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Be a part of Migritude's journey.
No contribution is too small - or too large. $2 buys coffee for a volunteer. $15 rents a rehearsal studio for an hour. $100 covers 2 hours of lighting / tech / set design. $500 helps fly Shailja to international festivals!!

You can also make a tax-deductible donation by check. Please email for details.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Writing guides for today

Go where the silence is.
-- Amy Goodman, first journalist to win Alternative Nobel

Prune the branches, not the roots.

-- John Chung

Find the piece of world that you, and only you, stand on. Write from there.
-- Shailja Patel

Helsinki schedule

I'll be in Helsinki from May 19th to 26th. I'll do a 90-minute performance / lecture at the University of Helsinki, plus shorter performances and a panel on African literature at the Helsinki World Village Festival.

Full details on my Calendar.

Thursday, May 07, 2009


In my inbox today, from my fabulous sister-artist, YaliniDream:

Reminder to self: Breathe...

after all
Breath is the simplest form of movement
the simplest form of voice
the simplest form of prayer
it connects what's within us to that which is outside
it is what holds us in the present.

When I'm feeling small, discouraged, bogged down in inertia, I check out these mindblowing photos of Yalini dancing on the subway, suspended between metal and breath and light and muscle and faith. Of their own volition, my limbs unlock, my torso opens and expands, energy flows through my body.

I am so lucky to know such goddesses.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

three bouquets

this morning.

Two are verbal. Incredible reviews of Migritude and my ALA performance from Professor Phanuel Egejuru of Loyola University.

The third is floral. A little vase spilling over with delicate white Vitsippa (anemone nemorosa). Wildflower that heralds the spring here in Sweden. Hand-gathered by an NAI colleague this morning -

for your poetry.

Can't stop smiling.

Marilyn French

brilliant feminist theorist, author of the groundbreaking bestseller The Women's Room, died this weekend. She leaves a breathtaking body of work: novels, history, literary criticism, political theory.

The best obituary I've read so far is in The Guardian.

I read The Women's Room at seventeen. I came across it on the bookshelf of a family friend. In the paperback cover pictured here, it looked pulpy, sensationalist. I thought it would be a titillating drama. The last thing I expected was a mindblowing polemical dissection of gender, power, marriage, academia, in 1970s USA. It knocked me off my feet. I devoured it clandestinely, when I was meant to be studying for exams. The Women's Room offered language and frameworks that my struggling, inarticulate feminist consciousness was ravenous for.

French is one of the writers I most admire, even when I disagree with her. Both for her productivity, and her courage. She took on huge projects, like a four-volume History Of Women In The World, and completed them. She voiced, repeatedly, unpopular truths about gender, misogyny, and patriarchy, and did it brilliantly.

It irritates the hell out of me that some of the obituaries quote the line that was repeatedly taken out of context and used against her by anti-feminists. In The Women's Room, a character called Val says to a friend, in grief and rage:

All men are rapists.

She says that after the man who raped her eighteen-year old daughter, at knifepoint, is acquitted. After months of battling the misogyny and indifference of the police and judicial system towards rape, and survivors of rape.

Any Kenyan woman in an IDP camp would agree with her 200%.

It is a line spoken by a character in a novel. It is repeatedly attributed to Marilyn French, without any contextualising information.

Oddly, none of the critics who take issue with this line ever quote from the passages on love in French's books. Powerful, visceral love between men and women. Depictions of erotic intimacy, emotional and sexual passion, that shock in their naked honesty, their vision of equality grounded in heart and body.

Her statement on pleasure and power is one I quote with incredible frequency.

I am sad that I will never meet her in person.

Thank you, Marilyn. With all my heart.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Of empresses and magic hats

I got a request today to post something joyful on this blog, after the string of mourning posts.

So here is a photo taken at the ALA Conference in Vermont just two weeks ago. With Phanuel Egejuru, empress of Igbo studies, African literary scholarship, and women's studies. Believe it or not, this woman has grandchildren. Is a retired professor. Was rescued from her rooftop by helicopter during Hurricane Katrina.

I teased her about the magic fountain of youth under her hat. Spot the other Empress, Nefertiti, in Phanuel's jewellery? Between us, we have three regions of the continent (North, South and East Africa) represented in this photo.

The smile on my face is one part Phanuel, one part:

I aced my big ALA performance,

and one part:

Kwame Anthony Appiah just called me "a great artist " in his keynote address.

Joyful enough for you, L?
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