Panel Discussion: Historical Fiction, the long hand of memory in Africa By Lucia Edafioka

Panelists: Laila Lalami, Jennifer Makumbi, Odafe Atogun

Moderator: Kinna Likimani

Laila Lalami is the author of The Moor's Account, a historical fiction book based on the life of a black slave who was on an expedition with some Spaniards. He was the first black person to cross over to the New World from Africa. She said she was drawn to the story when she found out about the black slave who was totally erased from the story she had been taught in school.

On the role of memory as muse in writing historical fiction, Jennifer Makumbi, author of Kintu said, “Memory was not the muse for me - someone or something triggering the flow - I work harder. I retrieved history when I needed it, used the reign of kings in Europe to trace time of events in Africa as time was marked by the reign of kings. She went on to say, history is fiction, the line between the two is very thing. Example, Xhaka the Zulu was portrayed by European writers as a man who frequently had sex but research has shown that Xhaka left no offspring and he always warned his soldiers not to have sex during wars as it weakens them.  Historians write history for a purpose. I have to always read European writers of African history crucially to blur to the lines.”

Moderator Kinna Likimani asked how the lack of recorded history in Africa by Africans affects historical fictions.  Odafe  Atogun, author of Taduno’s song said, “As a continent we should tell our history from different perspectives. That will give us a total grip of where we are coming from and where we want to be. Memory and history and intertwined.” For Jennifer however, “History clings to our skin, somehow we must remember that we remember differently. Let’s get rid of the bullshit about homosexuals not being African. There are things about our history we don’t like to understand.”

“When manipulating history, there are things you can manipulate and facts you cannot touch as a respect for a people,” Jennifer Makumbi replied a member of the audience who asked how much fact an author can manipulate when writing historical fiction. On the difficulty of writing historical fiction, Laila Lalami said the only way historical fiction writing is different from normal fiction is the amount of research that goes into it. “But I took it as a day to day challenge,” she added.

Another member of the audience asked how much truth or facts can be found in biographies/historical fiction. Lalami said, “The entire act of writing a biography is an act of fiction, looking for facts in historical fiction is asking for too much.”

Lucia Edafioka is a writer, music junkie, historian and art lover. She's the staff editor at





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