Stories of Africa and America. Edited by Jane Kurtz. Greenwillow Books, 2004.
This lovely collection of short stories and poems is divided into sections; Africa, Americans in Africa, and Africans in America. Switching across perspective and oceans gives a dramatic contrast that continues the cross cultural themes of many of the stories. The poems are written in voices full of passion and wonder. I want to quote from one of them by Meri Nana-Ama Danquah:
an african american
...open your ears
and listen to this griot
talk of history
i wanna tell you this story
of my life
the blood which flows
through the left side of my body
is the mississippi river
every day i wake it croons
"lift every voice and sing"
the anthem of the american negro
the blood which flows
through the right side of my body
is the nile river
every day i rise it screams out loud
"africa, oh africa, cry freedom
for all your children"...
This is part of the central section of this poem telling of life lived on two continents. I wish I could link to the whole poem, but I couldn't find it on line. Danquah came to America at the age of six. Read about her other writings here.
Jane Kurtz, the editor of the collection, grew up in Ethiopia. Her family arrived in East Africa when she was just two years old. Her parents worked for the Presbyterian Church. Her family came back to the States when she was seven, when she was in eighth grade, and again when she went to college. She says in the introduction to this collection that she often felt lost between cultures. She never knew how to answer the American questions about what it was like to live in Africa, and in Africa she didn't know how to answer the questions about America. As an adult she found her way through this by writing. She has written over 20 books for children and adults. Visit her web site and read her biography, information about school visits and the Ethiopian Books for Children Foundation.
I noticed Cynsations had a link to Ethiopia Reads book drive in the past week, She interviewed Kurtz back in September and you can read it here. In it she explains how this collection came together and how important she thinks it is for everyone to share in the experiences of struggle, celebration and beauty that come with living with the cultures of Africa and America. I am very impressed with her courage and determination to share her stories.
This collection is full of short stories and poems written by Africans and Americans living between and across the cultures. The range of experience is amazing and the variety of voices is rich and stimulating. I am spending the weekend reading one story after another whenever I can grab a quiet moment. It is bringing back memories of my first college room mate who grew up in Ethiopia with missionary parents as well as the Ethiopian families I knew living in the city twenty years ago.
There are newly published authors here as well as established names. Each piece draws me in and I delight in the sounds, flavors, and sensations half a world away. Whether you know Africa yourself or have no experience at all this book will capture your imagination take you there. It's written with older children and young adults in mind. Many of the protagonists are young people themselves. This collection would be a rich addition to a family or classroom collection. I can see these stories sparking discussion and inspiring student writing around the themes of memoirs and cross cultural experiences.
The Friday Poetry round up is at HipWriterMama today. Go take a look!