Oral History Association Conference 2016 Annual Meeting- Los Angeles, California

coleIn October 2016, I presented a paper at the annual meeting of Oral History Association in Los Angeles, California.

My paper, titled “Exploring Pedagogical Transfer from Oral to Written Narratives in the Literature and Composition Classroom,” examined the construction of a meta-narrative on the thematic and stylistic connections between oral literature and the written text.

Focusing on post-conflict reconciliation and healing, I investigated the intersections of traumatic narratives of amputees and survivors of carnage of the Sierra Leone civil war and war narratives like Aminatta Forna’s The Memory of Love, Ishmael Beah’s A Long Way Gone, Mariatu Kamara’s The Bite of the Mango, and Yema Hunter’s Redemption Song.

In this paper, and using these texts, I explored the following pedagogical questions:

  1. How do I incorporate Oral History methodology into the English Composition or literature classroom?
  2. What methodological skills are transferrable from oral history to the pedagogy of literature? Are there overlaps between the oral and written methodologies of representation and analysis? Does the medium of representation impact meaning? What would be the implications of choosing one mode of representation over the other or choosing both in the delivery of instructional materials?
  3. How and where does oral history or oral narratives intersect with the written narratives or literature?
  4. How do I develop a database of resources, theoretical and digital, for teachers of English who uses Oral History in their classrooms?
  5. How would I use OHMS as pedagogical tool to create learning tasks, classroom activities, experiential learning activities, and thematic and theoretical frameworks for analyzing composition and literature?

However, California was not all books and conference presentations. I found time to explore L.A. and to have a sense of its sights, sounds, taste, touch, and smell. I reproduce some of what L.A. offered me below:

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My New Monograph: Space and Trauma in the Writings of Aminatta Forna

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In October 2016, Africa World Press will release my new monograph Space and Trauma in the Writings of Aminatta Forna. The book is a critical study of her four works; a memoir, The Devil That Danced on the Water, and three novels, Ancestor Stones, The Memory of Love, and The Hired Man.

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The book draws from spatiality and trauma theories to explore the intersections of space, trauma and identity in the context of post-civil war Sierra Leone and Croatia. I argue that the production of space, whether geographical, ideological, physical, mental or psychological, is linked to the construction of human subjectivities, and that the identity of characters emerges from the spaces they occupy as well as their relationships to those spaces. Hence, positionally is derived from the interplay between space and its geo-political antecedents of overlapping, criss-crossing, fusion, exclusion, inclusion, marginality, location/dis-location, and centering/ de-centring of the subject.

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In Space and Trauma in the Writings of Aminatta Forna, I argue that the civil war in Sierra Leone is a product of the culture of violence and destruction that commenced with the colonization of Sierra Leone, the era of British colonialism, and the struggle for independence that eventually found expression in diverse contexts and situations: the APC regime of the late 60’s and 70’s of Siaka Stevens, the military intervention in politics, exploitation of the masses, corruption, and the decadence in political and governmental circles in the 80’s and 90’s.

Within this historical trajectory, the book makes the claim that Forna engages the legacies of colonialism, post-independence betrayal and disillusionment, political instability, violence, and repression that led to the implosion of the country in the rebel insurgencies of the 90’s and beyond.

Space and Trauma in the Writings of Aminatta Forna is priced at $34.95.

GLCA Conference in Bratislava, Slovakia

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On 22-25 June 2016, I attended the Global Course Alliance Workshop organized by the GLCA in Bratislava, Slovakia. I worked on a themed course with my partner, Dr. James Hodapp, from the American University of Beirut. Our work together was centered around “Cultural Representations of Mental Illness in African Literature.”

James and I would be sharing a couple of texts in our African literature and Modern Global literatures classes respectively in Spring 2017. These texts are The Memory of Love by Aminatta Forna, Girls at War by China Achebe, and Stone Virgins by Yvonne Vera. We also hope to supplement these readings with short story Memories We Lost by Lididumalingani which won the Caine Prize for literature 2016.

We hope to foster cross-institutional and interdisciplinary collaboration between faculty and staff of Hope College and American University of Beirut. We also look forward to developing full fledge connected course where we would share all texts in both courses, together with similar pedagogical strategies and assessment and evaluation methods in 2017-18 academic year.

Bratislava is a unique and interesting place. Riding in a bus from Austria to Slovakia, I got a glimpse of the landscape, the farming communities, and the natural vegetation. James and I took time off to explore the center of town. A few photos are displayed: a cow on skewer (barbecue), dinner with a colleague, and my favorite photo; a man emerging from the drain.

 

 

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My favorite photo taken in downtown Bratislava:

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Department Chairs Workshop, Portland, Oregon, USA

The Council of Independent Colleges (CIC) organized a workshop for department Chairs and Heads of Division of member colleges in Portland, Oregon, from 13-15 June 2016. The theme of the workshop was “The Joys and Challenges of Leading from the Middle.” The DoubleTree hotel by Hilton was the venue for the workshop. As Chair of Hope College’s English department, I participated in the almost week’s long intensive training.

I got to meet colleagues from all over the States, engaged in discussions relating to administration, and created networks for future collaboration and support. I got to lead sessions on the curriculum, budgeting, and faculty development.

Two of the most important sessions were institutional policies especially those relating to hiring and faculty evaluation, and having difficult conversations with colleagues. The workshop was very well organized, speakers were well prepared, and sessions were informative and instructive.

This was my first trip to the north west of the USA. Portland is green, luxuriant, and cool. With its rainy weather, hilly topography, and beautiful landscape it reminded me so much of my native Sierra Leone. The pace is slow, the people are friendly, the streets are clean, and (yes) the food is great. I spent time exploring the streets of Portland at the end of every working day, admiring the breathtaking landscape and searching for every oriental and caribbean/African restaurant I can find.

I was sad to say good bye to Portland at the end of the workshop. I know that it was not only a time well spent, but that part of me will always remain in Portland if only because of the memories of Sierra Leone it brought to me.

Here are a few pics from the workshop:IMG_3329 IMG_3330 IMG_3335 IMG_3338 IMG_3339

Aminatta Forna’s Visit to Hope College

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As part of the Jack Ridl Visiting Writers Series, I invited Aminatta Forna, author of 3 novels and a memoir (The Devil That Danced on the Water, Ancestor Stones, The Memory of Love, and The Hired Man), as Visiting Writer to Hope College in February 2016. Aminatta Forna, who is presently Visiting Professor of Poetics at Georgetown University, gave a short lecture on the art of creative writing on FEBRUARY 4 at 3:30 p.m in Room 135, Fried-Hemenway Auditorium, Martha Miller Center, Hope College. This lecture was followed by a reading from her works in the Recital Hall at the Jack H. Miller Center for the Musical Arts, Hope College, at 7:00pm.

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Both lecture and reading were a huge success. Aminatta Forna is now a household name at Hope College, and several of my colleagues in the Humanities have listed her works in their syllabi for the coming Fall 2016 semester.

Over dinner, Aminatta and I discussed a range of issues to do with literary creativity and the creative potential, but, more importantly, on the state of writing in our native Sierra Leone. We reflected on the civil war and examined ways in which the nation could be reimagined and reconfigured. We agreed that in spite of the atrocities committed during the 10 year civil war, Sierra Leoneans have demonstrated a lot of resilience to trauma and have shown tremendous magnanimity to their oppressors. Her novel, The Hired Man, makes this claim in its treatment of post-conflict anxieties in Croatia. I concluded from our conversation that Sierra Leone is not beyond possibilities of redemption.

I have just completed a monograph on the writings of Aminatta Forna. In the book, I critically analyzed her 4 works using theoretical and ideological constructs of space and trauma. The manuscript is titled Space and Trauma in the Writings of Aminatta Forna. I draw from the theoretical frameworks of critics like Eleni Coundouriotis, Doreen Massey, Sara Mills, Laurie Vickroy, Edward Soja, Peter Hitchcock, and David Harvey to show the connections between trauma, space, and identity, and to illustrate in Massey’s words, that the spatial is “constructed out of the multiplicity of social relations across spatial scales, from the global reach of finance and telecommunications through the geography of the tentacles of national political power, to the social relations within the town, the household and the workplace.”

Deploying these constructs within post-conflict Sierra Leone, I examine the ways in which Forna’s works carefully engage with some of the most difficult issues around human rights. I focus on human rights violation and the task of reconstruction facing individuals and societies that have been involved in or directly affected by colonialism, authoritarian rule, and civil war. I also explore her attempts to reimagine post-conflict Sierra Leone and reconstitute women’s place and role in the process. I argue that Forna’s structural device of incorporating evocations of spaces, places, and setting of events is pivotal to analyzing and interpreting her engagement with history, violence, trauma, and recovery. I focus on analyzing how different socio-political, geographical, an mental spaces define and constitute each other, while also exploring the relations between spaces and the theories that deepen our understanding of them and of the author’s most urgent concerns.

The book is due for publication by Africa World Press in October 2016.

Theorizing the Disfigured Body

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Theorizing the Disfigured Body: Mutilation, Amputation, and Disability Culture in Post-Conflict Sierra Leone is the product of 4 years of research with amputees in two resettlement camps in Sierra Leone: Jui and Hastings Amputee camps. Published by Africa World Press in 2014, I argued in this monograph for a rethinking of punitive amputation and a reconfiguration of the disfigured body within a new culture of disability in order to reclaim identities and promote agency. I argued that while the scarred or amputated body could be read as text of power, domination, and control, the amputee also has the power to deconstruct that message on the disfigured body and to read it as motivation rather than handicap. I concluded that such a rethinking of disability paves the way for forgiveness and reconciliation.

Here is the opening section of the book:

It would certainly not be an exaggeration to say that on the night of 3rd February 2000 every Sierra Leonean who had access to a TV set, sat glued to their chairs grimly waiting for the clock to strike 9:00pm. On that day, CNN was slated to broadcast a documentary on the Sierra Leone civil war. The raw footage filmed by Sorious Samura, by then an amateur photojournalist in Freetown, documented the brutal carnage that characterized the January 6 1999 invasion of Freetown by the RUF rebels and the resulting battle with Nigerian peacekeepers for control of the city…

As I sat beside my wife gloomy staring at the TV screen, I reflected on two major incidents in the documentary. The first is the opening scene in which a Nigerian peacekeeper summarily executed a teenage boy by shooting him from the back for allegedly being a rebel. The officer’s claim was that the marks on the boy’s body whose presence he could not convincingly explain, and which clearly indicate to the soldier that they were sustained in the bush, ultimately confirmed his identity as member of the RUF.

My interest in the body as witness or evidence of crime was ignited. I was struck by how the body could literally be read as text and marker of identity or perhaps mis-identity. I was stunned by the fact that the teenage boy could die because his own body seemingly gave evidence against his words of innocence. It was both alarming and fascinating to me. The image of the teenage boy as he stumbled to his death from the barrage of bullets discharged from the peacekeepers submachine gun has never left my mind. 

I must say that Theorizing the Disfigured Body is the product of an angry mind — one that is still struggling to make sense of the carnage in the 10 year civil war in Sierra Leone. From my interviews with amputees, the war wounded and survivors of the war, I was struck by the sense of apocalypse that engulfed my native land. It was beyond expectations. In my estimate, carnage could never get worse than this.

However, and strangely enough, Theorizing is an optimistic book. While pointing out the ravages of the civl war, human and material, it also prescribes hope for the future in the creation of a new culture of disability where the disabled and survivors of the mayhem could reclaim new identities and agency. The book sells for $24.95.

Theorizing the Disfigured Body has received a number of favorable reviews. One such review is by Professor Esme Cleall of Sheffield University published in H-Disability in November 2015 (H-Net Reviews in the Humanities and Social Sciences).

Here are the details and link to the review: Ernest Cole. Theorizing the Disfigured Body: Mutilation, Amputation, and Disability in Post-Conflict Sierra Leone. Trenton: Africa Research and Publications, 2014. 196 pp. Reviewed by Esme Cleall (University of She eld) Published on H-Disability (November, 2015) Commissioned by Iain C. Hutchison. 

https://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.php?id=43913

Professor Mary Kenny at Eastern Connecticut State University who uses Theorizing the Disfigured Body in her Anthropology class also has this to say about the monograph in an email to me:

“Hi Professor Cole,

My name is Mary Kenny and I am a professor of anthropology at a state university in Eastern Connecticut. I just wanted to send a note to let you know that I read your wonderful, informative (and very disturbing) book about punitive amputation. 

I teach a course on Violence (in various manifestations), and also a course in Medical Anthropology.  One of the issues we address in the Medical Anthro class the ways in which the body is used to communicate (as you say, a canvas or text).  We examine how Russia prisoners use tattoos to tell their ‘story’, as well as Venezuelan prisoners who sew their mouths shut as a form of resistance, to self-cutters and voluntary amputees (bodily integrity issues). 

In reading your book, I was reminded me of one of the articles we read by Rachel Bloui, “Ain’t I a Woman” Female Landmine Survivors’ beauty pageants and the ethics of staring” (against the dominate narrative discourse on beauty). 

Thank you for sharing your important work.

Dr. Mary Kenny

Professor of Anthropology

Eastern Connecticut State University

kennym@easternct.edu

Edited Collection: Ousmane Sembene: Writer, Filmmaker, and Revolutionary Artist

 

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This edited collection of the works of the Senegalese writer and filmmaker Ousmane Sembene was the product of a long conversation on the current state of African cinemaI had with two colleagues, Ghirmai Negash and Oumar Cherif Diop, at the 37th annual conference of the African Literature Association in Athens Ohio in 2011.

At the end of one of the concurrent sessions on African films, the three of us spoke at length about the language question in African literature, the use of indigenous languages in African films, the need for a new aesthetics of visual representation, a more nuanced engagement with the thematic preoccupation of filmmakers, issues of audience receptivity, and the freedom of the artist.

At the end of the three-day meeting, Cherif Diop and I agreed that Sembene has not received the critical attention or the literary acclaim he deserved. We came to the conclusion that perhaps an edited volume on his works would be the beginning of that process of recognition, and so, the project Ousmane Sembene: Writer, Filmmaker, and Revolutionary Artist was born.

The edited collection, published by Africa World Press in 2015, is divided into 4 sections, and records a total of 35 contributions: 7 interviews, 13 articles on filmography, 11 articles on the novel and short story, and 4 tributes. To date, this is the biggest collection on the works of Ousmane Sembene. There is also an Introduction written by Ernest Cole and Cherif Diop, and a Select Bibliography for further reading.

The book makes the claim that prominent as motif in the works of Sembene is his denunciation of neocolonialism and African complicity in the political and psychological colonization of its people. It further argues that Sembene criticizes religion and education as instruments of colonial domination and agents of destruction of African cultural heritage. He condemns the Western media for its misrepresentation and dehumanization of indigenous African people and systems, and for promoting a culture of inferiority and sub humanity that accentuates binaries inherent in Western ideological constructs of superiority and civilization.

It is in this regard that Sembene emphasizes that African art, and filmmaking in particular, must work to reverse the binaries and deconstruct the structures of hegemony in order to foster consciousness, social liberation, and political empowerment of the masses. The cost of the volume is $39.99.

 

Emerging Perspectives on Syl Cheney-Coker

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In collaboration with Professor Eustace Palmer of Georgia College and State University, we published in 2014 an edited collection of the works of acclaimed Sierra Leonean poet and novelist Syl Cheney-Coker.

The book, published by Africa World Press, is titled Emerging Perspectives on Syl Cheney-Coker. It is divided into three sections: Interviews with Syl Cheney-Coker, Poetry, and the Novel. There is also an Introduction by Eustace Palmer and Ernest Cole and Select Bibliography for further reading. The collection has a total of 7 interviews, 5 articles on poetry, and 8 articles on the novel.

To this collection, I contributed the following articles: “Interview with Syl Cheney-Coker,” in Section A, and “Correcting the Lenses- The Poetry of Syl Cheney-Coker: From Opacity to Transparency,” and “The Poetry of Syl Cheney-Coker” in Section B. The cost of the volume is $39.99.

Current May Term Course – 2016

Modern Global Literatures – May 2016

Cultural Heritage 2, GLI, and CD4

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Dr. Ernest Cole

Modern Global Literatures is a four-credit course that fulfills the Cultural Heritage 2 and Global Learning International (GLI) requirements of the General Education program. This course would focus on how former colonized societies from Sub-Saharan Africa to South Asia, the Caribbean and South America react to this discourse of colonization and their attempts at de-colonization and promoting their political and cultural independence. In the process, this form of literature would “write back to Empire” by addressing issues as destruction of indigenous cultures, representation of otherness, identity, alterity, and gender.

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We would cover a considerable period of growth and development of Global Literatures from West Africa to India, Mexico and the Caribbean. Within this historical framework, we would trace the impact of westernization on the literature, and its reconfiguration of colonial perceptions of indigenous societies in the process of writing back to empire.

Completion of May Term 2016

On Friday 27 May, I brought the class English 234: Modern Global Literatures to a close. This was arguably the most engaging and thought-provoking class I have had in a long time. The level of class discussion and the intensity of engagement of critical issues was excellent.

From issues ranging from western configurations of otherness and indigenous response in China Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, stereotypical perceptions of illegal immigration in Luis Alberto Urrea’s The Devil’s Highway, the search for identity in Jamaica Kincaid’s Lucy, and the destruction of rural agricultural society by a capitalist economy in Kamala Makandaya’s Nectar in a Sieve, the class explored the authors’ thematic and stylistic preoccupations in these texts.

Given the condensed nature of the course, we focused more on the intensity of the gaze rather than breath of panorama to accomplish course objectives and learning outcomes.

Here is a group photo I took with my students:

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From left to right: Zac, Matt, Kristoffer, Kory, Alexis, Ruth, Grace, Dana, Ashley, Anna, Dave, & Ernest.

Of Masks and Men: Nathaniel Hawthorne and Human Existence

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As a student of English at Fourah Bay College, University of Sierra Leone, I was attracted to the works of Nathaniel Hawthorne. His rendering of the character Young Goodman Brown has always been compelling to me. Of particular importance is Goodman Brown’s search for the truth, and his journey into the forest where he confronts the reality of human existence.

Growing up in the east end of Freetown in my native Sierra Leone, I was always fascinated by masquerades. As a young boy trying to make sense of a lot of masquerades, some representing different tribal, spiritual, and cultural affiliations, I always wonder about the identity of the person behind the mask. I would quietly question the necessity of the mask. In my young mind I would ponder on the fact that if the masquerade signifies community involvement and entertainment, why should the identity of the person be concealed?

It seemed to me that the mask offers the person behind it a tremendous place to hide because of the barrier it presents to the community to recognize the person, his motives, and the reason for his actions. Because of this tension between knowledge and ignorance, the masker is in a position of power from where he could not only manipulate but, more importantly, deceive members of the community who are ignorant of his identity.

As I ruminate on these issues, I again recall Hawthorne’s character who, in his quest for the truth, ended up losing his sanity because he cannot handle the reality of what he saw.

It seems to me then that perhaps Hawthorne is using Goodman Brown to point out a particular truth about our lives, and I begin to suspect that there is a connection between truth and masking. In my childhood days, I was troubled by the fact that the person behind the mask can clearly identity each and every member of the community and yet we cannot identify him, except select members of his group. This sense of exclusion and secrecy bothered me, and so, I came to associate masks with suspicion and secrecy.

However, with time, I realized that perhaps I should reverse my focus on the significance of masks. Rather than focusing on what the mask conceals, it may be more interesting to concentrate on what the mask reveals. This struck me as a critical fact because after all aren’t we are all like masquerades? Don’t we all have different personas that we put on for and on different occasions? From the pious persona we put on in church on Sundays to the scholarly persona we display in front of our students during the week, aren’t we all masking?

Presently, I wonder if this is what life is about? — that is we all, at some point, do put on masks and conceal our true identities behind them? If this is true then I wonder how my students perceive me? Is my identity that of the professor they see in class? Are they making a distinction between the persona of the professor and the persona I display with colleagues at Butch’s restaurant, for instance? One may say that humanity is a combination of multiple personas. If this is true, is it ever possible to determine the true identity of people? Can we truly know one another? Our colleagues, our students, our kids, and our partners?

Perhaps, again, this is not the essential question. Maybe, once again, I should shift my focus on masks and masquerades. And so, as I grew older, I reframed the question to: is masking necessary? Is there any value to masking? I wonder what a world without masks would look like! I ponder whether, for some of us interested in the truth of human existence, masking is an impediment to the process. Can we ever know the truth in the face of multiple personas that mask character and conceal identity?

And so going back to Hawthorne’s short story, it strikes me that maybe there is value in masking after all. If we cannot handle the naked truth that deception exists in many forms and that it is integral to human existence, then we like Young Goodman Brown do need masks. Can we handle what our colleagues really think of us? Do we really want to know what lies behind every friendly smile and greetings?

Now that I am in mid-life I have come to appreciate masking and masquerades. Not that I have dropped the suspicion I always have of them. I have come to realize that in spite of the manipulation, it is good for my sanity. It shields me from the rude shock of confronting the cold naked and unsettling nature of the truth. I have accepted masks as my safety valve. I take solace in the fact that in the world of international politics, masking is not only acknowledged but celebrated as well. It is called diplomacy. However, I wonder whether this recognition makes me a diplomat after all.