GHANAIAN WRITER, KAAKYIRE AKOSOMO NYANTAKYI, INTERVIEWED ON HIS NOVEL ANCESTRAL SACRIFICE!

PROFILE OF KAAKYIRE AKOSOMO NYANTAKYI:

I am a Ghanaian by birth and an American by naturalization. I was born on January 1, 1948 with crippled legs. In 1954 at age 6, I started school. I was withdrawn from school after first grade. At the beginning of the second grade, when my first grade teacher, Teacher Aggrey, did not see me around, he asked of me. When he was told that I had been withdrawn from school, he approached my father to find out why. My father told him that he didn’t see the need to educate a cripple. Teacher Aggrey advised my father to let me stay in school and learn how to read and write so that when his able sons and daughters working outside our home town wrote to him, I, the cripple, would read the letter for him instead of an outsider. This suggestion registered well with my father so he put me back in school.

Between 1968 and 1972, I earned my 4-Year Teacher’s Certificate ‘A’ with Distinction in Practical Teaching.

In 1980 I left Ghana for the US to further my education at the Oklahoma State University in Stillwater, Oklahoma. In 1983, I earned my Bachelor’s Degree from the Oklahoma State University.

In June of 1987, I moved from Oklahoma State to New York City. I taught reading at Laguadia Community College for a semester and began to work for the New York City Board of Education as a classroom teacher of English.

In 1991, I earned my Master’s Degree in Creative Writing from the Queen’s College of The City University of New York. My MA thesis, a novella entitled Ancestral Sacrifice, received so much critical praise that I developed it into a novel and published it in 1998.

Between 2002 and 2009, Ancestral Sacrifice became the Core English Literature text book for Senior High Schools in Ghana.

In 1992, when President Clinton was vying for US Presidency, I was part of the team which campaigned for him in Harlem. When he became the president, I became one of his Presidential Partners for all his two terms.

In 1994, when Nelson Mandela was struggling to change history by becoming the first black President of South Africa, I joined an effort initiated by Harry Bella Fonte, Willie Johnson, Danny Glover, Robert Zavine and Bob Moses to raise money in the US for Mandela’s campaign in South Africa. Captioned “Fund for Democratic Elections in South Africa (FDESA), I was one of the volunteers in the Harlem Community. I was granted interview on this issue by Dr. Lamptey on Afric-Vision TV.

I am married to Mrs. Alice Safoaa Nyantakyi. We have 5 children. Akosua Akyeanowaa Nyantakyi, Asafoakye Kwabena Nyantakyi, Kwasi Ohene Nyantakyi, Akosua Ohenewaa Nyantakyi and Nana Asor Nyantakyi.

KAAKYIRE AKOSOMO NYANTAKYI INTERVIEWED BY GEOSI READS:

(1) GR: Ancestral Sacrifice was actually the product of your thesis. Were you certain at the time of writing the thesis that it would be developed into a novel?

KAN: Not quite at the beginning when the thesis was only 80 pages.

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(2) GR: I am curious to know the form of the thesis at the time. How different was the thesis from the novel we see today? Did you alter so many changes to the thesis to be formed into the novel?

KAN: When the Thesis Approval Board approved my thesis with an ‘A’ grade, Dr Joseph McElroy, the professor who sponsored the thesis, advised me to add some more pages and send it out to publishers. This was quite difficult because he warned me to be careful not to add anything that would damage the theme, the style, the plot and the suspense of the story. Three years along the line, I was able to make it a 105-page story and decided to send it out to publishers.   Three of the four publishers I sent copies to wrote to congratulate me for a beautiful and well-written story. However, it could not be published as a novel because a novel is supposed to be not less than 130 pages. The difficulty of expanding the story further without hurting the style and beauty was initially my major concern. But I was able to accomplish that goal even though it took as long as 3 years.

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(3) GR: You solely dedicated your book to your late parents – I quote: ‘Their love for each other, despite their conflicting beliefs, inspired me.’ How did this inspiration come about?

KAN: The inspiration came about when I was developing the plot of the novel. While weaving the story around the central theme of ‘A search For Peaceful Co-existence’, I kept reminding myself that if my father and mother could live it, so should my story. Did I achieve that goal? I think I did, but rather violently because I had to use the protagonist as a sacrificial lamb. However, it received another critical praise because making a hero out of an imbecile character is one of the most difficult techniques of fiction writing. The Chief, Nana Koo Barima, declared in his closing remarks at the end of the story:

“…He shall be remembered as the little one who brought peace between the Church and Tradition.”

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(4) GR: Your parents belonged to different religious groups – thus – your father belonged to the traditional religion and your mother the Christian religion. How was it like growing up under two different kinds of religion?

KAN: It was pleasing and comfortable because none of them imposed his or her religion on us, their children. I took that opportunity to marry the two positively. I am a Christian, but I also regard custom and tradition which the Bible does not condemn but many a Christian thinks otherwise. Father Goodsman, the Catholic Priest at Asana, proved his whole congregation wrong in the last chapter when they condemned Mrs. Little for allowing Bob Little to attend the Ohum Festival. This was when the whole congregation had gathered on Bob Little’s play ground.

“Father Goodsman blessed Mrs. Little, and, reaching out to her in a firm handshake, said, “You did the right thing, Sister. You gave to Caesar what is Caesar’s. The Bible does not condemn custom, but many of you did not know that. Let’s look at Romans 13:7, “ he paused and signaled Miss McDaniel to read.

    “Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due;

                                      Custom to whom custom is due; fear to whom fear is due;

Honour to whom honour is due;”

I do pour libation during traditional functions. I write traditional poetry, proverbs and funeral dirges. I will soon publish a traditional poetry book in the Twi language.

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(5) GR: You highly acknowledged Maya Angelou for playing a bigger role in your writing career. What did Maya Angelou do that urged you on to write?

KAN: I am sure you know that Dr. Maya Angelou is a celebrated poet, memoirist, novelist, educator, dramatist, producer, actress, historian, filmmaker, and civil rights activist? So if such an important personality shook hands with you and spoke to you in your local language, encouraging you to never give up what you are pursuing, how would you feel? Well, I was highly elevated, to say the least. And acknowledging her in my book, Ancestral Sacrifice, was of prime importance to me. But that was not all, I mailed an autographed copy of the book to her and she wrote back to acknowledge receipt. When she finished reading it she wrote to tell me it’s quite a beautiful story and that, to me, was a gratifying honour.

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(6) GR: You vividly captured the village of Asana (the place where the story was set) with very colorful descriptions. With the name changed to Kukurantumi in recent times, have there been any significant changes in terms of landmarks?

KAN: Yes, it has developed into a big town with a population of about 1,500,000. There are close to 30 Second Cycle institutions like Ofori Panin Secondary School and St. Paul’s Technical School. Traditionally, it is the head of the Adonten Division of the Akyem Abuakwa Traditional Area which is second in command to the Okyenhene, the King of Akyem Abuakwa. There is a seismological station at the St. Paul’s Technical School and a VRA Sub-station at the Ofori Panin Secondary School. There is Bridge Maintenance Sub-Station for Ghana Highways and Water Booster Station for Ghana Water Company.

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 (7) GR: Your book is widely used among students in Ghana as is a set book for all Secondary School students. How do you feel as students are made to read and write examinations on your book?

KAN:  Just like when I first met Dr. Maya Angelou, I consider this also as a gratifying honour that makes me feel so humbled, proud, honoured, and fulfilled. Whenever I am invited to a school for a discussion on Ancestral Sacrifice, the sudden storm of applause and wild cheering I am accorded during my entry and exit are something to experience.  For me, it is a great honour that speaks volumes without the need for many words.

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(8) GR: I was particularly fond of the character of Bob Little. Is it appropriate to describe his characterization as naïve?

KAN: To some extent, yes. It is appropriate to describe Bob as naïve but not throughout the novel. My description of Bob and his activities from the beginning of the story until he gets lost in the sacred forest, gives the impression that he is retarded and ignorant with childlike appearance. But when I decided to make him a hero by using him as the sacrificial lamb, I was compelled by moral rule of fiction to present a different Bob Little who is capable of handling his new assignment in order for the reader to still believe in him. So I put him through some spiritual transformation in order to prepare him for his new role as a Christ-like figure, a sinless
peace-maker, who gives up his life in order that a people of an imperfect world could co-exist in peace. This transformation occurred in paragraphs three and four of chapter twelve.

            ”…He made a swift turn, and right where the orange had fallen were dozens of low growing fofo leaves. He bent down and caressed the edges tenderly. Bob felt some funny attachment to them, and they seemed to respond to his touch by giving out a faint magnetic attraction whenever he touched them. He plucked three fresh leaves and examined them with exaggerated curiosity. …He drew his tongue out, plastered the leaves on, and chewed them off.     Suddenly, a flash of lightning split the sky, and a deafening crash of thunder rolled about in the forest as if it was going to pour, but it didn’t.”

From this time forward, Bob undergoes a gradual transformation, and slowly, he changes from a confused boy into a more rational young man. When he hears footsteps, he begins to panic. The forest responds, as if it understands his feelings as the persistent lament of frogs and crickets become louder and louder. On the superficial level, one would think that Bob must escape the impending danger, but no. The peacemaker, the symbol for togetherness, must now prepare himself emotionally and spiritually for his role as sacrificial lamb. He returns to the rock by the orange tree. In contrast to the boy who was called “the rocking fool” and who believed he was born “to rock,” the rock he now seeks is one that is stable.

          “Bob hurried back to the rock and seated himself cross-legged and arms folded about his chest…”

Yes, Bob Little is now prepared to submit to a divine presence and ready to assume a Christ-like responsibility of shedding his blood to bring peace to the divided people of Asana.

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(9) GR: In general, I like the way you played out your characters as they seemed so real–a case in point is the character of Bob Little. Should readers assume Bob Little as a real character you know in real life?

KAN: No, I do not know Bob Little in real life. I imagined and created Bob from a folk tale my mother told me in 1961 when I was in Middle School Form 1. It was this tale which inspired the writing of Ancestral Sacrifice. It goes like this:

Once upon a time, there was a widow and her 4 children: a powerful and rich politician, a medical doctor, a female law professor and an imbecile who was the youngest. The family house had a big compound and so a sandy playground with a swing in the middle had been constructed at the front yard purposely for the imbecile whose main activity was to rock back and forth on the swing. Each morning after breakfast, he would spend time to cover up all footprints on the sand and begin to rock back and forth on the swing, sometimes singing off key.

           One morning, their mother found a baby dwarf with bushy hair in their backyard garden. She brought it home and gave it a hair cut. Three days later, parents of the baby dwarf came to demand their child. The widow asked them to take it away but they asked her to restore the hair before they would accept their child.

           The widow invited her three children who came with their friend and colleagues. They pleaded with the dwarfs for a mutual settlement at any cost but to no avail. A suggestion to invite the imbecile for his input was thrown out by his senior siblings. The dwarfs therefore decided to take the widow with them for her to babysit their child for as long as it would take for the hair to grow back. 

           When they reached the front yard, the imbecile asked his mother where she was going with those short people. When his mother explained to him, the imbecile told the dwarfs to hold on. He stopped rocking back and forth and sat on the swing. Then he said to the dwarfs:

            “You see all the footprints your small feet have created on my sand. I want you to cover them up before you can take my mother away.” Thinking it was an easy task the dwarfs agreed and began to cover their footprints.

            It took them about half an hour to realize that the more foot prints they covered, the more their feet created. So they took their child and told the imbecile to keep his mother.

          Thus the imbecile, who was held in the lowest esteem by even his own siblings, was the one who saved their mother.   {The moral of this story is that nobody in this world is completely worthless.}

I liked this story so much so that I promised myself to one day write a book along the same story line and that is Bob Little in Ancestral Sacrifice for you.

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(10) GR: Are there any characters or scenes in the novel you draw from your own personal life and experiences?

KAN: Awo Yaa Akoto is the only character I drew from personal life. She lived next to our house. Awo was a disciplinarian who made it her business to ensure that all the children in the Amanfrom borough were disciplined. The palace, the stool house, the sacred forest, the Church and the mission house are all scenes that existed before I was born and they still exist.

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(11) GR: The theme of the Christian – Traditional conflict is at the very core of the novel. Can you elucidate further what this whole conflict is about? Do you really think there is a conflict between these two religions at all?

KAN: The Christian-Traditional conflict dates back in the colonial times when the white man tried to impose his religion on the Africans who had their own traditional deities. The 2nd paragraph of Chapter 2 reads:

“ …They were united in a common cultural heritage until the Catholic missionaries arrived. When the missionaries established a school and a church,…the Christian converts began to condemn Ancestral worship and called on the village chief to abolish it, and that started the conflict between the traditionalists and the converts.”

Yes, there is a conflict, but not as predominant as it was in the colonial era. What is happening now is a silent take over of some traditional events by the Church. Traditional marriage ceremony has now changed to engagement. Child naming has been moved from the family house to the Church. Puberty rituals are now a thing of the past, thanks to the Church, and the result is the rampant teenage pregnancy. Yes the Christian–Traditional conflict is there and it will continue to be there as long as the Christians continue to condemn custom, culture and tradition.

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(12) GR: Was it appropriate for the village of Asana to have defended and protected their traditional beliefs as against that of the Christian Church?

KAN: It was highly appropriate. No sane group of people would sit idly by for a stranger to invade their premises and force them to reject the custom, culture and tradition they had known all their lives and embrace what the stranger had brought.

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(13) GR:  Who was this book intended for? Did you have any target audience at the time of writing?

KAN: No, I did not have any special audience in mind. It was meant for general readership. Little did I envisage that it would become a literature material for Senior High Schools in Ghana.

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(14) GR: In recent times in Ghana, many have called for the abolishment of Chieftaincy systems. But the village of Asana had well-organized systems with their chiefs and elders who ruled the village. What is your take on Chieftaincy systems in Ghana?

KAN: Those who are of the view that the Chieftaincy institution in Ghana must be abolished are seriously out of touch with reality. In question 11, I mentioned some of the traditional events that have been taken over by the Church. Chieftaincy is probably the one institution the colonial masters tried to abolish but failed. It is the only institution that binds us together in a common cultural heritage. Had it not been the Chief and his able Council of Elders, the people of Asana could never have been able to resist the attempt by the Christian converts to have Ancestral worship abolished. The Chieftaincy institution is the pivot of our cultural heritage and must be held in high esteem rather being undermined or abolished.

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(15) GR: What informed the setting of the novel? Was it as a result of the fact that it was your hometown?

KAN: Probably so because it’s easier to describe something you know much about with a higher degree of precision than something you are not familiar with.

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(16) GR: Almost all upcoming writers are delighted to know how successful writers like you get published. If I may ask, how did you get published?

KAN:  The easiest way for upcoming writers to get published is to present a unique manuscript. My first book: The Torch: English Composition got published in 1978 on first submission because it was unique. It was unique in the sense that it was the first Composition book in Ghana to give guidelines on selected topics. All Composition books on the market at the time were titled Model Composition. The writers answered all the topics with their own English. So the Students’ only choice was to commit the composition into memory.

I felt this approach was not only wrong, but also a great disservice to the students so I decided to do something about it. Within six months I was able to come up with the first Composition textbook in Ghana to offer guide lines in form of questions, suggestions and prompt-notes.

Apart from that, new writers must accept rejections as part of the process of getting published. Most well-meaning publishers will reject your manuscript with suggestions on how to improve upon it. Your best bet is to accept the rejection in good faith and try to work on it. You should also not limit yourself to just one or two publishers. Send your manuscript to as many publishers as possible until it finds favour with one of them. It also helps to read texts books on fiction writing take some courses with fiction writing schools.

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 (17) GR: You earned your MA degree in Creative Writing in 1991. I am curious to know the kinds of books you read while studying? Were you taught how to write? Can writing be taught?

KAN: Few of the several books I read were Art of Ficton by Mark Twain The Rhetoric of Fiction by Wayne Booth, The Business of Writing by Gregg Levoy, and The ABC’s of Writing Fiction by Ann Copeland.

Was I taught how to write?

I would say “Yes” and “No.” The techniques of writing can be taught, but the ability to create a story depends on the individual’s own creative skills.

One difficult technique of fiction writing is the ‘Show but don’t tell’ aspect of writing. What is the difference? One may ask.

Let’s say you were in a school assembly hall filled to capacity with students but the hall was absolutely quiet. How do you report this in fiction by showing and not telling?

You could write:

The assembly hall was filled to capacity, but everybody was quiet.

There is nothing wrong with this sentence. But the fiction experts will tell you it is not good enough because you are telling the reader instead of showing.

Instead, write this:

The assembly hall was filled to capacity, but you could hear a pin drop.

In this sentence, you are showing the reader how quiet the assembly hall is without using the key word ‘quiet.’ This is because if you could hear a pin drop in a hall filled with students, the only conclusion you could arrive at is that everybody was quiet.

So yes, the techniques of writing can definitely be taught.

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(18) GR: Any writers you admire? Any books you admire?

KAN: Chinua Achebe, Maya Angelou, Jeane Toomer, Mark Twain, Henry James, Ernest Hemingway, Langston Hughes, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and several others.

Things Fall Apart, I know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Blood-Burning Moon, The Scarlet Letter and several others.

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(19) GR: You have the last words?

KAN: Let me encourage upcoming writers to never give up. Indeed, writing is difficult, challenging and sometimes boring. But with a high degree of determination, you can work hard at it today, and enjoy the benefits that come with it tomorrow. Be mindful that your success tomorrow is a product of your commitment as a hard–working student of writing today.

I hope it is okay for me to announce that I have published an intensive schedule English textbook entitled PRACTICAL ENGLISH LEVEL 365 Vo. 1. This is an effective English improvement text book which was published in the United States by Outskirts Press in Parker, Colorado. You can check it out on Amazon.com, Barnes&noble.com and other bookshops.

It also pleases me to share with my readers that under EDUCATION & ACADEMIC category, PRACTICAL ENGLISH LEVEL 365 Vo. 1 won a Finalist Award in the “2010 National USA Best Books Awards.” Check it out from this link.

http://www.usabooknews.com/education.html

I am currently working on Volume 2 of PRACTICAL ENGLISH LEVEL 365.

In conclusion, I am so grateful to GEOSI READS for the opportunity to respond to questions I’m sure many readers of Ancestral Sacrifice might have wished to ask me if they had met me in person.

Stay blessed and keep up the good work, Geoffrey Gyasi of GEOSI READS and thanks once again for the exposure.

END.

See my review of Ancestral Sacrifice by Akosomo Nyantakyi here!

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5 Responses to GHANAIAN WRITER, KAAKYIRE AKOSOMO NYANTAKYI, INTERVIEWED ON HIS NOVEL ANCESTRAL SACRIFICE!

  1. Thanks for sharing this fascinating profile and interview. It was really inspirational to read. Lots of good behind the scenes information about Ancestral Sacrifice too. Sounds like a great read. Nice interview Geosi!

    Like

  2. winstonsdad says:

    wonderfully insightful interview ,with thoughtful questions ,all the best stu

    Like

  3. francis obeng says:

    This is a scholarly work worth recognizing: good work done.

    Like

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