Aminatta Forna was born in Scotland, and raised in Sierra Leone and Britain. She is the author of a memoir, The Devil That Danced on the Water, and four novels, The Hired Man, The Memory of Love, Ancestor Stones, and, most recently, Happiness. She is currently the Lannan Visiting Chair of Poetics at Georgetown University. (November 2018)
It came to be a core belief held by the American public and media that Barack Obama was a self-creation who had stepped out of nowhere. But for me, Obama’s story is remarkably familiar and concrete. Our fathers both belonged to the postwar wave of Africans educated in the West who saw themselves as the architects of decolonization. The writer Wole Soyinka called them the “Renaissance Generation.” There’s a quality of character they wear, whose origins I have come to understand. They carry, alongside a worldly ease, a sense of duty, of obligation and responsibility, that imbues all they say and do. I try to imagine an Africa if they had never been, and I cannot.
The writer of a memoir must necessarily reveal a great deal about herself or himself, and often about other people, too. You sacrifice your own privacy, and you sacrifice the privacy of others to whom you may have given no choice. To be the author of a memoir is also to become a confessional for other people. All over the world, people tell me their stories. Sometimes, sharing their stories with me is all they want, and it is enough. Sometimes, they want a wider recognition for their stories. To them, I say this: write, but only if you are sure you want to live with the consequences every day for the rest of your life.