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Kola
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Username: Kola

Post Number: 2294
Registered: 02-2005

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Posted on Sunday, November 13, 2005 - 03:18 pm:   Delete Post View Post/Check IP Print Post    Ban Poster IP (Moderator/Admin only)

CAN A WHITE GUY SPEAK?

Noted Journalist Mark Fogarty
takes an unflinchingly analytical
look at the mysterious Kola Boof
in a new essay.

Mark Fogarty

Mark Fogarty...who has written for the Chicago Tribune and is the managing editor of New York's acclaimed National Mortgage News and a regular contributor to Indian Country Today...has spent 3 years analyzing, reading and corresponding with Kola Boof herself in preparation of a surprising new essay.



ANALYZING KOLA BOOF
© 2005 Mark Fogarty


There are few books I’ve ever looked forward to more than Kola Boof’s forthcoming Diary of a Lost Girl. I suspect much of the public attention when the book is published will focus on the controversial Sudanese author’s story of her affair in the 1990s with Osama bin Laden. But I am much more interested in the story of how a shattered young girl, through intelligence and force of will, remade herself into a gifted and potent literary talent.

I first heard of Kola Boof through an extremely negative story about her in the New York Times, which denounced the Sudanese-born author as a liar and fraud, if memory serves, and made much of her literary “stunt” of appearing barebreasted on the back cover of her book of short stories, Long Train to the Redeeming Sin. (Kola claims she does this on all her back covers, to honor the ways of her Nilotic ancestors.)

I was curious about such a colorful personality, and why the Times would go to such lengths to pummel an unknown author so thoroughly and publicly. (I have since decided it was a hatchet job not worthy of “the newspaper of record”). So I visited her website (www.kolaboof.com), and e-mailed her to ask why.

Her website was not what you would expect. My first impression, from the many poems reproduced there, was that Kola Boof was a poet, and rather a sensitive one at that, not the deceptive fabulist of the article. Digging a little deeper, I found the first hints of controversy, the transcripts of several angry interviews, and some extremist opinions. (Media exposure and controversy seem to be synonyms for her.) Based on what she said, though, there was plenty to be angry about. The portrait of her native Sudan I gathered there from links and from several e-mails with Kola, was horrifying. I found references to slavery, starvation, genocide committed against her mother’s African people, ritual infibulation inflicted on newborn girls.

Kola herself was also not what you’d expect. I found her to be an unfailingly polite and reasonable correspondent. When I engaged her on her racial views (she is a uniculturalist, and I am a multiculturalist) I found her respectful of my views even when they contradicted hers, which was often.

I was intrigued, and I ordered Long Train from Amazon.com. A few weeks later, the Internet giant blandly informed me it was unable to fulfill the order. Kola’s website had a more vivid description of the bottleneck. It said her African publisher had been firebombed in a (temporarily) successful effort to silence her criticisms of the Arab oppressors of the Sudan.

Add this incident to the growing legend of Kola Boof. It joins many other colorful stories, like the ones about her being Osama bin Laden’s mistress, or a secret agent for the south Sudan liberation forces, or witnessing the murder of her parents by agents of the Arab-led Sudanese government, or having a Rushdie-like fatwa pronounced on her by Arab enemies, leading to a gunbattle with Muslim assassins on the streets of Los Angeles.

Unable to read her for myself, I didn’t know what to make of Kola, so I turned the page and moved on. But over the next couple of years, the dreadful events transpiring in the Sudan began to intrude, even though at a glacial pace, on our American consciousness. When Secretary of State Colin Powell said (or almost said) that genocide was occurring there, I said to myself, that’s what that writer said was happening. What was her name again?

Her name at birth was Naima bint Harith. She was born in Omdurman, Sudan, on the Nile River, either in the late 1960s or early 1970s. In full accord with her mysterious legend, she says she does not know the year of her birth, although she knows her birthday. (The official government record disagrees with the recollection of Kola’s aunt on the year, but not the day.) She suffered the ritual infibulation mutilation commonly visited on girls in that region. Her father was an Arab archaeologist, and her beloved mother (she calls her “Mommysweet” in her writing) was a black African who has had a huge influence on her daughter’s ideas and cultural identity.

After the horrifying murder of her parents, she was adopted out to America, and grew up in the tough Anacostia section of Washington, DC. A troubled youth there was followed by her return to Africa, where she became an actress in the African soft-core film industry and met bin Laden, among other adventures. How she became womanist author Kola Boof, writing in an English she did not master until her teen years, will be at the heart of her new book.

I don’t give a damn about Osama bin Laden. But Kola Boof, the lost girl who transformed herself against long odds into an original literary voice and lightning rod of controversy--this is a story I am fascinated by.

Although her writerly focus is on her native Africa, Kola’s literary vocation takes its cues and traditions from the American writers she read as a girl, like Toni Morrison and Alice Walker. Returning to the United States (she has become a United States citizen), she is now a writer, mother (a role she gives great importance to) and outspoken advocate of south Sudanese independence from the Arab-dominated government in Khartoum.

When I reacquainted myself this year with Kola through e-mail (we have never met), I found she was back in print (Door of Kush Publications) and I was able to order two of her books: the harrowing Long Train to the Redeeming Sin: Stories of African Women, and her proud poetic statement of identity, Nile River Woman.

Let’s get the boobs thing out of the way first. On her website, Kola says she poses that way to honor the ways of her Nilotic ancestors, the women of the Nile she passionately identifies with. The other possibilities are vanity (the woman can take a picture), or publicity stunting. After some thought I myself believe the pictures come from a grand romantic imagination, one that is true to its own principles, no matter how quixotic. And as for the rest of her legend, I believe about Kola Boof what Huck Finn says of his creator, Mark Twain: that the stories he tells are mostly true.

I was not expecting Long Train to be as good as it is. Based on the media fracas around her (bomb threats often disrupt her book signings) and her controversial way of tackling arguments in public (taking no prisoners) I was expecting these stories to be blunt and pointed, parables easily read for evidence of their author’s intent. I did not expect them to move me to laughter, outrage or tears as they did. This is the realm of serious literary art, and in this book Kola Boof proves to be a serious literary artist, compelling, heartbreaking, surprisingly subtle at times, even funny.

Not many ideologues are very funny, but try Kola’s “Black America Diva Girl.” I was chuckling from the get-go, over a couple of African women and their American friend back in Africa plotting ceaselessly to be able to go to an Angela Bassett movie. What isn’t funny is the submission to males that makes all the machinations necessary. I’ll pay this story the highest compliment I know: I didn’t want it to end. I wanted to know which Angela Bassett movie it was, and what these women thought of it and whether it was worth the high price they had to pay to see it. (I’m guessing “What’s Love Got to Do With It” might bear on the themes raised in the story, but subtle Kola never says which film it is.)

Then there’s “Boy Magic (a love story),” the story of a young woman ravaged by AIDs. Raped by a prominent landowner, (rape is a frequent visitor to Kola’s work) the girl travels to the capital city for justice, only to be thrown into jail for false accusation. If not for the intervention of a white social worker, she would have died there of AIDs. Someone looking to beat you over the head with a point would have made the rapist give the young girl AIDs, but instead she has acquired it from her consensual lover, who she celebrates sweetly in flashbacks. The story of this dignified dying girl, whose death song remembers to savor the few moments of happiness in her tragic life, made me reach for the Kleenex.

Then there is the powerful “Day of Vow,” which tells about a young African girl whose short life is outlined by three tremendous images of fire: a burning classroom in which her schoolmates die, the glassblowing forges where she develops a wondrous artistry her white bosses blithely co-opt, and a blazing meteor that ends the book with the apocalyptic sentiment: The black woman is the meteor that is coming to this earth. The Grand Guignol at the end may be a touch overdone, but this powerful story will stick in your mind. Kola’s stories are often bloody, but unlike, say, Quentin Tarantino, who seems to regard violence as an aesthetic ingredient, Kola’s heroines live in a bloody world and are quite likely to be caught up in it.

It’s impossible not to think of this story as a parable of Kola’s own life: her early devastation, the development of her wordsmithing ability, and the death threats that apparently stalk her now. Her blazing meteor not only announces Kola Boof to the world, but in its fiery self-destruction warns of potential bad endings.

I believe I know another trait of Kola’s not immediately apparent in her bomb-threatened store and radio appearances: heartbreak. By the evidence of this book, the lives of African women are short, fatalistic and violence-prone. Like Sisyphus walking back down the hill, they have the occasional joy or respite, (like Nuntandi’s boy magic) and they are an essential guide to the generations by child rearing and passing the traditions down the ages. By telling their stories straight and (usually) avoiding the bombast that sometimes creeps into her public appearances, Kola underlines the pathos and tragedy as any great literary artist would. She is humble, and lets her stories be great.

Her book of poems contains truly important work like “There Is Slavery in the Sudan,” which tells it as straight as the title. Everyone in the world should read this poem. It also contains one of the most beautiful poems I have ever read, “Christmas on the Nile,” about Kola’s birth mother. (The true deep secret about Kola Boof may be her understated gentleness.) In marked contrast, Nile River Woman also contains one of the most obscene poems I have ever read, which describes in both Dutch and English (languages of African oppression!) a film director’s crude proposition of an actress. Kola does not say the director is white and the actress is black, but her dual-language translation suggests it strongly. She continually surprises and challenges you.

Kola’s poems insist on her identity as a black woman and a storyteller, two things which may even be genetically connected through her repetitions of the assertion “I am a woman, yes./ I have two mouths to speak with.” Although self-identity is prominent, (confident lines like “I am tall enough to nurse the moon,” or “My loyalty is to my womb” and poems like “I Am My Own Daughter”) she takes time also to look at “Black Men’s daughters/ tired, hungry and wet” and to ponder “the secret of the mothers at the bus stops.”

The manifestation of a potentially great literary talent in these two books is what makes me so anticipate Diary of a Lost Girl (a title taken from one of the silent films Kola loves, and a rather humble book title for someone sometimes referred to as Queen Kola). I want to know how Naima, the half Arab, half black daughter of the Nile (bint il Nil) was adopted out of Africa to America to eventually become Kola, the talented and battling woman literary warrior she now is. I suspect that “Kola” is her attempt to re-create a powerful identity out of the blasted life shards of the lost girl, Naima. How she did it is a wonder; I suspect it took the strength of the Nile.

The public Kola can certainly be something of a loose cannon, given to excesses of rhetoric, and her ideas on race, born out of experiences of genocidal hatred, are harsh and unattractive. We have had to agree to disagree on multiculturalism. (I continue to hope that this scion of Arab, black African and African-American lineages will come to see the value of many cultures living together in peace, our American ideal if not reality.)

Kola has a talent for pissing people off, and lines like “I am tired of Jesus and Mohammed” and “But your Koran covers me in shit” can offend literally billions of people at once. The excessive Kola who can rant at Arab or white “bitches” sometimes creeps into her writing, and in at least one poem she threatens to kill some white ones. This isn’t good poetry or good anything else. I suspect, though, that when push comes to shove, the reality will not be bloodshed but will be more like the serio-comic episode described in one of her interviews, when white women came to protest in front of her home and she turns the garden hose on them. And while she has never favored the American-brokered peace deal in the Sudan, after the recent death of southern Sudan leader John Garang she publicly called for that peace to be kept.

I prefer the writer to the public personality. I believe the marks of literary greatness can be discerned in Kola Boof. Coming from the womanist tradition of such American writers as Alice Walker and Toni Morrison, she adds and blends an African experience into that tradition. Her pen name, cobbled together from the kola nuts African children eat as sweets and the heartpounding “boof” sound of African drums, underlines her African identity as well as her American experience, with its near-matches to “Cola” and cartoon sex kitten Betty Boop.

Her love of her African forbears is deep and touching, and you can readily see the source of her great strength in their vast Nile River. It is a testament to her astonishing literary potential that she can make readers like me, whose ancestors left Africa many thousands of years ago, feel a racial memory of the strength and beauty of that fabulous river. Kola Boof also is an American writer, whose work touches on a deep American theme of migration, the heartfelt (and heartbreaking) nostalgia for the old traditions that can co-exist with the desire for assimilation in new traditions. Daughter of Africa, she is also daughter of the African diaspora. She is both black American diva girl and bint il Nil, daughter of the Nile.

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Kola
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Username: Kola

Post Number: 2295
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Posted on Sunday, November 13, 2005 - 03:19 pm:   Delete Post View Post/Check IP Print Post    Ban Poster IP (Moderator/Admin only)

I can't believe that I'm still "mysterious" to white people.


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Medua
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Posted on Sunday, November 13, 2005 - 04:51 pm:   Delete Post View Post/Check IP Print Post    Ban Poster IP (Moderator/Admin only)

Kola this was a really nice article. I didnt even know all that about you.

I have to admit I have never gotten any of your books but I thought about it when Crystal said they were good. I might order one now.



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Tonya
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Username: Tonya

Post Number: 865
Registered: 07-2005

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Posted on Sunday, November 13, 2005 - 06:57 pm:   Delete Post View Post/Check IP Print Post    Ban Poster IP (Moderator/Admin only)

Kola got a new b-o-y-f-r-i-e-n-d.... LOL!!!

Seriously, though, I think he sees you like many blacks do -- many of them think you're "misterious" too. So, in this case, a white guy can speak 'cause had you not announced he was white I would not have known the difference. I agree with Medua; I think it's a nice article.

Tonya

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Renata
"Cyniquian" Level Poster
Username: Renata

Post Number: 186
Registered: 08-2005

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Posted on Sunday, November 13, 2005 - 08:36 pm:   Delete Post View Post/Check IP Print Post    Ban Poster IP (Moderator/Admin only)

He critiqued your works quite nicely, too. Makes me want to get all of those books and read them.
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Kola
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Username: Kola

Post Number: 2298
Registered: 02-2005

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Posted on Sunday, November 13, 2005 - 09:44 pm:   Delete Post View Post/Check IP Print Post    Ban Poster IP (Moderator/Admin only)

Thanks sisters.

I have answered his very infrequent emails for the last few years....and NEVER KNEW he was a writer.

He just surprised me with an email Friday saying "Kola, I'm publishing an article about you."

He's a Finance writer and really respected as a journalist, so his word helps me--and he emailed the story to several VERY BIG journalist friends of his at NEWSWEEK, TIME, CHICAGO TRIBUNE and VANITY FAIR.

He's really a Kola Boof fan!



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Renata
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Username: Renata

Post Number: 188
Registered: 08-2005

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Posted on Monday, November 14, 2005 - 02:09 am:   Delete Post View Post/Check IP Print Post    Ban Poster IP (Moderator/Admin only)

Please list here where we can find all of the works he mentioned.
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Medusa
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Posted on Monday, November 14, 2005 - 03:38 am:   Delete Post View Post/Check IP Print Post    Ban Poster IP (Moderator/Admin only)

They're all on Amazon.Com, Barnes and Noble.Com or if your local bookstore don't have 'em I'm sure they would order it.

Just go to Amazon.com and type in the name Kola Boof.



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Moonsigns
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Username: Moonsigns

Post Number: 776
Registered: 07-2004

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Posted on Monday, November 14, 2005 - 03:38 pm:   Delete Post View Post/Check IP Print Post    Ban Poster IP (Moderator/Admin only)

Kola,

You're "mysterious" to this white man--not "white people"--as most of your views are far too extreme/radical for the average white person to entertain.

Nevertheless, it is an interesting read.
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Kola
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Posted on Monday, November 14, 2005 - 04:33 pm:   Delete Post View Post/Check IP Print Post    Ban Poster IP (Moderator/Admin only)

Moon,

Thank you for reading it and saying something nice. :-)

Thanks, girl.

Kola


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Roxie
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Username: Roxie

Post Number: 324
Registered: 06-2005

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Posted on Tuesday, November 15, 2005 - 06:41 am:   Delete Post View Post/Check IP Print Post    Ban Poster IP (Moderator/Admin only)

I just pasted the text and printed it. ACTIONS speak from me sometimes.:-)

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