Literary Bad Girl Kola Boof [SESSIONS]
|Photo by Senza Porter|
nthWORD: The Sexy Part of the Bible is one of the boldest, most original novels I've read this past year. It's heroine, Eternity, is an African supermodel cloned from an activist who was brutally murdered opposing unnatural skin pigmentation procedures similar to those used on Michael Jackson. How did you conceive this story?
KOLA BOOF: When my birth parents were murdered, my Egyptian grandmother Najet Kolbookek put me up for adoption because my skin was chocolate, so that was the beginning of an unusually intense and lifelong dance with Colorism and Eurocentrism as the norm. Many years later, when I learned about the Michael Jackson Skin-Bleaching pill being used by African teenagers, I felt very strongly that I had to write about it. The whole phenomenon of Black people trying to erase themselves—and the world's denial of it—became a constant reminder of my adoption process with Unicef and my grandmother. Writing the book was my only way of having distance and perspective. Decades from now, people will claim they were against this form of subtle intra-racism. But today, most of us in the arts community deny it's even going on. The average filmmaker or writer would prefer that Black beauty be represented by a lighter, usually mixed race image.
nthWORD: How old were you when your parents were killed? How much of a role did issues of identity play in creating Eternity?
KOLA: I was six when my birth parents were murdered. I was adopted and brought to America at around age eight. I was in psychiatric care at John Hopkins's Open Space program. Since I couldn't speak English, my doctors turned me onto silent movies. I would say that my entire outlook as a writer began by watching the silents films made by Abel Gance and Josef Von Sternberg. The grandeur that pervades my lead female characters such as Eternity always have an organic foot both in silent Hollywood film tropes and mythical African rituals and traditions that I've tried to hold onto. I am a Womanist (Black Feminist), a man-eater/sexual athlete and I regurgitate Pop Culture. I am an eccentric person, certainly isolated, complicated and larger than life—so my characters usually have a psychological flourish about them. People compare me to Toni Morrison, Alice Walker, Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Zora. But I think the writer that I am most like is Ayn Rand.
nthWORD: Ayn Rand. That’s an interesting influence I never would have identified unless you said so. What are some of the parallels?
KOLA: I don't share Ayn Rand's philosophies such as Objectivism. But our actual lives are almost identical. She came from Russia, a teenager, a Capitalist, staunchly anti-Communist in the way that I am passionately against Arabic-Islamic Imperialism. She worked in Hollywood and married a guy because she was attracted to his legs. Ditto here. She liked the same foods I like and she was despised by the media just as I generally am. I am a Capitalist, I am stubborn about the issue of Colorism in place of Rand's Objectivism. I support Israel instead of Palestine. In these ways, I am more like Ayn Rand than any other author I can think of.
nthWORD: The themes of The Sexy Part of the Bible include race and feminism. At one point you say:
“As a black woman in a white supremacist world, I can’t honestly claim that I’ve suffered any more prejudice and mistreatment from white men than I have from my own black men. Both groups seem to live by the white man’s standard, so they both hate, degrade, exploit, and humiliate black women, fail to even acknowledge our presence.”
Eternity is a supermodel cloned from a female activist by a lecherous white doctor. How did that juxtaposition help you develop your ideas? Did you start with characterization?
KOLA: No. I never write about characters. I write about ideas. The idea I wanted to explore using metaphor was that Africa is now a clone—that it's difficult to pinpoint our authenticity anymore. An example is the Swahili language. So many Western Blacks think that Swahili is an indigenous African language, but it's not, it's an Arab slave language fostered by Bantu. Western Mulattoes routinely claim that African people have always come in an array of colors similar to Black Americans—it's not really true. We've always had very minor admixture and those with olive skin have never considered themselves Black or been accepted as such by Africans. The majority of people in Ethiopia are blue black to chocolate, but Western media portrays Ethiopia as a nation of light skinned people. It's not in reality. So I wanted to write a novel that both highlighted this whole faux Africa that Western media has created—and one that explores what would happen if an African person completely rebelled and rejected this creation.
Stevedore, the white scientist and "father" of the girl clone Eternity, is symbolic of the well meaning self-appointed God figure that replaced our own tyrant Kings. And now that African men want to be White men, Eternity finds that she is not fully valued by her own Black men. Indoctrinated by Euro-centrism, today's Black men view her with the same random interest or indifference that the average foreign white men would. In this way, Eternity feels that she is now an artifact--and that Africa itself has been cloned like she has. She is rebelling against erasure.
nthWORD: Do you read genre fiction to inspire your work? Who are some of your influences?
KOLA: I am a writer because of Toni Morrison, Alice Walker, Gloria Naylor, Mark Twain, Richard Wright, Nawal el Sadaawi, Buchi Emecheta, Mari Evans, Sylvia Plath, Gayl Jones, James Baldwin and Sherwood Anderson. Those are the people who most influenced me growing up.
nthWORD: You're a very engaged author on Twitter. How has social media contributed to your burgeoning career?
KOLA: Haha. I think it actually hurts my career. It's helped me to become a Pop Culture figure in a way. But it's also taken away the mystique...to many people I'm vulgar, aggressive and too open and honest. So I regret having the Twitter addiction honestly. I should be more mysterious.
nthWORD: Recently you expressed your frustration over the potential casting for a movie to be made from your autobiography.
KOLA: Yes! We have three different companies interested in making a film of my experiences as Osama Bin Laden's mistress in 1996. To my shock, an executive at Lionsgate films wants the Indian actress Freida Pinto to play me. I'm chocolate skinned with African hair mind you. So I find it the epitome of Western Colorism—wanting to have this woman who looks nothing like a Black person portray me. The studio executive said that I'm biracial, which technically is true, so he feels that an Egyptian-Sudanese woman could look like Freida Pinto. But it's so insulting and hurtful.
What they're saying is that Black women aren't beautiful. People still find it shocking that I was Bin Laden's pick for degrading rape—but they don't find it shocking that Prince Charles chose Camilla Parker Bowles over Princess Diana or that Monica Lewinsky isn't exactly a raving beauty. For some reason—and make no mistake, I am certainly a beautiful and unique looking woman; I've dated quite a few famous men—but there is the taciturn belief in the west that Black women cannot possibly be beautiful or desirable unless we're mix raced and very light skinned. And this is a constant message from music videos, movies and magazines in the west.
Dark skinned women are portrayed as fat maids, drug addicts, prostitutes and jolly comics. Those images are created on purpose to fit white people's fear of dark skinned wombs and their power to create more authentically black people. This intense form of racism that even Black men participate in perpetuating is why so many Black women wear fake hair and bleach their skin. Our type of African beauty doesn't conform to Whiteness, therefore it's automatically considered unattractive. And it's a lie, a very racist lie. The world is full of beautiful dark skinned black women. We just aren't allowed to be celebrated by the racist media—and most tragically, Black men only care about racism when it's aimed at the black penis--they care nothing for the fate of their dark mothers. This is a struggle that Black women face completely alone.
On the other end of your question is the fact that supermodel Naomi Campbell wants to play me. I was overjoyed to be contacted from her representatives in Russia, her fiancé’s production company. I don't think she can act, but she certainly has the personality and the look to be convincing as Kola Boof. I'm a huge fan of Naomi's.
nthWORD: What is it like working with Johnny Temple and your editor at the Akashic Books?
KOLA: Johnny Temple saved my career. I had become a tabloid figure, no one in the industry cared that I was a good writer and a critical thinker. Johnny, along with Ibrahim Ahmad, got wind of my actual writing and approached me from that angle. I've barely had time to meet them in person—but they're extremely devoted to strong, innovative, next world women's literature. And luckily, they have a vision for me artistically and have been molding me into what I want to be: a literary writer.
I feel extremely lucky to be with them, because Johnny has forced everyone in the industry to respect me as a writer—even if they don't like my public image. And I think that will change with the next few books as people come to understand why I am the way that I am. I'm very different from other literary writers in that I don't come from Academia—I come from mental institutions and orphan life, I come from a show-biz background. I was a whore—never a prostitute—but a whore, meaning I rarely loved men. Other than my husband, I used them for advancement—I beguiled them in exchange for them teaching me. I have no formal education; I write straight from my distinct personal hell. So I applaud Johnny and Ibrahim for recognizing the importance of damaged people like myself not being silenced. They've literally rescued my work and my voice from an invisible shoe box. Years from now, historically—they'll be glad they did.
nthWORD: The Sexy Part of the Bible would make a great film, for a director who had the balls to make it. Can we anticipate seeing Eternity on the big screen?
KOLA: I doubt it very much. There's no way to get around casting a Charcoal colored woman in the lead role, and the idea of that imagery turns off Hollywood. Eternity is not a victim, she's not asexual, she's triumphant, vibrant, beautiful and Charcoal-skinned. It's too radical for Western cinema.
nthWORD: Do you have another novel in the works?
KOLA: Yes. And it's very powerful, rich and original. It's called She Wiped It on the Wall and it's about—on the surface it appears to be about—a Black American woman, Real Roxanne, traveling to Sudan to fight against the execution of a mixed race Dinka girl accused of witchcraft—the beautiful Sholoongo.
Beneath the surface, the novel is about religion as power and subjugation and how the removal of indigenous African faiths and languages have helped to weaken and oppress African people mentally and emotionally. It's an epic novel with many layers and a slower pace than "Sexy Part of the Bible." But just as captivating I think. The book comes to some very unexpected conclusions.
nthWORD: Last week you headed down to Atlanta for a lecture. In brief, can you tell us some of the main points?
KOLA: I talked at Emory University about why I don't like being called a "strong black woman"—why I created my own term, "the living woman." I won't go into the details of that, but the reaction was one of unanimous agreement. I got a standing ovation and an invitation to return to Emory.
Having no formal education myself, it seemed so ironic to have an auditorium full of Black women doctors cheering me and calling me a genius. It just proves how anything is possible if a person has confidence and will. Toni Morrison has a saying: "It's the prostitutes...that set the style." So I realize now that my outlaw image is very inspiring to many women who were socialized to live in the prison of "lady-like appropriate nuance". I'm grateful to stand in my own eccentric cloak. I think publishing wins when bad girls have their turn at the podium. The love I received from such distinguished Professors at Emory proved to me that there's an interest in outlaw women and how we see the world. People have made jokes about my name, Kola Boof, a two-word poem that I wrote and took as my literary name, but they're short-sighted; it is absolutely...the best name ever.nth