Kinna Likimani is African literature royalty. The daughter of Ghanaian author Ama Ata Aidoo, she describes herself as a “voracious reader” and her wit and sharp insight shine through everything she touches. Besides working with a parliamentary monitoring organisation to assess the performance of MPs in Ghana, Kinna is the co-founder of a womxn’s group in her rural area and leads a social medial election project during election years, while also running a publishing house – Nsona Books. Her biggest digital footprint is on her blog on literature kinnareads.com, which hosts the African Reading Challenge and multiple reviews of African book titles. She is a feminist and a Pan Africanist who believes in the freedom of black people and black womxn. I caught up with her when we both attended the Writivism Festival in Uganda. We talked about our love for books and reading, feminism, and the continent.
From what I have read, you have a background in Science. How did you make the jump from that to the things you do now?
My Bachelor’s degree is in Chemistry and I did my Masters in Public Health and Informatics. When I returned home to Ghana, I consulted with the Ministry of Health but there was a lot of corruption in the system. I also realised that there were other things I could do to contribute. With the work I do now, I am able to spend a lot more time thinking about the problems we have, and what the real issues are.
Many of us read but don’t document our reading. What inspired you to start documenting your reading journey on your blog?
I grew up in a literary household so I used to read a lot. When I finished college and was beginning my Masters, I lived in New York. I realised that the gap in my reading was that I was not reading enough translated fiction (works written in other languages and then translated to English). I’m the daughter of a writer so I had already read African, Carribean, etc literature. At that time, the internet had just started and people had rudimentary blogs. I would look up books, make a list, and then go to the second-hand store to get them. When I returned to Ghana, I realised people had started book blogs. I was fascinated, and so I decided to start blogging about African womxn writers, but also to use the blog as a way to keep track of my reading. When I had just begun , I found a whole lot of online reading blogs that were running interesting challenges. For example, read the world, where people read a story or book from each part of the world. It made it so much fun. That’s how I started the African reading challenge.
I think that those of us who review and critique books are an important part of the literature ecosystem. We need writers to know that we are reading their books and we like them.
What specifically draws you to African womxn writing?
As the daughter of an African womxn writer, it is my home – my physical home, but it is also my home of books. I am partial to such writing also because I am a feminist, and African womxn are the ones who are writing my stories. Part of why I like reading so much is it is also how I surround myself with ideas of freedom. The ideas of freedom that will most empower me are always going to come through the writings of African womxn.
I’ve heard some snobbery within writing and reading communities around the importance of nonfiction as more important than fiction. What are your thoughts about nonfiction and fiction?
First of all, on the continent, we are nowhere near writing enough in the first place. And so, I think that both of them are equally important.
It’s harder however for people to write nonfiction that is not academic non-fiction in Africa because we haven’t been exposed to the kind of creative nonfiction that is produced in the west, for example. The way in which we are introduced to books, which is usually in schools, privileges fiction. I haven’t heard of African schools that expose students to memoirs, personal essays, and that makes it much more difficult for them to write their own stories.
There is also an issue of sources. If we had a more established culture of literary nonfiction, more would be written because there would be books to reference. Take for example Ghana, – there has been a long riveting story involving warring families / clans, some of whom were even in the Military. It is not clear if any of this has been documented with meeting notes, pictures, etc. We have an issue with archiving and sources, and even when they exist, they remain inaccessible.
At the end of the day, it is all storytelling and even the writer of nonfiction has to reduce the facts into stories.
And so, we have to document, then we have to let people know that: what has happened to you is worth telling.
What do you think gives you the most joy of all the things you do?
I am an only child and so my mother brings me a lot of joy.
Being a mother myself, my two kids bring me so much joy.
This continent brings me joy, but it also brings me anguish.
Being a feminist brings me joy, in particular because I am the daughter of a feminist who has seen my mother being at the margins. There is a lot of joy that comes from being able to say things that make people interrogate how they are living.
I am extremely happy when I am reading. I wish someone would pay me to read! When I think about regret, I think about all the books I haven’t read. Poetry, especially gives me a lot of pleasure.
Have you considered writing yourself?
I have started a collection of essays, some of it based on my childhood.
I’d be excited to read that.
Are you sentimental about hard copies as opposed to soft copies and other kinds of books?
I like the physical book. The only thing I read online are long form nonfiction. I can’t do audio books unless it’s the writer, but even then, I like to hear my own voice as I read.
What has been your favourite thing about Writivism so far?
I appreciate that it is young people doing this, that they are putting up the structures they need to. I hate when people talk of young people as the future because the future is never where we arrive at. We talk of Vision 2040 and when it arrives, we postpone to Vision 2090, etc.
I also love that it is a Pan African space with writers and readers from all over the continent: Kenya, Uganda, Ghana, South Africa, Cameroon, etc. These are not state sponsored things. There is a lot of these collectives springing up on the continent, especially within the arts, and it is comforting to see.
(This interview has been condensed for clarity)