Sunday, November 04, 2007

Q & A with Janet Grace Riehl on “The Culture of African Story” Part 2

I first met Janet Grace Riehl, of Riehl Life, when we both took part in the Lieurance-King Article Challenge in August/September.

Janet is an award-winning author, artist, performer, and creativity coach. Her poems, stories, and essays have been widely published in national literary magazines such as “Harvard Review” and the anthologies “Stories to Live By: Wisdom to Help You Make the Most of Every Day” and “Hot Flashes 2″. Read more about Janet on the first part of my interview with her here.

Janet, what do you love about Africa and its stories?

I feel Africa is truly the Mother of humankind, and certainly archeological findings bear this out. In Africa I felt embraced by that Mothering energy.

Never in my life have I been so enfolded, nurtured, watched over, looked after, cared for…and just flat out enjoyed for being who I am. Africa is a continent, not a country, of course, but I felt this no matter where I went.

Stories ease difficult and painful situations. In Botswana I remember storytelling told around a campfire under a sky full of piercing stars a night our truck broke down in the bush between Francestown and Maun.

In Ghana I remember stories told in crammed to the brim Mammy Wagons that might plunge us into an accident around the next corner. But, in either of these situations if we would have come into danger, we would have faced it as friends, not as strangers, and this would have been through the power and grace of story.

Story is also the thread of celebration and the thread of knowing. During Peace Corps training I went to a village no outsiders had ever lived in. We were mutually curious about one another and expressed this through Story. I collected their stories and they created stories and song commemorating my visit.

Why are stories worth telling to our children?

Stories in any language and culture are always worth passing on. Africa has a strong oral history, of course, and you could probably speak to the impact of technology on her oral history tradition.

Because, by definition Story requires time, and time together, as well as the willingness to pass on a tradition and use our imagination. It’s good to have stories of your family and your people to provide a sense of continuity between generations…a thread of time and life moving across place.

I have a shelf filled with books from and about Africa. Prominent among them are books of African folktales, which carry wisdom from the ancestors into the modern day.

What are your feelings about the popular stories told about Africa (“It’s dark, exotic, and war torn”) versus the stories you took home after you lived and worked here?

I am troubled by the popular perception in the USA of Africa as this place (only) of war-poverty-famine-tribal strife-AIDS crisis. Granted African nations and the African continent have huge difficulties and problems to continue resolving, but to balance all that I so want people to understand the warm beating heart of Africa which for me felt like the essence of being human…not primitive at all, but highly civilized and humane.

I am currently working on a longer piece of writing in which I hope to reveal some of what was born within me through the grace of my time in Africa.

Check out Janet Grace Riehl's "Sightlines - A Poet's Diary."


Janet Grace Riehl said...

Thanks, Damaria, for asking me to write on this topic. I really enjoyed exploring it and hope you might write on this topic, too, in a return visit to Riehlife( I'd like to know what you think. Also, for visitors to your site, I invite them to browse my "Ah, Africa" category which is slowly growing.

Carma Dutra said...

I thoroughly enjoyed both parts of the interview. Thank you.

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