Author Aminatta Forna is known for work — fiction and non — based in Sierra Leone, her father’s homeland. Her latest novel is, instead, based in Croatia where she examines the questions that plague a community after a period of civil strife. Kojo talks with Forna about healing, hunting and gentrification in “The Hired Man.”

Guests

  • Aminatta Forna author, "The Hired Man"; Sterling Brown '22 Visiting Professor of Africana Studies, Williams College

Read An Excerpt

THE HIRED MAN © 2013 by Aminatta Forna; reprinted with the permission of the publisher, Grove/Atlantic, Inc.

Transcript

  • 13:06:42

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. Roughly 3,000 miles separates Sierra Leone from Croatia. And in the minds of many the nations are worlds apart. Writer Aminatta Forna has become closely associated with the former through her memoir and early novels set there. But while her latest work "The Hired Man" may be a geographic departure set instead in Croatia, it's a novel that explores some of the same themes and questions about the nature of war and reveals the countries have more in common than we might think.

  • 13:07:29

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIHere to explain is Aminatta Forna herself. She's an author. Her latest novel is called "The Hired Man." She's also professor of creative writing at Bath Spa University in England and currently holds the post of Sterling Brown Distinguished Visiting Professor at Williams College in Massachusetts. Aminatta Forna, thank you so much for joining us.

  • 13:07:49

    MS. AMINATTA FORNAThank you.

  • 13:07:50

    NNAMDIIf you'd like to join the conversation, give us a call, 800-433-8850. Have you lived in a place recovering from recent civil strife? Tell us about the experience, 800-433-8850. Many listeners might associate you and your work, including a memoir with Sierra Leone. This novel instead is set in a fictional town in Croatia. Why the shift into new territory?

  • 13:08:16

    FORNAWell, I had written about Sierra Leone's civil conflict in three books, a memoir and two novels. And I traveled the world talking about those books and the experience of civil conflict. And I realized that whenever I went to a country where a civil conflict was recent in the memory or recent enough, so let's say Sri Lanka, but also Spain where of course they had a civil war which they couldn't talk about for many decades because of the Franco years, Colombia.

  • 13:08:50

    FORNAI realized that we all had a connection to the experience of having a conflict take place in your own country and being left with the aftermath of it. So I wanted to take the themes that I had started to unpick in Sierra Leone and move them to a new location. You know, writers say, we don't write about places. We write about people who happen to live in places. So I decided this time to write about people who happened to have lived in Croatia during the civil conflict there.

  • 13:09:21

    NNAMDIWhy the previous times in Sierra Leone -- obviously you've got a personal connection to that country. Your father was born in Sierra Leone. Was that the reason you've written about that nation and set novels there?

  • 13:09:33

    FORNAWell, that's right, but it was really prompted by the civil conflict. I hadn't especially thought of writing a story set in Sierra Leone before that happened. And then of course we had this huge terrible war that lasted for ten years, 1991 to, well, 2002, 11 years. And that really prompted me. I think it's a great privilege as a writer actually to find yourself born at a moment when your country is going through something tremendous. And to be able to find a way of talking about that or of asking questions that need to be asked, of examining themes and causes.

  • 13:10:09

    FORNASo I became really fascinated by what I call the idea of how a country implodes, you know, from the very first flap of the butterfly's wings to the hurricane. My father had been a political prisoner. He'd been an activist. He'd been a politician. He was a doctor first then a politician and activist. And he was killed when I was 11 years old. And one of the last things he did was to warn the country that if we carried on in the direction in which we were heading, it would end in war.

  • 13:10:44

    FORNASo I've always been quite fascinated because that -- those prophetic words came from somebody so very close to me that if one person could see it, why didn't other people see it? Or perhaps they did see it and failed to act.

  • 13:10:58

    NNAMDI800-433-8850 is the number to call if you'd like to join the conversation. Our guest is Aminatta Forna. She is the author whose latest novel is "The Hired Man." She's a professor of creative writing at Bath Spa University in England. She currently holds the post of Sterling Brown Distinguished Visiting Professor at Williams College in Massachusetts. 800-433-8850. You can send email to kojo@wamu.org. If you have questions for Aminatta Forna about the writing process or literature more broadly, you can give us a call.

  • 13:11:30

    NNAMDI"The Hired Man," of this title, your narrator Duro, is, among other things, a hunter. And time spent in the woods in pursuit of deer and other game is a key part of this book. So I'd like you to do a little reading for us about that. Could you read an early hunting passage for us? I think it's on page 26 that we can find it, even as I am searching for it.

  • 13:11:55

    FORNAYes.

  • 13:11:56

    NNAMDIHere we go.

  • 13:11:57

    FORNASo here we are, we have this Duro Kolak. The year is 2007, sometime after the civil conflict. At sundown I walked the dogs on the hills. The lights of Gost separated me from a vast darkness. The sea, two hours drive away. Zeka picked up a scent and ran ahead with her nose to the ground, Kos behind. I left them for a short while to see where they were headed and then called them to heel before they could disappear into the pine plantation. Together we entered the trees.

  • 13:12:32

    FORNAInside it was closer to night. The pine needles were soft under foot, soundless. There was a place where the deer gather on the other side of the plantation and the trees give way to a clearing. At about 50 meters from our destination I tell the dogs to go down and wait for me, which they did, sinking slowly to their haunches. They liked to pretend they didn't care, Kos and Zeka, but underneath their skin every nerve and muscle twitched. I moved slowly forward balancing my weight on the outside edges of my feet.

  • 13:13:06

    FORNAEvery ten steps, I stopped and listened. In the silence of the forest I counted on hearing the deer before I saw them and so it happened, a group of eight grazing at the edge of the clearing. A young doe lifted her head at my approach. I froze. She glanced about nervously before she lowered her head again. Seven does, two bucks. The bucks were younger, less than a year old probably. The doe who had raised her head was closest to me and perhaps three years old.

  • 13:13:39

    FORNAI lifted my rifle, set my sights on her and released the safety catch. She grazed on, her body angled away from me. I watched, waited. She might have sensed me for she lifted her head a second time and looked to the left and right and then in my direction. An ear twitched and neither of us moved. Then she relaxed and lowered her head. Reaching for another morsel she shifted her footing and presented her broadside to me. I placed the crosshair at her temple, took a breath, exhaled, squeezed the trigger and watched her drop.

  • 13:14:18

    NNAMDIThat is Aminatta Forna reading from her latest novel "The Hired Man." And when I read that it was so vivid I just knew that the person who wrote this was someone who was extremely familiar with hunting. Because even the details of how he placed his feet when he was walking, I said this person obviously knows this. Then I realized that you went to Croatia for research and that you learned to shoot to better render the hunting scenes. How did your experience shape the character of Duro?

  • 13:14:50

    FORNAWell, the -- my experience shaped the character immensely. I had a friend who had reported from Croatia from the part that I set the story in. During the civil conflict he was a war reporter. And one of the things he said to me was, well of course that war kicked off so quickly because this was a hunting community and all the men had rifles and knew how to use them.

  • 13:15:13

    FORNAAnd of course, that is also why the civil conflict in the whole of the former Yugoslavia was characterized by sniper fire. So I knew it was very likely if I had a character who lived in the countryside, he was likely to know -- or to own guns and know how to use them. So I decided that it was important that I learned how to shoot.

  • 13:15:35

    NNAMDIWhat experience did you have with shooting guns before that?

  • 13:15:38

    FORNANothing.

  • 13:15:39

    NNAMDIZero.

  • 13:15:39

    FORNAI had shot a BB gun and air gun, an air rifle. I think that's about it when we were kids. I had no other experience. In Britain, we have such strict gun control, it took a very long time for me to find a way into this world. It's quite an arcane world, quite impenetrable. In the end, I found a former police marksman who worked in one of the only places that you were allowed to shoot -- literally to shoot guns in Britain. And he agreed to teach me. The first gun I shot was a big military rifle. It practically knocked me off my feet.

  • 13:16:16

    NNAMDI...broke your shoulder. I remember that.

  • 13:16:18

    FORNAIt practically knocked me off my feet. But eventually he taught me to shoot. And in the end I could hit a bulls eye at 1 kilometer. The way in which it shaped the character was this. That in order to shoot well you have to have extreme control of yourself. You have to be very, very calm. You have to be very, very patient, especially if you're hunting. I went to hunt later with a stalker, which is what informed the specific hunting scenes. And he taught me how to stalk deer.

  • 13:16:51

    FORNASo it's all about control. It's all about calm. And I realized that Duro was going to have to be that kind of person. He wasn't going to be excitable. He was going to be in control of absolutely everything. The most -- probably the single most fascinating fact that I learned when I was shooting, that my teacher told me, was that Olympic marksmen, when they take a shot do it between heartbeats. And they don't even know they're doing that.

  • 13:17:23

    FORNAIt's sports psychologists who monitored and measured the way in which they shoot, you know, in order to increase their performance and figured out that when a brilliant marksman takes a shot, he actually does it between heartbeats.

  • 13:17:36

    NNAMDISee you're causing me to digress now. Allow me to get back to you and shooting. Did you find that you enjoyed it more than you expected to?

  • 13:17:46

    FORNAWell, I probably would say that I'm fairly well in touch with my masculine side so I had a suspicion I might enjoy this, you know. I quite like the outdoors, active sports. I scuba dive so I thought that I might enjoy it. And I also love to spear fish. So I did enjoy it a great deal. I think we have to be a little bit pragmatic and frank about these things. There is something rather exciting about holding a great deal of firepower. I prefer to aim it at a target and refine it in that way. But there is something rather exhilarating about it.

  • 13:18:23

    NNAMDIOkay. Back to your writing. Duro. Duro is a very richly drawn character with a lot of small details that make the character feel real. And I read that his hands came to you first. Can you tell us a bit about that and how stories come to you? I mean, you're the first author I've ever interviewed who said an individual's hands came to you first.

  • 13:18:46

    FORNABut a lot of authors will have said to you that the character came first I expect.

  • 13:18:50

    NNAMDIYes.

  • 13:18:51

    FORNAAnd that is it. You know, I'm a character-led author. And I suppose bits of a character come at different times. With Duro, what happened is this. I met a man who -- actually it was Anthony Swofford who wrote "Jarhead." And Anthony Swofford had been a sniper in the first Iraq War. We were on an authors' jaunt together in Australia. We were at a literary festival and I was sitting opposite him.

  • 13:19:23

    FORNAAnd I knew his background obviously because we'd appeared on stage talking about it. And I noticed that he had very-well-looked-after hands. He'll tease me for telling this story, but I have written about it and he knows. So -- and I said, gosh, you manicure. And he said, well yes I do. And I said, do you pedicure as well? I looked at his feet. It was very evident he didn't pedicure. And I went to him and I thought, that's very interesting isn't it? This man had this job as a sniper. His job was to hold a weapon -- a military weapon. And he was trained to target that weapon on individual people and kill them. And he keeps his hands very, very beautiful.

  • 13:20:05

    FORNAAnd I saw the connection there between, you know, the instrument -- they were like pianists hands, the way pianists look after their hands. And that, of course, was years before Duro actually emerged as a figure. But that was the first thing, when I had the idea of setting up in Croatia, when it became apparent that my character was going to shoot, the hands were the first thing to come.

  • 13:20:29

    NNAMDIThank you for explaining that. Much of this plot centers on Duro's interaction with Laura, a British woman who has moved into a house hear his and her family. Laura strikes me as the kind of woman a lot of people might consider smart, maybe even worldly, if she weren't so completely, well, clueless. How do her expectations for Gost compare to the reality?

  • 13:20:54

    FORNAWell, Laura goes to Gost as many British people do. I'm not sure whether second-home buying in overseas countries is quite such a pursuit among the middle class of America, but it certainly is in Britain. And so she buys a house -- an empty house in a small village a little way from the coast. On the grounds of the coast it had a lot of investment in it. She'll get a cheaper property if she goes inland. And she finds herself in a town which has a history of a strong and dark past centered in the civil conflict.

  • 13:21:30

    FORNALaura -- now the question I was asking with Laura is, what is it like to go to a country which you can't read. I've been in and out of Sierra Leone before, after, during the civil conflict and I know how to read it. I know who to be wary of, where to be wary of going, what things means. Laura doesn't know this. She goes there. Not that she's lived a life. She's never had any experience of conflict. But then I had to ask myself, you know, there's a lot of information about Croatia. There's no reason she shouldn't know.

  • 13:22:04

    FORNAAnd yet my experience over and over again, meeting particular kinds of people on whom I used -- I drew largely to create the character of Laura is I think there is a particular kind of person who simply doesn't want to know. They don't want to know about the difficult things in life. They don't want to see the shadows. And so Laura -- well, she doesn't want to because of course it would impinge upon her -- the decision that she's made in the way she wants to live her life free of those kinds of -- of problematic issues.

  • 13:22:37

    FORNASo I decided in the end that Laura's somebody who chooses to shift her gaze away from what makes her uncomfortable.

  • 13:22:43

    NNAMDIWe're talking with Aminatta Forna. She is an author. Her latest novel is called "The Hired Man." We're inviting your calls at 800-433-8850. What responsibility do you think new residents in any given area have to learn about and understand the history of a place when they settle there, as Laura apparently did not, 800-433-8850? You can also send email to kojo@wamu.org.

  • 13:23:10

    NNAMDILaura's daughter, on the other hand, Grace, spends a great deal of time unearthing a mosaic that's been plastered over on the front of the house and is ultimately the one with whom Duro shares his story. You've written about the idea of witness literature. Explain to us what that means to you and how Grace ultimately ends up serving as a kind of witness to Duro's story.

  • 13:23:33

    FORNASometime after I started writing, I came across an essay by the South African Nobel Prize-winner Nadine Gordimer. It was, in fact, her awards speech which she had published. And she talked about the idea of literature as an aesthetic crest to bear witness, sort of a biographical. It's about telling stories that need to be told, going further than the news reports. News reports are the first level of witness, the factual level.

  • 13:24:04

    FORNABut what a novelist can do is go behind what is visible to ask the more difficult questions, to take us to a different kind of truth. And I began to see what I was doing as framed in the way Gordimer had described witness literature. So the character of Grace in "The Hired Man," who I created in counterpoint to her mother -- her mother doesn't want to see or deal with those aspects of life that might cause her discomfort and might contradict her notion of the world the way she wants it.

  • 13:24:37

    FORNAGrace, on the other hand, wishes to know. She has an inquiring mind. She wants to know how the world works and why it is that way. I guess, you know, every time -- and it must be the case with many authors -- every time you write a book people say, which one are you? And of course we don't necessarily put ourselves in books. And sometimes we draw in parts of ourselves. But no particular character is really us.

  • 13:25:03

    FORNABut if -- in this book if there is one character who is most like me, it is Grace. I was that kind of child. I always wanted to ask the difficult questions, the awkward questions. I always set out to know. And, you know, of course I became a BBC journalist for ten years because of that sense of curiosity. And now I'm a writer with that same -- it is the same sense of purpose that I have. I want to know and I want to tell people the things that I discover.

  • 13:25:31

    NNAMDIGrace certainly has a sense of curiosity. And even though you don't write necessarily with the idea of identifying with any one of the characters, as you clearly do with Grace in this novel, how involved with the characters do you get when you're writing? Because it is my understanding, from a reliable source, that you don't much like Laura.

  • 13:25:51

    FORNAQuite often when I write about a character I don't particularly like, I think it would be -- I mean, one has to understand that one has to be able to empathize with them in order to create a round character. But, you know, I could go away and think to myself, I really don't mind if I don't see you again. And that's how I felt about Laura. You know, she is probably the kind of person I would not choose to be friends with. And I think I can say certainly Laura is the kind of person I probably would not choose to be friends with if she really existed.

  • 13:26:24

    NNAMDIBecause when our producer Tayla Burney was pre-interviewing you for this broadcast, she indicated some degree of affinity with Laura. And you said, Laura, why do you like Laura?

  • 13:26:33

    FORNAYes, I shouldn't have said that actually because, in fact, the whole point of creating a character is for people to have different responses to them. And Laura, rather like a character I created in "The Memory of Love" called Elias Cole, you have to decide if Elias Cole is a liar or not. But he's also quite funny and he's also quite witty, but he could be potentially quite a bad person. And I created him in order that people would have different responses to him. And my readers did have different responses.

  • 13:27:03

    FORNAYou know, somebody -- one person described him as more hateful than humble. And another person said to me, god, you know, Elias Cole, isn't he great? So I created Laura in the same way actually, that people would have a different reaction to her. Some people might see parts of themselves reflected in her.

  • 13:27:22

    NNAMDIIt's so strange because when I read "Lolita" the first time I didn't find Humbert Humbert that hateful. So you never know.

  • 13:27:27

    FORNAAh, now you see.

  • 13:27:30

    NNAMDIWe're going to take a short break. When we come back we'll be reminding you that this is our fall membership campaign. But we will be continuing our conversation with Aminatta Forna. Her latest novel is called "The Hired Man." If you have questions or comments for her, if you happen to like Laura, you can give us a call at 800-433-8850 or send email to kojo@wamu.org. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

  • 13:37:10

    NNAMDIWelcome back. We're having a conversation with Aminatta Forna. She is an author. Her latest novel is called "The Hired Man." She's also a professor of creative writing at Bath Spa University in England and currently holds the post of Sterling Brown Distinguished Visiting Professor at Williams College in Massachusetts.

  • 13:37:29

    NNAMDIWe are inviting you to join the conversation by calling 800-433-8850. Do you turn to literature in search of a kind of truth you don't find elsewhere? Tell us why or why not, 800-433-8850. Or if you just have questions for Aminatta Forna about the writing process or literature more broadly you can also send email to kojo@wamu.org or send us a Tweet at kojoshow. You can go to our website kojoshow.org and ask a question or make a comment there.

  • 13:38:00

    NNAMDIWe might think after a decade of engagement in Iraq and Afghanistan that we understand war in a way. But a civil war is very different from an international conflict. And Gost is a place where everyone knows each other's horrible largely unspeakable secrets. What does staying in there do to the characters and why do they stay?

  • 13:38:23

    FORNAWell, most people do stay. I mean, that's the short answer. I guess in the West we think of people as leaving because what we see are the refugees and the immigrants. But most people choose to stay. And they stay because it's home. My family stayed in Sierra Leone. None of them left during the war and none of them left after the war. My stepmom came out for one year for reasons of safety during the worst of the fighting. But the thing she wanted to do when the fighting was over was go home.

  • 13:38:55

    FORNAIt's a small society and we all -- my family, she, are used to seeing people who have done terrible things to other people, to our family. In the end you find a way to live with it. I think the way that Sierra Leone found to live with it ultimately was forgiveness actually. I think that Sierra Leone has committed the greatest act of forgiveness I have ever or will ever witness. And I think a strong reason for that is our war didn't go down ethnic lines. So there was no othering. We did not say it was the Temnes or the Mendes or the Limba or the Krios. It was a war very much of rage and dispossession.

  • 13:39:35

    FORNAAnd I think people took responsibility for it in the end and decided it would never happen again. I think that's what made it possible for us to live together. But in other places and in other times and certainly at times in Sierra Leone, a kind of -- a sort of mental fracturing takes place. You know, I can find myself in a restaurant where I know the person sitting on the other side of the room was implicated in murders.

  • 13:40:02

    FORNAThat's an elephant in the room and life has to go on because otherwise we would all cease to be able to function. But I think in countries where these questions haven't been resolved, the hatred simmers, the anger, the resentment simmers under the surface, and I think that's very much what's happening still in the former Yugoslavia which hasn't been through a process of conciliation and reconciliation. I think that's still very true there. That's certainly what my friends there say.

  • 13:40:37

    FORNACertainly the picture I got when I got when I was there, and that is what is going on in Gost. People know things about each other and the resentment hasn't yet been resolved.

  • 13:40:46

    NNAMDIAnd do you find that in countries in which we have no recent memory of civil war, in England or here in the United States, that there is a comprehension gap if you will. We don't quite understand because we say to ourselves, I would never speak to that unspeakable brut again in life when, in fact, if you happen to be in Sierra Leone or in Croatia and living in that same neighborhood, at some point you have to reconcile what that quote unquote "unspeakable brut" did with the fact that he is and will continue to be your neighbor for a long time.

  • 13:41:18

    FORNAYeah. For most western nations, with the exception of Spain or the former Yugoslavia, wars are fought overseas, and the emblem of them is returning servicemen, coffins draped in flags, which themselves are awful, and if you are one of those servicemen in their family you will feel the effects of war forever. But for most of us, it takes place at remote. So we do imagine from a western perspective that people will take all kinds of actions against the people who have hurt them and killed their family members.

  • 13:41:53

    FORNAAnd yet, actually, it's surprising how often people don't. It's surprising, and it's also a relief to see how often they don't because if they did, the war would never come to an end.

  • 13:42:05

    NNAMDIWe got an email from Margaret who says, "We were assigned in Freetown, Sierra Leone in the mid-seventies before the conflict, and our younger son went to local schools for the American Equivalent of the fifth, sixth, and seventh grades. When CNN showed its remarkable "Cry Freetown," we got a call from our then graduate student son asking, 'Did you see the classroom where they chopped off people's arms and legs?' We had. That was my sixth grade classroom at Fourah Bay.

  • 13:42:31

    NNAMDI"We visiting foreigners had been gone by then for a decade, but the sense of personal belonging never let go, nor has it to this day. Your author is also speaking to my experience. Thank you," writes Margaret. We spoke recently with Nigerian-born novelist, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, and she talked about the blessing and curse of being described as an African writer, while at the same time being part of multiple societies and cultures. How do you feel about being viewed through that lens, and why do you think there's such a compulsion to sort authors by geography in the world of literature?

  • 13:43:11

    FORNAYeah. We're probably going to have to stop doing it at some point, because we live in an increasingly international world, and anybody could be born in one place, educated in another, perhaps have parents of two different backgrounds, and we know this to be the case, but we do have this love of sorting and filing people into categories. Of course it's partly about academia, which requires, you know, the Department of African Studies, a Department of English Literature, and around literature this debate has taken a particular turn.

  • 13:43:45

    FORNAThe great African writer Ngugi wa Thiong'o right back in the sixties wanted to change and did succeed in changing the name of his department.

  • 13:43:54

    NNAMDIChanging his own name. I first knew him as James Ngugi.

  • 13:43:56

    FORNAThat's right. That's right. But changing it from English literature to literature. And I, you know, the whole thing, why it's so frustrating for a writer is the whole point of writing is to show the universality of human experience, character, the world. So when it then gets divided up by region, this is completely contrary to what we're trying to do. On the other hand, if someone calls me and African writer, well, you know, I do fly the flag for my country. It needs to have its flag flown for it occasionally, so I don't mind too much. But I have a Scottish mother, and I wait for the day when someone describes me as a Scottish writer.

  • 13:44:35

    NNAMDIYou said you envy the Nigerian writers because they can get paid royalties in their own country. That's what happens when you come from a large country.

  • 13:44:45

    FORNAYes. There's -- well, I was pointing out -- I mean, I'm faintly envious. I don't know that they get paid so much in royalties that I have to have any real envy, but there is an interesting fact about when a country -- when people ask, why don't certain countries have writers, why don't have a literary history, one of the things you require is some wealth, and you require a population who can buy your books, a middle-class publishing companies.

  • 13:45:11

    FORNASierra Leone until recently didn't have a single book shop. So the Nigerian writers who have this huge population and book shops and now wonderful emerging publishing houses, Cassava Press, Farrafina, you know, they've actually got a constituency, and that's why some of the most fantastic writing of this generation is coming out of Nigeria. That's why I envy them.

  • 13:45:33

    NNAMDIWe got an email from Jane who said, "Ms. Forna was a judge for the 2013 Man Booker Prize. Could she discuss that experience, how to rank one novel over another and how and why?"

  • 13:45:46

    FORNAOf course I can't because what takes place within a jury is entirely confidential. I'm afraid I can't do that.

  • 13:45:54

    NNAMDIWell, we can say that "The Luminaries" by Eleanor Catton was just announced as the winner earlier this week of that prize. You can call us at 800-433-8850. Please don your headphones, because we are going to Ken in Gaithersburg, Md. Ken, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 13:46:12

    KENGood afternoon, Kojo. Thank you for taking my call. I take exception to the comment about people forgiving and forgetting in Europe and other countries that have been battlefields, even the United States. I spend quite a bit of time in France and there are still people one generation removed from World War II who will not interact with German-speaking people. In China and Taiwan there are people who are still fighting blood feuds against each other for slights that have occurred over the past hundred years, or for real and terrible things that were done. And if you go down to Mississippi, the Civil War is still being fought by proxy.

  • 13:46:53

    NNAMDITo which you say what, Aminatta Forna?

  • 13:46:56

    FORNAWell, I mean, I think the gentlemen is right that things linger in different places in different ways. I mean, it's very apparent in America for a visitor that there is a north/south divide. It's also very apparent in Spain that the civil war goes on there. I don't think that either of us made the statement that people in those countries have forgotten or indeed forgiven, but that the proximity of a conflict has a very, you know, measurable impact on how people react to each other.

  • 13:47:25

    FORNAVery often and typically the further away a conflict is, particularly if there's been some kind of resolution, the further away those sensibilities.

  • 13:47:34

    NNAMDIThank you very much for your call. In addition to being a writer, you're also a professor. Tell us about the course you're teaching at Williams College in Massachusetts. I see you are the Sterling Brown Distinguished Visiting Professor there. I knew Sterling Brown. I worked at Howard University in the early 1970s when Sterling Brown was still alive and professor at Howard University. But tell us about the course you're teaching.

  • 13:47:58

    FORNAWell, the Sterling Brown professorship goes to a working artist. So I teach my course which is called "Witness Literature: An Introduction to African Literature," from the perspective of a writer. We examine books from around the African continent at different times. We start off with "Things Fall Apart" colonialism. We move on to Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o "A Grain of Wheat," the Mau Mau rebellion. We look at Mariama Ba who writes about the experience of decolonization in Senegal, and we're just about to start Andre Brink "A Dry White Season" in South Africa, apartheid.

  • 13:48:35

    FORNASo I give my students the historical contexts and background to the piece they're reading, and then we talk about the writer's craft, what I think the writer was asking us to think about, what they're drawing from the book in terms of what the writer's themes are, and what impact that book made at the time. I mean, Achebe wrote "Things Fall Apart," and he's on record as saying this, in opposition to Joseph Conrad. You know, he was so frustrated by Conrad's book that he had given the African -- no African characters, no African characters had any kind of subjectivity.

  • 13:49:16

    FORNAThey didn't even have a voice in "Heart of Darkness," and so Achebe really kicked off a rich vein of writing from the African continent with "Things Fall Apart."

  • 13:49:28

    NNAMDICertainly kicked off a rich vein in my life. Here is Ted in Washington DC. Ted, you're on the air. Go ahead, please. Hi Ted, are you there? Ted, if you're there, I can't hear you. Okay. Ted, I can't hear you and we're running out of time very quickly. While you've set your latest work elsewhere, I imagine you still retain close ties to Sierra Leone. I understand you recently worked on a film project that profiled a young woman from that country, speaking of the name Mariama. Tell us about Mariama and what the future holds for her generation. It's my understanding the Mariama is, among other things, a radio personality?

  • 13:50:07

    FORNAOh, that's right. I did a wonderful project by "10 X 10" with the director Richard Robbins twinned writers from different countries with young women. The focus of the whole documentary was education for girls. I met Mariama in Sierra Leone who was a force to be reckoned with. A young woman who, you know, one day I expect her to be sitting in your seat actually.

  • 13:50:29

    NNAMDIThat's what I'm saying. She's probably here to take my job.

  • 13:50:32

    FORNAAnd she ran -- for a youth radio program she ran this fantastic call-in show where she took it upon herself to solve the problems of her generation. A force to be reckoned with, Mariama. I wrote a ten-minute film script about her life.

  • 13:50:47

    NNAMDIAminatta Forna is an author. Her latest novel is "The Hired Man." She's also a professor of creative writing at Bath Spa University in England. She currently holds the post of Sterling Brown Distinguished Visiting Professor at Williams College in Massachusetts. Thank you so much for joining us. Good luck to you.

  • 13:51:02

    FORNAWell, that's my greatest pleasure. Thank you very much.

  • 13:51:05

    NNAMDIAnd thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

Related Links

Topics + Tags

Comments

comments powered by Disqus
Most Recent Shows

Winter Reading 2014

Thursday, Dec 18 2014Whether you like horror stories or cookbooks, poetry or works in translation, we consider a range of titles that will keep you turning pages. And we want to know what's on your reading list, so join the conversation on air or on our website to share the best book you've read this year.