• Novel Dialogue 5.6 A Forensic Level of Honesty: Aminatta Forna and Nicole Rizzuto (AV)

    Aminatta Forna, Nicole Rizzuto, Aarthi Vadde
    Literature, Criticism
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    Aminatta Forna, author of Ancestor Stones (2006), Happiness (2018), and most recently The Window Seat (2021) joins Georgetown prof. Nicole Rizzuto and host Aarthi Vadde for a wide-ranging conversation about reversing the gaze. Aminatta is deeply aware of the power to look, to define, and to control the narrative. Although she accepts the moniker of “African writer,” she sees it as the creation of a European way of looking at other parts of the world and rejects the double-standard of authenticity it implies. Aminatta is from Sierra Leone, but has Scottish and Malian ancestry and grew up around the world. Her mixed upbringing led her to develop a prismatic view of identity, and she chafes against the Conradian image of Africa, which infused so many of her own literary encounters with her home continent. In response to these distortions, Aminatta describes developing a “forensic level of honesty” that allowed her to re-encounter Sierra Leone on her own terms. She also learned to look back at those who would look at her. Reversing the gaze extends not only from Africa to Europe but also to the human-animal divide. Aminatta and Nicole reconsider Western stereotypes around African animal cruelty, what it means to portray animal consciousness, and what the treatment of dogs in Sierra Leone and foxes in London tells us about what those societies value. Finally, Aminatta reads from Ancestor Stones and offers a chilling vision of the civil war in Sierra Leone through the dissociated perspective of a character inspired by the women who lived through it. Listeners will feel the “underground rising” in Aminatta’s memorable phrase.
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