own past so that he can become palatable to his host family. This sanitising of his family history through the act of fictionalising is in stark juxtaposition with the fact that he has severed all links with his family and that they know nothing about his English bride. The protagonist thus finds himself in the precarious situation of having both to attend to the demands of colonial nostalgia of his political family on one hand, and silence the fact that he has married a white woman on the other. He sustains this half life through fabrication, a seemingly innocent pursuit that is shattered upon a return visit to Zanzibar where he finds the family home in decay and his old friends now complicit in a suppressive regime of kleptocratic governance. This and other revealed truths such as the real circumstances under which his mother was given to his father, wake him up from his self-delusionary narratives spun in exile. The edginess he feels when confronted by the ‘real’ Zanzibar is compounded by family encroachments regarding an arranged marriage which causes the protagonist to abandon Zanzibar once more. However, on his return to the UK he finds his wife has left him, and the comfort of his assimilated life is shattered. Alone and confused, he is cut adrift in his adopted island and left to swim amongst the incommensurable seas of cultural difference.

Through the character of Abbas, Gurnah revisits this motif of in-betweenness in The Last Gift. The book looks at self-reproach and contradictory emotions that this produces through a narrative crossing back and forth from the past in Zanzibar to a present in the UK. There is an initial reticence within the narrative to convey Abbas’s identity, and this is mirrored by the lacunas that other character have as regards Abbas. His wife Maryam’s knowledge about her husband’s past is sketchy while his children Hanna and Jamal know little about their father’s past bar ‘he was a monkey from Africa’; a self-deprecatory tone Abbas uses in irony to hide his real emotions.  This reticence spawns from Abbas’ conflictual attitudes about Zanzibar. When Maryam encourages her husband to make a series of recordings about his past, he becomes scathing about Zanzibar which he describes as ‘that old latrine’. Yet memories of his homeland are integral to who he is, and being ill and bedridden wake him up to the fact that he can no longer camouflage the past through fable. As Abbas’ impaired speech declines, his need to say why he abandoned Zanzibar augments and he now must tell the truth. Maryam, a foundling, also suffers from identity crises through her troublesome relationship with her foster parents, and similarly initiates a search into her past. For Maryam’s offspring, the journey is a reverse one. Abbas’s new candour means they must look closer at what it means to be second generation. Hanna is defensive about her ethnical background and struggles to block out the casual racists remarks of her upper-middle class white boyfriend, a theme Gurnah previously explored in Admiring Silence. Jamal struggles with the nature of his father’s guilt, and must learn to accept both the true nature of his father’s immigrant story and his own roots.



[i] Gurnah, Abdulrazak. ‘Writing and Place’. World Literature Today 78:2 (2004): 26-28.


Memory of Departure. 1987. London: Jonathan Cape.

Pilgrim’s Way. 1988. London: Jonathan Cape.

Dottie. 1990. London: Jonathan Cape.

Paradise. 1994: London: Hamish Hamilton.

Admiring Silence. 1996. London: Hamish Hamilton.

By the Sea. 2001. London: Bloomsbury.

Desertion. 2005.  London: Bloomsbury.

The Last Gift. 2011. London: Bloomsbury

My Mother Lived on a Farm in Africa’. In The Anthology of New Writing, Volume 14.  Lavinia Greenlaw & Helon Habila (eds). London: Granta Books.

Essays on African Writing: A Re-evaluation. 1993. Oxford: Heinemann.

Cambridge Companion to Salman Rushdie. 2007. Cambridge: CUP.

Los Angeles Times Book Prize (Fiction) shortlist, By the Sea

Man Booker prize shortlist. Paradise (1994) and Desertion (2005)

Man Booker prize longlist. By The Sea (2001)

Whitbread prize shortlist. Paradise (1994)

Commonwealth Writers Prize (Eurasia Region, Best Book), Desertion


Current Professor at University of Kent

Member of the Wasafiri advisory board, the UK-based journal for international contemporary writing.

Bungaro, M. ‘Abdulrazak Gurnah’s Dottie: A Narrative of (un)Belonging.’ ARIEL: A Review of International English Literature 36(3-4) (2005): 25-41.

Cooper, B. ‘Returning the Jinns to the Jar: Material Culture, Stories and Migration in Abdulrazak Gurnah’s by the Sea’. Kunapipi: Journal of Postcolonial Writing 30(1) (2008):79-96.

Gurnah, Abdulrazak. ‘Writing and Place’. World Literature Today 78:2 (2004): 26-28.

Hand, F. ‘Untangling Stories and Healing Rifts: Abdulrazak Gurnah’s by the Sea’. Research in African Literatures 41(2) (2010): 74-92.

Helff, S. ‘Illegal Diasporas and African Refugees in Abdulrazak Gurnah’s by the Sea. Journal of Commonwealth Literature 44(1), (2009):67-80.

Jones, N. ‘Abdulrazak Gurnah in Conversation’. Wasafiri: The Transnational Journal of International Writing,46 (2005): 37-42.

Mirmotahari, E. ‘Interview with Abdulrazak Gurnah Conducted at the University of Kent, Canterbury’. Ufahamu: African Studies Journal 32(3) (2006):  11-11-29.

Steiner, T. ‘Writing ‘Wider Worlds’: The Role of Relation in Abdulrazak Gurnah’s Fiction. Research in African Literatures 41(3) (2010): 124-135.

Watts, I. ‘British Identity and the Challenge of Immigration in Abdulrazak Gurnah’s Dottie and by the Sea’. Journal of Commonwealth and Postcolonial Studies 12(2) (2005):37-51.

Whyte, P. ‘Heritage as Nightmare: The Novels of Abdulrazak Gurnah.’ Commonwealth Essays and Studies 27(1) (2004): 11-18.

African Diaspora in Finland

Written by Anna Rastas (University of Tampere, Finland)

The African Diaspora in Finland consists of people with various countries of origin and diverse cultural backgrounds. Migrants from Africa and other Finns of African descent form a small and relatively recent but rapidly growing visible minority. In a predominantly white society, they challenge the earlier imaginations of Finnishness and nationhood and their presence has influenced the social and cultural life of Finnish society in various ways.

According to the demographic statistics based on immigrants’ countries of origin, around 20,000 people have moved from Africa to Finland. In their families there are already thousands of children born in Finland. Even though the African Diaspora in Finland mainly consists of first-generation immigrants, the rapid growth in the number of Black children of mixed parentage can also be seen in the street scene and in every school yard. Their presence cannot be statistically demonstrated, because official statistics in Finland do not specify ethnicity or “race”.

Until the 1990s, Finland was a country of emigration rather than immigration. The share of people with a foreign background is still smaller than five percent of the population of approximately 5.4 million people, and the majority of Finns with an immigrant background are white Europeans, of whom most are from Russia and Estonia. Before becoming an independent state in 1917, Finland was a Grand Duchy of Russia. Already during the 19th century, there were some Africans and Black people from the Americas, usually working as servants for wealthy Russians, in the few Finnish cities that now belong to Russia. The first Africans in what is now known as Finland were children who were brought to Finland by Finnish missionaries who had been working in Ovamboland in the northern part of the present Namibia. As far as we know, the first African who was granted a Finnish passport was Rosa Emilia Clay (later Lemberg), born in 1875 in the present Namibia as a child of a local woman and a white British man. She was still a child when she arrived in Finland with a Finnish missionary couple in 1888. They wanted her to study in Finland to become a teacher and then return to Africa to work at the Finnish missionary station. However, after finishing her studies she decided to stay in Finland. She made friends with many Finns, worked as a teacher in the City of Tampere and in some smaller towns, and she also led an active social life as a singer in local choirs. Even though she loved her work as a teacher, and was liked and respected by many of her students and colleagues, she also faced prejudices and cruel racism. In 1904, she moved to the US, like many Finns those days, and never returned to Finland. The Rosa Lemberg Story, written by historian Eva Ericson (1993), tells about her childhood and youth in Finland and about her life as an active immigrant and “the only Black Finn” in the Finnish immigrant communities in the U.S.

Only a small number of Africans and other Black people from the Diaspora were living in Finland between the 1900s and the 1970s. Their experiences and reminiscences are documented in two radio documentaries and a three-part TV documentary, both of which were broadcast in 2010 by the Finnish Broadcasting Company YLE. During those years, the few Africans and Black people from the Americas in Finland were either students (e.g. from Nigeria and Ethiopia), political exiles from South Africa or people who had married a Finn. Unlike many other European countries, Finland remained largely unaffected by immigration flows until the 1990s, when the number of immigrants started to grow rapidly.

Due to the civil war that started in Somalia in the early 1990s, thousands of Somalis moved to Finland as asylum seekers. Some of them had been living in Russia, others flew from Somalia to Russia and soon found themselves to be asylum seekers in a country that they knew nothing about. Today, Somalis constitute the biggest group of Africans in Finland. There are over 10,000 Somali-speaking people and in their families there are thousands of Finnish-born children. The number of people with a Somali background will grow also in the near future due to family reunifications and because the majority of Finnish Somalis are either children or young adults. Today there are Finns with a Somali background in all bigger cities in the country.

When Somali communities in Finland started to increase, strong clan divisions continued to exist. Nevertheless, nowadays numerous Somali associations collaborate a lot locally as well as nationally to value and maintain the Somali culture, especially the Somali language, and to assist their countrymen and -women in their integration into a new society and culture. In public schools all immigrant children are entitled to study their own language. Teaching of the mother tongue is organized by the cities and financially supported by the state. Many Somalis have found work as Somali-language teachers in public schools or as interpreters in public services. However, like many migrants from Africa, most Somalis are doing lower paid jobs, for example as bus drivers or as cleaners. The Somali population is highly diverse with regard to their educational background. Especially among women there are many illiterate individuals, but even highly educated Somalis have found it very difficult to enter the labour market, not only due to their insufficient skills in the Finnish language but also because of racism and discrimination. Therefore, young educated Somalis are more likely than other Finns with an immigrant background to abandon Finland. Although 50 percent of the Somalis were still unemployed in 2007, their position in the labour market is slowly improving.

Africans in general have faced a lot of discrimination and racism in Finland. Somalis constitute the largest group of Africans in Finland, and as Muslims and as refugees they especially have become victims of stereotyping and overt racism. According to an EU-wide survey by the European Union’s Agency for Fundamental Rights, Finnish Somalis are victims of racist crimes most often of all other surveyed African minority groups in all EU member countries. The Somalis in Finland were also on the top in the figure indicating overall discrimination of minority groups in the EU countries (EU-MIDIS, 2009). Many Somali organizations have become active in speaking in public, trying to change the predominantly negative images and discourses concerning their presence in Finland. Some individuals with a Somali background have tried to bring about change as active members of Finnish political parties.

As Muslims, Somalis have contacts with other Muslims, for example with people from Northern Africa, but otherwise their contacts with other people of the African Diaspora in Finland are fewer, especially in the case of older people and the first generation. Since the other African communities in Finland are considerably smaller, they are more likely to have contacts and collaboration also with each other despite their countries of origin.

Immigration also from other African countries to Finland has grown markedly since 1990. There are communities of over 1,000 immigrants with a refugee background from Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (former Zaire), and hundreds of other people with a refugee background have arrived also from many other Sub-Saharan African countries. Some North African migrants, for example Algerians, also have a refugee background, but many of them have moved to Finland because they have married a Finn. This can be explained especially by tourism from Finland to Egypt, Morocco and Tunisia. A considerable number of Africans from Nigeria, Cameroon, Ghana, Kenya and Ethiopia have moved to Finland to study. In Finnish families there are also hundreds of transnational adoptees from Ethiopia and South Africa, some of whom are already adults and parents themselves.

Administrative procedures and conditions regarding foreigners’ entry into Finland, as well as their residence and employment, are outlined in the Aliens Act (301/2004). The purpose of the Immigration Policy Programme (Government Migration Policy Programme 2006) is to promote work-related immigration, to develop the immigrant integration system and to improve ethnic relations. However, immigration policies as well as administrative practices regarding the implementation of legislation have always been relatively strict in Finland. Furthermore, in Finland, like in many other European countries, the current political environment has become more anti-immigrant and even hostile towards immigrants and racialized minorities. Openly anti-immigrant politicians who claim that the immigration and integration policies are too liberal have gained a lot of supporters in local and national elections in the 2000s. In public discussions, refugees are often categorized as unwanted immigrants. Therefore, especially Africans and their descendants have found it very difficult to have a voice and to create a feeling of belonging in Finnish society.

Throughout the history of Finland various ethnic minorities, like the Finnish Roma and the Sami people, have faced racism, but as a topic of discussion racism has been avoided. The fact that there are no established words in the Finnish language that people could use when referring to their identifications with the African Diaspora, or for any collective racialized identities, is only one manifestation of the absence of discussion concerning racialized relations in Finnish society. The presence of Africans and other Black people in Finland has changed Finnish society dramatically: questions of racism can no longer be ignored. Racist discourses and discriminative practices have become a topic of discussion not only in the media and among some politicians, but also in schools and public services. Immigrants from the former colonized countries and their non-white descendants whose everyday lives are overshadowed by the collective memory of subordination and its present-day implications have also questioned the earlier ideas of Finns’ (and other Nordic countries’) involvements in (post)colonial relations. Discourses emphasizing “Finnish exceptionalism” are now also being questioned, and the colonial complicity of Finns, and its various consequences, have – although gradually – become a topic of research and public discussion.

In the case of first-generation immigrants, questions of racism are often turned into questions of cultural differences, but the second generation, as well as children of mixed parentage and transnational adoptees, can better speak for their rights as Finnish nationals. Unlike the first-generation migrants from Africa and the other parts of the Diaspora, who are forced to pour their energy into learning a new language and surviving in a new society and culture, people born in Finland have more possibilities to talk back and fight against racism. Furthermore, first-generation migrants from Africa usually have strong social, cultural, economic and emotional links to their countries of origin, whereas for the second generation and for children of mixed parentage the international Black Diaspora is more likely to be an important source of identification. Various manifestations of diasporic Africanness, strongly rooted in anti-racism struggles, can be found in youth subcultures among young Black Finns.

In Finland, policymakers and public authorities have encouraged immigrants’ social and political participation by allocating funding for their associations and cultural activities. Somalis alone have founded dozens of associations, and many of them have become active agents both in Finland and abroad. Across the country the Somali culture is presented by local Somali associations, and Somali Book Fairs are arranged in the biggest cities. These events are often organized together with Finnish authorities and NGOs. The multi-local lives of Finnish Somali communities are also shaped by transnationalism. The literature produced in the Somali Diaspora is brought to Finland, and young people communicate with other young Europeans with a Somali background through their networks on the Internet. Various Finnish Somali associations and individuals have started development co-operation projects in Somalia, and they also have contributed to peace-building projects in the Horn of Africa. In 2010, when the presidential election was held in Somaliland, a self-declared sovereign state in the northern region of Somalia, one of the candidates, Faisal Ali Warabe (b.1948), was from Finland.

In addition to associations based on people’s countries of origin, migrants from different African countries (e.g. Ethiopians, Nigerians) have also founded their own churches, mainly in Helsinki. Many communities, like refugees from Sudan, also have their local associations across the country. African immigrant associations and churches help them to strengthen their own communities in Finland and to maintain their ties to their countries of origin. People from Finnish African communities meet each other and other Finns with an immigrant background also in local community centres. Young people of African descent, including those who were born in Finland, also seem to seek and find each other’s company. These young people’s subcultures are influenced by the global Black cultural and political movements and their social networks often include also Black individuals of mixed parentage, as well as transnational adoptees from Africa.

Until recently, studies on Finnish Africans have focused only on Somalis and their integration into Finnish society. The national network for researchers studying the African Diaspora in Finland (and in Europe) was founded in 2009 to promote research on the history and presence of Africans and their descendents in Finland. New research projects have been launched, and in the network there are also young scholars with an African background.

Africans and their descendants have become active agents also in the political life. In the 2000s, many political parties have nominated Finnish Africans as candidates both in the municipal and national elections. There are Finnish Africans in many city councils; in 2011, Jani Toivola (b. 1977), a Finnish-born actor whose father was from Kenya, became the first Black member of the Finnish Parliament.

Literary contributions of the African Diaspora in Finland are still to come. Only a few people of African descent have written and published on their experiences in Finland. Most of their texts are based on interviews and published in what are called immigrant anthologies, usually edited by Finns with a majority background. The first autobiographic novel was written by Kenyan-born Joseph Owindi, who was the first African student at the University of Tampere in the 1960s. His experiences as a Black student in a Finland in the 1960s and 1970s are summed up in the title of his book Kato, kato nekru! [Look, look a Nigger!] that was translated and published in Finnish in 1972 after Owindi had returned to Kenia. The memoirs of Ellen Ndeshi Namhila (The Price of Freedom, 1997), a Namibian student also in the City of Tampere in the 1980s, were translated and published in Finnish in 2001. Lamin Sullay Sesay, who was born in Sierra Leone and moved to the City of Turku in 1990, published several essays as author’s editions and launched a magazine titled Scandi-B for foreigners in Finland in 1993. In 1997, a collection of his essays, Messages from Finland. The exiting experiences of a foreign student, were published in Finland in English.

Moroccan-born M’hammed Sabour (born in Casablanca in 1947) is a scholar and professor of sociology at the University of Eastern Finland (former University of Joensuu).  He has written and published widely on ethnic relations, onthology, power and cultural identification and alienation of the intellectuals in the Arab and Mediterranean societies, but his areas of expertise include also cultural and economic globalisation and knowledge economy. In addition to his scholarly texts, including his studies on Africans’ experiences of racism in Finland, Sabour has published a book Suomalainen unelma [1999, A Finnish dream], which is based on his diaries.

Some memoirs, like the story of Kenyan-born runner Wilson Kirwa, who was chosen as “the most positive person in Finland” in 2008, are based on interviews. Kirwa, well-known in Finland also for winning the 400-, 800-, and 1,500-metre runs in the same Finnish Championships in Athletics, has also written fairy tales for children, and nowadays he travels across the country visiting schools and day-care centres, reading African stories and telling about his childhood in Africa and about his life in Finland. The autobiography of poet and teacher Amran Mohamed Ahmed (Rauhaa etsimässä, 2001) [Looking for peace], also based on interviews, was published by Somali Women’s organization Goolis.

There are only few visual artists of African descent in Finland. The most famous of them is Sasha Huber, a Swiss-born artist of European and Haitian heritage, who has lived in Finland for many years. The art work of this internationally recognized artist can be described, as a Finnish art historian Taava Koskinen writes, “the art of investigative post-colonial collaboration”.

Of all the artists with an African background in Finland, especially African musicians have contributed to the exchange and cross-pollination of cultures. From the end of the 1980s there has been quite a lot of African music on offer in Finland. As a result of co-operation between Senegalese and Finnish musicians, many recognized musicians from Senegal moved to Finland. Among them was Papp Sarr, who in 1992 founded Galaxy, one of Europe’s best Senegalese bands, together with Yamar Thiam and Rane Diallo, who had got married and settled in Finland permanently. In 2005, the Finnish Minister of Culture rewarded Galaxy with the Finland Prize, the highest governmental prize annually given in the field of art. In 2002, Senegalese-born musician and solo dancer Ismaila Sané joined Galaxy. Sané had already made a career in Spain in 1981–1999. After moving to Finland in 1999 he has played in various bands with both African and Finnish musicians.

Co-operation with Finnish musicians and the Bagamayo College of Arts in Tanzania has also brought African musicians to Finland. Among those who have stayed in Finland are, for example, musician and teacher Arnold Chiwalala and choreographer and dancer Menard Mponda, who also has taught African dances for hundreds of Finns, including children. They have not only enriched the Finnish cultural life with their own performances of African music and dance and paved the way and created job opportunities for other African musicians, but also worked as teachers and trainers for both Finnish professionals and hundreds of other Finns inspired by their work.

Afro-Suomen historia. A three-part TV documentary, edited by Mia Jonkka, broadcast by the Finnish Broadcasting Company (YLE Teema) on January 29 (first part) and in February 2010 (second and third part).

Aliens Act: http://www.finlex.fi/en/laki/kaannokset/2004/en20040301

Ericson, Eva (1993) The Rosa Lemberg Story. The Työmies Society, Superior Wisconsin.

European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, “EU MIDIS: European Union Minorities and Discrimination Survey,” http://fra.europa.eu/fraWebsite/attachments/eumidis_mainreport_conference-edition_en_.pdf

Finnish Immigration service: http://www.migri.fi/netcomm/Default.asp?language=EN

Finnish Music Quarterly 3/2000. (Special Issue on African and other immigrant music in Finland).

Government Migration Policy Programme (2006): http://www.mol.fi/mol/en/99_pdf/en/90_publications/migration_programme2006.pdf

Nationality Act: http://www.finlex.fi/en/laki/kaannokset/2003/en20030359

Rastas, Anna & Päivärinta, Jarkko (2010) “Vastapuhetta Afrikkalaisten diasporasta Suomessa”. Kulttuurintutkimus [Finnish Journal of Cultural Studies] 27:4, 45–63. (All the autobiographical texts written by Africans and their descendents in Finland and published before 2011, including short texts in anthologies, are listed in this article, on pp. 61–62.)

Rastas, Anna (forthcoming 2012) “Talking Back: Voices from the African Diaspora in Finland”. In McEachrane, Michael (ed.) Afro-Nordic Landscapes: Engaging Blackness in Northern Europe. New York: Routledge.

Rastas, Anna & Seye, Elina (2011) “Ammattina afrikkalaismuusikko”. Musiikin suunta 33:4, 22-36. (An article including a brief history of African musicians in Finland)

Roosa Suomesta – Ensimmäisiä afrikkalaisia etsimässä. A radio documentary, edited by Leena Peltokangas, broadcast by the Finnish Broadcasting Company (YLE Radio 1) on 13 January 2010.

Statistics Finland: http://www.stat.fi/tup/suoluk/suoluk_vaesto_en.html#foreigners (29 June 2011)

African Diaspora in the Republic of Ireland

By Elisa Joy White (University of Hawai’i at Mānoa)  

The early twenty-first century marks the beginning of a substantial African Diaspora community in Ireland however individuals of African descent have been notably present in Dublin, Ireland and throughout the country at other periods. In addition to the more well-known presence of Olaudah Equiano, who toured Ireland in 1791, eighteenth century documentation reveals an estimated 1000-3000 Blacks living in Ireland, primarily in Dublin, at various times (Hart 2002: 21) and other research indicates at least 167 “sightings” of Blacks in the nation (Rodgers 2007: 127). The eighteenth century Black population mostly consisted of enslaved and free servants, seafarers, and entertainers (Hart 2002).The nineteenth century African Diaspora presence in Ireland is reflective of the abolitionist movement and the positive Irish reception of individuals, such as Charles Lenox Remond, Sarah Parker Remond, William C. Nell, Henry Highland Garnet, William G. Allen, and Frederick Douglass, who passed through the nation to advance the cause of Black freedom in the Americas. The twentieth century, a period of a newly independent Republic of Ireland after 1921, mostly saw in-migration of Africans arriving to study at the Royal College of Surgeons and other Irish institutions. This small transient population, as a result of relationships between African men and Irish women, also produced children; many of whom were placed in orphanages. The children were often stigmatized in their communities and experienced race-based discrimination, as represented in the stories of Irish footballer, Paul McGrath, who discusses his navigation of anti-Black sentiments and a difficult quest for identity in his memoir, Back from the Brink (McGrath 2006), and the racism experienced as a youth by Irish rock star, Phil Lynott (Putterford 2002). Overall, until the more recent in-migration of the early twentieth-first century, individuals of African descent in Ireland have been a rare presence and mostly considered in the contexts of charity and missionary work abroad.

The in-migration of the African Diaspora to Ireland is reflective of a changing Irish nation, as the formerly impoverished Republic of Ireland is historically known for its out-migration and global Irish Diaspora. The Republic of Ireland joined the European Economic Community (EEC) in 1973 and, as a result of financial support emerging out of its EEC and, later, European Union (EU) membership, experienced an economic boom in the 1990s that was characterized as a “Celtic Tiger” economy. As a result, Ireland became a destination for immigrants, which included Black migrants already present on the European continent (including EU and European Economic Area nationals) and individuals from continental Africa.
While there were African migrants that arrived with work permits, student visas, business permissions, and travel visas, such modes of migration were mostly inaccessible for African nationals. Prior to the global economic crises manifest in 2008 and the reported end of the “Celtic Tiger” years noted as early as 2001 (see McManus 2001; Hennessy 2001), Ireland needed 350,000 workers, of which 200,000 would be foreign labour (Walshe 2001; White 2002a). However, businesses did not aggressively recruit from African nations, except for South Africa which offered a potentially majority White workforce (White 2009). Africans who desired to migrate to Ireland found their primary option in the realm of asylum seeking and, therefore, significant increases in the Black population occurred in the context of asylum procedures.
Between 1992 and 2002, there was an increase from an overall 39 new asylum applicants in 1992 to 11,634 applicants in 2002 (ORAC 2002). Of the 11,634 in the year 2002 there were 4050 Nigerians, making Nigeria number one in the “six most stated country of origin” list, Zimbabwe number four, with 357 new applicants, and 4349 applicants listed as “other,” which included African nationals (ORAC 2002:6). Even as asylum applications were significantly reduced after 2009, due to economic crises and deportation measures, Nigerian applicants, totaling 569, still held the number one position in the “top 5 nationalities” list, individuals from Zimbabwe, at 91 applicants, were in the number five position, and 1,476 applicants were listed as “other,” which included Africans (ORAC 2009: 6).
The African Diaspora community is nationally, linguistically, ethnically, religiously, and socio-economically diverse. Countries of origin include Angola, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Gambia, Ghana, Liberia, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, South Africa, and, inter alia, Zimbabwe. Within each national origin, various regions and ethnic groups are also represented, such as the Yoruba and Igbo of Nigeria. Statistics on the African community often specify Nigerians and South Africans yet locate other African nationals in an all- encompassing “other Africa” category. Early data on work permit allocation between the years 1994-1996 reflect the diversity of the African Diaspora community at the end of the twentieth century, with permits granted to individuals from twenty-five African and six Caribbean nations (Dept. of Justice1994–1996; DETE 1994–1996). Initially, the community was widely present in the nation’s capital, Dublin. Even after the asylum-related Dispersal Scheme (discussed below), Dublin still served as a locus of the African community because the north city centre areas of Parnell Street and Moore Street contained African shops, restaurants, beauty salons and other businesses that served the diverse community (White 2002; White 2012).Additionally, Africans transplanted methods of worship practiced in the homeland to storefronts and church spaces in Dublin and eventually elsewhere in the nation, particularly in forms of Christian Pentecostalism prevalent in contemporary African nations (Ugba 2007).
The presence of the African Diaspora community was not efficiently documented until the Irish Census of 2006, which included questions about ethnic and national background and racial self-identification for the first time in the Republic of Ireland. The results revealed that there were a total of 4,172,013 persons in the nation with 3,706,683 listed as “Irish” (including members of the Irish Diaspora now resident in Ireland) (Irish Census 2006a). The “Irish” figure includes individuals of African descent born in Ireland before the end of jus soli citizenship rights in 2004 and 5,589 individuals born in Africa (including individuals racialized as Black and others racialized as White). In 2006, 16,300 individuals noted their nationality as Nigerian and 16,677 individuals stated Nigeria as their place of birth (Irish Census 2006a). A total of 35,326 individuals noted an African nationality and 33,466 declared an African nation as their place of birth (Irish Census 2006a).The “Black or Black Irish” category includes 11,068 individuals identifying as “African” and 1,420 identifying as “Any other Black background” who were born in Ireland (Irish Census 2006b). The “Total Irish” category includes 11,440 in the “African” origin category and 1,546 in the “Any other Black background” category (Irish Census 2006b). The 2006 Census data indicate that there is a total of 12,986 “Black Irish” and an overall total of 44,318 individuals identifying as “Black” in the Republic of Ireland; a 1 percent black population in a nation of 4,172,013 people (Irish Census 2006a; 2006b; White 2012).

The presence of Africans in the asylum process has intersected with xenophobia and the loss of a perceived homogeneous Whiteness in Ireland, which is manifest in anti-migrant organizations, such as Áine Ní Chonaill’s Immigration Control Platform, and anti-immigration sentiments that characterize asylum seekers as “scammers” who take advantage of a “soft touch” Ireland (White 2012). At the EU-level, it is notable that the Dublin Regulation II (2008) [which replaced the 1990 Dublin Convention (I and II)] is so named because the initial provision, now EU law, was written in Dublin, and fundamentally requires that individuals seek asylum in the first nation of arrival. Individuals arriving from locations without direct flights to Ireland, such as Nigeria, must go through the UK or continental Europe before arriving in Ireland and should ostensibly be ineligible to have an asylum claim considered in the Irish state. On the state-level, in 2004 the Irish voted (70% in favour) to amend the Constitution to end jus soli citizenship, which in effect prevented children of foreign nationals from being considered Irish at birth. The support for a constitutional amendment particularly resulted from a widely expressed, yet erroneous, perception that pregnant African women were arriving in Ireland to give birth in order to receive leave to remain due to parentage of an Irish child (Lentin 2003; White 2012).
Ireland’s asylum-related policies have a major impact upon African Diaspora communities, as exemplified by the Dispersal Scheme and Direct Provision. The Dispersal Scheme began in 1999 and reflects an attempt to forestall the concentration of African immigrants in the Dublin city centre (see Brady 2000a). The policy involves the placement of asylum applicants in detention centres, mostly located in former hostels and B&Bs throughout the nation (e.g. Dundalk, Kilkenny, Waterford, Sligo), often in towns and villages that previously had very little to no Black presence. Direct Provision involves the allocation of full board (bed and all meals) and a weekly personal stipend of €19.10 and €9.60 per accompanying child (RIA website). The Reception and Integration Agency (RIA), established in 2001 to administer the Dispersal Scheme and Direct Provision, has forty-six centers under its aegis, with a reception center in Dublin, an AC12 center (voluntary repatriation center for destitute EU nationals from the Accession States of 2004 and 2007, primarily from eastern Europe) also in Dublin, forty-two “direct provision accommodation centers” in eighteen counties across the country, and two self-catering accommodation centers, in County Dublin and County Louth (White 2012; RIA website http:// www.ria.gov.ie/en/RIA/Pages/Reception_Dispersal_Accommodation; ). Asylum seekers do not have the right to work and must remain under the Direct Provision scheme until their status is determined (either via refugee status, leave to remain, or a manifestly unfounded asylum application resulting in deportation). During times of a backlog in the asylum process (particularly between 1999 and 2002, which peaked in 2000 with 11,437 unresolved cases) asylum seekers have been placed in an extended legal limbo (Brady 2000b; Irish Refugee Council 2005; INIS 2005). The policies have resulted in extreme isolation and, in prolonged cases, African descendent children growing up with parents who have never been permitted to work or cook a meal for the family. The inability to obtain employment also stokes migrant participation in the underground economy.
Deportations have a significant impact upon the African Diaspora community. Nigerians have been particularly targeted through “fast track” measures to expedite their movement through the asylum application process and facilitate deportation. There have been several high profile deportation cases, such as that of Olukunle Elukanlo, a nineteen year old deported to Lagos in his school uniform in 2005, the experiences of Iyabo Nwanze and Elizabeth Odunsi, two Nigerian women living in Athlone, County Westmeath, who were deported in a nationwide roundup in 2005, leaving three of their children behind, and from 2006-2011, the case of Pamela Izevbhekhai, a Nigerian businesswoman residing in Sligo, who feared her daughters would face female genital mutilation if deported (see White 2009; White 2012).

Overall, in the early days of the African Diaspora experience, incidents of anti-Black racism, including shouts of “nigger,” racist text messages, and skewed media that negatively characterized Blacks were the norm in Ireland. The first anti-racism protest was held in Dublin in 2000 when demonstrators marched on O’Connell Street to the Fitzgibbons Garda (police) Station after a Nigerian teenager was physically attacked in a Parnell Street fish and chip shop (see Dolan 2000; RAR 2000). Early studies revealed that numerous Blacks had experienced discrimination in housing and pubs, as well as physical and verbal abuse (Casey and O’Connell 2000; White 2012). For example, out of a sub-group of 121 African Diaspora immigrants, 58.6 percent said they had been discriminated against in “gaining entry to pubs,” 26.7 percent noted they had experienced “persistent verbal harassment,” and another 26.7 percent noted they had experienced “actual physical violence” due to their race (Casey and O’Connell 2000). A 2006 Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) report revealed that “Black Africans experienced the most discrimination of all the groups studied. This is true of racism/discrimination in the work domain, in public places, in pubs/restaurants and in public institutions, even after accounting for other factors like education, age and length of stay” (ESRI 2006). Meanwhile, over the years non-governmental and quasi-non-governmental organizations, such as Residents Against Racism, Anti-Racism Campaign, Anti-Fascist Action, the Irish Refugee Council, Africa Centre (African Solidarity Centre Limited), SPIRASI, AkiDwA, the Integration Centre, Comhlám’s Anti-Racism Awareness Project, Immigration Council of Ireland, Migrant Rights Centre Ireland and the now-defunct National Consultative Committee on Racism and Interculturalism (NCCRI), inter alia, have worked to prevent racism in the nation, advocate for migrants rights and provide support for immigrant communities. At the state level, the Equality Authority was established in 1999 and the Irish Institute for Human Rights, in 2000, to address related violations, compile data and research solutions in an effort to enforce corresponding Irish Constitutional acts and EU directives.
An Garda Síochána (Ireland’s National Police Service) has attempted to rectify instances of racism and bias advanced by garda, which is particularly important because the police enforce immigration laws in the nation. The Garda Racial, Intercultural and Diversity Office (GIDO) was established in 2000 and holds an annual Diversity Consultation Day for community members and Garda staff. Additionally, in 2002 the Garda Commissioner authorized the appointment of Garda Ethnic Liaison Officers (ELO). Emerging out of the Irish government’s National Action Plan Against Racism 2005-2008, An Garda Síochána launched a Diversity Strategy and Implementation Plan 2009-2012, that advances “action, beyond mere legal compliance” and “sets out how An Garda Síochána will deliver on its commitment to champion, value and accommodate, where possible, all aspects of Diversity…” (An Garda Síochána 2009: i; emphasis in original).
In 2011, the Migrant Rights Centre Ireland (MRCI) reported violations of United Nations Human Rights stipulations in the context of ethnic and migrant profiling – particularly of Blacks – crossing the border between the Republic and Northern Ireland and at police, immigration and security checkpoints throughout the Republic of Ireland, including train stations, bus depots, and airports (MRCI 2011). The report notes that ethnic profiling, in addition to related racism and xenophobia, also “Damages Relationships between Minority Ethnic Communities and Police” and includes a quote from one interviewee stating: “I would have to think twice before going to them [An Garda Síochána], because of their attitude to Black people…” (MRCI 2011: 15).

In 2004 refugees and asylum seekers were granted the right to vote in local elections. In 2007 Rotimi Adebari, a former asylum seeker originally from Nigeria, became the first Black mayor in Ireland when he was elected mayor of Portlaoise in Co. Laois. By the 2009 elections, Black candidates represented a generation of former asylum seekers who were now residents and Irish nationals, with fifteen men and women of African descent running in local elections across the nation. The candidates, running with major political parties or as independents, notably included three Nigerian candidates competing in a County Council election in Mulhuddart, a Dublin suburb (see Anny-Nzekwue 2009). The outcome was not successful for most of the Black candidates, with the exception of Rotimi Adebari who won seats on his Town and County Councils in 2009. Even though the election experience was not devoid of anti-immigration sentiments and racism (see Onyejelem 2009), post-election analysis suggests that the low success rate was due to candidates’ unawareness of the Irish political system, multiple immigrants competing in the same jurisdiction, and canvassing in locales that did not include eligible constituents (Reilly 2009).
While the March 2011 Irish elections did not result in seats for Black candidates (Onyejelem 2011), two months later the African Diaspora was present in the political context of US President Barack Obama’s visit to Ireland in May 2011. The American president, who has both Kenyan and Irish ancestry, was embraced by Ireland. The visit included a trip to President Obama’s Irish ancestral village, Moneygall, which was represented in the news media as a homecoming (Carty and Stack 2011; Lord 2011). Numerous individuals of African descent in Ireland celebrated his visit, which was both an important moment amidst a country in economic crisis and a representation of the nation embracing an individual of African descent as one of their own, a circumstance that many Blacks in Ireland continue to anticipate for their own future.

An Garda Síochána.2009. Diversity Strategy and Implementation Plan 2009-2012. Dublin: An  Garda Síochána. http://www.garda.ie/Documents/User/DiversityStrat.pdf (Accessed May 21, 2012).

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Africans in Russia

By Maxim Matusevich (Seton Hall University, U.S.A.)

The encounter between Africans and people of African ancestry and Russia was reflective of the ambivalence with which Russians viewed their place in the Eurocentric world during the Age of Imperialism. Their own identity as a European nation has been often the subject of heated internal debates and a wide-spread suspicion on the part of other Europeans. Imperial Russia did not take part in the trans-Atlantic slave trade and never established colonies in Africa. The last European nation to emancipate its own serfs Russia had a small but vocal educated class, or intelligentsia, whose prominent representatives routinely condemned the depravity of American slavery. In the eyes of many black observers, Russia’s absence from the histories of slave trade and European colonialism in Africa contributed to its image as a relatively tolerant society, less affected by the curse of European and North American racism. After 1917, the new Communist rulers of Soviet Russia continued to advocate racial tolerance and acceptance as essential elements of their Marxist ideology. For the Soviets, any expression of racism undermined their own multiethnic project and as such was antithetical to the country’s new identity and interests. With the rise of the Cold War, the rhetoric of antiracism and anticolonialism came to color much of the Soviet Union’s interaction with its ideological opponents in the West. But with the Soviet economy and society entering a protracted period of stagnation and eventual decline, the colorblind ideals articulated by Soviet propaganda were increasingly devoid of genuine meaning and often at odds with the sentiments of the “Soviet street.” The disintegration of the Soviet Union was accompanied by increased ethnic tensions and the rise of ethnic nationalisms in the country that had been built on the principles of ethnic coexistence. Africans and African Russians residing in late Soviet Union and post-Soviet Russia had to bear the brunt of Russian chauvinism, much of it born out of the society-wide disillusionment with Soviet ideals and values.

For many Russians, their connection to Africa is embodied in the genealogy of the country’s greatest poet and the national cultural icon – Alexander Pushkin (1799-1937). Pushkin’s great-grandfather Abram Hannibal arrived in Russia as a little African slave boy, purchased at an Ottoman slave market by an emissary of the emperor Peter the Great. Hannibal’s origins remain murky but most historians agree that he was most likely born somewhere in Abyssinia, modern-day Ethiopia. Adopted by the tsar, who also served as his godfather, Hannibal entered Russian nobility and made an illustrious career in the Russian military, distinguishing himself as a talented engineer and reaching the rank of general-major. Pushkin himself did not shy away from his African ancestry and proudly acknowledged it in verse and prose, celebrating the life of his famous progenitor in an unfinished biography Arap Petra Velikogo (The Negro of Peter the Great).

That a person of African descent could be embraced by Russians as the most important cultural symbol underscores how differently they viewed race from the majority of other 19th century Europeans. While few black people ever visited Imperial Russia, those who did reported encountering generally benign attitudes, in stark contrast to the racism prevalent elsewhere in Europe and North America. One such traveler, an African-American woman Nancy Prince, spent more than a decade at the Russian imperial court in St. Petersburg during the early decades of the 1800s. Her memoir contains a perceptive analysis of the early 19th century Russian society, which she deemed welcoming to blacks. Black American tragedian Ira Aldridge found fame on the Russian stage. A close friend of the great Ukrainian bard Taras Schevchenko, Aldridge toured Russia extensively and attained a cult-like status with the theater goers in St. Petersburg, Moscow, and in the provinces. His popularity with the Russian public had little to do with his race and a lot with his acting talents. Yet inadvertently, to Russia’s educated class Aldrige also represented a group of people benighted by American slavery. Translated into Russian, Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin became an instant bestseller; and such prominent social critics as Vissarion Belinsky and Nicholas Chernyshevsky drew parallels between America’s “peculiar institution” and the institution of serfdom in Russia. Belinsky, in his famous Letter to Gogol (1847) spoke of Russian serfs as “our white Negroes,” and Chernyshevsky sent free copies of Uncle Tom’s Cabin to the subscribers of his journal The Contemporary. An iconoclastic dissident intellectual Alexander Herzen, writing from his exile in Britain, contemptibly compared Russia’s slave holding class with the American planters. It is worth noting that the two institutions of slavery, Russian and American, were abolished at about the same time – 1861 and 1863 respectively. Not surprisingly, a trickle of African-American adventurers, performers, musicians, and entrepreneurs began to reach Russia towards the end of the 19th century. They were searching for new opportunities in the country that seemingly harbored and practiced less racial prejudice towards black people than other “white” nations.

With the enormous Eurasian landmass open to its imperialist expansion Russia took no part in the European Scramble for Africa during the last two decades of the 19th century. While not immune to the standard Victorian images of Africa that depicted the continent and its people as savage and in need of civilization, Russians felt no obvious need to civilize Africans. Towards the end of the 19th century the country experienced a period of close and intensely emotional contacts with Christian Ethiopia, an independent African nation that many Russians considered fraternal on account of its Orthodox faith. Russian military advisors, medics, and volunteers were reportedly in the ranks of the Ethiopian army of Menelik II which inflicted a humiliating defeat on the Italian colonial army at Adwa in 1896. Subsequently, Russians founded a hospital in Addis Ababa that for decades to come would become a fixture of Ethiopian capital.

Russia’s connection to Africa again became the focus of public discourse a few years later when, on the eve of World War I, reports surfaced in the Russian press of a strange “African colony” in the Caucuses. An ethnographic expedition to the Abkhasian coast of the Black Sea had come across several villages whose residents had black skin and distinctly African features. These “Black Sea Negroes,” as they were sometimes referred to in the press, appeared to have descended from a group of Ottoman slaves who had settled the area back in the 16th-17th centuries. Their numbers were small but their very presence on the territory of Russian Empire connected it to the general history of global exchanges.

In the aftermath of the Great October Socialist Revolution of 1917, the new Bolshevik regime sought to forge a new Soviet identity, rooted in the ideology of Marxism-Leninism. Since class distinctions were the only meaningful differences between humans recognized by the Communists, the new Soviet rulers decried racism as a harmful vestige of capitalism – the system they had set out to destroy. From that point on until the very end of the Soviet Union the Soviets, at least in their official pronouncements, would continue to make use of the rhetoric of antiracism and anticolonialism. Needless to say, for African-Americans living under the Jim Crow laws and the fear of arbitrary lynchings as well as for the African subjects of European colonial administrations the Soviet Union represented a refreshing alternative to the routine of racial humiliation and colonial domination. As a result, during the first two decades of the Soviet Union’s existence, it received plenty of positive publicity in the black press, especially in the United States. Dozens (and probably hundreds) of black “pilgrims,” most of the African-American and Afro-Caribbean, trekked to the “Red Mecca.” Few of them were committed communists, but most shared expectations of a qualitatively new society – free of racism and its attendant oppression. Among those enchanted with the promise of the Soviet Union were some of the most prominent African-American intellectuals and cultural figures of the day. Poets Claude McKay and Langston Hughes, the famous actor Paul Robeson, and the great Pan-Africanist W.E.B. Du Bois – all traveled to the USSR and even resided there for extended periods of time. “I stand in astonishment and wonder at the revelation of Russia that has come to me… if what I have seen with my own eyes and heard with my ears in Russia is Bolshevism, I am a Bolshevik,” wrote Du Bois following his 1926 trip to the USSR. Besides these celebrities there were numerous lesser known individuals who came to the Soviet Union in pursuit of their colorblind dream but also in search of employment opportunities and the opportunities to contribute to the new socialist experiment in Russia. In 1932, for example, a group of agricultural engineers, most of them the graduates of the historically black Tuskegee University and Hampton Institute, arrived in Soviet Central Asia to help it develop new cotton production techniques. Oliver Golden, the leader of the group, and George Tynes, one of the experts, would permanently settle in the USSR, and in doing so lay the foundations for a small but culturally and politically significant black diaspora in the Soviet Union. Oliver Golden’s Soviet-born daughter Lily Golden would become a prominent Soviet intellectual and a fixture in Moscow cultural elite circles. Lily Golden’s daughter Yelena Khanga (Oliver Golden’s granddaughter) would rise to fame as a popular journalist and TV celebrity in post-Soviet Russia.

The romance between black radicals and Soviet Russia began to wither away towards the end of the 1930s as the Soviet Union proceeded to assert itself more as a nation-state than a revolutionary force in world affairs. In 1933, it established diplomatic relations with the United States and subsequently toned down its antiracist propaganda. The Soviets lost some of their earlier clout among black sympathizers when it came to the surface that they had been secretly supplying Italian troops during their 1935 invasion of Ethiopia. And then came the Nazi-Soviet Pact of 1939 – the “great betrayal” in the words of a famous editorial in the African-American periodical The Crisis. Considering the well-publicized racial policies of the Third Reich the rapprochement with the Nazis undermined the Soviets’ antiracist credentials. There is also some evidence, reported by such black residents in the Soviet Union at the time as journalist Homer Smith and mechanical engineer Robert Robinson, that the consolidation of Stalin’s dictatorship and the atmosphere of paranoia and fear that surrounded the bloody Soviet purges of the late-1930s affected some of the early black enthusiasts of the Soviet Union. Jomo Kenyatta, the future founder of independent Kenya, left the country disillusioned after a brief stint at Moscow’s Communist University of the Toilers of the East (KUTV). George Padmore, a prominent Caribbean communist, broke with the Soviets over what he saw as their heavy-handed approach to the issue of race. Padmore would eventually trade his communist convictions for pan-Africanist beliefs. At least one African-American communist perished in the cauldron of Stalin’s Great Terror. Only recently Russian archives revealed the sad fate of Lovett Fort-Whiteman, a black Chicagoan, who died in a remote GULAG camp in the late 1930s. By the beginning of World War II only few of the original black pilgrims to the Soviet Union remained in the country.

In the aftermath of the Second World War much of the former colonial world, including Africa, gained independence from the former colonial masters. The process of decolonization coincided with the rise of the Cold War – the historical circumstance that left an indelible mark on the relations betweens the Soviet Union and the newly independent nations of Africa. The Soviets cultivated friendships with the young African states, seeking to present the Soviet development model as a viable alternative to Western capitalism. They also extended material and political support and military training to several liberation movements, especially in Southern Africa. Gradually Africa moved from the periphery of Soviet foreign policy concerns to the center stage of cold war politics. In the course of cold war decades the Soviets involved themselves in the Congo crisis of the early 1960s, in the Nigerian Civil War of 1967-1970, in the Angolan Civil War, in the Ethiopian-Somali war of the late 1970s, and in a number of other African conflicts. In Africa, the USSR sought closer relations with the regimes sympathetic to Marxism – such as Ghana under Kwame Nkrumah, Guinea under Sekou Toure, Ethiopia under Mengistu Haile Miriam, Angola, Mozambique, and others. However, increasingly its approach to African combined ideology and pragmatism. For example, during the Nigerian civil war, the Soviets opted to support the pro-Western federalist camp against the secessionist Republic of Biafra. They also established close links with the regime of Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt, turning a blind eye to Nasser’s merciless persecution of Egyptian communists.

In response to demands of the increasingly global foreign policy but also as a reflection of a greater openness after the death of Stalin the USSR began to pay more attention to the academic study of Africa and its people. In 1959, a special institution for a comprehensive and interdisciplinary research on Africa (Africa Institute) was founded in Moscow under the aegis of the Soviet Academy of Sciences. Simultaneously the Soviet Union made a concerted effort to enhance its image in Africa by extending generous educational scholarships to African students. After the 1957 Youth Festival in Moscow thousands of third world students started arriving in the Soviet institutions of higher learning. Many of them would enter a new Moscow Friendship University, also known as Lumumba University, specially created to cater to the needs of third world students. The appearance of these young, exotic looking foreigners in the midst of a society, largely isolated from the rest of the world, had some unintended social and cultural consequences for the Soviet Union. The Soviet officials had clearly hoped that by bringing thousands of African students to the USSR they would score a major propaganda victory against their cold war rivals in the West and also consolidate their country’s prestige in the Third World. However, they had failed to foresee the impact of African students on the Soviet society. Instead of serving as symbolic ideological allies of the regime, once in the Soviet Union, Africans often functioned as its opponents. In 1963, for example, hundreds of African students participated in an unsanctioned demonstration in the Red Square, protesting a suspicious death of a Ghanaian student in Moscow. Africans routinely petitioned university and state authorities for better living conditions, demanding more freedom of movement and expression, and challenging the Soviets to clamp down on the instances of everyday racism. African students presented yet another headache for the regime because they often practiced lifestyles and embraced cultural aesthetics in stark contrast to official Soviet values. Funded by generous state stipends, usually speaking several languages, and having more opportunities for foreign travel than an average Soviet citizen, young Africans in the USSR became the conduits of Westernization. They introduced their Soviet friends, spouses, and fellow students to Western fashions, jazz and rock-n-roll records, and the view of the world that was often cosmopolitan and devoid of the ideological rigidity inherent in Soviet education. It is not a coincidence that African themes would come to feature prominently in some of the countercultural production in the late Soviet Union. The ideas of freedom and liberation that in the course of the decades of vociferous anticolonial and antiracist propaganda had become intrinsically linked to the idea of Africa challenged the Soviets to think critically about their own condition.

During the period of reforms, generally known as perestroika and glasnost, ushered in by the last Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, the Soviet press commentary on Africa grew increasingly negative. Both political commentators and people in the street often attributed the economic decline of the once-powerful Soviet Union to “too much aid for Africa.” The eventual dissolution of the USSR released the pent-up forces of ethnic nationalisms, including extreme forms of Russian chauvinism. At the time black Russians and African residents in the Soviet Union found themselves targets of racial slurs and even physical attacks, an unfortunate socio-cultural phenomenon that has persisted into the post-Soviet era. In the past decade, on more than one occasion international media has been alerted to an alarming increase in the number of racially-motivated attacks in Russia. At the same time African students continue to arrive in Russia in search of affordable education and a growing number of African expatriates and Russians of African descent have achieved prominence as educators, journalists, TV personalities, musicians, and athletes. Hopefully, the country with such a unique history of friendly encounters with black people will be able to overcome the humiliating handicap of widespread racism.

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Fikes, Kesha and Alaina Lemon. “African Presence in Former Soviet Spaces” Annual Review of Anthropology 31 (2002): 497-524.

Golden, Lily. My Long Journey Home. Chicago, IL: Third World Press, 2003.

Hughes, Langston. I Wonder as I Wander: An Autobiographical Journey. New York: Hill & Wang, 1994.

Khanga, Yelena. Soul to Soul: A Black Russian American Family, 1865-1992. New York: W.W. Norton, 1994.

Matusevich, Maxim, ed. Africa in Russia, Russia in Africa: Three Centuries of Encounters, Trenton, NJ: Africa World Press, 2006.

McClellan, Woodford. “Africans and Black Americans in the Comintern Schools, 1925-1934” The International Journal of African Historical Studies 26 (1993): 371-390.

Quist-Adade, Charles. In the Shadows of the Kremlin and the White House: Africa’s
Media Image from Communism to Post-Communism. Lanham, MD: University Press of
America, 2001.


Contributor: Michael McEachrane (Lund University, Sweden)

According to Statistics Sweden, Sweden had 9,482,855 inhabitants by the end of 2011. 15.1% of the population were born abroad. If one adds to that inhabitants who were born in Sweden, but with at least one foreign born parent—so-called ”second generation immigrants”—then over 25% of the population were either first or second generation immigrants. Although, about half of them have a background in another European country.

Giving an exact number of inhabitants in Sweden who may broadly be characterized as ”black”—more about this below—is difficult since there are no population statistics in Sweden based on race. Instead one has to try to make a rough estimate based on countries of origin. This means calculating how many of Sweden’s inhabitants were born in countries and how many have parents who were born in countries that one can assume are—according to the prevailing racial taxonomy of majority Sweden—predominantly black (or ideally have official racial population statistics or at least statistics from which race can be gleaned). A relatively simple way of doing this based on data from Statistics Sweden is to include mainland African countries (excluding North African countries), the Caribbean island nations, and 12.9% of migrants from the USA (i.e. the percentage of the U.S. population that are African Americans). Of course, this will exclude countries with significant populations of African descendants throughout the Americas. It will also exclude black Africans/African descendants from other European countries such as France, England or Holland—perhaps most significantly, those who never had or whose parents never had post-colonial, independent citizenships—not to mention North African countries like Egypt or Morocco and Indian Ocean and Pacific Ocean African Diasporas like Mauritians and Papua New Guineans.


According to such a rough and conservative estimate of first and second generation immigrants from Africa and its diaspora (i.e., in this case, the Caribbean and the USA) we get a population of 170,595 ”Afro-Swedes” or 1.8% of the national population. It is safe to say that of the Nordic countries Sweden has the highest percentage of black inhabitants and that it has among the highest percentage of black inhabitants in Europe.

About 80% of Afro-Swedes are first or second generation Africans (including ”second generation immigrants” with one African and one non-African parent). Of these the overwhelming majority are or have parents who are from the Horn of Africa (Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia or Sudan). First and second generation immigrants from the Horn of Africa amount to 104,888 persons or 1.1% of the national population.

If we are to properly understand what it means to be ”Afro-Swedish”—by which I mean a black inhabitant of Sweden—we need to move beyond standard understandings of African diasporas. First, we need to move beyond the so-called ”Black Atlantic” as a framework (Gilroy, 1993; Wekker, 2009). Most Afro-Swedes have not been immediately shaped by the New World experience of being descendants of transatlantic African slaves. For instance, the Horn of Africa was never extensively involved in the transatlantic slave trade. About 80% of Afro-Swedes—who are first or second generation African immigrants—are more likely shaped by the so-called New African Diaspora experience of being post-colonial African immigrants (Okpewho and Nzegwu, 2009). To this group the pronounced racialization of Africans and African descendants in the West, at the expense of other identities, is often a novel experience. However, to young first generation and second generation African immigrants being black is likely to play a greater role in shaping their self-identity than to first generation African immigrants who came to Sweden as adults.

Second, contrary to being, say, Black British or Black American, there is no such thing—at least not yet—as a collective Afro-Swedish identity. Amongst Afro-Swedes in general black identity is not something that is culturally inherited from a pre-existing black diasporic community, but something which ranges from being of marginal importance to self-identity to being central but largely improvised. Afro-Swedes are a diverse group that do not share any common history of, say, slavery or being subjected to Swedish rule. Being black in Sweden is therefore more open-ended, indeterminate and various than in many other locales of African diasporas.

However, it is still meaningful to speak of Afro-Swedes as a group. This allows us to articulate  how certain people in Swedish society are racialized, challenge popular conceptions of Swedish nationality and the conditions that shape their racial identities (or lack thereof). To this end, it is also meaningful to refer to mixed-race persons in Sweden with one black parent as Afro-Swedish since they are unlikely to be perceived as white and will tend to be associated (if not always identified) with being black (cf. Gordon, 1997).

There are many ways in which one could write a history of Afro-Swedes. Here I am going to focus on black inhabitants who have contributed to public discourse about black people in Sweden. Following the same reasoning as above I will include Afro-Swedes who themselves are, or have one or two black parents who are, from Africa or any of its diasporas.

Perhaps the obvious person to begin such a history with is Adolf Ludvig Gustav Fredrik Albert Badin or Albert Badin for short. Badin was according to his own estimate born in 1750—probably as a slave on the Danish island of St Croix in the Caribbean. From there he was shipped to Sweden and given as a gift to the Queen of Sweden, Louisa Ulrika of Prussia, who wanted to test the burgeoning racial theories of the Enlightenment and find out if a ”child of nature” could be civilized. Badin became an educated man who, according to Madubuko Diakité’s history of African diasporans in Sweden,

was proof to the Court and social engineers at the time that even the most noble savage could be educated. His ability to learn became a cornerstone in arguments for proving that an education could also be achieved by the common man, an argument that led to the education for all, not just nobility and Royals (Diakité, 2005)>

Despite becoming an esteemed member of the royal court of Sweden and married twice to women of the Swedish aristocracy, Badin had to withstand racial insult and strife until the end of his life in 1822—which he wrote about and reflected on in notebooks and letters (Pred, 2004).

During the 1950s and 60s some prominent African American jazz musicians such as Quincy Jones, George Russell, Albert Ayler and Don Cherry (father of the Afro-Swedish musicians Neneh Cherry and Eagle-Eye Cherry) made a home for themselves in Sweden for periods of time. Also the Afro-Cuban jazz legend Bebo Valdés (father of another Afro-Cuban jazz great, Chico Valdés) settled down in Stockholm in 1961 where he lived an anonymous life as a bar pianist until his career took off again in the 1990s when he rose to international acclaim. The African American painters Harvey Cropper, Clifford Jackson and Herbert Gentry settled down in Sweden in the 1960s too as did a friend of Harvey Cropper from his days in New York City, the African American poet Allen Polite (father of Afro-Swedish journalist Oivvio Polite). Although Polite never published a book during his lifetime (1932-1993), he was, before he moved to Stockholm, still an important figure in the black bohemian New York City artist milieu that preceded the Black Arts Movement and influenced the artistic development of his friend Amiri Baraka.

In 1969, Black Panther Party Solidarity Committees, consisting mostly of African American deserters and draft dodgers, were formed in Stockholm and Malmö (as well as in Copenhagen and Oslo) to counter misinformation in Europe about the Black Panthers and their struggles in the U.S. The Solidarity Comittee in Stockholm included Clifford Jackson and Allen Polite. Between 1969-1972 and under the leadership of its chairman, Herbert Washington, the Solidarity Committee in Malmö published a bi-weekly newspaper in English, The Lumpen Proletarian. It spread information about the Black Panthers, African American resistance to the war in Vietnam, experiences of discrimination in Sweden and was sold in both Sweden and to G.I.’s in Germany. Herbert Washington and the Solidarity Committee in Malmö also invited the co-founder of the Black Panther Party, Huey P. Newton, to do a speaking tour in Sweden, but due to illness he only gave one talk at the Academic Association at Lund University (AF) on February 2, 1972.

During the 1960s until his death in 1985 the African American journalist and activist, Sherman Adams, wrote articles for such publications as the largest eveningpaper in Sweden, Aftonbladet, and the Danish morningpaper, Politiken. Adams made headlines in 1970 when he, as part of a demonstration protesting the war in Vietnam, greeted the arrival at Arlanda airport of the new US ambassador to Sweden, Jerome Holland, with the placard, “White house nigger: go home!”. Adams wrote about his views on the politics of the US in his book, Mitt Amerika: en svart avhoppares memoarer [My America: The Memoirs of a Black Deserter] (Prisma, 1980).

Born in Harlem and having spent his teenage years in Nigeria, Madubuko A. Diakité earned an LL.B. at Lasalle Extention University in Chicago (1967), then a Diploma in Documentary Filmmaking at the prestigious New York Institute of Photography (1969). In 1970 Diakité came to Sweden and earned an M.A. at the Department of Film and Theater, Stockholm University (1973). He later went on to earn an LL.M. (1992) and a J.L. (2007) in human rights law at Lund University. In 1973 one of his independantly produced films about the impact of Malcolm X on a youth in Harlem, For Personal Reasons, was aired on Swedish television. The film was widely shown at film festivals in the US, Canada, Europe and Africa and was awarded Special Mention at the Grenoble Festival of Short Films in France. That same year his documentary about the discrimination of people of color in the university town of Lund, Det osynliga folket [The Invisible People] was aired on Swedish Television. An early champion for the civil and human rights of non-ethnic Swedes, Diakité helped found several anti-discrimination organizations in Sweden such as Lund University Foreign Students Organization (LUFSO), English International Association (which has Special Consultative Status with the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations), Antidiskrimineringsbyrån i Lund [The Anti-discrimination Bureau of Lund] and Centrum mot rasism (CMR) [Centre Against Racism]. He’s also the editor-in-chief of the periodical The Lundian (which often highlights issues of discrimination and human rights) and the author of numerous articles on subjects of racial and ethnic discrimination in Sweden and elsewhere.

In 1990 an association was formed in Stockholm by Congolese born (DRC) Mkyabela Sabuni to represent Afro-Swedes, Afrosvenskarnas Riksförbund (ASR) [The National Association of Afro-Swedes]. Since then it has become a nation-wide association with regional offices in Stockholm, Gothenburg, Malmö, Jönköping and Umeå. Its spokesperson is Kitimbwa Sabuni (nephew of Mkyabela Sabuni and brother of the current Swedish Minister of Gender Equality, Nyamko Sabuni). Kitimbwa Sabuni has become a household name in Sweden as a frequent commentator on issues of anti-black racism and Islamophobia.

During the 1990s and 2000s the Afro-Swedish journalist Oivvio Polite wrote several articles in newspapers and periodicals pertaining to race and racism. Some of the articles were collected in Polite’s book, ”White Like Me”: utvalda texter om rasism 1992-2007 [”White Like Me”: Selected Texts About Racism 1992-2007] (Danger Bay Press, 2007).

One of the early scholars of African descent to write about issues pertaining to black people is the Ethiopian born associate professor in human geography, Mekonnen Tesfahuney. Since the early 1990s he has published widely on topics of racism, multiculturalism and migration. His doctoral dissertation from 1998, Imag(in)ing The Others: Migration, Racism and the Discursive Construction of Migrants, was frequently cited in Allan Pred’s book, Even in Sweden: Racisms, Racialized Spaces, and the Popular Geographical Imagination (University of California Press, 2000).

During the latter half of the 1990s and early 2000s, Louis Faye (a son of Senegal), played an important role in establishing postcolonial studies in Sweden. His cultural association Diggante (”in-between space” in Wolof) organized many public symposias and lectures in Stockholm on African diasporic themes with both national and international speakers. International speakers included Angela Davis, Gina Dent, Gayatri Spivak, ValentinY. Mudimbe, Manthia Diawara, Robert Young, Julian Isaac, Homi K. Bhabha and Paul Gilroy. He was also the co-editor (together with Michael McEachrane) of the first book to apply postcolonial theory on Swedish matters, Sverige och de Andra: postkoniala perspektiv [Sweden and the Others: Postcolonial Perspectives] (Natur & Kultur, 2001). About half of the contributions were on black issues.

Since her doctoral dissertation from the University of Michigan in 2000, Black and Swedish: Racialization and the Cultural Politics of Belonging in Stockholm, Lena Sawyer has published numerous academic articles and book chapters on Afro-Swedish diasporic identity and also co-edited the governmental report, Utbildningens dilemma: Demokratiska ideal och Andrafierande praxis [The Dilemma of Education: Democratic Ideals and Othering Praxis] (Fritzes, 2006).

A frequent commentator in the Swedish public arena on black related matters is the Afro-Swedish film studies scholar Ylva Habel. Among her publications is the book chapter, ”Whiteness Swedish Style” from the anthology, Afrikansksvenska röster [African Swedish Voices] (Notisförlag, 2009).

The Ugandan born Victoria Kawesa—among other things, PhD student in Gender Studies and  researcher on civic rights in Sweden for the Fundamental Rights Agency of the European Union—has written numerous reports on racism and discrimination in Sweden for the EU, European Network Aganist Racism, Centre Against Racism in Sweden and the Swedish government. Among her publications are the first governmental report on anti-black racism in Sweden, Att Färgas av Sverige [To Be Colored by Sweden] (DO, 2007) and experiences of discrimination amongst Somali immigrants in Sweden, Vart tog rättigheterna vägen? [Where Did the Rights Go?] (CMR, 2011). She has also pioneered the use of the term ”Afrophobia” to describe anti-black discrimination in Sweden and elsewhere in the EU. The term is now frequently used by several of the country’s governmental agencies such as The Swedish National Council for Crime Prevention (Brå).

In 2009 two anthologies were published with contributions by and about Afro-Swedes, Afrikansksvenska röster [African Swedish Voices] (Notisförlag, 2009) edited by Kolade Stephens and Afrosvensk i det nya Sverige [Afro-Swedish in the New Sweden] (Notisförlag, 2009) edited by Cecilia Gärding. Afrosvensk i det nya Sverige consists of personal narratives of what it’s like to be an adolescent of African descent in Sweden. The book was turned into Sweden’s first hip hop opera, “Folkoperan: Remixed” [The Folk Opera: Remixed], and is now being tuned into a feature film.

One of the most lauded wordsmiths of the younger generation in Sweden in recent years is the Afro-Swedish poet, novelist, playwriter and essayist, Johannes Anyuru. Some of his work include the play, Förvaret [The Repository] (Glänta, 2009), a critical look at Swedish asylum politics, and his most recent, En storm kom från paradiset [A Storm Came from Paradise] (Nordstedts, 2012), a biographical novel about his Ugandan father who studied to become a figher pilot when Idi Amin took over and which, after a sejour in Zambia, wound him up in Sweden as an asylum seeker.

Several prominent Afro-Swedish rappers have released tracks that give voice to the discrimination against people of color in Sweden. Among them are Blues’ ”Andra sidan (Bortom Dimhöljet)” [The Other Side (Beyond the Fog)] (1999), about pushing forward in the face of strife as a person of color; Feven’s ”Bränn BH:n” [Burn the Bra] (2000), a feminist protest song against sexism and racism; Timbuktu’s ”Pendelparanoia” [Commuterparanoia] (2001), a stream of consciousness rap from the perspectives of a racist person and a person subjected to racism; and Adam Tensta’s “They Wanna Know” (2007) about prejudices faced by youngsters like himself from the immigrant dense and underprivileged public housing projects.

The Ghanian born Swedish politician, Joe Frans, sat in the Swedish parliament 2002-2006, for the Social Democrats, and was before that one of the front persons of the organization Ungdom Mot Rasism [Youth Against Racism]. In 2004 he founded the Swedish Martin Luther King Prize, which is an annual prize for persons doing work in Sweden in the spirit of Dr King. The Egyptian Eritrean Social Democratic politician, Mariam Osman Sherifay, was a member of the Swedish parliament 2002-2006 and is now the chair of the Centre Against Racism in Sweden. Nyamko Sabuni, a politician for the Liberal Party, became the first black person in a Swedish cabinet with her appointment in 2006 as the Swedish Minister of Integration and Gender Equality.

On April 15, 2012, an event took place at the Modern Museum of Art in Stockholm where the Swedish Minister of Culture, Lena Adelsohn Liljeroth, laughingly, and in front of a laughing and applauding white audience, cut a piece of the nether parts of a cake depicting a racist caricature of an African woman and fed it to her. The cake installation was created by the Afro-Swedish artist Makode Linde who also lent his black painted face to the head of the woman. The day after the National Association of Afro-Swedes asked the minister to resign. Several Afro-Swedes participated in the ensuing debate such as the artist Makode Linde, Kitimbwa Sabuni (the spokesperson for the National Association of Afro-Swedes) and Victoria Kawesa. Gambian born Afro-Swede, Momodou Jallow—board member of the European Network Against Racism, the Centre Against Racism in Sweden and head of the Malmö-branch of the National Association of Afro-Swedes—wrote an article about the event and the silence surrounding anti-black racism in Sweden for The Guardian in the U.K. and was interviewed on the same subject by the television channel, Al jazeera English. A discussion about the matter, with several of the Afro-Swedes who were involved in the debate, will be published in the forthcoming anthology, Afro-Nordic Landscapes: Equality and Race in Northern Europe (Routledge, 2012).

Diakité, M. (2005). African Diasporans in Sweden: An Unfinished History. The Lundian.

Gilroy, P. (1993). The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciouness. London and New York: Verso Press

Gordon, L.R. (1997). Her Majesty’s Other Children: Sketches of Racism from a Neocolonial Age. Boston and Oxford: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers

Hine, D.C., Keaton, T.D., and Small, S. (eds.) (2009). Black Europe and the African Diaspora. Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press

McEachrane, M (ed.) (2012). Afro-Nordic Landscapes: Equality and Race in Northern Europe. (New York and London: Routledge)

Okpewho, I. and Nzegwu, N. (eds.) (2009). The New African Diaspora. Bloomington: Indiana University Press

Pred, A.R. (2004). The Past Is Not Dead: Facts, Fictions, and Enduring Racial Stereotypes. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press

Wekker, G. (2009). Another Dream of a Common Language: Imagining Black Europe… In D.C. Hine, T.D. Keaton and S. Small (eds.), Black Europe and the African Diaspora

Alfred Fagon

Contributor:  Nisha Obano

Born on 25 June 1937, Alfred Fagon was one of ten children in a close, religious family living in Clarendon, Jamaica. He left school at the age of thirteen to work with his father in the family’s orange plantation. While many of his older siblings left the Caribbean for the United States, Alfred moved to England in 1955 and found work with British Rail in Nottingham. He joined the army in 1958 and went on to become the Royal Signal Corps’ middleweight boxing champion in 1962. Upon the leaving the army, he travelled around the UK singing calypso and trained and worked as a welder, eventually settling in St Paul’s, Bristol, where he began his career as an actor and writer.

Alfred’s acting debut was at the Bristol Arts Centre as the Nigerian Officer Orara in Henry Livings’s play The Little Mrs Foster Show in 1966. In 1970 he made his first professional appearance in Mustapha Matura’s Black Pieces at the Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA) in London. His acting career continued both on stage and screen. Among other things, he featured in the popular British television police series Z Cars in 1973, the film R.H.I.N.O: Really Here in Name Only in 1983 and another popular television series, Boon, in 1986. That year he also starred, with Hazel O’Connor, in Fighting Back for the BBC, which was filmed in St Paul’s.

During this time, Fagon also developed his own plays and television scripts, many of which he also starred in. Many of his early pieces are based on his experiences and life in St Paul’s. His first produced play was 11 Josephine House, in which he appeared as himself. Produced by InterAction and directed by Donald Rees, the play was staged at the Almost Free Theatre in 1972 and was set in the front room of a Bristol household in which the family dream about their spiritual home in Jamaica. This was followed by In Shakespeare Country, directed by Philip Saville for BBC Two in 1973; No Soldiers in St Paul’s, which Fagon directed; and Death of A Black Man which was produced at the Hampstead Theatre in 1975. Set in Chelsea and loosely based on the life of the Jamaican saxophonist Joe Harriot, Death of A Black Man eerily presages Fagon’s own passing. In 1983, Fagon’s Four Hundred Pounds toured the UK and played at the Royal Court and his final play, Lonely Cowboy, set in Brixton, came out in 1985, one year before his death.

For someone who had achieved so much during a short life, Fagon was not treated with the dignity he deserved in his death. Fagon was in the prime of his career when, on 29 August 1986 at the age of forty-nine, while jogging near his flat in Brixton, London, he suffered a fatal heart attack. Despite searching his flat in which there were numerous articles of identification including his passport, letters and scripts, the police reported that they were unable to identify his body and he was given a pauper’s funeral as a result. It was only when he did not turn up to a meeting at the BBC, who then contacted his agent Harriet Cruickshank, that his death was discovered.

Among the things left behind by Alfred Fagon, including his plays, television scripts, collections of poetry (including Waterwell), is also an inspirational legacy for black Britons and Black British theatre. To mark his achievements, a statue created by David G Mutasa was erected in Bristol, the only one commemorating an African Caribbean in the city. And the friends of Alfred Fagon later went on to establish a playwriting award in his name. The Alfred Fagon Award, which was inaugurated in 1997, recognises and celebrates writers of African and Caribbean descent and is supported by the Peggy Ramsay Foundation, the Royal Court and Talawa Theatre Company. Alfred Fagon’s archives, which include letters, scripts and photographs, are testament to a remarkable man and a remarkable career.

Character of Francis. Black Pieces. By Mustapha Matura. Dir. Roland Rees. ICA, London. 1970.

Character of Walton. ‘Answers to the Name of Watson’. Boon. Television programme. Central Independent Television, Birmingham. 28 Jan. 1986.

Fighting Back. Series 1. Television programme. BBC Bristol. 4 Aug.–1 Sept. 1986.

Bakerloo Line cast member. Full House. Television programme. BBC Television. 3 Feb. 1973.

Character of the West Indian. ‘Lucky’. ITV Playhouse. Television programme. Independent Television (ITV). 5 Feb. 1974.

Little Mrs Foster Show. By Henry Livings. Bristol Arts Centre, Bristol. 1966.

‘In the Beautiful Caribbean’. Play for Today. Television programme. BBC Television. 3 Feb. 1972.

Character of Black Man on Train. Pressure. Film. BFI (British Film Institute), 1976.

Character of Angie’s father. R.H.I.N.O.: Really Here in Name Only. Television film. Central Independent Television. 3 July 1983.

‘Club Havana’. Second City Firsts. Television programme. BBC, Birmingham. 25 Oct. 1975.

Character of Bert Bloggs. The Sleeping Policeman by Howard Brenton and Tunde Ikoli. Dir. Roland Rees. The Royal Court Theatre Upstairs, London. 8 Nov. 1983.

Character of Lucas. Shakespeare Country. Thirty-Minute Theatre. Television programme. BBC Television. 17 May 1973.

Character of Malcolm. ‘Skinner’. Z Cars. Television programme. BBC Liverpool. 4 Jan. 1973.

Shakespeare Country. Dir. Philip Saville. Perf. Alfred Fagon, Merdelle Jordine, Stefan Kalipha and Carmen Munroe. BBC Television. 17 May 1973.

11 Josephine House. Dir. Roland Rees. Perf. Mona Hammond, T Bone Wilson, Fagon, Oscar James, Ursula Moham and Horace James. Inter-Action. Almost Free Theatre, London. 22 Nov. 1972.

Four Hundred Pounds. Dir. Roland Rees. Perf. Gordon Case and Stefan Kalipha. Foco Novo. Royal Court Theatre, London. 1982.

Lonely Cowboy. Dir. Nicolas Kent. Perf. Trevor Butler, Jim Findley, Beverley Michaels, Joy Richardson, Calvin Simpson, Chris Tummings, Sylvester Williams and Angela Wynter. Tricycle Theatre, London. 1985.

The Death of A Black Man. Dir. Roland Rees. Perf. Mona Hammon, Gregory Munro and Anton Phillips. Foco Novo. Hampstead Theatre, London. 1975.

11 Josephine House; The Death of A Blackman and Lonely Cowboy. Plays. London: Oberon, 1999.

Lonely Cowboy. Black plays: Selected and Introduced by Yvonne Brewster. Intro. Yvonne Brewster. London: Methuen, 1987.

Character of Bert Bloggs. The Sleeping Policeman by Howard Brenton. Dir. Roland Rees. Perf. Carrie Lee-Baker, Trevor Butler, Craig Crosbie, Mary Ellen Ray and Ella Wilder. Royal Court Theatre Upstairs. Rec. 16 Nov. 1983.

Billington, Michael. ‘Foco Novo double bill’. Review of Four Hundred Pounds by Alfred Fagon. Royal Court Theatre Upstairs, London. The Guardian 18 Nov. 1982: 10.

—. Review of Death of A Black Man by Alfred Fagon. Foco Novo. Hampstead Theatre. The Guardian 3 June 1975: 12.

‘Obituary for Alfred Fagon’. The Times 20 Sept. 1986: np.

Perera, Shyama. ‘Police attacked over actor’s cremation’. The Guardian 1 Oct. 1986: 2.

Phillips, Caryl. ‘Lost Generation’. The Guardian 23 Apr. 2005, Review: 16.

Poore, Benjamin. Heritage, Nostalgia and Modern British Theatre: Staging the Victorians. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012.

Radin, Victoria. ‘Loot for the Court’. Review of Death of A Black Man by Alfred Fagon. Foco Novo. Hampstead Theatre. The Observer 8 June 1975: 24.

Ratcliffe, Michael. Review of 11 Josephine House by Alfred Fagon. Umoja Theatre Company and Black Theatre Cooperative. The Observer 24 May 1987: 21.

Williams, Roy. ‘Black theatre’s big breakout’. The Guardian 28 Sept. 2009, G2: 17.

Alfred Fagon Award Website. Talawa Award for Black British Playwrights <http://www.alfredfagonaward.co.uk/>.

Black Theatre Archive Website.


Bristol Education Action Zone Website (BrEASZ). <http://breazshare.net/resources/integratedcurriculum/blackbristolianspoeplewhomakeadifference/bbiographiesandlessonplansalfredfagonwriterpoetandplaywright>.

Caribbean Studies in Black and Asian History Website (CASBAH). <http://www.casbah.ac.uk/cats/print/240/THEP00002.htm>.

Discovering Bristol (Bristol local history) Website.


Doollee.com Website. (Literary database) <http://www.doollee.com/PlaywrightsF/fagon-alfred.html>.

Historical Geographies Website. <http://historicalgeographies.blogspot.co.uk/2011/09/biography-alfred-fagon.html>.

Internet Movie Database Website. <http://www.imdb.com/name/nm1527593/>.

Teacher’s notes Website. <http://public.merlin.swgfl.org.uk/establishments/803/QandS/EMTAS/AllDocuments/Alfred%Fagon.pdf>.

Oberon Publishers Website. <http://oberonbooks.com/author/alfred-fagon/>.

Victoria and Albert Museum Theatre Archive Website. <http://www.vam.ac.uk/vastatic/theatre/archives/thm-89f.html>.

Amara Lakhous

Contributor: Daniela Brogi

Amara Lakhous is one of the most important contemporary Arab-Italian authors in Italy today. Both his life and his narrative are marked by the constant trespassing and crossing of boarders between different languages and cultures. Born in Algiers in 1970, Lakhous learned several languages early on. Berber was spoken at home but he was also exposed to classical Arabic, Algerian Arabic, and French, which he studied at elementary school and used as a child to help his grandmother and aunt communicate with their relatives born in France. From an early age he was inspired by authors like Mahfouz, Flaubert and Hemingway; after finishing school, he decided to study at the Faculty for Philosophy in Algiers where he also explored the roots of his Algerian identity, religion, the civil war and systems of male superiority. He went on to work for Algerian radio, where, like many of his colleagues, he had to put up with repeated threats. “I was sick and tired of waiting for my murderers”, is how Lakhous explained his decision to leave Algeria. In 1995, he moved to Rome with a manuscript in his luggage: a novel written in Arabic that would be published in 1999 (Le cimici e il pirata [The Bug and the Pirate], Arlem, Rome) in a bilingual edition (translated into Italian by Francesco Leggio). The novel tells the story of Hassinu, a 40-year-old kind of imaginary pirate who is incapable of enjoying his freedom.
In 2003, Algerian publishing house Al-ikhtilaf published Lakhous’ second novel, written in Arabic but set in Rome: Come farti allattare dalla lupa senza che ti morda [How to Be Breastfed by a She-Wolf without Being Bitten]. In the meantime, he earned a second degree at the University La Sapienza in Rome in Cultural Anthropology—his dissertation was on Muslim-Arab immigrants in Italy—and rewrote the aforementioned novel in Italian, publishing it with e/o in 2006 under the title Scontro di civiltà per un ascensore a piazza Vittorio [Clash of Civilizations Over an Elevator in Piazza Vittorio, published in English in 2008]. The book tells of a small culturally mixed community living an apartment building in the centre of Rome that is thrown into disarray when one of the neighbours is murdered. An investigation ensues and as each of the victim’s neighbours is questioned, the reader is offered an all-access pass into the most colourful neighbourhood in contemporary Rome. Each character takes his or her turn centre-stage, “giving evidence,” recounting his or her story—the dramas of emigration, the daily equivocations of immigration, the fears and misunderstandings of a life spent on society’s margins, abused by mainstream culture’s fears and indifference, preconceptions and insensitivity. This novel is animated by a style that is as colourful as the neighbourhood it describes and is characterized by a seemingly effortless equipoise that borrows from the cinematic tradition of the Commedia Italiana, as exemplified by directors such as Pietro Germi, Federico Fellini and Mario Monicelli.
At the heart of this bittersweet comedy is a social reality that is typically glossed over and a surprisingly exact anthropological analysis of this reality that cannot fail to fascinate. “I lived for six years in Piazza Vittorio, it’s a kind of laboratory for the future, the prototype of intellectual cohabitation.” Lakhous doesn’t limit himself to an unadulterated perspective of the immigrant to focus on the central issues which natives overlook; he also experiments with language by enriching his Italian prose with expressions, imagery and terms from his original language: “I Arabise the Italian and Italianise the Arabic.”
Scontro di civiltà per un ascensore a piazza Vittorio was a success: it was awarded various prizes (including the 2006 Flaiano Prize for Narrative and Algeria’s most prestigious literary award, the Prix des libraires Algeriens in 2008); it was translated into English, German, French, Dutch and is soon to be translated into Polish and Korean; in 2011 it was published in its 15th edition; in 2010 it became a film.
In 2010, Lakhous published a fourth novel, Divorzio all’islamica a viale Marconi [Divorce Islamic Style in Viale Marconi] (e/o, Rome). The story is set in 2005: the Italian secret service gets a tip about a group of Muslim immigrants working in the Viale Marconi area of Rome who are preparing a terrorist attack. Christian Mazzari, a young Sicilian man who speaks perfect Arabic, is sent to infiltrate the cell and uncover exactly who is behind it.
Amara Lakhous lives in Rome. In June 2011 a new version of his debut novel was released under the title Un pirata piccolo piccolo [A Little Tiny Pirate].

Excerpt from Scontro di civiltà per un ascensore a piazza Vittorio [Clash of Civilizations Over an Elevator in Piazza Vittorio], e/o, Roma 2006 [translated by Ann Goldstein for Europa Editions, 2008].

The Truth According to Iqbal Amir Allah
Signor Amedeo is one of the few Italians who shop in my store. He’s an ideal customer: he pays cash. I’ve never written his name in my credit book. There’s a real difference between him and the rest of the customers, like the Bangladeshis, the Pakistanis, and the Indians, who pay at the end of the month. I’m well acquainted with their problems. A few can afford a fixed amount every month, while the rest live like birds: they scramble for food every day. There are a lot of Bangladeshis who sell garlic in the markets in the morning, flowers in the restaurants at night, and umbrellas on rainy days. Signor Amedeo is an Italian different from the others: he’s not a fascist, I mean he’s not a racist who hates foreigners, like that shit Gladiator who despises us and humiliates everyone. I’m telling you the truth: that bastard got what he deserved. The Neapolitan concierge is also a racist, because she won’t let me use the elevator when I deliver groceries to the residents of the building who are my customers. She hates me for no reason and won’t answer when I say hello. In fact, she insults me on purpose, calling me, ‘Hey Pakistani!’ I’ve told her many times, ‘I’m Bangladeshi, and I have nothing to do with Pakistan, in fact, my hatred for the Pakistanis has no limits.’ During the war of independence in 1971, Pakistani soldiers raped many of our women. I still remember my poor aunt who killed herself in order not to bring shame on the family. Ah, if only we had had the bomb! I say the Pakistanis deserve to die like the Japanese in the Second World War. Not to mention the professor from Milan, who even asked me to show him authorization to use the elevator. I wondered if you need a residency permit just to use the elevator. When I see Signor Amedeo with his Iranian friend Parviz in the Bar Dandini I feel happy. I say to myself, ‘How nice to see a Christian and a Muslim like two brothers: there is no difference between Christ and Mohammed, between the Gospel and the Koran, between church and mosque!’ Because I’ve been in Rome a long time I can distinguish between racists and tolerant Italians: the racists don’t smile at you and don’t answer if you say ciao, good morning, or good evening. They don’t give a damn about you, as if you didn’t exist; in fact, they wish from the bottom of their heart that you would turn into a repulsive insect to be ruthlessly crushed. While tolerant Italians smile a lot and greet you first, like Signor Amedeo, who always surprises me with his Islamic greeting: ‘Assalam alikum.’ He knows Islam well. Once he told me that the prophet Mohammed said that ‘to smile at someone is like giving alms.’ Signor Amedeo is the only Italian who spares me embarrassing questions about the veil, wine, pork, and so on. He must have traveled a lot in Muslim countries; especially since his wife, Signora Stefania, has a travel agency near Via Nazionale. The Italians don’t know Islam properly. They think it’s a religion of bans: drinking wine is forbidden! Sex outside marriage is forbidden! Once Sandro, the owner of the Bar Dandini, asked me: ‘How many wives do you have?’ ‘One.’ He reflected for a moment, then said: ‘You’re not a real Muslim, so no virgins for you in paradise, because Muslims are supposed to pray five times a day and observe Ramadan and marry four women.’ I tried to explain to him that I’m poor, not rich like the emirs of the Gulf, who can maintain four families at the same time, but I didn’t see that he was convinced by my explanation. In the end he said to me: ‘I respect you Muslim men, because you love women the way we Roman studs do, and you despise gays.’ And Sandro isn’t the only one who says to me: ‘You’re not a real Muslim.’ There’s the Arab Abdu, who sells fish in Piazza Vittorio. That shit never stops hassling me’ he gets on my nerves. One moment he swears that the true Muslim has to know Arabic, the next he criticizes my last name, Amir Allah, which he considers an offense against Islam. Once he said to me: ‘My name is Abdellah and you are Amir Allah. If you knew Arabic, you would understand the difference between Abdellah, which means Slave of God, and Amir Allah, which means Prince of God.’ So I told him that that is the name of my father and I won’t ever change it, so then he called me a non-believer because I consider myself a prince superior to God. This is an extremist Arab and he deserves to have his tongue cut out. Signor Amedeo is a wanted man? I can’t believe that charge. What really puzzles me is the story that all the news shows have broadcast: that Signor Amedeo is not Italian, he’s an immigrant like me. I don’t trust the TV reporters, because they are always looking for scandal, and they magnify every problem. When I hear the bad things that are said about Piazza Vittorio I’m suspicious: I wonder if they’re actually talking about the place where I’ve lived for ten years or the Bronx we see in cop movies. Signor Amedeo is good the way the juice of a mango is good. He helps us present our appeals to the authorities, and gives us useful advice for dealing with all our bureaucratic problems. I still remember how he helped me solve the problem that caused me to have an ulcer. It began when I went to get my residency permit at the police station and realized that they had mixed up my first and last names. I explained that my name is Iqbal and my last name is Amir Allah, which is also my father’s name, because in Bangladesh the name of the son or daughter is traditionally accompanied by the father’s. Unfortunately all my attempts failed. I went to the police station every day, until one day the inspector lost patience: ‘My name is Mario Rossi, and there’s no difference between Mario Rossi and Rossi Mario, just as there is none between Iqbal Amir Allah and Amir Allah Iqbal!’ Then, with the residency permit in his hand: ‘This is your photograph?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘This is your signature?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘This is your date of birth?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Then there’s no problem, right?’ ‘Wrong, there’s a huge problem. My name is Iqbal Amir Allah, not Amir Allah Iqbal.’ At that point he got angry and threatened me: ‘You don’t understand a goddam thing. If you come back one more time I’ll seize your residency permit, take you to the airport at Fiumicino, and put you on the first plane to Bangladesh! I don’t want to see you here one more time, get it?’ I immediately talked to Signor Amedeo about it, confessing that I was afraid of Amir Allah Iqbal and that a lot of problems could arise in the future because of this change of name. Let’s say for example that someone whose name is Amir Allah Iqbal is a serious criminal or a ruthless drug dealer or a dangerous terrorist like that Pakistani Yussef Ramsi the Americans captured recently. If I adopted that new identity, how would I prove that my children are really mine? How would I prove that my wife is really mine? What would happen if they saw the marriage license and discovered that the husband of my wife is not me but another person, whose name is Iqbal Amir Allah? How would I get my money out of the bank? After my outburst Signor Amedeo promised that he would intervene to release me from this nightmare. A few days later he kept his promise and went with me to the police station on Via Genova. It was the first time I had gone to a police station without having to wait for one or two hours. His friend, Commissario Bettarini, was expecting us, and he asked for my residency permit. Then he went out of the office, returned in a few minutes, and I really couldn’t believe my ears when he said to me: ‘Signor Iqbal Amir Allah, here is your new residency permit!’ Before thanking him I glanced quickly at the first lines of the document. Name: Iqbal. Surname: Amir Allah. I drew a sigh of relief, truly a weight had been lifted. As we were leaving the police station I had a brilliant idea: ‘You know, Signor Amedeo, my wife is pregnant and soon I’ll be a father for the fourth time. I’ve decided to call my son Roberto. His name will be Roberto Iqbal!’ And so it was. My wife had a boy and I called him Roberto. It’s the only way for him to avoid the disaster of a mixup between name and surname. It will be impossible to make a mistake because Roberto, Mario, Francesco, Massimo, Giulio, and Romano are all first names, not last names. I must do all I can to spare my son Roberto these serious problems. A good father should take care of his children’s future. I don’t know where he is now, but I’m sure of one thing: Signor Amedeo is not an immigrant or a criminal! I’m positive he is innocent. He isn’t stained with the blood of that young man who never smiled. I’ve known him ever since I unloaded trucks in Piazza Vittorio, before we started the cooperative. I also know his wife, Signora Stefania, she’s a friend of my wife. He helped me find the house where I live, given that the owner refused to rent to immigrants. He even persuaded me to send my wife to school to learn Italian. I really hope that Roberto turns out like Signor Amedeo. Now I just have to decide whether to send him to the Italian nursery school or the Islamic school, where he would learn the Koran and the Bengali language. […].

Aminatta Forna

AMINATTA FORNA (Glasgow, 1964)

By Patricia Bastida Rodríguez (Universitat de les Illes Balears)

Aminatta Forna was born in Glasgow to a Scottish mother and a Sierra Leonean father, although after her parents’ divorce she spent long periods of her childhood in Sierra Leone, where her father remarried, alternating her stays there with her studies in a boarding school in Surrey (UK). Her father, Mohamed Sorie Forna, was a village boy who won a scholarship to train as a doctor in Scotland and in the 1970s became a minister in the dictatorial government of Siaka Stevens, the first President of Sierra Leone (1971-1985). Forna was taken from his home in Freetown one night on charges of treason for founding an opposing political party and was executed the following year, in 1975, when Aminatta was aged 11. This event marked her teenage years and in a way triggered her career as a writer decades later.

She studied law at University College London and later at the University of California, Berkeley. From 1989 to 1999 Forna was a broadcast journalist for the BBC, often reporting on African issues and presenting documentaries on Africa’s history and art such as “Through African Eyes” (BBC) in 1995, the Channel 4 series “Africa Unmasked” (2002) and in 2009 “The Lost Libraries of Timbuktu” (BBC). It was in the late 1990s that she wrote her first book, the non-fiction volume Mother of All Myths. How Society Moulds and Constrains Mothers (London, HarperCollins, 1998), where she explores modern motherhood examining Western perceptions in the 1980s and 1990s and its idealisation in mythology, history and literature.

In 2002 she published The Devil that Danced on the Water. A Daughter’s Memoir (London, HarperCollins), which constitutes an attempt to investigate the reasons behind her father’s death, hanged as a traitor after a most suspicious trial though considered a hero by those who knew him. With the help of her step-mother and other relatives in Sierra Leone, Forna manages to reconstruct the social context in which he died and the circumstances surrounding his trial, eventually identifying his killers after discovering that all the witnesses had been bribed to testify against him. The narrative, however, is not only an exercise of political remembrance, but also an attempt to come to terms with her own childhood and her confusion in those years. The Devil that Danced on the Water received wide acclaim both in the UK and the US and was shortlisted for the Samuel Johnson Prize for non-fiction in 2003. It was selected by the Barnes & Noble Discover New Writers Series and serialised on BBC Radio and The Sunday Times.

Forna’s first book of fiction is her novel Ancestor Stones (London, Bloomsbury), also focused on Sierra Leone. Its publication in 2006 awakened great critical interest in the literary world and among numerous reading groups which led to its being awarded the 2008 Hurston Wright Legacy Award for debut fiction, the Literaturpreis in Germany and the Aidoo-Snyder Book Prize 2010 for African women’s writing. It was also nominated for the International Dublin IMPAC Literary Award and selected by The Washington Post and The Listener Magazine as one of the best books published in 2006, as well as The New York Times Editors’ Choice.

In this novel a London-based African-British woman, Abie, explores her family past through the voices of her four aunties, daughters of four of the eleven wives of her grandfather, Gibril Umars Kholifa, a rich Sierra Leonean plantation owner. Through their alternating stories and reflections we get to know the difficult circumstances in which they lived and married, always competing with the other siblings in the household for their father’s attention and struggling to survive in a patriarchal world which was collapsing under Western influence and armed conflict. The violent past of Sierra Leone is thus revised through female eyes in a narrative which spans seven decades and is full of lyricism and female strength, leading to a more hopeful, empowering present in the new millenium.

Due to the success of Ancestor Stones, Forna was named in 2007 as one of African’s most promising new writers by Vanity Fair and in 2010 she published her most recent and most awarded work to date, The Memory of Love (London, Bloomsbury). This novel has received the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize in 2011 and has been selected as one of the best books of the year by The Sunday Times, The Financial Times and The Sunday Telegraph, as well as The New York Times Editors’ Choice. It has also been shortlisted for the 2011 Orange Prize for Fiction and the Warwick Prize for Writing and awarded a Kirkus star by the Kirkus Reviews.

In The Memory of Love Forna returns to Sierra Leone, but this time in the aftermath of its civil war in the 1990s, one of the bloodiest in modern Africa. Set in a Freetown hospital, the plot revolves around several characters: Adrian Lockheart, a British psychologist who has travelled to that country to hide from his own conflicts and to treat psychologically-wounded people after the war – which makes a numerous group as a result of the special cruelty of the conflict –; Elias Cole, a retired university professor who becomes his patient; Kay Mansarai, a surgeon specialised in orthopedics whom Adrian befriends and who is also damaged by the horror he has witnessed; and Agnes, a woman who ends up in a mental hospital as a consequence of her experiences in the war. Despite their different circumstances, the four characters share painful memories which require healing and life experiences which have more in common than they think. Forna offers here a well-researched narrative which explores post-war trauma and surprises readers with its precise descriptions and the directness of its language.

Apart from her long fiction, which has been translated into several languages, Forna has also published essays, articles and short stories which have appeared in newspapers and journals such as Granta, The Sunday Times, The Observer and Vogue. She is also an occasional collaborator in Wasafiri and a member of the advisory committee of the Caine Prize for African Writing. Her short story “Hayward’s Heath” was shortlisted for the BBC National Short Story Award 2010. Forna is now a full-time writer and lives in London with her husband Simon Wescott, though she travels several times a year to Sierra Leone and her family’s village, Rogbonko, where she collaborates on a project whose aim is to promote escape from poverty by launching initiatives in the spheres of education, health, agriculture and infrastructure. This project, known as the Rogbonko Project, included the building of a primary school in 2002 on which Forna also cooperated. Thus, her outstanding contribution to African cultures is not only visible in the literary field, but also in the social sphere through her active participation in its development.


Official website:  http://www.aminattaforna.com/

Steffens, Daneet 2008: “Aminatta Forna Talks to Daneet Steffens”. Mslexia. For Women Who Write. Issue 38, Jul/Aug/Sep 2008. In http://www.mslexia.co.uk/magazine/interviews/interview_38.php

Umez, Uche Peter 2010: “Reminiscences: Interview with Aminatta Forna”. Sentinel Literary Quarterly, vol. 4, no. 1, October-December 2010. In http://www.sentinelpoetry.org.uk/slq/4-1-oct2010/interviews/uche-peter-umez.html

Andrew Salkey

Andrew Salkey

(novelist, poet, travel writer, editor, journalist)

Born on 30 January 1928 as Felix Andrew Alexander Salkey in Colón, Panama to Jamaican parents, Andrew Alexander Salkey, a businessman, and Linda Marshall Salkey. At the age of two Salkey was sent to Jamaica, where he was raised by his grandmother and his mother. His mother’s work as a teacher there would prove a great influence on Salkey’s writing. His father continued to work in Panama, and the two never met until Salkey was an adult.

Salkey attended two of the finest schools in Jamaica, Saint George’s College, a Catholic secondary school for boys, run by Jesuits in Kingston; and Munro College, a boarding school in the rural parish of Saint Elizabeth. Salkey then moved to Britain in 1952 to attend the University of London and became a part of the West Indian Students Union (WISU), which provided an effective forum for Caribbean students to express their ideas and provided voluntary support to the ‘harassed’ working-class Caribbean immigrant community, during the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. The association also included Gerry Burton, Arif Ali, Chris LeMaitre, John La Rose and Horace Lashley.

In the mid-1950s Salkey taught English at Walworth Secondary school (also known as Mina Road school), an early comprehensive just off the Old Kent Road in south-east London. During that time he also contributed regularly to the BBC’s influential Caribbean Voices radio programme, working as a reader, interviewer, editorial advisor and contributing author. Salkey’s home became a meeting place for many Caribbean writers living or visiting London in that period and he nurtured many young artists and writers during his lifetime. One example is his long friendship with Austin Clarke; the two had a long written correspondence, a great deal of which is available in Clarke’s files at the McMaster University Archives in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. This nurturing was apparent when, in 1966 Salkey, along with the Trinidadian publisher, writer and activist John La Rose and the Barbadian poet and historian Kamau Brathwaite co-founded the Caribbean Artists Movement, providing a platform for Caribbean artists, poets, writers, dramatists, actors and musicians.

In 1959 Andrew Salkey’s first novel was published, A Quality of Violence, set in rural Jamaica of 1900. His second book, Escape to An Autumn Pavement (1960), set in London, is a novel of exile, whilst his third novel, The Late Emancipation of Jerry Stover (1968), returns to Jamaica and is a damning indictment of the nihilism of middle class Caribbean life. The Adventures of Catullus Kelly (1969) is set back in London, and Salkey’s last major novel, Come Home, Malcolm Heartland (1976) has as its theme the revolutionary activity and posturing of black secret agents and exiles in London. After this novel was published, Salkey concentrated on writing poetry and reworking tales of Caribbean folklore.

Andrew Salkey was a pioneer in the field of writing for Caribbean children and he published numerous books for them, including Hurricane (1964) and The River That Disappeared (1979) among others.

In 1960 Salkey edited one of the first anthologies of Caribbean short stories, West Indian Stories, which brought him international recognition. The anthology introduced many unknown Caribbean writers to readers outside that region and, along with the literary magazines of the 1940s and 1950s and the few anthologies produced in the Caribbean, was essential material for the study of the short story. This was the first of a number of anthologies that he worked on over the course of his career, such as Breaklight: An Anthology of Caribbean Poetry published in 1971.

Andrew Salkey also published several collections of his own poetry, including Jamaica (1973), a poem he worked on for over twenty years. In the 1970s he turned to the Anancy figure in Caribbean cultures and began a series of recreations of the folk figure in modern situations. His works include Anancy’s Score (1973), where Anancy is often found victimising and exploiting women even as he helps them, to Anancy Traveller (1992), which explores the pleasures of placenessness.

Salkey’s travelogues were Georgetown Journal (1972), about his visit to Guyana for the inaugural Carifesta of 1970, and Havana Journal (1971), which records a month-long visit to revolutionary Cuba to attend a Congress along with C L R James and John La Rose.

In 1976 Andrew Salkey left London and took up a teaching position as Professor of Creative Writing at Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts, USA. He lived there until his death on 28 April 1995.

Main source of information: Kenneth Ramchand. Approved by Pat Salkey, widow of Andrew Salkey.

Work by Andrew Salkey

Fiction for Adults

Salkey, Andrew. The Adventures of Catullus Kelly. London: Hutchinson, 1969. ISBN 0090951409.

—. Come Home, Malcolm Heartland. London: Hutchinson, 1976.

—. Escape to an Autumn Pavement. London: Hutchinson, 1960. Leeds: Peepal Tree Press Modern Caribbean Classics, 2009.

—. The Late Emancipation of Jerry Stover. London: Hutchinson, 1968. ISBN 0090855302. Harlow, Essex: Longman, 1982. ISBN 0582785596.

—. A Quality of Violence. Novel. London: New Authors Limited, 1959. London and Port of Spain: New Beacon Books, 1978. ISBN 090124127X; ISBN 9780901241276. Winner of the Guggenheim Prize.

In the Border Country and other stories (1998) ISBN 090452194X

Non-Fiction for Adults

Salkey, Andrew. Georgetown Journal: a Caribbean writer’s journey from London via Port of Spain to Georgetown, Guyana, 1970. London: New Beacon, 1972. ISBN 090124113X.

—. Havana Journal. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1971. ISBN 0140213031.


Salkey, Andrew. Away. London: Allison & Busby, 1980. ISBN 0850313376 ISBN 0850313384.

—. In the Hills Where Her Dreams Live: Poems for Chile, 1973-1978. Havana: Casas de las Americas, 1979. In the Hills Where Her Dreams Live: Poems for Chile 1973-1980. Sausalito, Calif.: Black Scholar P, 1981.

—. Jamaica. London: Hutchinson, 1973. London: Bogle L’Ouverture, 1983. ISBN 0091157412.

—. Jamaica Symphony. Unpublished. (Winning Thomas Helmore Poetry Prize, 1955).

—. Land. Sausalito, Calif.: Black Scholar P, 1979.


Salkey, Andrew, ed. Breaklight: an anthology of Caribbean poetry, chosen, edited and introduced by Andrew Salkey. London: Hamish Hamilton, 1971. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1972. Garden City, NY: Anchor, 1973. ISBN 0241019621.

—. Caribbean Prose: an anthology for secondary schools. London: Evans, 1967.

—. Commonwealth Poetry. (editor West Indian section, 1965)

—. Island Voices: Stories from the West Indies. New York: Liveright, 1970. ISBN 0871405040.

—. Caribbean Essays: an anthology; edited and introduced by Andrew Salkey. London: Evans, 1973. ISBN 0237289431.

—. The Shark Hunters. London: Nelson, 1966.

—. Stories from the Caribbean. London, Paul Elek Books, 1965, 1972. New York: Dufour, 1968.

—. West Indian Stories. London: Faber and Faber, 1960, 1968. Hardback. ISBN 0571086306.

—. Writing in Cuba since the Revolution: an anthology of poems, short stories, and essays. London: Bogle L’Ouverture, 1977. ISBN 0904521052 ISBN 0904521044.

Writing for Children

Salkey, Andrew. Danny Jones. (1980)

—. Drought. London: Oxford UP, 1966.

—. Earthquake. London: Oxford UP, 1965, 1979. New York: Roy, 1969.

—. Hurricane. London: Oxford UP 1964, 1979. Harmondsworth: Puffin Books, 1977. New York: Penguin, 1977. (Winner of the Deutscher Jugendliteraturpreis).

—. Joey Tyson. London: Bogle L’Ouverture, 1974. ISBN 0950154695 ISBN 0904521001.

—. Jonah Simpson. London: Oxford UP, 1969. New York: Roy, 1970.

—. Riot. London: Oxford UP, 1967, 1973.

—. The River That Disappeared. London: Bogle L’Ouverture, 1979.


—. Anancy’s Score. London, Bogle L’Ouverture, 1973. ISBN 0950154679 ISBN 0950154687

—. Anancy Traveller. (1992)

—. Brother Anancy and other stories. (1993) ISBN 0582225817

—. Caribbean Folk Tales and Legends. London: Bogle L’Ouverture, 1980.

—. The One: the story of how the people of Guyana avenge the murder of their Pasero with help from Brother Anancy and Sister Buxton. (1985)

Written Resources

Carr, Bill. ‘A Complex Fate: The Novels of Andrew Salkey’. The Islands in Between. Ed. Bruce King. 1979. 100-108.

Cumber Dance, Daryl. ‘Andrew Salkey’. A Bio-Bibliographical Critical Sourcebook. Ed. Daryl Cumber Dance. New York, Westport and London: Greenwood P, 1986. 418-427.

Gray, C R. ‘Mr Salkey’s Truth and Illusion’. Jamaica Journal 2 (June 1968): 46-54.

Maes-Jelinek, Hena. ‘The Novel from 1950 to 1970’. A history of literature in the Caribbean volume 2: English- and Dutch-speaking regions. A James Arnold. Amsterdam, Netherlands and Philadelphia, PA: John Benjamins Publishing Co., 2001. 127-148.

Maes-Jelinek, Hena and Bénédicte Ledente. ‘The Novel since 1970’. A history of literature in the Caribbean volume 2: English- and Dutch-speaking regions. A James Arnold. Amsterdam, Netherlands and Philadelphia, PA: John Benjamins Publishing Co., 2001. 149-198.

Ramchand, Kenneth. ‘Andrew Salkey: 30th January 1928 – 28th April 1995’. Wasafiri 22 (Autumn 1995): 82-84.

Ramsaran, J A. ‘The Social Groundwork of Politics in Some West Indian Novels’. The Negro Digest (Aug. 1969): 71-77.

Walmsley, Anne. The Caribbean Artists Movement 1966-1972: a literary and cultural history. London: New Beacon Books, 1992. Hardback ISBN 978 1 873201 01 5, paperback ISBN 978 1 873201 06 0.

Online Resources

Ali, Jonathan. ‘Lonely Londoner’. The Caribbean Review of Books 22 July 2010.

Bailey, Ekaete. ‘Caribbean Short Stories’. EHow website. Updated 6 Apr. 2011

Poynting, Jeremy. ‘The Caribbean Short Story’. Peepal Tree Press website.  Uploaded 21 Mar. 2003.

Sobel, Richard. ‘Third World literature as revelation – a letter to Carew’. Race & Class 43.3 (Jan. 2002): 64-71.  (limited access without subscription).

Antar Mohamed Marincola

Antar Mohamed Marincola was born in Mogadishu (Somalia) in 1963. He left the country in 1983 with an academic fellowship awarded to him by the Somali Ministry of Education, together with the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. He studied at the University of Perugia and at the University of Bologna, which is where he now works and lives. As the back cover of his novel Timira (Einaudi, 2012) reports, Antar Mohamed defines himself as “un esule somalo con quattro lauree e due cittadinanze”, a Somali exile with four degrees and two citizenships.

The first short story published by Antar Mohamed is titled “Sleeplighter (L’uomo dal sonno leggero)”. It was published in the collection of short stories called “Casamondo” (which is only available online, as a free e-book), which was issued in 2011 by the Italian association Eks&Tra, as a result of the “intercultural creative writing course” held by Eks & Tra and the University of Bologna in 2010.

Eks & Tra has been a very pro-active association in the field of “Italophone migrant literature” since the very beginning of this literary and cultural phenomenon, which might be conventionally dated back to 1990, with the publication of Io, venditore di elefanti (I Was an Elephan Salesman, according to the 2010 English translation of the novel) by Pap Khouma  and Oreste Pivetta. The very name of the association denounces the specific ideological attitude of Eks & Tra’s components and actions: it plays on the Italian derogatory term for non-European migrants (“extracomunitario”), by deconstructing it and underlining both the migration process (“Eks”, or “ex”, that is “leaving a place”) and Bhabha’s ‘third space’ achieved by migrants (“tra”, that is “in-between”).

Since mid-Nineties, Eks & Tra has been promoting a very important literary award for migrant authors, called “Concorso Letterario Eks & Tra”, which has produced several publications with the support of a small publishing house based in Rimini, Fara Editore, led by Alessandro Ramberti. Starting from 2007-2008, the decision to focus on intercultural creative writing courses and to publish selected texts originated from these courses in an e-book format could be seen as a significant turning point in the activities of Eks & Tra. As a matter of fact, face to the decrease in its economic and social efforts – while a part of the Italophone migrant literature has gone mainstream – Eks & Tra has succeeded in renewing completely its policies and organization. The organization of intercultural writing courses, rather than the promotion of literary awards, is a concrete response to the urgency of considering Italophone migrant literature not as a literary “sub-genre” to be preserved and promoted, but as a productive possibility both for migrants and for native Italians within a fully collaborative process, avoiding the limits of a literary and cultural ghetto.

Antar Mohamed’s “Sleeplighter (L’uomo dal sonno leggero)” is a short story which recounts, with lots of black humour, the experiences of a migrant African man (whose specific geographical origins are not given) in Italy. Fatah’s ‘secular pilgrimage’ evidently recalls the vicissitudes of the narrator of Khouma’s Io, venditore di elefanti, in a clear attempt to go back to the roots of “Italophone migrant literature”.

Fatah is trapped in an almost forced tour, which transforms him into a “sleeplighter” (someone who doesn’t sleep very much) since he is caught in the endless search of a dignifying work, while struggling for survival; he ends up being exploited in slave-like conditions in a tomato cultivation and he eventually resorts to drug dealing.

Like Pap Khouma’s narrator, Fatah’s tour draws a cartography of Italy which is very different from the ones promoted by Italian hegemonic narrations. This specific analogy with Khouma’s first text highlights how, twenty years after Khouma’s novel and the beginning of Italophone migrant literature, the material difficulties which transnational migrants meet in their voyage towards Italy are still the same, if they are not even worse.

However, Antar Mohamed does not entirely share Khouma’s realistic stance. Fatah’s cartography, in fact, is half realistic and half imaginary: Milan, Rome and Rimini are identified by their real names (for their relevance within the imaginary of migration towards Italy; this is also where Khouma’s narration is set), while Villa Literno is replaced by “Villa Eterna” (“Eternal Villa”) and San Salvario becomes “Set Calvario” (“Golgotha Setting”). The playfulness of this choice goes hand in hand with a subtle reflection on the dissolution of Italian cultural memory, since these fake names actually disguise two important places in the history of contemporary multicultural Italy.

Villa Literno is a small village near Caserta, where a South African anti-apartheid activist and asylum seeker, called Jerry Essan Masslo, was killed, in a racist riot, in 1989.

Some critics, such as Armando Gnisci (in Creolizzare l’Europa, Meltemi, 2003), has individuated in this murder another foundational step for Italophone migrant literature. However, this memory is about to dissolve, in a place where the exploitation of migrants is still alive and powerful, while few people care about this specific cultural and political history.

The same can be said of San Salvario, a quarter in the city of Turin which is characterized by massive immigration and, at the same time, excessive mediatization, making it a place to “avoid” for native Italians for the “dangers” linked to high rates of criminality. With a simple, ironic misnaming, Antar Mohamed shows that even media stereotyping is deeply involved in the dissolution of an otherwise multicultural experience.

Fatah’s “pilgrimage” ends in a hospital, after being stabbed by his fellow pusher Harun. Fatah describes this episode in self-ironical and sarcastic terms, underlining how his long and complex individual story of migration has been deprived of any value and silenced, now that the Italian institutions have labeled him as a “drug dealer”, that is, as a criminal. Fatah bitterly declares that he would have preferred being hospitalized as an illegal migrant, being injured while working and being exploited by Italian entrepreneurs, in dangerous work conditions; in that case, he would have been granted, at least, a sympathetic consideration for his pain:

“Quant’è che sono qui?” (…) “Dodici giorni” mi disse, e dal modo come mi guardava capivo che sapeva che non ero in un letto di ospedale perché ero caduto da una qualche impalcatura!” (2011, 22)

This attitude reveals Antar Mohamed’s strong social engagement and criticism, which doesn’t prevent him to conclude his short story on a bittersweet tone. While, on the one hand, once that he has been hospitalized, Fatah can finally sleep peacefully, on the other hand he is forced to acknowledge that once he has been labeled as a criminal by Italian institutions he might not be able to work with dignity and help his family with his remittances anymore.

Timira surely represents a wider and more complete literary effort than “Sleeplighter”: it is a long novel, written in collaboration with the Italian writer Wu Ming 2, and it falls within a larger project, which Wu Ming 2, Antar Mohamed and Antar’s mother, Isabella Marincola, had started to work on some years before. Timira can be seen, indeed, as the third publication on Marincola’s family, after Carlo Costa and Lorenzo Teodonio’s historical essay Razza Partigiana, Storia di Giorgio Marincola (Iacobelli, 2008) and Wu Ming 2’s short story Basta uno sparo (Transeuropa, 2010), which was published together with a CD, recorded by some musicians of the Italian alternative rock groups Massimo Volume e Settlefish. These musicians have also played in several readings of the short story, taking place on the whole territory of Italy, such as this one.

Both Razza Partigiana and Basta uno sparo focus on Giorgio Marincola (1923-1945), Isabella’s brother and Antar Mohamed’s uncle. He was a Black Italian partisan, who was murdered by Nazi troops in May 1945, few days after the official date of “Italian Liberation Day” (25 April 1945); for this reason, he is recipient of a posthumous Gold Medal of Honor of the Italian Government. However rooted in an individual and nearly unique experience of being a Black Italian partisan, also Giorgio Marincola’s case could be deemed as exemplary in the field of political, historical and cultural memory, since it underlines the possible and fruitful intersections of anti-colonialism, anti-fascism and anti-racism (for a different perspective, claiming the right of anti-racism to autonomy, see, for instance. Alana Lentin, “‘Race’, Racism and Anti-racism: Challenging Contemporary Classifications”, Social Identities, 6.1, 2000, pp. 91-106)

Timira, on the other hand, shifts the focus of the narration on the equally incredible life of Isabella Marincola, Antar’s mother. As it has been said, Isabella had actively collaborated with Wu Ming 2 for the realization of Basta uno sparo and the subsequent readings, as it might be seen in this video:

leaving this task to Antar after her death (occurred on the 30th of March 2010)

The same changeover happened with the writing of Timira.

It is correct, then, to maintain that – as the back cover reports – the novel was actually written by three people, Wu Ming 2, Antar Mohamed Marincola and Isabella Marincola. At the same time, what the cover reports is that the authors of the novel are two – Wu Ming 2 and Antar Mohamed – while Isabella Marincola comes to be only a hidden presence in the title (“Timira” is actually her Somali name: Timira Hassan Yere).

The paratextual apparatus of the novel, then, presents some interesting points, as it regards the inclusion of the novel in the fields of “Italophone migrant literature” and of “Italian postcolonial literature”.

First of all, the presence of two authors – one who is “native Italian” and the other one who is “native Somali” – seems to go back to the earlier production of Italophone migrant literature. However, this is not a case for the slippery kind of “co-authorship” which has been individuated by many scholars as an ambivalent feature of the first Italophone migrant production. That phenomenon presented a clear case for cultural, social, and political “ventriloquism”, where the Italian-born author legitimated and influenced the linguistic expression of the “non-Italian” colleague (see, for instance, Alessandro Pannuti’s contribution on Kúmá, in 2006).

Timira, on the other hand, is a collaboration in its rightful sense, since it is part of a literary and cultural project which has been strongly pursued by Isabella Marincola and Antar Mohamed Marincola, and Antar Mohamed had previously experienced as positive form of collaborative writing within the intercultural writing courses organized by Eks & Tra.

What is more, Antar Mohamed’s first publication in volume is not an autobiography – as it has often happened in Italophone migrant literature – but a biography of the mother, which hides its partial autobiographical traits, as it concerns Isabella Marincola’s participation in the writing, within the mix of different literary genres which characterizes the text.

Timira, as a matter of fact, presents himself as a “mestizo novel”, as it is claimed by its sub-title (“Romanzo meticcio”). This hybridity is both formal and thematic.

At a narrative level, Timira is a historical novel, which mixes many different genres in order to achieve the status of a “New Postcolonial Epic” (being “New Italian Epic” a label coined by the Wu Ming collective of authors for their texts, as well as for many other contemporary historical novels written in Italy).

At a symbolic level, on the other hand, the characterization of “mestizo novel” is due to the real, historical mestizo family of Isabella and Antar Marincola, which was rooted both in Somalia and in Italy. (What is more, part of the Marincola family comes from and still lives in Sardinia, an Italian island which has always had a kind of “colonial/postcolonial” relationship with the peninsula, according to the scheme firstly described by Gramsci in Quaderni del Carcere, when he underlined the nexus existing between “internal” and “external colonialism”).

The story follows the 85 years of Isabella Marincola’s life, especially focusing on the period which goes from 1925 to 1991, which is the official year of beginning of Somali civil war. In  other words, it is a story which, through Isabella and Antar’s lives, binds the metropolitan history with that of the Somali colony, highlighting the persistence of a strong connection between the colonial and postcolonial/neocolonial era.

Isabella Marincola, in any case, entered Italian history not only by virtue of her rich biography, but also for her artistic works: she is the “black mondina (‘rice weeder’)” who appears together with the Italian cinema star Silvana Mangano in  Riso amaro (1949) by Giuseppe De Santis, a masterwork of Italian Neorealism.

This extraordinary cinematographic discovery makes it clear, once again, that postcolonial subjects were engaged in Italian daily life and experience many decades before the massive immigration flows of the Nineties of the Twentieth century and the official birth of Italophone migrant literature. In a confuse statement, manipulating this exceptional finding within his own ideological attitude, the Italian critic Renato Barilli has recently reviewed Timira as a case of “New Italian Realism”, by attacking, in this way, the most postmodern trend in Wu Ming’s “New Italian Epic”.

As it has been mentioned before, Timira is based on a multiple and multifarious narrative which can be compared, for some aspects, to the parameters of Italian postmodern novel, and Barilli’s ironic label seems to adhere more to an artistic and cultural suggestion, rather than sticking to the materiality of the text. This doesn’t mean, however, that the postcolonial features of the novel don’t give a renewed portrait of Italian historical reality: what Timira really points at, among other features of the text, is to make Italian history and cultural memory available for new political and cultural interpretations.

First of all, the racial and gender discrimination which Isabella Marincola has suffered during her whole life shows how Italian racism is not only a consequence of the xenophobia which has spread after the massive migration flows of the last years, but as a clear ideological legacy of Italian colonial racism (both in its liberal and fascist periods).

Besides, the text assumes directly the perspective of the “black woman”, avoiding, thus, the double bind of some (male) Italian postcolonial literature which has re-taken the colonial and racist trope of the “black woman” as a sexualized and animal-like being. Some authors, such as Carlo Lucarelli in L’ottava vibrazione (Einaudi, 2008), according to Paolo Jedlowski’s analysis, have aimed at the deconstruction of this powerful and still alive trope, but, in order to criticize it, they have been somehow “forced”, at the same time, to reinstate it, in a rather ambivalent way.

Wu Ming 2, on the other hand, has recently published an article on the Italian review Letteraria“La Somalia negli occhi degli Italiani (1909-1936)” (2012) – which focuses on the symbolic connections between the physical land to be conquered by colonial powers and the body of the black woman, showing, in this way, his high critical awareness of postcolonial issues.

Timira is also a diasporic novel, where Isabella Marincola is constantly looking for “home” throughout her life. She finally finds it in Bologna, together with Antar Mohamed, few years before her death. She is pushed by that “homing desire” which Avtar Brah has individuated, in Cartographies of Diaspora (1996, 180), as a prominent feature of the diasporic condition. Isabella’s quest, however, is made even more difficult by her difficult relationship with both Somali and Italian institutions, for her paradoxical position regarding her right of residence and her citizenship.

Regularly subscribed to the AIRE (Anagrafe Italiana dei Residenti all’Estero), Isabella Marincola didn’t receive the help promised by this Italian organization for her return to Italy from Somalia in 1991, because, three months after her return in Italy, she had not yet found a house and, for this reason, she wasn’t entitled to the economic help of the Italian government. Politically speaking, she was a “refugee”, but she could not take advantage of any of the economic or political rights guaranteed by the Italian government for this condition. These rights were fully available only for Italian-born Italian citizens, who could go back to their own houses, after living in Somalia as “colonizers”.

With this paradoxical situation in mind, afflicting a Somali-Italian woman in her own country, Wu Ming 2 takes the responsibility to write a letter to Isabella Marincola and he puts it at the very beginning of the novel:

“Siamo tutti profughi, senza fissa dimora nell’intrico del mondo. Respinti alla frontiera da un esercito di parole, cerchiamo una storia dove avere rifugio.” (2012, 10)

In a novel where the categories of “Italian”, “Somali”, “mestizo” and “refugee” take up new meanings, within the same socio-cultural constellation, Antar Mohamed Marincola’s work, in collaboration with Wu Ming 2 and Timira/Timira, might provide the reader with multiple suggestions towards a re-definition of the general categories of “Italophone migrant literature” and “Italian postcolonial literature”.

Renato Barilli, “Isabella di Somalia, com’è amaro il riso”, Tuttolibri, La Stampa, 06/03/2012.

Avtar Brah, Cartographies of Diaspora: Contesting Identities, London: Routledge, 1996.

Carlo Costa and Lorenzo Teodonio, Razza partigiana. Storia di Giorgio Marincola (1923-1945), Pavona di Albana Laziale: Iacobelli, 2008.

Armando Gnisci, Creolizzare l’Europa, Rome: Meltemi, 2003.

Paolo Jedlowski, “Memoria pubblica e memoria autocritica. Su alcune recenti rappresentazioni del colonialismo italiano” (2008)


Pap Khouma and Oreste Pivetta, Io, venditore di elefanti, Milan: Garzanti, 1990.

Antar Mohamed, Marincola, “Sleeplighter (L’uomo dal sonno leggero)”, in VV.AA. Casamondo, Eks & Tra, 2011 (http://www.eksetra.net/wp-content/uploads/2011/11/casamondo-libro2.pdf)

Antar Mohamed Marincola and Wu Ming 2, Timira. Romanzo meticcio, Turin: Einaudi, 2012.

Alessandro Pannuti, “Cenni sulla letterarietà e su alcune questioni linguistiche relative alla letteratura migrante italiana”, Kúmá, 12, 2006.


Alessandro Portelli, “Le origini della letteratura afroitaliana e l’esempio afroamericano”, El-Ghibli, 3, 2004. (http://www.el-ghibli.provincia.bologna.it/id_1-issue_00_03-section_6-index_pos_2.html)

Riso amaro (108’, 1949), dir. by Giuseppe De Santis.

Jonathan Rutheford, “The Third Space. Interview with Homi Bhabha”, in J. Rutherford, ed., Identity: Community, Culture, Difference, London: Lawrence and Wishart, pp. 207-221.

Wu Ming, “New Italian Epic” (2008)


Published later as: Wu Ming, New Italian Epic, Turin: Einaudi, 2009.

Wu Ming 2, “La Somalia negli occhi degli Italiani (1909-1936)”, Letteraria, 5, 2012 (http://www.wumingfoundation.com/giap/?p=8302)

Arnold Chiwalala

ARNOLD CHIWALALA (Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, 1963–)
Arnold Chiwalala with Topi Korhonen (front) and Ricardo Padilla (back( in 2008.

Photo by Riika Hiltunen

Written by Elina Seye (University of Tampere, Finland)

Arnold Chiwalala was born in 1963 in Dar es Salaam. His parents came originally from Southwestern Tanzania, but due to his father’s service in the army, the family lived in various places. In 1974 the family moved back to the town of Sumbawanga, where Arnold Chiwalala received most of his schooling. In his family there was a lot of interest for music, and already as a young boy he performed with his school’s performing arts group and was a bandmaster for the school’s marching band. After completing primary school in 1978, Chiwalala studied for two years at the Sumbawanga Technical School.

In 1981 Chiwalala was accepted to study at the Bagamoyo College of Arts (Chuo cha Sanaa Bagamoyo, in 2007 renamed to Taasisi ya Sanaa na Utamaduni Bagamoyo), still the only major arts college in Tanzania. The four-year study program in Bagamoyo included a range of courses in music, dance, acting, acrobatics and choreography, as well as more theoretical subjects such as music theory, pedagogical skills and art promotion. Giving performances was required to pass exams, but the students of the College also performed regularly for the public at festivals and other events. The College hosted quest teachers from abroad, who gave workshops e.g. in contemporary dance and community theatre, but most of the practical arts courses concentrated on the different ethnic traditions in Tanzania.

After his graduation in 1985, Chiwalala was appointed to work as an instructor and artist at the Bagamoyo College of Arts. He was also assigned to work on other tasks outside the College, such as giving training to local artists and choreographing performances for groups travelling abroad to represent Tanzania. Together with other teachers and students Chiwalala performed for various audiences both inside and outside Tanzania. His first trip abroad was to England with the College’s group in 1984. Next year he travelled alone to the USA to take part in an international choreographers’ workshop. In 1987 he toured with the College’s group in the Nordic countries and the former Yugoslavia. This tour brought him also to Finland. The experiences of travelling abroad motivated Chiwalala further to continue his artistic career.

Already on his first visit to Finland in 1987, Chiwalala had the possibility to try playing the Finnish folk music instrument kantele that later became a central instrument in his artistic work. He found kantele similar in sound to the Tanzanian zeze that he had studied playing in Bagamoyo. As a result of contacts gained during this first visit, Chiwalala was invited by the Finnish Youth Association (Suomen Nuorisoseurojen Liitto) to return to teach Tanzanian dances in 1989. In the years 1991–94 the Finnish Youth Association invited him to teach and give workshops every year during the vacation of the Bagamoyo College of Arts. This way he could also continue his work in Tanzania, where he received the award of ‘Work Quality Excellence’ (Cheti cha ‘Mfanya Kazi Bora’) of the Organization of Tanzania Trade Unions (OTTU) in Tanzania in 1991.

During his yearly visits to Finland, Chiwalala taught in many places, such as various dance schools and the University of Helsinki. With each visit he made new contacts and was again offered new opportunities to work in Finland, and the working opportunities expanded from teaching also to artistic work. These included among others a performance in collaboration with the Avanti! chamber orchestra and the Raatikko dance theatre in 1993.

In 1995 Chiwalala moved to Finland due to employment in an opera production called Frieda (composed by Kari Tikka) that was commissioned by the Finnish Evangelic Lutheran Church and performed at the National Opera of Finland. The same year he also participated in another opera production by the Opera Association of Turku. The next year Chiwalala was involved in a music theatre production called Silta (‘Bridge’) in the Theatre of Espoo, working together with composer Jukka Linkola and other Finnish musicians. He also participated in a joint theatre production of the Finnish Theatre Academy and the University of Dar es Salaam called Simba Karatasi (‘The Lion Paper’), with performances in Helsinki and Tampere.

After settling in Finland, Chiwalala started studying at the Folk Music Department of Sibelius Academy, where he learned to play the five-string and later the ten-string kantele with Arja Kastinen and Sinikka Kontio, who encouraged him to compose for the kantele. He started developing his own style of playing the kantele by transferring his zeze-playing skills to the kantele. Chiwalala’s compositions for the kantele are mostly songs in Swahili language, but some songs have sections with Finnish lyrics. The song texts tell about his own personal experiences and observations about his environment. He uses the kantele for accompaniment in a way that is closer to Tanzanian musical traditions than Finnish kantele music, especially in the use of rhythm. Since 1997 Chiwalala has been performing as a solo kantele player at Finnish folk music festivals and other events and also in schools. He was even invited to play at the presidential residence during the presidency of Martti Ahtisaari. In 2008 Chiwalala received the title “Kantele Player of the Year” (Vuoden Kantele) given by the Finnish Kantele Union.

In addition to his solo career, Chiwalala has also continued collaborating with different artists in Finland: In the years 1997–99 he gave percussion concerts as a duo with Senegalese percussionist Yamar Thiam. In 1999–2000 he performed together with nine Finnish musicians, actors and dancers in an experimental but very popular theatre production called Gekko by Q-teatteri and Zodiak (Centre for New Dance).

In 1999 Chiwalala formed a duo called PolePole (‘slow but sure’) with Finnish guitarist Topi Korhonen. The reason was that Chiwalala wanted to develop his own style of kantele playing further but it would require more than one performer. He was happy to find Korhonen, who was a professional folk musician and who was ready to take the challenge of learning to play a new style of music. Since then the PolePole duo has performed in schools, festivals and other events e.g. in Finland, Estonia, Lithuania, Germany and Tanzania.

When Chiwalala finished his master’s degree at the Sibelius Academy in 2000, professor Heikki Laitinen recommended him to continue studying in the artistic doctoral degree program. In this program the individually designed artistic development project is presented in five concerts and a written work, each of which are evaluated by a jury. Chiwalala started to plan an artistic work, later titled “Holistic and Intercultural Artistry”, which would be based on ngoma, a Tanzanian art form that includes music, dancing, storytelling, acting and acrobatic elements but would also transfer this idea of an integrated unity of arts into Finnish folk traditions.

The first concert Maisha (‘Life’) in 2000 was a solo performance, where storytelling, songs, music and dance expression were combined and used to express feelings and thoughts. The next one called Njia Panda (‘Crossroads’) in 2001 included three other artists. The theme of the performance was the confusion that a traveler has at the crossroads when the signs are not clear. Similarly to Maisha, the second performance integrated dance, music and theatrical elements.

The third performance BanduBandu (‘Piece by piece’) in 2003 included six musicians and the aim was to show how the performers could use all elements of ngoma at the same time. The challenge for the performers was to integrate singing, playing and dancing. The idea was to show the player, instrument and sound as one unity, especially by using Tanzanian drums.

In the next performance SiSi (‘We and our similarities’) in 2004 Chiwalala combined Finnish and Tanzanian folk music and dance, using pieces that he found to have similarities, either in rhythm or melodies or in the pieces’ social functions. Each performer had to sing, dance and play the different instruments. The Tanzanian performers had to learn Finnish songs and dances, and the Finnish performers Tanzanian ones.

In the fifth performance Hodi in 2006 the kantele was again in a more central position, being played in all pieces throughout the concert, together with different types of instruments. Some songs had been performed in previous concerts, but now they were developed further with a bigger group of musicians. The title Hodi is a word that people say in Tanzania when knocking at the door to go in and visit someone.

In Chiwalala’s doctoral concerts the performers involved were for the most part Finnish folk musicians who were studying or had studied at the Sibelius Academy Folk Music Department, like Topi Korhonen and Ricardo Padilla, but they also included Tanzanian artists Menard Mponda and Aliko Mwakanjuki, both of whom have studied at the Bagamoyo College of Arts before settling in Finland.

In 2009 Chiwalala completed his artistic doctorate in the Folk Music Department of the Sibelius Academy with the written work called “Chizentele: My Path to Original Artistry and Creative Fusion of Ngoma with Finnish Folk Music and Dance”. There he explains his artistic style as a kantele player to have developed in three stages, the first one being solo kantele playing, the second one blending kantele with acoustic guitar (in PolePole) and the third one performing kantele mixed with other musical instruments and also with dance expression. Chiwalala calls his own style of music Chizentele: ‘Chi’ comes from his own last name, ‘ze’ has a connection with zeze and ‘ntele’ comes from kantele – a hybrid name representing his hybrid style of music.

Chiwalala’s strongest influence is still most likely through his work as a teacher, which he has continued alongside performing. His teaching has reached various groups of people from school children to students in the fields of music, dance and theatre, but also special groups such as disabled children and prisoners.

  • Various Artists: Kantele Continuum – 12 small mysteries (2008), Inkoon Musiikki. IMUCD 081.
  • Johanna Juhola: Miette (2006), Texicalli Records. TEXCD070.
  • Arnold Chiwalala Band: Wito (2012), Global Music Centre. GMCD 1223.

Chiwalala, Arnold: Chizentele: My Path to Original Artistry and Creative Fusion of Ngoma with Finnish Folk Music and Dance.Publication 17 of the Sibelius Academy Folk Music Department. Helsinki, 2009.

Ben Okri

BEN OKRI (1959-)

Contributor:  Nisha Obano

Novelist, poet, and essayist, Ben Okri is considered a Black British writer although his Nigerian affiliations still remain strong. His mother, Grace Okri, was of Igbo extraction, hailing from the ethnically mixed delta region, while his father, Silver Oghenegueke Loloje Okri, was an Urhobo from Warri. At the time of the founding of the Nigerian modern state, the Urhobo situation within Nigeria exemplified the problematic of a minority ethnic group caught between the politics of Yoruba and Igbo rivalry, and Okri’s ethnically mixed background is important when analysing his early fiction. Silver Okri was a railway clerk, and he moved to Minna, central Nigeria, where Okri was born. However, the Okri family soon relocated to London where Silver Okri set about studying law, while the young Okri attended primary school at Peckham. At the age of nine, the Okri family returned to Warri, Nigerian an area that came to form part of the Western Region of the country which came under the powerful influence of the Yoruba. At the age of nineteen Ben Okri regressed to London, a city which has remained his base ever since. Nonetheless, those ten years he spent living in Nigeria have left a profound mark upon the author’s psyche, and the most important body of his fiction can be seen as a re-visiting of those years spent in a politically turmoiled Nigeria.

Despite being a permanent resident in the UK and a British citizen, it is notable that, to date, his fiction has never touched upon contemporary life in Britain. Unlike many writers with similar trajectories, in his work there is an absence of those postcolonial archetypes of alienation, racism, the complexities of double identities, hypersensitivity, etc. The enigma of arrival is something Okri omits from his creative work, and he prefers to give focus to transnational and transcultural motifs, many of which are Pan-African in nature. What is salient within the accrued mass of his fiction is a search for new ways of writing. He has been vocal in his rejection of what he sees as an established orthodoxy within current literary tastes and expectations, and likens his striving towards new literary forms with the conceptual break artists such as Picasso made with contemporary painting at the beginning of the twentieth century. A ferverent admirer of James Joyce, he views the modernist reconfiguring of narrative form as a template for the creating of a distinct contemporary fiction.

When Okri returned to London he set about writing his first novel, Flowers and Shadows (1979), which dealt with the difficulties of urban existences in Nigeria. His second novel The Landscapes Within (1981) employed the motif of the disillusioned artist which he adapted from James Joyce’s Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man through the Künstlerroman motif. The Landscapes Within’s protagonist, Omovo, transforms the grotesqueness he feels he is surrounded by into artistic intention as means to escape the prevailing sense of futility his environment projects upon him. As an adolescent living in Nigeria, Okri had wrote many pamphlets on the social injustices he witnessed, and while none were ever published, he transformed the material into short stories which subsequently found their way into women’s magazines. Okri channelled his preoccupations about corruption, inequality, extreme poverty, kleptocracy, and the other ills of the African postcolonial state into his first two novels, and used the figure of a young male as the narrative focus for these concerns. While on a thematic level, both these novels shared much with the contemporary African novels of the period, formally they were cast within the mould of nineteenth century naturalism. An avid reader of Dickens, Okri would have been more familiar with western forms of writing, due both to his dabbling in his father’s library and his exposure to the neo-colonial curricular within the Nigerian schooling system. While The Landsacapes Within did represent a noticeable advancement on his first novel, Okri was conscious that he needed to develop a new form of writing that was capable of supporting the weight of his Nigerian experiences, now viewed from London.

After a five-year silence, he published Incidents at the Shrine (1986),a collections of short stories. Upon its reception it became clear that Okri was developing a distinctive multi-perspectival narrative capable of transmitting a more profound sense of African reality at a formal level. The author had rejected the genre of naturalism, premised upon cause and effect within the realm of the visible, to favour a West African ontology which focused on the world of the invisible. As Okri states in Wilkinson (1992): ‘These short stories were pressured by the desire to capture as many layers of reality as I could’ (82)[i], and compared to his first two novels we find an indigenising of form and content. Within the narrative strategies he employed we can identify parallels with the trajectory of Christopher Okigbo, the Igbo poet who rejected reductive models of African cultural nationalism in favour of a complex transformation of Modernist poetry that could explore indigenous poetic and rhetorical conventions.

The short story format with its structural limitations became a strategic space within which Okri could effectively experiment with a distinct narrative epistemology. His second collection of short stories Stars of the New Curfew (1988) furthered this endeavour and by its completion Okri had forged a distinct protocol of representation which would be fundamental in the writing of his next full-length novel. The inspiration for most of Okri’s short stories came fundamentally from the author’s first-hand experiences of the Nigerian civil war. In ‘Laughter Beneath the Bridge’ (1986) the narrative gaze contemplates the grotesque spectacle of a corpse-littered landscape, whilst ‘In the Shadows of War’ (1988) the young boy Omovo witness the murdering of a local woman by the militia for the sole pretext of ‘having no shadow’. Okri assures in Jowett (1995): ‘Those people who were killed left such a huge impression on me. In a way that’s the core of almost everything I do and think about; the mysteries of life, justice (28)[ii]. Other short stories explore the violence and destruction of Civil War in a distinct manner. ‘Stars of the New Curfew’ (1988), for example, depicts a nameless and destitute hero who must pedal dubious remedies to an impoverished public suffering from malaria, dysentery, severe malnourishment, and ringworm.

In his Booker Prize winning The Famished Road (1991), Okri further appropriates these motifs of disease and contamination so as to translate the violence of Civil War into a symbolic form. Deformity and chaos in the novel can be traced back to the spectre of Biafra, and it is the incomprehension felt by the author in the face of the violence of those times that inspires many of the hallucinatory episodes within the novel. The Famished Road is replete with fantastic episodes and Okri took inspiration from the work of Amos Tutuola who, in turn, had borrowed many supernatural elements from Yoruban oral narratives. However, The Famished Road departs from archetypal West African folk-tales and myths which clearly make a distinction between the fantastic nature of the forest and the rational nature of the village and town.  In Okri’s fiction, there is a collapsing of this boundary and the cityscape becomes impregnated with the phantasmagorical and terrific which, in the folk-tale, belongs to the forest.

Both in The Famished Road and the following two novels within the trilogy –Songs of Enchantment (1993) Infinite Riches (1998)– we find a move towards a mythical causality that reconceptualises modes of characterisation and the relationship between environment and characters. The Famished Road trilogy abandons archetypal character psychology as conceived by realism in favour of an oral-informed ‘flat character’ which is played off against a paratactic background. Characters take on mythical proportions, and we know them more for their actions that for the inner thought processes. As a gesture to his younger artistic self, Okri made an exception to his reconceptualising of narrative epistemology when he re-wrote The Landscape Within in the form of Dangerous Love (1996). The novel is faithful to conventional dramatic structure, character arc, denouement, etc. and was well received by the critics, garnering the Premio Palmi award. Nonetheless, Okri has, to date, never returned to these formats and has been experimental in his fiction writing.

In Starbook (2007) Okri subverts the Künstlerroman motif by giving priority to the collective rather than the individual. His ‘tribe of artists’ are a group of people who inhabit an unspecified location somewhere in Africa. They ‘create out of dreams but…  make in broad daylight’ (115), yet  anonymity is preferred over an explicit identification of authorship. The book is set around the time of the Atlantic Slave Trade, although the four discrete narratives cross temporal and spatial boundaries. The centrifugal force that both disperses the distinct stories and draws them into each other in Starbook is the advent of European slaving practices in West Africa and the subsequent Middle Passage. Starbook seamless narrative constructs a cosmos of interconnecting and interdependent stories that collapse a teleological perspective in favour of a layering of narrative times. This concern has been with Okri for some time and in his essay ‘The Joys of Storytelling’ –found in the collection A Way Of Being Free (1997)– Okri defines this technique as ‘compact narratives, tangential fictions which are in fact whole long periods of folded time’ (Okri 68).

Tales of Freedom (2009) takes Okri’s search for new ways of telling stories one step further. He returns to a narrative reduced in size to create what he defines as the ‘stoku’, an amalgam of short story and haiku. In the author’s own words, the stoku ‘inclines towards a serendipities flash of a moment, insight, vision or paradox.’ With a penchant to begin in media res, the collection of ‘stokus’ in Tales of Freedom are moreover skeleton structures from which the reader is invited to fill in details that the pieces might suggest. Its central narrative ‘The Comic Destiny’ employs a series of absurd dialogues and dramatic situations that are reminiscent of Beckett’s Waiting for Godot.  The piece has a theatrical feel to it and the language is stripped bare of all description bar that the action takes place in a forest, a  mise en scène that directs the reader to cantos 1&”2 of Dante’s  The Divine Comedy. ‘The Mysterious Anxiety of Them and Us’ is perhaps the most effective stoku within the collection and its allegorical nature returns us to the themes of social injustice present in Okri’s earlier work.

A Way of Being Free (1997) serves to unify under one umbrella a series of essays the author wrote over a period of ten years.  This collection treats eclectic themes which are dispersed within Okri’s fiction, and the author expounds on subjects related to creativeness and the role of the poet, the mysteries and the perils of storytelling, race and colonisation, the deceptiveness of imperial discourses, spiritual metamorphosis, the power of the invisible etc. The hybridic nature of Okri’s work comes to the fore in this collection; the author simultaneously draws upon a wide range of cultural references belonging to the western canon and his own West African cultural heritage.

There exists a fluid rapport between much of Okri’s fictional work and his poetry. In both we find a strong presence of synaesthesia at a formal level and a penchant for maxims. His epic poem A Mental Fight (1999), whose title is borrowed from William Blake’s poem The New Jerusalem, examines the plight of mankind at the cusp of the new millennium. The work is Blakean inasmuch as it struggles against the oppressive nature of pervading orthodoxies and strives towards the provoking of humanities’ inner transformation towards a higher state of consciousness. The validity of visions hold core value in Okri’s work, and can be traced back to the The Landscapes Within where Omovo pronounces: ‘In dreams begin responsibilities’ (118). In A Mental Fight, Okri assures the reader that, ‘you can’t remake the world without remaking yourself’ (63), a recurring leitmotif often defined as a ‘redreaming’ or ‘dreaming into reality’ which he further explores in his collection of essays A Time for New Dreams (2011). The final stanza of A Mental Fight also concludes with, ‘this is the time to dream the best dream of all’ (68), and it is this mental process of metamorphosis that empowers the transforming of reality. This premise also informs Starbook and was present in Astonishing the Gods (1995) which proposed the founding of a new civilization similar to that found in William Blake. Astonishing the Gods’ narrative epistemology tends to blend spiritual cosmogony with mysticism, and we find an underlying premise that all mystical experience across religions, cultures and historical periods share core similarities and divulge a single truth.


Cribb, T.J. ‘In the Shadow of Language: From Joyce to Okri’. In Imagined Commonwealths: Cambridge Essays on Commonwealth and International Literature in English T.J. Cribb (ed.). 1999. Houndmills / New York: Macmillan / St. Martin’s, 105-124.

Fraser, Robert. Ben Okri: Towards the Invisible City. 2002. Horndon: Northcote House.

Mamudu, Ayo. ‘Portrait of a Young Artist in Ben Okri’s The Landscapes Within’. Commonwealth 13.2 (1991): 85-91.

Quayson, Ato. Strategic Transformations in Nigerian Writing: Rev. Samuel Johnson, Amos Tutuola, Wole Soyinka & Ben Okri. 1997. Oxford / Bloomington & Indianapolis: James Currey / Indiana University Press.

[i]Wilkinson, Jane. Talking with African Writers. 1992. London: James Currey.


[ii] Jowett, Caroline. ‘Writes of Passage: Interview with Ben Okri’.  Sojourn October (1995): 26-31.


Flowers and Shadows. 1980. Harlow: Longman.

The Landscapes Within. 1981. Harlow: Longman.

Incidents at the Shrine. 1986. London: Heinemann.

Stars of the New Curfew. 1988. London: Secker & Warburg.

The Famished Road. 1991. London Jonathan Cape.

Songs of Enchantment. 1993. London: Jonathan Cape.

Astonishing the Gods.  1995. London: Weidenfeld & Nicholson.

Dangerous Love. London: Weidenfeld & Nicholson.

Infinite Riches. London: Weidenfeld & Nicholson.

In Arcadia. 2002. London: Weidenfeld & Nicholson.

Starbook. 2007. London: Rider & Co.

Tales of Freedom. 2009. London: Rider Books.



An African Elegy. 1992. London: Jonathan Cape.

A Mental Fight. 1999. London: Weidenfeld & Nicholson.




Birds of Heaven. 1995. London: Orion.

A Way of Being Free. 1997.London: Phoenix.

A Time for New Dreams. 2001. Rider Books: London



‘In Another Country’. West Africa, 25 April (1981): 873-875.

‘Fires Next Time Are Always Small Enough’. West Africa, 25 April (1983): 1020-1021.

‘A Bizarre Courtship’. Granta 43: Best of British Novelists 2, 1 March (1993).

‘A Prayer from the Living’. 2000. In Picador Book of African Stories.  Stephen Gray (ed). London: Picador, 95-100.

‘In the Land of Beginnings’. PEN America: A Journal for Writers and Readers 6, issue on Metamorphoses (2005).

‘Mysteries’. Sunday Times, 5 April (2009):62-63, 65.

Commonwealth Writers Prize (Africa Region, Best Book) 1987. Incidents at the Shrine

Paris Review/Aga Khan Prize for Fiction, 1987. Incidents at the Shrine

Guardian Fiction Prize. Shortlist Stars of the New Curfew 1988.

Booker Prize for Fiction. 1991. The Famished Road

Chianti Ruffino-Antico Fattore International Literary Prize. 1993. The Famished Road

Premio Grinzane Cavour (Italy). 1994. The Famished Road

Crystal Award (World Economic Forum). 1995.

Premio Palmi (Italy). 2000. Dangerous Love.

OBE. 2001.

Broadcaster and presenter BBC (1983-85)

Poetry editor West Africa (1983-86)

Fellow commoner in creative arts Trinity College, Cambridge (1991-93)

Current member of Vice-President Board English PEN


Costantini, Mariaconcetta. Behind the Mask: A Study of Ben Okri’s Fiction. 2002. Rome: Carocci.

Elder, Arlene A. Narrative Shape-Shifting: Myth, Humor and History in the Fiction of Ben Okri, B. Kojo Laing and Yvonne Vera. 2009. Oxford: James Currey.

Fraser, Robert. Ben Okri: Towards the Invisible City. 2002. Horndon: Northcote House.

Lim, David C.L. The Infinite Longing for Home: Desire and the Nation in Selected Writings of Ben Okri and K.S. Maniam. 2005. Amsterdam / New York: Rodopi.

Moh, Felicia Oka. Ben Okri: An Introduction to his Early Fiction. 2001. Enugu: Fourth Dimension Publishers.

O’Connor, Maurice. The Writings of Ben Okri: Transcending the Local and the National. 2008. New Delhi: Prestige Books.

Quayson, Ato. Strategic Transformations in Nigerian Writing: Rev. Samuel Johnson, Amos Tutuola, Wole Soyinka & Ben Okri. 1997. Oxford / Bloomington & Indianapolis: James Currey / Indiana University Press.



Armstrong, Andrew. ‘Speaking through the Wound: Irruption and Memory in the Writing of Ben Okri and Festus Iyayi’. Journal of African Cultural Studies  13.2 (2000): 173-83.

Brooks de Vita, Novella. ‘Abiku Babies: Spirit Children and Human Bonding in Ben Okri’s The Famished Road, Edwidge Danticat’s Krik? Krak!, and Tina McElroy Ansa’s Baby of the Family’. Griot 24.1 (2005): 18-24.

Cezair-Thompson, Margaret. ‘Beyond the Postcolonial Novel: Ben Okri’s The Famished Road and its “Abiku” Traveller’. Journal of Commonwealth Literature 31.2 (1996): 33-45.

Cooper, Brenda. ‘Out of the centre of my forehead, an eye opened: Ben Okri’s The Famished Road’. Magical Realism in West African Fiction: Seeing with a Third Eye. 1998. London: Routledge, 67-114.

Cribb, Timothy. ‘Transformations in the Fiction of Ben Okri’. In From Commonwealth to Postcolonial  Anna Rutherford (ed.). 1992. Sydney: Dangaroo Press, 145-150.

Cribb, T.J. ‘In the Shadow of Language: From Joyce to Okri’. In Imagined Commonwealths: Cambridge Essays on Commonwealth and International Literature in English T.J. Cribb (ed.). 1999. Houndmills / New York: Macmillan / St. Martin’s, 105-124.

Eccard, Jonathan. ‘Revaluating African Historicities: Okri’s Three-Volume Cycle’. In African Diasporas: Ancestors, Migrations and Borders Robert Cancel and Winifred Woodhull (eds.) 2008. Trenton, NJ: Africa World Press, 143-158.

Elder, Arlene A. ‘Narrative Journeys: From Orature to Postmodernism in Soyinka’s The Road and Okri’s The Famished Road’. In Multiculturalism and Hybridity in African Literatures Hal Wylie and Bernth Lindfors (eds.). 2000. Trenton, NJ: Africa World Press, 409-416.

Fernández Vázquez, José Santiago. ‘Recharting the Geography of Genre: Ben Okri’s The Famished Road as a Postcolonial Bildungsroman’.  Journal of Commonwealth Literature 37.2 (2002):  85-107.

Garnier, Xavier.  ’L'Invisible dans The Famished Road de Ben Okri’. Journal of Commonwealth Literature 15.2 (1993), 50-57.

Garuba, Harry, ‘Ben Okri’s Animist Realism and the Famished Genre’, Guardian (Lagos), 13 March 1993, p. 23.

Gray, Rosemary. ‘”Domesticating Infinity” in Ben Okri’s Mental Fight and Astonishing the Gods’. English Academy Review 24.1 (2007), 85-101.

Hawley, John C. ‘Ben Okri’s Spirit Child: Abiku Migration and Post-modernity’. Research in African Literatures 26.1 (1995): 30-39.

Hemminger, Bill. ‘The Way of the Spirit’. Research in African Literatures 32.1 (2001), 66-82.

Kehinde, Ayo. ‘Narrating the African City from the Diaspora: Lagos as a Trope in Ben Okri and Chika Unigwe’s Short Stories’. African Identities 5.2 (2007): 231-246.

Mamudu, Ayo. ‘Portrait of a Young Artist in Ben Okri’s The Landscapes Within’. Commonwealth 13.2 (1991): 85-91.

McCabe, Douglas. ‘”Higher Realities”: New Spirituality in Ben Okri’s The Famished Road’. Research in African Literatures 36.4 (2005): 1-21.

Nnolim, Charles E. ‘The Time Is out of Joint: Ben Okri as a Social Critic’. Commonwealth Novel in English 6.1-2 (1993): 61-68.

O’Connor, Maurice. ‘A Journey Towards Stillness: Modes of Renewal in Ben Okri’s Starbook’. Wasafiri 54 23.2 (2008): 17-22.

Ogunsanwo, Olatubosun. ‘Intertextuality and Post-Colonial Literature in Ben Okri’s The Famished Road’. Research in African Literatures 26.1 (1995): 40-52.

Oliva, Renato. ‘Re-Dreaming the World: Ben Okri’s Shamanic Realism’. Coterminous Worlds: Magical Realism and Contemporary Post-Colonial Literature in English in Elsa Linguanti, Francesco Casotti and Carmen Concilio (eds.). Amsterdam: Rodopi, Cross/Cultures Series, 1999), 171-196.

Palmer, Eustace. ‘Ben Okri: The Famished Road’. In Of War and Women, Oppression and Optimism: New Essays on the African Novel. 2008. Trenton: Africa World Press, 225-258.

Phillips, Maggi. ‘Ben Okri’s River Narratives: The Famished Road and Songs of Enchantment’. In Contemporary African Fiction Derek Wright (ed.). 1997. Bayreuth: Breitinger, 167-179.

Porter, Abioseh Michael. ‘Ben Okri’s The Landscapes Within: A Metaphor for Personal and National Development’. World Literature Written in English 28.2 (1988) 203-210.

Quayson, Ato. ‘Esoteric Webwork as Nervous System: Reading the Fantastic in Ben Okri’s Writing’. Essays on African Writing II: A Re-Evaluation Abdulrazak Gurnah (ed.). 1995. Oxford: Heinemann Educational Publishers, Studies in African Literature Series, 144-158.

Quayson, Ato. ‘Looking Awry: Tropes of Disability in Post-Colonial Writing’. An Introduction to Contemporary Fiction: International Writing in English since 1970 in Rod Mengham (ed.). 1999. Cambridge: Polity Press, 53-68.

Upstone, Sara. ‘Writing the Post-Colonial Space: Ben Okri’s Magical City and the Subversion of Imperialism’. Partial Answers 2.2 (2004): 139-159.

Whyte, Philip. ‘West African Literature at the Crossroads: The Magical Realism of Ben Okri’. Commonwealth SP5 (2003): 69-79.

Wright, Derek. ‘Interpreting the Interspace: Ben Okri’s The Famished Road’. CRNLE Reviews Journal 1-2 (1995): 18-30.

Beryl Gilroy


<strong>Beryl Gilroy</strong>

<strong><em>Contributor:  Nisha Obano </em></strong>

Beryl Agatha Gilroy (née Answick) was a writer, teacher and psychotherapist. Of her many achievements, she is best known for being the UK’s first black head teacher and for her autobiographical account of those experiences in her aptly named memoir Black Teacher (1976). She was born on 30 August 1924 in Springland, Berbice, in what was then British Guiana. Her grandmother, Sally Louisa James, had the greatest influence upon Gilroy’s educational development. An herbalist and manager of a small holding, James was also a prolific reader and storyteller and instilled in Gilroy a passion for learning through creativity and exploration. These values inspired Gilroy’s own philosophy of education and, after beginning formal schooling at the age of twelve, Gilroy went to a teacher training college in Georgetown and qualified with a first class diploma in 1945. After working as a teacher on the Unicef nutrition programme and also as head of the infant section of the Board Street government school, in 1952, at the age of twenty-seven, Gilroy was selected for a place at the University of London and left British Guiana for England.

London in the 1950s was not the most welcoming of places for a young aspiring black woman. Despite her first class teaching certificate and a top class diploma in child development, Gilroy found it difficult to find a position as a teacher and was forced to search for employment in domestic service, dish washing and factory work. Eventually she was employed by the Inner London Education Authority (ILEA) and taught until 1956, years that would provide the source material for Black Teacher, her autobiographical account of the effects of class and race on educational experiences for teachers and pupils alike.

During this period, Gilroy was not entirely isolated in London; some who shared her political ideals in the Caribbean were now also residing in the UK: writer and teacher E. R. Braithwaite? shared Gilroy’s frustration with the educational establishment; and Andrew Salkey, writer and presenter of the BBC World Service Caribbean Voices programme, was very supportive of Gilroy’s writing in what was then a male-dominated milieu. She also found a strong companion in her husband Patrick. Their mixed-raced marriage being a novelty in the 1950s, both stood firm in the face of criticism and small-mindedness. Between 1956 and 1968, Gilroy stayed at home to look after and educate their children, Darla and Paul, and furthered her own education while reviewing for a publisher and writing textbooks for schools. In 1968 she returned to full time teaching when she became Deputy Head at Beckford Primary School, and was later promoted to Head Teacher. Between 1970 and 1975 Gilroy published the Nippers series, probably one of the first collections to reflect the Black British experience in the UK for children. In 1975, Beryl’s husband Patrick died.

Throughout her life, Gilroy had been developing an interest in psychotherapy, particularly in relation to education, and in the 1980s she turned her attention to networks of support. In the early 1980s she was a co-founder of the Camden Black Sisters group. In 1982, she left her Headship at Beckford and joined the Institute of Education and the ILEA’s Centre for Multicultural Education. Fusing her psychological knowledge with her extensive teaching experience, Gilroy developed a pioneering practice in psychotherapy working mainly with black women and children (focusing in particular on the psychological impact of the diasporic experience). In 1987 she gained a PhD in counselling psychotherapy in the USA and was awarded an honorary doctorate from the Institute of Education in 2000 (Gilroy had also gained recognition in the USA and was honoured by the Association of African Women Writers and Scholars in 1996).

Gilroy had also been writing from an early age but her novels and other creative works remained largely unpublished until the 1980s. After winning the Greater London Council’s Creative Writing Prize in 1982, Gilroy’s first published novel Frangipani House appeared in 1986 with Heinemann. Set in a home for the elderly in Guyana, Frangipani House reveals many of the concerns that marked all of Gilroy’s works — a concern for both the young and old, particularly those who have been marginalised, as well as celebrating the freedom and power of the spirit. Frangipani House was followed by Boy Sandwich (Heinemann, 1989). Steadman and Joanna: A Love in Bondage and a collection of poems, Echoes and Voices, were both published in 1991 by Vantage. In 1994, Peepal Tree published In Praise of Love and Children, a novel that Gilroy had been working on in the 1960s but which had been seen as ‘too psychological’ for publication by numerous presses at the time. 1994 also saw the publication of Sunlight and Sweet Water, the story of Gilroy’s Berbice childhood, and Gather the Faces and Inkie and Yarico by Peepal Tree, who remained her publisher until her death in 2001. Her final novel The Green Grass Tango was published posthumously in the same year.

Beryl Gilroy died on 4 April 2001. In Gilroy’s obituary for the Guardian, Peter D Fraser wrote that Gilroy ‘was one of Britain’s most significant post-war Caribbean migrants’.

Works by Beryl Gilroy

Arthur Small. London: Macmillan, date unavailable.

‘Black Old Age … The Diaspora of the Senses?’. Black British Culture and Society: A Text Reader. Ed. Kwesi Owusu. London: Routledge, 1999.

Black Teacher. London: Cassell, 1976.

‘Black Teacher’ (extract). Ed. James Proctor. Writing Black Britain, 1948-1998: An          

Interdisciplinary Anthology. Manchester: Manchester UP, 2000.

Blue Water Readers. London: Longmans, 1961.

Blue Water Readers Teacher’s Guide: A handbook on the teaching of reading. London: Longmans, 1962.

Boy Sandwich. London: Heinemann International, 1989.

Bubu’s Street. London: Macmillan, 1975.

The Busy Book (Book 2). London: Longmans, 1961.

Carnival of Dreams. Cheltenham: Nelson Thornes, 1980.

Echoes and Voices. New York: Vantage Press, 1991.

Frangipani House. London: Heinemann, 1986.

Gather the Faces. Leeds: Peepal Tree, 1996.
Grandpa’s Footsteps, Auntie Olive’s Wedding and Elvira. London: Macmillan, 1978.

Green and Gold Readers for Guyana. Ed. Ruth Thom. London: Longman Caribbean, 1971.

Green Grass Tango. Leeds: Peepal Tree, 2001.

In Bed. London: Macmillan, 1975.

In For A Penny. Illus. Simon Willby. London: Cassell, 1980.

Inkle and Yarico. Leeds: Peepal Tree, 1996.

In Praise of Love and Children. Leeds: Peepal Tree, 1996.

Knock at Mrs Herb’. Illus. Shyam Varma. London: Macmillan, date unavailable.


Language in Action. Level 4. Core (Fourways). Illus. Simon Wilby. London: Macmillan, 1980.

Leaves in the Wind: Collected Writings of Beryl Gilroy. Ed. Joan Anim-Addo. London: Mango Publishing, 1998.

New Shoes. Illus. Shyam Varma. London: Macmillan, date unavailable.

No More Pets. Illus. Margaret Belsky. London: Macmillan, 1973.

Once Upon A Time. Illus. Joan Beales. London: Macmillan, 1975.

Out in the Sun (Blue Water Reader, Book 1). London: Longmans, 1961.

Outings for Everyone. Illus. Prudence Seward. London: Macmillan, date     unavailable.

The Paper Bag. Illus. Shyam Varma. London: Macmillan, date unavailable.

The Present. Illus. Nicole Goodwin. London: Macmillan, date unavailable.

Rice and Peas. Illus. Beryl Saunders. London: Macmillan, 1975.

Steadman and Joanna, A Love In Bondage: Dedicated Love in the Eighteenth         

Century. New York: Vantage Press, 1991.

Sunlight on Sweet Water. Leeds: Peepal Tree, 1994.

A Visitor from Home. Illus. Shyam Varma. London: Macmillan, date unavailable.

Autobiography in Writing: Telling it All? (Daughters of Africa).       London: Institute of Contemporary Arts, 26 July 1986.

Childhood, Identity and Old Age. London: Institute of Contemporary Arts, 26 July 1986.

In Conversation. London: Institute of Contemporary Arts, 26 July 1986.

Rise Up and Recite! (Daughters of Africa Part Two). London: Institute of Contemporary Arts, 10 Oct. 1992.

Akoma, Chiji. ‘Black Narratives and Critical Theory: Two Responses’. Review of Arms Akimbo by J Liddell and Y B Kemp. MFS: Moden Fiction Studies 48.1 (2002): 461-469.

Aldridge, Richard. Lessons from History of Education: The Selected Works of Richard Aldridge. London: Routledge, 2006.

Anim-Addo, J, A S Newson and L Strong-Leek. ‘Anguish and the Absurd: “Key Moments”, Recreated Lives, and the Emergence of New Figures of Black Womanhood in the Narrative Works of Beryl Gilroy’. Women Writers and Scholars: Winds of Change. New York: Peter Lang, 1998.

Arana, Victoria. Review of A Black British Canon? by G Low and M Wynne-Davies. MFS: Modern Fiction Studies 54.4 (2008): 909-912.

Boyce Davies, Carole. Black Women, Writing, Identity and Migration of the Subject. London: Routledge, 1994.

Boyce Davies, Carole and Meredith Gadsby. ‘Remembering Beryl Gilroy’. Jenda: A Journal of Culture and African Women Studies 2.1 (2002).

Bradshaw, Roxanna. ‘Beryl Gilroy’s “Fact Fiction”: Through the Lens of the “Quiet Old Lady”’. Callaloo 25.2 (2002): 381-417.

Courtman, Sandra. ‘Beryl Gilroy’. Africa and the Americas: Culture and History. Ed. Richard M Juang and Noelle Morrissette. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, 2008.

—. ‘Beryl Gilroy’. Companion to Contemporary Black British Culture. Ed. Alison Donnell. London: Routledge, 2001.

—. ‘Beryl Gilory’. Encyclopedia of the African Diaspora: Origins, Experience and Culture. Ed. Carole Boyce Davies. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, 2008.

—. ‘A Black British Canon?: The Uses of Beryl Gilroy’s Black Teacher and its Recovery in Literature’. Wasafiri 36 (2002): 51-55.

—. ‘“Lost Years”: The Occlusion of West Indian Women Writers in the Early Canon of Black British Writing’. Diasporic Literature and Theory, Where Now? Ed.        Mark Shackleton. Newcastle Upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Press, 2009. 57-86.

—. ‘Not Good Enough or Not Man Enough? Beryl Gilroy as Anomaly in the Evolving Black British Canon’. A Black British Canon? Ed. Gail Low and Marion            Wynne-Davies. Oxford: Macmillan Palgrave, 2006. 50-74.

—. ‘On Becoming A Published Writer in Britain: Beryl Answick Gilroy’. Dawtas Write Herstory, a celebration of black women writers. Leeds: Peepal Tree, 1996. 8-9.

—. Review of In Praise of Love and Children by Beryl Gilroy. Mango Season 6 (1996): 2.

—. ‘Women Writers and the Windrush Generation: A Contextual Reading of Gilroy’s In Praise of Love and Children and Levy’s Small Island’. Entertext (Autumn 2011).

Chancy, Myriam J A. Searching for Safe Spaces: Afro-Caribbean Writers in Exile. Philadelphia: Temple UP, 1997.

DeLoughrey, Elizabeth. Review of Ghosts of Slavery: A Literary Archaeology of Black Women’s Lives by J Sharpe. Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 31.2 (2006): 556-560.

Dubey, Madhu. ‘Not Quite Freedom: Leveraging Agency in Slave Women’s Narratives’. Review of Ghosts of Slavery by J Sharpe. Novel: A Forum on Fiction 28.1 (2004, 2007): 107.

Duvivier, Sandra C. Review of Sucking Salt: Caribbean Women Writers, Migration and Survival by M Gadsby. Callaloo 31.2 (2008): 632-636.

Dyer, Rebecca. ‘London via the Caribbean: Migration Narratives and he City in Postwar British Fiction’. Diss. University of Texas at Austin, 2002.

Filipczak, Dorota. Review of Memory and Myth: Postcolonia Religion in Contemporary Guyanese Fiction and Poetry by F Darroch. Literature and Theology 24.1 (2010): 89-91.

Fulani, Ifeona. ‘Caribbean Women Writers and the Politics of Style: A Case for Literary Anancyism’. Small Axe: A Caribbean Journal of Criticism 9.1 (2005, 2007): 64-79.

Gadsby, Meredith M. Sucking Salt: Caribbean Women Writers, Migration and Survival. Columbia: U of Minnesota P, 2006.

Gyssels, Kathleen. ‘L’identite feminine et l’espace clos dans le roman caribeen: L’oeuvre de Simone et Andre Schwartz-Bart et de Beryl Gilroy’. Canadian Review of Comparative Literature 22.3/4 (1995): 787-801.

Hall, Catherine. Review of Englishness and Empire 1939 –1965 by W Webster.

Twentieth Century British History 17.1 (2006): 284-286.

Harris, A. ‘Tyrone Grainger and the Dilemma of Blackness in London’. African and Black Diaspora: An International Journal 4.2 (2011): 193-200.

Hoving, Isabel. In Praise of New Travellerse: Reading Caribbean Migrant Women’s Writing. Palo Alto: Stanford UP, 2001.

Langran, Phillip. Review of Searching for Safe Spaces by M Chancy. The Year’s Work in English Studies 81.1 (2002): 1053-1056.

Liddell, Janice and Yakini Belinda Kemp, ed. Arms Akimbo: Africana Women in Contemporary Literature. Gainesville: U of Florida P, 1999.

Low, Gail and Marion Wynne-Davies. A Black British Canon?. New York: Palgrave, 2006.

Maczynska, Magdalena. ‘The Aesthetics of Realism in Contemporary Black London’. Black British Aesthetics Today. Ed. R Victoria Arana. Newcastle Upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Press, 2007. 135-149.

Mardorossian, Carine M. Review of In Praise of New Travellers by I Hoving. Journal of Colonialism and Colonial History 5.3 (2004): np.

Mason-John, Valerie. ‘Aesthetics of the Trans-Raised Diasporic Black Britain’. Black British Aesthetics Today. Ed. R Victoria Arana. Newcastle Upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Press, 2007. 337-345.

McLeod, John. Beginning Postcolonialism. Manchester: Manchester UP, 2000.

Minto, Deonne N. Review of Caribbean Women Writers and Globalization. Callaloo 31.2 (2008): 628-632.

Morris, Kathryn E. ‘Jamaica Kincaid’s Haunted Bodies: Engendering a Carib(bean) Woman’. Callaloo 25.3 (2002): 954-968.

Page, Kezia. Transnational Negotiatios in Caribbean Diasporic Literature: Remitting the Text. London: Routledge, 2011.

Proctor, James. Dwelling Places: Postwar Black British Writing. Manchester: Manchester UP, 2003.

Robinson, Jane. ‘The Art of Listening: Nineteenth- and Twentieth-Century Women Travellers and Their Work’. Review of In Praise of New Travellers by I Hoving. Journal of Women’s History 16.1 (2004): 165-172.

Salvant, Shawn. Review of Ghosts of Slavery by J Sharpe. American Literature 79.1 (2007): 194-196.

Scott, Helen. Caribbean Women’s Writing and Globalization: Fictions of Independence. Aldershot: Ashgate, 2006.

—. The Process of Postcolonizing’. Callaloo 25.3 (2002): 994-996.

Sharpe, Jenny. Ghosts of Slavery: A Literary Archaeology of Black Women’s Lives. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 2003.

Skinner, Lee. Review of In Praise of New Travellers I Hoving. NWSA Journal 15.2 (2003): 175-179.

Souza, Pascale de. ‘Flotsam in the Migratory Wake: Relating the Plight of the Old in Frangipani House and Un plat de porc aux bananes vertes’. Comparative Literature Studies 39.2 (2002): 146-161.

Springer, Jennifer Thorington. ‘Reconfigurations of Caribbean History: Michelle Cliff’s Rebel Women’. Medridians: Feminism, Race, Transnationalism 7.2 (2007): 43-60.

Tarver, A, A S Newson and L Stong-Leek. ‘Frangipani House: Beryl Gilroy’s Praise Song For Grandmothers’. Women Writers and Scholars: Winds of Change, Conference proceedings, Apr. 1996, Florida. New York: Peter Lang, 1998.

Ward, A. ‘Postcolonial Interventions into the Archive of Slavery: Transforming Documents into Monuments in Beryl Gilory’s Stedman and Joanna’. The Journal of Commonwealth Literature 45.2 (2010): 245-258.

Webster, Wendy. Englishness and Empire 1939-1965. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2005.

—. Imagining Home: Gender, ‘Race’ and National Identity, 1945-1964. London: Routledge, 1998.

Wright, Michelle M. Review of Sucking Salt: Caribbean Women Writers by M Gadsby    and Caribbean Women Writers and Globalization by Helen Scott. American Literature 80.1 (2007, 2008): 183-185.

Biyi Bandele

Biyi Bandele

Contributor: Nisha Obano

Biyi Bandele-Thomas is a novelist, playwright and poet. He was born in 1967 into a Yoruba family living in the largely Hausa community in Kafanchan, northern Nigeria. His mother was an avid storyteller, and Biyi was a keen reader from an early age and  a regular user of the local library in his hometown. But it was his father, a veteran of the Burma Campaign during World War II, who was a major influence in Bandele’s literary life, introducing his son to the works of Wole Soyinka and Chinua Achebe, along with a range of other international classics. It was on the television bought by his father that Bandele had his first encounter with ‘theatre’ when he saw John Osborne’s Look Back in Anger.

At eighteen, after several wayward years as a hustler, Bandele left Kafanchan for Lagos and then went on to Ife Ife to study drama at Obafemi Awolowo University. In 1989 he won the International Student Playscript Competition for ‘Rain’ and in 1990 received the British Council Lagos Award for an unpublished collection of poems. Later that year he left for London on a scholarship (part of the International Student Playscript award). Although the scholarship was to last for only one year, Bandele stayed on in London, where he has lived since then.

Bandele’s first published novel, The Man Who Came in from the Back of Beyond, which he had began writing as a schoolboy, appeared in 1991. His second book, The Sympathetic Undertaker and Other Dreams, a satirical narrative featuring the fictional character, President Platini Babagee of Zowabi, loosely based on the former Nigerian president Ibrahim Babangida, came out the same year and was later reissued in Heinemann’s African Writers Series in 1993. He also wrote a number of plays: Marching for Fausa (1993), which was performed at the Royal Court Theatre in London; Resurrections in the Season of the Longest Drought (1994); and Two Horsemen (1994), which was selected as Best New Play at the London New Plays Festival the same year.

While Bandele was the Arts Council Resident dramatist with Talawa Theatre Company at the Cochrane Theatre in London (1993-1994), he was also making inroads into television with two productions: Not Even God is Wise Enough, directed by Danny Boyle and aired in 1993; and the BBC production of Bad Boy Blues starring Clive Owen and Burt Caesar in 1994. He then went on to become Writer in Residence at the Royal National Theatre Studio in 1995. After adapting Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart for the stage in 1997, Bandele’s stage adaptation of Aphra Behn’s Oronooko was performed by the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) in 1999. Featuring an all-black cast, the play was later awarded an EMMA in 2000. Bandele continued working with the RSC on another adaptation, this time of his own novel The Street, published the same year as Oroonoko, which became Brixton Stories, one of a series of plays commissioned for the RSC’s ‘Other Eden’ project. This coincided with a performance of Bandele’s Happy Birthday, Mr Deka D specially commissioned by the Told by an Idiot Company which premiered in Liverpool in 1999. Between 2000 and 2002, Bandele was the Judith E Wilson Fellow at Churchill College, Cambridge. He also acted as Royal Literary Fund Resident Playwright at the Bush Theatre, London, from 2002-2003.

Having been named one of Africa’s most promising artists by the Independent in 2006, 2007 saw the publication of his internationally and critically acclaimed novel, Burma Boy. Also known in the United States as The King’s Rifle, the novel is the largely untold story of African soldiers fighting for the British during the Second World War and has been translated into almost twenty languages. Since 2007 Bandele has been concentrating on literature and film. He is now working on a film adaptation of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s novel Half of A Yellow Sun, due for release in 2013.

Material by Biyi Bandele

Novels, Story Collections and Plays by Biyi Bandele

Brixton Stories/Happy Birthday, Mister Deka D: Two Plays. London: Methuen Drama, 2001.

Burma Boy. London: Jonathan Cape, 2007.

Death Catches the Hunter/Me and the Boys. Oxford: Amber Lane Press, 1995.
The Man Who Came In From the Back of Beyond. Oxford: Heinemann, 1991.
Marching for Fausa. Oxford: Amber Lane Press, 1993.
Adapt. Oroonoko. By Aphra Behn. Oxford: Amber Lane Press, 1999.
Resurrections in the Season of the Longest Drought. Oxford: Amber Lane Press, 1994.
The Street. London: Picador, 2000.
The Sympathetic Undertaker and Other Dreams. London: Bellew, 1991.
Two Horsemen. Oxford: Amber Lane Press, 1994.


Television Scripts and Radio Plays by Biyi Bandele

Bad Boy Blues. Dir. Andy Wilson. Perf. Clive Owen, Maynard Eziashi, Christopher Fulford, Eve Bland and Burt Caesar. Television Film. BBC. 1994.

Female God and Other Forbidden Fruit. Radio play. BBC World Service, 1991.

Not Even God is Wise Enough. Dir. Danny Boyle. Perf. Kevin Allen, T R Bowen, Mona Hammond, George Harris, Paterson Joseph, Vivienne McKeone, Doyle Richmond, Mark Strong, Ben Thomas and Ellen Thomas. Television. BBC. 20 Oct. 1993.


Film Credits for Biyi Bandele

Adapt. Half of A Yellow Sun. By Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Dir. B Bandele. Perf. Thandie Newton, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Joseph Mawle, Anika Noni Rose, John Boyega, Hakeem Kae-Kazim, Genevieve Nnaji, Babou Ceesay, O C   Ukeje, Paul Hampshire, Susan Wokoma, Onyeka Onwenu, Zack Orji. British Film Institute (BFI). 2013.

The Kiss. Dir. B Bandele. Perf. Nabil Elouahabi, Rosie Fellner and Brahim Salek. Piper Films. 2006. <http://wn.com/biyi_bandele>.


Other Writings by Biyi Bandele

Black President: The Art and Legacy of Fela Anikulapo-Kuti. Ed. Trevor Schoonmaker. New York: New Museum of Contemporary Art, 2003.

Review of Goodbye Lucille by Segun Afolabi. The Guardian 5 May 2007, Review: 17.

‘Read Between the Signs’. The Guardian 26 Apr. 2003 <http://www.guardian.co.uk/stage/2003/apr/26/theatre.artsfeatures1>.

SW2: An Excerpt’. New England Review 19.3 (1998): 97-99.

Review of Who’s Afraid of Wole Soyinka?: Essays on Censorship by Adewale Maja-Pearce. Wasafiri 8.16 (1992): 68-69.

‘Welcome to Nollywood’. The Guardian 31 July 2007 <http://www.guardian.co.uk/film/2007/jul/31/observerfilmmagazine.observerfilmmagazine5>.


Brixton Stories. Dir. Roxana Silbert. Perf. Jude Ajuwudike and Diane Parish. The Pit, Barbican Theatre, London. Rec. 18 Apr. 2001.

Marching for Fausa. Dir. Annie Castledine. Perf. Susan Aderin, Patrice Naiambana, Pamela Nomvete, Pauline Black, Leo Wringer, Femi Elufowoju and Jude Ajuwudike. Royal Court Theatre Upstairs, London. Rec. 27 Jan. 1993.

Adapt. Oroonoko by Aphra Behn. Dir. Gregory Doran. Perf. Nicholas Monu, Ewart James Walters, Ewen Cummings, Jo Martin, Nicky Reid, Kemi Baruwa, Michael Fenner, Nadine Marshall, Rod Arthur, David Collings, Geff Francis, David Oyelowo, Isreal Aduramo, Faz Shinghateh and Martin Slavin. Royal Shakespeare Company. The Pit, Barbican Theatre, London. Rec. 6 Jan. 2000.

Telani’s Graffiti. Perf. Bola Aiyeyala, Pauline Black, Patrice Naiambana, DeObia Oparei, Taiwo Payne and Leo Wringer. Royal Court Theatre Upstairs, London. Rec. 25 June 1992.

Thieves Like Us. Perf. Jude Akuwudike, Yemi Ajibade, Akim Mogaji, Joy Elais-Rilwan, Femi Elufowuju. Dir. Claire Grove. Rec. 1995.

Bandele, Biyi, Lucy Neal and Time Etchells. ‘Why do we play?’. Symposia 1-5. Roundhouse, London. Rec. 1 Nov. 2002.


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Agho, Jude. ‘Scatology, Form and Meaning in the Novels of Alex La Guma and Biyi Bandele-Thomas’. Neohelicon 30.2 (2003): 195-2008.

Alfrey, Ellah. ‘Three Books On Entering Strange New Worlds’. Review of Burma Boy by Biyi Bandele. npr books. 17 Feb. 2011 <http://www.npr.org/2011/02/17/133464039/three-books-on-entering-strange-new-worlds>.

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Armistad, Claire. Review of Resurrections by Biyi Bandele. Talawa. Cochrane Theatre. The Guardian 10 Oct. 1994, Features: T7.

Bartholomew, Roy. ‘Homeless, but not rootless; Talawa remains Britain’s leading black theatre group, but since Yvonne Brewster moved out of the Cochrane Theatre citing “artistic differences”, it is a company without a home’. The Independent 1 Nov. 1995, Theatre: 10.

Benedict, David. ‘A miracle of stillness’. Review of Happy Birthday, Mister Deka D. by Biyi Bandele. Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh. The Independent 14 Aug. 1999, Features: 8.

—. ‘Missing in action: our black stares; The demise of minority theatre groups has narrowed the choice of roles for many actors to either hooker or pimp in The Bill, says David Benedict’. The Independent 1 Apr. 1998, Features: 14.

Billington, Michael. ‘Binoche but no dosh; Michael Billington on the year ahead’. The Guardian 6 Jan. 1999, Leader Page: 14.

—. ‘First Night: Lament for Man in a Changing World’. Review of Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe, adapt. Biyi Bandele. West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds. The Guardian 29 May 1997: 2.

—. ‘Life in a box: Black actors already play Shakespearean kings – now they’re taking on Noel Coward. But where are the new roles that reflect our world?’. The Guardian 4 Dec. 2002: 4.

—. Review of Marching to Fausa by Biyi Bandele. Royal Court Theatre Upstairs. The Guardian 15 Jan. 1993, Features: 8.

—. ‘Michael Billington saw 250 plays this year but few were willing to address contemporary issues’. The Guardian 29 Dec. 1999: 10.

—. Review of Senora Carrar’s Rifles by Bertolt Brecht, adapt. Biyi Bandele. The Guardian 26 Apr. 2007. Review: 38.

—. ‘Slave to passion’. Review of Oroonoko by Aphra Behn, adapt. Biyi Bandele. Royal Shakespeare Company. The Other Place, Stratford-upon-Avon. The Guardian 30 Apr. 1999, Leader Pages: 21.

Bouchard, Jen Westmoreland. ‘Representations of diasporic unbelonging: Surrealism in the work of Biyi Bandele-Thomas and Yinka Shonibare’. Migratatios & Identities 1.2 (2008): 99-114.

Bryce, Jane. ‘“Half and Half Children”: Third Generation Women Writers and the New Nigerian Novel’. Research in African Literatures 39.2 (2008): 49-67.

Cavendish, Dominic. ‘Oroonoko lives again; Biyi Bandele is writing a new play, has another on tour and his version of Aphra Behn’s history of the royal slave is in rehearsal at the RCS. Somehow he found time to talk to Dominic Cavendish’. The Independent 24 Mar. 1999, Features: 11.

Christopher, James. ‘A con to fall for’. Review of Thieves Like Us by Biyi Bandele. Southwark Playhouse, London. The Times 6 Oct. 1998, Features: np.

—. ‘A terrible beauty’. Review of Things Fall Apart, adapt. Biyi Bandele. West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds. The Times 30 May 1997, Features: np.

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—. ‘The Unbelievable Truth: Biyi Bandele-Thomas wanted to write: being stabbed was just the spur’. The Independent 28 Sept. 1994, Theatre: 21.

Henry, Andrea. ‘Mixed company for the Lonely Londoners; Andrea Henry visits two sides of the black metropolis – the threatening estate, and the enchanting street; Society Within by Courttia Newland and The Street by Biyi Bandele’. The Independent 31 July 1999, Features: 11.

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—. ‘Migrant Literature and Political Commitment: Puzzles and Parables in the Novels of Biyi Bandele-Thomas’. Journal of African Cultural Studies 12.1 (1999): 77-92.

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Blaka Lola (Nicolina E.C. Sant)

Contributor: Aspha Bijnaar
With thanks to Frank Wijdenbosch

Blaka Lola (Paramaribo 20 July 1909 – Paramaribo 28 April 1990)
Sometime in the 1970s, Frank Wijdenbosch and his brother were walking in the red light district. His brother wanted to show Frank the red light district of Amsterdam. And suddenly there she was! A large black woman in a wig, wearing a dirty coat. Onlookers were ridiculing her, but she swore back at them. ’That’s Blaka Lola!’ whispered Frank’s brother to him. Black Lola was a Suriname penny prostitute, now old and senile. Wijdenbosch had never heard of her, but Blaka Lola would cross his path again more than twenty years later.

Very little is known about Nicolina Sant, alias Black Lola, or Blaka Lola in Sranantongo (Surinamese). In preparation for his successful theatre production of Blakka Lola that premiered in September 2001, writer and actor Frank Wijdenbosch researched her life in the Netherlands and Suriname. He spoke to a few people who had known her personally. Yet many questions remained unanswered. The production of Blakka Lola, consisted partly of facts and partly of fiction. Wijdenbosch himself played the character of Black Lola. As a further tribute, he took the initiative to place a headstone on the grave of Black Lola at the Vrede en Arbeid cemetery in Paramaribo in 2003.

Who was Blaka Lola? Apparently, she was the first Surinamese window prostitute in Amsterdam’s red light district. She was born in 1909 in Suriname as Nicolina E. C. Sant. Her parents were Nicodemus Nicolaas Sant and Frederika Evelina Gondel. She was orphaned at a young age: her mother died when she was three years old and her father six years later. They left behind three children, Nicolina and her brothers William and Hennie. Nicolina ended up in an orphanage of the Moravian Church in Saron. She was later sent to the Netherlands to work as a housemaid, where she was employed by a patrician’s family that she was not fond of. She was treated badly: if she did not observe the family rules, she was punished by being forced to spend the night in the coal-shed. In the middle of winter, she was evicted from the house following an argument. After this, she briefly worked as a nurse in the Onze Lieve Vrouwen Hospital. During this period, she met a Dutch man who introduced her to Amsterdam nightlife. She then started a career as a dancer at La Cubana nightclub owned by Max Woiski.

Nicolina finally ended up as a window prostitute, whether or not by force. One of her working places was Stoofsteeg 9 in Amsterdam. In the world of prostitution, she stood out with her unusual appearance. She was black, had a harelip, a plump figure and a well-groomed appearance. Although she did not like the skimpy sexy clothing that prostitutes usually wear, she appealed to the imagination of many. Nicolina was always dressed in a long dress, which had a split and deep cleavage. And she spoke Dutch perfectly and without an accent. From all corners of the Netherlands, people came to stare at her, whether or not they paid for her services. She endured all this attention, but she did not like it. She was clever enough to exploit her exotic appearance commercially. She presented herself to her clients as an African princess: who could only expose herself if more money was paid. Lola enjoyed this pretence.

During the more than 20 years that Nicolina was a prostitute in the red light district, she was known as Black Lola, Blaka Lola or Aunty Lien. In 1974, a dirty song was written about her that included the words: ‘red lips, black nylons and a mass of curly hair’. A dishwashing brush was also marketed under the name Black Lola. Aunty Lien was a household name in the red light district, along with her equally famous Dutch best friends: Red Wil, Belgian Gonnie and Groninger Annie, girls who along with Blaka Lola frequented nightclubs such as Casablanca, Paps en Mams and the Cotton Club.

Aunty Lien was also famous for her cooking and her generosity. During the Dutch Hunger Winter of 1944/1945, many could sit at her table and enjoy a meal. Black Lola sold her body and yet at the same time she strove for economic independence. She could neither read nor write, but hoarded her money so well that at a certain point she could afford to buy three windows and lease them. She also had enough money to buy the famous café Babeloo on Rembrandtplein. Blaka Lola also had a wealth of golden jewellery, which can be seen from the few photos that exist of her.

However, life as a whole was not kind to Black Lola. Particularly in her love life, she had very little luck. The white Dutchmen with whom she had lasting relationships, seem to have profited from her illiteracy. There was no trace of her possessions after her death. Black Lola always kept her distance from other Surinamers. Almost no one ever saw her with a black man.

She was apparently happiest with Anton Geesink (notv the famous judo champion, but a namesake), operator of the Babeloo bar with whom she was married for 16 years. At the end of the 1970s, Geesink died and Nicolina ended up in Flessenman nursing home on the Nieuwmarkt in Amsterdam. She was old, senile, and unable to care for herself. She also suffered from diabetes. Her only solace was her parrot Flora, who had been her loyal companion since 1959. Black Lola had no children.

Aunty Lien also found no peace at Flessenman. Her difficult behaviour forced staff to keep her in a closed ward. In 1985, she travelled to Suriname where she found shelter and care in Huize Albertine. It is unclear how she ended up in Suriname. Did she voluntarily travel there or was she deported? According to stories, in her later years she cried from nostalgia for her native land, where she returned after 56 years.

In Huize Albertine in Suriname, Black Lola was just another unknown woman like so many other residents. No one knew of her past, but her unusual appearance and behaviour made her difficult to get along with. Her physical and mental condition deteriorated rapidly. She had a leg amputated as a result of diabetes. She died alone in 1990: only 14 people came to her funeral. Her parrot Flora, that could mimic her manner of speaking and laughing accurately, died about nine years later…and took the final echo of Black Lola to its grave.

• Rudie Kagie. De eerste Neger. Mets & Schilt pubishers, 2006, zp
• Blakka Lola, theatre performance produced by Seven Arts Foundation 2001.

Caryl Phillips

Caryl Phillips
(novelist, playwright, essayist)

Contributor: Bénédicte Ledent

Born on 13 March 1958 on the Eastern Caribbean island of St Kitts, Caryl Phillips was taken to England by his parents when he was only a few months old. The family first settled in a white, working-class area of Leeds where he was brought up together with three younger brothers. After moving to Birmingham in the early 1970s, he went to The Queen’s College, Oxford University where, between 1976 and 1979, he read English and was involved in directing plays by such writers as Ibsen and Shakespeare.

Caryl Phillips’s literary career began immediately after his graduation in 1979 when he started writing for the stage and radio. Four of his dramatic texts were produced and published in a row: three theatre plays, Strange Fruit (1981), Where There is Darkness (1982) and The Shelter (1984) and one radio play, The Wasted Years (1985). Testifying to a precocious and talented voice, these pieces focus on the plight of the post-war Caribbean migrants to England and, with the exception of The Shelter, on the difficult relationships that they have with their now British progeny, a topic also at the heart of Phillips’s most recent novel In the Falling Snow (2009). Drama has remained to this day an important facet of Caryl Phillips’s artistic undertaking and over the years he has kept working in this domain, writing several radio plays and screenplays as well as a stage play entitled Rough Crossings (2007), dealing with slavery and its aftermath.

However, it is in the field of fiction and non-fiction that he has produced his best-known and most acclaimed work. Caryl Phillips published his first two novels, The Final Passage (1985) and A State of Independence (1986), in the wake of a visit to his native country in 1980, where he settled for a while some time later. Addressing in a subtle way the existential issues facing Caribbean migrants to England, both in their birthplace and in the so-called ‘Mother Country’, these two texts can be regarded as the preliminary stages in Phillips’s on-going examination of the fraught sense of home – what he has called ‘The High Anxiety of Belonging’ – that characterises the men and women who are part of the African diaspora or who have interacted with it. In the seven novels following these early books Phillips expands his psychological and historical exploration of the lives of displaced characters to include the history of the transatlantic slave trade, mostly in Cambridge (1991) and Crossing the River (1993), that of the Holocaust, in The Nature of Blood (1997), as well as the black presence in Europe and the United States in A Distant Shore (2003) and Dancing in the Dark (2005). This wide-ranging scope – which is crystallised in Higher Ground, a novel in three parts published in 1989 – speaks to Phillips’s thematic audacity but also to his continued interest in dislocated and lonely individuals whose voices have rarely been heard and understood. Such is the case, for example, of Earl Gordon, a character of In The Falling Snow, who, as a West Indian in England, only manages to share his harrowing experience of immigration with his son when he is about to die. Regardless of the originality of their subject matter, Phillips’s novels are also known for their formal innovation, which includes fragmented, polyphonic and non-linear narratives.

The political streak that runs through Caryl Phillips’s fiction is even clearer in his non-fiction, which more openly reminds us of such contentious issues as Britain’s amnesia in relation to slavery, the lack of recognition of the black presence in Western societies and, more generally, the role that history can play in helping us to understand the world in which we live. Caryl Phillips’s diasporic world-vision is expressed in his non-fiction through different forms, whether that of the travelogue, in The European Tribe (1987) and The Atlantic Sound (2000), or that of the biographical narrative, in Foreigners: Three English Lives (2007), a book which imagines the lives of three men of African descent who lived in England at different periods but were never acknowledged as insiders. Since the early 1980s Phillips has also written a great number of shorter texts, many of which were published in two collections entitled A New World Order (2001) and Colour Me English (2011). Composed in the same critical vein as the rest of his work, much of Phillips’s non-fiction is nonetheless quite specific in that it can either have an autobiographical content or contain commentaries on the work of other writers, especially those who, like James Baldwin or Richard Wright, have exerted a substantial influence over his own intellectual trajectory.

Caryl Phillips’s writing has earned him an international reputation and invitations to speak at literary events all over the world. It has also brought him several honours and prestigious prizes on both sides of the Atlantic. To give but a few examples, he was awarded the James Tait Black Memorial Prize in 1994 for Crossing the River and the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize in 2004 for A Distant Shore.

Caryl Phillips now lives in the United States where he has been teaching in prominent universities since the beginning of the 1990s. Starting his academic career at Amherst College he went on to teach at Columbia University, Barnard College, then at Yale University, where he has been Professor of English since 2005.

As a writer, an intellectual and a teacher, Caryl Phillips has crucially contributed to opening Britain’s eyes to her own heterogeneity, thereby promoting an empathetic understanding of complex identities and more generally raising awareness about multicultural societies. In those different capacities, he has also unstintingly expressed his belief in the ability of literature, and humanities in general, to bring about changes in individuals and to help them cope with a world in perpetual change.

Work by Caryl Phillips

Note: in addition to these published works, Caryl Phillips has published numerous articles, reviews, interviews and essays in many publications including The Guardian, The Independent, New Statesman, The New York Review of Books, The Observer, TLS, Wasafiri, the Magazine of International Contemporary Writing etc. He has also given many interviews to various media, from radio and television to the press and magazines and his books have been reviewed all around the world in English and other languages.


Cambridge. London: Bloomsbury, 1991; New York: Alfred A Knopf, 1992.

Crossing the River. London: Bloomsbury, 1993; New York: Alfred A Knopf, 1994.

Dancing in the Dark. London: Secker & Warburg, 2005; New York: Alfred A Knopf, 2005.

A Distant Shore. London: Secker & Warburg, 2003; New York: Alfred A Knopf, 2003.

The Final Passage. London: Faber & Faber, 1985; New York: Penguin, 1985.

Higher Ground. London: Viking, 1989; New York: Viking, 1989.

In the Falling Snow. London: Harvill Secker, 2009; New York: Alfred A Knopf, 2009.

The Nature of Blood. London: Faber & Faber, 1997; New York & Toronto: Alfred A Knopf, 1997.

A State of Independence. London: Faber & Faber, 1986; New York: Farrar, Strauss & Giroux, 1986.


The Atlantic Sound. London: Faber & Faber, 2000; New York: Alfred A Knopf, 2000.

Colour Me English. London: Harvill Secker, 2011. Published in the USA as Color Me English: Migration and Belonging Before and After 9/11. New York: The New Press, 2011.

The European Tribe. London: Faber & Faber, 1987; London: Picador, 1992 with a new foreword by the author; New York: Farrar, Strauss & Giroux, 1987.

Extravagant Strangers: A Literature of Belonging, ed. London: Faber & Faber, 1997; New York: Vintage, 1997.

Foreigners: Three English Lives. London: Harvill Secker, 2007. Published in the USA as Foreigners. New York: Alfred A Knopf, 2007.

A New World Order: Selected Essays. London: Secker & Warburg, 2001. Published in the USA as A New World Order: Essays. New York: Vintage, 2001.

The Right Set, ed. London: Faber & Faber, 1999; New York: Vintage, 1999.

Stage Plays

Rough Crossings. London: Oberon, 2007.

The Shelter. Oxford: Amber Lane Press, 1984.

Strange Fruit. Ambergate: Amber Lane Press, 1981.

Where There Is Darkness. Ambergate: Amber Lane Press, 1982.


The Mystic Masseur. London: Merchant Ivory Productions, 2001. Print version: The Mystic Masseur: Essays and Excerpts from the Screenplay. Trinidad: Paria Publishing Company, 2001.

Playing Away. London: Film on 4 Productions, 1986. Print version: Playing Away. London: Faber & Faber, 1987.

Television Drama

The Final Passage. London: Channel 4, 1996.

The Hope and the Glory. London: BBC, 1984.

Lost in Music. London: BBC, 1984.

The Record. London: Channel 4, 1985.

Radio Plays

Crossing the River. London: BBC Radio 3, 1985.

Dinner in the Village. London: BBC Radio 4, 4 Oct. 2011.

Hotel Cristobel. London: BBC Radio 3, 2005.

A Kind of Home: James Baldwin in Paris. London: BBC Radio 4, 2004.

A Long Way From Home. London: BBC Radio 3, 2008.

The Prince of Africa. London: BBC Radio 3, 1987.

The Wasted Years in Best Radio Plays of 1984. London: Methuen, 1985.

Writing Fiction. London: BBC Radio 4, 1991.

Work on Caryl Phillips

Selected Written Resources

Ledent, Bénédicte. Caryl Phillips. Manchester: Manchester UP Contemporary World Writers Series, 2002.

Ledent, Bénédicte & Daria Tunca, ed. Caryl Phillips: Writing in the Key of Life. Amsterdam & New York: Rodopi, 2012.

Schatteman, Renée T, ed. Conversations with Caryl Phillips. Jackson, MS: UP of Mississippi, 2009.

Thomas, Helen. Caryl Phillips. Writers and their Work Series. London: Northcote, 2006.

Ward, Abigail. Caryl Phillips, David Dabydeen, and Fred D’Aguiar: Representations of Slavery. Manchester: Manchester UP, 2011.



Chris Braithwaite

CHRIS BRAITHWAITE (Barbados, c 1885 – 1944)

By Christian Høgsbjerg

The Barbadian agitator Chris Braithwaite was one of the leading black political radicals in 1930s Britain.  Better known under his adopted pseudonym ‘Chris Jones’, Braithwaite was an outstanding militant Pan-Africanist and organiser of colonial seamen, indeed perhaps the critical lynchpin of a maritime subaltern network in and around the imperial metropolis of inter-war London.

Born in the materially impoverished British Caribbean colony of Barbados, Braithwaite encountered ‘the problem of the colour line’ early in life, having found work as a seamen in the British merchant navy when still a teenager. Braithwaite’s self-education and awakening consciousness of race took place while he ‘sailed the seven seas’, and as he later put it in a speech in 1941, while for ‘forty years he has been a rolling stone in every part of the world…he had yet to find a spot where under white domination elementary freedom is granted to the subject races’.  Braithwaite served with the merchant navy during the Great War, when the recruitment of colonial seamen reached its height to fill the places left by recruitment of native seamen into the Royal Navy.  After the war, Braithwaite moved to the ‘black metropolis’ of New York and found work for a period in a bar.

Many black Caribbean mariners settled in America, and some became leading politically radical militants in the American working class movement like Ferdinand Smith, the Jamaican born co-founder of the National Maritime Union and the equally remarkable figure of Hugh Mulzac, who after travelling to New York from Barbados worked for a period as a ship captain on Marcus Garvey’s Black Star Line.  However, Braithwaite soon undertook the ‘voyage in’ to imperial Britain, where he settled down in 1920s London working for the employer’s Shipping Federation. Braithwaite’s work, based in London’s Docklands, home to many black seamen, was a highly responsible job, one usually reserved for whites only.   As a Shipping Federation agent in ‘the Pool’, part of the River Thames where many ships come to dock, Braithwaite charged with finding and supplying colonial seamen, engineers, stokers and others, often at a few hours notice.  However, and quite remarkably given the relatively privileged job he had acquired, he soon politically radicalised and immersed himself in the British working class movement, becoming an activist in what became the National Union of Seamen (NUS).

In Britain, Braithwaite challenged the exploitative and oppressive experience of colonial seamen in the inter-war period, which saw state racism and the threat of deportation as well as a more informal racism encouraged by the shipowners and open colluded in by the NUS.  The NUS’s collaboration with employers and state meant black seamen required an identification card and had to join the union – despite its racism – in order to have any chance of employment.  Braithwaite personally seems to have been better positioned to survive the dangers resulting from widespread racist state practices in shipping, including the threat of deportation under targeting of ‘aliens’, through his job and his relationship with and marriage to Edna, a white woman in Stepney, in the East End of London in close proximity to the West India docks.  Braithwaite seems to have settled in Stepney and would ultimately father six children.

In 1930, Chris Braithwaite would come around the newly launched Seamen’s Minority Movement (SMM), a rank-and-file grouping of militant seamen organised by the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) to lead a fightback against an attempt by shipowners to make seamen pay for perhaps the greatest economic crisis in the history of capitalism.  Adopting a pseudonym, ‘Chris Jones’, to avoid victimisation by his employer, Braithwaite’s experience as a NUS militant and the nature of his work made him an incredibly important recruit for the SMM, and he was soon elected onto its central committee.  Indeed as early as April 1930 ‘Chris Jones’ was chairing the second meeting of the SMM ‘Committee of Coloured Seamen’, and  by 1931 he had joined the CPGB itself.  As well as organising the distribution of such ‘seditious’ publications as the Negro Worker, he played an important role in launching the Negro Welfare Association (NWA) alongside his comrade and compatriot Arnold Ward and rallying solidarity with the Scottsboro Boys.   By 1933, through his association with the NWA and his tireless campaigning, Braithwaite had also struck up a remarkable friendship with the radical Nancy Cunard, then editing her monumental 800-page fusion of Pan-Africanism and Communism, Negro Anthology, for publication in London.  They would both serve together for a period on the NWA committee, and there is a famous picture taken of Braithwaite on a May Day demonstration in London in 1933 – just one of several photographs of ‘Comrade Chris Jones’ published in the Negro Worker, now edited by the Trinidadian revolutionary George Padmore – and reprinted in Cunard’s Negro Anthology.

However, the great ‘zig zag’ from ultra-left to right which characterised the Stalinised Communist International as it shifted from the catastrophist perspectives of ‘Class against class’ to an attempt to build a deeply respectable ‘Popular Front’ against fascism and war in the hope of enabling a diplomatic alliance of Britain, France and the Soviet Union against Nazi Germany, was to spell the end for organisations like the SMM and ultimately end the involvement in international Communism of many black radical activists like Chris Braithwaite.  In 1933, as anti-imperialist agitation against the ‘democracies’ of Britain and France was increasingly sidelined, Braithwaite followed George Padmore’s lead, and resigned in protest from the Communist Party, though he remained supportive of organisations such as the NWA.

However, despite his relative political isolation, in July 1935 ‘Chris Jones’ would emerge as the foremost tribune of black and Asian seamen opposing the new British Shipping Subsidy Act, which threatened the very presence of black colonial seamen on British ships.  Braithwaite took the initiative, with support from the League Against Imperialism and the NWA, to form a new organisation, the Colonial Seamen’s Association (CSA). Impressively, from the very start the CSA embraced not only black colonial seamen, but also other Asian seamen, such as the Indian ‘Lascars’ as well.  As the Indian Communist seamen’s organiser and future secretary of the group, Surat Alley, recalled, the CSA ‘started at the time when Italian Fascism threat[ened to] attack Abyssinia.  The Association was the expression of the discontent existing among the colonial seamen and its aim was to redress their grievances’.

Chris Braithwaite threw himself into building solidarity with the people of Ethiopia in the face of Mussolini’s war plans.  By August 1935, George Padmore had arrived in London from France, and was soon helping his friend and compatriot C.L.R. James organise the new International African Friends of Abyssinia (IAFA).  Braithwaite was a leading activist in this new Pan-African organisation, speaking out alongside the likes of Amy Ashwood Garvey, the Jamaican Pan-Africanist and first wife of Marcus Garvey, and the Kenyan nationalist Jomo Kenyatta of the Kikiyu Central Association. Braithwaite was involved in mobilising his networks of colonial seamen to organise direct action to undermine the economy and trade of Italy and possibly even smuggle weapons to Ethiopia through the maritime industry.

Late November 1936 saw the first annual conference of the CSA in London.  Braithwaite, who was elected Chair, ‘stressed the need of organisation as the one salvation of the colonial peoples’.  The range of support for the organisation was unprecedented and historic, given the ethnic divisions and hierarchical racial stratifications of British shipping encompassing not only black seamen but also Indians, Arabs and Chinese seamen – testament in part to the respect for Braithwaite’s tireless work and dedication.  The CSA demanded removal of ‘disabilities’ imposed on colonial seamen by 1935 Shipping Subsidy Act, which gave preference to white seamen, and also demanded that ‘the seamen of the British Empire be given full democratic rights – the right to trade union organisation, freedom of speech and assembly’.  This was a great advance on the 1920s, when there had been no solidarity articulated between the various colonial seamen, and there had been no demands particular to their conditions.   Initially the CSA concentrated its efforts on the effects of the Shipping Subsidy Act and by late 1937 the stringency of the application of the provisions of the Act were slackened, so some success could be recorded.

One CSA activist from early 1937 onwards, the West Indian Ras Makonnen, has perhaps left historians the most vivid description of the work of the CSA.  Makonnen described it as ‘a welfare and propaganda grouping’, and recalled that since ‘we did not want a separate black union’ for colonial seamen, part of CSA work involved trying to persuade West African seamen resident in Britain to join the NUS, despite all its appalling failings.   He remembers ‘Chris’s role…was to act as a mouthpiece if there was any injustice that needed taking up…he was looked on as a leader in the same way as some of the outstanding Irish dock leaders in New York’.

Braithwaite’s ‘class struggle Pan-Africanism’ found expression and flourished not simply in his leadership of the multiethnic CSA but in his key role as organising secretary for the new ‘International African Service Bureau for the Defence of Africans and People of African Descent’ (IASB), formed in May 1937. In solidarity with the heroic arc of labour revolts which swept the colonial British Caribbean – including his native Barbados – during the late 1930s, Braithwaite repeatedly again took to the podium of Trafalgar Square alongside the likes of James and Padmore. Ever since the turn to the ‘Popular Front’, Braithwaite together with James and Padmore also used to go to CPGB meetings to heckle and expose the Communists ‘pretensions at being revolutionists’ by raising awkward questions about British imperialism. As James remembered, they would speak about the struggles of French and British colonial subjects who now had been forgotten as Britain and France were declared grand ‘peace-loving democracies’ and bulwarks against fascism. ‘While I would ask a question, and Padmore might say a word or two, it was Chris Jones who made a hell of a row.’ ‘Chris would get himself into a temper and explode and make a revolution at the back of the hall…at the shortest notice, he could generate indignation at the crimes of imperialism and the betrayals of Stalinism as to shock into awed silence hundreds of British people in the audience’.

From the mid-1930s, Chris Braithwaite like Padmore worked closely with the socialist Independent Labour Party (ILP).   Both developed close links with ILP supporting intellectuals around it, such as the writers Reginald Reynolds and Ethel Mannin.   Critically, the IASB attempted to help ideologically arm, build solidarity with, and develop networks with the colonial liberation struggles across the African diaspora.  Braithwaite wrote a monthly column for the IASB journal, International African Opinion, entitled ‘Seamen’s Notes’, and organised the distribution of this illegal ‘seditious’ publication into colonial Africa through his network of radical seamen.  The contacts Braithwaite and others made in turn fed information and reports back to the IASB in London. Despite the poverty and hardships of Blitz-hit London, Braithwaite kept up his political work for African emancipation throughout the Second World War until his sudden death from pneumonia on 9 September 1944, just over a year before the historic Fifth Pan-African Congress in Manchester.

Padmore must have felt particularly moved by the passing of this older, dedicated militant who must have in many ways represented his very ideal of a black ‘organic intellectual’ of the international working class movement, and his obituary of his friend and comrade serves in many ways as a worthy tribute.  ‘His death is a great loss to the cause of the colonial peoples as well as International Socialism, the finest ideals and traditions of which he upheld to the very end…He never spared himself in rendering aid to the cause of the oppressed.  Many were the working-class battles and campaigns in which he gave his best…his memory will long remain as a symbol of the hopes and aspirations of his race’.

Hakim Adi, ‘The Negro Question: The Communist International and Black Liberation in the Interwar Years’, in Michael O. West, William G. Martin and Fanon Che Wilkins (eds), From Toussaint to Tupac: the black international since the age of revolution (Chapel Hill, University of North Carolina Press, 2009).

Barbara Bush, Imperialism, Race and Resistance; Africa and Britain, 1919-1945 (London, Routledge, 1999). 

Jonathan Derrick, Africa’s ‘Agitators’; militant anti-colonialism in Africa and the West, 1918-1939 (London, Hurst & Company, 2008).

Christian Høgsbjerg, ‘Mariner, renegade, castaway: Chris Braithwaite, seamen’s organiser and Pan-Africanist’, Race and Class (Vol. 53, No. 2, October 2011, forthcoming).

Ras Makonnen, Pan-Africanism From Within (London, Oxford University Press, 1973).

Ethel Mannin, Comrade O Comrade; or, low-down on the left (London, Jarrolds, 1947)

George Padmore, ‘Chris Jones: fighter for the oppressed’, New Leader, September 1944, online at ‘http://www.marxists.org/archive/padmore/1944/chris-jones.htm’.

Susan D. Pennybacker, From Scottsboro to Munich; race and political culture in 1930s Britain (Oxford, Princeton University Press, 2009)

Matthew Quest, ‘George Padmore’s and C.L.R. James’s International African Opinion’, in Fitzroy Baptiste and Rupert Lewis (eds.), George Padmore: Pan-African revolutionary (Kingston, Jamaica, Ian Randle, 2009)

Reginald Reynolds, My Life and Crimes (London, Jarrolds, 1956)

Marika Sherwood, ‘Lascar struggles against discrimination in Britain 1923-45: The work of N.J. Upadhyaya and Surat Alley’, The Mariner’s Mirror (Vol. 90, No. 4, November 2004).

Marika Sherwood, ‘The Comintern, the CPGB, colonies and black Britons, 1920-1938’, Science and Society (Vol. 60, No. 2, 1996).

Laura Tabili, “We Ask for British Justice”: workers and racial difference in late imperial Britain (London, Cornell University Press, 1994).

Diana Evans

DIANA EVANS (London, UK, 1972)

Patricia Bastida Rodríguez (Universitat de les Illes Balears)

The daughter of an English father and a Nigerian mother, Diana Evans grew up in a semi-detached house in northwest London with her parents and her five sisters, one of them her twin, though she also spent part of her childhood in Lagos, Nigeria. The fact of being a twin has endowed her with a special sensitivity to identity issues and twinship, a topic which is explored in some of her writings and particularly in her first novel. She studied Media Studies at the University of Sussex and for some time she was a dancer in the Brighton troupe Mashango. She soon became a journalist, contributing human-interest features and art criticism to different magazines, journals and newspapers in the UK such as Marie Claire, The Independent, The Observer, The Guardian, The Daily Telegraph, The Source, Pride Magazine, Time Out, Stage or Harper’s Bazaar. She has also published interviews to celebrities such as Maya Angelou and Mariah Carey and worked as an editor for Pride Maganize and the literary journal Calabash.
Evans received an MA in Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia and after that she focused on finishing her first novel, 26a (London, Chatto & Windus), which was finally published in 2005. This novel has a deeply autobiographical content as it explores in a fictional way her relationship with her twin sister, Paula, who committed suicide in 1998 and to whom the book is dedicated. 26a received wide critical acclaim – it has been translated into more than ten languages and is a popular book among reading groups– and won the Betty Trask Award as well as the inaugural Orange Award for New Writers. It was also nominated for The Guardian First Book Award and shortlisted for the Whitbread First Novel of the Year Award and the Commonwealth Best First Book.
The novel portrays the experiences of British-Nigerian twins Georgia and Bessie, who have created their own space in their room, the loft in their London house which they call “26a”. As they grow up, the family’s three-year stay in Nigeria brings about their consciousness of their separate identities when Georgia is sexually abused one night. Back in Britain, adolescence and early adulthood separates them even more and Georgia ends up with serious depression and obsessed with a Yoruba myth about a twin who dies and survives inside her sister. With a highly imaginative, engaging narrative full of magical elements and references to Nigerian folklore, the novel culminates in the sad ending of Georgia’s suicide and Bessie’s final goodbye to her after a period of having her sister inside her body. The exploration of dualities and twoness stands at the core of the book, as the author herself has stated in several interviews.
Evans’s second novel, The Wonder (London, Chatto & Windus, 2009), has a different nature, as it explores one of her vocations, the world of dancing – her profession for a period in her life – through a less autobiographical plot. Although this work did not have so much critical repercussion as her debut novel, it offers an interesting portrayal of London’s recent past and a reflection on the search for one’s roots embodied in young Lucas’s attempt to find information about his father, talented Jamaican dancer Antoney Matheus, who founded a famous dance company in the 1960s and later disappeared. Despite his sister’s opposition, Lucas finally reconstructs his father’s history with the help of an eccentric dance critic and a former dancer at the company, only to discover that Antoney ended up frustrated after a number of bad performances and in a Caribbean psychiatric hospital. As in 26a, Africa is present in The Wonder through the rhythms and dance steps of its folklore, which Antoney uses and experiments with in his choreographies. The vivid descriptions of the frequent dancing scenes included in the novel powerfully evoke the feelings and sensations felt by one who really knows what this vocation is about, a task Diana Evans carries out to perfection.
Apart from these two novels, Evans has also published short stories in several anthologies. Among them we can highlight “Journey Home”, which appeared in IC3: The Penguin Book of New Black Writing in Britain (London, Hamish Hamilton, 2000) and “The Beginning”, published in Kin. New Fiction by Black and Asian Women (London, Serpent’s Tail, 2003). She lives in London and devotes part of her time to teaching courses and workshops on journalism and creative writing. She stands today as one of the best-known emerging voices in diasporic writing in Britain and her contribution, despite her small literary output to date, has been praised for its originality in themes and the imaginative nature of her descriptions.

From 26a: pp. 3-4, 41-43, 208-209.

From The Wonder: pp. 3-5, 25-26, 123-125.

Official website: http://www.dianaommoevans.com
Evans, Diana 2005: “My Other Half. A Personal Essay on Twinness”. The Observer, 6 February 2005.
Evaristo, Bernardine 2005: “Bernardine Evaristo interviews Diana Evans”. Wasafiri, vol. 20, issue 45, pp. 31-35.

Erminia Dell’Oro

By  Silvia Camillotti

Erminia Dell’Oro was born in Asmara (Eritrea) in 1938; her grandfather had moved there in 1896 from Lecco (Lombardia), where he married and had children and nephews. When Erminia left Eritrea for the first time to go to Italy, she was twenty years old: she migrated to Milan where she is still living.
She says about this:
“Ero una migrante al contrario rispetto a mio nonno; non lasciavo certo la madrelingua, perchè ho studiato l’italiano e avevo la cittadinanza italiana, ma certamente lasciavo la mia terra”.
(Unlike my grandfather, I wasn’t leaving my mother tongue, because I had studied Italian and I had the Italian citizenship, but definitely I was leaving my homeland) (Lingue e letterature in movimento, 2007, 47).
She came to Italy to study, but she has always kept contact with Eritrea, a country she considers her homeland, where she goes back frequently to visit friends and relatives. Dell’Oro worked in Milan for fifteen years, from 1975 to 1990, in the Einaudi bookshop, an historical place where intellectuals and writers usually met and where writing became her passion.
Even though Dell’Oro attended Italian schools in Eritrea, the cosmopolitan environment in which she grew up taught her the positive value of encounter with different cultures: her mother was Hebrew, in her house Greeks, Arabs, Indians often met, going to church and to synagogue didn’t produce any kind of conflict in her:
“Questo crescere tra gente diversa di paesi diversi, questo sentire il muezzin e le campane della cattedrale, i salmi della sinagoga, come se tutto fosse il mio mondo naturale senza che me ne rendessi conto, perchè quella era la mia realtà e non ne conoscevo assolutamente altre, indubbiamente qualcosa mi ha lasciato, mi ha molto arricchito” (Lingue e letterature in movimento, 48-49).
(Growing up among different people from different countries, listening to the muezzin and the cathedral’s bells, the psalms of the synagogue: that was naturally my world, since that was my only reality and I didn’t know anything else; undoubtedly all this impressed something on me, it enriched me).
Even if she lived in a neighborhood for white people, Dell’oro has learned the respect for Eritreans who have become the main characters of her fiction. She started writing articles and reportages and worked as a journalist in the Horn of Africa and then also during the Eritrea-Ethiopia war in the Nineties. Her ties with Eritrea come out clearly in her writing. About the reasons that have driven her to write, she says in an interview:
“Anche quando ero giovane desideravo scrivere qualcosa di utile, qualcosa che avesse un senso. Arrivata in Italia mi ero accorta che quasi nessuno conosceva la storia delle colonie italiane in Africa. Era una fetta del nostro passato di cui nessuno sapeva o voleva sapere nulla. Le nostre colonie erano piccole, perse in fretta, popolate soprattutto da fascisti… non c’era letteratura su questo argomento” (El ghibli, on line).
(When I was young I wished to write something useful, something that made sense. In Italy I became aware that almost nobody knew the history of Italian colonies in Africa. It was a part of our past of which nobody knew anything or didn’t want to know. Our colonies were small, lost quickly, inhabited mostly by fascists… there was no literature on this topic).
Dell’Oro’s narrative includes subjects such as Italian colonialism, migration, double belonging, metisságe and Hebraism, most of them inspired by her autobiographical experience.
In Italy she was for years member of Eks&tra jury, which awards tales written by immigrants or their sons, such as Gabriella Ghermandi, Igiaba Scego and many others who have become popular in Italy. Another important activity in which Dell’Oro is involved concerns school: she often goes in schools to speak about Eritrea. It is no accident that her narrative production for children and young adults is wide. She believes in the importance of writing for young readers:
“É nell’infanzia e nell’adolescenza che ho vissuto esperienze decisive. E comunque popolare i romanzi di giovani e adolescenti è un modo per coinvolgere i loro coetanei, per trasmettere loro un messaggio, per raccontare loro una storia che non conoscono” (el ghibli, on line).
(I lived crucial experiences in my childhood and adolescence. Introducing young people in my novels helps the involvement of their peers, sends them a message, and tells them a story they don’t know).
To Dell’Oro, writing for young people represents a way to make them aware of Italian colonialism and its long-term effects.
The complete bibliography for children and young adult, which includes more than twenty books, is available on her web site.
Among this broad literary production for children, we would like to mention Dall’altra parte del mare, winner of many literary awards, in which Dell’Oro describes the dangerous boat journey from North-African coasts to Italy of a young girl, Elen, and her mother. With this tale Dell’Oro helps young readers to understand and become emphatic with the many migrants who go through the sea risking their life in order to achieve better life conditions. Dall’altra parte del mare, published in 2005 by Piemme, is an extremely relevant book since the phenomenon of boat people from Africa to Italy is increasing.
Her first book for adults, Asmara addio, came out in 1988 at a small publishing house in Pordenone, Studio Tesi. It was a success and was republished in the series Best Sellers Mondadori in 1993 and by Baldini&Castoldi in 1997. A review is available in El ghibli, a popular on line journal on migrant literature. Many scholars have paid attention to this novel, since it discusses a topic quite unusual in the Eighties and the Nineties: Italian colonialism. In Asmara addio the writer describes the story of Conti family and their living in the African country in the first part of the Twentieth century, during and after colonialism, which is depicted without rhetoric. This topic intertwines with another one, frequent in Dell’Oro’s narratives: Hebraism and the Jewish diaspora due to the fascist racial laws. It’s worth mentioning the essay by Daniele Comberiati, Una dispora infinita. L’ebraismo nella narrativa di Erminia Dell’Oro, in which he argues how the Jewish diaspora becomes the lens through which Dell’Oro explains the exile and the sense of displacement of her characters. This subject shows up also in Il fiore di merara, (Baldini&Castoldi 1994) which maintains the setting in the former Italian colony; instead, the novel La gola del diavolo (Feltrinelli 1999) doesn’t focus on diaspora but keeps the setting in the beloved Eritrea.
Among the many topics Dell’Oro’s narrative deals with, colonialism has been the one that has made her popular, but another innovative feature, steady in her writing, is the space to African people, the will to give them voice and to describe them in an anti-eurocentric way. She says:
“Ho sempre creduto fosse un dovere morale per chi ha la possibilità di scrivere non dimenticare queste donne, questi bambini e bambine “perdenti”, sconfitti dal destino ma tenaci, coraggiosi, eccezionali” (el ghibli, on line).
(I have always believed it was a moral duty for those who have the chance to write, not to forget these women, these losing children, won by fate but firm, brave, extraordinary).
Indeed, colonialism and its effect are at the centre of L’abbandono, (Einaudi 2006) inspired by a real story whose main character is a young girl, Marianna.
Marianna, born from an Eritrean mother and an Italian father, suffers from this condition since the Italian father hasn’t acknowledged her. Marianna wants to go to Italy to look for her father, to understand why he left his family, condemning them to a life of misery and pain. Marianna’s condition – the metisságe – was quite common in the colonies, where the children of African women were forgotten by their Italian fathers (who had often already a wife and a family in Italy). Sandra Ponzanesi, in Paradoxes of Postcolonial Culture and Daniele Comberiati in La quarta sponda pay attention to this point. The essays by Monica Venturini Toccare il futuro. Scritture postcoloniali femminili and the one by Derek Duncan, Italian Identity and the Risks of Contamination: the Legacies of Mussolini’s Demographic Impulse in the Work of Comisso, Flaiano and Dell’Oro centre on this matter, too. Indeed, a self-presentation by the author is present in Il colonialismo italiano in Eritrea. Riflessioni e letture.
The last novel, Vedere ogni notte le stelle, (Manni 2010) tells the story of an Italian family in Eritrea, in the last decades of the Twentieth century: the bond with this country is still strong in the main character, Milena, although she is living in Italy.
All these novels describe the experience of double belonging, the feeling of being part of Eritrea, despite the migration to Italy. It’s a condition that Dell’Oro has experienced personally and that shapes her writing:
“In Eritrea ero bianca ma mi sentivo a casa, in Italia tutti mi consideravano italiana perché ero come loro e parlavamo la stessa lingua ma io mi sentivo straniera” (el ghibli, on line).
(In Eritrea I was white but I felt at home, in Italy everyone considered me Italian because I looked like them and we spoke the same language but I felt an outsider).
The only text for adults that doesn’t have an African setting is Mamme al vento, (Baldini&Castoldi 1996) which shares with other narratives the point of view of a young girl.
The relevance of Dell’Oro’s narrative is prominent not only within the theoretical frame of migrant or postcolonial literature, but in Italian literature tout court, since it has unveiled an awkward matter as Italian colonialism has been for a long time, giving voice to African people without the usual racial hierarchies that consider them inferior, but, on the contrary, stressing the historical link between Italians and their African colony. Moreover, writing for children and considering them the characters of her writing help to promote a difficult subject among readers not used to it.

Comberiati Daniele, La quarta sponda. Scrittrici in viaggio dall’Africa coloniale all’Italia di oggi, edizioni Pigreco, Roma 2007
Id., Una dispora infinita. L’ebraismo nella narrativs di Erminia Dell’Oro, http://www.italianisticaultraiectina.org/publish/articles/000087/article.pdf
Dell’Oro Erminia, Il colonialismo italiano in Eritrea. Riflessioni e letture, in Camilotti S. (ed.) Lingue e letterature in movimento. Scrittrici emergenti nel panorama letterario italiano contemporaneo, Bup, Bologna, 2008, pp. 46-58
Duncan Derek, Italian Identity and the Risks of Contamination: the Legacies of Mussolini’s Demographic Impulse in the Work of Comisso, Flaiano and Dell’Oro in Duncan D. and Andall J., (eds) Italian colonialism: legacy and memory, Peter Lang, Bern, 2005, pp. 99-124
Ponzanesi Sandra, Paradoxes of Postcolonial Culture. Contemporary Women Writers of the Indian and Afro-Italian Diaspora, State University of New York Press, Albany, 2004.

Riccardi Irene Claudia, Intervista, in El ghibli, http://www.el-ghibli.provincia.bologna.it/index.php?id=2&issue=00_02&sezione=7

Venturini Monica, Toccare il futuro. Scritture postcoloniali femminili in Derobertis R., (ed.) Fuori centro. Percorsi postcoloniali nella letteratura italiana, Aracne, Roma, 2010, pp. 111-130




Galaxy is a Finland based band playing a mix of Senegalese mbalax (a local genre of pop music) and international pop music styles. The band was formed in 1992 by three Senegalese musicians residing in Finland: singer and saxophonist Rane Diallo, bassist Pape Sarr and tama drummer Yamar Thiam. They all had come to Finland as members of the band Asamaan that had been formed by Finnish rock guitarist Hasse Walli, consisting entirely of Senegalese musicians except for Walli himself. The first line-up of Galaxy included three Finnish musicians, but soon drummer Ousseynou Mbaye and guitarist Libasse Sall were invited from Senegal to join the band in Finland. All of the band members were well known musicians in the pop music scene of Dakar before their arrival in Finland.

In the early 1990’s Galaxy recorded three cassettes that were only released in Senegal. Their first CD Nobeel was published by Global Music Centre (a publicly funded institute) in 1997. It was well received and got high ratings e.g. in the British world music magazine Folk Roots. Especially in the late 1990’s Galaxy performed regularly in Helsinki, being at that time one of the very few bands playing African style pop music in Finland. The band has also toured widely in different jazz and world music festivals, mostly in the Nordic countries and Estonia. They have also performed, taught and presented Senegalese culture to children, after participating in a pilot project aiming to introduce multi-cultural music education into Finnish schools.

From the mid-1990’s Galaxy members have also been performing under the name Galaxy Drums or Senegalese Drums, playing only traditional sabar and tama drums. This percussion ensemble has been collaborating many well-known Finnish musicians and bands: In 1994/95 they toured together with jazz guitarist Raoul Björkenheim’s band as Krakatau & Senegal Drums. In 1998 they recorded an album and toured with jazz saxophonist Eero Koivistoinen. The collaboration with Eero Koivistoinen continued with Koivistoinen producing Galaxy’s second CD L’Insécurité. Galaxy members also featured as percussionists on the album Brooklyn – Dakar (1999) by Pelle Miljoona, a legendary Finnish punk rocker who nowadays plays reggae.

In August 2003 Galaxy Drums appeared as one of the guest stars in the “Global Balalaika Show” of the Leningrad Cowboys on the Senate Square in Helsinki. Leningrad Cowboys is a cartoonlike Finnish rock band created originally by film director Aki Kaurismäki for his film Leningrad Cowboys go America (1989). The other guests of “Global Balalaika Show” included e.g. the Red Army Air Force Ensemble from Russia, singer Angelique Kidjo from Benin and UMO Jazz Orchestra from Finland. This huge open-air concert was also released as CD and DVD later the same year.

Galaxy’s second CD L’Insécurité was published after a long recording process in 2003, and the next the band was chosen to perform in a Scandinavian showcase program in WOMEX (World Music Expo). In 2005 Galaxy was awarded the Finland Prize of the Finnish Ministry of Culture – the highest governmental prize in the field of art, given to a few artists each year as recognition for a significant artistic career. Despite the visibility of the band, Galaxy has been struggling for finding opportunities to perform. For years the biggest obstacle has been the lack of a capable manager. Also the band’s location in Finland has not been favorable when it comes to touring, especially compared to bands based in Central Europe.

Since 2004 Galaxy members have participated in the band/project Groovy Eldorado led by Alvar Gullichsen, who is better known as a painter. Groovy Eldorado is actually a performance art project for which a band with a very flexible line-up was created, playing funk and reggae with African influences.

In recent years, Galaxy has not been performing very often. They are planning a new CD, which will hopefully also increase the demand for concerts. One of their latest projects as a band has been a concert called “Sufi Music Night” together with the Finnish-Turkish band Nefes in 2008. Lately several Galaxy members have been involved in the project Hum’balax led by saxophonist Sakari Kukko, a world music pioneer and one of the first Finnish musicians to be influenced by Senegalese music. The principal idea of the project is to mix old Finnish dance music (humppa) with Senegalese mbalax, but it also includes a singer from the Philippines.

Galaxy has always been a characteristically Senegalese band, both in the style of music they play and for the origins of its members. On the other hand, the band has frequently collaborated with other bands and musicians playing a diversity of musical styles. All band members have their own individual projects and collaborations; some are also working in other fields alongside of music making.

Pape Sarr (born in Dakar, Senegal, 1958) is the leader of Galaxy and responsible for many of the compositions in the band’s repertoire. Besides playing in Galaxy and other bands, he has been active in teaching Senegalese drumming to children and adults, e.g. in the Central Helsinki Music School and in courses offered by the multicultural art centre Kassandra. He has been involved in the activities of Kassandra in other ways as well, most importantly creating and performing music for theatre pieces such as Zambesi (2008–2009) and Antigone (2011).

Yamar Thiam (born in Malla, Senegal, 1962) comes from a family of tama (‘talking drum’) players and thus was practically born a musician. For Galaxy he has created pieces that present the rhythmic complexity of traditional Senegalese music in a form that is appealing also to a Western pop music audience. Apart from Galaxy, he is also a member in a band called Lyyran tähtikuvio ja Vega, a folk music band that interprets Finnish poetry with their own compositions. In addition to several Finnish musicians and bands, he has been collaborating for years with the Turkish virtuoso percussionist Okay Temiz, who also lived in Finland in the 1990’s. The city of Alajärvi, where Thiam lives, awarded him its annual cultural prize in 2006.

Rane Diallo (born in Rufisque, Senegal, 1951) is still famous in Senegal because of his participation in the band Étoile de Dakar, which is widely considered to be the band that created the style of music that later became known as mbalax. In Galaxy he is responsible for the song lyrics, singing mostly in Wolof (the majority language in Senegal).

Libasse Sall (born in Dakar, Senegal, 1965) is together with Pape Sarr the main composer and arranger for Galaxy. He has also featured as guitarist and bass player in other bands, such as the internationally successful pop/rock/rap project Beats and Styles lead by Finnish DJ’s Alimo and Control. He also appeared in a recent line-up of Arnold Chiwalala & co.

Ousseynou Mbaye (born in Dakar, Senegal, 1970) has been active in several multicultural music groups, such as Stilimba and Amura. Stilimba plays an original mix of West African and South American styles of music with lyrics in various languages. Amura brings together musicians of different origins to play together Finnish children’s and folk songs in new arrangements. The band was initiated by the Global Music Centre and the Music for Young People Association, and it was invited to perform at the 2008 children’s party in the Presidential Palace, a yearly event initiated by President Tarja Halonen.

In addition to the core group of the above mentioned five Galaxy members, the line-up has over the years included other Finland based Senegalese musicians, such as percussionist Ismaila Sané, singer Meissa Niang, kora player and percussionist Malang Cissokho, and bass/keyboard player Ndioba Gueye. There has however been continuous although limited participation by musicians of other origins, mostly from Finland but also from elsewhere. For several years the keyboard player of Galaxy was Goran Mrdja, from former Yugoslavia, who has lately often been replaced by Ghanaian Kofi Ata. In addition such changes in the band’s regular line-up, Galaxy has often invited guest musicians to join them on stage in their concerts.

Galaxy: Nobeel (1997), Global Music Centre. GMCD 9705.

Galaxy: L’Insécurité (2003), Global Music Centre. GMCD 0308.

Participation of band members e.g. in:

Eero Koivistoinen: Eero Koivistoinen & Senegalese Drums (1998), EK-Production. PROCD 009.

Leningrad Cowboys: Global Balalaika Show (2003), Leningrad Cowboys. LC 001.

Pelle Miljoona & Rockers: Brooklyn – Dakar (1999), Pyramid. RAMCD 3104.

Hasse Walli & Asamaan: Modern Mbalax (1989), Olarin Musiikki. OMLP 21.

Hasse Walli & Asamaan: African Sky (1990), Olarin Musiikki. OMCD 29.

Stilimba: Dale Stilimba (2006), Global Music Centre. GMCD 0613.

Sakari Kukko & Humbalax: Paratiisi (2011), RockAdillo. ZENCD 2139.


Garane Garane

Contributor: Stefano Zangrando

Garane Garane was born in Somalia, a descendant of a royal dynasty. He attended school in Mogadishu and then moved to Italy, where he studies Political Science at the university of Florence. He obtained a PhD in Italian Literature at the university of Grenoble, where he also completed a degree in French Literature. He currently teaches at the department of Social Science at Allen University in South Carolina, and he is refugee state coordinator for the Refugee Resettlement Program of South Carolina.
The only novel written by Garane (in Italian) is Il Latte è buono (Milk is good), published in 2005, which literary critic Armando Gnisci defined it “the first Italian postcolonial novel”. In fact, seen from a postcolonial perspective, the work presents a number of recurrent features of this textual constellation: the peculiar structuring of a family saga, the unifying function of a parental figure, the use of orality on the linguistic and thematic level, and a fusion of fantasy and realism tending, as Silvia Albertazzi observes, “to reconcile the myth with the story, (…) the magical reality of the postcolonial imaginary with the horrors of the historical record”. Equally characteristic of this novel is, on the other hand, the mixture of “linguistic hybridization” and “wandering and exile at thematic level” in which Albertazzi sees a commonality between postcolonial literatures and “the founding texts of Western cultures”.
The novel is divided into four chapters. The first chapter, entitled “Birth of a Queen”, is set in a village of Azania, in the region of the Horn of Africa between Somalia, eastern Ethiopia and north-west Kenya, dominated by the clan of Ajuran, founders of the Gareen dynasty. It is an unspecified time in the 18th century, western “History” has not yet landed on the shores of Africa in the form of imperialism, and the future queen Shaklan is about to be born, the woman who will give birth to the father of the protagonist of the novel. In this chapter, the tribal society of pre-colonial Somalia, centred on orality, is depicted in such a legendary way as to recover a pre-modern register and chronotope, and this makes me think of the past “distanced, completed and closed as a circle” in which, according to Mikhail Bakhtin, epic and all classical literature cast their narratives.
The second chapter, “Mogadishu the boring”, is set in the Somalian capital (first under the Italian domination and then unified), and functions as connection between the three generations of Gareen embodied by the main characters and their respective times. Kenadit, Shaklan’s son and future member of the Somali leadership (first mayor of Mogadishu, then, after the coup of 1969, lawyer and minister of public transport and aviation), belongs to the middle generation that experiences firsthand the colonial transformation of the country, its “modernization” and the consequent cultural costs. From this moment on, the narrative alternates scenes and oral refrains with digressions from the historiographic register, designed to elucidate the historical events leading to Kenadit’s involvement in Siyaad Barre’s dictatorship and to the departure of his son’s Gashan to Italy. It is at this point that the colonized identity of the last of the Gareen manifests itself, as autobiographic projection of the author.
For Gashan, the problem is that his “artificial” identity inhibits any of the national or cultural affiliation, making him feel Italian among Somalis and then stranger in Italy among those whom he believed to be “his fellow men”. The interest of the third chapter, entitled “Exile”, lies on the one hand in the initiatory nature of the experience abroad (so that Gashan’s wanderings across Italy, France and the US come to be a path of complex individual maturation) and on the other hand in the critical look cast on the world and on the customs of colonizers and colonized, and on various aspects of the same postcolonial culture that is a prerequisite for that.
The double disorientation (towards himself and the contexts encountered) experienced by Gashan in his wanderings merges then with the political and social “disaster” described in the las chapter of the novel, entitled “The return, the monologue and death” and set in the Somalia plagued by civil war. In the desolate horizon of historical tragedy, the last descendant of the Gareen has a unique destiny, worthy not only of the heir of a royal family which has its glorious roots in the “pre-historical” history of Somalia, but also of the one whose identity has been forged in the multiple experience of colonization, exile and maturation.
Overall, Garane’s novel expresses the orality of his culture of origin on many levels, producing a specific dialogism of the narrative: on the one hand, in the introduction of Somali terms (plurilingualism) and, on the other, in a stylistic register marked by orality. In an interview, the author explains the motivations of this reproduction of the oral mode: “The structure is traditional, Italian-Somali (…) The Somali nomads used to tell this long story that lasted for pages and pages. When I started to write, I could not stop until I finished the story. The Somalis are known for the art of speaking; this is part of that art.”

Gloria Wekker


Contributor: Betta Pesole

Gloria Wekker is a contemporary Afro-Dutch feminist intellectual and a social and cultural anthropologist (MA: UVA 1981, PHD: UCLA 1992), specialized in Gender Studies, Sexuality Studies, African American Studies and Caribbean Studies. Her complex and pioneering thinking originates from the necessity of fostering tools and instruments of vision to understand facts and discourse concerning women’s lives in the Black Diaspora, as well as the multiethnic Dutch society as it has resulted from decolonization.

Well known as one of the foremost advocate of intersectional thinking in the Dutch academia, Wekker belongs to those activists who, from the late seventies onwards, have been connecting feminism with antiracism contributing to the development of an antiracist queer standpoint in the Netherlands. The  history of such a movement  is best described in her book  CaleidoscopischeVisies, Zwarte, migranten- en vluchtenlingenvrouwenbeweging in Nederland (Caleidoscopic Views. The Black, migrant and refugee women’s movement in the Netherlands, 2001) where she presents intersectionality as the intellectual output of Black, Migrant and Refugee women raising the issue of the simultaneous discrimination and exclusion on the basis of gender and ethnicity.

With a view to formulating policy in ways that could account for the complexity and variety of Black, Migrant and Refugee people in The Netherlands, Gloria Wekker has served on many governmental and social advisory boards. Over the years she has worked for the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Culture on Ethnic Minorities’ Affairs and the Ministry of Social Affairs and Employment. In 1987, as Policy Associate at the Office for the Coordination of Ethnic Minorities’ Affairs of Amsterdam, she wrote the Anti-Racism Policy Paper of the city.

Wekker’s intellectual production, both as Scholar as well as Governmental Advisor, has shed light on the epistemological foundation of academic knowledge and public discourse with the aim of integrating gender and ethnicity perspectives in them. Programmatically titled Building nest in a windy place, her inaugural address as the Aletta (IIAV)-chair on Gender and Ethnicity at the Faculty of the Humanities of UU dwells on the issue of power and knowledge production:

Even though the terms have changed and the analytical instruments have become more complex, issues of (in) visibility, issues about who has the power to let his/her voice be heard, which knowledge in the academy and in society as a whole is dominant and which is oppressed, which questions are deemed worthy enough to be studied and which are not, have occupied my mind for some decades now. These are epistemological issues and in order to understand science as social production, as not neutral and innocent but linked to power, it is useful to first look at the genealogy of Western science and to the emergence and formation of notions of sexual and racial difference. The question why certain forms of knowledge gain power and credibility and are highly influential, while others are not, fascinates me.

As Professor of Gender and Ethnicity at the Faculty of Utrecht, Wekker has worked  on formulating concrete tools to achieve greater diversity in institutions of higher education through the revision of Dutch curricula. Worthy of notice are her  publications on the importance of diversity in the University, such as the report “Network On Ethnicity And Women Scientists” written with Dr. Cassandra Ellerbe-Dueck. The report investigates the situation of Dutch female academics taking into account differences amongst the female academic population in terms of ‘race’, ethnicity and their intersections. However, Wekker’s considerations on higher education and curricula are best reflected in the article Still  crazy after all those years,  feminism  for the new millennium  where she argues for passing on a particular brand of feminism to next generations:

The cultural archive (after Said) to be passed on should be transnational, intersectional, interdisciplinary, relational and reflexive. […]we need a European brand of feminism that is not complicit with the legacies of modernity, which continue to construct  ‘race’.

For these reasons, as Director of GEM - expertise centre on gender and ethnicity- at Utrecht University and member of ATHENA - advanced thematic network in European Women’s Studies-, Gloria Wekker has fostered the foundation of a Standing European Working Group Black Athena with the aim to establish a firm platform for activities on gender and ethnicity, as well as a ‘prototype’ module on MA level on intersectional theory in a European perspective.


In 2007, Gloria Wekker broke ground in Gender and Sexuality Studies with the publication of her book The Politics of Passion; Women’s sexual Culture in the Afro-Surinamese Diaspora (Cup 2006), which was awarded the Ruth Benedict Prize of American Anthropological Association. The book stems out of Wekker’s 25 year-dedication to the study of Mati Work in Suriname and it is a follow-up of Wekker’s PhD dissertation (1992) I Am Gold Money (I Pass Through All Hands, But I Do Not Lose My Value): The Construction of Selves, Gender and Sexualities in a Female, Working-class, Afro- Surinamese Setting at UCLA under the Supervision of Claudia Mitchell Kernan. In The Politics of Passion, Gloria Wekker lays out a number of challenges and provocation to the emerging global gay culture by offering an account of same gender sexualities of Caribbean women, who do not identify with western conceptual frameworks of lesbianism and create families from relationships that are not limited to blood ties, or to a choice between heterosexuality or homosexuality.


In 2011, Gloria Wekker has been granted with a one-year sabbatical fellowship at NIAS (Netherlands Institute for Advanced Studies) to work on her next book Innocence Unlimited. ‘Race’, Gender and Sexuality in the Dutch Cultural Archive. A preview of her current work was offered by her 2009 George Mosse lecture titled “Of Homo Nostalgia and Better Times. Homosexuality and Postcoloniality”. Here, Wekker offers an intersectional analyses of the contemporary Dutch cultural archive, focusing on public discourses and policies which construct the promotion of gender rights and multiculturalism in the Netherlands as conflicting. Wekker exemplifies how such an orientalist and homonationalist standpoint associate the West with sexual freedom, depicting tout court Islam as a culture that is oppressive of sexual freedom. According to Wekker, such a discourse is based on a widespread ‘nostalgia’ for a supposed idyllic time: a nostalgia that takes on the specific form of a longing for the days “when there were no Muslims and women’s and gay emancipation was achieved”. To this, Wekker’s contribution consist in highlighting how migrant sexualities should be understood through modes of ‘doing’ rather than modes of ‘speaking’, reminding that there are diverse ways in which sexualities might be lived or inhabited. Thus, Wekker provides gender and sexuality studies with a helpful framework to avoid the reproduction of the hegemonic western static nature of sexual identity and to understand migrant queer sexualities outside of Dutch nationalist dynamics.


Brought up and socialized in Amsterdam of the 70s and 80s, Wekker has early been active in the Afro-European Women’s Movement. In 1984, she was a founding member of Sister Outsider: a black lesbian women’s literary circle based in Amsterdam and named after the essential writings of the black lesbian poet and feminist writer Audre Lorde. For her intellectual production as well as for her year-long activism, Wekker has received nominations for several social prizes on the basis of what she means to the communities of gays/ lesbians/ Surinamese people as well as to migrant women in the Netherlands. The latest of these are the 2010 Nomination for the “RozeLieverdje/Pink Sweetheart Award” by the Green Left Party in Amsterdam and the 2004  Nomination for the “Triomfprijs/Triumph prize”, awarded by NOW-the Dutch Scientific Research Council, for her contribution to the empowerment and the turning of strength and quality of black, migrant and refugee women into influence, control and power.


Along with her numerous academic publication, Gloria Wekker, who also is on the editorial board of several international journals in the fields of Queer and Feminist Studies and the Social Sciences, has written and published poetry and prose.

Helen Oyeyemi

HELEN OYEYEMI (Nigeria, 1984)

By Patricia Bastida Rodríguez (Universitat de les Illes Balears)

Helen Olajumoke Oyeyemi was born in Nigeria in 1984 but was raised in a council state in London, UK, after moving there with her parents when she was four years old. She was a very lonely child and as a teenager she was diagnosed with depression and had to visit several psychologists. Oyeyemi is a very precocious writer: she wrote her first novel, The Icarus Girl (London, Bloomsbury), in seven months, while she was studying for her A-level exams at a south London comprehensive school. She sent the first pages of her manuscript to literary agent Robin Wade, who soon contacted her and offered her a deal with Bloomsbury for a high amount of money. The Icarus Girl was finally published in 2005 to wide critical acclaim while she was studying Social and Political Sciences at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge. It deals with the experiences of eight-year-old Jessamy, the daughter of an English father and a Nigerian mother living in present-day London, who goes into difficulties because of her identity conflicts and her friendship with a mysterious girl she meets while on holiday in Nigeria. Combining elements from primitive Yoruba folklore, contemporary Western culture and the Gothic genre, it is a partly autobiographical, hard-to-classify novel which has even been perceived by some critics as a teenage narrative due to the presence of supernatural motifs and childhood anguish.

While at university Oyeyemi also wrote drama, in particular two plays which were performed by fellow students and later published as a result of their critical success. Their titles are Juniper’s Whitening and Victimese (London, Methuen, 2005) and in them she focuses again on complex relationships and unsettled states of mind. Oyeyemi graduated from Cambridge University in 2006 and travelled to Kenya for some time to do voluntary work for the UK charity CAFOD, helping in a project to prevent forced abortions in married women from a desert community.

In 2007 she published her second novel, The Opposite House (London, Bloomsbury), conceived during a stay in Florence before her final exams and shortlisted for the 2008 Hurston/Wright Legacy Award. This novel explores the diasporic experience through two characters: pregnant Cuban singer Maja, living in London but with deep conflicts linked to her memories of Cuba and, in a parallel reality, Yemaya Samaragua, a santera woman in the Afro-Cuban tradition whose house has doors opening to London and to Lagos as a symbol of the syncretism in her life. With strong influences from Emily Dickinson’s poetry – the novel owes its title to one of her verses –, The Opposite House engages the reader in a reflection on cultural and linguistic displacement which is full of allusions to Cuban folklore and Yoruba culture.

After finishing university Oyeyemi chose to lead a somewhat bohemian lifestyle, spending periods in different places: New York, Paris, and more recently, Prague and Berlin. In 2009 she published her third novel, White is for Witching (London, Picador), which received the Somerset Maugham Award in 2010 and was a finalist for the Shirley Jackson Award. In it Oyeyemi returns to troubled states of mind and the Gothic tradition to depict a haunted house in Dover, UK, and the family living in it: the twins Miranda and Eliot and their father Luc, after their mother’s death years before. Since moving into the house, Cambridge undergraduate Miranda goes through a period of depression and madness which includes visions of her dead mother and she finally disappears to the bewilderment of her brother and her Nigerian friend Ore, the only one to realise the house and her maternal lineage have something to do with it. Through a polyphony of voices which include the house itself, the reader gets to know what happened to Miranda in a mournful, cryptic narrative full of ghostly elements which evokes Edgar Allan Poe’s fiction.

In the same year White is for Witching was published, Oyeyemi was included in the “25 under 25” list in the women’s magazine Venus Zine, which highlights the early achievements of young women in culture, fashion, sport, media and the arts. Oyeyemi has also written short stories, among which we can mention “My Daughter the Racist”, which was shortlisted by the BBC National Short Story Award in 2010. Oyeyemi, aged 25 then, was in fact the youngest novelist to have been nominated for the prize. The story portrays the plight of a mother who is ready to do anything to protect her outspoken, free-thinking eight-year-old daughter from any harm in the context of a country occupied by foreign troops.

Oyeyemi’s most recent novel is Mr Fox (London, Picador), published in 2011. In it she breaks with her previous thematic concerns to offer a complex rewriting of the Bluebeard myth, set in the 1930s and with a male writer as its protagonist. American novelist St John Fox forms a love triangle with his compliant wife, Daphne Fox, and his perfect, imaginary muse, Mary Foxe, who is tired of his killing all his female protagonist and proposes a number of playful stories – one of them the aforementioned “My Daughter the Racist” – exploring misogyny, love and marriage in life and fairy tale. Mr Fox has been seen as Oyeyemi’s best, most mature novel so far, which combines deep reflection on inspiration and gender relations and a sinister, dark side in some of the stories. The influence of Poe and Dickinson is clear again in this novel, as in her previous narratives. Despite her outstanding achievement at such a young age, it is significant that Helen Oyeyemi still defines herself more as a reader than as a writer, with favourite authors ranging from Dorothy Parker, Pablo Neruda or Zbigniew Herbert to Agatha Christie, Jesse Ball or Camille Laurens, apart from the ones already mentioned.

From The Icarus Girl:  pp. 3-4, 171-172.

From The Opposite House:  pp. 1-3, 97-99.

From White is For Witching:  pp. 1-3, 25-27.

From Mr Fox:  pp. 50-52, 101-102.

Forna, Aminatta 2006: “New Writing and Nigeria: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Helen Oyeyemi”. Wasafiri no. 47, 2006, 50-57.

Masters, Alexandra 2010: “Helen Oyeyemi. Free Spirit”. In The Magazine for Readers and Reading Groups. In http://www.newbooksmag.com/left-menu/authors/helen-oyeyemi-big-interview.php

Igiaba Scego

(Daniela Brogi)


By now an established writer, Igiaba Scego is the author of short stories and novels as well as being one of the most active intellectuals in the field of “transculturalism”, especially with regard to the cultural and civil issues related to African migration. She lives in Rome where she was born in 1974 to Somali parents who had emigrated to Italy following Siad Barre’s 1969 coup d’état (her father had been Foreign Minister). Raised in Italy in a primarily racist environment, Scego learned about her family’s country of origin through accounts and stories told in the home. The multiple identity that was cultivated by the fables, memories and traditions of her mother tongue was also formed through Scego’s daily experiences with her “other” mother tongue, Italian. Scego confronts this reality in her 2010 book (perhaps her best), La mia casa è dove sono [My Home is Where I Am] (Rizzoli, Milano. 2011 Mondello Award).

After a degree in modern foreign languages and literatures, Igiaba Scego completed her Ph.D. in 2008. Since 2005, she has edited a series of radio programs and authored columns in some of Italy’s most notable newspapers and magazines (“Repubblica”, “l’Unità”, “Internazionale”, “Nigrizia”, etc.). Her current position is in part thanks to the plaudits and interest generated by her first two publications, both novels: La nomade che amava Alfred Hitchcock [The Nomad Who Loved Alfred Hitchcock] (2003: a story inspired by Scego’s mother, who had been a nomad before settling in Mogadishu); and  Rhoda (Sinnos, Roma. 2004). Notoriety came following the publication of two short stories, Salsicce [Sausages] (2003 Eks&Tra Prize for migrant writers) and Dismatria, published in Pecore nere [Black Sheep], an anthology edited by Flavia Capitani and Emanuele Coen (Laterza, Bari-Roma, 2005, with texts by Gabriela Kuruvilla, Ingy Mubiayi, Igiaba Scego and Layla Wadia). Both stories are what we might call “socially conscious” in that they address themes of cultural and juridical discrimination on the part of the Italian state toward Arab and African immigrants. In Salsicce, for example, Scego opts for an ironic and paradoxical tone as she tells of the anger that a Muslim Italo-Somali girl feels as she attempts to force herself into betraying her religion’s rules on not eating pork, all in an effort to feel “less different”.

Scego’s opus refers to her own life experiences (“At home I lived the Somali culture and the Islamic faith, I spoke Somali, I ate Somali food. But outside I came in contact with the Italian reality, with school, television, friends. This division was part of my life and it is clear that this experience then passed over into my writing.” Interview published in “El Ghibli”, the most noted online Italian journal for migrant literature, http://www.el-ghibli.provincia.bologna.it/index.php.) That notwithstanding, autobiography is never left to its own means; rather, it continuously encourages both the author and her readers to confront a more collective, and often political, reality. In this way, Scego’s creative writing fuses with reporting, investigation and other less literary events that mirror contemporary public interest. In 2005, Scego edited the anthology Italiani per vocazione [Italians by Vocation] (Cadmo, with stories by J. C. Alves, S. Annecchiarico, K. Komla-Ebri, M. Alatas, I. M. Kakese, U. C. Ali Farah, J. C. Calderón, B. Hirst, Y. Wakkas, J. Mabiala Gangbo, B. Serdakowski). In 2007, she and Ingy Mubiayi co-edited a collection of interviews, Quando nasci è una roulette. Giovani figli di migranti si raccontano [When You’re Born It’s a Crap Shoot. Young Children of Migrants Tell their Stories], a collection of stories by seven young people of African origin who were born in Rome (or moved there as young children). Their stories revolve around school, relationships with family and friends, religion, racism, and the desires and frustrations of a generation at a crossroads; more than just cultural differences, they also confront the contradictory feelings that put one’s sense of self to the test, including acceptance and dismissal, love and anger.

Scego’s Oltre Babilonia [Beyond Babylon] (Donzelli, Rome) was published in 2005 and centres on the reconstruction of identity through the relationship with the mother tongue, with the past, and with divisions. These same relationships form the heart of the novel’s organizational structure, as well. The text is constructed on a precise frame, with a prologue and epilogue (guided by one of the characters, Zuhra Laamane, the “Negropolitana”, who lives in Rome and decides to write her story in a series of notebooks). The prologue and epilogue frame eight narrative blocks. Within each of these there are five alternating stories (following the same order each time) that take their titles from the nicknames of the respective characters: the Nus-Nus, Somali for “half and half”; the Negropolitana; the Reaparecida; the Pessottimista; and the father (the only character whose name is not capitalized). As the writing and reading gradually proceed, the characters encounter one another and their respective stories begin to intersect. Matters complicate as a result. The Nus-Nus is Mar, a young woman with an Argentine mother (Miranda, the Reaparecida) and a Somali father. She is black and lives in Rome, like the Negropolitana. The two women will not meet in the city where they both live, but at a language school in Tunis where the most diverse languages congregate. In this conglomeration of ethnicities, destinies, words and even colours, we also have the secret stories from the pasts and homelands of Mar and Zuhra—Buenos Aires and Mogadishu, respectively—thanks to their mothers, Miranda and Maryam, who reveal the secrets in the telling of their own stories. We might even say that they ‘give birth’ to their own pasts like memories to pass down to their daughters. Along with these four voices, we have that of Elias, Mar and Zuhra’s father, who is doubly foreign as his two daughters do not know they are sisters.

Excerpt from La mia casa è dove sono [My Home is Where I Am], Rizzoli, Milano 2010. [Translation by Alexandra Lawrence].

The drawing, or neverland
Sheeko sheeko sheeko xariir…

Story story, oh story of silk…

That’s how all Somali fairy tales start. All of the ones that my mother told me when I was a little girl. Splatter fairy tales more or less. Tarantino-style fairy tales of a nomad world that had nothing to do with lace and crinoline. Fairy tales that were harder than a cedar chest. Hyenas with sticky drool, eviscerated babies that got pieced back together, the cunningness of survival. In my mother’s fairy tales, there were no princesses, no castles, dances or delicate shoes. Her stories reflected the world that she was born into, the woods of eastern Somalia where men and women moved constantly in search of water wells. “We carried our houses on our backs,” she used to tell me. And if it wasn’t actually on their backs, it almost was. Man’s best friend, the noble dromedary, often carried it in their place.

It was a hard life for mama Kadija until the age of nine. She was a good shepherd even as a child. She milked goats and cows, looked after the camels, cooked rice with meat and didn’t ever complain about the calluses on her feet that came every time her family moved. The stories were the best way to not think about the difficulties of real life.  Those dangerous and possessed ginni, those ferocious blood-hungry beasts, those heroes with magnificent talents all served as a reminder that life was not a gift and that it needed to be preserved every single day with a healthy dose of will. As my grandfather—Mr. Jama Hussein, my mother’s father whom I never met—used to say, “Because the only thing that make us truly free is will.”

When mum would tell me her stories, I, who was born and raised in Rome, used to shake like a leaf. But I didn’t run away because I always wanted to see what happened at the end. To see the bad guy punished and the good guy on the throne. It was a Manichean world that reassured me. A cruel but clear world. And like any self-respecting kid, I was a bit sadistic.

No, don’t think badly of me now. I am a sweet and sensitive woman, I am honey and ginger, I am cinnamon and cardamom. I am sugar cane. I know that the words I just said make me look like a dhiimiirad, a drinker of human blood. But in fairy tales one must choose a system of life and death. It connects us to the ancestral world of our forefathers.

When I came across Snow White for the first time in a middle school anthology I realized that Europe and Africa have a lot in common. In the original Grimm Brothers’ version the ending is quite different from the one most people know: The evil stepmother is invited to the wedding banquet. And it is at the wedding that the wicked queen pays for her evil deeds. “Two iron slippers were already on the coals: when they began to glow they were brought to her and she was made to put on the burning shoes and dance until her feet burned up and she dropped down dead.” Justice was done! Queen Grimhilde to the stake! To the stake!

Grimhilde was like the determined man-eater Aarawelo Wil Wal who seemed right out of an Andersen story. Our fairy tales are more similar than you think. And maybe we are, too. Rome and Mogadishu, my two cities, are like Siamese twins separated at birth. One includes the other and vice versa. At least that’s how it is in my sense of the universe. […]

Ignatius Fortuna

Fortuna, Ignatius (unknown-1789)

Contributor: Heike Raphael-Hernandez
Contributor Heike Raphael-Hernandez
(First published in Encyclopedia of Blacks in European history and culture (2008) Ed. Eric Marlone, ABC-CLIO Inc. Re-published here with permission of ABC-CLIO Inc.)

Ignatius Fortuna was a black servant in Germany to Franziska Christina von Pfalz-Sulzbach, the lady abbess of a convent in Essen that was home to unmarried noble women. While it was a widespread practice in eighteenth-century noble homes to have a black servant for representational reasons, Ignatius Fortuna differed from other black servants of his time. During his life, he gained social status and wealth and was buried in the orphanage’s church of the city of Steele.

It is unknown where and when Fortuna was born, yet when he was given as a present to the abbess in 1735, it was assumed that he was about five to seven years old. Franz Adam Schiffer, a businessman of the city of Essen, had brought him back from a trip to South America. On October 12, 1737, Fortuna was baptized Ignatius Christianus Fredericus.

During his first years in service, his duties seemed to have been comparable to that of other black servants such as carrying the trail of noble robes and serving tea to guests. In later years, he seemed to have been responsible also for musical entertainment because his estate listed several instruments.

Already during her life, the abbess granted him unusual privileges. She gave him a heated and furnished room of his own on her private floor. Only a few other people – her personal confessor, her personal secretary, and her two chamber maids – enjoyed the same residential privilege. All other servants shared unheated quarters far away from the abbess’s private rooms. In her last will, she gave him the lifelong privilege of free room and board in the orphanage of Steele, which she had founded several years before. In addition, he received a golden watch, a fur coat, a substantial amount of cash and the guarantee that all his medical bills would be paid by the orphanage.  After the death of the abbess in 1776, Fortuna became the servant of her successor, the Polish princess Maria Kunigunde von Sachsen.

When he died on November 24, 1789, he was a well-respected citizen of the city of Steele, known as “Herr Ignaz” (Mr. Ignaz). He left a fortune that was substantial enough to cause a battle over his estate. Several children of Schiffer argued that since their father had brought Fortuna to Germany, they should be considered half-siblings to Fortuna; the orphanage, however, claimed that because of Fortuna’s free room, board, and medical bills, the orphanage would be the only legal heir.

Even the site of his grave serves as a sign of his privileged position in life. Originally, the abbess had stated in her last will that he should be buried next to her in the orphanage’s church’s crypt. Since this was a place reserved for the clergy, the abbess’s wish was only partly observed by burying him in the bell tower of the church.

One can see Fortuna in a painting of 1772 where he is holding the trail of the abbess’s robe (see this website).

Frauenstift Essen http://www.kirchevorort.de/beftp/div/frauenstift/geschichten/ignatius.htm

Küppers-Braun, Ute. “Kammermohren: Ignatius Fortuna am Essener Hof und andere farbige        Hofdiener.” Das Münster am Hellweg 54 (2001) 17 – 50.

Ingy Mubiayi Kakese

Ingy Mubiayi Kakese (Cairo, Egypt, 1972)

Ingy Mubiay Kakese was born in Cairo in 1972. Her father was Congolese and her mother Egyptian. She arrived in Italy in 1977, where she attended a French school and later an Italian one. She graduated from La Sapienza with a degree in History of Islamic Culture and she established in Rome. In 2000 she opened a bookshop called Modus Legendi in Primavalle (Camilotti 3), a marginal district of Rome, where she is giving great importance to migration and intercultural literature. Mubiayi has written for the Internazionale; furthermore, she has worked as a translator and participated in several projects in many schools. Mubiayi wrote seven short stories: ‘Documenti, prego’, which won the Eks&Tra competition in 2004 and was published in La seconda pelle (Rimini: Eks&Tra, 2004); in 2005 it was republished in the anthology Pecore nere (Roma, Bari: Editori Laterza, 2005), together with the short story ‘Concorso’; in the year 2005 ‘Fiori e scarafaggi’ was published in the journal Nuovi argomenti (Milano: Mondadori, 2005) and, in the same year, ‘La Famiglia’ in the anthology Italiani per vocazione (Fiesole: Cadmo, 2005). In the year 2005 appeared also ‘L’incontro’ in the on line journal El Ghibli and ‘Rimorso’ in the anthology Allattati dalla lupa (Roma: Sinnos, 2005) edited by Armando Gnisci. Furthermore, she wrote the short story ‘Nascita’, published in Amori bicolori in 2008 (Roma: Editori Laterza, 2008). She edited together with Igiaba Scego Quando nasci è una roulette, giovani figli di migranti si raccontano (Milano: Terre di mezzo, 2007), an anthology of stories about eight boys and girls of second generation published in the year 2007 (Camilotti 3-4). She wrote the essay ‘Uno sguardo al “contrario”: l’ironia come strategia letteraria’ in the antholgy edited by Silvia Camilotti: Lingue e letterature in movimento: scrittrici emergenti nel panorama letterario contemporaneo, published in 2008 (Bologna: Bononia Univeristy Press, 2008).

In her short stories Ingy Mubiayi tells about the hybrid identity of second generation migrants, who often live between two or more cultures, thus becoming ‘equilibristi dell’essere’ (equilibrists of being) (Scego, Mubiayi 5). Although her style is often ironic and humorous, in her stories she also makes some mocking comments about racism and the chaotic Italian bureaucracy. It is possible to observe this style in the short story ‘Documenti, prego’, in which she describes the common and sad precariousness of many migrants with no permit of stay and their efforts in the Italian offices, in order to achieve it:

Negli ultimi anni abbiamo sognato rannicchiati sul divano di non dover più esibire quel foglio azzurrognolo, che tanti rappresentanti dello Stato si rigiravano tra le mani non sapendo bene che farci. O il momento in cui non avremmo dovuto più vagare nei meandri di via Genova alla ricerca dell’uomo giusto per il rinnovo del fatidico FOGLIO DI SOGGIORNO, l’uomo che non ti rispedisce alla circoscrizione per produrre certificati attestanti la tua esistenza in vita, il fatto che sei proprio tu che ti chiami così e che ti firmi colà, e che quella che dice di essere tua madre sia effettivamente tua madre… (Mubiayi 100).

In this story the call for help of a family’s friend who needs the permit of stay is the pretext to reflect about the conditions shared by many migrants in Italy and the suffering connected to this document:

Ma gli ingranaggi del meccanismo sono stati messi in moto con la parola d’ordine DOCUMENTI ripetuta tre volte (una da Derrick quando scoprono il cadavere). La prima conseguenza è un senso di malessere metafisico con ripercussioni molto fisiche. Come quando ti ubriachi di gin e per riprenderti ti fai una doccia, ma, sorpresa! , il bagnoschiuma è al ginepro (Mubiayi  97-98).

In the short story ‘Concorso’ the comparison between migrants of the first and second generation is a pivotal theme. The protagonists are two sisters, who were born in Egypt but grew up in Rome, and their mother, who was born in Cairo but later moved to Italy. As Mubiayi herself, in her essay ‘Uno sguardo al “contrario”: l’ironia come strategia letteraria’, reflects (101), this short story resembles Leila Djitli’s novel Lettre a ma fille qui veut porter le voile (2004, Letter to my daughter who wants to wear the veil), because one of the two sisters suddenly decides to espouse the Muslim religion and to strictly respect its rules and codes. While her mother, who theoretically should be a stronger follower of this religion, does not understand her daughter’s drastic decisions and proves to be more flexible:

 Dico, vabbè tutto, ma da qui a portare il velo e andare tutti i santi giorni a pregare in moschea ce ne passa. Abbiamo tentato di parlarle. Ma niente. Lei si trincera dietro a «sono musulmana, mi sottometto a Dio e al Suo Profeta, che la pace sia su di Lui». Oppure: «questo è quello che vuole Dio per me, perché tutto è scritto e le pene dell’inferno sono terribili per chi si oppone alla Sua volontà!», e ci guarda con occhi accusatori. A quel punto sia io che mia madre ci sentiamo un filino in colpa e non osiamo controbattere. (Mubiayi 111).

In fact the other sister, who is actually the narrator, would like to join the Italian police and is trying to take a decision. As Mubiayi herself in her essay notices (101), this character represents the other extreme: a girl who is more occidental. This girl has often been victim of racism and has been excluded by the society, due to her black skin. This is the reason why she wants to follow the Police, in order to achieve the empowerment:

Ora c’è il concorso per la polizia di Stato. Non sono tutti uguali i concorsi. Per esempio ce n’è stato uno per la Camera dei Deputati. Non me la sono proprio sentita. Mi faceva male al cuore mettere in imbarazzo tutta un’ala di onorevoli con la mia presenza: mentre loro inveiscono contro ogni tipo di contaminazione, io con il mio muso negro sarei stata una contraddizione in termini. Quindi ho lasciato perdere. Magari in polizia finisco gli esami e posso avanzare di grado. Avranno i gradi in polizia? Magari divento ispettore, poi commissario e via via su fino a questore. Dai, un questore donna, nera e musulmana a Roma! Sto impazzendo! (Mubiayi 116-117).

This girl goes to the police station, hoping to find her motivation for applying and for knowing more about her future job, but there she meets a desperate woman, who has lost her little son. After this event, the two sisters and their mother begin their adventure, in order to look for the little child. They seek the child in the poorest areas of Rome and confront themselves with these marginal districts populated by immigrants, poor Romans and the Rom community. With an ironical and oneiric style, Mubiayi describes their trip into these forgotten realities. In doing so, her short story becomes a combination of imagination and reality, truth and dreams insomuch as in the end one of the two sisters asks herself if she has, in fact, lived these experiences or if she has dreamt everything (Mubiayi 138).

As Mubiayi herself in her essay notices (98), the common feature of the stories ‘Documenti, prego’ and ‘Concorso’ is that the paternal figure is missing and that the two families involved are solely female. Both express the feeling of suffering which derives from this absence:

A dire il vero non so molto nemmeno di lui. Pare che fossero incompatibili, lui e mia madre, così, dopo un tentativo fatto di due figlie, ha deciso di ridarle la libertà, per non abusare della sua giovinezza e permetterle di crearsi una nuova vita, mentre lui avrebbe girato il mondo alla ricerca della sua strada. Sparendo dalla nostra vita per sempre. Generoso, no? (Mubiayi 116).

Mubiayi describes complicated realities, families that lack the presence of a father where the mother alone is responsible for the children in a foreign country with a hostile bureaucracy, as it happens in ‘Documenti, Prego’:

Altri giorni c’era il giro delle chiese. Si trattava di andare in certe parrocchie, alcune lontanissime […] . Lì ci donarono vestiti, scarpe, quaderni, giocattoli per mio fratello, coperte, tende, piatti e cibo […] . A una certa ora però bisognava tornare a casa, e allora la dura realtà saltava fuori come una bestia a lungo rimasta in agguato. Avvicinandoci a casa dovevamo fare attenzione che non ci stessero ad aspettare davanti al portone (Mubiayi 103-104).

The topic of the hybrid identity is largely developed in the short story ‘Rimorso’. Paolo, a young man, is reading an email sent by his girlfriend who decided to come back to Egypt after many years spent in Italy. The woman is asking herself if having lived in a foreign country has been the right decision and she describes how she feels as an outsider in both countries:

Ma, vedi, il dubbio di aver sbagliato, quel tarlo mi opprime, non mi dà tregua. Il dubbio di aver vissuto male, di aver sbagliato traiettoria, di essermi venduta l’anima in cambio della conformità, non riesco a sopprimerlo [...]. Mi ritrovo quindi stranieraqui quanto lì. Dove sono finita? (Mubiayi  94).

The protagonist feels scared and she is so puzzled that she decides to tell her boyfriend to feel free not to wait for her.

In ‘La Famiglia’ the narrator is an Italian who tells about her relationship with a mulatta with whom he began spending time, because he was attracted by her exotic charm. The protagonist is the typical Italian with stereotypical ideas about cultures, tending to simplify them into ethnic clichés. In this way, he superficially reduces cultural complexities to traditional dishes or rituals.

Finalmente avrei avuto il mio lasciapassare e sarei potuto entrare lì dentro, in uno di quei locali con degli energumeni neri vestiti delle loro tuniche colorate con i Ray-Ban calati sul naso, e tonnellate di oro dappertutto. Avevo una gran voglia di percorrere quel corridoio buio che ti porta ad una sala piena di fumo, con delle luci basse, che fanno intravedere divani di colori sgargianti tutto intorno al perimetro della sala […] Alle pareti infiniti poster e disegni tutti con un unico tema: l’Africa. L’Africa geografica, l’Africa etnica, l’Africa ecologica, l’Africa culinaria, e qualcun’altra che ora mi sfugge (Mubiayi 111).

In this short story Mubiayi explains how an Italian has to face his stereotypical, romantic and naïve ideas about cultural differences, mainly shaped by the media, with the complex reality of mixed couples. The narrator also confesses his initial fear of introducing his girlfriend to his family and friends because he was ashamed of her.

Similar themes are faced in the anthology of short stories Amori bicolori, which also includes Mubiayi’s ‘Nascita’. This short story depicts a young woman of African origin living in Rome, who decides to meet her father after years of being abandoned by him. This is the reason why she flies to France with her baby. As well as in ‘Concorso’ and ‘Documenti, prego’, the recurrent topic of the loss of the father and the problematic issues connected to a mixed couple can be found:

Spesso immagino di uscire dal mio corpo e di guardarci dall’esterno, con gli occhi di un passante. Quella suora seduta a leggere per esempio, o quel ragazzo in maniche di camicia e la valigetta portacumputer a tracolla. Una coppia con bambino. Marito e moglie e figlio. Famiglia. «Famiglia mista», suona strano, meglio «coppia mista con bambino». Lei scura, lui chiaro, e il bambino il giusto compromesso. […] Chissà se funziona, si chiederanno. Chissà se funziona, me lo chiedo anch’io ora. Io nera, lui bianco. Famiglie di origine distanti anni luce. Si guardano da lontano, chiusi nei propri pregiudizi. […] Le differenze ci sono e non basta l’istruzione o il denaro a colmarle. (Mubiayi 71-72).

Mubiayi’s decision to avoid details about the meeting between the young woman and her father, not even saying if it has actually happened, was probably taken to symbolize a cut with her past and a gaze to the future.

The same topic of ‘Nascita’ is also present in the short story ‘L’incontro’ but here the narrator is a husband who tells about his wife’s meeting with her father, who abandoned her, and his family. The perspective is completely reversed because the protagonist, a white man, is probably for the first time alone among many black people and realises the complexity of being a black foreigner in a white country:

Chissà cosa penseranno a vedermi qui. Lei balla insieme agli altri. Mi fa segno di andare in pista, ma poi lascia perdere. Io mi giro e rigiro sulla poltroncina. Non so come comportarmi. Poi mi viene in mente lei seduta sul divano di mia nonna, al paese, con la schiena rigida, la gamba che balla incessantemente, gli occhiali, che non si è tolta per tre giorni e il sorriso placido. Si girava e rigirava. E tutti i miei parenti intorno. Chissà quanto non ha capito del dialetto. Lei sola nera in mezzo a bianchi, sempre. Con tutti gli occhi del paese addosso, sotto giudizio di chiunque per quel che appariva, alla mercé di domande che non aspettavano una risposta. La vedo forse per la prima volta: con la sua pelle, le sue labbra, i suoi fianchi. (Mubiayi np).

In ‘Fiori e scarafaggi’, as it happens in the short story ‘L’incontro’, the narrator is a male. The protagonists of this story are the two brothers, India and David, and their parents. The family is mixed: the father is Congolese and the mother is Swiss and, as in the case of many mixed families, they often have to face some “intercultural misunderstandings”. However, in this short story, the most important event is the introduction of India’s boyfriend to the family. India, a very rational and self-controlled girl, who loves classical music, felt in love with a disc jockey who above all is ‘energumeno di un metro e novantacinque circa, tutto in tiro, con un cappottino nero, sicuramente su misura perché impeccabile’ (Mubiayi 114). Her parents and David, who are shocked by India’s behaviors and choices, burst out laughing. This laugh is crucial because it makes them understand that ‘Razza, etnia, ceppo culturale. Non erano niente di fronte alla somiglianza dei sentimenti che il volto riesce a manifestare’ (Mubiayi 115).

The protagonists of Mubiayi’s short stories are mainly second generation migrants who have to face two cultures and a hybrid identity that is felt between two or more countries. They often feel trapped between modernity and tradition, between languages, different social codes. Often her stories depict female protagonists who find themselves alone, without a husband or father, having to develop different codes and strategies to live. Her style is often ironic, especially when she describes the complexity connected to mixed couples, but at the same time it is biting and critical towards a society which is still not prepared to welcome diversity.

Camilotti, Silvia. Una e plurima: riflessioni intorno alle nuove espressioni delle donne nella letteratura italiana. Doctoral thesis. Alma Mater Studiorum. Università di Bologna, 2008.

Djitli, Leila. Lettre à ma fille qui veut porter le voile. Lonrai: La Martinière, 2004.

Mubiayi, Ingy. ‘Documenti, prego’. 2004. Pecore nere. Ed. Flavia Capitani and Emanuele Coen. Roma-Bari: Editori Laterza, 2005. 97-107.

Mubiayi, Ingy. ‘Concorso’. Pecore nere. Ed. Flavia Capitani and Emanuele Coen. Roma-Bari: Editori Laterza, 2005. 109-138.

Mubiayi, Ingy. ‘Fiori e scarafaggi’. Nuovi argomenti 29 (2005): 108-115.

Mubiayi, Ingy. ‘La famiglia’. Italiani per vocazione. Ed. Igiaba Scego. Fiesole: Cadmo, 2005. 105-117.

Mubiayi, Ingy. ‘Rimorso’. Allattati dalla lupa. Ed. Armando Gnisci. Roma: Sinnos, 2005. 91-96.

Mubiayi, Ingy. ‘L’incontro’. El Ghibli 8 (2005): np


Mubiayi, Ingy. ‘Nascita’. Amori bicolori. Ed. Flavia Capitani and Emanuele Coen. Roma: Editori Laterza, 2008. 67-97.

Mubiayi, Ingy. ‘Uno sguardo al “contrario”: l’ironia come strategia letteraria’. Lingue e letterature in movimento: scrittrici emergenti nel panorama letterario contemporaneo. Ed. Silvia Camilotti. Bologna: Bononia University Press, 2008. 89-105.

Scego, Igiaba, and Ingy Mubiayi, ed. Quando nasci è una roulette, giovani figli di migranti si raccontano. Milano: Terre di mezzo, 2007.


Ismaila Sané

ISMAILA SANÉ (Coubalan, Senegal, 1956–)

Written by Elina Seye (University of Tampere, Finland)

Ismaila Sané is a percussionist, singer and dancer born in Senegal, currently living in Finland. Sané started his artistic career in 1974 in Dakar as a dancer and percussionist for companies performing traditional West African dances and music: Ballets Bougarabou (1974–78), Ballets Africains (1979–80) and Ballet Mansour Gueye (1980). All of these companies toured also abroad, e.g. in France and Spain. In 1981 Sané moved to Tenerife, Spain, to join the second ensemble of Ballets Mansour Gueye, based there. He worked with Ballet Mansour Gueye in Tenerife until 1989.

Sané was asked by the Finnish saxophonist Sakari Kukko to join his band Piirpauke, a forerunner of Finnish world music founded in 1974. Sané joined the band in 1989 but continued to live in Spain. Piirpauke’s line-up has changed several times over the years, and Sané is the second long-time member of the band after the band’s founder and leader Sakari Kukko. Over the years, he has recorded nine albums and toured in various countries with the diverse line-ups of the band. The album Koli by Piirpauke was rated as the number one album in the World Music Charts Europe in October 2010. Sané also participated, along with other Senegalese musicians, in another project initiated by Sakari Kukko, a band called Humbalax, which recorded in 2011 an album called Paratiisi (Paradise) that consisted of Finnish songs interpreted in Senegalese mbalax style.

During the 1990’s, until he moved permanently to Finland in 1999, Sané continued working on the Canary Islands alongside with his participation in Piirpauke. He collaborated with local dance companies and was the lead singer of two jazz bands called M’Balax (1992–94) and Baba Djembe (1995–98). In both bands he also played percussions.

Sané met his future wife, Outi Nieminen (now Sané), a Finnish kantele player, when they both played in Piirpauke. Together they formed the duo Senfi in 1998. Senfi combines musical traditions of Finland and Senegal, both in its choice of instruments (kantele and djembe) and in the songs it performs. The duo became quite widely known in Finland in the early 2000’s through the childrens’ TV program Pikku Kakkonen, where Senfi had its own multicultural series called “Amin kanssa” (Together with Ami). Senfi has been performing for both adults and children, e.g. in various schools, and currently they are recording an album of music for children.

Together Outi and Ismaila Sané have also planned and taught courses about multicultural music education and African cultures for school teachers and educators. In 2003 they received the title “Vuoden Lempo”, resident of the year, in their home town Lempäälä (near Tampere). This was the first time that a municipal recognition was awarded to an immigrant in Finland. In 2005 Outi and Ismaila Sané also received a special jubilee prize from the Cultural Foundation of Kalevala Jewelry for their wide-ranging multicultural work in the field of culture.

Since 2002 Sané has been a member of the group Galaxy [link!], a Finland-based band that plays Senegalese mbalax music. Galaxy was awarded in 2005 the Finland Prize of the Ministry of Culture, the highest governmental prize in the field of art.  In addition to his various artistic activities in Finland, Sané has also maintained contacts to Spain. E.g. in 2008 he performed with a multicultural group of musicians in a jazz fusion project called “A World of Music” on the Canary Islands. And in 2009 he participated in the project Global Perfussion that brought together 15 percussionists from all over the world for three performances in Madrid, Bamako and Santa Cruz de Tenerife.

Apart from the bands and projects presented above, Sané has collaborated with many other bands and has toured in dozens of countries with these various musical ensembles. He has moreover been active as a teacher of West African dances and percussion, especially djembe, and has given courses and workshops for amateurs as well as music students e.g. in the Sibelius Academy.

Ismaila Sané’s recent activities include e.g. the band Buddha Surfers that plays afro beat and funk and is planning to release its first album this year (2012). Sané is currently also working on a new solo recording; his first album Ñamandu was published on a Spanish record label Azel Producciones in 1999 and republished as a new version in 2002. As a signal of his career as an established artist in Finland he has in recent years received several grants from Finnish foundations supporting the arts.

Solo recordings:

Ismaila Sané: Ñamandu (2nd version, 2002), Azel Producciones. TF740-2002.

Ismaila Sané: Ñamandu (1999), Azel Producciones.


Piirpauke: Koli (2010), Rockadillo Records. ZENCD 2132.

Pasi Kaunisto & Piirpauke, feat. J. Rusanen: Oskar Merikannon lauluja (2008), Long Play Records. LOPCD 017.

Piirpauke: Kalabalik (2006), Rockadillo Records. ZENCD 2106.

Piirpauke: Ikiliikkuja – Perpetuum Mobile – The Very Best of Piirpauke (2005), Rockadillo Records. ZENCD 2095.

Piirpauke: Laulu laineilla (2003), Rockadillo Records. ZENCD 2080.

Piirpauke: Sillat (2002), Rockadillo Records. ZENCD 2078.

Piirpauke: Laula sinäkin (1998), Rockadillo Records. ZENCD 2058.

Piirpauke: Ave Maria (1996), Rockadillo Records. ZENCD 2050.

Piirpauke: Metamorphosis – Live 1977–1995 (1995), Rockadillo Records. ZENCD 2045.

Piirpauke: Muuttolinnut / Terra Nova (1993), Rockadillo Records. ZENCD 2037.

Piirpauke: Tuku Tuku (1991), Rockadillo Records. ZENCD 2028.


Sakari Kukko & Humbalax: Paratiisi (2011), Rockadillo Records. ZENCD 2139.

The Capital Beat: On the midnight wire (2011), Stupido Twins Records. TWINCD122.

Eero Koivistoinen Music Society: X-Ray (2006), Silenze. SLC027.

Jaakko Löytty: Murhehuone (2005), Humble records. 2627.

Galaxy: Insecurité (2003) Global Music Center. GMCD 0308.

Leningrad Cowboys: Global Balalaika Show (2003), Leningrad Cowboys. LC 001.

Jazzgangsters: Peace (2003), Rockadillo Records. ZENCD 2085.

Good People: Rainbow Dream (2000), Naxos World. 76007-2.

Al Farabi (1999), Azel Producciones.

Baba Djembe (1998), Multitrac Records.

Benito Cabrera: Notas de viajes (1998)

Ghandara (1998)

Antonio Hernandez: Ritual Suite (1997), Azel Producciones. TF-1801-97.

Chiqui Perez (1996), Manzana Records.

Taller Canario: Ahora que (1995), Manzana Records.

Las Ratas (1995), Multitrac.

M’balax: Kike Perdomo – M’balax (1994), Manzana Records.

Johannes Anyuru

Photo by Mercies May

Literary Explorations of Afro-Swedishness
Contributor: Anne Heith

Johannes Anyuru, born in 1979 in Sweden, is an Afro-Swedish author whose connection to the African Diaspora is related to his Ugandan father’s escape when Idi Amin came to power. His father settled down in Sweden, where he married a Swedish woman. Anyuru grew up in the Swedish small town Växjö. He started to study to become an engineer, but changed his mind and became a writer. Today he resides in Gothenburg. In 2003 he made his debut as a poet with the collection Det är bara gudarna som är nya [Only the Gods are New]. The collection, which mingles influences from Homer, Swedish poet Göran Sonnevi, rock lyrics and hip hop, was well received by the critics and it helped to establish Anyuru’s reputation as a significant contemporary Swedish author. His second collection of poems, Omega (2005), is about the death of a close friend in cancer. The theme of the third, Städerna inuti Hall (2009) [The Cities Inside Hall] is more explicitly political (1). In December 2009 the political drama Förvaret [The Deposit], co-authored by Anyuru and the philosopher Aleksander Motturi had its premiere at Gothenburg City Theatre. The title refers to Detention Centres where refugees are kept as detainees waiting to be deported out of the country as a result of the implementation of Swedish Immigration Law. Both authors are members of the Clandestino Institut whose members engage in activities targeted at racism (2). Anyuru has performed live extensively. During 2003 he toured with the National Theatre Company with a performance called Abstrakt rap.  He is a member of the spoken word group Broken word, which released the album Anatomy of a Dying Star in 2005. In 2010 Anyururu’s first novel, Skulle jag dö under andra himlar [If I Were to Die Under Other Skies], was published. The following year, En civilisation utan båtar [A Civilisation Without Ships], was published. This book is a diary about the time Anyuru spent in Athens in the summer of 2011. Together with other activists he was waiting for a permission to start the voyage from Greece on Ship to Gaza. The permission was not granted. Nevertheless popular engagement and protest are presented as valid strategies for fighting a politics of silence complicit with prevailing power structures. Anyuru’s second novel about the life of his Ugandan father, whose training to become a fighter pilot was interrupted as a result of the political upheaval in Uganda, is forthcoming in 2012.

In 2007 Johannes Anyuru converted to Islam, a choice which involves a conscious positioning in opposition to contemporary secular Swedish and traditionally Christian, White Swedish society. The image of Islam conjured up by the writings of Anyuru is not that of a confrontational religion, ideologically at war with Christianity. On the contrary, Anyuru explicitly refers to antagonistic, diversifying and totalitarian tendencies in Nation of Islam as a ‘racist, distorted version of Islam’ (En civilisation utan båtar, 54, my translation). In Anyuru’s writings the reading of the Quran is linked to self-exploration, identity-formation and Bildung. Practicing Islam is described as a way of creating belonging and a linking to the culture of his father. The first collection of poems about young men in urban areas being chased by the police, ends with a tender depiction of how a Muslim father is preparing for evening prayer. He washes his hands, face, arms, ears, hair and feet. Carefully he shuffles the carpet over the floor so that its direction corresponds to that of ‘kibblah’. The use of the term kiblah, referring to the direction of Mecca to which Muslims turn in prayer, signifies a conscious choice by Anyuru to use terminology which connotes familiarity with the religious practices of Islam. The calmness and serenity of this section stands out in relief to the beginning of the collection. The second line of the second stanza in English, which conjures up contemporary, urban, Americanized youth culture, reads: ‘keep your sword up nigga’.

The theme of finding peace through Islam is further explored in Anyuru’s first novel, Skulle jag dö under andra himlar. The novel is an Afro-Swedish Bildungsroman in which the protagonist, a young man called Francis, attains belonging and a sense of meaning when becoming a practicing Muslim. The African father of the novel gives his son a copy of the Quran and introduces him to Muslim religious practices. Thus, the Bildung of the son involves that he actively chooses to link to cultural expressions handed over by his father. This is a form of linking to an African ancestral origin, but in the novel Islam also is depicted as an element of a contemporary transnational global world. Francis participates in the evening prayer at a mosque when he visits Madrid. When back at home in Gothenburg, he visits a Muslim place of worship in the residential area of Hisingen. In the same street in an industrial area at the outskirts of Gothenburg there are two Turkish Muslim prayer houses, one Gambian, which Francis visits, and one Bosnian. The enumeration of the places of worship of various immigrant communities conjures up the creation of ‘home’ and belonging by migrant groups. In the world of the novel, religious practices and the linking to communities function as positive counter-strategies to experiences of homelessness and meaninglessness.

Anyuru’s texts contribute to a redefinition and remapping of how myths of belonging may be sensed. In Bhabha’s words the text conjures up “the starting-points of other national and international histories and geographies” (Bhabha 2008: XX). Anyuru’s authorship contributes to depicting intersections between the African Diaspora, migration and emerging migrant cartographies. References to Islam and the Quran function as elements in the process of self-exploration and identity formation, both processes which involve examining and coming to terms with the implications of ‘Africanness’ for a contemporary Afro-Swede.

In the diary published in 2011 (‘A Civilisation without Ships’), the narrator-focalizer Anyuru expresses a feeling of community which transgresses the borders of the nation-state and those of ethnic and racial affiliations, as well as historical and geographical ties. When expressing his solidarity with the Palestinian people, his feeling of connectedness is expanded in a vision which unites the histories of marginalized and disempowered groups of people to his own African family history. The fact that he is of African descent and consequently ‘looks African’ is related to the mediation of ‘Africanness’ by means of the images in accounts of the first African Diaspora:

You are my cousins and I know like you what history is, that it does not pass without making an impact, that it is stuck in the bodies and the dreams, and that it is a waterfall of chains, and that you inherit something although you don’t want to. I have a father, I have my childhood, I have the history books with pictures of people who look like me in chains (34, my translation).

The theme of ‘people who look like me’ is central for the exploration of an Afro-Swedish identity as it is the fact that Anyuru himself, and the protagonists of his literary texts, do not physically look like ethnic Swedes which makes them the targets of racism directed against Black people. It is also their physical appearance which marks them as ‘different’ in a predominantly White society. When the narrator Anyuru hesitates about joining Ship to Gaza in the 2011 diary he grapples with the question whether his position is more vulnerable than the other travelers’ as he is not sure of being protected by his ‘Swedishness’: ‘Do I look like a Swede in the eyes of a foreigner? In the eyes of a foreign soldier?’ (9, my translation).

Anyuru’s trip to Athens turns out to be a journey of self-discovery in which reflections upon interrelations between the African Diasporas, his personal family history, present-day migration and the role of the author are examined. The West-African traditional poet, the Jali (Griot) is actively explored as a model for the contemporary Afro-Swedish author. The narrator ruminates over his own role as that of a Jali, asking himself whose Jali he is and for whom he sings. At the conclusion of the inner journey Anyuru shoulders the role of the socially engaged author using writing in acts of solidarity with people claiming their democratic and human rights. In the 2011 diary the narrator Anyuru encounters marginalized Africans in Athens, street vendors and prostitute women with no protection in the form of citizenship. In one of the episodes a Greek motor-cycle policeman robs an African prostitute while another is hiding in terror behind a car. In another, Iranian asylum seekers have stitched their lips in protest at not being heard. Both examples conjure up an image of Europe as a place where vulnerable, subaltern migrant groups have no means of being heard as they are not recognized as partners of a dialogue (cf Spivak 2010).

Anyuru has never lived in Africa; still, ideas of Africa and linking to Africa are recurring themes in his writing. The sense of belonging connoted by the concept of ‘Africa’ is related both to ancestral ties and the ‘racial’ identification of a person of African descent in a Europe where Whiteness is the norm. ‘Africa’ functions as an emotional node and imaginary place, the implications of which for identity-formation and belonging he explores in the process of writing. Implicitly, Anyuru’s texts provide a response to the Hegelian tradition which has posited the ‘Negro’ as the other of the Enlightenment and modernity (Wright 2004, 8). Anyuru does not depict the shifting relationships between ‘Black’ and ‘White’ people as binary or dichotomous. Rather, ‘Blackness’ is described in terms of “fluidity” (cf Wright 2004, 2), which has the potential to heal the individual.


1) ’Hall’ is the name of a Swedish prison.

2) There is a short presentation of the play at the website of the Clandestino Institut.


Anyuru, Johannes. Det är bara gudarna som är nya [Only the Gods are New].

Stockholm: Wahlström & Widstrand, 2003.

—, Omega. Stockholm: Wahlström & Widstrand, 2005.

—, Städerna inuti Hall [The Cities Inside Hall]. Stockholm: Norstedts, 2009

Anyuru, Johannes & Motturi, Aleksander. Förvaret [The Deposit]. Gothenburg: Glänta produktion, 2009.

Anyuru, Johannes. Skulle jag dö under andra himlar [If I Were to Die Under Other Skies].

Stockholm: Norstedts, 2010.

—, En civilisation utan båtar [A Civlisation Without Ships].

Gothenburg: Glänta produktion, 2011.

Bhabha, Homi K. The Location of Culture. London & New York: Routledge, 2008.

Spivak, Gayatri Chakravorty. Can the Subaltern Speak: Reflections on the History of an Idea.

New York: Columbia University Press, 2010.

Wright, Michelle M. Becoming Black: Creating Identity in the African Diaspora.

Durham & London: Duke University Press, 2004.

Electronic publications

‘Clandestino Institut’, http://clandestinoinstitut.org/en/2011/09/29/forvaret-av-johannes-anyuru-och-aleksan. . ., 1 May 2012



John La Rose

JOHN LA ROSE (Trinidad, 1927 – England, 2006)

Born in Arima, Trinidad, on 27 December 1927. At nine he won a scholarship to St Mary’s College, where he later taught before becoming an insurance executive with the company Colonial Life. He later lived and taught in secondary schools in Venezuela before he came to the UK in 1961.

John La Rose was an executive member of the Youth Council in Trinidad and produced their fortnightly radio programme, ‘Voice of Youth’ on Radio Trinidad. In the mid-1950s he co-authored with the calypsonian Raymond Quevedo – Atilla the Hun – a pioneering study of calypso entitled Kaiso: A Review, which was finally published in 1983 as Atilla’s Kaiso.

In the 1940s John La Rose helped to found the Workers Freedom Movement and edited their journal, Freedom. He was an executive member of the Federated Workers Trade Union, later merged into the National Union of Government and Federated Workers. He became General Secretary of the West Indian Independence Party and contested a seat in the 1956 General Election for the party. He was later involved with the struggle within the Oilfield Workers Trade Union (OWTU) by the ‘Rebels’ for a radical, democratic and more representative trade union, for one member one vote in regular periodical elections by secret ballot. The ‘Rebel’ candidates won the elections in 1962 and La Rose maintained his close links both with the OWTU and the international trade union movement, becoming the OWTU’s European representative from 1962 onwards.

John La Rose arrived in Britain in 1961. In 1966 he founded New Beacon Books, the UK’s first Caribbean publishing house, which one year later expanded to include a bookshop and international book service. Growing up in a colonial society in the Caribbean made John acutely aware that colonial policy was based on a deliberate withholding of information from the population. There was also a discontinuity of information from generation to generation. Publishing, therefore, was a vehicle to give an independent validation to one’s own culture, history and politics – a sense of self – and to make a break with discontinuity. It is this conception which permeates the work of New Beacon.

In 1966 John La Rose, along with the Jamaican writer and broadcaster Andrew Salkey and the Barbadian poet and historian Kamau Brathwaite, co-founded the Caribbean Artists Movement, providing a platform for Caribbean artists, poets, writers, dramatists, actors and musicians. From 1972-73 he was Chairman of the Institute of Race Relations and Towards Racial Justice.

John La Rose was involved in the Black Education Movement from the late 1960s, particularly in the struggle against banding, and the placing of West Indian children in schools for the educationally sub-normal. He founded the George Padmore Supplementary School for West Indian children in 1969 and helped found the Caribbean Education in Community Workers Association. In the 1980s he was instrumental in setting up the National Association of Supplementary Schools, and was its Chairman for a time.

In 1975, after a black schoolboy was assaulted by the police in Haringey, John La Rose and concerned parents founded the Black Parents Movement to combat the brutalisation and criminalisation of young blacks, and to agitate for youth and parent power and decent education. The Black Parents Movement, in alliance with the Race Today Collective and the Black Youth Movement, became the most powerful cultural and political movement organised by blacks in Britain. The Alliance formed the New Cross Massacre Action Committee in response to the arson attack on 18 January 1981 which resulted in the death of 14 young blacks. The Committee mobilised 20,000 black people and their supporters in March 1981 to protest the deaths of the young people and the lack of response from the media about the failure of the police to conduct a proper investigation. John La Rose was the Chairman of the New Cross Massacre Action Committee and gave tremendous support to the bereaved families.

John La Rose was also part of many organisations focusing on international concerns. In 1982 he helped to found Africa Solidarity, supporting the struggle against dictatorship and tyranny in Africa, and he also became Chairman of the Committee for the Release of Political Prisoners in Kenya. In response to the rise in fascism and xenophobia, he helped to found European Action for Racial Equality and Social Justice, bringing together anti-racists and anti-fascists from Belgium, Italy, France and Germany.

One of John La Rose’s greatest achievements was the International Book Fair of Radical Black and Third World Books (1982-95), organised jointly with Bogle L’Ouverture Books and Race Today Publications. He was joint director with Jessica Huntley of the Book Fair and from 1984 its sole director. John La Rose was the editor at New Beacon Books and of their journal, New Beacon Review, and published two volumes of his own poetry, Foundations (1966) and Eyelets of Truth Within Me (1992). He also did some filmmaking from the 1970s.

The George Padmore Institute, an archive, library and educational research centre housing materials relating to the black community of Caribbean, African and Asian descent in Britain and continental Europe, was established in 1991 and chaired by John La Rose. The Institute continues the traditions and methods of work that New Beacon Books and the organisations connected with it have developed since 1966.

John La Rose died on 28 February 2006. He is part of a Caribbean tradition of radical and revolutionary activism whose input has reverberated across continents. The depth and breadth of his contribution to the struggle for cultural and social change, for racial equality and social justice, for the humanisation of society, is unparalleled in the history of the black experience in Britain.

Main source for information: www.georgepadmoreinstitute.org. Approved by Sarah White, John La Rose’s partner.

Material by John La Rose

Books/ Booklets/ Films

La Rose, Anthony (John). Foundations: a book of poems. London and Port of Spain: New Beacon Books, 1966. Out of print.

La Rose, John. Eyelets of Truth Within Me. London and Port of Spain: New Beacon Books, 1992. Paperback ISBN 978 1 873201 02 2, hardback ISBN 978 1 873201 05 3.

—. Lessons of Grenada Revolution. London: Race Today Publications, 1985.

—. New Cross Massacre Story: interviews with John La Rose. 1984. London: Alliance of the Black Parents Movement, Black Youth Movement and Race Today Collective, 1984. Republished 2011. London: New Beacon Books for the George Padmore Institute, 2011. ISBN 9781873201312.

La Rose, John, ed. New Beacon Reviews: collection one. London and Port of Spain: New Beacon Books, 1968.

—. New Beacon Review. No 1 (1985). London: New Beacon Books, 1985. Paperback ISBN 978 0 901241 64 1.

—. New Beacon Review. Nos. 2/3 (Nov. 1986). London: New Beacon Books, 1986. Paperback ISBN 978 0 901241 69 6.

—. Racism Nazism Fascism and Racial Attacks – the European Response. London: The International Book Fair of Radical Black and Third World Books and European Action for Racial Equality and Social Justice, 1991. Paperback ISBN 978 1 874252 00 9.

Quevedo, Raymond and John La Rose. Kaiso, A Review. Later published as Atilla’s Kaiso. 1983.

Rudder, David and John La Rose. Kaiso Calypso Music. London and Port of Spain: New Beacon Books, 1990. Paperback ISBN 978 1 873201 01 5.

Rosso, Franco and John La Rose, dir. Mangrove Nine. 1973 (Film on video). Reissued on DVD 2011. London: New Beacon Books, 2011. ISBN 2011 9781873201275.

Salkey, Andrew and John La Rose, ed. Savacou. Special Issue Nos. 9/10 (1974).

Essays in Books

La Rose, John. ‘All Are Consumed’. Colour culture and consciousness: Immigrant Intellectuals in Britain. Ed. Bhikhu Parekh. London: George Allen and Unwin 1974.

—. ‘Back Into Time’. Caribbean Essays. Ed. Andrew Salkey. London: Evans, 1973.

—. ‘Kamau Brathwaite a heartfelt memoir’. For The Geography of the Soul: emerging perspectives on Kamau Brathwaite. Ed. Timothy Reiss. Trenton, NJ: Africa World Press, 2000.

—. ‘Martin Carter 1927-1997: a Personal Memoir’. All Are Involved: the Art of Martin Carter. Ed. Stewart Brown. Leeds: Peepal Tree Press, 1998.

—. ‘Remembering The Past; Forging Forward Into the Future’. 12th Martin Luther King Memorial Lecture, 16 Jan. 1999. Published in Martin Luther King Memorial Lectures. London: The First Martin Luther King Twelve, date unknown. ISBN 9781903878002.

Articles in Journals/ Newspapers

La Rose, John. ‘Address at the opening of the 8th International Book Fair of Radical Black and Third World Books’. At the Bradford Community Arts Centre, 16 Mar. 1989. Published as part of ‘A Dialogue on the Satanic Verses’. Black Scholar 20.2 (1990).

—. ‘Africa and Portugal’. Race Vol. XV1 (July 1974).

—. ‘The Changing Language of Riots in Britain’. Race Today Jan. 1986.

—. ‘Fallen comet: tribute to Michael Smith’. The Guardian 2 Sept. 1983. (Reprinted in the 1991 Book Fair Brochure. See White et al A Meeting of the Continents: 445.)

—. ‘Jamaica at the Crossroads’. Race Today Dec. 1976/Jan. 1977.

—. ‘Nigeria the Long War’. Race Today Review 1983: 160-164.

—. ‘The October Insurrection in Grenada’. Race Today Dec. 1976/Jan. 1977

—. ‘Self-Discovery and Self-Reconstruction in the Poetry of the Caribbean’. Encrages hiver 1985/6.

—. ‘Social exclusion and cultural creativity’. Excerpts from ‘Unemployment, Leisure and the Birth of Creativity’. The Black Scholar 26.2.

—. ‘Unemployment, Leisure and the Birth of Creativity’. Neue Zurcher Zeitung, Switzerland 4/5 (May 1996).

International Book Fair of Radical Black and Third World Books Brochures 1982-1995

La Rose, John. Calls, biographies and some articles. See White et al A Meeting of the Continents.

Alleyne, Brian W. Radicals against Race: Black Activism and Cultural Politics. New York: Berg, 2002. Papberback ISBN 1-85973-527-4.

Busby, Margaret. ‘Obituary: John La Rose’. Wasafiri no.49 21.3 (Nov. 2006): 65-67. ISBN 0-415-40207-7, ISSN 0269-0055.

Dabydeen, David, John Gilmore and Cecily Jones, ed. The Oxford Companion to Black British History, Oxford: Oxford UP, 2007. Paperback ISBN 9780199578771.

Harris, Roxy and Sarah White, ed. Changing Britannia: Life Experience With Britain. London: New Beacon Books and the George Padmore Institute, 1999. Paperback ISBN 978 1 873201 15 2.

—. Foundations of a Movement – tributes to John La Rose. London: the John La Rose Tribute Committee, 1991. Paperback ISBN 978 1 873201 07 7.

Markham, E A. ‘Bookmarks for John La Rose’. In At Home with Miss Vanesa. Birmingham, UK: Tindal Street Press, 2006. 3-14. Paperback ISBN 0-9551384-0-X.

Meehan, Kevin.’Brilliant Episodes of Invention: Jayne Cortez in Poetic Dialogue with John La Rose’. Wasafiri no. 49, 21.3 (Nov. 2006): 59–64. ISBN 0-415-40207-7, ISSN 0269-0055.

Ove, Horace, dir. Dream To Change The World: a film about John La Rose. Film on DVD. London: New Beacon Books and Red Box, 2006.

Phillips, Caryl. ‘John La Rose’. Colour Me English. London: Harvill Secker, 2011. 147-153. ISBN 9781846553059.

Salkey, Andrew. Georgetown Journal: a Caribbean writer’s journey from London via Port of Spain to Gerogetown, Guyana 1970. London and Port of Spain: New Beacon Books, 1972. Hardback ISBN 978 0 901 241 13 9, paperback ISBN 978 0 901241 14 6

Walmsley, Anne. The Caribbean Artists Movement 1966-1972: a literary and cultural history. London and Port of Spain: New Beacon Books, 1992. Hardback ISBN 978 1 873201 01 5, paperback ISBN 978 1 873201 06 0.

White, Sarah, Roxy Harris and Sharmilla Beezmohun. A Meeting of the Continents: the International Book Fair of Radical Black and Third World Books – Revisited: history, memories, organisation and programmes 1982-1995. London: New Beacon Books and the George Padmore Institute, 2005. Hardback ISBN 978 1 873201 18 3.

Kaha Mohamed Aden

Kaha Mohamed Aden
Contributor: Simone Brioni, Institute of Advanced Studies Early Career Fellow, University of Warwick

Kaha Mohamed Aden is an Italian writer of Somali origins. She was born in Mogadishu, Somalia, in 1966 and reached Italy in 1986. Her father, Mohamed Aden Sheikh, was a politician, who was imprisoned in 1975, and later from 1982 to 1989 (six of these years he spent in total isolation at the Labanta Girow prison), as an opponent of Siad Barre’s dictatorial regime. Kaha narrates when her father was arrested in the short story “1982: fuga da casa.” She currently lives in Pavia, where she moved in 1987. Kaha graduated in economics and took her Master’s degree at the European School for Advanced Studies in Co-operation and Development – IUSS Pavia. In 2002, she was awarded the San Siro prize by the Pavia city council in recognition of her contribution to solidarity and immigrant integration. Unlike most Italian authors of Somali origins, Kaha was educated in Somali schools, during the socialist period.

Her collection of short stories, Fra-intendimenti, was published in 2010 by Nottetempo. As Alessandra Martino points out, this title “introduces the central theme of the precariousness of intercultural communication as a border practice. The deconstruction of the Italian word fraintendimenti, literally meaning ‘misunderstandings’, refers both to the migrants’ condition of living in-between (fra) languages and discourses (intendimenti), and to the risk of failure that is embedded in the exercise of cultural negotiation” (139). One of the most significant stories of this collection is perhaps “Nonno Y. e il colore degli alleati,” which focuses on the Italian trusteeship administration of Somalia (1950-1960), a period that has still not received adequate critical attention in Italy. “Eeddo Maryan” shows the legacy of colonialism both in Somalia and Italy, as both Somalis and Italians have prejudices against each other. “Apriti Sesamo” describes Law 189 (Bossi-Fini) as a nightmare: like K. in Kafka’s The Trial the main character of this short story is arrested without having done anything wrong. Fra-intendimenti also recounts several specific periods of Somali history such as the campaign for alphabetisation, or Ololaha (“Xuseyn, Suleyman e Loro”), the ethnic cleansing after Mohamed Siad Barre’s fall in 1991 (“La casa con l’albero: tra il Giusto e il Bene”), and recounts some of the stories of the Somali Diaspora to Italy (“Nadia”).

Kaha’s work also includes a theatre play, Specchio specchio delle mie brame chi è più abile nel reame?, and the oral performances, such as Mettiti nei miei panni, La valigia della Zia, and La Quarta Via. La Quarta Via was presented at several cultural events and festivals, among which were the Seventh Conference of ISOLA – the International Society for the Oral Literatures of Africa, in Lecce (2008), the International Award ‘Alexandra Langer’ in Bozen in the same year, and the Italian Institute of Culture at Nairobi and the University of Nairobi in 2010.

In La quarta via, the capital city of Somalia is divided into five main streets, with each corresponding to different historical periods. The ‘first road’ is the Islamic district of Mogadishu, facing the Indian Ocean. A past of trade and commerce, cultural exchanges, knowledge and the scent of a thousand spices from Puntland becomes the starting point of a journey towards our contemporaneity. The ‘second road’ introduces a less mythical but important stage in the development of the town: the colonial period and the traces left by Italian domination in Somalia. The third road describes the hopes for a new Somalia during the 1970s, and the projects of female emancipation. This road also reminds us of Siad Barre’s dictatorship which forced Kaha to move to Italy. The ‘fourth road’ describes the current civil war, which broke out in 1991. It also describes the present condition of women who cover their bodies with burqas as if they were protecting themselves from a situation of violence and unpredictable danger.

The process of developing La Quarta Via into a documentary, La quarta via. Mogadiscio, Pavia began in 2009 (Kimerafilm, 38’, 2012, Eng. Sub., directed by Simone Brioni, Graziano Chiscuzzu and Ermanno Guida, and written by Kaha Mohamed Aden and Simone Brioni, and attached to the volume Somalitalia. Quattro vie per MogadiscioSomalitalia. Four Roads to Mogadishu, edited by Simone Brioni). This documentary was awarded first prize at Libero Bizzarri Festival -  Mediaeducazione section in 2010, and was selected at the Medea Film Festival, Gorizia in 2011. In La quarta via. Mogadiscio, Pavia, Kaha narrates her memories of Mogadishu, her hometown, and reconstructs its story in Pavia, where she currently lives. While the focus of the oral performance is to provide an interpretation and a reconstruction of recent Somali history, the documentary also raises questions concerning the link between territory and belonging, and describes an alternative geography of Pavia. The ‘fourth road’ symbolizes the actuality of civil war, but also negates the preceding periods and makes it necessary to set our hopes on a ‘fifth road’. La quarta via. Mogadiscio, Pavia brings to our attention the issues of a land which shared a number of historical relationships with Italy in the past years; yet, this problematic aspect unfailingly tends to be overlooked by Italian mass-media. The history of the city of Mogadishu gives rise to many important fundamental questions about the history of Italy itself, and its amnesia toward colonialism. Moreover, this documentary brings into question the concept of confines, not only in geographical, but also in cultural and identitarian terms. La quarta via. Mogadiscio, Pavia aims to present the story of a ‘new citizen’ in a country which appears to be growing increasingly xenophobic and intolerant.

1. Primary Sources

Kaha Mohamed Aden. “1982: Fuga da casa.” El-ghibli 5 (2004):. Web 20 Dec. 2012. .

———. “Apriti Sesamo.” Nuovi argomenti 27 (2004): 35-39.

———. “Autopresentazione.” Forme della diversità: Genere, precarietà, intercultura. Eds. Clotilde Barbarulli and Liana Borghi. Cagliari: CUEC, 2006. 17-18.

———. “Eeddo Maryan.” Psiche 1 (2008): 171-173.

———. Fra-intendimenti. Roma: Nottetempo, 2010.

———. “I sogni delle extrasignore e le loro padrone.” La serva serve. Ed. Cristina Morini. Milano: Derive Approdi, 2001. 27-31.

———. Specchio specchio delle mie brame chi è più abile nel reame? Villa Fiorelli, Prato. 23 Aug. 2006. Theatrical Play.

———. “Un tè serio bollente.” Costruzione psicoanalitica 10 (2005): 59-61. Print.

———. Interview with Clotilde Barbarulli. “Kaha Mohamed Aden e Ribka Sibhatu in dialogo con Clotilde Barbarulli” Poetiche politiche: Narrazioni dell’(im)politico: Figure e figurazioni della prossimità nell’intercultura di genere. Ed. Cristina Bracchi. Padova: Poligrafo, 2011.157-175.

———. Interview with Floriana Liparini. “Le cinque vie di Kaha.” Guerre&pace 162 (Feb. 2011). Web. 8 Aug. 2012..

———, perf. and narr. La quarta via. By Kaha Mohamed Aden. Cinema Teatro Lux, Pisa. Sep. 28, 2007. Oral Story.

———, perf. and narr. La valigia della zia. By Kaha Mohamed Aden. Villa Fiorelli, Prato. 3 Sep. 2005. Oral Story.

———, perf. and narr. Mettiti nei miei panni. By Kaha Mohamed Aden. Università di Pavia, Pavia. 8 Mar. 2003. Oral Story.

2. Critical Sources

Barbarulli, Clotilde. “Storia, corpi e mondo in testi migrant.” World Wide Women Globalizzazione, Generi, Linguaggi vol. 3. Eds. Tiziana Caponio, Fedora Giordano, Beatrice Manetti and Luisa Ricaldone. Torino, CIRSDe – Centro Interdisciplinare di Ricerche e Studi delle Donne Università degli Studi di Torino, 2011. 175-184.

Brioni, Simone. “Tradurre l’identità nell’Italia post-coloniale: La quarta via di Kaha Mohamed Aden” in Altreitalie 41 (2011): 110-124.

Brioni, Simone. “Memory, Belonging and the Right for Representation: Questions of “Home” in Kaha Mohamed Aden’s Fra-intendimenti.”Shifting and Shaping a National Identity: A Study of literature written in Italian by and about migrants in Italy. Eds. Grace Russo Bullaro and Elena Benelli. Forthcoming 2013.

———, ed. Somalitalia: quattro vie per Mogadiscio / Somalitalia: Four Roads to Mogadishu. Rome: Kimerafilm, 2012.

Jansen, Monica. Le cinque vie di Kaha: i colori dei «Fra-intendimenti», in Narrativa 33-34 (2012), pp. 237-248.

Marino, Alessandra. Rev. of Fra-intendimenti by Kaha Mohamed Aden. Anglistica 15. 1 (2011): 139-142.

Vivan, Itala. “L’Italia postcoloniale. I nuovi scrittori venuti dall’Africa.” Nuova informazione bibliografica 2 (2012): 279-302.

Kaha Mohamed Aden
Translated by Simone Brioni
By courtesy of Edizioni Nottetempo
Originally published in Italian as “Uno scialle afro-arabeggiante,” in Fra-intendimenti. Roma: Nottetempo, 2010: 83-88.

I have to get dressed as quickly as possible if I don’t want to miss the bus, which in turn would make me miss the train, which in turn would not take me to the barracks, where, according to the people who work there – who are, for the most part, policemen – they carry out interviews, while numerous immigrants consider that they are being interrogated. Well! Are they interviews or interrogations? Mysteries of the languages… Oh, I forgot, my role in this world is an Interpreter.

Rushing, rushing! Punctual, I arrive at the secretary’s office.

The secretary: Hello Madam! Today you should be working with Mr D. He’s waiting for you in his office.

So I go straight to Mr D’s office. An office which is precisely and neatly organised yet colourless.

With the officer is an old Somali lady who is wrapped up in an afro-Arabic shawl.

As I sit, the conversation immediately begins – there is no time to lose: “you must produce!” is the motto in this place.

The rules of the ‘game’: Mr D (the officer) asks questions, I translate them to the woman, who responds, and I translate this back to Mr D.

They both start talking to me at the same time. The day is off to a good start!

I ask the officer if he minds me listening to the woman. A little annoyed, he gives me his permission. After a brief presentation, the conversation always starting with his questions, it is clear that he is the better actor on this stage.

The woman: Who is this man, my dear? Is he your husband?

Me: No.

The officer: What is she saying?

Me: She wants to know who we are.

The officer: I’m telling you that I’ll ask the questions. How old is the woman?

Where I come from you should greet your elders and initially only they can ask the questions… This woman isn’t someone who makes concessions.  In fact: “If this isn’t your husband, what are you doing here in this room with him?”

I look at both my interviewers and I scratch at my hair, messing it up.

The lady orders me to bring my head closer, she takes hold of my hair and says: “Dry hair, unstyled, with a man whose role is unknown; satisfy my curiosity: your mother doesn’t live in this country, does she?”

Me: No!

The woman: I knew it! And tell me again: in what language were you speaking with the man with the light eyes?

The officer: For heaven’s sake! What is all this chatting between you two? Did you ask how old is she?

Me: No, she wanted to know what language we were speaking.

The officer: Tell her, then she’ll stop asking questions!

Me: We were speaking in Italian, Ma’am.

The woman: Ah! So are we in Rome?

Me: No, we’re not in Rome.  We’re in another country.

The woman: What country are we in?

Me: We’re in a country in which they speak lots of different languages like French…

I’d barely named French when the lady interrupted me again.

The woman: Are we in Paris?

Me: No, but they speak German too and we aren’t in Berlin!

The officier: What are you talking about?

Me: She wants to know which country we are in.

The officier: I heard a series of capitals, not nations. And I have not heard of Switzerland.

Me: I was trying to explain it now! You know, we Africans have time … more extended.

Officer: Yeah, you’re famous for this! I want to know how old the lady is.

The officier is getting nervous, it is in the midst of a dialogue in which he does not understand anything, he is totally excluded. The only way to enter the fray is to stamp his authority, and unfortunately (for me) my old lady is deaf to the questions that she does not like. Once, her authority as an old person gave her this freedom, and I do not think she will easily give up this privilege which she has exercised for so long. I explain to the lady that we are in a country where they speak three languages ​​and it is called Switzerland.

In the meantime, our officier has moved the few items that were on his desk, then he has returned them to their places. Frowning, he interrupted us, and again with a gruff voice asked how old the lady is.

This time, before I talk to the lady, I hasten to ask: “Ma’am, how old?”

The woman: You said three languages? Um, and they live in peace?

Me: Yes!

The lady: Daughter, They must be good… We haven’t be able to understand each other with one language… You know? The war…

I searched in my heart and my brain reasons that allowed me to be a cold professional, to justify why I do not understand it to say, lady I understand your problem and I’m sorry, but now we have to do this and that. My research has found a simple solution, thinking about my cash point.

I held my breath for a while, then I expired and I said: “In this office, people want you to answer to some questions concerning how old are you”.

The madam answered: “What a rude ways to force a person to say that her death is close! I am a woman who passed twice forty years, and one can see that…

“Why  should one insist on my age?”

“Why  should one count the time after a certain age?”

“How old am I? Nobody knows. Me neither…”

The madam collected her thoughts and started to prey. She had slammed the door on my face.

We do not deserve her attention, she addressed someone higher: God.

The officer was tired of waiting for an answer, and started to write.

I was there alone, left in a conversation where all subjects should address me in order to speak and act. I take a peep at what the officer is writing and I see that he has written: “The lady is reticent to answer my questions etc., etc., etc… Suddenly the woman started to sing”.

Me: The lady isn’t singing, she is praying.

The officer: Ah, she is praying. I do not want to know why she is praying.

Everybody wants something. Instead, I want no longer to float through all these emotions, which others produce, even with silence.

For today, I would have stopped being an emotive cable and so be it.

This publication has been possible thanks to the support of the Institute of Advanced Studies at the University of Warwick. I am grateful to Edizioni Nottetempo for giving me the permission to translate these short-stories I am also indebted to Serena Bassi for her comments on the first draft of these translations.

Kaha Mohamed Aden
Translated by Simone Brioni
By courtesy of Edizioni Nottetempo
Originally published in Italian as “Apriti Sesamo,” in Fra-intendimenti. Roma: Nottetempo, 2010: 61-66.

Wash your teeth, wash one foot, now the other, the bath’s so cold! Pyjamas, then under the covers.

I read, I don’t read, I turn off the light, then under the covers.

“Ring ring”, goes the doorbell, I go to open it, it’s the boys who usually hang out in the courtyard behind my house.

Me: Hello. Yes! Hello.

The boys: Could you give us a drop of water?

What a strange request. It’s not a common habit in this town, that of knocking on a door and asking for water. But it was in my old town and perhaps because of this the boys didn’t consider mine one of those doors.

I opened the door. They entered; they settled themselves on the chairs. There were ten of them and they had a stereotypical look about them: so why didn’t you hurry to give them the water? Since their entrance there was a strange silence that had hypnotized me until one of them, in a shrill voice, disturbed my ear, saying to me: are you OK?

Hurriedly, confused, I began to search for the glasses, obviously the plastic ones. I searched for them, and I didn’t find them.

One of them: What are you looking for?

Me: The plastic glasses.

A piercing voice: You want to serve us with the plastic glasses, but I asked how you were?

Me: Let me be! I ask you kindly to leave my house.

Another: My house! You make me laugh. You would even want us to address you as madam, next?

Whatever I would say they would repeat it to the parrot with great laughter. One could say that they were really enjoying themselves; obviously the feeling wasn’t reciprocated.

I’m giving up trying to convince them. I’m getting the phone and I’m calling the police.

Me: Hello, Police? I need you.

Police: What’s the problem?

Me: My house has been occupied by strangers and they don’t want to leave.

Police: Give us your phone number and address. We will get to you as soon as possible.

Me: Thanks, I hope that you arrive soon because this is scaring me.

Police: Don’t worry, madam.

I sat on my bed for 15 minutes, during which I waited for the police. They drove up to the front of my house. As soon as I heard the noises outside I left the house. Thank God the police arrived.

Policeman A: Who are you?

Oh God what a question. Every time an authority asks me it they seem to be saying to me: show us that you’re a good girl. And the answer that I’d like to give is: why should I? Obviously I didn’t give this response but I mumbled a few random, confused sentences, like: they’re the ones you have to talk to, I live here etc etc.

Policeman B: Documents, madamoiselle.

Me: Madam, please. I called you. You should check these guys here.

Policeman B: Excuse me, madam, don’t tell us what to do. We are starting with you. Are you married?

Me: No!

Policeman B: How did they enter the house?

Me: I let them in.

Policemen A: Now we are going inside the house. In the meantime, show us your documents.

We went inside, I did not understand anything anymore. I was anxious because I have been trying to renew my residence permit for two weeks now and have not yet succeed because of the very long queue one has to wait in. Practically, one needs to be there by 4 am and struggle to be one of the 15 who will be received at 8:30 am; the day is spent in the police office, then, even if you are successful in becoming a part of the selected group, the atmosphere that reigns inside varies between dramatic and dramatic and it is hard not to dismiss the existence of that day at all.

Therefore, I have forgotten to renew my permit. Why have I not renewed it? You could answer: I was not able to do so due to the long line outside the police office,” or: “I have forgotten”. Who knows? One thing is true: there, in the immigration office, many people find themselves flooded with documents, all with blank looks, as if they want to say: “we are not guilty”. Foreigners are all in the queue. I think it is normal to avoid spending the whole day in that place and to conceal the expiry date of the documents somewhere in one’s heart of heart. What I can tell you: the permit has not been renewed.

I was so anxious my heart pounded and filled me with fear.
Here is my residence, the card which allows me to remain in the world of lawfulness. You see, it is not nice to enter the lawlessness without doing any evil, nor wanting to do something evil, your document simply expired. Instead, for some foreigners not having all bureaucratic matters in order, means going underground, I do not want to imagine the consequences.

I insist: How scary!

Policeman A: Madam, this document expired two weeks ago!

Me: Yes.

Policeman A: Madam, we must go to the police station.

I watched the policemen. One was with the boys and had a friendly attitude with them. The other went towards the door to take me to the police station. I burst into tears, but the policeman was so indifferent to my attempt to give up, to pretend that I had never called him and my request could not reach him. I could hardly breathe, I felt suffocated, I opened my eyes in bed in a cold sweat. How lovely! The door opens, here is the treasure: it was just a dream. Time to get up.

I wish I could give this dream to someone. Someone worth opening this dream to. To open the dream, is literally what one says in Somali. One way to open it is to tell the dream to someone who knows you, someone you trust and discuss it.

I have a theory about this dream: all immigrants have it. In particular those immigrants who unfortunately have no community that recognises them, protects them. For them that exact ending is a nightmare, and for many it is a reality.

The dream is not frank if we don’t discuss at least two subjects: the dreamer and a person chosen by them. The person chosen should give the dream sense and make it sensible, by relating that situation to the past, or especially present, the everyday life of the dreamer.

I have decided to share the nightmare with you. It isn’t possible to discuss it with you, and neither can you discuss it with me. The simplest solution is to hide it in some part of our minds. In short, keep it out of reach.

Me: simple! Yes?

You: No answer, silence

This publication has been possible thanks to the support of the Institute of Advanced Studies at the University of Warwick. I am grateful to Edizioni Nottetempo for giving me the permission to translate these short-stories I am also indebted to Serena Bassi for her comments on the first draft of these translations.

Leila Aboulela

Leila Aboulela

photo courtesy of author; photo credit: Vaida V. Naim

Contributor: Lily Mabura

She was born in Cairo, Egypt, to an Egyptian mother, Mona Khalifa, and a Sudanese father, Fuad Aboulela (d. 2008), from a merchant class family in Umdurman. He was educated in Victoria College, Egypt, and Trinity College, Dublin. Her mother, who is an expert in demography with a specialty in statistics, earned a PhD from the London School of Economics and lives in Cairo. For years, the couple maintained a mixed heritage household in Khartoum, but one that was culturally dominated by an Egyptian sense of identity.

In Khartoum, where she continuously lived from six weeks of age to 1987, Aboulela attended the Khartoum American School from age seven to eleven, reading children’s books such as Harriet the Spy and The Little House on the Prairie, before enrollment into a private Catholic girls’ high school, the Sisters’ School, and a subsequent degree in Economics from the University of Khartoum in 1985. Some of her favorite authors growing up included Dostoyevsky and Daphne du Maurier, but she had and would continue pursuing Economics, which she found difficult, at university due to high baccalaureate scores and math being a particularly strong subject under the dedicated tutelage of her mother. After marriage that same year of her graduation, to an internationally mobile engineer husband, Nadir Mahjoub of Sudanese British heritage, who was working in the oil industry in Yemen at the time, and the birth of her first son, a year later, she moved to London for postgraduate studies, completing a M.Sc. and MPhil in Statistics at the London School of Economics in 1990. In London, she shared a flat with her brother, who was undertaking postgraduate studies at the Imperial College London, and her mother, who helped with Aboulela’s baby and also undertook research at the LSE.

Following her husband, who was now working on an offshore oil rig in the North Sea, Aboulela, a mother of two sons by then, relocated to Aberdeen, Scotland, where she started lecturing at the Aberdeen College of Further Education followed by a Research Assistant position at the University of Aberdeen. By 1992, plagued by growing homesickness, she increasingly felt the urge to write and signed up for creative writing evening classes with Todd McEwen, who was writer-in-residence at the Aberdeen Central Library. McEwen encouraged her writing pursuits and even showed her stories to his editor. Aboulela also attended creative writing workshops at the University of Aberdeen and would later, with the support of her husband, give up her career in statistics to pursue writing fulltime. On the family front, she had a third child, a daughter, in 1998. After spending the 90s in Britain, she and her family have, since 2000, lived in Jakarta, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Doha, and, as of September 2012, back in Aberdeen again.

Her short story, “The Museum,” published in Opening Spaces (1999), Heinemann African Writers Series (Ed. Yvonne Vera), won the inaugural Caine Prize for African Writing in 2000. The short story was later included in her collection, Coloured Lights (2001). Aboulela is also the author of three novels, The Translator (1999), Minaret (2005), and Lyrics Alley (2010). Recent uncollected stories include “The Aromatherapist’s Husband” in Inkapture (2012) and “Missing Out” in Granta (2010). Aboulela’s work has been translated into fourteen languages so far, including Arabic versions of some of her novels, as well as appeared in various publications such as the Virginia Quarterly Review, Granta, and The Washington Post. She is also said to be working on a new novel, an adaptation of her historical drama about Imam Shamyl, the legendary warrior who united the tribes of the Caucasus to fight a jihad against Russian Imperial expansion.

Select broadcast radio plays include The Mystic Life (2003) and The Lion of Chechnya (2005). In 2002, BBC Radio 4 also broadcasted an adaptation of “The Museum” and a five-part serialization of The Translator.

Apart from the Caine Prize, select notable awards and recognitions include the Scottish Mortgage Investment Trust Book Award (Fiction) for Lyrics Alley in 2011; shortlisted for the Commonwealth Writers Prize (Eurasia Region, Best Book) for Lyrics Alley in 2011; shortlisted for the Race and Media Award for the radio drama serialization of The Translator in 2003; shortlisted for the PEN/Macmillan Silver Pen Award for Coloured Lights in 2002; and shortlisted for the Saltire Society Scottish First Book of the Year Award in 2000.

Select major themes explored in Aboulela’s writing and the scholarship it has spawned include faith and Islam; transitivity; refugeeism – both economic and political; cultural competency and cultural encounters (East-West, East-East, Egyptian-Sudanese, etc.); race; interreligious relations and Islamophobia; religion and gender; coloniality and postcoloniality; identity; dual and exilic consciousness; class; body-ability; the state of the arts in the Islamic world; family relations; and [Islamic] feminist concerns such as gender relations, marriage (monogamous, polygamous, etc.), female circumcision/FGM, and the veiling discourse.

Other than her personal life and the biographical, which have been major influences and sources of inspiration for her work, Aboulela’s literary influences include writers such as Naguib Mahfouz and Tayeb Salih. She also admires works by Doris Lessing, J. M. Coetzee, Ahdaf Soueif, Anita Desai, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, and Abdulrazak Gurnah. Her favorite novels are The Wedding of Zein by Tayeb Salih and Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë.

Emerging under the auspices of Islamic-informed writing from a woman writer living between the West and the East, Aboulela has championed fiction that “reflects Islamic logic” and “fictional worlds where cause and effect are governed by Muslim rationale” (quoted in Procter, British Council Literature). Her fiction, its sometimes halal status notwithstanding, often encompasses flawed characters who are depicted as “trying to practice their faith or make sense of God’s will in difficult circumstances” (quoted in Procter, British Council Literature).


Aboulela, Leila. “Contribution: Encyclopedia of Afro-European Studies.” Message to the author. 25-29 Jan. 2013. E-mail.

Aboulela, Leila. “Biography.” Leila Aboulela Homepage. 26 January 2012.

Akbar, Afrifa. “Back to Khartoum: Leila Aboulela returns to the land of her fathers.” The Independent. 17 December 2010.

British Council Literature. “Leila Aboulela.” 25 January 2012.

Exclusive Interview with Leila Aboulela.” Virgin Books. 9 February 2012.

Ghazoul, Ferial J. “Halal Fiction.” Al-Ahram Weekly Online. 12 – 18 July 2001

Kozberg, Donna Walters. “The Poet as Hero: PW Talks with Leila Aboulela.” Publishers Weekly. 24 January 2011.

Mabura, Lily. “Teaching Leila Aboulela in the Context of Other Authors Across Cultures: Creative Writing, the Third Culture Kid Phenomenon, and Africana Womanism.” Learning & Teaching in Higher Education: Gulf Perspectives (LTHE) 9.2 (2012): 1-14. Web. Jan. 2013.

Musiitwa, Daniel. “Sudanese Author Leila Aboulela Finds her Voice in Fiction.” Africa Book Club. 1 August 2011.

Sethi, Anita. “Keeping the Faith.” The Guardian. 5 June 2005.

Wilce, Hilary. “My best teacher Leila Aboulela.” TES Newspaper. 11 August 2000.


Linton Kwesi Johnson

Linton Kwesi Johnson

Contributor: Sharmilla Beezmohun

Linton Kwesi Johnson was born on 24 August 1952 in Chapelton, a small town in the rural parish of Clarendon, Jamaica. He came to London in 1963 to join his mother and attended Tulse Hill secondary school in south London. Whilst at school he joined the Black Panthers and helped to organise a poetry workshop within the movement. It was there that he first heard The Last Poets, whose work using voice and percussion helped him to develop his own poetry with Rasta Love, a group of poets and drummers formed of fellow Tulse Hill school friends. Around the same time, Johnson was introduced to New Beacon Books, the UK’s first black bookshop and publishers, by Tony Ottey, an Anglican priest who frequented the youth club Johnson attended. It was there he met the Trinidadian writer and activist John La Rose, who was to become a lifelong friend and mentor, as well as Jamaican author Andrew Salkey, one of the earliest supporters of Johnson’s poetry.

            Inspired by the advent of dub music and the DJs talking over these reggae rhythms, particularly Big Youth, Johnson moved towards writing poetry in his own Jamaican English and about his own experiences whilst incorporating reggae rhythms into the verse. In 1973 his first poem ‘Five Nights of Bleeding’ was published. A response to various actual violent incidents involving young blacks in north and south London, the poem also had the hallmark of much of Johnson’s work, chronicling police brutality and making a clear political statement about racism and inequality. A year later, Race Today Publications published his first poetry collection, Voices of the Living and the Dead. Dread Beat An’ Blood, his second collection, was published in 1975 by Bogle-L’Ouverture — which would also be the title of his first LP.

            From 1973 to 1976 Johnson studied sociology at Goldsmiths College, University of London. During this time he published an article in Race and Class, where he was the first person to use the term ‘dub-lyricist’, in this case describing the practices of the Jamaican DJs at the time: ‘The “dub-lyricist” is the dj turned poet’ (Johnson, ‘Jamaican Rebel Music’ in Race and Class 398). The term ‘dub poetry’ would later become synonymous with the verse not just of Johnson, but also of Jean ‘Binta’ Breeze, Michael Smith, Oku Onuora and many others.

During this time Linton Kwesi Johnson worked on a freelance basis for Virgin Records, writing biographies for reggae artists on the label, as well as sleeve notes and copy for adverts. Eventually he suggested he make a record with them. The launch of his record Dread Beat an’ Blood on vinyl in 1978 by Virgin (under the artist’s name of Poet and the Roots) coincided the release of the film Dread Beat An’ Blood, a documentary on Johnson’s work made by filmmaker Franco Rosso and funded by the Arts Council which was shown on British television. As a freelance journalist for the BBC during the same time, Johnson interviewed reggae acts including Matumbi, one of the UK’s first successful home-grown reggae bands, where he met Dennis Bovell — who from 1982 became his collaborator, forming one of the most enduring partnerships in reggae music.

In 1977 Johnson was awarded a C Day Lewis Fellowship, becoming the writer-in-residence for the London Borough of Lambeth for that year. He went on to work as the Library Resources and Education Officer at the Keskidee Centre near Kings Cross in London, the first home of black theatre and art and where he first met Bob Marley.

From the mid-1970s Linton Kwesi Johnson was part of the radical Brixton-based Race Today Collective, led by Trinidadian-born activist Darcus Howe. Within that organisation Johnson wrote for Race Today magazine, becoming its Poetry Editor. He also created the organisation Creation for Liberation, which would become the cultural fundraising arm of the collective (although originally envisaged by Johnson as an independent body), putting on live events around the UK.

In 1980 Race Today Publications published Johnson’s third book, Inglan Is A Bitch and there were four more albums on the Island label: Forces of Victory (1979), Bass Culture (1980), LKJ in Dub (1981) and Making History (1983). LKJ Records Ltd, Johnson’s own record label, was launched in 1981 with a double-sided single by the Jamaican poet Michael Smith, ‘Mi Cyaan Believe It’ and ‘Roots’.

From the mid-1970s and into the 1980s Johnson’s journalism included writing for magazines such as New Musical Express and Black Music and Jazz Review. He also continued to work at the Race Today Collective and with Race Today magazine until the late 1980s. His groundbreaking ten-part radio series on Jamaican popular music, From Mento to Lovers Rock, went out on BBC Radio One in 1982 and was repeated in 1983. This series has formed the basis for most of the subsequent programmes about reggae on both television and radio, as well as for the numerous books that have been published. From 1985-88 Johnson was a researcher/reporter on Channel Four’s The Bandung File. He also toured regularly with the Dennis Bovell Dub Band and produced albums on the LKJ Records label by writer Jean ‘Binta’ Breeze and St Vincent’s jazz trumpeter Shake Keane.

Recorded at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in London, the album LKJ Live in Concert with the Dub Band was released in 1985 and was nominated for a Grammy Award in the USA soon after. This was followed by Tings An’ Times in 1991, also the title of his Selected Poems co-published by Bloodaxe Books and LKJ Music Publishers the same year. In 1992 Linton Kwesi Johnson and Dennis Bovell collaborated to produce LKJ in Dub: Volume Two. In 1996 the album LKJ Presents was released, a compilation of various artists including Linton Kwesi Johnson. This was followed in the same year by LKJ A Cappella Live, a collection of fourteen poems without music. In 1998 Johnson released More Time to celebrate his twentieth anniversary in the recording business. Island also released a two-CD compilation set entitled Independant Intavenshan. In 2002 Linton Kwesi Johnson became only the second living poet and the first black poet to have his work published in Penguin’s Modern Classics series, under the title Mi Revalueshanary Fren: Selected Poems. Four years later the collection would be republished in Penguin’s Modern Poets series and would also be published with his LKJ A Cappella Live CD by Ausable Press in the USA. In 2002 the BBC made a TV programme about LKJ’s poetry, shown in their Profile series on BBC 4, and Johnson also released the CD LKJ in Dub: Volume Three. To mark his twenty-fifth anniversary as a reggae recording artist, Linton Kwesi Johnson released a CD and, for the first time ever, a DVD in 2004 entitled LKJ Live in Paris with the Dennis Bovell Dub Band.

Alongside his poetry and recording career, Linton Kwesi Johnson is also well known and respected for his political activism. Since his early involvement with the Black Panthers in the early 1970s, Johnson has been part of many groundbreaking black political campaigns in the UK. These include: the Black Parents Movement (organising from the mid 1970s); the New Cross Massacre Action Committee of 1981, which was formed to fight for justice after fourteen black teenagers were killed in an arson attack on a party; being one of the founding committee members of the International Book Fairs of Radical Black and Third World Books, which ran from 1982 to 1995; and being an active campaigner for European Action for Racial Equality and Social Justice in the early to mid-1990s. In 1991, John La Rose and his comrades, amongst them Linton Kwesi Johnson, founded the George Padmore Institute, an archive, library and educational research centre housing materials relating to the black community of Caribbean, African and Asian descent in Britain and continental Europe. In 2012 Johnson set up a charity in Jamaica to help underprivileged schoolchildren, the LKJ Charitable Educational Trust.

Linton Kwesi Johnson has been made an Associate Fellow of Warwick University (1985), an Honorary Fellow of Wolverhampton Polytechnic (1987) and received an award at the XIII Premo Internazionale Ultimo Novecento from the city of Pisa for his contribution to poetry and popular music (1990). In 1998 he was awarded the Premio Piero Ciampi Citta di Livorno Concorso Musicale Nazionale in Italy. In 2003 Johnson was bestowed with an honorary fellowship from his alma mater, Goldsmiths College, then part of the University of London. In 2004 LKJ became an Honorary Visiting Professor of Middlesex University in London. In 2006 he received a Silver Musgrave Medal from the Institute of Jamaica for ‘eminence in the field of poetry’. In 2012 Linton Kwesi Johnson was awarded the Golden PEN award by English PEN for his lifetime achievement in poetry as well as for his activism. His recordings are amongst the top-selling reggae albums in the world and his work has been translated into Italian and German.

Material by Linton Kwesi Johnson

Books by Linton Kwesi Johnson

Die Neue Wortordnung (New Word Hawdah). German Edition. Trans. Claus-Ulrich Viol. Bochum, Germany: Agentur Machtwort, 2002. ISBN 3980794601.

Dread Beat An’ Blood. London: Bogle-L’Ouverture Publications, 1975. ISBN 904521060.

—. German edition. Trans. Ulli Güldner. Neustadt: Buchverlag Michael Schwinn, 1984. ISBN 904521060.

Dread Beat an Blood and Inglan Is A Bitch. Italian Edition. Trans. Gianni Galli . Rome: Stampa Alternativa, 1982.

Facendo La Storia; E Altre Poesie. Italian Edition. Trans. Gianni Galli. Italy: ETS Editrice, 1989. ISBN 887741481.

Inglan Is A Bitch. London: Race Today Publications, 1980. ISBN 0950349828.

—. Swiss-German edition. Trans. Angela Schader. C.1991. No publications details available.

Inglan Is A Bitch and Voices of the Living and The Dead. German Edition. Trans. Almuth Carstens. Berlin: Edition Kalter Schweiss, 1984. ISBN 39924001022.

Linton Kwesi Johnson. Italian edition of poems. Trans. Gianni Galli. Genova, Italy: Bloko Teatro Verdi, 1988.

Mi Revalueshanary Fren. US edition. Introduced by Russell Banks. Keene, NY: Ausable Press, 2006. ISBN 1931337292.

Mi Revalueshanary Fren: Selected Poems. Introduced by Fred D’Aguiar. London: Penguin Modern Classics, 2002. ISBN 0141186984.

Selected Poems. London: Penguin, 2006. ISBN-13 9780141025018.

Tings An’ Times. Newcastle upon Tyne and London: Bloodaxe Books and LKJ Music Publishers, 1991. ISBN 1852241624.

Voices of the Living and the Dead. London: Race Today Publications, 1974. ISBN 0950349879.


Articles etc by Linton Kwesi Johnson

‘Black Beard in Profile’. Race Today Review Dec. 1981/Jan. 1982: 9-14.

Book Review of Puerto Rican Obituary by Pedro Pietri. Race and Class XVI.4 (Apr. 1975): 442-445.

Book Review of Invisible Poets by Joan R Sherman and Latin American Revolutionary Poetry edited with an introduction by Robert Marquez. Race and Class XVII.1 (Summer 1975): 85-87.

Book Reviews of Echo by Orlando Wong; At School Today by Accabre Huntley; Writing in Cuba Since the Revolution edited by Andrew Salkey; and Poems of Succession by Martin Carter. Race Today Nov./Dec. 1977: 164-167.

Book Review of Joey Tyson by Andrew Salkey. Race Today Feb. 1975: 46.

Book Review of Reggae, a People’s Music by Rolston Kallyndyr and Henderson Dalrymple. Race Today Oct.-Nov. 1973: 313.

Book Review of You Better Believe It – Black Verse in English ed. Paul Breman. Race Today Jan. 1974: 24-25.

‘Come We Goh Dung Deh’ and ‘Youtman’ poems and record review. Melanthika: An Anthology of Pan-Caribbean Writing. Birmingham: LWM Publications, 1977. 47-50. ISBN 0905393015.

‘Cutting edge of dub’. The Guardian Review 27 Aug 2005: 7.

Comment piece about ‘The Black Explosion in Schools’ article. Race Today Mar. 1974: 81.

Interview with Caryl Phillips. Race Today Review 1987: 6-9.

Introduction. Race Today Review 1986: 1.

Introduction. Race Today Review 1987: 1.

‘Jamaica Uncovered’. The Guardian Friday Review 28 Feb. 2003: 9.

‘Jamaican Rebel Music’. Race and Class VXII.4 (1976):

Memoir on John La Rose. Foundations of a Movement. London: John La Rose Tribute Committee, 1991: 80-82. ISBN 1873201079.

Play review of The Death of a Black Man by Alfred Fagon. Race Today Aug. 1975: 190.

Play review of The Swamp Dwellers by Wole Soyinka. Race Today Sept. 1975: 214-215.

‘The Politics of the Lyrics of Reggae Music’. The Black Liberator (Jan. 1977): 363-373. Note: this article is attributed to sic. Linton Kwise Johnson.

Review of ‘Bob Marley and the Reggae International – Exodus’. Race Today June/July 1977: 92-94.

Review of Decolonising the Mind: The Politics of Language in African Literature by Ngugi wa Thiong’o. Race Today Dec. 1986: 21.

Review of ‘International Reggae: Toots and the Maytals at the Lyceum Strand 10 March 1976’. Race Today Apr. 1976: 93-94.

Review of ‘Kingston is a Long Way from New Orleans – A Review of Ice on Fire, the Mighty Diamonds new album’. Race Today Apr./May 1977: 70-71.

Review of Max Romeo’s Reconstruction and Third World’s 96 Degrees in the Shade. Race Today Jan. 1978: 16-17.

Review of Rasta in a Babylon – A Documentary Film by Howard Johnson. Race Today Jan. 1979: 20-21.

Review of Reggae: Deep Roots by Howard Johnson and Jim Pines and Reggae International ed. Stephen David and Peter Simon. Race Today Review 1984: 41.

Review of Roots and Rock: The Marley Enigma. Race Today Oct. 1975: 237-238.

Review of Third World live at the Rainbow Theatre. Race Today Jan. 1979: 22.

Response to Roots film. Race and Class XIX.1 (Summer 1977): 83-84.

‘Speaking in tongues’. A review of the Dictionary of Caribbean English Usage. The Guardian 19 Apr. 1996.

‘Writing Reggae. Poetry, Politics and Popular Culture’. Moving Worlds: A Journal of Transcultural Writings 6.1 (2006): 2-18. ISBN 0954075196.


Poems by Linton Kwesi Johnson included in Magazines, Journals and Books – A Selection

‘All Wi Doin is Defendin’. Sparks of Fire: Blake in a New Age. Ed. James Bogan and Fred Goss. Richmond, CA: North Atlantic Books, 1982. 229-30. ISBN 0913028908.

‘Bass Culture’, ‘Five Nights of Bleeding’ and ‘Reggae Sounds’. Wheel and Come Again: An Anthology of Reggae Poetry. Ed. Kwame Dawes. Frederickton: Goose Lane, 1998. 108-113. ISBN 0864921993.

‘Bass Culture’, ‘Inglan is a Bitch’, ‘Mekkin History’ and ‘Reality Poem’. The New Poetry. Ed. Michael Hulse, David Kennedy and David Morley. Newcastle upon Tyne: Bloodaxe Books, 1993. 183-189. ISBN 1852242442.

‘Bass Culture’ and ‘Reggae Fi Dada’. The Penguin Book of Caribbean Verse in English. Ed. Paula Burnett. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1986. 75-78; 338. ISBN 0140585117.

‘Beacon of Hope’. The Heinemann Book of Caribbean Poetry. Ed. Ian McDonald and Stewart Brown. Oxford: Heinemann, 1992. 110-111. ISBN 0435988174.

‘Come Wi Goh Dung Deh’, ‘Di Black Petty Booshwah’, ‘For those who go doun always an under’, ‘Jamaica Lullaby’, ‘Reggae Fi Dada’, ‘Same Way’ and ‘Sonny’s Lettah’. From Our Yard: Jamaican Poetry Since Independence. Ed. Pamela Mordecai. Kingston, Jamaica: Institute of Jamaica Publications Ltd, 1987. 114-126. ISBN 976801704X.

‘Di Anfinish Revalueshan’. POP: The Poetry Olympics Party Anthology. Ed. Michael Horovitz and Inge Elsa Laird. London: New Departures, 2000. 9; 70-72. ISBN 0 902689193.

—. The Popular Front of Caribbean Poetry Anthology. Ed. Paul Beasley. London: Apples and Snakes, 1992. 35-37. ISBN 0951888102.

‘Di Good Life’. Critical Quarterly 33.4 (Winter 1991): 39-40. ISSN 00111562.

‘Di Great Insohreckshan’. The Faber Book of Political Verse. Ed. Tom Paulin. London: Faber and Faber, 1986. 464-65. ISBN 0571136672.

‘Double Scank’, ‘Dread Beat An Blood’ and ‘Street 66’. Borderlines: Contemporary Poems in English. Ed. Wainwright, Clarke, Grogan, Li, Ross and Wallace. Toronto: Copp Clark Ltd, 1995. 256-59. ISBN 0773053425.

‘Dread Beat an Blood’, ‘Reggae Sounds’ and ‘Time Come’. Dub Poetry. Ed. Christian Habekost. Neustadt: Michael Schwinn, 1986. 94-107. ISBN 3925077073.

—. Dub Poetry. German edition. Ed. Christian Habekost. Neustadt: Michael Schwinn, 1986. 94-107. ISBN 3925077030.

‘Dread Beat an Blood’ and ‘Sense Outta Nansense’. The Oxford Book of Caribbean Verse. Ed. Stewart Brown and Mark McWatt. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2005. 273-275. ISBN 0192803328.

‘Dread Beat an Blood’ and ‘Time Come’. Savacou (1974): 26-28.

‘Five Nights of Bleeding’. Race Today (June 1973): 170.

‘Five Nights of Bleeding’ and ‘Tings An Times’. Critical Quarterly 38.4 (Winter 1996): 64.84. ISSN 00111562.

‘For Darcus Howe – Man Free – A Reggae Poem’. Race Today Nov./Dec. 1977: 163.

‘Forces of Victory’. Race Today Sept./Oct. 1978: 139.

‘Hurricane Blues’. Hand in Hand: An Anthology of Love Poems. Ed. Carol Ann Duffy. Basingstoke and Oxford: Picador, 2001. 61-62. ISBN 0330482254.

‘Hurricane Blues’ and ‘If I Woz a Tap-Natch Poet’. For the Geography of a Soul: Emerging Perspectives on Kamau Brathwaite. Ed. Timothy J Reiss. Trenton NJ and Asmara, Eritrea: Africa World Press Inc., 2001. 1-5; xiii. ISBN 0865439052.

‘If I Woz a Tap-Natch Poet’. IC3: The Penguin Book of New Black Writing in Britain. Ed. Courttia Newland and Kadija Sesay. London: Penguin Hamish Hamilton, 2000. 175-178. ISBN 0241140471.

‘Inglan Is A Bitch’. Empire Windrush: Fifty Years of Writing About Black Britain. Ed. Onyekachi Wambu. London: Victor Gollancz, 1998. 211-13. ISBN 0-575-06599-0.

—. Extravagant Strangers. Ed. Caryl Phillips. London: Faber and Faber, 1997. 223-25. ISBN 0571190863.

—. The Penguin Book of Poetry from Britain and Ireland Since 1945. Ed. Simon Armitage and Robert Crawford. London: Viking, 1998. 353-55. ISBN 0670868299.

—. Race Today Review Dec. 1980/Jan. 1981: 65.

—. Scanning the Century: The Penguin Book of the Twentieth Century in Poetry. Ed. Peter Forbes. London: Viking, 1999. 153-54. ISBN 0670880116.

‘Inglan is a Bitch’ and ‘New Word Hawdah’. Jamaica Journal 30.1-2 (Dec. 2006): 69.

‘Inglan is a Bitch’ and ‘Reggae Fi Radni’. Voiceprint. Ed. Stewart Brown, Mervyn Morris and Gordon Rohlehr. Harlow, Essex: Longman, 1989. 82-83; 110-12. ISBN 0582786290.

‘It Dread Inna Inglan (for George Lindo)’. Race Today May/June 1978: 95.

‘It Noh Funny’ and ‘Sonny’s Lettah’. Race Today Jan. 1979: 15.

‘Jamaica Lullaby’. Race Today Aug./Sept. 1979: 94.

‘Mekkin Histri’. Uncommonwealth: An Anthology of Poetry in English. Ed. Neil Besner, Deborah Schnitzer and Alden Turner. Toronto: Oxford UP, 1997. 756-57. ISBN 0-195410769.

—. Viewfinder Topics: Minorities in Britain – Never at Ease. Compiled and ed. Michael Mitchell. Munich: Langenscheidt-Longman, 1997. 8; 32-33. ISBN 3526507627.

‘Mi Revalueshanary Fren’. Other: British and Irish Poetry Since 1970. Ed. Richard Caddel and Peter Quartermain. Hanover, New England: Wesleyan UP, 1999. 126-28. ISBN 0819522589.

‘New Craas Massahkah’. Race Today Review 1984: 22-23.

‘New Word Hawdah’. New Humanist July-Aug. 2007: 45.

—. Polyphonix. Paris: Editions du Centre Pompidou/ Editions Leo Scheer/ Polyphonix, 2002. 108-109. ISBN 2844261221.

‘Night of the Head’, ‘Sonny’s Lettah’ and ‘Yout Rebels’. Panta Musica 4. Italian. Ed. Elisabetta Sgarbi. Milano: RCS Librie Grandi Orere S.p.A., 1996. 231-32. ISBN 8845227146.

‘Reggae Fi Bernard’. Atlanta Review. Atlanta: Poetry Atlanta Inc., 1998. 67-69. ISSN 10739696.

Reggae Fi Dada’. AA Files 49. London: The Architectural Association, 2003: 4-6. ISSN 02616823, ISBN 1902902343.

—. Bete Noire. Hull: Hull Poets Anniversary Issue 12/13 (Autumn 1991/ Spring 1992): 403-405.

—. The Black Scholar 19.4-5 (July-Oct. 1988): 97. ISSN 00064246.

—. The New British Poetry 1968-88. Ed. G Allnutt, F D’Aguiar, K Edwards and E Mottram. London: Paladin, 1988. 49-51. ISBN 0586087656.

‘Reggae Fi May Ayim’. 90TAL: Journal of Literature and Fine Arts 30 (Dec. 1999): 104-107.

—. The Fire People: A Collection of Contemporary Black British Poets. Ed. Lemn Sissay. Edinburgh: Payback P, 1998. 42-44. ISBN 0862417392.

—. A Gathering of Tribes magazine (USA) (2000): 89. ISSN 10589112.

—. Kunapipi: Journal of Post-Colonial Writing. Hebden Bridge: Dangaroo Press, 1998: 143-44. ISSN 01065734.

—. Poetry Review 87.3 (Autumn 1997): 14-16. ISSN 00322156.

‘Reggae Fi Radni’. Race Today Review Dec. 1981/Jan. 1982: 12.

‘Reggae Sounds’ excerpt. The Firebox: Poetry in Britain and Ireland After 1945. Ed. Sean O’Brien. London and Basingstoke: Picador, 1998. 399-400. ISBN 0330369180.

‘Reggae Sounds’. Poems in your Pocket: Imaginative Approaches to GCSE Poetry. Mike Ferguson. Harlow, Essex: Longman, 1999. 62. ISBN 0582419891.

—. The POT! Anthology. Ed. Michael Horovitz. London: New Departures, 2005. 60-61. ISBN 0902689258.

‘Sonny’s Lettah’. Facing the Sea. Ed. Anne Walmsley and Nick Caistor. Oxford: Heinemann Educational, 1986. 54-55. ISBN 043598795X.

—. New Touchstones Advanced. Michael and Peter Benton. London: Hodder & Stoughton, 2002. 187. ISBN 0340801271.

‘Story’. Grandchildren of Albion. Ed. Michael Horovitz. Stroud, Glos.: New Departures, 1992. 170-171; 385-87. ISBN 0902689142.

‘Street 66’. Der Black Atlantic. Haus der Kulturen der Welt. Berlin: Haus der Kulturen der Welt, 2004. 114-118. ISBN 3980885151.

‘Wat About Di Workin Claas?’. Ambit91. London: Ambit, 1982. 3. ISSN 0002-6772.

‘Wat About Di Working Claas?’. Focus 1983: An Anthology of Contemporary Jamaican Writing. Ed. Mervyn Morris. Kingston, Jamaica: Caribbean Authors Publishing Co. Ltd, 1983. 228-29.

‘What About Di Working Class?’. Race Today Review 1983: 175.

Various poems. Hinterland: Caribbean Poetry from the West Indies and Britain. Ed. E A Markham. Newcastle upon Tyne: Bloodaxe Books, 1989. 250-272. ISBN 1852240865.

Various poems. Rock Session 5. Ed. Hartmann, Humann and Reichert. Hamburg: Taschenbuch Verlag, 1981. 70-93. ISBN 3499171138.

‘Youtman’ excerpt. Caribbean Poetry Now. Ed. Stewart Brown. London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1984. ISBN 0340345772.

‘Yout Rebels’. Tell It Like It Is: How our schools fail Black children. Ed. Brian Richardson. London: Bookmarks Publications and Trentham Books, 2005. 152-155. ISBN 1905192061.

‘Yout Rebels’ excerpt. Quiet Storm. Ed. Lydia Omolola. New York: Hyperion, 1999. 59. ISBN 0786804610.

Kwesi Johnson in English

Alibhai-Brown, Yasmin. ‘As good as his words’. The Independent Review 20 June 2003: 22.

Beasley, Paul. ‘Coming of Age or forever young’. OOtal journal (2004): 131-139. ISSN 14041197.

Billen, Andrew. ‘Why Inglan is still a bitch for the Tap Natch Poet’. Evening Standard 2 Sept. 1998: 25-26.

Bowie, David. ‘Confessions of a Vinyl Junkie’. Vanity Fair Nov. 2003: 144-149.

Brown, Mick. ‘Linton Kwesi Johnson: Poet Turns to Reggae’. Rolling Stone 7 Feb. 1980 (No. 310): 16.

Brown, Stewart. Review of Linton Kwesi Johnson Selected Poems. Poetry Wales (Jan. 2007).

Brown-Martin, Graham. ‘Linton Kwesi Johnson’. Trace magazine Mar./Apr. 2004: 40-41.

Caesar, Burt. Interview with Linton Kwesi Johnson. Critical Quarterly 38.4: 64-77.

Christian, Robert. ‘Revalueshanary Fren’. Village Voice. 23 Apr. 1991: 80.

Corio, David and Vivien Goldman. The Black Chord. New York: Universe, 1999. ISBN 0789303752.

Cumming, Tim. Pop review of Linton Kwesi Johnson at the Barbican. The Independent 11 Mar. 2008.

D’Aguiar, Fred. ‘Wan Way Tickit’. Poetry Review 87.3 (Autumn 1997): 14-16. ISSN 00322156.

Davis, Thulani. ‘LKJ Politics in the Groove’. Village Voice 21 Apr. 1980: 65-66.

Dieffenthaller, Ian. ‘Locating Linton Kwesi Johnson in a West Indian British Context’. Conference paper at Warwick University conference 16 Jan. 1999.

Dhondy, Farrukh. ‘The Black Writer in Britain’. Race Today 11 (1979): 66-69.

—. ‘Review: Voices of the Living and the Dead’. Race Today Mar. 1974: 92.

DiNovella, Elizabeth. ‘Linton Kwesi Johnson’. The Progressive 1 Feb. 2007: 33-36.

Dread, Fred. Interview with Linton Kwesi Johnson. Race Today Feb. 1977: 20-23.

—. Review of Linton Kwesi Johnson album Forces of Victory. Race Today May/June 1979: 69-70.

—. Review of Linton Kwesi Johnson’s single ‘Di Black Petty Booshwah’. Race Today May/June 1980: 22-23.

Eldridge, Michael. ‘The Rise and Fall of Black Britain’. Transition 74 (Mar. 1999): 32-43.

Espiner, Mark. ‘Dub him king of Inglan’. The Evening Standard 10 Mar. 2008: 42.

Fagan, Graham. Love is Lovely. Edinburgh, Scotland: The Fruitmarket Gallery, 2002. 11; 69. ISBN 0947912436.

Farrar, Max. ‘Photography: Making and Breaking Radicalised Boundaries: an Essay in Reflexive, Radical and Visual Sociology’. Sociological Research Online 10.1 (31 Mar. 2005).

Ferguson, James. ‘Revalueshanary Voice’. Caribbean Beat Magazine July/Aug. 2003: 69-72.

Glover, Michael. ‘Poetry: Linton Kwesi Johnson, Queen Elizabeth Hall, London’ Review. The Independent 28 Sept. 1996.

Gorham, Clare. ‘Ahead of his rhyme’. The Voice newspaper 16 Feb. 2004: 14-15.

Gräbner, Cornelia. ‘“Here to Stay”: The Performance of Accents in the Work of Linton Kwesi Johnson and Lemn Sissay’. Thamyris journal 14 (2007): 51-68.

Hay, Courtney. Review of Dread Beat an Blood album by Linton Kwesi Johnson. Race Today Sept./Oct. 1978: 142-143.

Harry, Allister. ‘Linton Kwesi Johnson – the Tap Natch Poet’. Sable: the Litmag for Writers Spring 2001: 7-18.

Hunter-Tilney, Ludovic. ‘Speaking Volumes’. Financial Times Magazine 14 June 2003: 46.

Interview with Linton Kwesi Johnson. 90TAL: Journal of Literature and Fine Arts 30 (Dec. 1999): 104-107.

Interview with Linton Kwesi Johnson. Changing Britannia: Life Experience With Britain. Ed. Roxy Harris and Sarah White. London: New Beacon Books/George Padmore Institute, 1999. 50-79; 215. ISBN 187320115X.

Interview with Linton Kwesi Johnson. Critical Quarterly 38.4 (Winter 1996): 64-84. ISSN 00111562.

Interview excerpts with Linton Kwesi Johnson. Windrush: The Irresistible Rise of Multi-Racial Britain. Mike Phillips and Trevor Phillips. London: HarperCollins, 1999. ISBN 0006530397.

Interview with Linton Kwesi Johnson. Hinterland: Caribbean Poetry from the West Indies and Britain. Ed. E A Markham. Newcastle upon Tyne: Bloodaxe Books, 1989. 250-272. ISBN 1852240865.

Interview with Linton Kwesi Johnson. Rock Session 5. Ed. Hartmann, Humann and Reichert. Hamburg: Taschenbuch Verlag, 1981. 70-93. ISBN 3499171138.

Interview with Linton Kwesi Johnson (originally published in Changing Britannia). Tell It Like It Is: How our schools fail Black children. Ed. Brian Richardson. London: Bookmarks Publications and Trentham Books, 2005. 152-155. ISBN 1905192061.

Jaggi, Maya. ‘Mi Revalueshanary Fren’. The Guardian 24 Sept. 1996: 13.

—. ‘Poet on the front line’. The Guardian Review 4 May 2002: 6-7.

—. ‘Why Linton is blowing his top’. The Guardian G2 26 Apr. 1999: 16.

Jamaica Journal. ‘Silver Musgrave Medallist 2005: Linton Kwesi Johnson’. Jamaica Journal 30.1-2 (Dec. 2006): 68.

Larkin, Colin, ed. The Guinness Who’s Who of Reggae. Enfield, Middlesex: Guinness Publishing, 1994. 133-35. ISBN 081127347.

Lawson Welsh, Sarah. Review of Tings an Times: Selected Poems. Bete Noire. Hull: Hull Poets Anniversary Issue 12/13 (Autumn 1991/Spring 1992): 406-424.

Leadbetter, Tim. ‘A Multi-Critical Reading of “Reality Poem” by Linton Kwesi Johnson’. English Association Newsletter 176 (Summer 2004): 6-9.

Lindley, David. Lyric. London: Methuen & Co. Ltd, 1985. 38. ISBN 0416314406.

Lloyd, Errol. Review of Linton Kwesi Johnson album Bass Culture. Race Today Review Dec. 1980/Jan. 1981: 63-64.

Morris, Mervyn. ‘Dub Poets’. Race Today Review 1983: 150-157.

—. Interview with Linton Kwesi Johnson. Jamaica Journal 20.1 (1987): 17-26.

—. Is English We Speaking. London: the British Library, 1993. ISBN 0712303197.

—. Is English We Speaking and Other Essays. Kingston, Jamaica: Ian Randle Publishers, 1999. 1-16; 36-44. ISBN 976812363X.

—. ‘Printing in Performance’. Jamaica Journal 23 (Feb.-Apr. 1990): 21-27.

—. ‘A Note on “Dub Poetry”’. Wasafiri 26 (Autumn 1997): 66-69. ISSN 02690055.

Moore, Malcolm. ‘Reggae radical joins Betjeman’. The Daily Telegraph 18 Mar. 2002: 1.

Mühleisen, Susanne. Review of Linton Kwesi Johnson Live in Paris with the Dennis Bovell Dub  Band DVD. Wasafiri 22.1 Issue 50 (Mar. 2007): 87-88.

Mürer, Timon. ‘Linton Kwesi Johnson’s Dub Poetry, Aspects of its Evolution and its Political Message’. Extended Essay. Waterford Kamhlaba United World College of Southern Africa, Aug. 1998.

Nevins, Bill. ‘Poetry as a Political Act’. Z Magazine Dec. 2006: 53-55.

Pepper, Tara. ‘Penguin’s Patois Poet’. Newsweek 29 Apr. 2002: 51.

Phillips, Caryl. ‘Prophet in another land’. The Guardian Weekend 11 July 1998: 29-33.

Procter, James. Dwelling Places: Postwar Black British Writing. Manchester, UK: Manchester UP, 2004. ISBN 0719060540.

Rugg, Akua. Review of Dread Beat an Blood – A documentary film of Reggae Poet LKJ. Race Today Feb./Mar. 1979: 44-46.

Sandhu, Sukhdev. London Calling: How Black and Asian Writers Imagined a City. London: HarperCollins, 2003. ISBN 000257182X.

‘Some Thoughts on Reggae’. Race Today Review Dec. 1980/Jan. 1981: 58-61.

Stewart, Bob. Review of Linton Kwesi Johnson’s album Making History. Race Today Review 1985: 42-43.

Stewart, Robert J. ‘Choosing his Voice: Linton Kwesi Johnson and the Caribbean Word’. Conference paper at ‘The Second Conference on Caribbean Culture’ at the University of the West Indies, Mona, Jamaica 6-12 Jan. 2002.

—. ‘Linton Kwesi Johnson Poetry: Down a Reggae Wire’. New West Indian Guide 67 1-2 (1993): 69-89.

—. ‘London, New York City and Caribbean Writers’. Conference paper at ‘The Caribbean in New York and Paris’ conference at the Rockefeller Foundation, Bellagio, Italy 27 Aug.-1 Sept. 2003.

Styles, Morag. From the Garden to the Street. London: Cassell, 1998. 282; 292. ISBN 0304332224.

Sutcliffe, David and Ansel Wong. The Language of the Black Experience. Oxford and New York: Basil Blackwell, 1986. 69; 83-84; 89-90. ISBN 0631148167.

Taylor, Laurie. ‘Leggo Relijan’. New Humanist Magazine Spring 2003: 10-13.

Wesling, Donald. ‘Mikhaïl Bakhtin and the Social Poetics of Dialect’. Papers in Language and Literature. Edwardsville, Illinois: 1993. 303-322.

Wroe, Nicholas. ‘A life in writing’. The Guardian Review 8 Mar. 2008: 11.

Williams, K Leander. ‘The riddim method: A poet-musician discusses his Jamaican creole verse’. Time Out New York 12 Oct. 2006.


Selected Critical Work and Articles on Linton Kwesi Johnson in other languages

Assante, Ernesto. Reggae: Da Bob Marley ai Police, Da Kingston a Londra Storia e Protagonisti Della Rivoluzione Musicale Giamaicana. Milan, Italy: Savelli Editori, 1980. 84-85. ISSN 008-20011.

Bader, Stasa. Worte Und Feuer: Dance Hall-Dichtung in Jamaika und England. Neustadt, Germany: Buchverlag Michael Schwinn, 1988. ISBN 3925077111.

Bellini, G, C Gorlier and S Zoppi, ed. Saggi e Ricerche Sulle Culture Extraeuropee (1995). Rome: Bulzori Editore, 1997. 85-92. ISBN 8883190572.

Parolai, Sara. Afrocaraibici a Londra: Linton Kwesi Johnson cantore dub del sociale. PhD Thesis. Genoa, Italy: University of Genoa, Foreign Languages and Cultures, 2004.

—. LKJ: Vita e Battaglie del Poeta del Reggae. Genova, Italy: Chinaski Edizioni, 2009. ISBN 8889966416.

Linton Kwesi Johnson Sound Recordings

Bass Culture. Vinyl album. London: Island Records, 1980.

Dread Beat An’ Blood. Vinyl album. London: Virgin, 1978.

Forces of Victory. Vinyl album. London: Island Records, 1979.

Independant Intavenshan. CD album. London and USA: Island Records, 1998.

Island Masters Reggae Greats. CD album. London: Island Records, 1985.

LKJ A Cappella Live. CD album. London: LKJ Records Ltd, 1996. Also released by WEA France (1998).

LKJ in Dub. Vinyl album. London: Island Records, 1981.

LKJ in Dub: Volume Two. CD and vinyl album. London: LKJ Records Ltd, 1992. Also released by Vacation Japan (1992), WEA Music France (1998).

LKJ in Dub Volume Three. CD and vinyl album. London: LKJ Records Ltd, 2002. Also released by WEA France (2002).

LKJ Live in Concert with the Dub Band. CD and vinyl album. London: LKJ Records Ltd, 1984. Also released by Vacation Japan (1984), Shanachie USA (1985).

LKJ Live in Paris with the Dennis Bovell Dub Band. CD album and DVD. London: LKJ Records Ltd, 2004.

Making History. CD and vinyl album. London and USA: Mango Island Records, 1983.

More Time. CD and vinyl album. London: LKJ Records Ltd, 1998. Also released by WEA Music France (1998), LKJ Records USA (1999)

Straight To Inglan’s Head: An Introduction to Linton Kwesi Johnson. CD album. London: Island Records, 2003.

Tings An’ Times. London: LKJ Records, 1991. Also released by Mensch Switzerland (1991), Quattro Japan (1991), WEA Music France (1991).


Sound Recording Compilations including tracks by Linton Kwesi Johnson

‘Beacon of Hope’. Miniatures 2. Ed. Morgan Fisher. CD album. UK: Cherry Red Records, 2000. Also released by Consipio Records Japan (2000).

‘BG’ and Interview. The Routes of English. Simon Elmes. CD. UK: BBC CD, 2000. ISBN 1901710246.

‘Di Anfinish Revalueshan’ and ‘Story’. Grandchildren of Albion Live on CD Volume One. Various artists. CD album. London, UK: New Departures, no date.

‘Dread Beat ‘n’ Blood’, ‘Story’, ‘Guyanese Dub’ and ‘Sensical Dub’. LKJ Presents. Various artists. CD album. London: LKJ Records Ltd, 1996.

‘Forces of Victory’. Planete Reggae: Le Meilleur de la Musique Reggae. Various artists. CD album. France: Declic Communication , WMD, 1991.

‘If I Waz a Tap Natch Poet’. Poetry in Performance Volume 1. Various artists. CD album. London: 57 Productions, 2002.

‘Mi Revalueshanary Fren’. Summer Jam History. Various artists. CD album. Germany: Polymedia, 1996.

‘Rebirth’. The Peeni Waali Phenomenon. Fizzè. London: LKJ Records Ltd, 1999.

‘Reggae Fi May Ayim’. Dignity. Various artists. CD album. France: Naïve, 2002.

‘Sense outta Nansense’. Irie Irie. Various artists. CD album. The Netherlands: Munich Records BV, 1991.

‘Story’. Reperages Couleurs Vol.6/1991. Various artists. CD album. Switzerland: 150 BPM Records, 1991.

Johnson, Linton Kwesi, composer. ‘Chasm’. Bushfire. Steve Gregory. CD album. London, LKJ Records Ltd, 1994. Also released by Quattro Japan (1994).

Johnson, Linton Kwesi (words), Fizzè and Dizzi (music). ‘Beacon of Hope’. Peeni Waali. CD album. Various artists. Switzerland: Mensch, 1991.

Johnson, Linton Kwesi, Imhotep and Shurik’n. ‘Tek Chance’. Emmaüs Mouvement 1949-1999. Various artists. CD album. Paris: Virgin France, 1999.

Keane, Shake (all tracks composed Linton Kwesi Johnson and Shake Keane). Real Keen: Reggae into Jazz. CD, vinyl and audio cassette album. London: LKJ Records Ltd, undated.

Sublime. ‘Garden Grove’. Sublime. CD album. USA: Gasoline Alley, MCA, 1996.

BBC Radio 4 Website. Desert Island Discs 8 Dec. 2002

BBC 4 Television Website. Reggae Britannia 7 Feb. 2011

The Guardian Website. Linton Kwesi Johnson: ‘Diane Abbott was right about divide and rule’ – video 28 Mar. 2012 

The George Padmore Institute Website.

Island Fifty 1959-2009 Website. Island Records

Linton Kwesi Johnson Official Website. 

The Poetry Archive Website. Linton Kwesi Johnson page 

Wikipedia Website. Entry for Linton Kwesi Johnson.



Note: there are thousands of YouTube clips of Linton Kwesi Johnson performing with the Dennis Bovell Dub Band and reciting poetry solo. The following are a selection only.

Johnson, Linton. ‘Five Nights of Bleeding’. At Exeter Phoenix. Uploaded by phonicfm 22 July 2008

—. ‘Inglan is a Bitch’. OGWT 1980. Uploaded by thecatkeaton 24 Sept. 2007

Johnson, Linton and the Dennis Bovell Dub Band. ‘Fite dem Back’. At Rototom 2011. Uploaded by REGGAEWISE Dongen 3 Sept. 2011

—. ‘More Time’. Uploaded by banatchec 24 Feb. 2007

—. ‘Sonny’s Lettah’. At Chiemsee Reggae Festival, Germany 2008. Uploaded by Rene Zwaap 25 Feb. 2009

—. ‘Want Fi Goh Rave’. Uploaded by rockpaperscissors 13 Feb. 2007

Menard Mponda

MENARD MPONDA (Mbeya, Tanzania, 1968–)

Menard Mponda performing with Cheza Ngoma dancers at Fest Afrika, June 2009 (photo by Eeva Anundi).

Written by Elina Seye (University of Tampere, Finland)

Menard Mponda is a Tanzanian musician and dancer who has been residing in Finland since 1995. Mponda was born in 1968 in Mbeya, South Western Tanzania, to a family with a strong affection for music: a brother and a sister of his have also become professional musicians. Mponda studied dance and music, along with other subjects, at the Bagamoyo College of Arts (Chuo cha Sanaa Bagamoyo, in 2007 renamed to Taasisi ya Sanaa na Utamaduni Bagamoyo) during 1992–95. One of his teachers in Bagamoyo was Arnold Chiwalala, another influential Tanzanian musician living in Finland.

After completing the National Diploma in Arts in Bagamoyo, Mponda traveled to Finland to study in a one-year dance program at the Orivesi Institute of Arts. In Orivesi he studied mainly Western contemporary dance and ballet, but also started teaching traditional Tanzanian dances and music to Finnish students, which he continued for another year after finishing his own studies, giving workshops also elsewhere in Finland. From Orivesi he moved to Tampere, where he continued his activities teaching and performing.

In 1997 he founded together with his students in Tampere the Association Cheza Ngoma that organizes regular dance and drumming classes with Mponda as the main teacher. The more advanced dance students also perform Mponda’s choreographies of traditional and modern African dances. In addition to Cheza Ngoma, he has been teaching regularly in various dance schools in Tampere and Helsinki, and giving dance and drumming workshops all over Finland, sometimes also abroad. Furthermore, he has been organizing and leading drum-building workshops for anyone interested in the East African ngoma drum.

Mponda has also been giving repeated workshops and performances in schools, especially after the city of Tampere started a collaboration with the city of Mwanza in Northern Tanzania in 2002. In connection with this cooperation, the city of Tampere has made the effort to present its Tanzanian twin city and Tanzanian culture to its inhabitants.

Mponda has been performing as a solo artist as well as together with other musicians and dancers. He has participated in many of Arnold Chiwalala’s  productions that combine traditional Tanzanian and Finnish music. In 2000 he formed together with Aliko Mwakanjuki, a fellow student of Bagamoyo also residing in Finland, a band called Mawe Cultural Troupe that performed traditional Tanzanian songs, drumming and dance. In addition to the two founders the band included a third Tanzanian musician and two Finnish singers. Mawe Cultural Troupe was active until 2009. Since then, Mponda has been performing a similar repertoire with his family group The Mpondas, including his two brothers and a sister living in Finland, occasionally other family members. The Mpondas perform traditional Ngoni songs that they learned as children from their parents.

Since moving to Tampere, Mponda has been organizing events alongside with his activities as a teacher and an artist. His influence has probably been most visible through his efforts as the founder and the artistic director of Fest Afrika, a festival for African music organized in Tampere every summer since 2002. Mponda came up with the idea for a festival together with two Tanzanians, Aliko Mwakanjuki and Cliff Ogutu, and a group of members of the Cheza Ngoma association. Later a separate association was founded to oversee the festival arrangements, although the group of organizers has remained more or less the same from the beginning.

Although Fest Afrika was launched by a group of Tanzanian and Finnish enthusiasts of East African music and dance, the organizers did not want to focus only on Tanzanian or East African music. Instead, the goal of the festival is to present many African cultures, make them better known among Finnish people, and to advance connections between people from different African countries. Most of the performers have been artists, bands and dance groups from Finland, but almost every year the festival has also featured visitors from abroad, often African bands from other European countries. Most likely all of the professional African musicians living in Finland have performed at least once at Fest Afrika during its history, many several times. In addition, Afro-Brasilian and Afro-Cuban music and dance has been included. In addition to performances, the festival has offered music and dance workshops and sometimes other connected program, such as photo and art exhibitions.

In addition to Fest Africa and other African music events, Mponda has also been involved in the organization of reggae events produced by the Nigerian DJ Fadda Francis and his company One Love Events.

In 2008 Mponda received the title “Vuoden mahdollistaja” (Enabler of the year), a yearly award dealt out by local NGO’s to an individual, a society or a company that has promoted multiculturalism and tolerance in the Tampere region.

In 2010 Mponda was accepted to study at the Sibelius Academy in the Nordic Master of Global Music (GLOMAS) program as one of four students from Finland. This new program is a joint study program of three Nordic academies of music, and it emphasizes professional skills needed in the contemporary multicultural music scenes. Together with his fellow GLOMAS students at the Sibelius Academy, Mponda has formed a band called Reach the Air that mixes musical influences from different parts of the world. Another recent project is the band Ethnopolis that similarly creates a mixture of different musical traditions, calling their own style “urban ethnofusion”. The band consists of six immigrant musicians from five continents, each bringing their own musical expertise to the band.


Mawe Cultural Troupe: Stone one, live & studio (2005). Nabeina.

External links:

Fest Afrika, http://festafrika.net/

Cheza Ngoma, http://www.chezangoma.net/

Reach the Air, http://www.myspace.com/reachtheair

Taasisi ya Sanaa na Utamaduni Bagamoyo, http://www.tasuba.ac.tz/

Michael Abbensetts

Michael Abbensetts

Contributor: Nisha Obano

Michael Abbensetts was born on 8 June 1983 in Georgetown, British Guiana (now Guyana) to Neville John, a doctor, and Elaine Abbensetts. He was enrolled at Queen’s College at the age of fourteen and left in 1956. He continued his education in Canada, first at Stanstead College, Quebec and later at Sir George Williams University in Montreal until 1961. He then left for the UK and acquired British citizenship in 1974.

A writer of short stories, Abbensetts turned to theatre after seeing a performance of John Osborne’s Look Back In Anger. His first play, Sweet Talk, was performed at the Royal Court in London in 1973 and directed by Stephen Frears, starring Mona Hammond and Don Warrington. Sweet Talk won the George Devine Award that year, and Abbensetts became Resident Dramatist at the Royal Court. 1973 also saw Abbensetts’ first television drama; The Museum Attendant, directed by Stephen Frears, was based on the author’s own experiences as a security guard at the Tower of London, and was broadcast on BBC 2. Abbensetts went on to have a successful career writing for the stage and television with works like Inner City Blues (1974), Roadrunner and Black Christmas (1977), often working with the actor Norman Beaton (who would later become the television barber of Peckham, Desmond Ambrose). Then came Empire Road in 1978. Not only was Empire Road Britain’s first black soap opera, it also boasted an all-black production unit with Abbensetts as creator and writer, Horace Ové as director (for the second series) and Norman Beaton starring alongside Corinne Skinner-Carter. Unfortunately Empire Road was axed after two series in 1979. But Abbensetts continued to write for television with Easy Money (1981), Big George is Dead and Little Napoleans, which was broadcast on Channel 4 in 1994 and starred Norman Beaton and Saeed Jaffrey as two rival solicitors in a comic drama about the relationship between West Indians and Asians in Britain.

Abbensetts has also taught courses on Caribbean film and television. He was visiting professor of drama at the Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh in the early 1980s and has been a fellow at British universities and at the City and Guilds of London School of Art. Having been a pioneer of Caribbean drama on British television, providing actors like Norman Beaton, Rudolph Walker and Mona Hammond with interesting roles portraying the everyday experiences of black people in the UK, Abbensetts has been credited as ‘the writer who gave Caribbeans a real voice in Britain’, and he remains one of the most respected black playwrights of his generation.

Empire Road. London: Panther, 1979.

Four Plays: Sweet Talk, Alterations, In the Mood and El Dorado. London: Oberon, 2001.

‘Royston’s Diary’ and ‘The Street Party’. Living Together Book 2. Ed. Rhodri Jones. London: Heinemann: 1988.

Samba. London: Methuen, 1980.

Sweet Talk. London: Methuen, 1974.

Alterations. Dir. Peter Stevenson. Perf. Don Warrington, Elizabeth Adar, Lloyd Anderson and Trevor Burtle. New End Theatre, Hampstead, London. 1978.

Alterations 2. Theatre Royal, Stratford East, London. 1986.

El Dorado. Dir. Philip Hedley. Perf. Guy Gregory, Carmen Munroe, Jo Martin and Allister Bain. Theatre Royal, Stratford East, London. 1984.

In The Mood. Dir. Robin Lefevre. Perf. Norman Beaton, Allister Bain, Mona Hammond, Marty Cruickshank and Stefan Kalipha. Hampstead Theatre, London. 10 Jan. 1981.

The Lion. Dir. Dan Lloyd and Horace Ové. Perf. Madge Sinclair, Stefan Kalipha, David Webber, Colette Brown and Danny Sapani. Talawa Theatre Company. Cochrane Theatre, London. 30 Sept. 1993.

The Outlaw. Dir. Robert Gillespie. Perf. Raul Newney, Joy Richardson, Jacqueline Pearce, Tony Hippolyte and Wolfe Morris. Carib Theatre Company. Arts Theatre, London. 15 Nov. 1983.

Samba. Dir. Kenneth Chubb. Perf. Trevor Butler, Rachel Bell, Angela Bruce, Thomas Baptiste and Norman Beaton. Tricycle Theatre, London. 16 Sept. 1980.

Sweet Talk. Dir. Stephen Frears. Perf. Allister Bain, Mona Hammond, Don Warrington, Sally Watts, Joan Ann Maynard and Lee Williams-Davis. English Stage Company. Royal Court Theatre, London. 31 July 1973.

Big George is Dead. Dir. Henry Martin. Perf. Norman Beaton, Linzi Drew, Ram John Holder, Kwabena Manso, Joan Ann Maynard, Paul McKenzie, Count Prince Miller, Wolfe Morris, Sol Raye, Carl Rigg, Rudolph Walker and T-Bone Wilson. Television Film. 1987.

Black Christmas. Dir. Stephen Frears. Perf. Janet Bartley, Norman Beaton, Linda Goddard, Stefan Kalipha, Carmen Munroe and Shope Shodeinde. BBC Television. 20 Dec. 1977.

Easy Money. BBC 2 Playhouse. Dir. Gillian Lynne. Perf. Gary Shail, Norman Beaton, Trevor Laird, Stanley Lebor, Derek Smith, Imelda Staunton and Kim Thomson. BBC 2. 28 May 1982.

Empire Road. Dir. Alex Marshall, Peter Jefferies, Horace Ové and Michael Custance. Perf. Norman Beaton, Corinne Sinner-Carter, Joseph Marcell, Trevor Bulter, Wayne Laryea, Nalini Moonasar and Rosa Roberts. BBC Television. 1978-1979.

‘Inner City Blues’. Crown Court. Dir. Carol Wilks. Perf. Joseph Berry, Nadia Catouse, Richard Colson, John Flanagan, Sheila Gish, Ram John Holder, Oscar James, Seymour Matthews, Joan Ann Maynard, William Mervyn, David Miller, Ronald Radd and Peter Wheeler. Granada Television. 2 Aug. 1975.

Little Napoleans. Dir. Rob Walker. Perf. Norman Beaton, Saeed Jaffrey, Lesley Manville, Simon Callow, Barrie Houghton, Kim Vithana and Zohra Segal. Channel 4. 1994.

The Museum Attendant. Thirty-Minute Theatre. Dir. Stephen Frears. Perf. Stringer Davis, Horace James and Tony Selby. BBC Television. 2 Aug. 1973.

‘Roadrunner’. ITV Playhouse. Dir. Barry Hanson. Perf. Trevor Thomas, Barry Reckord, Janet Bartley, Nadia Catouse, Ram John Holder, Rudolph Walker and Neville Phillips. Independent Television (ITV). 5 July 1977.

‘Vanessa’s World’. Doctors. Dir. Ray Kilby. Perf. Christopher Timothy, Maggie Cronin, Corrinne Wicks, Tom Butcher, Ariyon Bakare, Natalie J Robb, Eva Fontaine, Tabitha Wady. BBC Television. 16 Oct. 2001.


Alterations. BBC World Service, 1980.

Brothers of the Sword. BBC Radio. 30 Aug. 1978.

The Dark Horse. BBC Radio. 19 Oct. 1981.

The Fast Lane. Capital Radio. 1980.

Home Again. BBC Radio. 1 Dec. 1975.

Sweet Talk. BBC Radio. 1974.

The Sunny Side of the Street. BBC Radio. 29 July 1977.

Abbensetts, Michael, Anton Phillips, Rudolph Walker, Janet Kay, Malcolm Frederick, Jeffrey Kissoon and Geraldine Connor. ‘Alarm bell for black theatre in Britain’. Letter. The Guardian 21 July 2005: 27.

—. ‘Imperial Sizzlings’. The Observer 30 Dec. 1979: 36.

Banks-Smith, Nancy. Review of Black Christmas by Michael Abbensetts. BBC 2. The Guardian 21 Dec. 1977: 8.

Billington, Michael. ‘All our yesterdays: Want to find out about British history? Look no further than its theatre. As the National Youth Theatre celebrates its 50th anniversary with six new plays marking every decade since the 1950s, Michael Billington examines the concerns – and the blindspots – of Britain’s postwar dramatists’. The Guardian 3 Aug. 2006, G2: 18.

—. Review of Alterations 2 by Michael Abbensetts. Theatre Royal, Stratford East. The Guardian 5 Feb. 1986: 11.

—. ‘The law of the jungle’. Review of The Lion by Michael Abbensetts. Talawa Theatre Company. Cochrane Theatre, London. The Observer 5 Oct. 1993: A6.

—. ‘Life in a box: Black actors already play Shakespearean Kings and now they’re taking on Noël Coward. But where are the new roles that reflect our world?’. The Guardian 4 Dec. 2002: 48.

—. Review of Outlaw by Michael Abbensetts. Carib Theatre Company. The Arts Theatre, London. The Guardian 17 Nov. 1983: 10.

—. Review of Samba by Michael Abbensetts. Tricycle Theatre. The Guardian 19 Sept. 1980: 11.

‘Black but not dark’. The Guardian 21 Jan 1984: 11.

Black Londoners. Narr. Sonia Fraser, Stanley Charles, Alex Pascall, Michael Abbensetts, Molife Pheto, Stewart Patten and Malcolm Laycock. BBC Radio London. Rec. 9 Oct. 1983.

Bourne, Stephen. Black in the British Frame: The Black Experience in British Film and Television. London: Continuum, 2001.

Carne, Rosalind. ‘A case for positive discrimination’. The Guardian 13 June 1983: 9.

Christopher, David. British Culture: An Introduction. London: Routledge, 1999.

Cochrane, Claire. Twentieth-Century British Theatre: Industry, Art and Empire. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2011.

Cook, Joan. ‘No “intermissions” for prolific playwright’. The New York Times 2 Nov. 1986: NJ27.

Cushman, Robert. ‘The case for dirty hands’. Review of Samba by Michael Abbensetts. Tricycle Theatre, London. The Observer 21 Sept. 1980: 31.

—. Review of Alterations by Michael Abbensetts. The Observer 20 Aug. 1978: 21.

—. Review of Outlaw by Michael Abbensetts. Carib Theatre Company. Arts Theatre, London. The Observer 20 Nov. 1983: 33.

Day-Lewis, Sean. ‘Tom and the Murray Mince’. Review of Big George is Dead by Michael Abbensetts. Channel 4. The Guardian 2 Oct. 1987: 19.

de Jongh, Nicholas. ‘New End’. Review of Alterations by Michael Abbensetts. New End Theatre, Hampstead, London. The Guardian 15 Aug. 1978: 6.

—. Review of El Dorado by Michael Abbensetts. Theatre Royal, Stratford East. The Guardian 1 Feb. 1984: 9.

—. Review of In the Mood by Michael Abbensetts. Hampstead Theatre, London. The Guardian 13 Oct. 1981: 9.

Ferris, Paul. Review of The Dark Horse by Michael Abbensetts. BBC Radio 4. The Observer 25 Oct. 1981: 48.

—.‘Rockall and Reagan’. Review of The Fast Lane by Michael Abbensetts. Dir. Liane Aukin. Capital Radio. The Observer 9 Nov. 1980: 44.

Fiddick, Peter. ‘How to handle a euphemism in black and white’. The Guardian 30 Oct. 1978: 10.

Godiwala, Dimple. Alternatives Within the Mainstream: British Black and Asian Theatres. Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars Press, 2006.

Gray, John. Black Theatre and Performance: A Pan-African Bibliography. Westport: Greenwood Press, 1990.

Guptara, Prabhu, S. ‘Abbensetts, Michael’. Contemporary Dramatists. Ed. D L Kirkpatrick. 4th ed. Chicago: St. James Press, 1988: 1-2.

‘A hard look without soft soap’. The Guardian 21 Aug. 1979: 8.

Herbert, Hugh. ‘The light of the silvery moon’. Review of Little Napoleans by Michael Abbensetts. Channel 4. The Guardian 29 June 1994: T6.

Hilary, Jim. ‘How black theatre grabbed the spotlight’. The Guardian 14 Oct. 1985: 13.

King, Bruce. The Oxford Literary History Vol. 13 1948-2000: The Internationalization of English Literature. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2004.

Kingsley, Hilary. ‘Couple courting laughter and votes’. Review of Little Napoleans by Michael Abbensetts. Channel 4. The Times 4 June 1994: np.

Kingston, Jeremy. ‘Declining in exile’. Review of The Lion by Michael Abbensetts. Talawa Theatre Company. Cochrane Theatre, London. The Times 6 Oct. 1993: np.

Klein, Alvin. Review of Alterations 1 by Michael Abbensetts. Crossroads Theatre Company, New Brunswick. The New York Times 9 Nov. 1986: NJ24.

Kwei-Armah, Kwame. ‘“Know Whence You Came”: Dramatic Art and Black British Identity’. New Theatre Quarterly 23.3 (2007): 253-263.

—. ‘Sixty years of forgotten treasures: Britain is to get a Black Theatre Archive. Playwright Kwame Kwei-Armah relives his role in its creation’. The Guardian 28 Sept. 2009, G2: 19.

Lantz, Victoria Pettersen. ‘Locating Cultures, Constructing Identities: The Caribbean Diaspora, Black Britain and the Theatre of Mustapha Matura’. Diss. University of Wisconsin, 2010.

Leavy, Suzan. ‘Abbensetts an Example’. Television Today 19 May 1994: np.

Malik, Sarita. Representing Black Britain: Black and Asian Images on Television. London: Sage, 2002.

McMillan, Michael. ‘Notes on Becoming an Artist’. Black Theatre in Britain. Ed. A Ruth Tompsett. Spec. issue of Performing Arts International 1.2 (1996): 57-64.

Newcomb, Horace, ed. Encyclopedia of Television: 001. 2nd ed. New York: Fitzroy Dearborn Publishers, 2004.

Phillips, Mike. ‘If it’s hard for black actors in Britain, it’s hard too for black playwrights: Michael Abbensetts should get much more widely known with Empire Road, his new BBC black series set in Birmingham’. The Guardian 5 June 1978: 8.

—. ‘Michael Hastings’ next black project is Marcus Garvey, Rastafarian legend. It’s as if Mustapha Matura were to write about Mosley, says Mike Phillips, who explains black reaction to being represented on stage by Gloo Joo’. The Guardian 12 Feb. 1979: 10.

Poore, Benjamin. Heritage, Nostalgia and Modern British Theatre: Staging the Victorians. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012.

Radin, Victoria. ‘The black Coronation Street’. The Observer 29 Oct. 1978: 31.

Ratcliffe, Michael. ‘The Barker Alternative’. Review of Alterations 2, by Michael Abbensetts. Theatre Royal, Stratford East. The Observer 9 Feb. 1986: 25.

Roberts, Philip. The Royal Court Theatre and the Modern Stage. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1999.

Stoby, Michelle. ‘Black British Drama After Empire Road: An Interview with Michael Abbensetts’. Wasafiri 17.35 (2002): 3-8.

‘“A taste of nothing much”: Norman Beaton argues that the BBC should be looking among Britain’s black actors for an Othello — and many other roles as well’. The Guardian 9 Feb. 1979: 12.

Walters, Margaret. ‘Taking Race for Granted’. New Society 16 Nov. 1978.

Nassera Chohra

Nassera Chohra (Marseille, France, 1963)

Nassera Chohra was born in Marseille in 1963, where she grew up as the daughter of Saharawi-Algerian immigrants, thus belonging to the immigrants of the second generation. After her studies she worked as an actress for French television in Paris and in the year 1990, following a trip to Italy, she decided to live in Rome (Camilotti np), where she married an Italian man and gave birth to two children.
Nassera Chohra belongs to the first wave of Italian migrant literature; we know this because in her autobiographical text, Volevo diventare bianca (1993, I wanted to become white), she mainly describes her migrant experience and because the book was written in cooperation with the Italian journalist Alessandra Atti di Sarro. It is possible to find a lot of information regarding this cooperation in an interview conducted by Graziella Parati. Parati tells many details about this interview in the essay ‘Looking through non Western Eyes. Immigrant Women’s Autobiographical Narratives in Italian’ (Parati 122-123). According to Parati, their collaboration was the only unsuccessful and problematic one for both the writer and the editor among migrant writers. Chohra only asked for grammatical assistance but according to Chohra, di Sarro wanted to modify her writing style.
Nassera Chohra wrote also the short story: ‘La signora del deserto’ (1995, ‘The Woman of the Desert’) published in the year 1995 in Studi d’italianistica nell’Africa australe. Italian Studies in Southern Africa (Pretoria: A.P.I. , 1995).
This short story is divided in two parts: ‘La signora del deserto’ (‘The Woman of the Desert’) and ‘La maga Mochina’ (‘The Wizard Mochina’). Through reality and imagination, Nassera Chohra describes some events of her childhood in France and in Africa. In the first part, Nassera Chohra describes the winter spent in a poor and marginal district of Marseille collecting snails to be sold. Although this short story presents several features of fairy tales, in some aspects it is possible to mark the poverty of the French slums:

Two kinds existed on my mountain: the round ones with a pretty shell, a little hard to find, and the big, flat kind that you find a lot of in garbage piles, but especially in piles of poop (Chohra 166).

Also, the inhabitants of the district, who the little Naci meets, remind the reader of fairy tales but at the same time depict the dreariness of the poor areas. These are transfigured by Nassera Chohra’s imagination, like the neighbour, who is similar to a witch:

She never gave up on anything; she even covered her decayed front teeth with aluminum foil, leaving her healthy canine teeth visible. We called her “Dracula” because, like him, she only went out at night: in the courtyard, she’d sprinkle alcohol and light it to kill the ants (Chohra 166).

In the second part, titled ‘La maga Mochina’ (‘The Wizard Mochina’), Chohra describes a summer spent in Africa, in the Sahara, and her meeting with an old woman who tells her about her life and about the magical powers of Nassera’s grandmother. Fantasy and reality are melded in a catchy tale in which popular traditions, memories and fantasy are combined.
In Volevo diventare bianca, Nassera Chohra writes about her life, beginning with her childhood and adolescence spent in a poor and marginal district in Marseille, up to her arrival in Italy where, following a trip, she decided to stay. Furthermore, she describes her experience as a child in Algeria, where her family was in contact with the Sahrawi community and her short journey to Paris, while she was looking for a job as an actress. This autobiography could be considered a Bildungsroman, because in the beginning she refuses her identity and cultural difference, but throughout her life she learns how to accept the colour of her skin and how to appreciate her difference rather as richness and advantage (Ponzanesi 262).
As it can be understood from the title of the book, the human body plays a pivotal role in this autobiography, as well as racism and the feeling of being an outsider. Nassera experiences her difference in the early childhood while playing with a French friend:

Non è che fossi invidiosa, ma io non ho mai avuto una bambola. Nemmeno una brutta, piccola o rotta. Mi ricordo che un giorno le chiesi di regalarmi una di quelle che non usava più. Era una bambola vecchia, rotta e sporca, ma lei con una smorfia rispose: «No. Perché tu sei negra» (Chohra 10-11).

This negative experience marks her life in a permanent way and this feeling of being a foreigner will accompany her throughout her life. As Menin notices, ‘il suo corpo cessa di essere casa’ (Menin 73) because she incessantly has to face a body that prevents her from feeling at home and from being part of the French society. Her body is seen as an enemy or an illness and it determines her mood and her ways of relating with the people surrounding her:

Anche quando passai in prima media, in classe ero l’unica ragazzina di colore. E questo sentirmi diversa dagli altri mi faceva essere permalosa e aggressiva…(Chohra 71).

The hate against her body and the black colour is so strong that she is ashamed of her mother, to the point that she does not want her to pick her up at school, or hopes other children will think her mother is a nanny:

Le passai vicino senza neppure alzare lo sguardo e mi misi a camminare molto avanti a lei, con le mani in tasca, senza dirle neanche ciao. Speravo che così chi ci avesse viste avrebbe pensato che quella era la mia governante (Chohra 13).

It is worth pointing out Nassera’s tale about her attempt at decolorizing her black skin with some bleach she found at her place:

Mi tormentai a lungo, finché mi sembrò d’aver trovato finalmente un rimedio infallibile. L’avevo visto usare tante volte e funzionava sempre. La candeggina: rendeva bianchi i pantaloni dei miei fratelli, figuriamoci se non avrebbe schiarito anche me! (Chohra 14).

This description underlines the feeling of inappropriateness and the efforts to deny her identity when she was a child; furthermore, it is interesting because it stresses her humoristic, ironic and, at the same time, bitter style. This feeling of being an outsider also accompanies her at a mature age, because she says:

Capii in fretta e controvoglia che essere adulta, immigrata e persino con la pelle nera, non era decisamente un vantaggio in un paese di bianchi (Chohra 80).

The body is the starting point when speaking about her inappropriateness, as well as to explore the violence she experienced as a woman and the discrimination between sexes. Nassera remembers and tells her life starting from the body, so that her autobiography becomes corporal and sexed. In doing so, the body becomes the medium of complaint about the violence between sexes, the discrimination and women’s lack of bodily control and manipulation of the female body. Nassera insists in telling about the ways she was mistreatmented. For example, there are many descriptions about corporal punishments her mother inflicted upon her. As noticed Parati (128), her mother, who in this text can be considered as phallocentric and chauvinist, constantly punishes Nassera in a way that mortifies and denies her sexual sphere and femininity:

«Sdraiati per terra, senza mutande e con le gambe aperte!» urlò mia madre stringendo in mano un peperoncino verde spaccato nel mezzo. Conoscevo quel castigo; cercai di fuggire, ma i miei fratelli mi immobilizzarono. Tutta nuda e con le gambe aperte sembravo un pollo da condire prima di metterlo al forno. Il peperoncino, strofinato ripetutamente sul mio sesso, bruciava da morire (Chohra 23).

The fact that Nassera insists on writing about her mother’s obsession with virginity, while also incessantly standing up against her wish of becoming an actress, which she regards as a work for prostitutes, reveals her need to denounce a body that is always manipulated by cultural and social codes, and the necessity to develop new patterns for female sexuality. At a certain point, Nassera’s fragile body is victim of her brother’s violence, as he releases his frustration by beating her. The chapter in which Nassera describes these episodes is called “one hundred and twenty kilos”, maybe to underline the body’s hierarchy:

Gli bastava vedermi parlare in strada con un ragazzo per riempirmi di pugni al mio rientro a casa […]. E ogni giorno le botte erano più forti. Ormai i lividi sul mio corpo non si contavano più (Chohra 86).

What can be observed from these quotations is that Nassera’s memories are bodily and sexed. Furthermore, the body is the starting point to reflect on cultural differences.
Nassera describes a trip to the Saharawi community in Algeria, where she went with her family in her childhood. The writer depicts the rituals of circumcision and the female Saharawi baptism, consisting in a little incision in the knee to prevent women from harassments. As Graziella Parati noticed (129), little Nassera’s attitude is quite western, given that she is always complaining and looking for western comforts:

Non potevano darmi una normale bottiglia con il tappo? Me lo chiesi per tutta la serata, ma il mio capriccio non venne assecondato e dopo un po’ dovetti arrendermi. Il fatto era che l’oasi più vicina si trovava a quattro chilometri dal villaggio e quindi c’era poco da fare gli schizzinosi (Chohra 33).

At the same time, her attitude is ambivalent; she is in the middle of traditions and modernity, showing the complex stance of someone who used to live in different cultural contexts:

Per anni, in seguito, amici e conoscenti mi hanno chiesto invano il significato di questi strani segni sul ginocchio. È stato il mio piccolo segreto per molto tempo. Non è che ci credessi completamente, ma in alcune occasioni mi sono scoperta a pensare che il mio tatuaggio avesse fatto il suo dovere (Chohra 44).

Another pivotal topic, shared by many migrant writers, is food as a metaphor for culture. One of the most original episodes connected to food is when Nassera talks about the buffet after her French friend’s Holy Communion. Nassera wants to eat as much pork as possible, in order to convince others of her Catholicism and, ultimately, become a Catholic. She uses food as a means of integration in the French society and to convert to Catholicism:

Il salame aveva un sapore salato e il vino aveva un po’ il gusto dell’aceto rosso al quale era stato aggiunto dello zucchero. Li avevo ingurgitati in un istante, senza quasi masticare. Ripetei quel gesto più volte, come fossi una ladra. Ogni boccone era sempre più grande e ogni sorso di vino sempre più abbondante, finché ritenni che potesse bastare. A quel punto dovevo per forza essere diventata cattolica. (Chohra 67).

After constantly rejecting her diversity and her hybrid identity, she will finally appreciate her culture and see the mestissage as something positive for her and her family:

Ma il fatto era che io ero cresciuta metà araba e metà francese e per quanto mia madre si ostinasse a volermi educare come una ragazza musulmana, facendo i conti di quanto potesse fruttare il mio titolo di studio il giorno che avessi trovato marito, io vivevo ormai in un mondo tutto mio che era un miscuglio di tradizioni algerine e sogni europei (Chohra 133).

Her desire to reach a monocultural and rigid identity is replaced by the concept of a fluid and complex identity and, using Braidotti’s terminology, she ultimately becomes a nomadic subject.
As Comberiati noticed (np), although this text belongs to the first wave of migrant literature, it is possible to say that it is a more complex book, embracing several topics, such as the body, the need for women’s independence and agency, racism, cultural codes and hybrid identity; topics that Nassera Chohra was able to develop with a simple and humoristic style.

Camilotti, Silvia. ‘Nassera Chohra: La scrittura di una donna tra romanzo e vita’. Voci dal silenzio: np. http://digilander.libero.it/vocidalsilenzio/silviatesi.htm.

Chohra, Nassera. Volevo diventare bianca. Roma: Edizioni e/o, 1993.

Chohra, Nassera. ‘La signora del deserto’. Studi d’italianistica nell’Africa australe. Italian Studies in Southern Africa 2 (1995): 23-29.

Chohra, Nassera. ‘The Woman of the Desert’. Trans. Marie Orton. Ed. Graziella Parati. Mediterranean Crossroads. Migration Literature in Italy. United States of America: Associated University Press, 1999. 165-169.

Comberiati, Daniele. ‘Le molte voci del ’soggetto nomade’. Le reti di Dedalus (2007): np. http://www.retididedalus.it/Archivi/2007/marzo/LETTERATURE_MONDO/Letteratura_migrante.htm.

Menin, Laura. ‘Immaginando la «casa». Luoghi di dislocamento e di desiderio negli scritti di tre giovani donne arabo-musulmane’. Scritture migranti. Rivista di scambi interculturali 3 (2009): 67-92.

Parati, Graziella. ‘Looking through non Western Eyes. Immigrant Women’s Autobiographical Narratives in Italian’. Writing New Identities. Gender, Nation, and Immigration in Contemporary Europe. Ed. Gisela Brinker-Gabler and Sidonie Smith. Minneapolis,London: University of Minnesota Press, 1997. 118-142.

Parati, Graziella ed. Mediterranean Crossroads. Migration Literature in Italy. United States of America: Associated University Press, 1999.

Ponzanesi, Sandra. ‘Resisting Representation. Nassera Chohra, Volevo diventare bianca’. Paradoxes of Postcolonial Culture. Feminism and Diaspora in South-Asian and Afro-Italian Women’s Narratives. Utrecht: Universiteit van Utrecht, 1999. 241-267.


Patience Agbabi

Patience Agbabi

Contributor: Nisha Obano

Patience Agbabi was born in London in 1965 to Nigerian parents. She was fostered by a white English family and lived in Sussex, although she remained in touch with her birth mother and father. Her foster family then moved to Colwyn Bay in North Wales where they bought and ran a guesthouse. Agbabi later left Wales to study at Oxford University.

A prolific poet and performer, Agbabi is one the UK’s most radical poets whose experimentation with form and language also expresses a more personal and fluid sense of cultural and sexual identity. Agbabi regularly appears at diverse venues in the UK and abroad, some more conventional literary establishments than others, ranging from long-running literary and music festivals (such as Ledbury, Glastonbury, the Soho Jazz Festival and Pride) to metro stations. One of her most extraordinary appointments was poet-in-residence at the London tattoo and piercing studio Flamin’ Eight between 1999 and 2000. Agbabi has described herself as a ‘poetical activist’ who is ‘obsessed with poetic form, the human form, the dynamices of performance’. ‘Body language is my work in progress’, she explained in 2003, ‘I write because my ink must flow like blood. The written must be spoken. The chasm between page and stage must be healed’ (<http://www.britishcouncil.org/patience-agbabi>). In 2010 she was named Canterbury Poet Laureate.

Agbabi was a regular performer on the club circuit before her first published work appeared in The Virago Book of Wicked Verse in 1992. Her first full collection R.A.W (Gecko Press) came out in 1995 and won the Excelle Literary Award in 1997. Subsequently her work has been published in a number of anthologies, including Bittersweet: Contemporary Black Women’s Poetry (Women’s Press, 1998), ORAL: poems, sonnets, lyrics and the like (Sceptre,1999) and IC3: The Penguin Book of New Black Writing in Britain (Hamish Hamilton, 2000). 2000 also saw the publication of the critically acclaimed Transformatrix, which was both a commentary on Britain at the time and a celebration of poetic and popular cultural forms.

Although primarily a solo performer who has toured extensively, particularly with the British Council (Namibia 1999, Czech Republic 2000 and Zimbabwe and Germany 2001), Agbabi has also collaborated with other poets and artists on a number of performance projects. Between 1995 and 1998 she was a member of Atomic Lip, possibly the UK’s first poetic pop group, founded by Steve Tasane and including Joelle Taylor. Agbabi formed FO(U)R WOMEN with Adeola Agbebiyi and Dorothea Smartt which performed at the ICA in 1996. She has also taken part in Modern Love, a UK tour featuring a number of spoken word poets and in March 2002 she took Modern Love to Switzerland with Malika Booker. Her work has also been broadcast on television and radio. In 1998, she was commissioned by Channel 4′s Litpop series and in 1999 she was asked to write a poem for Blue Peter‘s National Poetry Competition, which was supported by the BBC.

Agbabi has also delivered a range of workshops and has tutored students in a variety of settings. She was in-house poet at the Poetry Cafe in 1999, a scheme run by the Poetry Society, and later Poet-in-Residence at Oxford Brookes University between 2000 and 2001 where she developed a Poetry Writing module for English Literature undergraduates and delivered workshops for trainee nurses and teaching staff in the School of Healthcare. In 2002, Agbabi completed an MA in Creative Writing at Sussex University and has subsequently taught on a number of creative writing programmes, namely: Greenwich University (2002-2003), University of Wales Cardiff (2002-2004) and Kent University (2004-2005). In 2005, she was poet-in residence at Eton College, Windsor, working with students in the upper and lower schools, a project which received wide coverage in the press.

Since 2007, Agbabi has published numerous works. She contributed to Trees in the City: Poems About the Need for Action on Climate Change (2007), which also featured poems by Jon Burnside and Matthew Hollis. Her third collection, Bloodshot Monochrome (Canongate) appeared in 2008. In 2010 she contributed to I Have Found A Voice, a collection of poems and images to mark the Bicentenary of the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act. She is also a contributor to the collection, Metamorphosis, a unique collaboration between the National Art Gallery and the Royal Opera House, featuring among others, Simon Armitage, Carol Ann Duffy and Jo Shapcott (Yale UP, 2012).

Agbabi continues to write, tour and teach. She is currently working on a new collection inspired by Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, a work Agbabi has admired from an early age, and she has also appeared at a number of venues in the UK as part of the Cultural Olympiad celebrations in 2012.

Works by Patience Agbabi

Bloodshot Monochrome. Edinburgh: Canongate, 2008.

R.A.W. London: Gecko Press, 1995.

Roving Mic. Working title, forthcoming.

Transformatrix. Edinburgh: Payback Press, 2000.

Patience Agbabi’s Work in Anthologies and Journals

Bittersweet: Contemporary Black Women’s Poetry. London: Women’s  Press, 1998.

‘Getting Dressed for Love’. Feminist Review 30.1 (1988): 104.

IC3: The Penguin Book of New Black Writing in Britain. London: Hamish Hamilton, 2000.

I Have Found A Song. London: Enitharmon Press, 2010.

‘The London Eye’. Best Poems on the Underground. Ed. Gerard Benson et al. London: Weidenfield & Nicolson, 2009.

‘Martina’. Feminist Review 30.1 (1988): 104.

Metamorphosis. New Haven: Yale UP, 2012.

‘Ms Demeanour’; ‘Martina’. Feminist Review 62 (1999): 55-57.

‘North(west)ern’. Penguin’s Poems for Life. Ed. Laura Barber. London: Penguin, 2007.

ORAL: Poems, sonnets, lyrics and the like. Frensham: Sceptre Press, 1999.

Red: Contemporary Black British Poetry. Ed. Kwame Dawes. Leeds: Peepal Tree, 2010.

‘Selections from Problem Pages’. Women: a Cultural Review. 20.3 (2009): 323-324.

‘The Sign of the Times’. Feminist Review 30.1 (1988): 104.

‘The Sting’. The Guardian. 5 June 2004 <http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2004/jun/05/nextgenerationpoets.poetry>.

Trees in the City: Poems About the Need for Climate Change. London: Axon Publishing, 2007.

‘Two Poems’. Feminist Review 62.1 (1999): 55.

The Virago Book of Wicked Verse. London: Virago, 1992.


Live Recordings of Agbabi Performances

‘14 ways to say I love you’. Part of ‘Live New Departures’. London: British Library, 25 July 1999.

‘Accidentally falling’. London: British Library, 25 July 1999.

Artrageous. London: BBC recording. Broadcast BBC 2, 22 Apr. 1992.

‘Black the white and the blue’. Part of ‘Poetry in the Piazza’. London: British Library, 9 Aug. 1998.

‘Countdown to zero’. London: RNIB Talking Book Studios, undated.

‘E(manic dance mix A)’. London: British Library, 9 Aug. 1998.

‘It’s better post- than pre-’. London: British Library, 9 Aug. 1998.

‘Ms Demeanour’. London: British Library, 25 July 1999.

‘RAPunzel’. London: British Library, 9 Aug. 1998.

‘R.A.W’. London: British Library, 25 July 1999.

‘Sex is’. London: British Library, 9 Aug. 1998.

‘Tiger’. London: British Library, 9 Aug. 1998.

‘Ufo woman’. London: British Library, 9 Aug. 1998.


Work on Patience Agbabi

Arana, Victoria. Black British Aesthetics Today. Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2007.

Arana, Victoria and Lauri Ramey. Black British Writing. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004.

Breeze, Jean ‘Binta’ et al. ‘A Round-table Discussion on Poetry in Performance’. Feminist review 62 (1999): 24-54.

Dieffenthaller, Ian. Snow on Sugarcane: The Evolution of West Indian Poetry in Britain. Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2009.

Doku, Samuel. ‘Analysis of Patience Agbabi’s Transformatrix as an Avant-Garde ad

Postmodern Poem’. Suite101.com 2 Jan. 2010

<http://www.suite101.com/article/analysis-of-patience-agbabis-t     ransformatrix-a184907>.

Dowson, Jane, ed. The Cambridge Companion to twentieth-century British and Irish women’s poetry. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2011.

Dowson, Jane and Alice Entwistle. A History of Twentieth-Century British Women’s Poetry. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2005.

Everett, Stephanie. ‘Patience Agbabi: Pop Poet’. Aesthetica Magazine (undated)


Huk, Romana. ‘In AnOther’s Pocket: The Address of the “Pocket Epic” in

Postmodern Black British Poetry’. The Yale Journal of Criticism 13.1 (2000): 23-47.

King, Bruce. The Oxford English Literary History: Volume 13: 1948-2000: The    

Internationalization of English Literature. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2005.

Mack, Shree. ‘Patience Agbabi. Crossing Borders: Words on the Page and Words on the Stage’. Afroeuropa 3.1 (2009) <http://www.journal.afroeuropa.eu/index.php/afroeuropa/article/viewFile/131/119>.

Marsh, Nicky, Peter Middleton and Victoria Sheppard. ‘“Blasts of Language”:

Changes in Oral Poetics in Britain Since 1965’. Oral Tradition 21.1 (2006): 44-67.

McMerriman, Emily Taylor and Adrian Grafe, ed. Intimate Exposure: essays on the         

public-private divide in British poetry since 1950. Jefferson: McFarland & Co, 2010.

Novak, Julia. Live Poetry: An Integrated Approach to Poetry in Performance: 153.

Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2011.

Osborne, Deirdre, Valerie Mason-John and Mojisola Adebayo. ‘“No Straight

Answers”: Writing in the Margins, Finding Lost Heroes’. New Theatre Quarterly 25.1 (2009): 6-21.

Perez, Antonio Jose Miralles. Restless Travellers: Quests for Identity Across European and American Time and Space. Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2011.

Ramey, Lauri. ‘Performing Contemporary Poetics: The Art of SuAndi and Patience

Agbabi’. Women: a Cultural Review 20.3 (2009): 310-322.

Rapi, Nina and Maya Chowdhry. Acts of Passion: Sexuality, Gender and Performance. London: Routledge, 1998.

Reed, Brian. ‘She Follows Them How Else? By Flying’. Review of A History of   

Twentieth Century British Women’s Poetry by J Dowson and A Entwistle.

Contemporary Literature 48.3 (2007): 460-67.

Stierstorfer, Klaus and Monika Gomille. Cultures of Translation. Newcastle upon

Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2008.


57 Productions Website <http://www.57productions.com/artist_info.php?id=4>

Apples and Snakes Website <http://www.applesandsnakes.org/page/84/137/253>.

British Council Website <http://literature.britishcouncil.org/patience-agbabi>.

British Council Website Crossing Borders project <http://www.transculturalwriting.com/radiophonics/contents/writersonwriting/patienceagbabi/index.html>.

Canongate Books Website <http://www.canongate.tv/authors/patienceagbabi>.

Literature Wales Website <http://www.literaturewales.org/writers-of-wales/i/130185/desc/agbabi-patience/>.

Patience Agbabi Official Blog <http://www.patienceagbabi.wordpress.com>.

Patience Agbabi on Twitter <https://twitter.com/PatienceAgbabi>.

Patience Agbabi Wikipedia Entry. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Patience_Agbabi>.

Various YouTube performance clips including eg ‘Inspire’ by Patience Agbabi <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LDcpHMj0BdQ>.



Philomena Essed

Contributor: Sabrina Marchetti

Engaged in academia as well as in advising, policymaking and rights’ defence, Philomena Essed is one of the most prominent Afro-Dutch contemporary intellectuals. Her reputation, in the Netherlands as well as abroad, is based on her introduction and elaboration of the notions of “everyday racism” and “gendered racism” in her first book Alledaags racisme (1984), her second book Understanding Everyday Racism (1991) and in the studies and compendiums that she subsequently published on issues of identity and discrimination.

Essed was born in the Netherlands in 1955 from Surinamese parents. Her father was the well-known paediatrician Max Essed. She credits her mother for her inspiring commitment to social justice.  Essed travelled extensively between the two countries during her childhood, until settling down on a stable basis in the city of Nijmegen at the age of fourteen. In 1974 she moved to Amsterdam and thus continued her studies in the Netherlands, completing her MA in Social Anthropology in 1983 and her doctoral thesis in Social Sciences in 1990 (cum laude), at the University of Amsterdam. She and her eldest brother Gerard, gynaecologist, would become the two university professors in the family. The beginning of the intellectual career of Essed mainly took place at the Centre for Race and Ethnic Studies (1985-1991) of the same university, which was until its closure in 1991 – an important reference point for critical studies on identity, race and ethnicity in the Dutch context. Essed continued to work at the University of Amsterdam in the area of Development Studies. Since 2005 she is a full professor in Critical Race, Gender and Leadership Studies at the Antioch University, PhD Program in Leadership and Change in the United States, while still holding research and social commitments in Europe, in particular as deputy member of the Dutch Equal Treatment Commission (CGB).

From the very beginning, the intellectual journey of Essed has been characterized by her capacity to bring to light crucial cultural and social phenomena, going straight to the heart of the most controversial issues. This was the case with racism – and especially its denial – in Dutch society to which, at very beginning of her career, Essed dedicated an essay that has been later acknowledged as one of the most influential Dutch feminist texts as an eye opener on the implicit racism that can take place, unacknowledged, within the feminist movement itself (Essed 1982).

At the beginning of the 1980s, Essed completed an extensive ethnographic study based on interviews with Black women living in the Netherlands and in the United States. During the interviews, they were asked to discuss their experiences as women of colour and moments in which, from their own point of view, they had been exposed to discrimination. In both countries, Black women reported to be repeatedly accused of stealing, cheating and laziness, and to be seen as easily approachable sexual objects. They felt undervalued in their intellectual capacities. In the Netherlands, in particular, women said to feel continuously exposed to negative discourses about minorities and that, when protesting, they were generally accused of oversensitivity (Essed, 2004b). Such occurrences constitute what Essed defined as “everyday racism”. This is manifest in the experience of Black women living an

“everyday life in a White-dominated society [which] involves a continual battle against the denial of racism, against Whitecentrism, against automatic in-group preference among Whites, against constant impediments to their aspirations, against humiliations, against petty harassment, and against denigration of their cultures” (Essed, 1991, p.10).

Taking fully into account the standpoint of these women, the book Alledaags racisme brought to public attention a bottom-up perspective on the construction of race-based discrimination in contemporary societies. In so doing, it originally suggested that those who are directly confronted with and recognise racism in their personal lives are the most competent in describing how this works and how it affects their lives in society at large. The relevance of the perspective of Black people for a general understanding of race based oppression is explained by Essed who states that:

“Blacks are familiar with dominant group interpretations of reality. With their sense of history, through communication about racism within the Black community, and by testing their own experiences in daily life, Black people can develop [a] profound and often sophisticated knowledge about the reproduction of racism. These qualities make Black definitions of racism interesting as an object for academic inquiry” (Essed, cit., p.1-2).

Essed’s work had an immediate and strong reaction within the Dutch public debate. Appreciated by activists, social workers and NGOs, it was instead virulently opposed by the media and Dutch academia (Prins, 2000). Intellectuals criticised the understanding of Essed of racism and her standpoint on the significance of accounts from individual Black people. In general, they dismissed the relevance of racism in Dutch society at the time. In fact, most of these intellectuals seemed to share the belief that Black people tended to experience “as racist” what actually was not so, and to exaggerate the meaning of particular episodes which did not have forcefully to do with people’s skin colour.

On the other hand, this denial of racism expressed by media and scholars revealed the general reluctance to acknowledge the discriminatory side of Dutch people’s attitudes, as far as this was in contrast with the dominant representation, at that time, of the Netherlands as a tolerant and moderate country – as the ideal place for multiculturalism to develop. Racism was commonly portrayed as something which did not concern the Netherlands, but rather countries like the United States, Great Britain, South Africa and so forth. In this sense, Philomena Essed, unveiling hidden and yet frequent instances of racist discrimination, was posing under threat such an optimistic view. Moreover, she was also describing the specific character of Dutch racism, pointing the finger to the connection with the colonial past and to the superior mindset which typifies it.

The vivid reaction to her work, pushed Essed to translate her book into English with the title Everyday racism: Reports from women of two cultures (1990). It also reinforced her motivation to conduct a second, larger study of everyday racism, this time involving only Black women with a college degree or higher. She wanted to challenge the myth that discrimination was a function of low education. This more methodologically and theoretically driven study  was Understanding Everyday Racism: An interdisciplinary theory and analysis of the experiences of black women (1991).  It became a classical, still on curricula today. Essed’s methodology, allowing the researcher to access emotionally charged experiences has been discussed at great length in the book New Racism, by Norma Romm (2010). During the 1990s, Essed has gradually expanded her thinking, beyond racism, to a wider conception of social injustice grounded in a multi-dimensional understanding of identity and the analysis of intertwining systems of domination, for instance in the publication Contradictory Positions, Ambivalent Perceptions: A Case Study of a Black Woman Entrepreneur (1994). Her production of these years, such as Diversity: Gender, color and culture (1996), Race, gender and academic leadership (1997), and Ethnicity and diversity in Dutch academia (1999) reveals also a strong interest in the dynamics of academic knowledge production and in how the dismissal of existing discrimination has an influence on that.

In the beginning of the new millennium she started to live and work both in the United States and the Netherlands, combining her position as senior researcher at the University of Amsterdam (1993-2005), with the one as visiting professor at the University of California – Irvine (2001-2005) and, more recently, her full professorship at Antioch University (since 2005) with her affiliation with the Graduate Gender Programme of Utrecht University (since 2006).

From the year 2000 on, Philomena Essed intensified her contribution to a new scholarship made by several international thinkers working together in the perspective of critical race theory, feminist theory and postcolonial studies, towards an ethnic and gender inclusive idea of Black Europe and of social justice. It is along this line of thought, that one may see her latest publications, such as: Social justice and dignity (2010), Intolerable humiliations (2009), An ABC on people of Afro-descent in Europe (2008), and Gendered normativities in racialized spaces: Cloning the physician (2005b). The same character is expressed in the high number of edited volumes she has published in recent years, such as: Race critical theories (2002, with David Theo Goldberg), Refugees and the transformation of societies (2004a, with Georg Frerks and Joke Schrijvers ), A companion to gender studies (2005a, with David Theo Goldberg and Audrey Kobayashi), Clones, Fakes and Posthumans: Cultures of Representation (with Gabriele Schwab – in press with Rodopi) and finally Dutch Racism (a volume in progress with Isabel Hoving). By now, her work is known in a range of countries – including the US, Canada, South Africa, Sweden, Finland, Russia, the UK, Switzerland, Brazil, and Australia – and many of her publications written in Dutch or English have been translated into French, German, Italian, Swedish and Portuguese.

In addition to her academic work, the career of Philomena Essed is marked by a vivid engagement in policy and justice oriented actions of governmental and non-governmental organizations, nationally and internationally, on issues of ethnic and gender equity. Some of the organisations for which she has served as a member or advisor are: the Dutch institute E-quality: Experts in gender and ethnicity (1997/8), the Dutch national Temporary expert commission for women’s emancipation (1998-2001), and the Dutch Selection commission of members of the judiciary (SRM, 2003-2010). As an expert on race, gender and racism in Europe, Essed had the honour of addressing national and international governing bodies including The European parliament (Brussels, 1984); The United Nations economic and social council (New York, 2001); The House of Representatives of the States-General (The Hague, 2004); and the United States Helsinki commission, commission on security and cooperation in Europe (Capitol Hill – Washington, 2008).

Finally, among the most recent acknowledgments of her contribution to intellectual and social advancement, it is important to mention that in the year 2011 she has received a Knighthood from Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands, and a PhD honoris causa from the University of Pretoria – South Africa.

Prins, Baukje (2000). Voorbij de onschuld: Het debat over de multiculturele samenleving. Amsterdam: Van Gennep.

Romm, Norma (2010). New racism. Revisiting researcher accountabilities. Dordrecht: Springer.

1982  Racisme en feminisme. Socialisties-feministiese teksten. Number 7, pp. 9-41.

1984  Alledaags racisme. Amsterdam: Sara.  (Reprint: Baarn: Ambo, 1988).

1986 The Dutch as an everyday problem: some notes on the nature of white racism. Amsterdam: Centre for Race and Ethnic Studies, University of Amsterdam.

1990  Everyday racism: Reports from women of two cultures. Claremont, CA: Hunter House.

1991  Understanding everyday racism: An interdisciplinary theory. Newbury Park: Sage.

1994 Contradictory positions, ambivalent perceptions: A case study of a Black woman entrepreneur. Feminism and psychology. Volume 4, Number 1, pp. 99-118.

1996  Diversity: Gender, color and culture. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press.

1997  Race, gender and academic leadership: Conversations with Black women scholars. Communicating gender in context. H. Kotthoff & R. Wodak (eds). Amsterdam: John Benjamins, pp. 315-334.

1999  Ethnicity and diversity in Dutch academia. Social Identities, Volume 5, Number 2, pp. 211-225.

2005 Gendered normativities in racialized spaces: Cloning the physician. Racialization: Studies in Theory and Practice. John Solomos & Karim Murji (eds.). Oxford: Oxford UP, pp. 229-249.

2002  Race critical theories: Text and context. Oxford: Blackwell. Co-editor: David Theo Goldberg.

2004a Refugees and the transformation of societies: Agency, policies, ethics and politics. Oxford: Berghahn. Co-editors: Georg Frerks & Joke Schrijvers.

2004b  Naming the unnameable: Sense and sensibilities in researching racism. Researching race and racism. M. Bulmer & J. Solomos (eds). London: Routledge, pp. 119-133.

2005a  A Companion to gender studies. Oxford: Blackwell. Co-editors: David Theo Goldberg & Audrey Kobayashi.

2005b  Gendered normativities in racialized spaces: Cloning the physician. Racialization: Studies in theory and practice. John Solomos & Karim Murji (eds.). Oxford: Oxford UP, pp. 229-249.

2008 An ABC on people of Afro-descent in Europe. Washington: Helsinki Commission.

2009 Intolerable humiliations. Racism, postcolonialism, Europe. G. Huggan & I. Law (eds). Liverpool: Liverpool UP, pp. 131-147.

2010 Social justice and dignity. Leading across differences: Cases and perspectives. K. Hannum, B. McFeeters & L. Booysen (eds). San Francisco: Pfeiffer, pp. 139-147.

Randa Ghazy

Contributor: Andrea Gazzoni

Randa Ghazy is an Italian writer of Egyptian descent, living. She lives in Limbiate, near Milan. Her parents migrated to Italy, where she was born in 1986, in Saronno. In 2002, when she was just fifteen, she published her first book, Dreaming of Palestine, a short novel which met with great success was soon translated into several languages. Her following books, published in 2005 and 2007 respectively, are Prova a sanguinare. Quattro ragazzi, un treno, la vita [Try to bleed: four young people, a train, and life] and Forse oggi non ammazzo nessuno. Storie minime di una giovane musulmana stranamente non terrorista [Maybe I won’t kill anyone today: minor stories by a Muslim girl who strangely is not a terrorist]. She graduated in International Relations at the University of Milan, where she is now enrolled in a Master program in Economic and Political Science. She wrote articles about the condition of migrants in Italy for the magazines Panorama http://blog.panorama.it/italia/2009/07/10/la-scrittrice-randa-ghazy-troppi-episodi-di-razzismo-in-italia, L’Espresso http://espresso.repubblica.it/dettaglio/le-vite-negate-dei-lavoratori-clandestini/1455908, and Internazionale http://www.internazionale.it/search/?q=ghazy. She is also member of the editorial staff of Yalla Italia, a magazine focusing on second-generation migrants in Italy http://www.vita.it/pages/ricerca?cx=003337312052607024525%3Apkrasi_sil8&cof=FORID%3A11&ie=UTF-8&q=ghazy&sa=Cerca#936.

Her fame is mainly due to the controversy aroused by her literary debut, Dreaming of Palestine: it went quite unnoticed when published in Italy, but became a best-seller in France, provoking strong protests from Jewish groups who asked to put a ban on it (http://www.nytimes.com/2002/12/12/world/jewish-groups-want-a-teenager-s-novel-withdrawn-in-france.html). According to them, the book was guilty of inciting violence and hatred through its harsh invectives against Israelis soldiers and its unflinching sympathy for the Palestinians’ cause and even, critics argued, for suicide bombing attacks.

And yet Ghazy’s novel on such a delicate subject as Palestine actually had an apparently accidental genesis http://www.arabafenicenet.it/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=745&Itemid=207, as she did not very much about Palestine when in 2000 she happened to watch on TV the clip of a Palestinian kid, Muhammad al-Durrah, shot dead by Israeli soldiers in the Gaza strip while his father was helplessly trying to shield him (the truthfulness of this news footage would also become a subject of controversy). Ghazy had never had any direct or indirect experience of Palestine before, and yet she felt compelled to take a stance and write a short story about it as soon as she realized, in her own words, that Palestine is a «hereditary question» for the whole Arab world, «passed on from father to son». Then she sent her story to a literary context and impressed one of the judges who, being an editor of Fabbri publishing house, asked her to develop the text into a book-length novel. Ghazy took the task really seriously, trying to make up for the lack of actual knowledge through deeply felt emotions and emphatic rhetoric.

The novel tells the story of a group of Palestinian friends living a life of destitution and despair in the Gaza Strip. All of them have been bereft of part of their families and so try to rebuild a new one through friendship, their only real support in the Intifada struggle. Ibrahim, Nedal, Ramy, Mohammad, Ahmed, Gihad, Riham, and Uilad are indeed all facing the passage from childhood to adult life, which proves more difficult and abrupt than ever in the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Almost no hope remains in the end, as the protagonists die, are maimed, go into exile or become insane.

Notwithstanding the author’s vehemence, the book appears to be flawed in several respects. Ghazy’s high-pitched tone and poetry-like prose often turns into a flat standardized style, overloaded with linguistic and thematic clichés which cannot compensate the shortage of substantial variety. Besides, the absence of an actual reference to Palestine makes the setting of the novel seems just like an improvised dramatic backdrop for an otherwise ordinary tale about adolescence and its typical feelings, intensified as they can be by war.

However the novel should also be assessed also according to its original status, that is a juvenile, published in a series dedicated to young Italian readers with whom Ghazy shared not only age but also a cultural framework strongly based on media and pop culture. For instance, the Italian title Sognando Palestina echoes «Sognando la California», the Italian version of the famous song «California Dreamin’»; presenting the book Ghazy herself declared that she started writing impromptu, listening to pop music helping her to set a rhythm http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9T95ajHlFM4. Thus, beyond the weak literary value of the book and the charges brought against it, its real novelty has to do with the author’s status as a second-generation Arab migrant in a non-Arab country. Palestine, indeed, is what allows Ghazy to negotiate her Italo-Egyptian identity and re-nativize herself into a non-native historical, ideological and emotional representation. This is why the belittlement of the novel because of its non-authenticity is not much to the point http://www.nytimes.com/2002/12/28/international/middleeast/28FPRO.html?pagewanted=all, as it misses what critic Bruce Robbins pointed out, that is Ghazy’s «ability to treat another soil as her native one» http://www.logosjournal.com/robbins.htm, by the makeshift means at her disposal.

In her following novels Ghazy has brought her composite identity to the fore, shifting from the outward assertiveness of Dreaming of Palestine to an inward self-questioning which addresses her own condition as a Western citizen of non-Western origins. Consequently, the points of view multiply, as it is already evident in her second novel, Prova a sanguinare, which follows the thoughts of four young people travelling within the same train wagon from Milan to Rome. They are Hayat, an Italo-Egyptian girl, Ruth, an Israeli girl, Daniel, an American boy and Ishi, a Native American young man.

Ghazy has devised the combination of her character in an exemplary and didactic way which on the one side seems oversimplifying, but on the other side proves effective in carrying out an interplay of cultural and individual differences. At the beginning each character feels curiosity but also a sense non-involvement and even hostility for the others’ behaviours, origins and opinions; little by little, however, they open themselves to other people’s diversities and become aware of their very self. For instance, the initial silent clash between Israeli Ruth and Italo-Arab Hayat eventually turns into a heartfelt solidarity that has to do with both their conflicting historical heritages and their adolescent problems. Ghazy’s style accordingly is less forced than in the previous novel, being marked with a different register for every voice: Hayat’s is emotional though controlled, Ruth’s is inflamed and sometimes inordinate, Daniel’s is wavering and unsettled, and Ishi’s is extremely laconic and terse. [read the text] So the book may be read as a parable about the need for exposing one’s collective and individual self to the world’s otherness, so that life can freely though painfully flow, as suggested by the title itself. “Try to bleed”, that is to lay bare one’s own self, is indeed Ghazy’s advice to everyone looking for his or her own identity amid the enormous contradictions and injustices of today’s Western societies.

Addressed to adolescent readers as well as the two previous ones, Ghazy’s third novel, Oggi forse non ammazzo nessuno, is still entangled in cultural clichés, but with the intention to break through them with irony and self-reflection, as the title itself signals. Abandoning unfamiliar identities (like Native Americans, Americans, Israeli, Palestinians) and focusing on herself in a light-hearted bittersweet tone, a far cry from the angry mood of Dreaming of Palestine, Ghazy has finally developed a capacity for analyzing and depicting the contradictions of her own predicament as a Muslim girl in post 9/11 Italy. In particular she has raised the issue of gender, as Jasmine, the protagonist, struggles with a set of well-established stereotypes imposed on her both by Muslims and non-Muslims. For example, she falls in love with an Italian boy, but refuses him as soon as he showers her with the most commonplace negative clichés about Arab people; but at the same time she refuses a Muslim suitor too, as he schemes to make agreements with her family behind her back. And yet Jasmine has to cope with Muslim female models too, from a friend who becomes a seemingly submissive wife to her own mother who is proud to wear a hijab in spite of all Western criticism. Eventually she does not conform to any of them, but in time she realizes how, as fixed as it may appear, every female model is much more complex than it may seem at a first sight. As a result, Jasmine’s attitude, and Ghazy’s too, bends more and more to an ironic and relativistic stance: she puts many questions about the multicultural identity of a young Italo-Egyptian, weighs many possible solutions, and tries to strike a fair balance between opposites, but cannot end up with a straightforward solution. Critics have noticed such a subtlety in handling delicate cultural issues, and this is why their assessments of Oggi forse non ammazzo nessuno are generally favourable http://www.nytimes.com/2007/05/28/arts/28iht-povoledo.1.5897085.html http://www.disp.let.uniroma1.it/kuma/critica/kuma16pettinato.pdf.

Another noteworthy feature of the book is the protagonist’s argument against Oriana Fallaci, the famous Italian journalist who soon after the 9/11 terrorist attack invoked a new crusade against Islam and Muslims, supporting her thesis with trite racist assumptions and extremely violent language (starting from her 2001 book The Rage and the Pride). Herself an admirer of Fallaci’s pre-2001 journalistic prose, Ghazy felt abused and disappointed at reading her influential Islamophobic writings, and thought up the book as a response to them.

This way Ghazy has entered into the wide Italian and Euroepan debate on multiculturalism, putting herself as a spokesperson for the young Italian of Arab and Muslim origins. In spite of her still young age and relatively slight expertise, she has already made a reputation for herself as a commentator on Arab countries and the immigrant’s conditions in Italy. In 2009 Ghazy brought a dramatic private event to a wide audience’s notice, in order to denounce the spreading of hatred and resentment against migrants: an entire Italian family attacked and beat her father (himself an Italian citizen) after a trivial quarrel on a car parking, hurling racist insults at him (see the report and Ghazy’s video-testimony on the Corriere della sera website http://milano.corriere.it/milano/notizie/cronaca/09_giugno_25/limbiate_pestaggio_razziale_padre_scrittrice_randa_ghazy-1601502815168.shtml).

About a decade after her naïve and controversial debut, Randa Ghazy seems to have re-defined her position as an Italo-Egyptian writer in a more conscious way, establishing herself as an example of those second-generation migrants who are becoming part and parcel of Italy’s social, political and cultural life.

  • Sognando Palestina, Milano: Fabbri, 2002.
  • Prova a Sanguinare. Quattro ragazzi, un treno, la vita, Milano: Fabbri, 2005.
  • «Lettere volanti», in R. Taddeo (ed.), Il carro di Pickipò, Roma: Ediesse, 2006, pp. 57-63.
  • «Le vite negate dei lavoratori clandestini», in L’Espresso, online edition, December 12, 2006 http://espresso.repubblica.it/dettaglio/le-vite-negate-dei-lavoratori-clandestini/1455908.
  • Oggi forse non ammazzo nessuno. Storie di una giovane musulmana stranamente non terrorista, Milano: Fabbri, 2007.
  • «Generazione ed evoluzione della scrittura. Conversazione con Randa Ghazy», interview with L. Conte, in Trickster, 6, 2008 http://www.trickster.lettere.unipd.it/doku.php?id=seconde_generazioni:conte_ghazy.
  • «Il grido della scrittrice Randa Ghazy: “Troppi casi di razzismo in Italia. Ignorati dai media”», in Panorama, online edition, July 10, 2009 http://blog.panorama.it/italia/2009/07/10/la-scrittrice-randa-ghazy-troppi-episodi-di-razzismo-in-italia

From Prova a sanguinare. Quattro ragazzi, un treno, la vita, Milano: Fabbri, 2005, pp. 27-29; 133-134.


To the wars

To the wars that infect the world, give off their stink and encrust children’s faces with dust from debris that crushed bodies, and with the blood that shows our throbbing and deep-rooted being, wars that spread like a carcinogenic virus and destroy from within, in a concentric expansion infecting the whole planet.

To the deep dark hatred that roots itself into ignorance, joins prejudices, draws on the past where it finds age-old grievances to rekindle, hatred that spits in the weak one’s faces and boils with contempt, that corrupts those who are cowardly and without a cause and those who sell souls to a high life, a hatred that goes beyond borders but puts up barriers and spits in your face hard and harsh.

To the hypocrisy of women and men that close their eyes and pretend to be blind, as unconscious parasites with larva eyes, that suck blood until they cannot even realize they are replete, and around them there’s only the smell of their bad deeds, of cowardice and lies.

To the desperate and breathless love that boils with anguish, the love of murderous mothers and suicide children, the love of the wealthy ones and the politicians, crazy about money and power, feverish love that’s never enough.

To this society that expects to claim a paternity on me, but it makes me sick and can’t pass on anything to me. A society where hostility is the most spontaneous feeling moving everyone’s life.

Look around and you will see people hating each other, people yelling at but not listening to each other, fighting and competing for breadcrumbs.

You will see the soul of war wandering everywhere.

Sometimes it’s faint, other it rages as it shows itself in full. It’s frightful.

To those people you’ve known only for five minutes but you already hate.

To all of this, to all of them, that’s where my mind is turning to.



All this

All this – I mean, the way Ruth speaks, her way of getting in touch with me, Daniel’s deep and strange looks, Ishi’s hatred for everything happens – all this situation is ridiculous because of a thousand reasons: first, I don’t know anyone of them; second, I haven’t planned to know them; third, I am shy and by nature reluctant to lay myself open to strangers: why should I do it with them? And there are still a lot of other reasons.

I keep quiet for a while. It’s a curious thing how a train journey may make you reflect on what life itself has never brought my mind to.

Ruth, Ruth…you’re an enigma to me. And you intrigue me, as enigmas do, because I want to solve you. But there’s no solution to people. That’s the whole point.

And what about Daniel? I’d like to learn to face and intrigue people like him. Hitting them with what I am.

Ishi is too elusive for me, instead, I know I like him but I can’t understand what kind of person he is.

It seems strange to me that it’s such a short time I’ve been on this train and I’m already drawn to them… as if there were an uncertain, subtle tension binding us together, and making us all alike.

Something imperceptible makes me feel keeping on here, without moving to another compartment.

Maybe this is the challenge. The three of them are challenging me. Well, I’ll take up the challenge.

Ribka Sibhatu

‘Years ago, when I lost all hope of living peacefully in my motherland, I used to dream about Europe.’ (Sibhatu 2004:9)

Ribka Sibhatu, between Eritrea and Italy.

Contributor: Chiara Giuliani

Ribka Sibhatu was born on the 18th September 1962, in Asmara, Eritrea.[i] In 1979 she was sentenced to one year in prison, falsely accused of opposing Marxist ideology and consequently the government of the period; she had refused in fact a marriage proposal from an Ethiopian politician. The experience she went through in prison left a deep scar on her life:

During the long days of my detention, it seemed to me that death was approaching more and more. Every night terror reigned. We, the political prisoners, were terrified by every single door that slammed, by every single noise of handcuffs and by heavy steps. [...] In the evening, they used to enter with handcuffs and the list of people who were to be shot. Not knowing whose turn it was, every noise made our hearts beat faster. [...] Twelve years have passed since I came out of prison, but the girls who were killed and the ones who went crazy when I was there, they still live in me! They often wake me up during my deep sleep [...] And , in the darkness and in the silence, I often cry.(Sibhatu, Aulò: 38)

In 1980 she left Eritrea to move to Addis Ababa. In Ethiopia, thanks to the help of one of her former teachers, she managed to complete high school and to graduate at the Istituto Tecnico Galileo Galilei. During that period she met her future husband, a Frenchman with whom, in 1986, she moved to France; but the marriage ended. Ribka Sibhatu decided to move to Italy where, in her own words: ‘Despite the various problems that an immigrant has to face, my Rome embraced me’. (Sibhatu Aulò:8).

In Rome, she continued her studies in foreign languages at “La Sapienza” university.  Meanwhile, in 1993, she published Aulò. Canto-poesia dall’Eritrea [Aulò. Song-poem from Eritrea], with Sinnos publishing house, in the series I Mappamondi [The globes]. A few years before, in an interview with Alessandro Portelli and Antonietta Saracino, Ribka Sibhatu confessed that her dream was to become a writer but that she also knew how difficult it was to find someone willing to publish her work (Portelli np). However, Sinnos publishers was at that time bringing out a new series for the youth called exactly I Mappamondi. In Francesco Cosenza’s words, the series consists of ‘little books, highly illustrated – very particular tourist guide- which narrate the life of citizens who have more or less recently migrated into our country, describing customs and traditions of their countries of origin.’ (Cosenza np) Aulò is the third volume of this series and the first one to have been written directly by a migrant. It is a bilingual book, with the Italian and the Tigrinya version. As Lucie Benchouiha affirms:

the book is literally half one language, half another, and as such, is a bringing together of, and a linguistic encounter between, two languages and two cultures, the ideal maintenance of a ‘direct and vivid connection with one’s cultural and linguistic roots’. (256)

The writer highlights this encounter not only through bilinguism, but also through the subjects she chooses to tell her story. Even as she defines herself as an Asmarina (inhabitant of Asmara) on the first page, she also underlines how she feels at home in her Italy and how most of her memories in Eritrea have always been linked to Italy. The book’s title comes from the tradition of her country of origin, where the aulò is an oral poem conceived of and then enacted during public events, such as weddings, funerals and commemorations; one of these aulò, dedicated to her uncle is quoted in its entirety, and the final part says: ‘you fell down and you bounced back like a ball,/ the devil’s project is undone,/ with the Virgin Mary’s help!’ (22). Beside the theme of the family, of origins and that of the prison, which having such a crucial role in her life is also treated in this book, the writer introduces in the second part, titled My Abebà, poems, proverbs and songs which belong to the Eritrean tradition. The volume ends, as all those of the series, with the mappapagine [globe-pages] where all the information related to the associations, meeting points, schools, shops etc. of the community taken into consideration, in this case the Eritrean one, can be found.

During the writing of Aulò, she became a mother, to a girl named Sara. In 1997, after her graduation, she cooperated with an NGO ‘theoretically sensitive to the “immigrants’ world”‘, but she was let down, as she affirms:

I realise that in this, as in many other projects that I would deal with afterwards, which were shown to the world as works aimed at improving the image of ‘immigrants’, these ones are those that are really marginalised. (Sibhatu Il cittadino: 10)

In 2004, after several publications, essays and poems, she published Il Cittadino che non c’è. L’immigrazione nei media italiani [The citizen who does not exist. Immigration in Italian media], which was the result of her research for her Ph.D in Sociology of Communication. Initially, the topic of her research should have been the Horn of Africa and in particular Eritrea, and how these were described by Italian media; but unfortunately, the material from the Italian media on this subject was lacking. Consequently, the focus moved to the wider theme of immigration, still from the perspective of the Italian media. For several months Sibhatu took into consideration five different means of information: two of the most important newspapers, two television news broadcasts, on different channels and at different times, and a radio news bulletin. The resultant work is a careful and detailed analysis, which offers to the Italian readership a profound interpretation of the occurrences related to the immigrant reality, which are often reported in a distorted manner. Through the analysis of some events, Ribka Sibhatu deals not only with the image of the migrant as it is presented by the media, but also with the language used by the same journalists, focusing on some expressions such as di colore [coloured] and problem to indicate the immigrant situation, and how this terminology is now, unfortunately, part of the Italian lexicon. The first person narration is noteworthy, strongly desired by the writer with a clear purpose in mind, as she affirms in the introduction:

To better communicate and make a mark on the reader. A real mark, made of emotions, hopes, disappointments, love for my new countries, my new languages, my new homeland that have not eclipsed the memory of the one which saw my birth. [...] The exigency to communicate and to be loved for what I am, to better signpost the entrance into my world made of several languages and several souls. The will to say that, in my diversity, I am exactly like you. Therefore one of you. (32)

This work, starting from the analysis of the resulting data collected over the years, takes into consideration several themes, such as the language, the history, the evolution of migrations and generally the migrant world; all of which filtered through her personal experience as a migrant in Italy.

In addition to various projects all over the country, she worked with the City of Rome from 2002 to 2005 as a consultant for inter-cultural politics, and from 2006 she cooperates with the Minister of Education as a member of the scientific committee for inter-cultural affairs. Despite her commitments over this time, she continued writing and publishing; some of her poems were collected in the anthology Quaderno Africano I [African notebook I] and in  Nuovo Planetario Italiano: geografia e antologia della letteratura della migrazione in Italia e in Europa [New Italian Planetarium: geography and anthology of migration literature in Italy and in Europe] and in several reviews. During the first months of 2012, again with Sinnos, Sibhatu published L’esatto numero delle stelle e altre fiabe dell’altopiano eritreo [The exact number of the stars and other fairytales from the Eritrean plateau], illustrated by Luca De Luise. In this book she again uses the same bilingual structure as she had twenty years before for Aulò. Sibhatu offers a collection of Eritrean fairytales passed on orally through the generations; fairytales are important as they can give an ‘explanation of life, sometimes also describing raw reality’ (5). Each fairytale starts and finishes with exact phrases which, as the writer explains in the introduction (which is also bilingual), have a fundamental role in the narrative process:

The Eritrean fairytale, with its entry and ending rituals, firstly magically detaches the listener from the real world and immerses him in the fantastic one of the narration. Then, at the conclusion of the story, it takes the listener back to reality, underlining that humanity is still situated in the reality which has as definition and limit, life and death (even if the narration creates a marvellous world, to which human identity owes much). (Sibhatu L’esatto: 5-7)

This introduction is of great interest; in it the writer explains what the tale represents in Eritrea and how during her experience in Italian schools she had to modify precisely that entry rite, in order to provoke in Italian children the same amazement that it used to provoke in the Eritrean ones. Therefore the typical Eritrean entry ‘once upon a time, when the stones were ĥambascā’, is transformed, thanks to the efforts of Gianni Rodari, in ‘once upon a time, when the streets were covered in bread, and milk used to flow from fountains, and children could fly…’(7-9).

However, in the book the Eritrean entry is used to show that this is not a book just for a young readership. A significant characteristic is the insertion in the appendix of files on the history of Eritrea and particularly on the structure of Tigrinya. As the editor affirms:

A file related to the history and the structure of the original language, the Tigrinya, has been introduced in the appendix; it could be useful for teachers who might have in class children and young students who naturally have a different linguistic understanding.  Moreover we hope that the approach to different linguistic understandings could make the teaching of our language easier, and could expand our knowledge. (2)

A documentary entitled  Aulò. Roma Postcoloniale [Aulò. Postcolonial Rome], written by Ribka Sibhatu with Simone Brioni and directed by Simone Brioni, Graziano Chiscuzzu and Ermanno Guida, will be released soon. This documentary, following the main theme of Sibhatu’s life, retraces the history of Italy and Eritrean, focusing on the situation of the Eritrean immigrants in Italy. Also of interest, along with the documentary, a volume with the title Aulò! Aulò! Aulò! Poems of nostalgia, exile and love, which will collect all the published and unpublished poems by Sibhatu, is forthcoming.

Committed on all fronts, Ribka Sibhatu, poet and writer, contributed in a relevant way to the cultural exchange between Italy and Eritrea, but also between Italy and the Horn of Africa. Her work, particularly in the world of education, played a crucial role in facilitating integration amongst children, through making them used to the beauty and the importance of multiculturalism. Since her arrival in Italy, Sibhatu, through her works and the projects she has been involved with, has shown and continues to show, how offering a different perspective from the one provided by modern society, particularly by the media, is not only possible but also effective.

[i] All the information related to Sibhatu’s biography, is taken from Aulò. Canto-poesia dall’Eritrea (Sibhatu, Ribka. 1993, Roma: Sinnos, 2004, p. 8), Nuovo Planetario Italiano: geografia e antologia della letteratura della migrazione in Italia e in Europa (Gnisci, Armando, ed. Troina (EN): Città Aperta Edizioni, 2006, pp 290-291) and from Ribka Sibhatu in <http://www.naufragi.it/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=120:ribka-sibhatu&catid=83&Itemid=483>

Primary sources

Sibhatu, Ribka. Aulò. Canto-poesia dall’Eritrea. 1993. Roma: Sinnos, 2004.

—, Il cittadino che non c’è. L’immigrazione nei media italiani. Roma: Edup, 2004.

—, L’esatto numero delle stelle e altre fiabe dell’altopiano eritreo. Roma: Sinnos, 2012.

Critical sources

Attanasio, Flaminia M. ‘«La chiamate integrazione ma è assimilazione», Terra news. Portale ecologista (2009) < http://www.terranews.it/news/2009/07/%C2%ABla-chiamate-integrazione-ma-e-assimilazione%C2%BB >

AA. VV. Quaderno Africano I. Firenze: Loggia dei Lanzi Editori, 1998.

Benchouiha, Lucie. ‘Hybrid Identities? Immigrant Women’s Writing in Italy’ Italian Studies 61 (2006): 251- 262.

Carroli, Piera. ‘Oltre Babilonia? Postcolonial Female Trajectories towards Nomadic Subjectivity’ Italian Studies 65 (2010): 204-218.

Cosenza, Francesco. ‘In giro per mappamondi tra scrittori migranti e generazione che sale’ El-Ghibli.org 22 (2008) < http://www.el-ghibli.provincia.bologna.it/id_1-issue_05_22-section_6-index_pos_3.html >

Gnisci, Armando, ed. Nuovo planetario italiano. Geografia e antologia della letteratura della migrazione in Italia e in Europa. Troina (En): Città Aperta Edizioni, 2006.

Parati, Graziella, ed. Mediterranean Crossroads. Migration Literature in Italy. Madison, N.J.: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1999.

Poetry Translation Centre < http://www.poetrytranslation.org/ >

Ponzanesi, Sandra, Paradoxes of Postcolonial Culture. Contemporary Women Writers of the Indian and Afro-Italian Diaspora. New York: State University of New York Press, 2004.

Portelli, Alessandro. ‘Le origini della letteratura afroitaliana e l’esempio afroamericano’ El-Ghibli.org 3 (2004) <http://www.el-ghibli.provincia.bologna.it/id_1-issue_00_03-section_6-index_pos_2.html>

‘Ribka Sibhatu’, Naufragi, Associazione di Promozione Culturale < http://www.naufragi.it/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=120:ribka-sibhatu&catid=83&Itemid=483 >

‘Ribka Sibhatu’, Roma Multietnica, la guida all’intercultura delle biblioteche di Roma < http://www.romamultietnica.it/it/africa/scrittori-migranti-a-roma/item/3148-ribka-sibhatu.html >

Sibhatu, Ribka. Brioni, Simone. Aulò. Roma postcoloniale (ITA, REDIGITAL 2012)

Taddeo, Raffaele. Letteratura nascente. Letteratura italiana della migrazione. Autori e poetiche. Milano: Raccolto Edizioni, 2006

All the poems, original and translated, included in this section are taken from Poetry Translation Centre.

Daughter of Locusts

Ribka Sibhatu

Locusts, darkened sky,
flayed earth. A mother
panting in bed.

A gloomy month, September,
void of vegetables and greenery.


Her crying started as soon
as she came into the world.

Freed from suffering
the search for milk began
going from door to door.

Emaciated livestock lacking milk -
how to soothe the guest?
How to quench a new mother’s thirst?
if the goats are not merciful.

In that desolate moment
she devoured the milk that had just been milked
and took up her crying once more.

‘Is that chubby one crying again?’

‘Roly-poly’s crying -
as if there wasn’t enough trouble’

‘My poor little one… born into
chaos and famine!’


Grandmother Moon

Ribka Sibhatu

Like once upon a time
here comes grandmother moon
through the window
full of tales and memories.

Be brave, little one,
I’ll keep you company
wherever you are!

Grandmother moon
tells stories and sings poems
that make us feel
at home in a strange land!


My Abebà

Ribka Sibhatu

On the hill of Haz-Haz
lived a girl from Asmara.
Alas… beautiful Abebà,
poised and slender;
a flower that rhymes Abebà
like kohl rhymes round an eye!

So that the world may know:
while they were digging her grave,
cloaked in mystery and death,
she wove an aghelghel basket
and sent it empty of hmbascià bread.

On an indelible night,
they took her from me in handcuffs!


Every day I feel her absence
but in the dark she’s everywhere.

She never wants to leave me -
so bring me the alghelghel of my Abebà
maybe it holds the answer,
the key to her handcuffs

that now bite into me.

There’s only one inscription -

‘a memento for my loved ones’ -

on the alghelghel of my Abebà,
a flower who faded before she bloomed,
my friend in prison.


Mother Africa

Ribka Sibhatu

Cradle of mankind
baobab of the soul,
in your savannahs
and sacred forests
death dances.

You hear the echo, the scream
of the mother
who delivers diamonds
and receives armoured tanks.

O dying land,
that for decades
has met the elders,
the elders who keep
the ancestral treasures.

When will dawn break
for generous
Mother Africa?


The documentary Aulò. Roma Postcoloniale [Aulò. Postcolonial Rome] (ITA, REDIGITAL 2012) will be distributed by Kimerafilm it will be possible to buy it on http://www.kimerafilm.com/

The trailer is available on http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dH08P8N8Nj8

Roberto Blanco

Blanco, Roberto (*1937)

Contributor: Heike Raphael-Hernandez
Contributor Heike Raphael-Hernandez
(First published in Encyclopedia of Blacks in European history and culture (2008) Ed. Eric Marlone, ABC-CLIO Inc. Re-published here with permission of ABC-CLIO Inc.)

Roberto Blanco (also Roberto Zerquera) is a German pop singer and actor of Afro-Cuban descent. Although the height of his career occurred in the late 1960s and 1970s, he is still a widely known pop artist in Germany.

Blanco was born on June 7, 1937, in Tunis, Tunisia, to Roberto Zerquera and his wife Mercedes Blanco, who were both Cuban revue artists. Shortly after his birth, his parents moved to Paris, France; however, due to the looming danger of another war in Europe, they soon decided to move again, this time to Beirut, Lebanon. Soon after their arrival in Beirut, his mother died when Blanco was only two years old.

After living for thirteen years in Lebanon and receiving most of his education in boarding schools in Beirut, he moved to Madrid, Spain, to join his travelling artist father in Europe again. Blanco finished high school in Madrid where he also began his studies in medicine.

In 1957, he made his film debut with A Star of Africa in which he played the personal assistant to a German fighter pilot who was killed during World War II in a plane crash in North Africa. Even if this was just a minor role, the movie opened further doors for him, and many film offers followed after this first one. While most of the films were productions for German TV, a few of the movies became known in the English speaking world such as The Hellhounds of Alaska (1973) and Three Men in the Snow (1974).

His film debut in 1957 caused him also to reconsider his professional dreams, which lead him to abandon the medical field after only two semesters. A move to Germany followed where he began to take singing lessons. In 1958, he received an offer to perform with Josephine Baker as part of her touring company.

While he never played a leading role in any film production, he was able to rise to stardom in Germany as a singer of popular music. In 1969 he won the German Pop Festival with his song “Heute so, morgen so” (Today this way, tomorrow that way). Yet he celebrated his biggest success in 1972 with his hits “Der Puppenspieler von Mexiko” (The puppeteer of Mexico) and “Ein bißchen Spaß muss sein” (There has to be a bit of fun).  Because of this success, he was offered his own TV show on German public television in 1973.

In 1986 he visited his parents’ home country, Cuba, for the very first time, where he was honoured by the Association of Cuban Writers and Artists for his international engagement for Cuba. In addition, Cuba celebrated him by making him the first foreign artist who was allowed to perform at the Tropicana revue in Havanna, Cuba, in 1987.

In 1994 he debuted as a producer with his album “Por tu amor” with songs in Spanish and musicians from South America.

Blanco, Roberto www.roberto-blanco.de

Blanco, Roberto. Meine Vitalgeheimnisse. Wiesbaden, Germany: Modul Verlag, 1999.

Sasha Huber



Written by Taava Koskinen

Sasha Huber was born in 1975 in Zurich, Switzerland as the daughter of a Haitian mother and Swiss father. Her grandfather Georges Remponeau had immigrated to New York with his family ten years earlier to protect them from the tightening grip of Francois Duvalier, the dictator with the nickname ‘Papa Doc’, President of Haiti from 1957 until his death in 1971. He was followed by his son Jean-Claude Duvalier, ‘Baby Doc’, whose dictatorship continued until 1986. Huber’s family spread from the Caribbean to the United States and Europe, making Sasha Huber part of the Caribbean Diaspora by birth.

In 1996 she completed her BA in graphic design at the Zurich University of the Arts & Vocational College for Art and Design Zurich. But she was rather soon to move – via Italy, though –  to Finland, to become partner and collaborator to Petri Saarikko, a Finnish artist and designer and to complete her MA in Visual Culture at the University of Art and Design in Helsinki in 2006. Huber has been showing her work in Finland and abroad both in group and solo exhibitions since 2003. She is based in Helsinki but is travelling frequently working in artists’ residencies in different parts of the world.

From early on a major incentive for Sasha Huber’s artistic work was exploring her own roots and identity in the light of colonial history. Later on this approach was broadened by making it cover wider phenomena and also postcolonial realities. Huber’s work is critical and political in a rather humane way, which at least partly must be due to the aesthetic rendering of the subject matter. Yet both the aesthetics and means of realisation of the work have undergone changes and, concluding from the investigative nature of her art, their transformation will continue. There has also been a change in her outlook on often quite shocking and in her case personally touching colonial phenomena as the early rage has transformed into more exploring, yet still critical attitude.

One of the first things Christopher Columbus, glorified in the West, did after ‘discovering’ Haiti was to kill 3–4 million Arawak Indians. Having read about this Sasha Huber was shocked and decided to create a portrait of Columbus which would also be a political commentary. She found driftwood on the shores of the Arabia district near the University of Art and Design in Helsinki and using that as a kind of canvas developed a technique of creating an image by shooting staples on the wood with a staple gun. Having literally nailed Columbus she continued shooting the Haitian dictators Papa Doc and his son Baby Doc with the same technique and materials, creating a thought-provoking, visually effective trio of works, which was first exhibited in 2004 in Helsinki.

Sasha Huber has continued using the technique combining it with colonial issues. Peter Stuyvesant (2006) is a portrait of the last Dutch seventeenth-century colonial governor of New Amsterdam, nowadays New York. Sugar (2007) was inspired by colonialism in the Eastern Caribbean, Barbados, where Huber found a piece of driftwood on the beach and thought of colonial sugar cane plantations stapling it. Trophy 1(2010) is the first in the series of portraying the journeys of the iconic Finnish painter Akseli Gallen-Kallela (1865–1931). He made these exploration trips to British East Africa (present-day Kenya) between 1910 and 1911 and shot animals together with his son Jorma. Huber shot a portrait of the skull of a rhino that Jorma had shot, giving the honour and trophy to the animal instead.

Silverback (2005) anticipates Sasha Huber’s more recent work, which deals with the transatlantic slave trade and racism. Silverback is a series of beautifully nuanced stapled portraits of gorillas that have a touchingly sad look in their eyes. Huber started the work driven by sympathy for the ill-treated gorillas, hunted by poachers or kept in captivity. But she later came to realise that in the treatment of the gorillas there were unavoidable parallels to the African slave trade: an agenda of cruelty driven by economic incentive.

In the book Rentyhorn (2010, edited by Sasha Huber) the German philosopher Hans Barth ­– ­ nowadays working as a therapist – points out that both Adolf Hitler and the Swiss-born Harvard professor Louis Agassiz (1807–1873) were comparing other ‘races’ to monkeys. Agassiz even carefully matched certain races with certain monkeys. The racist thinking of Agassiz and Hitler is amazingly similar although the former one immigrated to the United States in 1846, made his career at the Harvard University and was Hitler’s parents’ generation. Both gentlemen thought that other races should be separated from the higher white one. Therefore the mixed races, the ‘half-breeds’ were especially dangerous because their blood was poisoned and their degenerative existence was a threat to the civilization.

Louis Agassiz, a highly respected scientist in his lifetime and even after, was a biologist, geologist, anthropologist and glaciologist. He was the first one to suggest that there has been an ice age on earth. And his fame was not limited to the earth – there is a promontory on the moon and a crater in Mars, which are named after him. But it was not until quite recently that even the Swiss had to become more conscious of the fact that he was also a very influential racist scientist. This was because of the preparations for the 200th anniversary of Agassiz’s birth in Switzerland in 2007 and an Alpine peak on the borders of the Swiss cantons Berne and Valais, named Agassizhorn.

The Swiss historian and political activist Hans Fässler took initiative the same year and founded the Transatlantic Committee ‘De-Mounting Louis Agassiz’, which Sasha Huber also became a member of. In 2008 Huber, who in Agassiz’s or Hitler’s time would also have been called a ‘half-breed’, carried out a many-dimensional artistic and political intervention. She hired a helicopter and flew to the peak of the 3946 high Agassizhorn. She was carrying a metal plaque bearing a graphic representation of the slave Renty and she fixed it to the peak for a while (legally it was not possible to leave it there). This was the first concrete step in the initiative of getting the mountain renamed “Rentyhorn” in order to honour the Congolese-born slave Renty and those who met his fate. Agassiz, who created a photographic collection of naked ‘negroes’, ordered Renty to be photographed on a South Carolina plantation. The aim was to prove the inferiority of the black race.

After the intervention an anti-racist request to rename the mountain was sent to the Swiss authorities and an international petition open for anyone to sign was put in the internet and later sent to the Swiss government. Renaming the mountain Rentyhorn was rejected by the authorities in 2010 but the anti-racist project, signed by 2700 partly very renowned people had gained international attention by then. The Transatlantic Committee is also continuing the petition because of the potential opportunity of having an unknown peak in the vicinity of Agassizhorn named Rentyhorn.

Sasha Huber transformed the intervention into a photographic and video installation, which is now in the permanent collection of Kiasma, the Finnish Museum of Contemporary art. In the summer of 2012 Huber took part in an exhibition with her Rentyhorn works in the local history museum of the canton of Grindenwald, in the Agassizhorn area. On that occasion she had the opportunity to meet Renty’s descendants who had started exploring their roots and spotted the Rentyhorn project and her in the internet. They came all the way from the United States, Connecticut to see the exhibition and to thank her and the project initiator Hans Fässler.

Sasha Huber carried on investigating Louis Agassiz in a joint exhibition and book project together with the Brazilian historian Maria Helena P.T. Machado. The exhibition (T)races of Louis Agassiz: Photography, Body and Science, Yesterday and Today (2010) was held as part of the twenty-ninth Sao Paulo Biennial and contained forty photographs from Agassiz’s trips to Brazil in 1865 and 1866.  This was the first time that the Harvard University’s Peabody Museum granted permission for their publication. Sasha Huber’s new photographic work was drawing on this imagery creating new angles for interpretation but a protest-like street intervention was also part of the project.

Sasha Huber’s current works range from intervention or performance to photography, installation and video (not to forget about stapling).  Her works Strange fruit installation (2011) and Strange fruit bowl (2009) are based on Abel Meerpool’s (also known as Lewis Allan) poem and song about lynching, a song that was most famously performed by Billie Holiday. These pieces reveal an interesting conceptual approach, which is different in comparison with Huber’s other work. They also share some kindred spiritedness with the sculptures and installations by the Swiss-German twentieth-century surrealist artist Meret Oppenheim.

Haiti has been present in Sasha Huber’s work from the very start. The Haïti Cheríe exhibition (2011) in Helsinki was a gesture of sympathy for the victims of the December 2010 earthquake in Haiti. Voodoo Capital (2012) was in turn an exhibition curated by Sasha Huber & Petri Saarikko in ‘Kallio Kunsthalle’, a relatively new exhibition space that they run together.  The work was done by adult and adolescent Haitian artists who participated in a project Huber and Saarikko carried out in Haiti.

Collaboration maybe a good key word to illustrate the way Sasha Huber works. Collaboration with her husband, collaboration with other artists, writers and researchers. Let us call it the art of investigative post-colonial collaboration.

Taava Koskinen


For more information and for viewing Sasha Huber’s work:



For viewing or joining the Rentyhorn petition:


Further reading:

Huber, Sasha (ed.), 2010. Rentyhorn. Kiasma, Museum of Contemporary Art, Helsinki.

Huber, Sasha and  Maria Helena P.T. Machado (ed.), 2010. (T)races of Louis Agassiz: Phography, Body and Science, Yesterday and Today. Capacete Entretenimentos on the occasion of the 29th Sao Paulo Biennial, Sao Paulo.


Stuart Hall

STUART HALL (Jamaica, 1932 – London, 2014)

By Mikko Lehtonen (University of Tampere)

Jamaican born Stuart Hall has been said to be “black Britain’s leading theorist of black Britain” (Gates 1997). After arriving in early 1950s on a Cecil Rhodes scholarship to study in Oxford he has internationally been one of the most prominent figures in both social sciences and humanities and a strongly influential public intellectual. Hall was the first editor of the New Left Review in late 1950s and early 1960s, one of the key publications to open up a debate about immigration and politics of identity.  In 1964 he established with Richard Hoggart the renowned Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies (CCCS) at the University of Birmingham he then directed in 1970 – 1979, addressing questions concerning ‘race’ is such publications as The Young Englanders (Hall 1967) and Policing the Crisis (Hall & al. 1978). In 1979–1998 Hall was professor of sociology at Open University, concentrating on analyses of Thatcherism in 1980s and on questions concerning cultural identities in 1990s. After retiring from the OU, Hall has devoted a big part of his energies to Rivington Place, a cultural center located in East London, dedicated to the display, debate and reflection of global diversity issues in the contemporary visual arts (of this, see Hall and Back 2009).

In 2007 The Observer wrote that in all these activities Hall “quietly and radically sought to redraw mind-maps of Britain, looked at how the post-colonial world had to be shaped by our understanding of difference, by the need to rub along with each other” (Adams 2007). As Hall himself has said, his challenge has been to write “the margins into the centre, the outside into the inside . . . a more global version of our island story”, to re-imagine Britishness “in a more profoundly inclusive manner”(quoted in Jaggi 2000).

Claire Alexander (2009) writes in her introduction to a special issue on Hall and ‘race’ in Cultural Studies: “It is almost impossible to overestimate the significance of Stuart Hall in shaping the field of racial and ethnic studies in the past four decades. Both personally and in the body of his work, Hall has been a foundational figure for scholars in Britain, the US, the Caribbean and beyond, in opening new avenues for thinking about race, politics, culture and identity.”

There is not one text that would sum up Hall’s views on globalization, multiculturalism, identity and ‘race’. As all his work, Hall’s work in the field has taken place in the form of articles rather than extensive monographs. As David Scott comments, Hall “is less the author of books than the author of interventions’ (2005, p.3). This way of working is strongly linked with Hall’s aim to address

“the specifics of a concrete moment” (Grossberg 2007, p. 99).

As Claire Alexander (2009) states, especially after Hall’s retirement there have been numerous publications exploring his works (e.g. Davis 2004, Meeks 2007, Procter 2004), but surprisingly

“little concentrated critical engagement with Hall’s theories of race and ethnicity”. And yet questions concerning race and identity are not in any sense marginal to Hall’s intellectual project on the whole.  In an interview, published in the special issue on Hall and ‘race’ in Cultural Studies (Hall and Back 2009), Hall tells that “cultural studies began . . . with my tussle to come to terms with that experience, which is when I first discovered I was a black intellectual”.

Hall’s approach to ‘race’ is characterized by stressing specificity, heterogeneity, non-reductive approach and cultural factors in social development (see Hall 1986/1996). “No doubt there are certain general features to racism”, he writes. “But even more significant are the ways in which these general features are modified and transformed by the historical specificity of the contexts and environments in which they become active.”

Claire Alexander (2009) usefully identifies three phases in Hall’s writing on race: “the early engagement with the new immigrant ‘West Indian’ communities and the emerging ‘second generation’; the turn to theory during his time at the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies; and the ‘cultural turn’ from the mid-1980s, which has two distinct, but interconnected themes _ the shift in black cultural politics in Britain and debates around ‘new ethnicities’; and the theorization of post-coloniality and diaspora, in particular in relation to the Caribbean.”

The contextualizing approach with the focus on ‘conjunctural’ and ‘contingent’ (Lewis 2000) is visible already in Young Englanders (Hall 1967) where Hall writes about “the coloured immigrant groups and their special problems” in the following way: “These young people do not in themselves constitute a problem and their problems cannot be understood in isolation. On average, immigrant young people are neither more nor less intelligent, neither better nor worse behaved, than their English counterparts. Problems arise in their interaction with other groups in the society and the solutions can only be formulated when we have understood the nature of this interchange.” Hence there is from the outset present in Hall’s work what he later described in the following way:  “I have never worked on race and ethnicity as a kind of subcategory. I have always worked on the whole social formation which is racialized’ (Hall 1995).[1] Talking with Bill Schwarz (Schwarz and Hall  2007), Hall says that the work at the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies on race and mugging and crime, published as Policing the Crisis (Hall & al. 1978), “provided a sort of prism through which the whole conjuncture could be ‘read’ symptomatically”.

Hall characterizes his intellectual project as something Raymond Williams taught him: to always look at the society and culture together – “not culture isolated, because by itself culture becomes another thing, a rarified realm of the aesthetic et cetera; and not society in some sort of determinist way in which society tells culture what to do, but in the complicated interrelationships between the social and the cultural, between the social and the symbolic” (in MacCabe  2008). This is also Hall’s approach to ‘blackness’: “The fact is ‘black’ has never just been there either. It has always been an unstable identity, psychically, culturally, and politically. It, too, is a narrative, a story, a history. Something constructed, told, spoken, not simply found . . . black is an identity which had to be learned and could only be learned in a certain moment.” (Hall [1987] 1996c, p. 116)

On top of that, ‘black’ identity never exists detached from other identities, but in relation to these ‘others’: “once you’ve thought about black identity, you have to think about British identity”, “about its mystifying account of its own development and roots” (in MacCabe 2008).

Hall’s inclination to view ‘race’ and ethnicity in their social and cultural contexts perhaps also explains his reluctance to use the term ‘multiculturalism’. For Hall (2000), ‘multicultural’ describes adjectivally “the social characteristics and problems of governance posed by any society in which different cultural communities live together and attempt to build a common life while retaining something of their ‘original’ identity”. By contrast, ‘multiculturalism’ is for Hall substantive. It references the strategies and policies adopted to govern and manage the problems of diversity and multiplicity which multi-cultural societies throw up. Even though the two terms are for Hall so interdependent that it is virtually impossible to disentangle them, ‘multiculturalism’ present to him “specific difficulties”. The “-ism” tends to convert ‘multiculturalism’ into a political doctrine and reduce it to a formal singularity. Instead of ‘multiculturalism’ Hall is interested in the multicultural question, i.e. “how are people from different cultures, different backgrounds, with different languages, different religious beliefs, produced by different and highly uneven histories, but who find themselves either directly connected because they’ve got to make a life together in the same place, or digitally connected because they occupy the same symbolic worlds – how  are they to make some sort of common life together without retreating into warring tribes, eating one another, or insisting that other people must look exactly like you, behave exactly like you, think exactly like you – that is to say cultural assimilation?” (Schwarz and Hall 2007) This leads Hall (2000) to ask: “How then can the particular and the universal, the claims of both difference and equality, be recognized?” This multi-cultural question requires, according to Hall, to think beyond the traditional boundaries of the existing political discourses and their ever-ready ‘solutions’, to “combine difference and identity”.

This would mean learning “painfully, how to begin to live with difference”. That, however, would require one to recognize the way in which the societies have constructed the other as the opposite of themselves, meaning one would have to “understand how the culture is working”.

Some guidelines for such alternative solutions to the multi-cultural question can be found in the report of the commission on the future of multi-ethnic Britain, chaired by Bhikhu Parekh and Stuart Hall as one of its members (Runnymede Trust 2000). According to the report, building and sustaining a community of citizens and communities will involve rethinking the national story and national identity, understanding that all identities are in process of transition, developing a balance between cohesion, equality and difference, addressing and eliminating all forms of racism, reducing material inequalities and building a pluralistic human rights culture. Hall’s critical thinking of culture, ‘race’ and ethnicities is one of the most useful tools for those working to realize such goals.

For the list of publications and papers by Stuart Hall, see:


[1] Once the writer of this entry heard Stuart Hall speaking publicly (in the Cultural Studies Now conference at the University of East London in July 2007), Hall stressed that practitioners of Cultural Studies must always ask of their objects of study: “What has this got to do with everything else?”

Adams, Tim (2007) Cultural hallmark. The Observer, 23 September.

Alexander, Claire (2009) Stuart Hall and ‘race’. Cultural Studies Vol. 23, No. 4 July 2009, pp. 457– 482 .

Davis, Helen (2004) Understanding Stuart Hall, London, Sage.

Gates, Henry Louis (1997) Black London. New Yorker, April 28.

Grossberg, Lawrence (2007) ‘Stuart Hall on race and racism: cultural studies and the practice of contextualism’, in Brian Meeks (ed.) Culture, Politics, Race and Diaspora: The Thought of Stuart Hall. London, Lawrence & Wishart.

Hall, Stuart (1967) The Young Englanders. London,  Community Relations Commission.

Hall, Stuart, Chas Critcher, Tony Jefferson, John N. Clarke, Brian Roberts (1978) Policing the Crisis: Mugging, the State and Law and Order. Basingstoke, Macmillan.

Hall, Stuart (1986/1996) Gramsci’s relevance for the study of race and ethnicity. In David Morley and Kuan-Hsing Chen (eds.) Stuart Hall. Critical Dialogues in Cultural Studies. London, Routledge.

Hall, Stuart (1995) Not a Postmodern Nomad. Interview by Les Terry. Arena Journal Nr. 5.

Hall, Stuart (1986/1996) Gramsci’s relevance for the study of race and ethnicity. In David Morley and Kuan-Hsing Chen (eds.) Stuart Hall. Critical Dialogues in Cultural Studies. London, Routledge.

Hall, Stuart (2000) Conclusion: The Multi-cultural Question. In Barnor Hesse (ed.) Un/settled multiculturalisms: diasporas, entanglements, “transruptions”. London, Zed Books.

Hall, Stuart and Les Back (2009) In conversation. At Home and Not at Home. Cultural Studies Vol. 23, No. 4 July 2009, pp. 658–687.

Jaggi, Maya (2000) Prophet at the margins. The Guardian, 8 July.

Lewis, Gail (2000) Stuart Hall and Social Policy: An Encounter of Strangers? In Paul Gilroy, Lawrence Grossberg and Angela McRobbie (ed.) Without Guarantees. In Honour of Stuart Hall. London, Verso.

MacCabe, Colin (2008) An interview with Stuart Hall, December 2007. Critical Quarterly, vol. 50, nos. 1–2.

Meeks, Brian (2007) ‘Introduction: return of a native son’. In Brian Meeks (ed.) Culture, Politics, Race and Diaspora: The Thought of Stuart Hall. London, Lawrence & Wishart.

Procter, James (2004) Stuart Hall. London, Routledge.

Runnymede Trust (2000) The Future of Multi-Ethnic Britain. Report of the Commission on the Future of Multi-Ethnic Britain. London, Profile Books.

Scott, David (2000) ‘The permanence of pluralism’. In Paul Gilroy, Lawrence Grossberg & Angela McRobbie (ed.)  Without Guarantees: In Honour of  Stuart Hall. London, Verso.

Schwarz, Bill and Stuart Hall (2007) Living in difference. Stuart Hall in conversation with Bill Schwartz. Soundings 37.

Tahar Lamri

Contributor: Andrea Gazzoni

Algerian narrator, journalist and performer Tahar Lamri was born in Algiers in 1958. From 1979 to 1984 Lamri lived in Bengasi, Libya, where he graduated in Law and worked as a translator for the French consulate. Then he moved to France and finally to Ravenna, Italy, where he has lived since 1987, working as a translator and interpreter.

As he himself declared http://www.spaziopensiero.org/?p=197, his mother tongue is Sabir, a Mediterranean lingua franca which combines Arabic, Italian, Spanish, French and other elements (it has survived only in a few places, including Algeria), while French and Arabic are the languages he first learnt and spoke at school. However Italian is the sole language he has employed in his writing and performances so far.

Indeed, Lamri’s literary career began only after he had settled in Italy, where he started writing short stories directly in Italian. In 1995 he won the prize for narrative in the first edition of Eks&Tra, a literary competition for non-Italian authors living in Italy, with his story «Only Then, I Am Sure, Will I Be Able to Understand»,  a subtle inquire into the contradictions brought about by migrations from Africa to Europe.

Since 1996 Lamri became an Eks&Tra jury member and in 1999, for the fifth edition of the competition, he wrote one of the first critical reflections on immigrant literature in Italy, «E della mia presenza, solo il silenzio. Una riflessione lunga cinque antologie» [And of my presence, only the silence. A reflection through five anthologies]. In this essay Lamri puts Italy into an Euro-Mediterranean perspective, at the crossroads of continents and cultures, suggesting a notion of Italian as a «neutral language» within which «the Europe of reason and the Mediterranean of heart and passion» may coexist beyond all historical fragmentations, so that «maybe one day, in spite of everything, writing will reunite what history has separated». Thus, in Lamri’s own vision, it is the liberating distance from both the colonizer’s language and the mother tongue that makes Italian a language to be loved and lived in, as it is language he has chosen by his own will, free from any restraint. Yet Italian is also a language to be altered and wounded “with loving care”, as he said at the 2003 seminar organized by the journal Sagarana http://www.sagarana.net/scuola/seminario3/seminario3_4.htm.

Lamri’s subsequent linguistic reflections have expanded and revised such a notion not only to clarify his own poetics but also to promote and support the relevant corpus of literary works written in Italian by authors of non-Italian origins http://www.trickster.lettere.unipd.it/doku.php?id=seconde_generazioni:tahar_la_scrittura.

In parallel to writing Lamri has developed a multi-focused artistic activity which includes the video-narration, La casa dei Tuareg [The Tuaregs’ home], the theatrical performance Wolf o le elucubrazioni di un kazoo [Wolf or the lucubrations of a kazoo], and the participation in the Italian edition of And the City Spoke, a play by the Exiled Writers Ink company http://ww3.comune.fe.it/vocidalsilenzio/atti05spoke.htm. He also collaborated with Teatro delle Albe, a theatrical company based in Ravenna, which since the 1980s has woven together languages and memories from Emilia-Romagna (the Italian region where Lamri lives) and from Senegal. He is also director of the Festival delle Culture in Ravenna http://festivaldelleculture.wordpress.com, president of the Media Interculturali Emilia Romagna Network, collaborator of magazines such as «Internazionale» http://www.internazionale.it/search/?q=lamri, and editor of the periodical «Città meticcia» http://www.perglialtri.it/meticcia/cata_pasearch.php?paCatID=cat6.

In 2006 Lamri collected his short story, some of which had already been published, into the only book he has published so far, I sessanta nomi dell’amore [The sixty names of love].

Although Lamri has published only a small number of stories from then on, he has become more and more present within Italian culture, through his participation in seminars, conferences, debates and meetings dealing with a wide range of themes: literature, journalism, multiculturalism, politics, racism and nationality.

Hence Lamri’s many-sided profile stands as an example of a broad-minded and well-integrated non-native intellectual who on the one hand tries to promote the mutual exchange of cultures but, on the other hand, claims his own right to take a public and critical stance about the contradictions, tensions and questions brought about by the multicultural changes affecting Italy, Europe and the Mediterranean region in the XXI century. The core of Lamri’s cultural strategy appears to be the constant effort to set up a dialogue with a seemingly distant otherness by sharing, as an outsider, its most intimate references, for example by appropriating modern Italian classic like Pasolini (see Lamri reading «Profezia», a 1964 poem which anticipated today’s Mediterranean migrations http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s0Oyzc8usWk) or Italian vernaculars like Romagnolo (see Lamri in dialogue with a storyteller from Romagna, Sergio Diotti http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zRNUAlrvaIY)  in order to make Italian audience look at itself into a creolized mirror.

The meaning of culture, Lamri seems to imply, is its capacity for creating new relations and reshaping existing ones.  I sessanta nomi dell’amore is indeed based on such a dialogic principle, which pervades different narrative levels and gives shape to the narrative framework encapsulating all the short stories: the e-mail correspondence between Elena, an Italian young woman, and Tayeb, a Maghrebi man. The starting point of the book is the longing for cross-cultural knowledge, as Elena is interested in learning the precise meaning of each of the sixty Arabic expressions that may be used for “love”. Their subsequent dialogue revolves around the meanings of writing, memory and passion, as the two protagonists fall in love while approaching and discovering each other. And yet their union prove impossible, making their love affair come to an end. Thus, through the traditional theme of a love counterpoint (reminiscent of the Song of Songs) and the echo of classical and contemporary examples of narrative frameworks (from the Arabian Nights to Calvino’s Invisible Cities), the dialogue between Tayeb and Elena clearly turns into an allegory of the tempting but ambiguous and troublesome relation between cultural differences,.

The short stories are introduced by such a framework as Tayeb’s presents for Elena. The first is the above mentioned «Only Then, I Am Sure, Will I Be Able to Understand»; the second is «You Wicked Wooden Eyes, What are you looking at?», a paradoxical reflection on Italian schools and language through the thoughts of a non-Italian child (the title is a quotation from Collodi’s Pinocchio). Then we find «But Where Are We Going? Nowhere, Only Farther» [link to the text], a written version of the video-narration La casa del tuareg taking us into the Sahara desert populated by Berber nomads, an enigmatic population we come to know through an indirect sequence of detours, postponements, striking revelations and meta-narrative shifts. By echoing Chatwin’s Songlines and Borges, the story evokes and yet contradicts one-sided Western ways of knowing cultural otherness.

The central story in the book is «The Pilgrimage of the Voice». This coral and polyphonic storytelling is a written version of Lamri’s most famous theatrical performance, which have been presented in many occasions and different versions since 2001 (see an integral reading at Dickinson College in 2008 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iEWFsbcl9HE): sitting on a carpet, accompanied by a musician and by pictures projected on a wall, Lamri takes his audience into a journey consisting of a sequence of stories told by a number of storytellers from different parts of Africa and Italy. The first narrator is a Maghrebi meddah, whose stories echo in the stories that have been passed on from one generation to another, from one place to another and from one vernacular language to another in the Po valley, in Northern Italy. Then, as the text turns southwards, we are guided by another meddah and by a Senegalese griot, until the pilgrimage symbolically ends in front of a baobab, also called the tree of stories, as it «the only tree which, in its shape, is akin to storytellers because when it’s bare it seems to root into the air».

The other short stories included in the book are narrative flashes which differ in theme and tone: «Foglio di via» [Deportation paper], «Il pane e le rose» [Bread and roses], «So che nell’ultima ora peccherò» [In the final hour, I know, I will sin], «Teacher don’t teach me nonsense» and «La convivialità delle differenze [The conviviality of differences] are ironic or dramatic criticisms of injustices and prejudices in Europe and Italy; «Elevenzerothreetwothousandfour», «Le stanze sgombre» [The empty rooms], «La beauté de l’âne and 20 Kg are snapshots of our contemporary world as it feels wounded and threatened by war and terrorism; «L’henné» [Henna] and «Il figlio» [The son] are paradoxical stories about contradictory social and gender roles in modern Muslim societies. The playful story «L’idioma gentile» [The corteous language] is a divertissement the title of which humorously quotes a treatise on Italian language published in 1905 by Edmondo De Amicis: an exorcism is performed on a Malian man as he seems to utter only sentences in an archaic and unintelligible Italian language, taken from Medieval and Renaissance texts.

In his foreword to I sessanta nomi dell’amore Lamri states that for him writing and thinking in Italian is a «circular pilgrimage» which brings together Algerian, North-African and Mediterranean cultural memories, toward the utopian, distant goal of an «anima plurima [multiple soul]», within which every fragment may peacefully meet each other. Because of Lamri’s multifarious activity and eclectic writing, it is arduous to appreciate how long he has already proceeded in his “pilgrimage” and how long he will proceed by his writings. Nonetheless, there is no doubt that Lamri’s optimistic poetics has to be included among the most interesting and innovatory within today’s Italian multicultural scene.

[from Tahar Lamri, I sessanta nomi dell’amore, Santarcangelo di Romagna: Fara, 2006, pp. 43-54]

So where are we going? Nowhere, only farther

[from Tahar Lamri, I sessanta nomi dell’amore, Santarcangelo di Romagna: Fara, 2006, pp. 43-54]



So where are we going? Nowhere, only farther



The ground is all flat and bare, a myriad quartz explosions shine in the sun like countless stars. The air seems to be weightless, high above the top of the rocks. Outlines of cliffs loom in the distance. They are yellow by day, mauve in the evening. Time is told only by colours. We crossed the Hamada, the Erg, the Reg, and the Sarir, many names to say the diversity of the desert. Hamada, the stony desert; Erg, the silk desert. Places where sand and stones fight each other. Sometimes one of them prevails.


We have been walking for twenty days, the way the Tuaregs do: we lead our camels at dawn, so they don’t get too tired, then when the sun gets too hot we mount them, and in the afternoon, when the temperature comes down, we walk beside our animals again, until the sun sets, sometimes even after night has fallen.

Dayak, my travelling companion, is a Tuareg from the North, tall and light-skinned, he belongs to the Kel Rela tribe, he is a nobleman with a proud and careless bearing. Of his face I have seen nothing but his deep dark eyes. He does not have the obligation to uncover his face before me, as my status is not higher than his.

While we are stopping off under the shadow of a rock, I ask him:

- So where are we going?

- Nowhere, only farther, he replies, and then, after a while, he adds: You see, the desert has no aim. Like we nomads. It does not reveal anything, as it has nothing to hide.

I want to ask about the Tuareg, but I open my mouth and do not say a word.

I lower my head and I see what seems to be writings in the sand, I ask Dayak:
- What about these signs in the sand? – Those ones? he says pointing at the signs with a stick. Ah, it’s tifinagh, our own writing.

Tuareg writing. He observes silence for an instant, then he clears his throat and says: our writing is of a nomad kind; it is all made up of sticks, and the sticks are the legs of all the flocks: legs of men, legs of gazelles, legs of those travelling the desert. And the crosses say to go either right or left, and the dots – as you can see there are many dots – are the stars that lead us by night, as we, the nomads, are always en route, with the sun and the stars as our guides, you should know this, shouldn’t you? We’ ve been walking through the desert for many days.

As I have noticed that Dayak speaks a little more now, I ask him:

-Speak to me about the Tuaregs, Dayak.

- You have not travelled enough yet, so I’ll speak about the Tuaregs only later. Look at the landscape around you instead, and then when it’s the right time I’ ll speak to you about the Tuaregs, he replies.

- So tell me at least why your face is covered, I insist.

- You are really anxious. This way you’ll never learn anything, anyway, I’ll answer your question. Here on my face you see this litham, or chech, which stands in for the original garment which is called tagelmoust, and is put on only on holidays. I am not capable of explaining to you why I wear it, however I can tell you that the law of the dark veil is clearer to me than light itself, it’s the law that commands us to conceal our face from rage, grief, love, and even death. But let’s set out, now.

Dayak rises on his feet, I follow him obediently.

The names of the places we have already crossed or we are going to cross go through my head, one by one:

El Oued – Touggourt – Souf – Ghardaia – Ben lsguen – EI Atteuf -Bou Noura – MetIili – Beni Abbés – Tarhit – Tadmait – Tanezrouft -Hoggar – Tassili n’Ajjer – Tadmekka – Taghaza – Timbuctù – Mopti – Djenné – Bandiagara -Sangha – L’Air – Tenerè – Dogondoutchi – Birni N’Konni – Madaoua – Maradi – Zinder – Abala – Tahoua – Tchin Tabaraden – l-n Gall – Assoua – Tchimoumoumene – Agadez – Teguiddan Tessoum -Bilma – Dirkour – Iferouane – Ghat – Ghadames – Tikhar – Akakus – EL Barkat.

I repeat these names to Dayak, in a loud voice and without any order, just to provoke him.

- The Tuaregs arrived here as masters long ago, when such a vastness had not been given all these names… Dayak says.

And with a proud tone he adds:

At the time we had control over the caravans, which were offered protection, but when the Bedouins did not pay toll, we raided and fought them. What do you want me to say about the Tuaregs? Let’s forget about it. Today half of our children die of measles and yellow fever. But look at the landscape!, he ends off bitterly.


I take Dayak’s advice, and look at the landscape around me, geological arborescences and telluric devastations have taken the place of vegetation. Intense heat vitrifies the sand and cover the ground with stars. Peaks rising like giant vegetation, some hundred meters high above the flat horizon. Pointed islets, suckers, rocky mushrooms. Polychromatic dunes, perched on castles of pebbles or red stoneware towers. Light and shadow effects, the hourly changing of colours.

At the hour that precedes sunset, the landscape is transformed, it gains iridescence, it bursts in countless nuances, and rewards the difficulty of the journey.

I think of Dayak’s words: “the desert does not reveal anything, as it has nothing to hide”, and yet before my eyes the scenery is so uncovered, so transparent, that it seems to me, by contrast, that all of the world’s mysteries are concentrated right here.

The slightest human gesture becomes utterly important, the tiniest perturbation of the landscape appear as a signal. The desert makes you aware of the futility of things. The journey has been vertiginous so far, but now I’m seized by a quiet wonder. Such a peaceful wonder marks Dayak’s eyes and, I imagine, the rest of his face too.

The secret of survival lies in mobility. For those who move forward in an endless desert, in a changeless scenery, it is not a matter of long wanderings, but rather of a long dissidence. The desert is the land of rebels and prophets. Rebels par excellence.

Oh, yes, the wind! I have seen so much wind in this journey. But in the fight of sand and stones I saw the wind surrender to the Hamada. Although it lifts the sand in terrible storms, the wind doesn’t do anything but take away from one place what it will put in another place.. Here, even the wind may be a nomad seized in the vortex of circular time. The Erg does not lose a grain, but the passing of the wind leaves undulating, black-and-white stripes on the sand.

A narrow crack opens within this system which pitilessly closes over men. The Mathendous riverbed opens out in the middle of a pile of stones, and we go down to the bottom. One hundred meters further down we find ourselves prisoners of a little sandy channel between two steep, polished rocks. The evening shadow is falling upon us, this silence is stifling, and here, at the centre of the earth, life appears all of a sudden, provoking and boundless.

- An elephant, a giraffe, an ox, an antelope – I start crying.

Dayak looks at me silently. Without even a gratifying smile.  Here, in front of me, carved in walls of rock, giant animals, images of hunting. An inscrutable past. Observing this raw art and its irresistible beauty, where every stroke is nothing but  pure movement, I am under the impression that I have found out an accomplished and living expression, as if since these drawings were carved all art has been nothing but a succession of adventures leading back to such a matrix.


- Let’s go! – Dayak pulls me out of my amazement, I jump with surprise and fall on my back.

- I apologize – Dayak says – I didn’t mean to frighten you, but we’ve been here for such a long time and we must reach a place where we can spend the night.

I heave myself up and follow Dayak along the slope, I do not dare speak anymore.

After a while we get to a place which, all  in all, seems comfortable, there is even a well with water. Dayak lights a fire and brings some water to boil so we can have a tea. We eat the dates we were given by the nomads we met two days ago. Then Dayak goes next to the camel, and takes a lute out of a side of the saddle. He sits downs before a stone and starts playing. He seems to have something to say, however he goes on playing for about an hour until he finally gives me the lute.

- But I can’t play! – I say.

- Then sing!

- To tell the truth, I cannot sing either.

- Too bad, too bad – Dayak says and, without waiting for me to reply, he adds: since we set off you’ve always been asking me to speak about the Tuaregs. I’ve not satified your request so far, as you haven’t got the hang of the desert and would probably miss something, but now I think I can speak to you about that, even if… Anyway, all right! Have you ever heard of the Ténéré tree?

- Yes, I have, it’s the only tree that has ever been signalled on a map.

- It was the loneliest tree in the world. The only tree in the desert. It was a landmark in the Erg of the Ténéré. There, for some hundreds of kilometres, all you could find were only sand and the Ténéré tree. And then, some fine day, a truck knocked it down. We Tuareg are like that very tree, we were rooted into the desert, we had no boundaries, then the Christians got here and said: these lands are ours, so we fought them. The Christians left and were replaced by governments, boundaries, citizenships, passports, visas and many other things, and this was the beginning of our disaster. I’m not going to talk to you about that, you can figure it out by yourself, and I see you are impatient to know who the Tuareg are. Although I do not understand your impatience, I will answer the same, but you must know you’ll be disappointed, so be contented with what I am going to say.  You’ll learn a lot, you’ll see.

“To begin with, let me tell you that the real name of our people is Imazighen, that means ‘free men’, we were given the name Tuareg by the Arabs, and it is a name with an uncertain etymology, it could mean ‘those who are always travelling’, or the followers of a tariqa, a brotherhood. However, today the Imazighens or Tuaregs are grouped into nine confederations ruled by a chief, called Amenokal:  Kel-Ajjer, Kel-Ahaggar, Kel-Air, Kel-Antassar, Kel-Gress, KeI-Dinnik, Jullemiden, lforas, Tenghereghif.

“Nobody knows exactly where we are from. We do not know it either. We know we have Berber origins, and that’s enough for us. Some say we are from Yemen. Some others say that our ancestors were the Garmants, against whom the Romans had to fight hard. So, there are many hypotheses. Maybe we’ve been here since prehistory. We are Berber, however, our writing, you have already seen it, is the tifinagh, which means the Phoenicians’ writing, as we learned it from them. I am one of the few men who can write, because only women could write once, but now it’s different. And our language is called tamacheq, the purest, uncontaminated Berber language. Our life centres around women, in our houses men are not masters, but guests. As soon as two get married, the man moves to his wife’s house, so it’s she who is the master of house. And the children are fostered by their maternal uncle. I have been wearing this – Dayak says pointing at the scarf covering his face -  since I was fifteen, according to our tradition the maternal uncle must give it to this nephew at his first Ramadam fast. Women go round with their face uncovered. We were animist before becoming Muslim. But either animist or Muslim, we have always been monogamous. Besides, having many wives has no use for warriors, travellers, and nomads.

“In addition to the confederations I told you about before, there is a peculiar difference between Western and Eastern groups. Have you noticed anything about our tents on our journey?”

-Yes, it seems to me that the tents we saw in the East were different from those in the West, because of their colour, I think…

- That’s it, the Eastern group’s tents have white, yellow and brown stripes…

- It’s true – I interrupt him – and the Western group’s ones are black and red.

- Yes, that’s it.

Taking advantage of our dialogue, I ask Dayak:

- Is it true that the Tuaregs have always been supporters of slavery?

Dayak seems to be puzzled by this question, then he stands up, goes to stone near here and sits down, his legs slightly swinging.

- Listen, these modern words do not make sense to us. I studied in that land they call Europe, and I can answer you. But our people do not know what “slave” means, nor do those you call slaves. Truly, our nobles, the imochar, are travellers and tradesmen and yet, as you have seen, we also have villages where our wives, children and elders live. But we are not farmers, differently from the local populations and the Blacks. So we have people working for us, and they are the bella, that some translate as servants, and the ikan, that some others call slave, in a language that has nothing to do with ours. The ones you call slaves work the land and earn one fifth of the harvest, and some can even earn half of the harvest. Besides,  a slave holder does not mix up with his slaves, while, as you have seen, three fourths of our population have black skin. You see, now there is a new category of people, called ichomar, do you know where this word comes from?  It derives from the French chômeurs, unemployed. Where do you think we should class such a category? Things have their own context and logic, if you do not take them into account, you can make nothing of them. That’s all.

- Yes, but I read that the Tuaregs were slave traders once.

- Sure, there was such a trade, but there were also many other trades that do not exist anymore, it is only a matter of history and time. Our people traded with the Romans, the Carthaginians, the Phoenicians, but also with the Africans, our caravan reached Central Africa and even further, and these very Africans sold slaves to the Tuaregs, that is, they sold Blacks who had already been reduced to slavery. That was it.

- But some say that the Tuaregs stole Black children to make them their own slaves.

- Listen, we cannot dwell on this issue, as we cannot talk about yesterday’s truth in today’s words. It is true, that existed once – Dayak replies.

- Tell me, Dayak, why do you call it “that”, and not by its name, slavery?

- Because I do not want to convince you of my reasons, and I know you could never understand, as you are not from here. Well, “that” – he says with a laugh – can be understood only if you are from here. You see, where you come from when it’s raining they say that the weather is bad, while here we say, ah, what nice weather! That’s all. But let’s get some sleep now. Tomorrow is the feast of mulud, and since we have nearly got to Djanet, I will show you something you will like.


The day after we arrive in Djanet. An atmosphere of feast pervades the oasis. From every mosque, loudspeakers chant and spread the verses of the Koran. Groups of people sit on the sand, ritually pouring their tea, other prepare the méchoui, that is roast mutton, there are men with white or blue gandura, and women with emerald green or blue dresses.

We spend most of the day drinking tea or eating méchoui among these groups. I find out that Dayak is a great talker, and this is enough for me.

In the afternoon we all head for the wide field hedged by the palm grove.

Dayak seizes me by the arm and tells me:

- Come, let us go and sit on that dune, we are going to watch a t’kalcit match.

As we sit, he goes on:

- T’kalcit is a sort of hockey on sand. The field is divided into three sections, and every village lines up its own team, but it’s only a relative line-up, as every man can either go and play for his village’s team or leave the game when he likes; the number of players is unlimited, it depends on the number of the villagers and on their willingness to play. Even the playground is unlimited: they draw only two opposite lines, beyond which the players have to throw a leather ball, hit by knotting sticks.

The match began just then, and agitation and dust were already at their climax. The men ran after the ball, hitting it with their slightly curved sticks and lifting clouds of dust, the sticks were often shattered to bits. I noticed that the spectators stand or sit where they like, both outside and inside the field. Someone’s scesc flaps in every direction. The game lasted perhaps more than two hours, and it ended because just a few players were left on the field, as the others had gone away little by little, tired or not willing to play any longer. And by that time it was already late at night, and in the clear night lightened by billions of stars one could hear from everywhere the call-and-response of zagharit, the very high-pichted trills which women let out by modulating their voice deep in their throat.


The day after we resumed our journey northward. I was thinking of how suprising Dayak was: a Tuareg who went to Europe to study, but what could he ever study there? And why to Europe and not another place? I was obsessed by such questions, but did not dare give voice to them, as I was aware of my companion’s susceptibility.

To avoid asking these questions, I say:

-You have never spoken to me about trade, Dayak.

- Actually, I have, at least about slave trade, he says

-  No, I don’t mean that, somewhere I read that the Tuaregs were great salt traders.

- Not only salt. When trade was flourishing, the Tuaregs crossed the desert in immense caravans, with more than twenty-five thousands camels. The caravans carried salt and dates to Central Africa, in exchange for very valuable goods, so on their journey back they carried fabrics, millets, sugar, artefacts, gold and ivory, which were all sold further North, to the Arabs, who in turn sold the same goods in Europe. Then, our few caravans began carrying everything, do you remember the Tuareg we ran into in Tamanrasset, with fridges and TV sets on his camel’s back?

- Yes, I do.

- Well, for a time our traders threw themselves into trading goods which could not be found in the North, so caravans started carrying videotape recorders, computers, fridges, I even happened to go with a trader who was carrying an automobile bought in Mali, he had taken it apart completely and loaded it on his camels. Today, instead, our noble and disdainful nomads are mostly refugees, some have set up breeding or farming co-operatives, and managed to obtain something out of the sand.  You see, I… I was sent to Europe to study, because one day the masters form the North decided that we had to stop being nomads, so they came and took a census of us, then they placed an itinerant school at our disposal. As the experiments failed, they picked up some boys, me included, and sent us to a boarding school. Then an idea dawned on some governmental person in charge of agriculture: our dromedaries were undernourished, so they chose me to go to Reggio Emilia, in Europe, supported by an FAO scholarship, to study – can you imagine it? – a subject they call “Science of animal feeding”. However the tragedy – and we say that “the worst tragedy is the one that makes you laugh” – was the fact that nobody had ever seen a dromedary there, and as most teachers were specialized in pig-feeding, I also specialized in the science of pig-feeding. It may seem strange to you, but that’s what happened. Then I decided to come back, I did not want to stay in Europe any longer, as I did not want to die with too many desires, so I chose to come back here and live as a nomad, let us say, as the seasons go by. During the last years many terrible things happened to me, and to my people as well… – Dayak interrupts on these very words, and I see his eyes becoming damp, he bows over the sand and starts drawing signs, as if he wanted to confide a secret to the desert. Then he takes a black-and-white photo out of the pocket of his gandura, there is a beautiful girl on it. He says:

- I want to leave this photo to you, I cannot keep it any longer, I beg you to keep it always with you and to show it whenever you can, the more people will look at her, the more she will be remembered. I planted a palm on her grave, it has already sprouted and, if it grows well, it will be the loneliest palm in the Sahara. You see, one day in Europe I watched a movie which ended up with these words: “I don’t know whether a memory is something you own or something you’ve lost”.


When he finished speaking, Dayak soared high in the air, while I stayed there and fell asleep, I don’t know how long, and like my ancestor Ibrahim Ibn Al-Bukhari Ibn Abdullah Ibn Nemer Ibn el Barud I dreamed of the unharmed deer who apologizes to the disappointed hunter. When I woke up, I realized I myself am Dayak, so I stood up and set off along the Songlines.

Talawa Theatre Company

Talawa Theatre Company

Contributor: Nisha Obano

Talawa, which means ‘small but feisty’ in Jamaican English is a theatre company founded in 1986 by Yvonne Brewster, Carmen Munroe, Mona Hammond and Inigo Espejel. Galvanised by the existence of other black theatre companies at the time – Temba, Black Theatre Cooperative (later Nitro) and Tara Arts – Brewster et al successfully applied for a grant from Ken Livingstone’s Labour-led Greater London Council (GLC) Race Equality Unit. After receiving £80,000 they were able to cover the cost of their first production, The Black Jacobins, by C L R James in 1986. This play, about the Haitian Revolution of 1971–1804, had not been performed in England for fifty years and never with an all-black cast. During the same year, Yvonne Brewster directed An Echo in the Bone by Dennis Scott, which was then followed by the European premier of O Babylon! by Derek Walcott and Galt McDermot in 1988.

In over twenty-five years, Talawa has seen through more than forty productions by a range of writers from Shakespeare to Oscar Wilde, although the focus of their output is on works by established African and Carbbean writers, such as Wole Soyinka, James Baldwin, Michael Abbensetts, Trevor Rhone and emerging voices like Michael Bhim and Bola Agbaje.

Not simply a production company, Tawala also has an educational and outreach component to develop the talents of emerging writers. The company runs an annual season of playreadings showcasing Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) plays which are looking for full production. The Talawa Writers Group (TWG) which began in 2005 has provided a forum for writers like Kwame Kwei Armah, Malorie Blackman, Roy Williams, Michael Bhim, Rex Obano and Bola Agbaje, some of whose works have then gone on to feature in Unzipped, a showcase for the group’s output. Flipping the Script ran from 2008 until 2011, in which promising writers and directors are paired and their work is produced on stage. And 2012 saw the beginning of Talawa Firsts, a series of workshops led by Michael Buffong. Talawa also works with schools and community groups via the Talawa Young People’s Theatre (TYPT) which was set up in 2003.

Talawa’s fortunes have varied over the years. In 1992, Talawa moved from the Africa Centre in Covent Garden to a residency at the Cochrane Theatre. Then in 1995 Talawa began what would become a ten-year search for a home for black theatre. In 2003, when this project did not result in a new building, Yvonne Brewster left the company and the director Paulette Randall eventually took over until 2005. Between 2006 and 2012, the Artistic Directorship was held by Patricia Cumper until the company was severely hit by cuts in Arts Council funding, a period which saw the closure of many similar theatre organisations. Talawa is now headed by the actor and director Michael Buffong, whose aims for the company include taking the TWG to South Africa and collaborating with writers and theatre practitioners there.


The Black Jacobins by C L R James. Dir. Yvonne Brewster. Perf. Norman Beaton, Jenny Jules, Brian Bovell, Mona Hammond, Jean Hart, Trevor Laird, Doyne Byrd, Dominic Hawksley, Ian Collier, Keith Hazemore, Kwabena Manso, Gary McDonald, Bob Phillips, Doyle Richmond, Chris Tajah, Nik Abraham, Malcolm Connell, Kathy Daniel, David Haynes, Lenny Algernon Edwards        and Gideon Rogers. Riverside Studios, London: 21 Feb. to 15 Mar. 1986.

An Echo in the Bone by Dennis Scott. Dir. Yvonne Brewster. Perf. Joanne Campbell, Kwabena Manso, Gary McDonald, Faith Tingle, Mona Hammond, Allister Bain, Ellen Thomas, Lenny Algernon Edwards, Leo Wringer and Malcolm Frederick. Drill Hall, London: 26 June to 19 July 1986.


O Babylon! by Derek Walcott and Galt McDermot. Dir. Yvonne Brewster. Perf. William Vanderpuye, Sharon D Clarke, Trevor Ward, Geraldine Connor,             Jason Rose, Patrick Cameron, Marcia Johnson, McKell Pendercuse,           Adetomiwa Edun, Steven Woodcock, Clifton Bryan, Tony Marshall, Roger   Griffiths, Lenny Algernon Edwards, Josephine Melville, Mona Hammond, Malcolm Connell, Sheilah Cuffey and Sandra Tavernier. Riverside Studios, London: 4 Feb. to 12 Mar. 1988.


The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde. Dir. Yvonne Brewster. Co. Production Tyne Theatre Company. Tyne Theatre and Opera House, Newcastle: 19 Apr. to 13 May 1989. Bloomsbury Theatre, London: 15 to 27 May 1989. Cork Opera House, Cork: 19 to 24 June 1989.

The Gods Are Not to Blame by Ola Rotimi. Dir. Yvonne Brewster. Perf. Tyrone Huggins, Jason Rose, Faith Edwards, Ian Roberts, Delmonzene Morris, Taiwo Payne, Sandra Yaw, Jeffrey Kissoon, Mo Sesay, Susan Aderin, Charlton Chance and Leonie Forbes. Riverside Studios, London: 31 Oct. to 25 Nov. 1989.


The Dragon Can’t Dance by Earl Lovelace. Dir. Yvonne Brewster. Perf. Cyril Nri, Nicholas Boyce, Jacqui Chan, Shelley King, Geff Francis, Trevor Marshall-Ward, Anni Domingo, Dhirendra, Oscar James, Laura Beckford and Susan Aderin. Theatre Royal Stratford East, London: 29 June to 4 Aug. 1990.


Anthony and Cleopatra by William Shakespeare. Dir. Yvonne Brewster. Co-production with Merseyside Everyman Theatre. Perf. Jeffrey Kissoon, Dona Kroll and Ben Thomas. Bloomsbury Theatre, London: 16 May to 15 June 1991.


The Road by Wole Soyinka. Dir. Yvonne Brewster. Perf. Lenny Aljernon Edwards, Willie Jonah, Ben Thomas, Cyril Nri, Steve Aston, Gregory Munroe A            yanbode Olwole and David Webber. Cochrane Theatre, London: 26 Feb. to 28 Mar. 1992.

Smile Orange by Trevor Rhone. Dir. Trevor Rhone. Perf. Dona Kroll, Robert McKewley, Raul Newney, Eamonn Walker and David Webber. Cochrane

Theatre, London: 28 Apr. to 30 May 1992.

The Love Space Demands by Ntozake Shange. Dir. Yvonne Brewster. Perf. Jean ‘Binta’ Breeze, Talvin Wilks and Ntozake Shange. Cochrane Theatre, London: 1 to 31 Oct. 1992.

Necklaces by Tariq Ali. Dir. Topher Campbell. Perf. Pamela Nomvette, Jude Akuwudike, Syreeta Kumar, Ashen Bhatti, Peggy Phango and Paula Stockbridge. Cochrane Theatre, London: 6 to 31 Oct. 1992.

Arawak Gold by Carmen Tipling and Ted Dwyer. Adapted by Yvonne Brewster. Dir. Brewster. Perf. Oscar James, Peter Dineen, Eve Ferret, David Prescott and Bill Monks, Antonia Coker, Janice Acqua, Eddie Osei, Clive Llewellyn, Perry Douglin, Andrea Whiting and David Carr. Cochrane Theatre, London: 9 Dec. 1992 to 16 Jan. 1993.



From the Mississippi Delta by Dr Endesha Ida Mae Holland. Dir. Annie Castledine. Perf. Joy Richardson, Pauline Black and Josette Bushell-Mungo. Cochrane Theatre, London: 1 Apr. to 1 May 1993.

The Lion by Michael Abbensetts. Dir. Horace Ove. Perf. Madge Sinclair, Colette Brown, David Webber, Stefan Kalipha and Danny Kwasi Sapani. Cochrane Theatre, London: 30 Sept. 23 to 23 Oct. 1993. Ward Theatre, Kingston, Jamaica: 3 to 13 Nov. 1993.


King Lear by William Shakespeare. Dir. Yvonne Brewster. Perf. Ben Thomas, Dhirendra, Lolita Chakrabarti, Mona Hammond, Diane Parish, Cathy Tyson, David Webber, David Harewood, David Presscott and Greta Mendez NIA Centre, Manchester: 24 to 26 Feb. 1994. Queen’s Theatre, Barnstaple: 2 to 3 Mar. 1994. Oxford Playhouse, Oxford: 8 to 12 Mar. 1994. Cochrane Theatre, London: 16 Mar. to 16 Apr. 1994.

Resurrections by Biyi Bandele. Dir. Yvonne Brewster. Perf. Angela Wynter, Ben Thomas, Femi Elufowofu Jr, Antonia Coker, Ganiat Kasumu, Trevor Laird, Colin McFarlane, Don Warrington and Anni Domingo. Cochrane Theatre, London: 28 Sept. to 29 Oct. 1994.

‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore by John Ford. Dir. Yvonne Brewster. Perf. Don Warrington,          Sam Adams, Simon Clayton, Andrew Dennis, Jim Findley, Ginny Holder, Alan Igbon, Stephen Persaud, Hassani Shapi, Amanda Symonds. Lyric Hammersmith, London: 1 to 18 Nov. 1994.

Maskerade by Syliva Wynter and Olive Lewin. Dir. Yvonne Brewster. Perf. Cy Grant, Karl Collins, Antonia Coker, Hazel Holder, Femi Elufowoju Jnr, Allister Bain, Isira Makuloluwe, Chad Shepherd, Angela Wynter and Jamal Browne. Cochrane Theatre, London: 9 Dec. 1994 to 14 Jan. 1995.


Blues For Mister Charlie by James Baldwin. Dir. Paulette Randall. Perf. Barnaby Kay, Michael Price, Ray Shell, Kwesi Asiedu-Mensah, Marcus Hercules, Eke Chukwu, Albie Parsons, Sharon Duncan-Brewster, Sylvano Clarke, Junior Laniyan, Rolf Saxon, Ruth Grey, Larrington Walker, Ellen Sheean, Mhairi Steenbock, Elizabeth Hurran, Roger Barclay, Leland Burnett, Richard         Howard, Sam Hazeldine. New Wolsey Theatre/ Tricycle Theatre, London: 1 to 18 Nov. 1995.


Zebra Crossing 1 by Dorothea Smartt, Sherlee Mitchell, Henrik Ibsen, Amanda Symonds, Warren Wills, Ronald Fraser-Munro, Kole Onile-Ere and Sol B River. Perf. Dorothea Smartt, Aileen Gonavles, Gilly Gilchrist, Ronald Fraser-Munro, Mona Hammond, Amanda Symonds and Aileen Gonalves. Young Vic Studio, London: 19 Feb. to 30 Mar. 1996.

Medea in the Mirror by José Triana. Dir. Yvonne Brewster. Perf. Jason James Pethers, Dominic Letts, Angela Wynter, Sharon D Clarke, Faith Tingle and Jacqueline Mason. Brixton Shaw Theatre, London: 27 June to 27 July 1996.

Beef No Chicken by Derek Walcott. Dir. Yvonne Brewster. Perf. Faith Tingle, Geff Francis, Sam Adams, Ram John Holder, Shango Baku, Danny John-Jules and Jim Findley. Tricycle Theatre, London: 18 Dec. 1996 to 1 Feb. 1997.


Flyin’ West by Pearl Cleage. Dir. Yvonne Brewster.  Perf. Greta Mendez, Ellen Cairns, Ben Thomas, Syan Blake, Anni Domingo, Jenni George, Angie La Mar and David Webber. Drill Hall, London: 5 to 28 June 1997.

Othello by William Shakespeare. Dir. Yvonne Brewster. Perf. BenThomas, Paula Stockbridge, Dominic Letts, Peter Mair, Amantha Edmead, Sam Adams,             Michael Buffong and Keith Hazemore. Drill Hall, London: 9 Oct. to 1 Nov. 1997.


Coups and Calypsos by M NourbeSe Philip. Dir. Greta Mendez. Perf. Sandra James-Young, Jackie Brown and Hassani Shapi. Oval House Theatre, London: 4 to 28 Feb. 1999.

Unfinished Business by Yazmine Judd. Dir. Michael Buffong. Perf. Jacqueline Kingston, Joanne Campbell, Josephine Melille and Don Gilet, Oval House Theatre, London: 30 Sept. to 31 Oct. 1999.


The Prayer by Grant Buchanan Marshall. Dir. Michael Buffong. Perf. Jean ‘Binta’ Breeze, Gordon Case, Antony Lennon and Dominic Letts. Young Vic, London: 5 to 29 July 2000.


One Love by Kwame Dawes. Dir. Yvonne Brewster. Perf. Tony Gouveia, Ginny Holder, Jean ‘Binta’ Breeze, Ruby Turner, Peter Stranka, Nicola Alexis, Angela Wynter, Sam Adams, David Webber and Joe Vera. Bristol Old Vic, Bristol: 6 to 28 Apr. 2001. Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith, London: 10 to 28 July 2001.


Itsy Bitsy Spider by Jean ‘Binta’ Breeze, Jackie Kay, Christopher Rodriguez and Courttia Newland. Dir. Paul Medford. Perf. Jacqui Dubois, Amanda Symonds,        Paul J Medford, Antony Lennon, Lorna Brown, Tony Marshall and Lucy J. Queen Elizabeth Hall, Royal Festival Hall, London: 2 to 3 Jan. 2002.

Long Time No See by Grant Buchanan Marshall. Dir. Michael Buffong. Perf. Jane Lowe, Michael Bertenshaw, Anthony Ofoegbu and Len Trusty. Stratford          Circus, London: 18 Apr. to 11 May 2002.

The Key Game by Patricia Cumper. Dir. Karena Johnson. Perf. Jim Findlay, Marc Matthews. Sylvano Clarke and Kevin Harvey. Riverside Studios, London: 3 to 19 Oct. 2002.


Itsy Bitsy Spider by Jean ‘Binta’ Breeze, Jackie Kay and Christopher Rodriguez. Dir. Ben Thomas. UCL Bloomsbury, London. 2 to 5 Jan. 2003.

Pace (TYPT 03). Soho Theatre and Writers’ Centre, London: 22 to 23 Aug. 2003. Tabernacle Arts Centre, London: 4 Sept. 2003.

Urban Afro Saxons by Kofi Agyemang and Patricia Elcock. Dir. Paulette Randall. Perf. Suzette Llewellyn, Steve Toussaint and Jay Simpson.Theatre Royal             Stratford East, London: 23 Oct. to 15 Nov. 2003.


Blest Be The Tie by Dona Daley. Dir. Paulette Randall. Perf. Marion Bailey, Lorna Gayle and Ellen Thomas. Royal Court Theatre, London: 15 Apr. to 8 May 2004.

Blues for Mr Charlie by James Baldwin. Dir. Paulette Randall. Perf. Roger Barclay, Leland Burnett, Eke Chukwu, Sylvano Clarke, Ruth Grey, Sam Hazeldine, Marcus Hercules, Richard Howard, Elizaben Hurran, Junior Lanlyan, Kwesi Asledu Mensah, Alibe Parsons, Rolf Saxon Michael Price, Ray Shell, Sharon   Duncan-Brewster, Barnaby Kay, Ellen Sheean, Mhairi Steenbock and Larrington Walkter. New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich: 26 May to 5 June 2004. Tricycle Theatre, London: 16 June to 10 July 2004.

Reach (TYPT 2004). Drill Hall, London: 28 to 29 Aug. 2004.

Abena’s Stupidest Mistake by Sandra A Agard. Dir. Paulette Randall. Perf. Nathan Clough, Elisa De Grey and Andrea Hall. Drill Hall, London: 8 to 23 Dec. 2004.


High Heel Parrotfish! by Christopher Rodriguez. Dir. Paulette Randall. Perf. Brian Green, Peter Straker, Raj Chatak, Sandra Bee, Nicholai Le Barrie, Anthony         Ofoegbu and Ashley Campbell. Theatre Royal Statford East, London: 8 Apr. to 7 May 2005.

Unzipped Soho Theatre, London: 13 to 15 Oct. 2005.


The Crucible by Arthur Miller (TYPT 2007). Drill Hall, London.

Pure Gold by Michael Bhim. Dir. Indhu Rubasingham. Perf. Louis Ekoku, Leonard Fenton, Dermot Kerrigan, Mark Monero, Golda Rosheuvel, Clarence Smith. Soho Theatre, London: 27  Sept. 2007.

Anansi Trades Places by Trish Cooke. Dir Paul Medford. Perf. Geoff Aymer, Shyko Amos, Dermot Daly, Marlon King, Susan Lawson-Reynolds and Malinda Parris. Shaw Theatre, London: 13 Dec. 2007 to 5 Jan. 2008.


Unzipped 2008.

Make Love Not War (TYPT 2008). Dir. Thierry Lawson. Drill Hall, London: 7 to 9 Aug. 2008.

Changing Rooms by Mark Olive (Flipping the Script). Young Vic, London: 18 Sept. 2008

Rum and Coca Cola by Mustapha Matura (Flipping the Script). Young Vic, London: 28 Oct. 2008.

See the Glory by Othniel Smith (Flipping the Script). Young Vic, London: 20 Nov. 2008.

Zest for Life by Michael Bhim (Flipping the Script). Young Vic, London: 18 Dec. 2008.


Anansi and the Magic Mirror by Geoff Aymer. Dir. Paul J Medford. Perf. Marcus Powell, Susan Lawson-Reynolds, Darren Hart, Sophie Benjamin, Tameka Empson and Kat B. Hackney Empire, London: 2009.

Krunch by participants of Talawa Young People’s Theatre (TYPT). Dir. Amani Naphtali. Bernie Grant Arts Centre, London. 30 July to 1 Aug. 2009.

White Paper by Stevie Amuzu (Flipping the Script). Young Vic, London: 8 Sept. 2009.

Mr Atlantic by Atiha Sen-Gupta; excerpts from Rigged by Robert Hutchinson; and Dice by Harold Kimmel (Flipping the Script). Young Vic, London: 8 Oct. 2009.

Maybe Father by Charlene James (Flipping the Script). Young Vic, London: 12 Nov. 2009.


Winsome’s Daughter by Faith Miller (Flipping the Script). Young Vic, London: 14 May 2010.

The Only Way by Olu Alakija (Flipping the Script). Young Vic, London: 28 June 2010.

Brixton Rock by Alex Wheatle, adapted by Kolton Leean (Flipping the Script). Young Vic, London: 20 July 2010.

Sold. Dir. Nazli Tabatabai-Khatambakhsh. Perf. Elizabeth Bisola Alabi, Tatum Arnankwah, Kayleigh Benoit, Abena Bentum, Allisa Janay Christie, Natasha Marshall, Faith Alabi and Raymond Strasser-King. National Maritime      Museum, London: 23 Aug. 2010.

Rum and Coca Cola by Mustapha Matura. Dir Don Warrington. Perf. Victor Romero Evans and Marcel McCalla. Nuffield Theatre, Southampton: 13 to 16 Oct. 2010. Greenwich Theatre, London: 19 to 23 Oct. 2010. The Drum, Birmingham: 28 to 30 Oct. 2010. Everyman Theatre, Cheltenham: 2 to 6 Nov.             2010. Northcott, Exeter: 10 to 13 Nov. 2010.

Identity by Paul Anthony Morris (Unzipped). Dir. Steven Luckie. Momentum Showcase, Leicester: 28 Oct. 2010.


Krunch by participants of TYPT 2009 and Lakesha Cammock and Michaela-Moses Boakye-Collinson. The Albany, London: 2 to 4 Mar. 2011. The Drum, Birmingham: 11 to 12 Mar. 2011. Tara Arts, London: 17 Mar. 2011.

Passing Wind by Oladipo Agboluaje. Dir. Michael Buffong. Perf. Jude Akuwudike, Babtunde Aleshe, Tobi Bakare, Jocelyn Jee Esien, Anthony Ekundyo-Lennon,           Simon Naylor, Anthony Ofoegbu, Wale Ojo, Antonia Okonma and Chucky Venn. New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich: 8 June 2011.

Walking to Obama by Grant Buchanan Marshall (Flipping the Script). Young Vic, London: 10 May 2011.

Take Me To Manhattan by Maxine Quintyne-Kolaru (Flipping the Script). Dir. Erica Miller. Young Vic, London: 22 June 2011.

The House of Zerquera by Atiha Sen Gupta (Flipping the Script). Dir. Anthonette Isioma. Young Vic, London: 28 July 2011.

# I Am England by participants of TYPT 2011. Dir. Nazli Tabatabai-Khatambakhsh. Perf. Winnie Arhin, Terri Ann Bobb-Baxter, Michelle D’Costa, Madeleine Kludje, Aiesha Lindsay, Eugene Osei, Palesa Mokoena, Rona Mamudu, Adam Tulloch and Toniche Wallace. Lilian Baylis Studio, London: 25 to 27 Aug. 2011.

The Coloured Museum by George C Wolfe. Dir. Don Warrington. Perf. Ashley Campbell, Terry Doe, Akiya Henry, Gbemisola Ikumelo and Alana Maria. The Lydia and Manfred Gorvy Lecture Theatre, Victoria and Albert Museum,       London: 15 to 23 Oct. 2011.


Waiting For Godot by Samuel Beckett. Dir. Ian Brown. Perf. Fisayo Akinade, Guy Burgess, Cornell S John, Keffrey Kissoon and Patrick Robinson. West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds: 3 to 25 Feb. 2012. The Albany, London: 6 to 10 Mar. 2012. The Old Rep, Birmingham: 13 to 17 Mar. 2012. Winchester Theatre Royal, Winchester: 27 to 31 Mar. 2012. New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich: 3 to 7 Apr. 2012.

Dad(Die) by Charlene James (Talawa Firsts). Dir. Tinuke Craig. Talawa Studio, London: 13 June 2012.

Stronger by Alexander Williams (Talawa Firsts). Dir. A Williams. Talawa Studio, London: 15 June 2012.

Rise by Cynthia Bernard (Talawa Firsts). Dir. Anthony Ekunayo Lennon. Talawa Studio, London: 20 June 2012.

Cortae by Shereen Jasmine Phillips (Talawa Firsts). Dir. Stef O’Driscoll. Talawa Studio, London: 22 June 2012.

Keepsake by Fraser Ayres (Talawa Firsts). Dir. Nadia Latif. Talawa Studio, London: 27 June 2012.

Echoes by N Richard Nash (Talawa Firsts). Dir. Erica Miller. Talawa Studio, London: 29 June 2012.

Enter by participants of TYPT 2012. Dir. Anthony Ekundayo Lennon. Perf. Yazzmin Anderson, Archie Backhouse, La-Keshia Bannis, Rebecca David, Veronic Lewis, Urbain Ngendahayo, Mary Nyambura, Jannine Perrineau, Rhianne             Starbuck, Mica Taylor, Corrine Leandre Williams and Rohan Yates. Embassy Theatre, Central School of Speech and Drama, London: 23 to 25 Aug. 2012.

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Ubax Cristina Ali Farah

Ubax Cristina Ali Farah, Festivaletteratura, Mantova, 12 September 2009. Photo by Valeria Vernizzi-IIF productions. License Some rights reserved by lettera27

Contributor: Federico Fabris (University of Bamberg)

Ubax Cristina Ali Farah was born in Verona, North-Eastern Italy, in 1973 to a Somali father and an Italian mother. In 1976, her family moved to Mogadishu, where her mother took up a job as a teacher at an Italian school. As she has repeatedly stressed in a number of interviews, Ubax Cristina Ali Farah’s mother tongue – as well as her language of literary expression – is Italian. Of her childhood days in Mogadishu she recalls: “In Mogadishu, I attended the Italian school and its surrounding milieu. We were nearly all Italian-Somali students there, and we all used Italian as the language of daily communication – albeit we could speak Somali as well. […] I felt mostly estranged from the world outside; a feeling that got stronger whenever I met Somali friends and relatives of mine, despite all my attempts to belong” (Farah in Lecomte 25). At the outbreak of the civil war, in 1991, she fled to Europe, spending a few years in Pécs (Hungary) before going back to Verona. In 1997 she moved permanently to Rome, where she has been residing ever since, together with her Italian husband and her three children – two of which were actually born there. While raising her children, she earned her Master of Arts in Italian Literature from Sapienza University of Rome. After the degree, she worked as a cultural mediator and teacher of Italian as a second language at a number of primary and secondary schools in the capital. In the meantime, she also carried out a series of interviews with migrant women as part of a project sponsored by the Department of Linguistics at “Roma Tre” University. The experience of collecting oral stories in Italian as recounted by migrant women – particularly of the Somali diaspora – influenced her deeply, stimulating reflections on the role of translation at work in the processes of recollection and storytelling.

Her earliest literary attempts coincided with the birth of the online literary magazine El Ghibli in 2003, one of the first periodical publications in Italian to be entirely focused on the so-called phenomenon of “migration literature”. Her semi-autobiographical short story “Interamente” appeared on El Ghibli in December 2003. Dealing with the topic of diasporic dispersion of family relations at the onset of Somali civil war, the story anticipates some of the characters and themes employed subsequently by Ali Farah in her first novel Madre piccola (Little Mother, 2007). Among these themes are motherhood – as a condition to be renegotiated dialogically across linguistic difference – as well as the traumas of exile and war.

In the following years, a number of short stories and poems by Ali Farah appeared in national newspapers (La Repubblica), literary magazines (Nuovi Argomenti, Quaderni del 900 and Il Caffé), as well as anthologies of Italian “migration literature” (cf. Scego 2005 and Lecomte 2006). Unlike fellow Italian-Somali writer Igiaba Scego, however, Ali Farah sees the label “migration literature” in a less suspicious way – though a critical one still. Indeed, until well into the mid-2000s, the label “migration literature” in Italy was understood as referring to migrant writers who did not have Italian as their first language. This of course does not apply to writers like Gabriella Ghermandi, Igiaba Scego, Ubax Cristina Ali Farah herself and many more who have recently made their editorial breakthrough in the  Italian publishing market. On the other hand, however, as Ali Farah points out, “we should not forget that each writer emerges from a particular context. In my early days as a writer, I immediately found myself writing from within the context of migrant writers. Because of that, I had to tackle a given number of linguistic and thematic problems. All this inevitably shaped my writing style. Therefore, I do not find the label totally erroneous” (Ciampaglia 2006).

Madre piccola (Milan: Frassinelli), her first and only novel to date, appeared in print in 2007. A previous version of the same – in the form of a short story – had won the first edition of the “Lingua Madre” Literary Competition, during Turin 2006 International Book Fair. The book received also some attention from the Italian national press and was awarded the Elio Vittorini Prize in 2008. The focal point of the story is the relationship between two Somali cousins, Domenica Axad and Barni, rebuilding their relationship after years of estrangement, civil war and exile to Italy. Especially, it is Domenica´s pregnancy and childbearing that make the re-acquaintance possible. As in Italian-Somali Igiaba Scego’s novel Rhoda (2004), Ali Farah’s text aims to show readers that “the postcolonial subjectivities” thereby depicted “bear the traces of Italian colonial violence and are still daily reinscribed by the so-called Bossi-Fini Law that currently regulates the incoming migration flows to Italy” (Derobertis 271).

Although Ali Farah has not yet published other novels after her first Madre piccola, she has taken part in numerous literary and cultural festivals around Italy and Europe. At the level of social involvement, she is currently the president of Migra, an Italian association working for the right to information by and about immigrants living in Italy.

Ali Farah, Ubax Cristina. Madre piccola. Milan: Frassinelli, 2007. Print.

—. “Rapdipunt.” Italiani per vocazione. Ed. Igiaba Scego. Fiesole: Cadmo, 2005. 35-43. Print.

Lecomte, Mia. Ai confini del verso. Poesia della migrazione in italiano. Firenze: Le Lettere, 2006. Print.


Ciampaglia, Anna. “Parole di latte, parole di terra. Conversazione con Ubax Cristina Ali Farah.” Trickster. Rivista del master in studi interculturali 6 (2008). <http://www.trickster.lettere.unipd.it/doku.php?id=seconde_generazioni:ubax_parole>. Web. 17 May 2011.

Derobertis, Roberto. “‘Holding All the Pieces Together’: Colonial Legacies and Postcolonial Futures in the Writings of Igiaba Scego and Cristina Ali Farah.” Experiences of Freedom in Postcolonial Literatures and Cultures. Eds. Annalisa Oboe and Shaul Bassi. Abingdon and New York: Routledge, 2011. 265-274. Print.

Di Maio, Alessandra. “A Poetics of Passage: An Interview with Ubax Cristina Ali Farah.” Trans. Lydia Miranda Oram. Metamorphoses: Journal of the Five-College Seminar on Literary Translation 14.1-2 (2006): 248-268. Print.

—. “A Poetics of Passage: The Prose of Ubax Cristina Ali Farah.” Metamorphoses: Journal of the Five-College Seminar on Literary Translation 14.1-2 (2006): 241-247. Print.

Zadie Smith

2010 Library Lions Benefit (October 31, 2010 - Source: Henry S. Dziekan III/Getty Images North America)

Contributor: Jorge Berástegui Wood

It is difficult to speak about a very young author, especially when so much has been said about him or her, as is the case of Zadie Smith. The only possibility is to try to remain faithful to her works, to the contrasted biographical details about her and to the opinions she has provided either in her articles and essays or in some interviews which, during some time, she did not seem to be very comfortable with. Zadie Smith was born in 1975 in north-west London. Her original name was Sadie, but changed it when she was 14. It may be considered a minor detail, but somehow reflects her constant concern with her own identity and a certain struggle to find her own self both as a writer and person, which are probably two sides of the same coin. Zadie’s father, Harvey Smith, was a working-class white man who married for a second time with Yvonne Bailey a Jamaican girl much younger than him –who later on became a psychologist-. They had Zadie and two sons, but they divorced when the writer was still a teenager.

Zadie worked hard to enter the University of Cambridge, for she always considered this as the way to fulfil part of her intelectual and artistic expectations. Up to that moment she had read and become fond of the classics and of authors like E.M Forster or Zora Neale Hurston, but in Cambridge she could approach the work of philosophers like Derrida, Foucault or Barthes, some theoretical reading and reflection that is not explicit but still remains present in her fiction. In Cambridge she published a short story in The Mays Anthology, which was a student’s publication, and called on the attention of a literary editor who offered her a generous amount of money for her first novel, when she was only in her early twenties. That was the beginning of White Teeth, the big literary success of the year 2000 and one of the most acclaimed novels in the last decade.

White Teeth tells the story of two families, the Jones and the Iqbals and covers a long period that goes from the trenches of the II World War to the end of the XX century. The English Archibald Jones and the Bengali Samad Iqbal meet in a British tank during the last days of the war and become life friends. But their relationship serves in the novel as the framework to reflect on the historical evolution of Great Britain throughout the century, with the emergence on an increasing multicultural society that has challenged colonial discourses and contemporary neocolonial racism. The novel tells how these two families adapt to this changing country, especially their children, Millat and Magid (the sons of Samad and his wife Alsana, also bengali) and Irie (the daughter of Archie and Clara, who is Jamaican). Most reviews of the novel were very positive. Zadie Smith’s ascendance into the literary panorama could be summarised by journalist Stephanie Merrit’s title of her interview with Smith in The Observer: “She is black, British and the first sensation of the Millenium”. Being partly from Jamaican origin, Zadie was immediately turned into the icon of a new generation of racially mixed  young authors (Monica Ali, Meera Syal, Hari Kunzru, etc) and was considered as the privileged succesor to writers like Salman Rushdie and Hanif Kureishi. However, others criticized what they considered an excess of multicultural optimism in the novel, much within the official political agenda of the smiley and pinky Tony Blair’s New Labour. Moreover, there were also some critics, like James Wood, who questioned Zadie Smith’s first work in purely literary terms. He called her style “hysterical realism”. For Wood, Smith’s tendency to fuse incredible stories, characters, complex reflections and very much sense of humour resulted into an style where  “conventions of realism are not being abolished, but, on the contrary, exhausted, overworked” (168).

In 2002 Zadie Smith published her second novel, The Autograph Man. It tells the story of Alex-Li Tandem, an autograph man in his late twenties who struggles to find some sense in his life, much affected by the early death of his father, when Alex was just a kid. Alex’s proffesion becomes the main motif to reflect about celebrity culture and the fragmentation of postmodern culture, in contrast with the ever present existential questions about love, life, death and ultimate religious or metaphysical truths. Though the book is able to represent a reality which has a baudrillardesque-simulacrum flavour, many critics considered this second novel a failed attempt and especially criticized her  the lack of credibility of her characters. Ruth Franklin, for example, said in The New Republic that “gone almost completely are the imagination and the humanity of White Teeth: they have been replaced by gimmickry”; whereas  Michiko Katutani said in the New York Times that the plot was “simultaneously schematic and messy, propelling its protagonist on willfully whimsical adventures”.

Zadie Smith did not like very much the critics to her second novel, but mostly, she got fed up with the mediatic attention she had been receiving for such a long time. Besides, she felt at odds with terms such as “multicultural” or “postcolonial” writer, for she thought they prevented precisely what she wanted most: to be considered simply as an English writer. There were rumours that she was suffering an artistic blockage and some newspapers even said she had decided to quit her literary career. Instead, what she finally did was to retreat and take some distance in the United States, where she went to Harvard to teach about the morality in the novel. Since that experience she started a regular presence in the USA, where she spends part of the year teaching at universities. But that contact with Harvard also served her to write her third novel, On Beauty, which was published in 2005 and gave her back most of the critical acclaim she had lost with The Autograph Man. On Beauty is three things at the same time. On the one hand, it is a homage to E.M Forster’s Howard’s End, with which it shares some similarities in plot and characters. On the other hand, it is a campus novel that reflects the internal politics in American universities. But finally, it is also a reflection about beauty, the enlargement of its canon and the defence of its sacred and truthful value against typical postmodern deconstructive suspicion. These three aspects are fundamental in the novel, that tells the story of two families, the Kipps and the Belseys, and the ideological and academic disputes between their masculine progenitors, Howard and Monty. This rivalry contrasts with the strange but still intense friendship that emerges between their wives, Kiki and Carlene.

Apart from her novels, Zadie Smith has done other things. She has written several short stories, such as Martha, Martha (2003), published in Granta or “The Trials of Finch” (2002) and “Hanwell in Hell (2004)”, both published in New Yorker. She has edited some collections of short fiction, such as Piece of Flesh (2001) or The Book of Other People (2007) and she also has a considerable amount of essays and articles, most of them published in newspapers and magazines. In 2008 she published Changing My Mind: Occasional Essays, which puts together some of this scattered work and also includes some inedit material. There we can read many of her opinions about art, films, literature and life. And we can also discover the long reflection and vital experience that lies behind much of her fictional work. In “Their eyes were watching God: What does Soulful Mean?”, Smith explains how connected she felt with Zora Neale Hurston when she first read her at 14, identifying with her characters “who had my eyes, my skin, even the ancestors of the rhythm of my speech” (12). In “Rereading Barthes and Nabokov”, Smith speaks about how her fascination at university with Barthes and many revolutionary poststructuralist thinkers has vanished to give more attention to a traditional way of approaching the act of reading, more in connection with the need of discovering the meaning that lies behind an author’s work than with the trend of questioning concepts such as author or reader. In “Brief Interviews with Hideous Men: The Difficult Gifts of David Foster Wallace”, she explores and sides with the idea of literature as a way of searching truth and overcoming “the postmodern trap”, as Foster Wallace called it. However, one of the most moving texts in this book is Dead Man Laughing. There Zadie Smith pays a deeply felt homage to her father and to her working-class roots. As her character in White Teeth, Archibald Jones, Harvey Smith was one of those men who fought during the II World War for a country that later on did not give him the possibilities to reach his dreams, being so much conditioned by economic circumstances and rigid class divisions.

In an interview she gave in 2010 to Gemma Sieff in New Harper Magazine -where she reviewed some books during that year and part of 2011- Zadie Smith speculated about the possibility that she was a better critic than writer:  “I think that the biggest change in me and my writing is the realization that in the end my best work might be non-fiction. I’m writing criticism now and I feel so much more confident and happy about it. It allows me to express my passion, which is really other people’s fiction” (“New Books: A conversation with Zadie Smith”). Whether she is a better critic than writer is something difficult to measure, but what is sure is that the six years that have passed since the publication of On Beauty have given her more maturity, being less conditioned by public judgements. She has also had time to have a daughter, Katherine, who was born in 2009. And also, to write a new novel that will be published in september, NW. Smith herself has said that this novel marks a new point in her career: more freedom to focus on what interests her, more literature than ideas, no homages to the writers that influenced her as a young girl and less concern with proving herself and others that a black working-class girl can also be a fully English writer. And, above all, the feeling that she is just 36 and is still in the path of finding  her true literary voice. Because “learning to write is a task that takes up your whole life”, as ahe said to Louis Leslie in an interview she gave in 2011.

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Tabuteau, Éric. “Marginality Correct: Zadie Smith’s White Teeth and Sam Selvon’s The Lonely Londoners”. Cities on the Margin. On the Margin of Cities.  Philippe Laplace y Éric Tabuteau (eds). Annales Litteraires de L’Université de Franche Comté. Littérature et Histoire des Pays de Langue Européenees. Vol. 65. Press Universitarire Franc-Comtoises, 2003. 81-96.

Tan, Kathy Ann. “Caught Between Worlds: The Clash of Cultures and of Generations in the Work of Monica Ali, Jhumpa Lahiri and Zadie Smith”. Territorial Terrors: Contested Spaces in Colonial and Postcolonial Writing. Gerhard Stilz (ed). Berlin: Königshausen & NeumannVerlag, 2007. 227-238.

Taylor, D.J. “Faculty Blues”. Literary Review. September 2005: 49-51.

Terentowicz-Fotyga, Urszula. “The Impossible Self and the Poetics of the Urban Hyperreal in Zadie Smith’s The Autograph Man”. Zadie Smith: Critical Essays. Tracey L.Waters (ed). New York: Peter Lang, 2008. 57-72.

Tew, Philip. The Contemporary British Novel. Londres, New York: Continuum, 2004.

—.      Zadie Smith. London: Palgrave Mamillan, 2010.

Thompson, Molly. “Happy Multicultural Land? The Implications of an ‘excess of belonging’ in Zadie Smith’s White Teeth. Write Black, Write British: From Post-Colonial to Black British Literature. Kadija Sesay (ed). Hereford: Hansib, 2005. 122-140.

Tolan, Fiona. “Identifying the Precious in Zadie Smith’s On Beauty.” British Fiction Today. Eds. Philip Tew and Rod Mengham. London, England: Continuum, 2006. 128-138.

Tornay, Petra. “Challenging Shakespeare: Strategies of Writing Back in Zadie Smith’s White Teeth and Caryl Phillip’s The Nature of Blood”. Refracting the Canon in Contemporary British Literature and Film.  Christian Gutleben and Susana Onega (eds). Amsterdam-Nueva York: Rodopi, 2004. 207-229.

Tynan, Maeve. “Only Connect: Intertextuality and Identity in Zadie Smith’s On Beauty”. Zadie Smith: Critical Essay. Tracey L.Waters (ed). New York: Peter Lang, 2008. 73-89.

Wall, Kathleen. “Ethics, Knowledge, and the Need for Beauty: Zadie Smith’s On Beauty and Ian McEwan’s Saturday”. University of Toronto Quarterly 77/2 (2008): 757-788. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Walters, Tracey. “‘We’re all English Now Mate like it or Lump It’: The Black/Britishness of Zadie Smith’s White Teeth.” Write Black, Write British: From Post-Colonial to Black British Literature. Kadija Sesay (ed). Hereford: Hansib, 2005. 314-322.

—.       “Still Mammies and Hos: Stereotypical Images of Black Women in Zadie Smith’s Novels”. Zadie Smith: Critical Essays. New York: Peter Lang, 2008. 123-139.

—.       (ed) Zadie Smith: Critical Essays. New York: Peter Lang, 2008.

Welch, Dave. “Perhaps Soon Zadie Smith Will Know What She’s Doing (and Then Just You Watch Out)”. Powell’s Books. (October 12, 2005): http://www.powells.com/blog/interviews/perhaps-soon-zadie-smith-will-know-what-shes-doing-and-then-just-you-watch-out-by-dave/ [acceso el 4 de marzo de 2010].

Willens, Susan.Bee Season, and The Autograph Man” (review). Shofar: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Jewish Studies 23.2 (Winter 2005): 123-127.

Wohlsein, Barbara. Englishmen Born and Bred? Cultural Hybridity and Concepts of Englishness in Hanif Kureishi’s ‘The Buddha of Suburbia’ and Zadie Smith’s ‘White Teeth’. Berlin: Verlag, 2008.

Wood, James. “Fundamentally Goyish”. London Review of Books (October 3, 2002): http://www.lrb.co.uk/v24/n19/james-wood/fundamentally-goyish [acceso el 6 de Julio de 2009].

—.       The Irresponsible Self: on Laughter and the Novel. London: Jonathan Cape, 2004.

Zenga, Longmore. “Fairy-sweary-land”. The Spectator (January 29, 2000): http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qa3724/is_200001/ai_n8893408/ [acceso el 14 de febreo de 2006].

Abderrahman El Fathi

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Africa Bibang

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Nacida el año de la Independencia del territorio de Dahomey que se convertiría en la República de Benín, Agnès Agboton se afinca en Barcelona en 1978. Su trayectoria literaria (tradicional y escrita) hace de ella uno de los exponentes más claros de la afroeuropeidad incluyente. Pues como afirma el proverbio gun que abre su libro autobiográfico, Más allá del mar de arena (2005)[1], “la sonaja y el gong tienen distintos sones, pero juntos acompañan la misma melodía”.

Gun y descendiente de una familia estrechamente ligada con la creación de Porto-Novo, su infancia transcurre en un medio tradicional, en el que pertenecer a los Agboton era un prestigio que se reforzó por la carrera docente de su padre: maestro, llegó a ocupar altos cargos en el Ministerio de Enseñanza. Pero no queda aquí su mestizaje de partida, como le gusta recordar a Agnès Agboton: el origen yoruba de su madre, mina de su abuela materna, y gun, del clan al que pertenece, hacen de ella alguien capaz de fusión, de mezcla, lo que marcará su vida y, formando parte de ella, su creación literaria.

En 1974 se muda a Costa de Marfil, donde prosigue sus estudios e intuye ya la dificultad de la doble pertenencia, base de su pensamiento futuro: “la sensación de pertenecer a dos o tres lugares distintos al mismo tiempo”. Costa de Marfil se convertirá también en el punto de partida hacia Barcelona donde se instalará, con su marido, en 1978.

A partir de aquí, se inicia una carrera literaria, o mejor, creativa que hace de esta autora un referente de la escritura africana en lengua castellana y en catalán.

Agnès Agboton no es sólo escritora; de hecho a ella no le gusta que la llamen así, como recuerda Manuel Serrat en el prólogo al poemario Voz de las dos orillas. Se podría decir que su acceso a la escritura viene marcado por su clara intención de presentar, de transmitir, de “traducir” su cultura de origen a su otro medio, el europeo, con el que ya ha formado un todo: “me gusta pensar que soy un gran árbol, con las raíces hundidas en la tierra roja de Hogbonu y las ramas que se levantan hacia el cielo azul del Mediterráneo”.

Por ello, quizás, porque de fusionar se trata y de dar a conocer, inicia su andadura con un libro, La cuina africana, sin pretensiones, o con una muy clara: rememorar sus olores y sabores y hacer de esta nostalgia un camino de comprensión para quienes desde aquí lo leemos. Significativa esta línea (dos libros más seguirán: Africa des dels fogons y Las cocinas del mundo) porque su intención no era hacer un simple recetario, sino que pretendía ir más allá situando cada plato en el contexto en el que se serviría: la tradicionalista que se adapta a la escritura, la transmisora que actúa de puente entre dos mundos tan diferentes había nacido.

Porque su ambición es esa, servir de puente entre dos mundos, entre sus dos mundos. Y así, desde 1990, su primera vocación, la de contar llena su actividad pública: sus relatos, adaptados al castellano o al catalán, son llevados a escuelas y asociaciones, son contados ante un público que quiere conocer. Sus talleres de narración oral la han convertido en la contadora tradicional más requerida en nuestro ámbito, y más allá.

En esta línea, fruto de su interés por acercarnos a una cultura, la suya, que sabe lejana para nosotros, se inscriben los siguientes libros: Contes d’arreu del món; Na Mitón. La mujer en los cuentos y leyendas africanos; Abenyonhú; Eté Utú (Cuentos de tradición oral). De por qué en África las cosas son lo que son, y Zemi Kede. Eros en las narraciones africanas de tradición oral.

Los cuentos de Agnès Agboton son, sin duda, lo más característico de su actividad creativa, en el doble sentido del término: tras su recopilación, al acto de contar se le sumará la transcripción a la lengua catalana y castellana.

Como los grandes contadores africanos, Agnès Agboton ‘autentifica’ la tradicionalidad de sus textos en su prólogo y también en su autobiografía (2005). Es más, en ésta, tenemos incluso una prueba gráfica: una foto de un momento de recogida de material en una entrevista a Tanyi Akaré, “una de las guardianas de las tradiciones”.

Desde Na miton, donde explicaba y presentaba los lugares, los grupos culturales y el valor para ellos de los relatos que incluye, hasta Zemi Kede, la la trayectoria de Agboton refleja una ocupación de lugar: deja fluir su palabra (en la voz y en la escritura), con menos “cuidado” ante un público que quizás considere más maduro. O, simplemente, su asunción narrativa, más determinada, deja paso a la Palabra que se explicará a sí misma.

En momentos en los que nos centramos en articular y dar sentido a sociedades de construcción diversa culturalmente, los cuentos siguen ejerciendo su función esencial tradicional: divertir y enseñar. Aunque los de Agnès agboton, además, y quizás sin pretenderlo, consigan también que al adentrarnos en ellos tengamos necesariamente que realizar un camino de formación: sus textos no son ya complacientes con el lector no iniciado: si queremos conocer, deberemos aprender a hacerlo.

Lo que es evidente es que su obra cuentística va mas allá de la simple traducción de unos relatos que ya de por si, por su “exotismo”, atraería al público europeo, español, en este caso. En mi opinión, su (doble) trabajo literario culmina en una colección de cuentos (sumados los que tiene publicados, hablamos de cinco libros) cuya calidad la sitúan en un alto nivel en el territorio europeo.

La poesía, la que sólo puede pensar y oír en su lengua materna, el gun, para después presentárnosla en castellano, está también presente en su creación escrita: las Canciones del poblado y del exilio (2006), su primer poemario, recibe el XXX premio Villa de Martorell de poesía castellana. A él, le seguirá Voz de las dos orillas, 35 poemas en los que se siente el costoso trabajo creativo y el consiguiente desgarro que implica, en lengua y vivencias, transitar de una orilla a otra, sintetizando desde las emociones presentes, nostalgias y caminos inciertos de quien aprovecha cada línea, cada palabra para decirse sin desvelarse totalmente. Pero la voz no es sólo escritura: la suya, cuando se la oye recitar en gun y en castellano, aúna lo que nos parece imposible de aunar: ritmos y melodías en dos lenguas tan difíciles de casar.

Encrucijada emocional, identitaria, sería, en mi opinión, lo que caracteriza la obra escrita de Agnès Agboton; pero por encrucijada no entiendo opción excluyente sino confluencia de caminos. En su producción destaca (quizás porque nos sea más fácil acceder a ella, o así lo creemos), su Más allá del mar de arena (2005). En esta obra, este auto-relato, que ha sido calificado de Memorias o de Autobiografía, Agboton no tiene una pretensión histórica, de explicación social o, al menos, no la tiene en el sentido clásico, occidental, del término, sino que refleja su manera de entender la vida, con las circunstancias que le han tocado vivir, como todo camino iniciático (2005: 106) en que cualquier hecho adquiere un valor único: aprender a vivir reconociendo siempre que “las verdades absolutas son la semilla de la incomprensión” (Id.: 109).

Su escritura parece querer reflejar las condiciones de la oralidad, de tal manera que todo tipo de géneros se dan cita en ella: los cuentos para ejemplificar, los poemas para fijar, y hasta alguna que otra receta africana que devuelve a la narradora a sus ‘olores’ ancestrales. Y no sólo los géneros son heredados de la oralidad; también lo son las técnicas que utiliza: desde dirigirse a sus hijos, como si de su auditorio se tratase, hasta la reproducción de onomatopeyas que aligeran las descripciones, pasando por la inserción de otros géneros, se diría que es una obra para ser “escuchada”.

En resumen, la escritura de Agnès Agboton –que no su faceta límpida de transmisora de la tradición− es un ejemplo claro, evidente de la hibridez de una literatura, la afroespañola, y por tanto, la afroeuropea, que pretende ser, o no, el resultado del encuentro de mundos, culturas y géneros.



La cuina africana, Barcelona: Columna. 1989.

Àfrica des dels fogons, Barcelona: Columna. 2001. [África en los fogones. Barcelona: Eds del Bronce. 2002]

Las cocinas del mundo, Barcelona: RBA, 2002.

Contes d’arreu del món, Barcelona: Columna, Barcelona, 1996.

Na Mitón. La mujer en los cuentos y leyendas africanos. Barcelona: RBA. 2004.

Abenyonhú. Barcelona: Llibres a Mida/Cáritas Española. 2004. OJO TB en catalán. Buscar

Más allá del mar de arena. Barcelona: Lumen. 2005

Canciones del poblado y del exilio. Barcelona: Viena Edicions. 2006.

Voz de las dos orillas. Málaga: Diputación provincial. 2009.

Eté Utú (Cuentos de tradición oral) De por qué en África las cosas son lo que son. Palma de Mallorca: José J. de Olañeta, ed. 2009

[1] Los datos biográficos de esta presentación se basan en este libro autobiográfico. Por si alguna afirmación se debe más a quien esto escribe, han sido contrastados con Agnès Agboton.

Alana Sinkey

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Arianna Puello

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Astrid Jones

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Barón Ya Buk

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Begoña Bang-Matu

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Betty Akna

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Contribuye:  Paloma Pozo Pearce

Es un cantautor africano de gran sensibilidad. Guinea Bissau es madre de exilios y desarraigo. Bidinte es un compositor pulido que escribe palabras sentidas que hablan de las cosas de su pueblo y le devuelven la voz por un momento. Su primera colección de canciones, un disco llamado Kumura (el nombre de un centro de leprosos e inválidos mentales), lo ha grabado y editado Nubenegra. En la grabación han participado algunos músicos de largo recorrido y afines a la música de Bidinte, como Edú Nascimento, Dino del Monte, Rasha, Jorge Parto, Pap N’Diaye o Paco Cruz con la guitarra flamenca. Él canta, toca la guitarra y una amplia colección de utensilios de percusión. «Considero que la música que hago no es exclusivamente mía, sino que es también propiedad de una cultura y tradición a la que pertenezco y respeto por encima de todo». Su música está impregnada de colores de otras procedencias, de un sutil subrayado flamenco, de aires de ida y vuelta, pero es profundamente guineana. «Quiero una luna de plata. Ya voy retrasado». Padre de Alana Sinkëy.

Carlitos Wey

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Concha Buika

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Domingo Edjang Moreno

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Franklin Tshimini Nsombolay

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Gabriella Ghermandi

Gabriella Ghermandi, Trasmigrazioni 0.1 – Bologna, Italy, 26 June 2010 License Some rights reserved by kappazeta

Contributor: Federico Fabris (University of Bamberg)

Gabriella Ghermandi is an Italian-Ethiopian performer, novelist and short-story writer. She was born in Addis Ababa in 1965 to an Italian father and a mixed-race Ethiopian mother. In 1979, one year after her father’s death, Ghermandi moved permanently to Italy. In a 2005 interview with Ubax Cristina Ali Farah, she described her earliest ‘racial’ and cultural perception thus: “My mother brought me up as a white person, hence enjoying privileges which were denied to other [Ethiopian] children. [...] As a child, my mother suffered her being of mixed-race. The [Italian] nuns educated her as if she was white, while people in the community excluded her for being ‘white’; she had therefore an ideal model of ‘whiteness’ in mind, which she thought unparalleled, and which she wanted to pass on to me” (Ali Farah 2005). When she arrived in Italy, however, Gabriella Ghermandi was struck by the sense of solitude and estrangement she felt there and slowly began to cultivate her Ethiopian identity more.

In 1999, her short-story “Il telefono del quartiere” (“District Phone”) won the first-prize in the Eks&Tra literary competition for migrant writers. In 2003, she was among the founding members of the online magazine El Ghibli, the first periodical publication in Italian to focus entirely on migration literature. Two of her short-stories are published in El Ghibli, as well as in other Italian journals and literary anthologies.

In parallel with her writing activities, Gabriella Ghermandi has been building up a considerable reputation as a performer of oral narratives adapted from the Ethiopian oral and musical tradition. Her reading performances are usually accompanied by music and revolve around a series of historical events. Her show Un Canto per Mamma Heaven (Song for Mamma Heaven), for instance, denounces the brutality of the 1998-2000 Eritrean-Ethiopian war by drawing attention to how this latter affected individual lives of people caught in the midst of it. Among her other reading performances are All’ombra dei rami sfacciati carichi di fiori rosso vermiglio (In the Shadow of the Shameless Branches Laden with Bright Red Flowers) and Regina di fiori e di perle (Queen of Flowers and Pearls) – this latter an adapted version of her 2007 debut novel.

The release of Ghermandi’s novel Regina di fiori e di perle (Rome: Donzelli) was hailed by a number of favourable reviews, both in the national press and on the internet. The story revolves around the character of Mahlet, and the mission given to her – while still a little girl – by old Yacob, an ex-freedom fighter and one of the elderly and wise figures living in Mahlet’s house, in the small town of Debre Zeit: “One day you will be our narrating voice. You will cross the sea [...] and bring our stories to the land of the Italians. You will be the voice of our history that does not want to be forgotten” (Ghermandi 6). Years later, Mahlet goes indeed to Italy in order to pursue a degree at the University of Bologna – her promise to old Yacob long forgotten. After several years, however, Yacob’s death finally compels her to go back. While mourning her loss, she is slowly reminded of her promise by a number of elderly people making her the unwitting recipient of stories dating back to the time when Italians occupied the country – between 1935 and 1941.

Cristina Lombardi-Diop has noted how Regina di fiori e di perle is indeed a “choral novel” – given its numerous and concentric narrative voices – and, more generally, “an enquiry into the identity of Italian colonial memory” (Lombardi-Diop 259). Making use of first-hand oral interviews with ex-colonised and colonisers collected throughout the years, Ghermandi articulates her own challenge to colonial oblivion in contemporary Italian society. Moreover, at an intertextual level, the book offers a postcolonial rewriting of an episode from Ennio Flaiano’s Tempo di uccidere (Time to Kill, Milan: Longanesi, 1947) – arguably the only colonial novel ever to be published in Italian. Set during the time of the Second Italo-Abyssinian War (1935-36), Tempo di uccidere describes the fateful encounter between an Italian soldier and an Ethiopian woman. This latter is approached by the young colonialist while she is washing herself in a pool of water. The briefest of sexual liaisons ensues, ending up in tragedy, as the woman is inadvertently killed by the man. In Regina di fiori e di perle, a similar situation is depicted, only this time it is a group of armed Ethiopian guerrilla women (arbegnà) who spot two tallian sollato by a stream. Having to protect the son of their female leader Kebedech Seyoum – whom they are carrying with them – the women shoot and kill the two soldiers.

Until today, Regina di fiori e di perle remains Gabriella Ghermandi’s only novel to date. The author is nevertheless much active socially and artistically – staging her reading performances in conferences, festivals and literary events around Italy, Europe and the States.


Ghermandi, Gabriella. Regina di fiori e di perle. Rome: Donzelli editore, 2007. Print.

—. “Il pranzo pasquale.” El Ghibli 3.14 (2006). Web. 15 May 2011.

—. “Da un mondo all’altro.” El Ghibli 1.6 (2004). Web. 15 May 2011 .

Ali Farah. Cristina. “Narrare il confine. Intervista alla scrittrice Gabriella Ghermandi.” Migranews. N.p., 31 January 2005. Web. 12 March 2011.

Campo, Vincenzo, ed. L’Italiano degli altri: 16 storie di normale immigrazione. Turin: Einaudi scuola, 2006. Print.

Clò, Clarissa, ed. Spaesamenti Padani: studi culturali sull’Emilia Romagna. Ravenna: Longo Editore, 2005. Print. Il lettore di provincia 123-124.

Gnisci, Armando, ed. Nuovo planetario italiano. Mappa della nuova geografia di scrittori migranti in Italia e in Europa. Troina: Città Aperta, 2006. Print.

Lavagnino, Claire. “Gabriella Ghermandi: Author and Performer with a Native Soul.” Lissan Magazine. WordPress, 28 June 2008. Web. 10 May 2011.

Lombardi-Diop, Cristina. “Postfazione.” Regina di fiori e di perle. Gabriella Ghermandi. Rome: Donzelli editore, 2007. 255-264. Print.

Serra, Fabrizio, ed. Quaderni del novecento: La letteratura postcoloniale italiana. Pisa: Istituti editoriali e poligrafici internazionali, 2005. Print.


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Iván “Melón” Lewis

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Jota Mayúscula DJ

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Krazé Negrozé

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La comunidad africana en Bulgaria

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Laila Karrouch

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Makabro Aka Brokempo

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Mbaká – Chacho Brodas

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Mefe: Meferis Elonga Madiba

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Mohamed Bouissef Rekab

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Mohamed Chakor

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Mohamed Sibari

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Najat El Hachmi

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Paloma del Sol

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Piruchi Apo

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Richard Wright

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Rubém Dantas

Contribuye:  Paloma Pozo Pearce

Nació en Salvador de Bahía (Brasil) en el seno de una familia que amaba la música. Comenzó sus estudios de piano de la mano de su madre, quien también le enseñó a escuchar a creadores de la talla de Maiza Matarazzo, Agustinho dos Santos, Jackson do Pandeiro, Batata, Pixinginha, Luis Gonzaga o Elsa Suares. Después de algunos años dedicados al piano, la naturaleza inquieta y curiosa de Rubem le llevó a interesarse por la percusión de la mano del que él considera su auténtico maestro, “Vadinho do Gantois”. Él dirigió sus primeros pasos y le convirtió en uno de los percusionistas más prometedores del momento y que actuaba en los más importantes festivales de Brasil colaborando con grupos como “Machina Naturale” o “Sangue y Raça”. Con esta última banda obtuvo un gran éxito con adaptaciones de obras como “La ópera de los tres peniques” de Bertolt Brecht.

En 1977 viene a Madrid, tras vivir y trabajar unos años en París junto a músicos como Eddie Louis, Christian Escudé, Dusty o Paco Serry. En España conoce y colabora con músicos como Jean Luc Vallet, Jaime Marques, el malagueño Manolo Heredia Bonilla, Tito Duarte, Richard Krull y Pepe Perera, entre otros. En esa época coincide con el cantante Pedro Ruy-Blas, que le ofrece unirse al grupo “Dolores”, entonces formado por Jorge Pardo, Jesús Pardo y Álvaro Yébenes. “Dolores” supuso en el panorama musical de la época una revolución por su forma de entender el flamenco.

Un buen día Paco de Lucía aparece en su camino para proponerle participar en su nuevo proyecto, un quinteto, posteriormente convertido en sexteto. Fue entonces cuando Rubem introdujo la percusión en el flamenco, cuyos ritmos se llenaron, de los sonidos que aportaban sus bongoes, darbucas, tumbadoras o cortinillas, por primera vez en la historia. Un proyecto musical que contó también con las colaboraciones de Carles Benavent, Jorge Pardo, Ramón de Algeciras, Juan Ramírez, Manolito Soler, Joaquín Grilo, Pepe de Lucía, Duquende, Rafael de Utrera, Juan Manuel Cañizares, Viejín o José María Bandera.

En una de las giras con Paco de Lucía por América, Rubem descubrió el cajón afroperuano y decidió incluirlo esa misma noche en el concierto para interpretar “Solo quiero caminar”. Aquella decisión creó escuela y marcó para siempre al flamenco, que lo adoptaría como propio. Desde ese día, el cajón se ha convertido en un instrumento imprescindible para cualquier formación flamenca.

En noviembre de 2003 Chick Corea le invita a formar parte de su banda durante una gira por España en la que compartiría escenario con músicos tan destacados como Jeff Ballard, Avishai Cohen y Steve Wilson. Una colaboración que el pianista vuelve a solicitar cuando presenta su nueva banda, “Chick Corea & Touchstone” y para la que también son requeridos Tom Brechtlein y los antiguos integrantes del sexteto de Paco de Lucía, Carles Benavent y Jorge Pardo.

En agosto de 2004 Rubem Dantas presenta en Cádiz un proyecto innovador: “Rubem Dantas & Flamenco Big Band”, la primera formación de esta índole que se crea en el mundo, en la que no tardan en colaborar Carles Benavent, Carlos Carli, Jorge Pardo, Miguel Angel Chastang y Rafael de Utrera, entre otros.

En septiembre de 2007, salió al mercado su primer disco en solitario “Festejo”, en el que han colaborado grandes músicos y amigos como Paco de Lucía, Jorge Pardo, Carles Benavent, Chano Domínguez, Chick Corea, Edith Salazar o Joaquín Grilo y que pondrá de manifiesto una de las facetas menos conocidas del brasileño, la de compositor, hasta ahora admirada tan sólo por los asistentes a sus conciertos más personales.

Rubem ha paseado su arte en compañía de músicos como Camarón de la Isla, Milton Nascimento, Enrique Morente, El Potito, Ketama, Paquito D’Rivera, Horacio Icasto, Gilberto Gil, María Creuza o Pablo Milanés, entre otros.

En el 2009 colabora al nuevo disco del guitarrista italiano Flavio Sala, titulado De La Buena Onda.

Saïd El Kadaoui Moussaoui

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Silvia Sobé – DNOE

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Vic Navarrete

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Victor Bondjale

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Yolanda Eyama

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Yoly Sista

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Gilles Dossou-Gouin

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Kossi Komla-Ebri

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Salah Methnani

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Shirin Ramzanali Fazel

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