2014 Nobel prize nominee Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o will be lecturing at The City College of New York (160 Convent Avenue at 137th Street, Sugar Hill, Harlem, NY 10031. SH 95 ) on April 23, from 6–8PM as a part of the school’s Chinua Achebe Legacy Series. The on-going series, honoring late, great Nigerian writer, academic, and critic, Chinua Achebe (1930-2013), began last fall with appearances by authors Nicole Amarteifio, Binyavanga Wainaina, Laila Lalami, and NoViolet Bulawayo and continues in 2015 with appearances by Okey Ndibe, Chris Abani, and the aforementioned Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o.
I caught the better part of Chris Abani’s lecture on Thursday, where the Hemingway Foundation/PEN Award winner spoke on a range of subjects relative to his own work. Some topics included, the importance of proverbs, legacy, and lineage in west African cultures, sublimating the grotesquerie of New York City subways, the luminary vision and work of Derek Walcott, Kwame Dawes, De La Soul, and Nas, and what Abani calls the “melancholy of the Kardashians.”
I was really impressed at the ease with which Abani managed to weave references to popular American culture into a larger discussion about the impact of globalism and transnationalism on the development of identity in Africa and around the world (at one point he cracked a joke about the banality of Dr. Phil and later bemoaned the mean things people say on Twitter). It’s telling that the front-cover blurb of his latest work of fiction, The Secret History of Las Vegas: A Novel, comes from none other than that giant of the space between high-brow literature and low-brow pop culture, Junot Díaz. Another highlight of the lecture was when Abani spoke about the importance of grace and elegance to African culture and art, asserting that the best thing you can wish someone is to “live a creative and elegant life.” Words to live by if I’ve ever heard any.
For more details on the event, visit Harlem One Stop.