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Archive for the tag “Nigeria”

How I Fell in Love with “Shaniqua”: Why African-Americans DON’T Need New Names

I spent my formative years in the small predominately black city of East Saint Louis, Illinois.  I grew up with friends whose names were Shaunta, Kwintessa, LaCreshia, Tameka, Ariana, Tanisha, and Miesha.  The boys who chased us had names like Lamont, Tyrone, Demetrius, Terrell, Malik, Darnell and Jamal. Everything about what we called each other felt right.  These were our names and we carried them with pride, correcting pronunciation when warranted, enunciating each consonant and vowel, spelling it when the listener didn’t return the right phonetic sounds associated with our identity.     

It wasn’t until I moved to the suburbs that I realized the shame that had been misappropriated upon such names.  How both black and white folks with plainer names snickered at those of us who had more intricately “ethnic” names. It was when I shared classrooms with the Sarahs, Emilys, Kates, Connors, Dustins and Lukes that I embraced nicknames—dropping “-nique” and adding an extra “e” to “Ze” or taking on the highly regarded Buddhist term which also happens to be the first syllable of my name. 

As I got older and my social circles continued to diversify, I became more lenient about how others referred to me, readily offering “Zee” as an alternative during quick introductions and in insignificant small-talk interactions. 

Then, last year, these things happened:

  • A reporter dismissed Quvenzhane’ Wallis’ name altogether and wanted to call her by the character she will play in an upcoming movie   
  • Following that debacle, this quote from Somali poet, Warsan Shire surfaced:

“Give your daughters difficult names.

Give your daughters names that command the full use of tongue.

My name makes you want to tell me the truth.

My name doesn’t allow me to trust anyone that cannot pronounce it right.”

  • At an event, a stranger scolded me when I allowed a man to automatically shorten my name after I had uttered my full first name to him twice
  • I spent two weeks in Nigeria and attended a workshop in Lagos with Damilola, Okechukwu, Timendu, Kelechi, Arinze, and Uchenna who represented the Igbo, Yoruba, and Hausa tribes
  • And then I went to Uganda for three months and hung out with Margaret, Ruth, Alice, Ben, Mark, and Alex – my Baganda, Bakiga, and Acholi friends who preferred their “Christian” names versus the names of their ancestors
  • I had a conversation with a close Ugandan friend who gave her daughter an African name after a talk with her husband where he suggested that they give their children African names. She quoted his question, “Why should we take on the names of white people? Would they take on ours?”

Somewhere in the midst of these experiences, I began to see the beauty of African-American names, both subtle and extreme.  Yes, even the stereotypical “black” names that are used in sitcoms and parodies—the Shananaes and Shaniquas and Tyrones; the names we chuckle at when reading it on applications and Facebook profiles; the names we laugh and ask, “Now what were his/her parents thinking about when they named that child that?”

I will tell you what they were probably thinking: They were probably thinking of a unique and royal title for their child—something strong, significant, and complicated, much like our history, our legacy, our obstacles.  They were probably thinking of a name that curls and catches on the tongue with the clicks and slits reminiscent of the languages we lost long ago.  They were probably proud of their blackness, their heritage, their culture and they made the decision NOT to give in to the societal pressures of dumbing down a name to something common and insignificant to appease the naysayers.

Today, I think these names deserve an apology and applause—even if only in our hearts and even if these are names that we wouldn’t choose for our own children. Let us uplift the parents who are brave enough to bestow such a brand of names on their children who, in turn, should be able to bear them proudly.       

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Writing with Giants

Earlier this year, I took writing classes with Sonia Sanchez.  Next week, I will be in workshops lead by Binyavanga Wainaina.  Today I am in a class with Eghosa Imasuen and Chimamanda Adichie has been teaching all week.

With each interaction with these accomplished authors, I have taken the opportunity to carefully construct new material as assigned, observe the examples chosen by the instructors, and put into practice the feedback and advice given regarding the art and practice of writing.

This process, however, would not be as effective and inspiring if not for one of the most vital entities of such learning environments: its students.  My peers.

With any creative piece of work, as its creator, we are very protective and even defensive about the art that is born out of our souls.  Generally, we are usually receptive to the opinions of professionals—taking their word as gospel regarding the formula in which we should write, the words to employ, and how tone, voice, and point of view has positively affected the work we have shared.

However, when it comes to building with others who come from different backgrounds and varying levels of expertise, our vulnerability heightens.

In writing workshops, trusting the other to respectfully critique your work while, in turn, delicately offering suggestions on how one can improve her/his creative piece is quite a balance.

This week, I, along with 21 other New African Writing Fellows, have opened our 8-9 hour workshop days with creative compositions that we have spent the previous night composing and perfecting.  When we share our pieces, we are thoughtful about the other’s style and voice and we respond accordingly, working only to provide feedback to improve the flow and readability.

It is no small feat, actually.  Sometimes, we are fighting for why we have chosen certain words while at other times, we are persuading our friends on why particular sections of a piece should be omitted or revised.  It’s a BIG task before a writer further develops work, revises the work, and ultimately, submits the work.  It takes writers who are just as BIG to both dish out and take in feedback that will help elevate the work.

This week, I am happy to be writing with Giants who understand that aspiring to be great at what we do should be no tall order.

Selected Writers for 2013 Farafina Trust Creative Writing Workshop

I am extremely honored to be counted among these amazing writers and to be learning under the tutelage of Chimamanda Adichie, Binyavanga Wainaina and our other esteemed teachers. These are the moments when you are affirmed in the work that you do and the choices that you make to pursue your craft. I won’t get to preaching here, will save it for another day. But I am feeling really blessed.

Farafina Books

Chimamanda Adichie

In April, Farafina Trust called for entries for the 2013 Farafina Trust creative writing workshop, inviting writers from all over the world to submit their short pieces. From the numerous applicants, twenty-five outstanding writers have been selected to participate in the workshop this year, which will be taught by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Eghosa Imasuen, Binyavanga Wainaina and other writers of note.

The selected writers this year are:

1. Zenique Gardner (USA)
2. Maryam  Shuaib (Minna)
3. Tolu Agunbiade (Ketu)
4. Timendu Aghahowa (Ikeja)
5. Abdulrashid Muhammad (Abuja)
6. Uchenna Ude (Lagos)
7. Udoh Charles Rapulu (Onitsha)
8. Gbolahan Adeola (USA)
9. Lilian Izuorah (Minna)
10. Suleiman Agbonkhianmen ( Lagos)
11. Nicholas Ochiel (Kenya)
12. Yakubu Damilola Daniel (Kwara)
13. Kelechi Njoku (Abuja)
14. Lesley Nneka Arimah (USA)
15. Tajudeen Sagaya (Lagos)
16. Adaora Nwankwo (Onitsha)
17. Chidinma Nnamani (Enugu)
18. Arinze Daniel Ifeakandu (Kano)
19. Okpanachi Eyo Michael (Zaria)
20. Okechukwu Otukwu…

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