Rediscovering A New World: From Sierra Leone To The U.S.

Here's another nice essay by Arthur Edgar E Smith
I had the good fortune of representing my country, Sierra Leone, in WEST AFRICA, on the U.S.Department of State sponsored 2006 Study of the U.S. Institute on Contemporary U.S. literature from 25th June to August10 2006 at the University of Louisville with Dr Tom Byers as program director.
Amongst the program objectives were:
- To offer American Literature scholars from abroad the opportunity to deepen their understanding of U.S. society, culture, and values through examining contemporary American Literature.
- to examine how major writers, schools and movements both continue the traditions of the American literary canon, and at the same time establish new directions for American Literature.In pursuance of the first objective, a widening range of cultural as well as racial and gender diversity were seen in the texts and writers examined and discussed. These include African-American writers such as Percival Everett, Tony Morrison and HarrietMullen, almost all of whom combined creative writing with literary scholarship.Morrison for her part influenced the publication of many black writers and got the inspiration for her ground-breaking work BELOVED which confronts the haunting memories of slavery whilst an editor at Random House. Kingston’s WOMAN WARRIOR shows much of the doubts and cultural conflicts that ensues as Chinese struggle to get absorbed into America whilst at the same time trying to retain their identity which is largely an impossibility as the resultant identity could no longer be the same as before. They are now more akin to Chinese Americans. The same cultural struggle is evident in the Mexican-American novelist Cisneros’ works THE HOUSE ON MANGO STREET and WOMAN HOLLERIN CREEK. The current reassessment of American history with the growing recognition of the original inhabitants as Native Americans has given much space to their revolutionary literature through writers like Silko and Vizenor. Through Lahiri’s INTERPRETERS OF MALADIES we also see the Indians struggling with accommodating two cultures in a strange land.
    Science fiction seems to have emerged as acceptable in the literary cannon with the inclusion of a wide selection of science fiction writers such as William Gibson, Neal Stephenson, Samuel Delaney, Joanna RUSS, Octavia Butler and Ursula Leguin as worthy of studying . We also had a revealing overview of the operations of the American theater. Overviews of contemporary American and African-American poetry were given along with a very comprehensive analysis of contemporary American literature with insights into critical and literary theoretical developments such as post-modernism and the politics of identity and representation especially with regard to minority American literature. The prevalence of post-modernism in contemporary American Literature was most evident through the seminars on Bobbie Ann Mason’s ‘Shiloh’ which is set in Louisville itself and on Samuel Pynchon’s THE CRYING OF LOT 49 as well as on Don Delillo’s WHITE NOISE.
    Diversity in cuisine reinforced the patterned diversity in almost everything including race and ethnicity in America as demonstrated in the varying types of restaurants at which we lunched and dined inclusive of Asian, Chinese, Indian, Mexican, Continental and American TEXAN Rodeo. Touring LOUISVILLE AS A POST-MODERN SPACE was also exciting and revealing reinforcing the many exhibitions seen in showing the connections between literature and space as well as time and other telling aspects of life. .Down-town Louisville is mainly ornate preserving Victorian buildings. Interspersing post-modernist buildings such as the Humana through their unique architecture harmonize with grace with the surrounding gothic structures thus beautifying the skyline so as to reattract habitation which had been dwindling due to a massive drift of residents to the suburbs.
    Art exhibitions visited further expanded the possibilities in representations and media. The Speed Art Museum was unique in many ways . It was right at the heart of the University of Louisville Campus just a few yards walk from our hostels. .It showcased not only American art and décor but African as well as British and European Gothic and Victorian interior décor. But the highlight of our visit was the exhibition of the avant-garde paintings of African-American Art Graduate from the University of Louisville, Sam Gilliam. We also visited the Kentucky Museum of Art and Craft in downtown Louisville where we saw a widening area of art including toys , sculptors, carvings plastic art, glass art ,as well as multi-media paintings and modelings.
    But what fascinated me most in the Americans is the amazing way they absorb within themselves and their routine, the extremes of life, working hard and playing hard. There are many resorts, play houses, fun fairs, cinemas and stadia of all shapes and form but mostly immense as is the pride and fancy of the American who if it were not for the soaring price of fuel could just have gone on lounging and cruising in those grotesquely huge limousines. But still they are preserved for weekend cruises or ceremonial occasions such as weddings and festivals.
    Browse through the newspapers, some of which you could just grab from any street corner newsstand without losing a dime, you could find a resort or activity that would surely amuse once you have what it takes to get there. But it is totally bewitching how a sport, horseracing has grown beyond just a craze to a whole industry attracting devotees and fans and jockeys from all over the world to camp and transform a sedate Louisville to just one roaring rollicking and bustling city for a month or two with everything to be got on the market including accommodation and transportation doubling in price.. A whole host of allied activities like betting, cafes, museums of horsing curios and clubs have all mushroomed around this whole craze.
    Nothing demonstrates the Americans capacity to relax more than the ease with whichThey could get down and lay down sometimes on green carpets of grass as they drink, sway and holler out to the joy of being American on that glorious National Day with firecrackers metamorphosing into radiant assortments of colours and sounds all to the excitement and attention of a whole land bedecked with multicolours in celebration. Obesity which seems like the greatest social and health menace here is no hindrance to a bulky American letting off steam and celebrate with his kins the glory and joy of belonging to a country that is both loved, hated as well as envied but that always compels international attention.
    America cherishes and preserves history in several ways. Books and films, historical, biographical and documentary, abound in the millions. So do museums, exhibitions, monuments, relics and the restoration of slave plantations and slave houses for the continuous visitation of tourists as well as nationals thus ensuring that all are informed and educated on their past even with the uglinesses. At Bardstown an outlying part of Louisvi;lle is the remnants of a plantation with its slave house Farmington preserved as it was then with relics kept of the stay of Abraham Lincoln there, before he became president of course. Glimpses of life then were recalled through photographs, films, books beddings equipments for farming food preservation and a water well and food barn. A day’s trip to Cincinnatti furthered our insights into slavery and its attendant effects on life in America. This was at the Underground Railroad Freedom Center which builds a whole three-storey museum around the central core of a wooden slave barn which used to store slaves on their way to be resold. It was an interactive multimedia exhibition using theater, visual arts of all modes and film and tutorials to bring slavery alive for all to realize its menace and atone for their guilt or complicity.
    It was with longing that we awaited the flight to exciting San Francisco inspite of its well advertised expensiveness. But then I was almost about to board the plane when I had to be driven back to receive thorough exanination for some feeling of nausea which I feared could have been malaria. But I was cleared and fl;ew in to Oakland airport and was driven through bewildering scenes of architectural splendours onto the 40-plus floored Argent hotel. On entering the conference hall for the afternoon sessions I was surprised by a standing ovation followed by glowing words of commendations by the Director the deputy director and the guest writer, Percival Everett. It was one unique day when one feels proud and gratified at having fallen ill but to have gotten up fast enough on one’s feet not to miss out too much. The day’s discussion with Percival EVERETT turned out to be the most absorbing and most wide-ranging which I managed to contribute one or two questions to.
    I had already missed the Golden Gate bridge and Yerba Buena Gardens visits. Butt then I had to console myself with the remaining splendour and grandeur of San Francisco.with the buildings all now being built to survive possible natural disasters as it is prone to. The immensity of the buildings were stunning .Each one seemed to be in eternal competition with the others to touch the sky so much so that taking snapshots demand so much on the ingenuity of the cameraman to capture the fullness of their splendour against their natural background . Our city tour gave us continuous flows of splendour in architecture in meandering roadways in coastal sceneries and towering immensities all tinged with the token offerings of oriental buildings in vast spaces Chinese have held on to tenaciously even before the Gold Rush which attracted floods of adventurers looking for the Golden fleece. Every other significant group in the world especially so Mexicans, Russians, Indians, Vietnamese, Italians held significant sectors establishing a reckonable presence here.
    It was of historical as well as literary significance that we went to the City Lights Bookshop, the cradle of the West Coast Beat Movement which had such a significant effect on American poetry in the mid-sixties giving a bohemian and avant-garde twist to poetry. Allen Ginsberg whose poems were first discussed in the seminar was an important pillar in this movement. His books were published through this outlet which also became a broadside publisher as well as a venue for poetry reading as well as other literary jamborees. I marked the visit in a special way by buying three modern authoritative studies of Shakespeare who seems to be very much alive everywhere in America even on the stage. At Berkeley I bought quite a large consignment of used books on a wide range of American writers at Moe s and was lucky to sell a few of mine which gave me additional dollars to buy more titles.
    Our two days trip by Bart Metro for seminars held at the University of California, Berkeley gave me the additional opportunity of strolling round the expansive but historic campus with its preponderance of gothic structures. I also took the chance to look up the English department and the university library
    How greatly rewarding this trip was in broadening my horizon giving me vistas of a widening world out there multiply and variedly advanced and where you learn and are thrilled or even astonished by varying sights and sounds every minute when awake.
    The offer of an honorary citizenship of the city of Louisville by its Mayor , a touching and most symbolic act, is still waiting to be amply exploited to my personal as well as national upliftment.
    My firmest resolve was to use some extra dollars to get enrolled in some professional bodies. And indeed I feel most gratified that I am now a paid up member of the African Literature Association receiving regular mailings along with other benefits. As an alumni of the state department programmes I could now access a web site preserved for us and read thousands of journals, magazines and participate in a network of discussions and post my own articles. Some weeks back I amongst 15 other alumnis from all parts of the globe fielded questions to Professor Lublin on the recently concluded U.S mid-term elections. Already I am keeping up only too well with the challenge of publishing or perishing having already approaching 20 articles already posted to complement my profile and C.V on my part of this website. I am eagerly awaiting news of the publication of two articles on my visit in the University of Louisville magazine and in FOCUS where an earlier article of mine ‘The Struggle of the Book in Sierra Leone’ was published May last year when preparing to embark on this trip. Quite a number of ideas for further articles revolving around my experiences in America are being generated if not being processed.
    Contacts made with scholars, editors, publishers, dramatists and other participants from other parts of the world who keep my flow of mails ceaseless will be amply reaped for my personal benefit as well as that of Sierra Leone and for a better global network of enlightened, tolerant peaceable and understanding world that should keep its development on an even keel.
    A four –day trip to Washington Dc. with its breathtaking tours of exhibitions, museums, monuments, the White House and the Li brary of Congress complex of buildings which were in themselves monumental and a history in themselves as well as a veritable repository of the history of knowledge and civilization brought our U.S trip to its climax. This trip could only be justly recorded in two to three articles. But as I try to plan it as I bring this to its fitting end I could recall touching down at the airport and driving through a long stretch of country road to George Mason University where we were welcomed by Marilyn Moblyn the exuberant and exciting Black Deputy Provost who led us through a well- informed and stimulating seminar on Tony Morrison and her latest novel BELOVED. As we drove through the meandering contours of Washinton’s roads we contemplated how soon we would arrive at the nation’s capital. Then our passing the Pentagon, Madison Square, Jefferson Memorial with a fleeting view of the sedate but yatcht laden Potomac River announced our arrival . We went on to our Marriott Inn just by the Capitol. Three days were just not enough to quench my appetite for the objects sights and scenes seen in the networks of Smithsonian museums for American Art, FOR American History , of the Native American of the African American as well as African Art ,to add to the Library of Congress, THE LINCOLN MEMORIAL and the Vietnam Memorial.

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