Interview with Shailja Patel

Shailja Patel. Photo: Mai Palmberg.


Who are you, Shailja Patel?


- I am a world-citizen,  a poet, theatre artist, writer, and activist for global justice.

What are you writing?

- Right now I am working on the second part of Migritude, a cycle of four works. I coined the concept of Migritude to reclaim and celebrate migrant history, voices and culture. Part One is called "When Saris Speaks - the Mother". It is a 90-minutre spoken-word theatre show and has already been shown in the Social Forum in Nairobi 2006, and in other places from Vienna to Zanzibar.

What does it mean for you to be an African of Indian origin?

- My father was born and raised in Zanzibar, my mother was born and raised in Mombasa. My ethnicity is Indian, my nationality is Kenyan. This is who I am. The rest are meanings ascribed to me, the way that ethnicity is a filter though which others view, experience or judge you. It would be quite interesting to see what happened if I published under a non-Indian African name.

- I perpetually meet views of me not being authentic African, but I think it is getting better. More and more people do realise that one nationality can contain people of all skin tones, all ethnicities.

What did your almost 8-year long US experience mean?

- I served my apprenticeship there as a slam poet and a performer. I found space as a woman, as a woman of colour, and as an activist.

What do you expect from your three-month stay at the Nordic Africa institute in the spring of 2009?

- Above all, I look for an uninterrupted, concentrated work on my third part of Migritude. I look forward to drawing on the resources of your library, and dialogue with the community of researchers. Secondly, I want to bring my work to a Nordic audience through readings and performances. I have already been invited by the University of Helsinki and the Dag Hammarskjöld Foundation, and have discussed at WALTIC with the City theatre of Stockholm. And I look forward to performing at the NAI conference "What's Culture Got to do with it?" in June 2009 in Uppsala.

(Interview by Mai Palmberg, 1 July 2008)

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