As we head towards Christmas and the holidays, I am pleased to announce the release of my book, Identities: A Short Story Collection. Identities is a short story collection of global African experiences. The stories in this collection evoke the experiences of Africans of diverse backgrounds, races, ethnicities and identities. It explores, through story, the everyday identity concerns of diasporan Africans such as experiences of being asked where are you from? immigrant and refugee integration, personal vs. ascribed social standing, remittance responsibilities, traditional vs. contemporary cultural values and many others.
For me, this story collection arose from one of the moments when the events of your life come together into crystal clarity. I was sitting at a conference listening absent-mindedly to the distant voice of a speaker. I was wearing the look of studious attention I had perfected in the midst of boredom, nodding and smiling appropriately by rote while my mind races along engaging and entertaining itself. Almost suddenly, but simultaneously like what felt like slow motion, the speaker’s voice went from distant to present for me when she said “Fred Allen [American Radio Comedian] once said ‘A human being is nothing but a story with skin around it.’”
You see I have always loved stories. I love anything that reminds me how much stories connects us to our individual and common humanity. I believe also that we are more than a story. And in our increasingly complex world, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s could not have better articulated the danger of a single story in her 2009 Ted Talk. I left that conference and started putting together the short stories strewn half written all over my laptop and kept writing others that now form the Identities Collection. They are stories sparked by my increasing consciousness that the identity questions asked of me, and many others like me, are inadequate. These too-narrow questions – Where are you from? Where were you born? Where are you really from? – are inadequate to tell the stories that really form me and people like me. And by people like me, I mean, peoples with global, transnational, multinational, multicultural, international and inter-racial identities. I, for example, am from an African family of 8 siblings who were born across 3 continents and been duly influenced by all the places we’ve lived, such that even among ourselves we have different identity stories. This, is no longer a unique phenomenon in our global world, where identities can no longer be equated to national and biological origins. And in a contemporary world where identity politics has never been more controversial, it is time to tell more fully the stories under our skins.
I find it imperative to tell the stories that encase my skin, because I believe we are all, increasingly a web of stories living in times when we need to develop fuller understandings of our individual and collective identity conclusions. We live in times when we must return to letting people tell their own stories. Our skin full of stories are webs informed by strands that go back to our ancestry and heritage, and that grows and shifts in every interaction in the places we’ve lived and the peoples we’ve met along the way. I believe that telling the stories of our lives makes us more fully whole, uncovering richer understandings of each strand and shaping and reshaping each of our webs to make them fuller – beautifully prepared to catch what is meant to nourish us, withstand what threatens to break us and when we break, rebuild our webs to be even stronger than before. As we’ve just marked Human Rights Day, I hope by now, we are beginning to understand that trying to define others’ stories for them only leads to human injustices. And I believe that so-called third culture kids and others with multiple identities, are the bridge-builders required for our times.
It is because of this deep love of stories and belief that how we tell our own stories deeply inform our sense of self and individual and collective identities that I have written this book. I hope that the web of these stories about African Identities connects somewhere with yours, and if it doesn’t, that it brings to focus an understanding of a part of the larger web of life that we are all creating and part of together.