2nd Editor’s note: I guess I shouldn’t have saved this draft at 12:26am last night because I’m getting old and forgot to publish till now. Sorry to all those that wanted to attend this event.
Editor’s Note: Kola Boof returns to New York! Abiola’s Kiss & Tell Live NY Reading Series honors Kola Boof — Tuesday, June 15th. 7-10pm at MADAME X 94 West Houston Street.
[Originally posted on my personal blog April 07, 2004: some minor edits (for clarity), but largely untouched. Hope to get an updated interview with Queen Kola]
Several months ago I was at Keith Boykin’s site and noticed many quite provocative comments from a poster named Kola Boof. Little did I know then that she would become a mini-obsession of mine. (No, not in a negative light.) I was immediately intrigued by her story and her artistry. Over many months we’ve corresponded with each other from time to time and I knew that she would be an intriguing interview. Read a mini bio at her site, and peruse her work and other information on this Woman Warrior.
Kola, when your poetry collection “Every Little Bit Hurts” was released in North Africa in 1997, Osama Bin Laden called you on the telephone and said: “If I had the time to waste, I would come and slit your throat myself.” Now in 2004, that original collection along with 25 new poems has just been released in America under the new title Nile River Woman. Why did this little poetry book cause so much anger when it was first released?
In Osama’s case, he thought some of the poems were about him, which they aren’t. And he also thought I was being trashy and vengeful, writing about slavery in Sudan, which back then no one was willing to acknowledge. He thought it was disgusting of me to celebrate my sexual autonomy in the poems. In general, I was seen from the very beginning as a threat to Islamic law and the image of Arab social mores. I was the very embodiment of the disobedient wife that African cultures speak against.
Many American Blacks remain unwelcoming of your sexual images and your portrayal of yourself as a representative of African women. You get enormous flak from Black American women for being topless on the back of your books and for admitting that you once slept with powerful men to get parts in Arab films and to get power, politically.
No one loves and respects Black American women more than I do, but they make me sick sometimes with their obsession with “respectability” and “appearances.” It really gets on my nerves, because I don’t apologize for who I am and I am not ashamed of being a Black woman. I have been the Black man’s wife, queen and concubine for 26,000 years. I don’t see why I should be silenced or have my image whitened and Americanized. My mother was a pure Oromo Gisi-Waaq. I am from the Nile River, not the Mississippi. I come from Black women who proudly bared their breasts for 26,000 years in honor and praise of the Creator. I won’t back down from my own image and my own understanding of womanism. I am very proud of my image.
On a similar note, many African artisans and politicians constantly attack you for embracing and supporting Gay Rights. In particular, your assertion that homosexuality in Africa has always been there and that it is normal.
Long before there was Christianity and Islam, the African people had their own religions. I don’t know how anyone can deny this. Homosexuality was often a part of those religions. Especially in Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia. Homosexuality, since the beginning of time, has been a natural, normal component of the ritual and intellectual society. I write about that in my work and I don’t understand the outrage that other Africans express towards me because of it. There’s a gay wedding in my next book, Flesh and the Devil: A Novel, which comes out in May. People are upset about the gay warrior couple during the African portion of the book. But how can I write about the sensual world in a book as sexy as “Flesh and the Devil” and not explore homosexuality?
Kola, who inspired you as an artist, activist and a writer the most?
Quite a few people. Egypt’s great feminist writer Nawal El Sadaawi was one of my chief influences. Alice Walker is like my mother. She is my model. Toni Morrison is my favorite writer. Gayl Jones is the writer that I most resemble as a stylist, I think. I loved Diana Ross when I was a kid, because she was flamboyant, sexy and glamorous and she refused to fit the churchy image that most Black women entertainers embraced. I wanted to have a glossy, sensuous image on purpose, because Black women are not supposed to be goddess figures in America. But I come from Africa where many women really are goddess figures. I loved Sherwood Anderson, Richard Wright and James Baldwin’s work. I wanted to create something new on the American landscape.
Your work has caused your life to be threatened. Are you still living in hiding?
I’m not in hiding anymore, but I do live under very strenuous security measures. I am protected by the United States. I am a definite target by many Arab Muslim fundamentalist groups and probably a few other groups. Anti-abortion people have sent me threatening letters, because I’ve spoken openly about having an abortion. A lot of bi-racial people despise me, because they think I’m against them, even though I’m not. They seem to forget that I am an African woman, so it’s normal for me to want to give birth to my own Black children and to be with my own natural mate: the Black man. They seem to think that we Africans are just an ingredient for a salad and not a people. My work seems to anger people very deeply.
The poems in Nile River Woman are really raw and emotional. People are really affected in some way by this book. Which of the poems in the collection are your favorites and why?
Well, obviously, I like “Kola Boof IN Person,” which expresses my loyalty to my womb, my children, instead of to Black men. And then I love “Black Beauty’s Totem” because it expresses my undying love and appreciation of black men, but not at the expense of loving myself. And then I really love the final poem, the one that really upsets white people the most, “Fly Away Sleeping,” because it expresses that I am a Black woman who believes in revolution and that I am willing to kill even God to make a better world for my Black babies. That poem is what I feel being a Black woman in America should be all about. This poetry collection is so powerful that it’ll be five years before I put out another one, so I’m extremely proud of it. People like Joe Madison and Bev Smith have already proclaimed it to be a “masterpiece” and a “classic.” It’s by far the most personal book I’ve ever written, and if people really want to know Kola Boof, then Nile River Woman is the way to do that.
You recently issued a statement while in Israel supporting that nation. It was also seen as an inflammatory statement against Palestinians, their own state and/or Arabs. What is your take on the controversy and/or your response?
People in the United States, and to my surprise, African American people in particular, have almost no knowledge of what it is like to be a Black African in North Africa. They have some ridiculous notion that we get along with Arabs and Mixed Race Berber peoples who enslave, torture and oppress us. These Arab people, Arab nations and Arab groups, which most definitely include the Palestinians, have been our worst enemies for more than a thousand years. The Palestinians purchase slaves from Sudan, they refer to Black Africans as “Abeed,” and because the Black Americans are rich, powerful and light skinned, these Arab people treat them differently than they treat Africans, because they can use the Black Americans for political clout and for other support. But I make no apologies for my condemnation of the evil deeds that the Palestinian people carry out against Black Africans in their ranks; especially Black African women, on a daily basis due to the fact that they are color struck and fear that association with Africans will lead them back to their original color. Israel has been the only ally and friend that the Black Non-Muslim Sudanese have had. The Israelis provide us with guns, ammunition, food, medicine and moral support as fellow family members of Prophet Ciisa (Jesus Christ) who was a Black man and a Jew. If it were not for Israel, the Black Sudanese would be dead and destroyed by now. The Black Americans forget that there are 2 million Black Jews in Sudan, another 2 million in Ethiopia. We have a very strong bond with Israel because more than half of the original Cushite people were Hebrews. We are the mother of both the Arabs and the Israelites, but we consider Israel to be our good child who honors us. The Arabs rape, kill, enslave, and disrespect Africa. They hate blackness and the only people they are fooling with their rhetoric is the Black Americans. I support Israel because I am a Black mother from North Africa. I will continue to support Israel 100%, regardless of their shortcomings, because let’s face it, America is no better than Israel. But I have a vested interest in seeing Israel be successful. Without Israel, the Black nations will never rise, because the Arabs are jealous of Blacks and they are determined to keep us on the bottom.
Back to your work. You describe Flesh and the Devil as “26,000 years of Beautiful Love.” Why exactly?
Well, the book details the “romantic need and love” between African people from the day of creation all the way to modern day Black America. Even gay love is adequately presented, and not gay sex, but gay LOVE…is presented in the book as a normal, natural reality in the culture and history of Black people. I wanted to tell the story of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade and to remind Black Americans at the same time of the great nobility they come from and the great love that existed between their mothers and fathers. They were not just sweaty black slave chattel with no magic and no history. They were intensely magical people, filled with need, spirit and wonder. The book showcases the love and humanity of all Black people. Which is now 26,000 years old according to my people, the Nilotics of Sudan. We were here 20,000 years before the final race, the Caucasians, appeared.
Please speak freely on any subject you would like: your work, other writers and warriors, politics, your life, your plans/goals, etc.
I would like people in the media to stop demonizing me and to stop expecting me to behave as, and to react as an American. I come from a very different set of circumstances, from a foreign culture. I have fought tooth and nail against my own assimilation, because unlike most African immigrant artists, I do not believe that assimilation is the right example for me to set for Black Americans. They need to see their own unique spirit in me. They need to see me, whether they like it or not, as an African woman representing a more Afrocentric authenticity, as best as I can duplicate on American soil. I am eccentric and have a very sinful past. SO WHAT!! That’s all the more reason to appreciate my truth and my willingness to share it. Has no one noticed that Cleopatra and Nefertiti were pagan sluts? Why do American Blacks “romanticize” Africans and expect us to come here and instantly have American values? I know Americans don’t like the “N” word, but I think that millions of Blacks in Africa, in America and all over the world really are niggers. I feel it’s stupid when people purchase my work expecting to “like” me. That’s not what art is about. Art is about understanding and gaining perspective. It’s about being changed or making up your mind about something. I wish people would stop expecting me to be a good, sweet lovable earth mother and wisdom woman from Africa. What good is glorifying some ancient woman like Nefertiti if you’re not willing to become her? And Nefertiti wasn’t a damned thing like Coretta Scott King and Claire Huxtable. She was more like me.