Forna, Aminatta 1964-

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Forna, Aminatta 1964-

PERSONAL:

Born 1964, in Glasgow, Scotland; daughter of Mohammed (a physician and politician) and Maureen Forna; married Simon Wescott (a furniture designer). Education: University College, University of London, L.L.B. (with honors), 1985. Hobbies and other interests: Charitable work in Sierra Leone.

ADDRESSES:

Home—London, England, and Sierra Leone. Agent—David Godwin Associates, 55 Monmouth St., London WC2H 9DG, England.

CAREER:

Writer. British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) Television, journalist, 1989-1999; director of television documentaries, including Africa Unmasked, 2002. Founder of an educational trust and owner of a cashew plantation in Sierra Leone.

AWARDS, HONORS:

Harkness Fellowship, University of California at Berkeley, 1996; Twenty-first Century Trust Scholarship, 1998; Book of the Week, British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) Radio, and Discover Great New Writers selection, Barnes & Noble, both for The Devil That Danced on the Water: A Daughter's Quest.

WRITINGS:

(Also director and presenter) Through African Eyes, African Art, (television documentary), British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC)/Public Broadcasting Service (PBS), 1995.

Mother of All Myths: How Society Moulds and Constrains Mothers, HarperCollins (London, England), 1998.

The Devil That Danced on the Water: A Daughter's Memoir of Her Father, Her Family, Her Country, and a Continent, HarperCollins (London, England), 2002, published as The Devil That Danced on the Water: A Daughter's Quest, Atlantic Monthly Press (New York, NY), 2002.

Ancestor Stones (novel), Atlantic Monthly Press (New York, NY), 2006.

Contributor of essays to books, including Conversations with Maya Angelou, Virago, 1988; Pornography: Women, Violence and Civil Liberties, Oxford University Press, 1992; Moving On, Little, Brown, 1999; and Black British Cultures, Routledge, 1999. Contributor to periodicals, including the London Independent, Sunday Times, Observer, and Evening Standard. Board member of Index on Censorship.

ADAPTATIONS:

The Devil That Danced on the Water, was adapted for radio and aired on British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) Radio 4, 2002.

SIDELIGHTS:

The daughter of a Scottish mother and a father from Sierra Leone, Aminatta Forna has used her writings to explore her African heritage in both nonfiction and fiction forms. After her first book, Mother of All Myths: How Society Moulds and Constrains Mothers, compared and analyzed changing cultural approaches to motherhood in both Africa and England, Forna published a memoir of her childhood in Sierra Leone, The Devil That Danced on the Water: A Daughter's Memoir of Her Father, Her Family, Her Country, and a Continent. Even though she was born in Scotland, Forna spent her early childhood in Sierra Leone after her parents divorced. There, her ideological father abandoned medicine to pursue politics. He was made finance minister in dictator Siaka Steven's government, and his efforts to encourage democracy led him to be imprisoned and then executed on trumped up charges of treason. Forna was just eleven years old when her father was killed, and in her memoir she returns to Sierra Leone to discover just what happened. The sad news was that many of her neighbors were bribed or otherwise coerced to falsely testify against her father. "I embarked on The Devil That Danced on the Water with my heart in my mouth …," the author told the London Independent. "I knew who had done what, who was responsible. I ended the book, feeling absolutely furious." A Kirkus Reviews contributor called Forna's memoir "a searing indictment of African tyranny mingled with bittersweet childhood memories." Forna's memoir was nominated in 2003 for the Samuel Johnson Prize.

For her next work, Forna decided on fiction. Ancestor Stones is a loosely connected novel that reads more like a series of related stories. The heroine, Abie, who is in many ways similar to the author, returns to Africa when she inherits a coffee plantation. Here, she speaks with her four aunts, who each relate tales of courage and tragedy in their homeland from the 1920s to the present. An African Business reviewer described the book as "a stunning novel about understanding the past." A Publishers Weekly writer similarly felt that "Forna's work sheds light on the history of a long-struggling nation."

Forna splits her time between her home in London and the village of Rogbonko in Sierra Leone, where she has helped to found a school and where she owns and runs a cashew plantation.

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

BOOKS

Forna, Aminatta, The Devil That Danced on the Water: A Daughter's Memoir of Her Father, HerFamily, Her Country, and a Continent, HarperCollins (London, England), 2002.

PERIODICALS

African Business, July, 2006, review of Ancestor Stones, p. 64.

Booklist, September 1, 2006, Vanessa Bush, review of Ancestor Stones, p. 54.

Economist, December 21, 2002, "Speaking of Africa."

Independent (London, England), June 30, 2006, "Aminatta Forna: ‘We Don't Commit Suicide—We Kill.’"

Kirkus Reviews, October 1, 2002, review of The Devil That Danced on the Water, p. 1442; July 15, 2006, review of Ancestor Stones, p. 690.

Library Journal, October 1, 2006, Rebecca Stuhr, review of Ancestor Stones, p. 57.

Newsday, October 1, 2006, Maud Newton, "Aunts Tell Dark Family Secrets," review of Ancestor Stones.

New Statesman, July 31, 1998, Rebecca Abrams, review of Mother of All Myths: How Society Moulds and Constrains Mothers, p. 44.

New Zealand Listener, September 2, 2006, Marion McLeod, "In Africa, They Think Aminatta Forna Is European. In London, They Think She's African."

Publishers Weekly, July 17, 2006, review of Ancestor Stones, p. 135.

Washington Post, February 16, 2003, Lorraine Adams, review of The Devil That Danced on the Water; September 29, 2006, Carolyn See, review of Ancestor Stones.

ONLINE

Bloomsbury Web site,http://www.bloomsbury.com/ (March 1, 2007), brief biography of Aminatta Forna.