Growing Circles

People mourn differently but I think that there are expectations about how we should mourn…losing a loved one is so personal that I think people should be given the room to handle their grief in ways that best suit them.

Peace Adzo Medie

MedieSIN/GIN: We met in summer 2010 in Dar es Salaam at the two week APSA Africa workshop. The theme was Global Perspectives on Gender and Politics a perfect match for both our research and teaching interests. It took us three years to realize that we both write fiction, and that there is a lot of gender and politics in our creative writing too!

You recently told me that your creative circle is pretty limited and that you were so excited to know another academic/creative writer (me). When you close your eyes and imagine growing your creative circle, what do you see?

Peace Adzo Medie: I’m expanding my network to include people who write creative literature and others who straddle the creative/academic divide like we do. I think that these are two areas that are constantly in conversation with each other, although I’m still trying to figure out the borders of this conversation. I’m interested in knowing what makes up your creative circle.

SIN/GIN: I see my creative network as two independent circles that overlap venn-like. In one circle, there are the writers I’ve ‘met’ online, particularly through the New Yorker, New Inquiry, Stephen Elliot and his Rumpus, and the Boston Review. Stephen Elliot sends me a letter every day, the New Inquiry and Boston Review mail me their latest issues regularly. Between these and other similar sources I have access to what I believe are some of the greatest works of short fiction and creative nonfiction I’ve encountered in my life. And I’ve been reading short stories avidly, since I was about 9 and I began reading books my eldest sister passed down to me. Today, Stephen Elliot jut turned me on to Scot Sothern who has spent most of his career photographing women prostitutes – I read the interview with him and right away, sent off for his memoir through the NY public library.

And my second circle is filled by friends I’ve met on the street, at theaters, in my classrooms. They are all many many things: writers as well as sculptors, filmmakers as well as lawyers, photo-journalists as well as IT consultants, college students as well as poets. This circle is important to me in that we meet often to share work, but also to share the work of third parties. So, I called up an artist friend, Floor Grootenhuis whose last exhibit included a totem of women’s used underwear and we went to the Wangechi Mutu exhibit together at the Brooklyn Museum, and we discussed the different ways we understood Mutu’s use of the snake, of Eve, of women’s underwear, etc. for several easy happy hours. A few days ago, a Cameroonian friend, Veronique (we met when at a film screening of her work for students on my campus) called and invited me to a symposium on the representation of slavery in film at the Museum of Moving Images. I look forward to taking part in this symposium with a filmmaker like her by my side answering all my questions. I believe that in sharing our and others work in this way, it is inevitable that one day, we will find ways to collaborate, to narrate, illustrate, document or otherwise add depth to one another’s work. And ofcourse, I count all of these encounters as my continuing education.

Peace Adzo Medie: Do you see a place for creativity in academic work?

SIN/GIN: Academic work is creative, and creative work is academic. I use books like Junot Diaz Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, Chimamande Adichie’s Half of a Yellow Sun, Philipp Meyer’s ‘American Rust’ or Roddy Doyle’s ‘The Woman Who Walked into Doors’ in my political science classroom because they are great works of fiction that are meticulously and painstakingly researched. I want students to understand that creativity is academic and vice versa. I smiled once reading in Vogue that Yves St Laurent despised Tom Ford because Ford would not do archival research into the fashion line he was recruited to  innovate and modernize.

SIN/GIN: In my experience, movement, be it through dislocation or migration is inherent to the transition from African girlhood to African womanhood. My mother’s eldest sister recounts how she met her mother when she was an adolescent and preparing for her own marriage. My grandmother whom I am named after left her eldest children in the village and she moved, throughout the country, for marriage, for trade and commerce, for opportunity, maybe even for adventure. Could you say something about one or more of the following: your ‘education’ ‘migrations’ ‘dislocations’.

Peace Adzo Medie: Migration and dislocation have been important parts of my life and have affected how I have come to learn about and understand the world. Like you, I left my home, Ghana, to study abroad in the US. Before that, I left Liberia to Ghana due to the civil war. My experiences in all of these places have shaped my academic interests and have affected the stories I choose to tell and how I tell them. They seep into my classroom discussions and add layers to some of the characters in my fictional narratives.

Migration features in the stories I tell. In “Over Seas”, a short story-in-progress, I write about two Ghanaian boys growing up in the shadow of Elmina, the slave castle, and dreaming about when they too would cross the sea into America. We live in a world that is constantly in motion and one that seems to push us, its inhabitants, to move along with it.

SIN/GIN: Your short story “News of a Death” has been accepted by Slice magazine for publication. It locates Musu, a Liberian woman ‘who had shuffled off a rescue ship’ into a ‘foreign land’, Ghana. I felt an overwhelming sense of sorrow throughout the text, for the absent son and husband. I also smiled, and sometimes laughed aloud at the moments when I saw the well meaning Ghanaian and their acts of kindness through Musu’s eyes.

Peace Adzo Medie: “News of a Death” is one of those stories that just happened. I began writing a short story about how war changes people’s lives, how it scrapes away the color and richness and reduces its victims to brief news reports and data points. In that story, I narrate Musu and her family’s experiences before and during the Liberian civil war and end with their escape from Liberia. But after writing twenty-five pages, Musu had come alive so much that I felt that I had to continue with her story. I wanted to know how she fared after the war and how much she was affected beyond the obvious losses that confront war-affected people.

SIN/GIN: I’ve always believed that humor and bereavement are brother and sister. I recall laughter at every funeral I have gathered to mourn at. Can you reflect on mourning in our lives, and in Musu’s life?

Peace Adzo Medie: People mourn differently but I think that there are expectations about how we should mourn. In fact, in some parts of Ghana and elsewhere, there are cultural practices that dictate how people should mourn. At the same time, losing a loved one is so personal that I think people should be given the room to handle their grief in ways that best suit them. Musu attempts to do that in “News of a Death” and one of the things that the story does is paint a picture of how she fights to mourn in her own way, unaffected by the people around her and the circumstances in which she find herself.



 More About Peace Adzo Medie

Peace Adzo Medie is a research fellow in the Legon Center for International Affairs and Diplomacy at the University of Ghana. Her teaching and research interests are in the areas of international relations, gender and international security, and civilian protection. She also writes fiction. Her stories are inspired by the contrasts and conflicts that she has observed in Ghana, Liberia, the United States, and other places she has lived. Her short story, “News of a Death”, was published in Slice Magazine (2014, Issue # 14), and The Burning was published in the Four Way Review (2014, Issue # 5)and she is at work on a novel.