Wordspinner and storyteller Audrey Chin interviews Antoinette Tidjani Alou on her web site recently
Africa, the cradle of human civilization, calls to us from deep within our bloodlines.
In East Asia, our response often manifests as a yearning for the continent’s wide-open spaces, it’s hosts of animals, it’s exotic otherness; a romanticized image from which the trauma of the Middle Passage, the pain of colonization and today’s diaspora of coloured persons is erased. It is a delusion I only woke from in 2017, when I was brought up close to the lived experience of fellow writers from Africa at the University of Iowa International Writing Program.
Antoinette Tidjani Alou, writer, scholar, translator and Director of Arts & Culture Université Abdou Moumouni de Niamey (Niger) is one such writer. Vibrant Antoinette lived four doors down the hall. Like me, she was raised in an ex-British colony, was a Catholic who’d married ‘out’, and had left her husband and grown children to be in Iowa. I connected instantly. Within the fortnight, we were meditating together in the morning, bonding over coffee and swapping books.
Time zone differences put an end to all that. Also, the polyphonic Antoinette has been publishing mostly in French these days. I don’t read French. It has been a while since we sat down together for a good conversation. I’m so thankful for the opportunity today. So, here we go . . .
AC: Hi Antoinette. I really appreciate your setting time aside to tell my readers a little about yourself and your work. Let’s start with the idea of Africa. You live in Niger and have done so for a large part of your life. However, you were born in the Caribbean and educated in many places. In the extract of your book On m’appelle Nina (They Call Me Nina) you write about how your younger Jamaican illusions of a luxuriant Africa were tested upon your arrival in the Sahel. Yet you have now managed to grow a garden in its sands. So, what does Africa now mean to you?
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