Wherever she sees suffering, Dr. Sarah Mkhonza writes about it."You can either create a record of the suffering and how it affects the people or you can just watch and join in the status quo by not saying anything," said Mkhonza, visiting scholar in the Department of English and the Africana Studies and Research Center at Cornell University.Friday evening, she presents a lecture and poetry/prose reading, "Reconstruction of Africa's Dignity: Literary Voices from the Past and Present" at the Koffee Kat in Plattsburgh.The event is part of the "African Peoples: The Past Fifty Years and Beyond" 31st Annual New York African Studies Association Conference at Plattsburgh State Friday and Saturday.Mkhonza has published numerous academic articles and published two novels, "What The Future Holds" and "Pains of a Maid." She is the recipient of a 2002 Hammett-Hellman Award from Human Rights Watch and a Novib/PEN Emergency Fund grant.In 2003, Mkhonza was forced to leave her native Swaziland. Her courage in speaking out and writing about the devastated and silenced Swazi society was the catalyst for a government campaign that threatened her welfare and that of her family.An outspoken advocate for women's rights under the monarchial Swazi regime, she wrote columns for "The Observer" and "The Swazi Sun" about the daily plight of women and children forced from their homeland. Using "journalistic fiction," she created a writing culture among Swazi women. As her popularity increased, she was told to stop writing. Her refusal to do so led to assaults and hospitalizations.While a professor of linguistics and English at the University of Swaziland, her office was twice robbed and vandalized. Her computer and diskettes, destroyed, were tossed in the mud.She arrived in the United States on a Scholar's Rescue Fund Fellowship in 2003.She taught at the Center for Women's Intercultural Leadership at St. Mary's College in Indiana. Two years later, she received political asylum. In July 2006, she was selected for a residency by the Ithaca City of Asylum board. Her appointment at Cornell is in conjunction with this two-year appointment.In Swaziland, she read all South African writers. Here, she reads everything, mostly Ithaca writers that are friends.For her, writing is an important way to engage societal issues."It enables you to think realistically about what is going on around you and also to enrich your growth as a woman, especially girls and their outlook on life. The way they experience life is different from the way men experience life. It's your own way of giving testimony to what has happened."She uses writing as a tool to expand students' minds."It's about creating knowledge and passing it on. It's a skill. It keeps the mind engaged. I tell them to write. Keep writing. It's fun."She finds Ithaca an environment without enough things African but with plenty of African educators and students."The United States is not Africa," Mkhonza said. "Everyone should write more. Everybody's story is important, even just writing letters. Think how you feel if you maybe find a letter from a relative in the last century. Just keep writing. Believe that they can write. Most people don't think they can write. Just go inside yourself and find something."
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|Swaziland writer/activist/professor at Koffee Kat: 'It's about creating knowledge and passing it on. It's a skill'|
|Written by ROBIN CAUDELL, Staff Writer|
|Thursday, April 12, 2007|
IF YOU GO
WHAT: "Africa's Dignity: Literary Voices from the Past and Present" by Dr. Sarah Mkhonza, Cornell UniversityWHEN: Friday 8 p.m.WHERE: Koffee Kat, 130 Margaret St. PlattsburghADMISSION: FreeSPONSOR: In association with "African Peoples: The Past Fifty Years and Beyond," 31st Annual New York African Studies Association Conference. Friday and Saturday. Admission is $100 general public (both days), $50 Friday only, $70 Saturday only; $45 seniors and students; $15 Plattsburgh State students (Saturday only). PHONE: 564-3054conferenceWHAT: "African Peoples: The Past Fifty Years and Beyond," 31st Annual New York African Studies Association ConferenceWHEN: Friday and SaturdayWHERE: Plattsburgh StateCOST: $100 general public, $50 Friday only, $70 Saturday only; $45 seniors and students; $15 Plattsburgh State students (Saturday only). PHONE: 564-3054EVENT TOPICS: Pan-Africanism and the African Diaspora, Gender, Socio-Economic, Political & Cultural Challenges, Health & Demographic Transitions, Issues in Business and Economic Development, History and the New York Connection, Human Rights and Governance, Pan Africanism in the Biotech Century, Health, Migration & The Self, Literature & Political Engagement, Language, Literature & The Arts: New African Writers and African Prospectives and Prospects: Business, Press and Literature.