Interview with Author Leonora Miano
The guest of the literary page of Flashmag this month is an author whose battle cry is sub-Saharan African and afro descendant experience. Through the characters she wants to protrude individuality, she questions the impact of the great history on the small. For her, it is important to focus on the privacy of people often viewed from outside , perceived primarily through the phenotype or movement. Author of seven novels, one theatrical text, one collection of lectures and two collections of short texts , she is the recipient of several literary awards including the Grand Prize for Literature of black Africa , in 2012 (for her body of work ) , the Trophy Afro-Caribbean arts for Les aubes écarlates(scarlet blade) ( novel category ) in 2010, the Prix Goncourt in 2006 for students with Contours du jour qui vient, (contours of the coming day)the price Seligmann against racism in 2012 with Écrits pour la parole (Writings for speech), and many other . Leonora Miano whose novel “La saison de L’ombre” (The season of darkness) just released from Grasset Editions , is our guest . In the following lines, she tells us a little more about herself and her work. Flashmag: Hello Leonora! We are delighted to have you as the guest of our literary section. The time of this interview our gallery is yours. To get into the thick of things, our introductory purpose having already given a brief overview of who you are, we want to know why Leonora chose to embrace writing. What is the catalyst of your entry into the world of letters?
Leonora Miano: The choice of writing and entering the world of letters are two very different things. I did not choose writing, I found it. In my younger years, I used it mainly to express difficult things to share with others, to feel free and peaceful. I wrote a long time without thinking to make a trade, although this activity was of a major character in my eyes. I considered myself as a writer - a person whose writings are published - only as adult. I primarily intended to do music and it occurred to me that these two disciplines were related a subterraneous way. There was no choice to make, each allowing me to explore different aspects of my own experience. I cannot say what was the catalyst for my entry into the world of letters, as you say. It came naturally, when I started to work on issues that were beyond my little person. Anyway, it is with the exchange with the other take our creation takes value. It can only make sense when it’s delivered to the public.
Flashmag: Born in Cameroon you arrive in France in 1991 to continue your studies, what influences this migration has had on your writing choices?
Leonora Miano: None. We cannot say that having left my country has influenced my choices. They were simply influenced by my experiences and themes that I lived since Cameroon. They continued to feed my work. I am passionate about sub-Saharan and African descent experiences, since adolescence. Flashmag: The theme of the drama of the African facing the West is very recurrent in your work, especially with slavery. Do you think so far that the story told on this phenomenon is not quite correct?
Leonora Miano: I do not write about slavery, but on the transatlantic slave trade. These are two different issues, although related. The colonial slavery is not part of the sub Saharan memory, whilst trafficking is part of it. If this is what you speak about, it is the subject of only two texts in twelve of my production, and appears as patterns in others. It seems to me essential that sub-Saharans speak on this issue of prime concern. Not too many of us are taking this step. Yet it’s this particular story that has made us Africans and blacks, as our ancestors weren’t defining themselves this way. It seems illusory to claim self-knowledge, when we made the choice to play down 500 years of our own memory. 500 years is half a millennium.
I do not ask myself whether the history of the slave trade , as commonly conveyed is correct or not . What concerns me much more is that Sub-Saharans have to tell how events unfolded in their land, and how they lived them. Others speak and say what they feel they need to say. The Sub-Saharan Africa is still shy to make his (her) voice heard, to rehabilitate his (her) resistance and make sense of this complex story that has totally shook him(her). It’s his (her) word that I expect now.
Flashmag: Slavery for us is a whole including the slave trade which cannot be dissociated. On your most recent book, the season of darkness“La saison de L’ombre” (The season of darkness) , you seem to point an accusing finger at the people of the sub Saharan coast who actively contributed to slavery. Do not you think that history has bruised enough black peoples to accuse them of their own misery? Also do not you think that those who were deported to the Americas and those who remained in the mother continent, suffered the same slump, especially when one knows the horrors of forced labor in Cameroon ( railway, rubber plantation ) or Congo plantation of the Belgian King Leopold, where several African perished in harsh labor ?
Leonora Miano : I think you have not read “La saison de L’ombre” (The season of darkness) ,
since you speak of slavery. It’s not what I’m talking about in this book that discusses the subject of the Transatlantic Slave Trade, as experienced by Saharans from the inside. The novel celebrates above all the most fragile Sub-Saharan resistance and the art of living and spirituality of Bantu of Central African region. Can I invite you to get it ... I’m myself originally from the coast of Cameroon. I can assure you that there is no question to ask on the participation of some notable to the transatlantic trafficking. Cameroonian historians of the current period are doing a work to know the routes of Trafficking and villages which produced captives in what was to become the Cameroon. Denial on the matter will be of no help. What is needed is to enter the complexity of it and analyze it with a more humane than racial reading grid. The racial grid interpretation is that of the enslaver. I apologize for not doing it mines, when I write from the point of view of people who regarded themselves as either African or as Black. For ancient sub-Saharan, there were no black people or racial brotherhood, the concept of race is not part of their designs.
I do not see why I blame the black people to be responsible for their own misery. Notables who have decided to provide the slave captives were not the majority of sub-Saharan populations of the time. They acted only on their own account, and sub-Saharan peoples have not benefited from the transatlantic slave trade when European populations have indeed benefited. Some of these sub-Saharan notables were, like some existing sub-Saharan leaders, greedy beings and sadly futile.
Sub-Saharans of yesterday and today are human beings like everyone else. At least, I have the weakness to believe so ... But it happens, and in all the heavens, that human beings commit crimes. Why will we exclude ourselves from humanity by claiming the opposite? I never met Caucasians who feel ashamed to be themselves under the pretext that Hitler and Stalin were Caucasian monsters. It is imperative to work on this degraded consciousness that makes us blush with shame when we are told that blacks were wrong. I confess that I have absolutely no complex, which allows me to look down at any truth.
You compare the colonial violence to the colonial slavery. I leave you the responsibility of such a shortcut, and it demonstrates a lack of understanding as to the reality of the situation of African descent from the. I will not give you a lecture here on the ontological break that constituted, for Afro-descendants, the loss of the original floor and everything related to that territory. Before talking about black people, perhaps we should read the history of each other with more rigor and respect.
Flashmag : Some Jews and Afro descendant collaborated with the Nazi regime, that does not remove the culpability of the instigators of these horrors. There was indeed a colonial code for native population akin to the black code of slavery several population within their countries were deported to different locations , in Cameroon it’s the case of members of ethnics groups, like Bassa'a or Eton , who were deported in the southwest to work by force in colonial plantations, these stories also need to be said . As the genocide, perpetrated by the French army during the war of independence in your country Cameroon. There's indeed a compact shadow in Africa from the beginning of slavery and the independence era, you have tried to enlighten in part, for the better. I invite you to read the book King Leopold's Ghost: The colonial terror in the state of Congo , 1884-1908 by Adam Hochschild
Flashmag : If we had to categorize your style , what schools do you belong to classical realist impressionist ? Leonora Miano : I do not belong to any school. What interests me is to produce a personal aesthetic.
Flashmag : You're a writer of sub-Saharan origin . What do you think of the place of the African Francophone authors in the concert of letters today? Some believe they are still confined to an area dominated perpetual ancestral theme. Even if the past is a guarantee for the future we see very few who engages in the current issue of black people who are trying to assimilate to the West and phenomenon like neo slavery, what do you think ? Could it be related to the refusal to ask the questions that bother since African literature remains for the most part published by Western publishing houses?
Leonora Miano : Who do you mean by referring to the " perpetual ancestral theme"? It seems , however, that very few sub-Saharan authors work on the ancient history of the continent . I'm talking about the pre-colonial history , that of imperial Africa, for example . Where does it appear in the novels of these authors? If we quote ten contemporary authors, we would see that their themes have nothing to do with the past, ancestors, etc... This requires doing research, and this is not a trend in sub-Saharan Francophone writers. When they agree to make it, it’s easier for them to work in the USA where the black experience is well documented.
But for me, the first mission of the Saharan writer, whether French or not, is to place the sub-Saharan at the center of its writings. He must show its most subtle more complex dimensions. Thus we can give meaning to our experience, in spite of whining because history has particularly bruised us. We must embrace shadow and light, lift our head . Our quest should be that of verticality. There is no injunction to make, in relation to the thematic approach. What matters most is the work on the characters.
What you call black people was established by the West, since this is the racialization of the transatlantic slave trade that created this category . The terms Africans and Blacks are constant reminders of alienation and domination. If we want to continue to use them, they must be invested in advance with a meaning consistent with the aspirations of those who are so called . You speak of assimilation to the West. Cultural hybridization is a fact. It does not clear the sub-Saharans to state their own voice and see the world their way. It is still possible, but it requires recovering without waiting for others to come do it for you . If sub-Saharan Francophone authors , are first published in Europe , it is for two reasons: 1 / It is the condition for them to be read in their country of origin, and also by a very small number of people, since the majority is not enough literate. The receiving surface on the continent is very low. 2 / There is not yet publishers with worthy name brand in francophone sub-Saharan countries. This also will change.
Flashmag : You talk about the slave trade in your work , and many African writers before you except people like Mongo Beti have never quite committed against the evils of their time, it is an undeniable fact that they keep trotting out more often in the past no one is against the fact that they have to tell their own story but it would be better if they could place it in the current context, becoming therefore more committed … how many books are published on neo-colonialism, in the new waves of immigration and democracies imposed by the West? ...In addition there are much more literate peoples in this 21st century on the continent. Nevertheless Africans must develop the habit of reading their cronies work, something has tobe done at this level.
To return to your work “La saison de L’ombre” (The season of darkness) , what is the target audience and what goals would you like to achieve?
Leonora Miano : I do not have a target audience in mind. The book is for everyone, and this , I believe , is a word still too rare. My first goal was to write exactly what is in the book: the loss and detachment , experienced by sub-Saharan Africans during the transatlantic slave trade. “La saison de L’ombre” (The season of darkness) is trying to revive a lost world , lost even to the sub-Saharans . The book also reminds us, and as soon as its title, the shadow should have a time. The day should succeed even the longest night .
Flashmag : Before closing this interview do you have a special word to the public ? What is your agenda for the coming period?
Leonora Miano : My agenda is online at: www.leonoramiano.com
Flashmag : Leonora Miano , Flashmag and its readership thank you for this cordial and open talk.
Interview by Hubert Marlin Jr.