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.

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