Malaka was born in Accra, Ghana, to an African-American mother and Ghanaian father. Her experiences growing up and viewing the world through the clouded lens of a “hybrid Ghanaian” girl child helped her to appreciate and analyze the unique struggles that women of all races and ethnicities must overcome within the confines of their culture. Her goal as a writer is to buoy the collective voice of African women.
She writes about the things that intrigue her most: politics, economics, agriculture, marriage and sex on her blogs Mind of Malaka (www.mindofmalaka.com) and Adventures from the Bedrooms of African Women (www.adventuresfrom) and has been interviewed on NPR‘s “Tell Me More” with Michel Martin,BBC Focus on Africa, and several international radio and print publications.
The Daughters of Swallows is her debut novel, with a sequel planned for release in 2014. She lives in Roswell, GA with her husband and four high-spirited children.
Can you tell us a little bit about your writing journey?
I started writing ages ago. When writers tell you that they began writing stories at the age of 4/5 years old, it’s probably true. I started writing around age 8. My Auntie Tamu, an indie author before the idea was en vogue, sat me down in front of a huge type writer that only printed in script. She told me to gather all stories and type them out. And I did. And I’ve been writing ever since.
What inspire you to write the stories of Afosua, Naa Akweley and Annette? The theme of the novel, I believe, is (black) women resilience, but you broached some other big issues that are hardly mentioned, or at least not enough in my opinion, (half castes, lesbians, Arab racism…). How did it come about? Are some of the stories based on personnel experiences? (Not yours necessarily)
The topics of interracial dating, bi-racial individuals, racism… all those are things I witnessed growing up in Ghana. These were major, ever-present actors within the spheres of my existence. My parents always enrolled us in international schools (back when they were truly ‘international’ and I learned a lot about the people I went to school with. What they ate, how they thought, how their parents treated one another at home. I have always been a people watcher, and in my mind I imagined what the continuation of a glance or a word spoken out of turn would be. Would Harry be beaten later for talking to his mother that way? Does Mrs. “Smith” actually like her husband? Every once in a while, I would get real answers, and they always shocked me. Many of the events I describe in the book are based on actual occurrences – things that I know personally have suffered through or are suffering through. The loss of a child, a rape, finding true/realistic love; these are all things that real women deal with on a daily basis.
What are you thoughts on African feminism as opposed to western feminism? Does African feminism even exists? If yes, how do you see it evolved in the struggle between modernism and traditions? And finally, do you consider yourself a feminist?
I’m sad to admit that I do not know that much about feminism. My BFFFL (best friend for freakin’ life), Nana Darkoa whom I run Adventures From the Bedrooms of African Women with is a true feminist, as in she has a degree in it. I never understood feminism, because I never thought it related to me. When I first heard about feminism I was a ‘tween, and it was explained to me that feminism began with the suffragette movement and women fighting for the right to work. What nonsense was this? My women ( meaning Black women) have ALWAYS worked. In fields, in kitchens, in factories, wherever they were made to. I saw ‘feminism’ as an elitist White women’s construct and did not identify with it. I still don’t. Many of the issues of the feminist fight don’t apply to me at all.
I believe African ‘feminism’ has always existed, although I wouldn’t define it as such. We just do things DIFFERENTLY in Africa than they do in the western world. We are communal based (or at least we were a generation ago). We do everything together. When you have a plate of food you don’t keep it to yourself. You invite someone to eat. When a guest is walking home, you don’t leave them to go alone, you walk them half way or to their gate if necessary. Little traditions like this which are slowly dying off with the influx of western ideals. It’s the African spirit of co-operation, looking out for your neighbor and taking responsibility for everyone and everything in your sphere of influence.
What did you enjoy most about the writing process?
Making the characters do everything I tell them to. Sometimes, they rebel. Those are the best times. You think a story is going to go one way and a character takes on a life of his or her own.
Should we expect something from you in the future? On the same genre? A different genre?
Yes, actually! I’m working on a children’s book at the moment. It’s called Sally and the Butterfly. I am also working on the sequels to Daughters of Swallows.
Do you think something called African literature exists? If yes, how would you define it? What does it represent to you?
African literature absolutely exists! It began with our oral traditions, which were stripped away from us, but we are slowly reclaiming. African literature represents our history, our hopes, our disappointments. Do I think it needs to be developed? Absolutely. I would love to see African literature expand to several other genres including science fiction. We have wonderful scientists who have made our globe what it is today. Ghanaian fiber optics genius Patrick Mends comes to mind. Wouldn’t it be thrilling for someone to write a thriller based off this work and the things he’s seen??!
Would you consider writing in your native language?
I would, if I weren’t illiterate in Twi. I would have to have someone translate my work for me, which I would never be opposed to doing.
Who are your favorite African writers?
I have a mix of published and unpublished favorites. Some are bloggers. Do they count?
Ama Ata Aidoo
Nii Ayikwei Parkes
Name two books by African writers that change your life?
I haven’t had an African writer change my life yet. Is that shallow? I know I should say Chinua Achebe or Wole Soyinkah or something predictable like that, however…
Any advice for aspiring writers?
The best advice I ever heard came from Tony Morrison. No, I never met her personally. She was on TV. She said every creative person, whether they are a writer, photographer, painter, whatever – must create a sacred world for themselves and protect it. I’m paraphrasing, but that stuck with me. When you write, you are in effect creating a reality, or giving eternal life to some present existence. It’s a great honor, and a great responsibility. The written word, just like the spoken word, never dies. It will always exist. Sound never dies. When your fingers hit the keyboard and you pound out your manuscript; that is the sound of LIFE coming into existence.
Keep at it, and never give up. I have to constantly remind myself to do this, even when my writer friends are on the tenth and twelfth book, they still had to start with ONE. Writing is about competition, it’s about adding new color to the tapestry that is our human existence. Find pleasure in doing your part!
A quick reminder that Under the neem tree reviewed this book, check it out here .