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Author to speak of her travels in the footsteps of the enslaved

Monday, October 24, 2016

LAWRENCE — Acclaimed author, broadcaster and journalist Aminatta Forna will make a special presentation that traces her own links to the cultural heritage of Sierra Leone through the enslaved in the Americas.  The talk, “From Root to Branch: Travels in the Footsteps of the Enslaved,” will be at 7 p.m. Nov. 10 at the Hall Center for the Humanities at the University of Kansas. 

Forna will discuss her “reverse Roots” project that stems from her childhood in West Africa. As a child in Sierra Leone, Forna visited Bunce Island where an old slaving fort still stands. As an adult she realized that almost all of the enslaved people from Sierra Leone were transported to North Carolina. Later, coming to live in the United States among people whose DNA she shares, Forna discovered the cultural footprints of the West African “disappeared” in the American South and investigated her own family’s connections to slavery.

Forna is the award-winning author of three novels, “The Hired Man,” “The Memory of Love” and “Ancestor Stones” as well as the critically acclaimed memoir “The Devil that Danced on the Water.” She is currently a Lannan Visiting Chair at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. Her remarks will be followed by a book signing with books available for purchase on site.

Forna’s talk is presented by the Kansas African Studies Center at KU as part of a project funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) to promote the sharing of migration stories about Africans in local communities through public discussions, community programming and the creation of educational resources. Close to 10,000 African immigrants live today in the heartland metropolitan centers of Kansas City, Lawrence, Topeka, Emporia, Wichita and Garden City. The Kansas African Studies Center is facilitating extended and productive dialogue surrounding this recent shift in demographics due to migration.

As a new program of the NEH, the “Humanities in the Public Square” initiative allows humanities scholars to engage in direct dialogue with the public about some of the most pressing issues of today. Elizabeth MacGonagle, associate professor of history and African and African-American studies and director of the Kansas African Studies Center at KU, notes that, “Forna’s work allows for a deeper understanding of American identities through a thoughtful reflection on the long history of forced migration from Africa to America.”

Byron Santangelo, professor of English and environmental studies at KU and co-director of the NEH project, said, “Aminatta Forna evokes the violence buried in history and its reverberations in ways that few writers can match.”  

Co-sponsors for this talk include the following units at KU: College of Liberal Arts & Sciences, Center for Global & International Studies, Department of History, School of Journalism, Center for Migration Research, Department of African & African-American Studies, CLAS Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, Humanities Program, Department of English, School of Languages, Literatures, and Cultures, and the Hall Center for the Humanities.

Details about this public talk and the year-long Migration Stories project are available at: http://migrationstories.ku.edu.


Migration Stories: Africans in Midwestern Communities


The Kansas African Studies Center has received $140,000 in funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities to launch public discussions, community programming, and the creation of educational resources in local communities to discuss the challenges and opportunities surrounding recent demographic changes in the region. With close to 10,000 African immigrants living today in the heartland metropolitan centers of Kansas City, Lawrence, Topeka, Emporia, Wichita and Garden City, a new project entitled “Migration Stories” will facilitate the sharing of migration stories about Africans within Midwestern communities. Visit www.migrationstories.ku.edu to learn more. 

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