Saturday, 23 June 2012

Book Club: Saturday 30 June 2012/Caine Prize @ Africa Writes

I am so looking forward to the June 2012 Black Reading Group book club discussion on Saturday 30 June, 3pm at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS). We are hosting all five of the shortlisted authors of the 2012 Caine Prize for African Writing in a huge book club talk. I will be chairing the talk with Jacque, and it has been great to work with her and the new administrator of The Caine Prize, Lizzy Attree to bring the event together. This is an exciting first for us. In 2010 I went to my first Caine Prize discussion and could not quite get my head round why the talk was totally framed in a very formal and academic mindset. I know that Black Reading Group members will have stretching and searching questions, and I am really looking forward to an event that brings book clubbers - who love to read and talk about what they have read, face-to-face with an exciting group of supremely talented writers.  

All the Caine Prise authors will be on BBC Radio 4' s arts programme The Strand this coming week talking about their stories and influences. You can download the stories from the The Caine Prize website.
The shortlisted author's and their stories

All the 2012 stories are to be republished together in the 2012 anthology African Violet. It also includes the stories by other writers from all over Africa who took part in The Caine Prize writers' workshop earlier this year.  Copies are available here: African Violet

The June book club meeting is part of a new literature festival for London, Africa Writes, which is organised by The Royal African Society. Full details of the whole programme - which is all  free - is below. I have added into the programme summaries of the most recent books of all the  authors who are taking part in the Africa Writes weekend. I hope that this crib sheet will be useful as a guide to the breadth of the work and the people who have created it.  

The Royal African Society’s inaugural annual literature & book festival
When: Saturday 30 June & Sunday 1 July 2012, 12-8PM
Where: Brunei Gallery Building (SOAS) & Torrington Square
The RAS is pleased to present Africa Writes, a festival celebrating contemporary African literature and writers, scheduled to take place on Saturday 30 June and Sunday 1 July 2012.

Africa Writes aims to enhance coverage and discussion about African literature and writers in London - and the UK, by extension. Every year Africa Writes will showcase established and emerging literary talent from Africa and the Diaspora during a weekend-long series of events, including: a major lecture with a high profile African literary figure; book launches, readings, workshops, panel discussions, talks and other activities; a 2-day international book fair showcasing publishers of African literature; and a 2-day pan-African food market featuring dishes from around the continent. The programme for Africa Writes 2012 is as follows:

SATURDAY 30 June 2012

Welcome and Introduction by Richard Dowden, Director, Royal African Society
12:00-12:15 / Brunei Gallery Lecture Theatre (BGLT)

Africa: Altered States, Ordinary Miracles by Richard Dowden

Richard Dowden is perhaps our leading journalist of African affairs. Since first arriving in Idi Amin's Uganda in 1971 he has never stopped learning about and reporting on real Africans and the realities of life in Africa's many and varied lands. Like many young Westerners, he first went to Africa to 'save' it, but he stayed to learn from it. Africans taught him how to laugh and dance, how to tease but not command, how not to expect the truth and never to blurt it out, how to avoid danger, and how to be patient. Very, very patient. Such patience has served Dowden well, for he returns now from his decades-long journey among Africans with a report on their various ways and dreams, their priorities and pressures, that is far more revealing about the past, present and future of this fascinating and bewildering continent than any number of war stories or economic reports. Dowden combines a novelist's gift for atmosphere with the unblinking scholar's grasp of historical change to produce one of the most compelling and revealing accounts of modern sub-Saharan Africa yet. His experiences there required him to re-evaluate all he had been taught to believe, his landmark book enables its readers to see and understand this miraculous continent in a new light too.

Opening session: New writing for a ‘new Africa’? 
12:15-13:00 / Brunei Gallery Lecture Theatre
Deputy Editor of Granta, Ellah Allfrey, leads Ghanaian author Kojo Laing in conversation, discussing new writing in Africa and setting the scene for the festival.

Sweet Search Country by Kojo Laing

Set in 1970s Accra, this inventive and intense first novel by Kojo Laing provides an insight into aspects of a Ghanaian society caught in transition between tradition and modernity.  Examining the beliefs, ideals and aspirations of a selection of those who make up the country (which include a politican, a professor, a farmer and a bishop) like a skilful bartender Kojo Laing has created a heady cocktail in Search Sweet Country that will not fail to stimulate the reader's mind.

Book launch: How Shall We Kill the Bishop? by Lily Mabura
13:00-13:30 / Brunei Suite 
Book launch with author Lily Mabura. Chair: Fiammetta Rocco (Literary Editor, The Economist).

How Shall we Kill the Bishop by Lily Mabura

An artist in mourning for a brother who died fighting in Bosnia, a restless young woman alerted to the possibility of life outside her tight knit community, an unemployed lawyer lingering in a Kenyan hospital - Lily Mabura's first collection of short stories deals with characters whose fates fascinate and alarm.
Set in Kenya, the USA, Namibia and the Congo, these brief, evocative tales demonstrate an acute sensitivity to the globalised trajectories which increasingly distinguish our world. One of Kenya's most promising authors, Lily Mabura's story 'How Shall We Kill the Bishop?' was shortlisted for the 2010 Caine Prize for African Fiction

Book launch:  Sterile Sky by E. E. Sule
14:00-14:30 / Brunei Suite
Book launch with author EE Sule. Chair: Dr Mpalive Msiska (Reader in English & Humanities, Birkbeck College).

Sterile Sky by EE Sule

As the gifted young Murtala comes of age in Kano, violent riots and his family's own woes threaten to erase all he holds dear. Stalked by monsters real and imagined, desperate to preserve a sense of self and the future, Murtala hunts for answers in the wreckage of the city – and gives us a unique insight into modern life in northern Nigeria.

Event: The 2012 Caine Prize authors meet their readers (see intro at the top of the page)
15:00-16:30 / Brunei Gallery Lecture Theatre
Meet the 2012 Caine Prize Shortlisted writers - Rotimi Babatunde, Billy Kahora, Stanley Kenani, Melissa Tandiwe Myambo, and Constance Myburgh. Book club discussion with the Black Reading Group and the London Afro-Caribbean Book Club.

Book launch: Crossbones by Nuruddin Farah
17:00-17:45 / Brunei Suite
Book launch with author Nuruddin Farah. Chair: Richard Dowden (Director, RAS)

Crossbones by Nuruddin Farah (published 5 July 2012)

A dozen years after his last visit, Jeebleh returns to his beloved Mogadiscio to see old friends. He is accompanied by his son-in-law, Malik, a journalist intent on covering the region's ongoing turmoil. What greets them at first is not the chaos Jeebleh remembers, however, but an eerie calm enforced by ubiquitous white-robed figures bearing whips. Meanwhile, Malik's brother, Ahl, has arrived in Puntland, the region notorious as a pirates' base. Ahl is searching for his stepson, Taxliil, who has vanished from Minneapolis, apparently recruited by an imam allied to Somalia's rising religious insurgency. The brothers' efforts draw them closer to Taxliil and deeper into the fabric of the country, even as Somalis brace themselves for an Ethiopian invasion. Jeebleh leaves Mogadiscio only a few hours before the borders are breached and raids descend from land and sea. As the uneasy quiet shatters and the city turns into a battle zone, the brothers experience firsthand the derailments of war. Crossbones is a fascinating look at individuals caught in the maw of zealotry, profiteering and political conflict, by one of Africa's most highly acclaimed international writers.

Africa Writes 2012 Lecture by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
18:00-19:30 / BGLT
Marking the 50th anniversary of the African Writers Series, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie will reflect on 50 years of African literature since the series was first established in 1962. Followed by a reception.
*Attendance by RSVP only:

Half a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Half a Yellow Sun is being filmed in Calabar, Nigeria with Thandie Newton and Anika Noni Rose playing the twins, and John Boyega and Chiwetel Ejiofor the male lead characters. It is being directed by Biyi Bandele. No release date yet, but is likely to be sometime in 2013. Chimamanda’s next novel Americanah  will be published in 2013.

Winner of the Orange Broadband Prize for Fiction 2007, this is a heartbreaking, exquisitely written literary masterpiece. This highly anticipated novel from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is set in Nigeria during the 1960s, at the time of a vicious civil war in which a million people died and thousands were massacred in cold blood.
The three main characters in the novel are swept up in the violence during these turbulent years. One is a young boy from a poor village who is employed at a university lecturer's house. The other is a young middle-class woman, Olanna, who has to confront the reality of the massacre of her relatives. And the third is a white man, a writer who lives in Nigeria for no clear reason, and who falls in love with Olanna's twin sister, a remote and enigmatic character.
As these people's lives intersect, they have to question their own responses to the unfolding political events. This extraordinary novel is about Africa in a wider sense: about moral responsibility, about the end of colonialism, about ethnic allegiances, about class and race; and about the ways in which love can complicate all of these things.

SUNDAY 1 July 2012

Workshop: Story Time
12:00-13:00 / Brunei Suite
Interactive story-telling for children.

Book launch: Labyrinths by Christopher Okigbo
12:00-12:30 / Brunei Gallery Lecture Theatre
Book launch led by Christopher Okigbo’s daughter, Obiageli Okigbo (Founder, the Christopher Okigbo Foundation).

Labyrinths by Christopher Okigbo

Christopher Okigbo’s words have often been described as prophetic and have inspired generations of writers in Nigeria and beyond. This extraordinary and powerful collection of interlinked poems, first published in 1971,showcases his rare talent. Each poem draws the reader into an arrestingworld ofmyth and intense contemplation.  Killed during the Biafran conflict aged only 35, Okigbo says of these sequences that they amount to "a fable of man's perennial quest for fulfilment".

Panel discussion: Publishing contemporary African Literature - challenges & opportunities
13:00-14:00 / Brunei Gallery Lecture Theatre
With Margaret Busby (writer, editor, critic, consultant and broadcaster), Becky Nana Ayebia Clarke MBE (Founder, Ayebia Clarke Publishing Ltd), and James Currey (Founder, James Currey - an imprint of Boydell & Brewer). Chair: Wangui Wa Goro (translator, editor and writer).

Panel discussion: Writing Away from Home
14:30-15:30 / Brunei Gallery Lecture Theatre
Authors Ellen Banda-Aaku, Noo Saro-Wiwa, Goretti Kyomuhendo and Aminatta Forna (TBC) discuss the implications, challenges, and opportunities of living in the Diaspora and writing about ‘Home’. Chair: Hannah Pool

Patchwork by Ellen Banda-Aaku

Winner of the Penguin Prize for African Writing 2010 (fiction).

Destined from birth to inhabit two very different worlds - that of her father, the wealthy Joseph Sakavungo, and that of her mother, his mistress - this emotive tale takes us to the heart of a young girl's attempts to come to terms with her own identity and fashion a future for herself from the patchwork of the life she was born into. Beautifully constructed, warm and wise, this is a novel that will transport the reader to a world in which we can all become more of the sum of our parts.

Looking for Transwonderland: Travels in Nigeria by Noo Saro-Wiwa

Noo Saro-Wiwa was brought up in England, but every summer she was dragged back to Nigeria - a country she viewed as an annoying parallel universe where she had to relinquish all her creature comforts and sense of individuality. Then her father, activist Ken Saro-Wiwa, was murdered there, and she didn't return for 10 years. Recently, she decided to rediscover and come to terms with the country her father loved. She travelled from the exuberant chaos of Lagos to the calm beauty of the eastern mountains; from the eccentricity of a Nigerian dog show to the empty Transwonderland Amusement Park - Nigeria's decrepit and deserted answer to Disneyland. She explored Nigerian christianity, delved into its history of slavery, examined the corrupting effect of oil, investigated Nollywood. She found the country as exasperating as ever, and frequently despaired at the corruption and inefficiency she encountered. But she also discovered that it was far more beautiful and varied than she had ever imagined, and was seduced by its thick tropical rainforest and ancient palaces and monuments. Most engagingly of all she introduces us to the people she meets, and gives us hilarious insights into the Nigerian character, its passion, wit and ingenuity.

Memory of Love by Aminatta Forna

Freetown, Sierra Leone, 1969. On a hot January evening that he will remember for decades, Elias Cole first catches sight of Saffia Kamara, the wife of a charismatic colleague. He is transfixed. Thirty years later, lying in the capital's hospital, he recalls the desire that drove him to acts of betrayal he has tried to justify ever since. Elsewhere in the hospital, Kai, a gifted young surgeon, is desperately trying to forget the pain of a lost love that torments him as much as the mental scars he still bears from the civil war that has left an entire people with terrible secrets to keep. It falls to a British psychologist, Adrian Lockheart, to help the two survivors, but when he too falls in love, past and present collide with devastating consequences. The Memory of Love is a heartbreaking story of ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances.

Waiting: A Novel of Uganda at War by Goretti Kyomuhendo

Set during the last year of the Ugandan dictator Idi Amin's brutal regime, "Waiting" exposes the fear and courage of a small, close-knit community uncertain of what the edicts of a madman and the marauding of his uncontrollable army will bring with each coming day. Safe for years in their poor remote country village far from Amin's political battlefield, Alinda and her family are plunged into the rippling effects of war when the troops of the self-proclaimed "Last King of Scotland" use the local highway as an exit route from the pursuing Ugandan and Tanzanian liberators. With her mother on the verge of labour, her brother anxious to join the liberators, and a house full of hungry siblings, neighbours, and displaced refugees, Alinda learns what it takes to survive and eventually plan for a new life. "Waiting" captures the intimate details of a home front battle inflicted on individuals locked in a personal, daily war too often overshadowed by the atrocities of Amin's dictatorship and the eccentricities of his character. Here the hidden realities and despair of the state-sponsored war on the Ugandan people gives way to the hope forged by the coming of the liberators and the renewed spirit of the people themselves as they reconstruct their homes and lives.

My Father's Daughter by Hannah Pool

Hannah Pool was adopted from an orphanage in Eritrea in 1974 and came to England, via Sudan and Norway, with her white adoptive father six years later. Then a brother she never suspected she had wrote to her from Eritrea. But Hannah hid the letter away, and it is only now ten years after receiving it that she has decided to track down her surviving Eritrean family. Hannah Pool's search for her birth family is a journey which takes her far beyond her comfort zone and face to face with the harsh realities of a life that could so easily have been her own. Frank, intimate, funny and sometimes all too real, My Fathers' Daughter is the story of one life, two families and two very different cultures.

Book launch: And Crocodiles Are Hungry At Night by Jack Mapanje
16:00-16:30 / Brunei Gallery Lecture Theatre
Book launch with author Jack Mapanje. Chair: Becky Nana Ayebia Clarke MBE (Founder, Ayebia Clarke Publishing Ltd).

And the Crocodiles are Hungry at Night by Jack Mapanje

A powerful contribution to the genre of the prison memoir in Africa. Jack Mapanje presents the moving account of a poet's imprisonment by the state, his struggle to probe the hidden motives for this arrest and his attempt to provide an unforgettable record of the architecture of imprisonment and the perpetual struggle between the forces of truth and those of naked power. In 1987, Mapanje was arrested by the Malawian secret police and imprisoned without charge until 1991. The memoir represents Mapanje's retrospective attempt to explain the cause and terms of his imprisonment.

Closing event: Word from Africa – part of Poetry Parnassus
18:00-22:00 / Clore Ballroom, Southbank Centre
Word from Africa 2012 celebrates the exciting culmination of the Poetry Parnassus and Africa Writes festivals. It's a rich jollof of poetry, storytelling and song, sauteed with performance and music! Headlined by the Official poet at London Olympics 2012 and Associate Artist at the Southbank Centre, Lemn Sissay, the event will feature a selection of The Poetry Parnussus African poets, rappers and wordsmiths, including: Modeste Hugues (Madagascar), Oxmo Puccion (Mali),  Ketty Nivyabandi Bikura (Birundi) Shailja Patel (Kenya), T.J. Dema (Botswana),  Paul Dakeyo (Cameroon), Bewketu Seyoum (Ethiopia), Abdulahi Botaan Hassan 'Kurweyne' (Somalia), Mariama Khan (Gambia) and Togara Muzanenhamo (Zimbabwe). 

Saturday, 16 June 2012

Book at Bedtime: Salvage The Bones by Jesmyn Ward

On Monday evening (11 June) BBC Radio 4’s new Book at Bedtime began. It is Jesmyn Ward’s prize winning novel Salvage the Bones. Set over twelve days, as the 15 year-old Esch & her family tries to avoid the approaching destructive doom, the book culminates in the arrival of Hurricane Katrina. Jesmyn, a professor of creative writing, grew up in The Gulf region of the US, and was shocked by how people talked to her about those who had lost everything in the hurricane. She wrote this story, her second book, to try and make people understand the humanity in others. As she herself says in the Youtube link below, (but I am paraphrasing here) it is not really a story of the hurricane particularly it is the story of how a family and community survives together through love and loyalty.  

Listen to the 1st episode here: Book at Bedtime 

Salvage the Bones won the 2011 National Book Award, and ‘in a starred review, Publishers Weekly called Ward "a fresh new voice in American literature" who "unflinchingly describes a world full of despair but not devoid of hope." Read the wikipedia profile – it is in the about the author paragraph below, Jesmyn is a hugely talented writer – one to watch. Salvage the Bones is her second book, the first was Where the Line Bleeds. 

I am so pleased to hear this story on the BBC, which is being beautifully enacted by the British-Nigerian actress Cush Jumbo. The BBC have put Salvage the Bones into 10 parts and the first episode will disappear from iPlayer on the 18 June.

What’s it about?

A hurricane is building over the Gulf of Mexico, threatening the coastal town of Bois Sauvage, Mississippi, and Esch's father is growing concerned. He's a hard drinker, largely absent, and it isn't often he worries about the family. Esch and her three brothers are stocking up on food, but there isn't much to save. Lately, Esch can't keep down what food she gets; at fifteen, she has just realised that she's pregnant. Her brother Skeetah is sneaking scraps for his prized pit bull's new litter, dying one by one. Meanwhile, brothers Randall and Junior try to stake their claim in a family long on child's play and short on parenting. As the twelve days that make up the novel's framework yield to a dramatic conclusion, this unforgettable family - motherless children sacrificing for one another as they can, protecting and nurturing where love is scarce - pulls itself up to face another day.

About the Author

Jesmyn Ward grew up in DeLisle, Mississippi. She received her MFA from the University of Michigan, where she won five Hopwood awards for essays, drama, and fiction. A Stegner Fellow at Stanford, from 2008-2010, she has been named the 2010-11 Grisham Writer-in-Residence at the University of Mississippi. Her debut novel, Where the Line Bleeds, was an Essence Magazine Book Club selection, a Black Caucus of the ALA Honor Award recipient, and a finalist for both the VCU Cabell First Novelist Award and the Hurston-Wright Legacy Award.

More about Jesmym Ward:  Wikipedia  Youtube

What they say about it

'Beautifully written ... A powerful depiction of grinding poverty, where somehow amid the deprivation, the flame of filial affection survives and a genuine spirit of community is able to triumph over everything the system and nature can throw at it'
Daily Mail

'Masterful... Salvage the Bones has the aura of a classic about it' Washington Post

'A brilliantly pacy adventure-story as the family battles to escape the rising tide. The pages fly past with heart-stopping intensity... Ward writes like a dream. A real dream: uneasy, vivid and deep as the sea'
The Times

'The novel's hugeness of heart and fierceness of family grip hold on like Skeetah's pit bull' 
Oprah Magazine

Review: The Observer

Sunday, 10 June 2012

Barry Unsworth: Obituary

Barry Unsworth the author of Sacred Hunger, has died of lung cancer at the age of 81. One of Britain’s finest historical fiction writers, he shied away from the writers’ circuit of talks and literary festivals and so was not as well known as some lesser writers. He had been living in Italy for the past twenty years. Sacred Hunger, shared the Booker Prize with The English Patient in 1992. At the time many felt that the  Unsworth book should have been awarded the Booker outright, as it was by far the better book. His 2011 book The Quality of Mercy was his follow-up to Sacred Hunger was published 19 years after the first book.

About Sacred Hunger

From The Daily Telegraph obituary:
A tale of the 18th-century slave trade set over more than 600 pages, it relayed Unsworth’s concern with the merciless logic of trade and commoditisation in a world in which everything, people included, has a price.’
It was published two years after the departure from Downing Street of Margaret Thatcher, and Unsworth was not shy of drawing parallels with a decade driven by economic liberalisation. “You couldn’t really live through the ’80s without feeling how crass and distasteful some of the economic doctrines were,” he insisted. “The slave trade is a perfect model for that kind of total devotion to the profit motive without reckoning the human consequences.
The Daily Telegraph Obituary

Sacred Hunger (1992) centres on the Atlantic slave trade that moves from Liverpool to West Africa, Florida and the West Indies. It was joint winner of the Booker Prize for Fiction in 1992, along with Michael Ondaatje's The English Patient.
The story is set in the mid-18th century and centres around the snow Liverpool Merchant, a slave ship employed in the triangular trade, a central trade route in the Atlantic slave trade. The two main characters are cousins Erasmus Kemp, son of a wealthy merchant from Lancashire, and Matthew Paris, a physician and scientist who goes on the voyage. The novel's central theme is greed, with the subject of slavery being a primary medium for exploring the issue (the "sacred hunger" of the title refers to the profit motive). The story line has a very extensive cast of characters, some featuring in only one scene, others continually developed throughout the story, but most described in intricate detail. The narrative interweaves elements of appalling cruelty and horror with extended comedic interludes, and employs frequent period expressions. 

About The Quality of Mercy

The Quality of Mercy opens in the spring of 1767, in the immediate aftermath of the events in Barry Unsworth's Sacred Hunger. It follows the fortunes of two central characters from that book: Sullivan, an Irish fiddler, and Erasmus Kemp, the son of a disgraced Liverpool slave-ship owner who hanged himself.
To avenge his father's death, Erasmus Kemp has had the rebellious sailors of his father's ship, including Sullivan, brought back to London to stand trial on charges of mutiny and piracy. But as the novel opens, a blithe Sullivan has escaped and is making his way on foot to the north of England, stealing and scamming as he goes.
His destination is the colliery village where his dead shipmate, Billy Blair, lived: he has pledged to tell the family how Billy met his end.
In this village, Thorpe in the East Durham coalfields, live Billy's sister Nan and her miner husband, James Bordon. Their three sons are all destined to follow their father down the pit. The youngest, only 7, is enjoying his last summer above ground. The terrible conditions in which mineworkers laboured are vividly evoked, and Bordon has dreams of escaping the mine with his family.
Meanwhile in London a passionate anti-slavery campaigner, Frederick Ashton, gets involved in a second case relating to the lost ship. Erasmus Kemp is claiming financial compensation for the cargo of sick slaves who were thrown overboard to drown, and Ashton is representing the insurers who dispute his claim. Ashton triumphs in court, but not before his beautiful sister, Jane, has encountered Erasmus Kemp and found herself powerfully attracted to him despite their polarised views on slavery.
She discovers that Kemp wants to spend some of his sugar and slavery fortune on Britain's new industries: coal-mining and steel. A landowner father of a friend of Jane's tips him off about Lord Spenton's mines, for sale in East Durham, and Kemp sees the business opportunity he has been waiting for.
Thus he too makes his way north, to the very same village that Sullivan is heading for . . .

Review from The Daily Telegraph

Women Are Heroes by JR and Marc Berrebi

Women are Heroes is a global project, and the recently published book is an addition to whole body of work that is much more than a singular photographic book. The anonymous French photographer JR asks women to tell him their stories – many are horrendous tales of hardship, and in some instances horrific stories of what happened to them during war. JR takes their portraits on a 28mm camera and then reproduces them as huge images that are then plastered onto buildings, trains, buses across their cities and neighbourhoods. This book covers more recent portraits undertaken in Sierra Leone, Liberia, Sudan, Kenya, Brazil, India, and Cambodia, but a quick Google shows that JR has also carried out similar projects in France and the US.

Last year he won the TED prize, when the ‘Ideas worth sharing’ conference organisation agreed that JR’s work warranted their $100,000 ‘Wishes big enough to change the world’ prize. In the trailer for the film JR says:
‘ … We went see women who have a lot of struggle in their lives, because life is hard. They all wanted to share their story, [& to see] that their story travels. When you hear the story, you go whoo… may be the person died inside. But when you ask her to do faces the you can see life.’ 
The women never give up hoping and fighting for a better life.

The Observer review ends:
‘It would be easy to be cynical about what the foreward calls ‘Participative Art of Art 2.0… But the work’s beauty and power
is undeniable. When an one onlooker in Monrovia didn’t know what an art exhibition was, another person explained it thus: You have been here for a moment looking at the portraits, asking questions, trying to understand. During that time you haven’t though about what you will eat tomorrow. This is art. ‘
Read The Observer review: Women are Heroes 

About the book

JR turns the photographic portrait into a powerful medium for change. Pasting mural-sized portraits into urban landscapes around the world, the guerilla artist works anonymously, and often illegally, to bring a haunting human presence to harsh environments of social conflict. His photographs of the vast outdoor 'exhibitions' that he creates are on their way to becoming iconic; celebrating the power of the individual. To create the project "Women" he travelled to seven countries; Sierra Leone, Liberia, Sudan, Kenya, Brazil, India and Cambodia, that have seen recent social unrest. Recognising that women often hold their communities together and are the first victims when conflict erupts, JR sought to help them tell their stories. In each country, he interviewed women about their lives, took their portraits and then incorporated these images into the fabric of their communities. Women Are Heros explores the scope of the "Women" project and its impact. With a chapter on each of the countrues JR visited, the book presents thrilling views, ranging from entire neighbourhoods to close-up images of humble walls, of the murals in place, along with more than 80 of his original photographic portraits paired with interviews. The women discuss their lives and dreams, sharing stories of adversity, survival and the desire to build a bright future. 

About the author

JR creates participatory art projects that he hopes will change the world. He won the 2011 TED prize, which gives $100,000 to the recipient and one wish. JR's wish is for art to "turn the world inside out", celebrating the power of the individual and he is inviting people to participate in the project "Inside Out" (www.insideoutprojectnet) A formidable artistic. Marc Berrebi is a producer and technology entrepreneur. He is a close collaborator of JR's. Christian Caujoile is a distinguished critic, curator and author of numerous books about photography. Frangoise Docquiert is a professor of art and cultural studies at the University of Paris.

Watch the TED 2011 Prize video here: TED

Saturday, 9 June 2012

Books for Summer

Here is a selection of new and about to be published books to read throughout the summer months. Hopefully there will be some balmy reading days here when the good weather finally arrives. Chika’s Night Dancer and Monique Roffey’s Archipelago have been sent to me by the publishers. Jackie Kay’s Reality Reality & Andrea Stuart’s Sugar in the Blood I bought last weekend at the Stoke Newington Lit Fest. I enjoyed meeting both Jackie and Andrea and I am planning interviews with them to appear on the blog over the next few months. I bought Lily Mabura's How Shall We Kill The Bishop online a few weeks a go now, and have really welcomed the chance to read her collection of stories after loving her work when she was shortlisted for The Caine Prize in 2010. I am totally delighted to see that Marie N’Diaye’s Three Strong Women has finally been translated into English (from French) as I have been looking forward to it for the past few years. Here is my review of the Claire Denis film White Material - Marie N'Diaye was the screenwriter: Black Book News.

So what do you think of the list? Are any of these exciting books on your summer reads list?

Night Dancer, Chika Unigwe

Mma has just buried her mother, and now she is alone. She has been left everything. But she's also inherited her mother's bad name. A bold, brash woman, the only thing her mother refused to discuss was her past. Why did she flee her family and bring her daughter to a new town when she was a baby? What was she escaping from? Abandoned now, Mma, has no knowledge of here father or her family – but she is desperate to fine out.

Sugar in the Blood: A family’s Story of Slave and Empire, Andrea Stuart

In the late 1630s, Andrea Stuart’s earliest know ancestor set sail from England, lured by the promise of the New World. On arrival in Barbados George Ashby acquired a small plot of land and with his first sugar harvest, the can revolution was underway, was launching a global industry that would change his family’s fortunes and transform the Caribbean into an archipelago of riches. As it grew, this colonial trade fuelled the Enlightenment and financed the Industrial Revolution, but it also had less palatable consequences, as the new appetite for this sweet ‘white gold’ was fed by a constant supply of black labour.

The descendent of both European planters and African slaves, Stuart brings to vivid life the contrasting experience of both sides of her family, tracing their interwoven destinies through four centuries of turbulent history. Combining original research and vibrant prose, Stuart tells a story of greed, exploitation, endurance and courage, whose consequences continue to haunt her family – and our nation – to this day.

Reality Reality, Jackie Kay

This is a book about memories, love, sex and the power of the imagination to see us through the most difficult times. The women of Reality, Reality are mesmerizing, whether in love or in solitude. Grace and Rose, glowing with pride, are the first to marry on Shetland; Hadassah, named for the Morning Star, burns as brightly. Margaret, alone in her care home, places her hope in a cherry red cardigan; Elina Makropulos, whose voice is the toast of generations, is desperate to be allowed to grow old. Stef cooks for made-up judges on the TV show in her head. Pat diets for one hundred and forty-three days to find her ‘Mini-me’. Dionne longs for a child; Mrs Vadnie Marlene Sevlon for her husband. And Elizabeth Ellen carries her new baby into a future she didn’t know could be hers. Jackie Kay’s newest and most luminous of collections is full of compassion, generosity, sorrow and joy. In fifteen extraordinary stories, she celebrates the richness and power of dream-life to inspire, to repair, and to make real.

Three Strong Women, Marie N’Diaye

Forty-year-old Norah leaves Paris, her family and her career as a lawyer to visit her father in Dakar. It is an uncomfortable reunion - she is asked to use her skills as a lawyer to get her brother out of prison - and ultimately the trip endangers her marriage and her relationship with her own daughter, and drives her to the very edge of madness. Fanta, on the other hand, leaves Dakar to follow her husband Rudy to rural France. And it is through Rudy's bitter and guilt-ridden perspective that we see Fanta stagnate with boredom in this alien, narrow environment. Khady is forced into exile from Senegal because of poverty, because her husband is dead, because she is lonely and in despair. With other illegal immigrants, she embarks on a journey which takes her nowhere, but from which she will never return.

How Shall We Kill the Bishop and other short stories, Lily Mabura

An artist in mourning for a brother who died fighting in Bosnia, a restless young woman alerted to the possibility of life outside her tight knit community, an unemployed lawyer lingering in a Kenyan hospital - Lily Mabura's first collection of short stories deals with characters whose fates fascinate and alarm. Set in Kenya, the USA, Namibia and the Congo, these brief, evocative tales demonstrate an acute sensitivity to the globalised trajectories which increasingly distinguish our world. One of Kenya's most promising authors, Lily Mabura's story How Shall We Kill the Bishop? was shortlisted for the 2010 Caine Prize for African Fiction 

Rhumba, Elaine Proctor

Tottenham, London. Ten-year-old Flambeau waits for his young mother to arrive from the Congo, along the same dangerous route that the human traffickers smuggled him. Homesick and pining for love, he sees a glimpse of life in Knight, a fellow Congolese. Knight, a sapeur - dressed to the nines and dressed to kill - is a gangster who lives for two purposes: to be noticed, and to dance away the immigrants' troubles on a Friday night at Le Pitch, Broadwater Farm. And, who knows, he might just be able to use his contacts to find Flambeau's mother, Bijou. Knight has a girlfriend, Eleanor: a pale Scottish beauty whose love for him is total, but who can never be accepted into the world of Le Pitch. She becomes Flambeau's confidante, and he her mentor in the art of the Rhumba - the dance that will help her steal her lover's heart. But Knight's past is so troubled, and his present so dangerous, that to challenge the traffickers to find Bijou might be more than his life is worth - something a ten-year-old child cannot be expected to understand.

My Song: A Memoir of Art & Race, Harry Belafonte

Written with Vanity Fair contributing editor Michael Schnayerson, My Song is an inspiring story of performance and protest, from a superstar singer and actor who was on the front lines of practically every progressive political battle in modern memory. Along the way, he befriended some of the most influential figures of the 20th century, from Tony Curtis, Marlon Brando and Sidney Poitier to Martin Luther King, the Kennedys, Eleanor Roosevelt, Fidel Castro, James Baldwin, Bob Dylan and Nelson Mandela. From his impoverished childhood in Harlem and Jamaica, through his meteoric rise as an international calypso star, provocative crossover into Hollywood where he broke down many racial barriers, passionate lifelong involvement in the civil rights movement and myriad other social causes, to his personal struggles and rich friendships, this is a remarkable, multifaceted and hugely inspirational story. "A man whose story should be told for generations to come" (Robert Redford)

Home, Toni Morrison

An angry and self-loathing veteran of the Korean War, Frank Money finds himself back in racist America after enduring trauma on the front lines that left him with more than just physical scars. His home -- and himself in it -- may no longer be as he remembers it, but Frank is shocked out of his crippling apathy by the need to rescue his medically abused younger sister and take her back to the small Georgia town they come from, which he's hated all his life. As Frank revisits the memories from childhood and the war that leave him questioning his sense of self, he discovers a profound courage he thought he could never possess again. Toni Morrison's deeply moving novel reveals an apparently defeated man finding his manhood -- and, finally, his home. This is a stunning new novel, by the author of Beloved

Archipelago, Monique Roffey

When a flood destroys Gavin Weald's Trinidad home, tearing apart his family and his way of life, he doesn't know how to continue. A year later, he returns to his rebuilt home and tries to start again, but when the new rainy season arrives, so do his daughter's nightmares about the torrents, and life there becomes unbearable. So father and daughter - and their dog - embark upon a voyage to make peace with the waters. Their journey will take them far from their Caribbean island home, into other unknown harbours and eventually across a massive ocean. They will sail through archipelagos, encounter the grandeur of the sea, meet with the challenges and surprises of the natural world. A miraculous future lies ahead of them, unknown territories await to be discovered. But it will take more than an ocean to put the memory of the flood behind them...

The Boy in the River, Richard Hoskins

On 21st September 2001 the mutilated torso of a small child was found floating beside London’s Tower Bridge, one tide away from being swept into the North Sea. Unable to identify the victim, the Murder Squad turned to Richard Hoskins, a young professor of theology with a profound understanding of African tribal religion, whose own past was scarred by a heartbreaking tragedy. Thus began a journey into the tangled undergrowth of one of the most notorious murder cases of recent years; a journey which would reveal not only the identity of the boy they called Adam but the horrific truth that a succession of innocent children have been ritually sacrificed in our capital city. Insightful and grippingly written, The Boy in the River is an inside account of a series of extraordinary criminal investigations and a compelling personal quest into the dark heart of humanity.

Richard Hoskins has worked on many of Britain's biggest criminal investigations and is the only registered multi-cultural expert on the national police database. He has applied his expertise to over a hundred major investigations by police and social services. He divides his time between London and Devon.

There is a review of this book in The Sunday Times' Culture section on the 3 June, but it is behind the paywall.