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Aminatta Forna, Changing the Narrative on Identity, Grief, and Appropriation


Aminatta Forna was raised to be a fighter. As a triple minority, she knew from a young age that she would be great, but she would need to work very hard to get what she wanted. This led her to develop an inquisitive and astute mind that questions the things everyone takes for granted. As a writer, she has explored and shared her grief as well as the concept of identity and she talks about the importance of telling ourselves the right narrative.

Aminatta has lived a life of change, being born in Scotland and raised between Sierra Leone and other countries. She went back to Sierra Leone before the war ended and was able to bring change into a community with assertive and empowering interventions. She talks about the impact words can have on people, why she thinks appropriation can cause great damage to the literary and arts world, and why the elevation of victimhood does nothing for actual progress. 

ABOUT Aminatta Forna

Aminatta Forna is a British-Sierra Leonean formidable writer, humanitarian, professor, and thinker who has won numerous awards, including the Windham Campbell Award from Yale University. She has published four novels and a memoir, which have been translated into twenty two different languages. 

Highlights of the episode:

  • 01:53: Aminatta Forna discusses the relevance and currency of her BBC documentary The Lost Libraries of Timbuktu. 
  • 04:57:How Aminatta forged her identity.
  • 10:06: The common and constant rebranding of identities to fit in with the rest of the world.
  • 14:00: The American narrative and how it illustrates the many perspectives that can exist regarding one event or fact. 
  • 17:20: The everlasting nature of grief and how while it gets better it never disappears.
  • 21:10: Aminatta’s experience as part of the diaspora.
  • 25:50: How Sierra Leone has survived through the ages and how the forests have been a sacred place of protection.
  • 30:32: Growing up as a triple minority and being brought up to be ready to fight for what she wanted. 
  • 36:28: The drive that comes from having something different to say and the will to share it not with a minority but with the majority of people. 
  • 42:13: American academia and what Aminatta’s experience as part of this world has been.
  • 44:26: Writing and reading as a one-on-one experience that deeply touches people when they look for a certain kind of answer.
  • 51:02: Elevating victimhood has become a common narrative that leads to the creation of tokens.

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