Monthly Archives: November 2008

African Writers Symposium Review: Niyi Osundare

             Niyi Osundare’s reading and discussion at Tulane’s African Writers Symposium dealt wit the genre of poetry as an interactive experience highlighting the synthesis of beauty and utility, and in its form, acting as a microcosm for Osundare’s philosophies of art and life; both art and life achieve their highest meanings when they become shared experiences.

            Peter Cooley’s introduction praised the utility of Osundare’s lyric. Cooley remarked that the true teaching of Osundare’s poetry emphasizes the lesson that, “The personal is always political, and the political is always personal.”

            Osundare began his reading with an interactive song in which he asked the audience to participate in repeating the refrain. In both his native language and in English, Osundare read with an engaging energy and an interesting and impressive tonal fluctuation. His second poem, “People are my Clothes” gained special significance for the poet following Hurricane Katrina. “People are my Clothes” demonstrated the performance aspects of a poetry reading, as Osundare literally acted out his lyric. In “Letter from an Editor” Osundare told the story of an African writer whose manuscript was “damned with faint praise” by a British publishing company, and addressed the unique challenges African writers face when trying to appeal to wide audiences.

            Osundare then read a few poems from his new book Days, an ode to the days of the week. In “Food Day” he praised the culinary senses of the world, and in “The Things that Days Do”, Osundare remarked on the wisdom, pride, and at times, suffering of the days of the week. In “I Envy the Days” Osundare took an interesting look at the civility of order of the days of the week, personifying each day with a projection of trite human emotions such as jealousy or competitiveness.

            Peter Cooley’s interview centered on the oral traditions of poetry and song, and the subsequent relationship between song and social purpose. Osundare attributes both the oral and aural aspects of his poetry and writing process to the tradition of African poetics and how poems are written to be performed in song or chant. Osundare remarked, “It is the hand that writes and the heart that thinks.” When asked about dealing with his poetry in multiple languages, Osundare said, “The creation of poetry is a translation in and of itself from the ‘inner language of the in-between.” 

 

Alexander C. Lipoff

 

 

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African Writers Symposium Review: Mohammed Naseehu Ali

On November 1, 2008, the Department of English Creative Writing Fund had the pleasure of hosting the African Writers’ Symposium which featured short story writer, Mohammed Naseehu Ali of Ghana. Ali read excerpts from “Ward G-4” and “The Manhood Test,” which are short stories from his 2005 collection, The Prophet of Zongo Street. During his readings, one saw how Ali vividly portrayed the idiosyncrasies of a community and taboo topics, such as a male character’s impotency. During a discussion moderated by Professor Thomas Beller, Ali described the battle with handling the marketing and publishing world, a common topic of conversation amongst the writers of the symposium. During the creation of the The Prophet of Zongo Street, Ali’s goal was to write ten stories based on Zongo Street, but his editor wanted several stories set in the U.S. He also divulged that an illustration of a black individual’s hand was removed from his book cover. Despite Ali’s disillusionment with aspects of publishing, he expressed that he simply likes to tackle truth, and though his story content may be perceived as racy, he strives for authenticity in his work. Two of Ali’s stories are expected to evolve into future novels.

 

Laura Proszak

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