Just as my annual case of winter thaw wanderlust kicked in I got an opportunity to experience a faraway place. This past week has been all about the African country of the Gambia. The experience has been just as amazing as leaving zero degrees behind and crossing the Atlantic Ocean to a seventy degree day in the capital city of Banjul.
My friend and colleague in prose IBé Kaba had the bright idea to curate haikus (short but powerful) from local writers about a place they may have never dreamed about. He chose an African nation but not his own (he was born in Kankan, Guinea; grew up between Koindu (Sierra Leone) and the American Midwest). He was inspired by New York artist Heather Layton’s “59 Days of Independence” project, a call to artists to celebrate a country other than their own on the date of that other country’s independence day.
IBé has long been intrigued by the Gambia’s history and culture but he also saw an opportunity to make a point about many countries in Africa by focusing on just this one: “No, there is no war there, there is no imminent famine, no AIDS crisis; just another African country with Africans doing what Africans do: live, love and play. So why bring attention to it? The real question is, why not? How cool would it be to have lots of us talking about an African country for no other reason, but just because we are curious, intrigued, inspired, moved! And if that plants a seed, how different would that tree be from many planted about Africa in the minds of strangers all over the world today?”
IBé raised enough money from a Kickstarter campaign to pay for billboards in Minneapolis and Saint Paul and to build a website that are novel publishing platforms for the haikus. The website www.HaikusforGambia.com, to go live on February 18, will feature a page for each of the 49 haikus along with poet bios, statements and much information about Gambia, her history and her people.
Drivers stuck in traffic on Twin Cities interstates now have a cause to celebrate: the Gambia’s independence day. The digital billboards along I-94 and I-35 next Tuesday, February 18, will feature the haikus of a diverse array of forty-nine of the Twin Cities most talented poets, from laureates to spoken word artists. Look for haikus in social media on that day too or visit the website.
The billboards in Minneapolis and Saint Paul are located:
I-94, facing East (west of Chicago Ave)
I-35W facing South (south of 18th St)
I-694 & 35-E facing east (east of Edgerton in Vadnais Heights)
I-94 facing North (north of Plymouth Ave)
The list of 49 local writers who have contributed original haikus for the Gambia includes: Alex Leonard, Alison Morse, Amged Yusuf, Becca Barniskis, Bill Cottman, Bryan Thao Worra, Carol Connolly, Carolyn Holbrook, Chaun Webster, Cullen Bailey Burns, Daniel Campbell, Desdamona, Diego Vázquez Jr., e.g. Bailey, Fatima Camara, Fatou Jaw Manneh, Guante, Hieu Minh Nguyen, IBé, Jake Virden, John Minczeski, Joyce Sutphen, Lisa Steinmann, Kari Fisher, Kathryn Kysar, Kyra Calvert, Elle Young, Marcie Rendon, Margaret Hasse, Michael Lee-Wolf, Nimo Farah, Nor Hall, Patricia Kirkpatrick, Richard Broderick, Ramatoulie Jallow, Rodrigo Sanchez-Chavarria, Saymoukda Duangphouxay Vongsay, Shá Cage, Shannon Gibney, Sierra DeMulder, Sun Yung Shin, Tim Nolan, Tish Jones and others. I am honored to be a contributor.
IBé writes,”It is with this hope and poetic re-imagination of the future of Africa that I invite the public on February 18, 2014 to welcome Gambia (indeed the whole of Africa) into their hearts and mind; invite their friends and networks to share in the celebration by using the Twitter hashtag #Haikus4Gambia on social media and carry the conversation beyond. “If Joseph Kony, arguably one of the worst things to ever happen to Africa, can trend on Twitter and thereby introduce millions to Africa, hopefully a celebration of an African country can do nothing less.”
IBé is an accomplished poet and spoken word artist. You can read more about his work at http://www.atlanticrock.com/. For more information on Haikus for Gambia check out an interview IBé and I did with Marya Morstad for her show Art Matters on KFAI radio. We talk about how we met and I describe what it was like to write about a place I can only imagine. It was broadcast on February 12. Click here for more info: KFAI Live, Archived, & MP3 Streaming – Updates