Muthoni Likimani, the author of many books was approachable even after 80, and inspires humility in anyone who would take a moment to talk to her.
Frank Chipasula, another African poet and Editor of African Literature captures in this photo Muthoni attempting to stop me in my tracks, and then I discovered who she is.
When I met Muthoni Likimani last week, it was like coming up to a mountain just to realize how huge and how great the mountain is. I met the great Kenyan writer, activist and one of the most influential figures of Kenyan literary and political history, Muthoni Likimani at the African Literature Association (ALA) conference in MaComb, Illinois a week ago. The ALA conference was held at Western Illinois University from April 22-27. There were many African literary greats all over the place, but if you are like me, new to attending ALA conferences, you were lost to these great people unless you had a good friend like some of my good poetry and literary friends who took me by the hand to introduce me to everyone. My friend Gabeba Baderoon from South Africa was good at introducing me to so many great people. But when I met Muthoni, no one had to tell me who she was. I knew it by her walk, her smile, her eyes that seemed to say, “come here, little girl, let me meet you and bless you.” I simply walked up to her, and introduced myself. She was a magnet, a giant to be reckoned with, a true writer, someone who has already done what many of us aspire to. I do not know if others around us in the Union at WIU discovered the woman I was discovering for the first time.
Muthoni Likimani is more than 80 years old, but walked with strength and the power that she carries in her walk. She greeted me and discovered that I am Liberian. Then she struck a conversation with me about the famous Liberian musician and artist, Miata Fahnbullah, whom she referred to as her “daughter.” At that point, I was curious about this Kenyan author, and wanted to know more about her. I wanted at the moment to get all of the books she’s written and read them, to sit with her and ask her all the questions a younger woman can ask of an elder- the how to write for a generation of younger women, how to write in the Diaspora, how to stay alive, how to “fight without ceasing,” how to find out “what a man wants,” and all of the things this great woman writer and role model has written about.
Conferences are so interesting. One has just a small bit of time for sessions, for presenting, for meeting great people, for meeting not-so great people, for searching for food, looking for rides, for avoiding those who need to be avoided, and so forth. Once in a while, one meets someone who is a rare treasure. The ALA was such a conference, but there was nothing better than meeting Muthoni. I wanted to introduce her to my readers. There was that smile, that freedom of spirit, that love of the younger more inexperienced woman writer from Africa, for the new Diaspora woman from Africa. One never ever lives to learn enough. Each day brings new blessings. I felt really blessed. Meeting Muthoni was one of those moments when one felt like bowing down in reverence to the grace of an elder. There was much bowing and kneeling in reverence to elders at ALA, but meeting Muthoni Likimani was one deserving of knee bending.
Later on, after we had posed for photos, Frank took me to the book table where The Feminist Press had her one book, “What Does a Man Want” on display.
Here, again Frank Chipasula faithfully captures Muthoni here with me and Kassahun Checole of African World Press. Kasahun has faithfully published African writers from around the world for decades.
There were many other great moments and great things that happened at the conference. My friend, Maureen Ngozi Eke of Central Michigan University became President of the African Literature Association, and gave the most wonderful speech. I am still basking in that great speech. She made me proud of her. I was not elected as an Executive Committee member of ALA, a decision which I felt was a great one. I was a great loser, and loved losing. A great person nominated me, but I believe that I am not ready to take on any more responsibility anyway, especially, since I am still an Executive Committee member of MLA’s African Literature Division.
I met another very wonderful author and writer, translator and sister, Wangui Wa Goro. On Sunday, Wangui and I were among few who were still stuck in that little town of MaComb, and spent some time with young student members of the African Student Association at Western Illinois, chatting, mentoring, and advising them over lunch. We later on visited Safouri’s house to eat Jollof rice and talk before retiring at the Union where we were staying.
My appreciation for all of the photos above and below goes to Frank Chipasula who took everyone by surprise and captured many great moments at the conference. Enjoy the photos below:
Papa Suso of Gambia was again at ALA, performing, entertaining everyone and being his usual happy-go-lucky self. Here he is waiting with all of us for the ever-not-coming shuttle bus to arrive. His instrument, the Kora. I first met Papa Suso at ALA 2007 and then again in Medelin, Colombia, where he performed to thousands as we read poetry. Standing over us is Kevin, one of the great people I met at the conference.
This other shot is a good one since this shows us preparing to eat Chinese food. In a town like MaComb, we had few choices in the way of meals, and being African, we went for any thing with rice in it. Below is Mark de Brito of South Africa about to have lunch. I turn around just to hide my own meal from the camera- Ha. Mark was introduced to me by my South African friend, Gabeba.
Below are some of Muthoni Likimani’s titles. I have just ordered two of them.
They Shall Be Chastised (April 1991)
Passbook # F. .47927 Women and Mau Mau in Kenya (1986)
What Does a Man Want? 91974)
Fighting Without Ceasing (December, 2005)
Women of Kenya in the Decade of Development (1985)