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Vitabu Reads | In Search of Sons

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The Sierra Leonean Writers Series first published J. Sorie Conteh’s In Search of Sons in 2007.

The 200-page novel beautifully crafts the past in fictional Talia as the story weaves around life in a rural town during the railway era. Sierra Leone’s rail operated from the 1890s to the mid-1970s.

Conteh’s gripping tale is probably set at the latter end, when air buses had become a more preferred mode of international travel than the work-horse ocean liners of the 1950s and 60s.

The story begins with a fleeting introduction to Kunaafoh, the now adult daughter of Giita, the novel’s tragic heroine.

Although Kunaafoh appears to be the narrator of the ordeal of her dead mother, she is inexplicably placed in the background while the reader is carried along in her river of memories.

Along the way, Conteh provides fascinating insight into traditional Mende life as he courses through compounds, villages, forests, and rivers to spotlight a marriage buffeted by a complex mix of beliefs drawn from …

Freetown Power Duo hold first-ever Open Mic to mark World Poetry Day #worldpoetryday

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Freetown’s first-ever poetry open mic drew poets, novelists, dramatists, singers, and faithful fans on Tuesday, March 21, World Poetry Day. 

Joan Kennessie, a small business owner and women’s rights activist, and Mustapha Kermul Fofanah, a college student majoring in Peace studies, hosted the event with a little help from their friends in the Sierra Leonean Writers Series community, and, O'Casey's, an old Irish bar on Lumley Beach Rd. 

Below are excerpts from their post-event discussion on WhatsApp, with a comment from Mohamed Sheriff of PEN Sierra Leone. 

Joan Kenessie: We planned all this in two weeks and got over 100 people. From the response they appreciated (the poetry) mixed with music and drama. Imagine if we had time to practice and organize what that would have been like!

Lucie, the manager at O’Casey’s, invited her friends and family to the show and this morning she called to tell me she had calls from friends telling her they enjoyed the session and we should do one ju…

Air Force Cadet, Winston Forde Books

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Since January, Vitabu Reads has reviewed a number of study abroad books. They include two best sellers in the Sierra Leonean Writers Series: Abdul B. Kamara’s Unknown Destination and Osman Alimamy Sankoh’s Hybrid Eyes: An African in Europe.

Both books had reflections of the authors on culture, identity, and experiences of their time abroad before returning to Africa.
In Winston Forde’s Air Force Cadet, the author takes a different route.

On his blog, Forde says he first started writing while based at Royal Air Force (RAF) Khormaksar from 1965 to 1967.  RAF Khormaksar is a former Royal Air Force station in Aden, Yemen. 
Whilst many of Forde's peers were going for traditional careers like Law, Medicine, and Engineering, he went for what he called a “most unusual choice of life after school.”

When we meet Air Force Cadet’s main character, Ola, he is about to end his schooldays at the Prince of Wales.

Prince of Wales is a secondary school in Freetown, Sierra Leone. The school was est…

Vitabu Reads | Sierra Leonean Poets for World Poetry Day 2017, Tuesday, March 21

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It’s been 16 years since “The Child of War And Other Poems” was published among a host of poetry reflecting on Sierra Leone’s war. Fighting began on March 23, 1991 and ended in 2002.

It’s also been 16 years since I last read Sheikh Umarr Kamarah’s 36-page kids book. My first reading of “The Child of War And Other Poems” was tinged by a sense of disappointment.

Apart from the cover, with an image of a young man holding a green flag in front of an M1 Abrams battle tank, in what appears to be a cornfield surrounded by a forest of tall trees, there are no other drawings. The kids’ book is devoted more to text than illustrations.

When I finally revisited Kamarah’s poetry for the 2017 Vitabu Reads series, I find the slender book covers a wide canvas with big stories behind the backdrops of text.

Right up front, Kamarah conjures up the stirring image of an iconic landmark in his poem, Freetown Cotton Tree.

“Towering x feet of
Agelessness
Bending under the weight of history

The floral arch…

Vitabu Reads | Telling It As It Was: The Career of a Sierra Leonean Woman in Public Service

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For someone who has arguably done more to showcase workplace discrimination than anyone in recent Sierra Leonean history, Umu Kultumie Tejan-Jalloh is quite an unknown advocate.  
Currently a distributor for the Sierra Leone Bottling Company, a partner of The Coca-Cola Company, she runs a small business that uses pushcarts to sell soft drinks and soda pop. She does her own bookkeeping and employs six full-time staff.

It all sounds like a far cry from corporate strategizing in boardrooms early in her career, but she’s apparently living her dream of lifting others higher, working for social justice, and the economic empowerment of women.
Tejan-Jalloh’s book, Telling It As It Was: The Career of a Sierra Leonean Woman in Public Service, which was published late last year by Sierra Leonean Writers Series (SLWS), brings to graphic life her experience of sexual harassment, gender discrimination, and wrongful termination during her civil service career.
By the summer of 1976, Tejan-Jalloh wa…

Celebrate International Women's Day with 4 Books by Sierra Leone's First Lady of Novels

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Since Vitabu last spoke to Yema Lucilda Hunter, Sierra Leone's first female novelist, in March 2013, she has published Redemption Song, A Novel, which Vitabu reviewed last week.

In a  Facebook chat, Hunter said once she had decided how she wanted to tell the story, she started writing with rewrites spread over about two years. Hunter doesn't plan a sequel to Redemption Song.

"I did do a kind of prequel, which was Joy Came in the Morning, whose heroine, Cobola Ennison was the Martins' neighbor in George Town," she explained.

The Martins and Cobola Ennison are central characters in Hunter's Redemption Song.

Currently, she's working on a long, short story, which she plans to keep secret; because she's not sure if she'll ever finish it.

For now, she is editing old folk tales that were collected by Gladys Casely-Hayford, a legendary poet, musician, dramatist, painter, and story-teller.

Here is a short excerpt from one of the stories, which Hunter says wi…

Vitabu Reads | Women in Wartime Sierra Leone: Redemption Song, A Novel, Youthful Yearnings, and Dilemma of Freedom

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On Ash Wednesday, 1993, Millicent Martin wondered why her 14-year-old son, Emmanuel, known as Manny, had wiped away the cross from his forehead, now covered with a rash of pimples.

Millicent was saddened not so much by Manny's act of rebellion but by the news of fighting at the border a few hundred miles away.

Little Florrie had been dead six years when we meet the Martin family in fictional George Town, which lay six miles to the east of the capital, Sewa City. Meanwhile, rolling blackouts had continued across the city, while Millicent taught school and prepared peppered fish in the evenings for sale at Millie's Corner, a small café owned by Millicent and her husband Ola Martin.

A few weeks earlier, Millicent had sent their neighbor, Gramma Cobola, who lived at No. 4 Macauley Street, George Town's main road, a plate of black-eyed beans cooked in red palm oil and served with fried plantains, to mark the anniversary of Florrie's death.

Gramma Cobola's fleshy arms …