WHO INFLUENCED YOU AS AN ARTIST?
The 12 Mothers of Kola Boof:
**Who (not counting family members) influenced
you as a writer/poet and shaped who you are today?
1. Alice Walker
Over time, the one who influenced me the most was Alice
Walker--because when you finish reading one of her books, the
essential message is: "Everyone must be loved." And she is
PAGAN. Much of her ideology about womanism is what I had witnessed
as a young child in Sudan with the so called "native river" women
--our goddess Buk; our "sensuality" in Nilotic culture as opposed
to the Christian/Islamic idea that sex is dirty and woman impure.
It's because of reading Alice Walker, Toni Morrison and Gloria
Naylor's "NOVELS, short stories"---that I didn't become a Drug
Addict or Prostitute. I embraced my identity and determined to
make something out of myself. Alice Walker created the term
"WOMANIST"...and because of her, I call myself that as well.
She was just outrageously FIERCE and BRAVE...and usually right.
She is also elegant, tender and beautiful while being fierce and
brave...so you see, there was so much to her.
2. Nawal el Sadaawi (Egypt)
Growing up in America, adopted by Black Americans, I was exposed
to almost no African heroines. Nawal is not Black...but like me, she
is Arab Egyptian and was born Muslim on the Nile River. This is why
reading her book "The Hidden Face of Eve" changed my life and really
forced me to be honest about my own people, my own tribes, my
own hardships with being "Vaginally Infibulated" and all the trauma
that comes "for life" with that. I was greatly shaped by her work--
but also "reminded" of who I was as an African woman. I saw that
an African woman could tell the truth (and let's not forget that Nawal
was imprisoned by the Egyptians for the books she wrote)...I wanted
to be an OUTLAW like she was.
3. TONI MORRISON
To me, Toni Morrison is the greatest living American writer there is
on earth. The reading of my Bible got neglected, because I was so
intensely connected to the stories and fables in Toni Morrison's books.
She is better than anybody when it comes to trying to tell a story
not "honestly"...but "truthfully." There's a difference. When I read
her book "The Bluest Eye" at 14 (the 2nd book I had ever read in
my life...Jacqueline Sussan's "Valley of the Dolls" being the first
book I ever read). When I read "The Bluest Eye"---it was literally
the first time that I had ever heard somebody tell the truth in America.
The book shocked, awakened and demanded...demanded that I
become a Writer just so that I could "write back" to this book.
Reading it was like reading letters from someone in Hell...so you
had to write back!
Even more than "blacker-skinned" authors like Gloria Naylor and
Maya Angelou...I felt that Toni Morrison's books evoked "Africanist"
storytelling; African aesthetics of thinking and expressing. She is
to my mind, the foremost "African-sounding" of all the Black American
novelists and poets.
4. ANGELA DAVIS
Angela Davis was a cultural icon and a great hero to the Women
in my Black American family. I didn't really know much about her
when I was a kid...but I loved her PICTURE...the huge Afro, the
Fist in the air. That was my first adoration of her. But then when
I got older and read her actual books--she made realize more than
my Other mother, Gloria Steinem--that it's important for Women,
all women, to embrace Feminism/Womanism. Her books are very
deft at making you see from a Study/Sociological/Anthropological
view why it's downright idiotic for any woman not to embrace and
take Feminism/Womanism just as seriously as we take religion.
Angela Davis's work made me ALWAYS say out loud that I am a
**Adding on to what Angela Davis has written, in my opinion, is
the work of Rebecca Walker (daughter of Alice Walker). Rebecca
is also a gifted writer and activist like her mom--but Rebecca has
been recording/hypothesizing a certain "Third Wave Feminist"
...proposition?...that I find myself in great agreement with. I
just want to mention her work, because I think Feminism needs
to EVOLVE and that Rebecca Walker is one of the few whose
not afraid to go in that direction...while still being as clinical and
inclusive as Angela Davis was. Their work reminds me of each other.
Rebecca also doesn't seem to be as "sexually traumatized" as I am
(or as sexually volatile), so in the area of "Now Child" feminist ideology
(male and female), I prefer her voice to mine--only because, it's less shakey.
5. GLORIA STEINEM
The Mother of the Feminist Movement...like, before I was born! And
the author of many books that brought me many gifts. One of which
was the gift of critical thinking and the importance of first analyzing
and representing...one's self. Her work is mesmerizing and nutritious
far beyond the pale of just "feminist thinking"---I think it should be
required that ALL HUMAN BEINGS read at least one book by Gloria
Steinem. I think that if Alice Walker had been White--she would have
been Gloria Steinem, flaws and all. And much of my love for Gloria
is linked to my love for Alice (whose work introduced me to Gloria).
She is a "mother" of Kola Boof, yes, definitely.
6.Frida Khalo (Mexico)
This woman was a painter. Her story is remarkably unusual, just like
mine. It was through "card pictures" of her famous paintings that she
became a major influence/shaper on me. There is a beauty-UGLY
truthfulness to her art, and that's how I feel inside. It's like the old
Silent Films that I love watching...that's how Frida Khalo's paintings
affect me. I feel sincerity, I feel inspired...her work makes me perk
up and want to do my own work. She was very depressing, but so
beautiful and bravely honest, that you just can't deny her genius.
She had to have been a Goddess!
It was while looking at "Card Pictures" of Frida's famous paintings
that I made the decision to start my own religion..."The Womb."
I have Frida's imagery to thank for absolving my fear of being in
the river, praying by myself.
7. DIANA ROSS
This is going to be deep.
As a child, unable to speak English in America--it was very wonderful
that during my Psychiatric Care, my doctor introduced me to Silent
Films of mid 1900's to circa 1929. In these Lily White dream capsules
of gothic beauty and thumb-hard drama...were images of WOMEN
presented in what I would call "a stolen Motif" of the Nilotic-African
tradition of Queens and Candaces....in other words...they, to my
Sudanese eyes, were stealing our POMP & CIRCUMSTANCE, Our
Glamour and using it to craft a new image...the White Woman
I fell in love with Greta Garbo, Clara Bow, Theda Bara, Pola Negri,
Lillian Gish, Betty Boop, Vilma Banky....I idolized and "internalized"
these MOTHER IMAGES that were Imitations of my mother back home;
the glamourous African ceremonies with Sickle Fire & Naked Black
At about this same time in my development (ages 11, 12, 13)...at
this same time...there was a MODERN VERSION of that type of larger
than life African Ceremonial GLAM...and that living modern image was
in the form of a world famous singing superstar named DIANA ROSS.
I became so enthralled ages 11-16 with Diana Ross. I had every single
record...I knew everything about her...but MOST OF ALL...I had the
"pictures". The images of DECADENCE and sensuality and with her
Deep Dark Brown Complexion (at least back then) and her magnetically
explosive CUNNING & Determination...ability to Interpret & Manipulate
---with all that, I truly identified with her. To me, she was more African
than Roberta Flack, Aretha Franklin, Natalie Cole...in that Diana was
determined to be "ALL RULING GODDESS", not just Mother Africa. And
that is me, too. Diana was Nilotic acting, more like an East African
woman in my mind. Larger than life, vain, powerful...but more than
anything...extremely emotional and LOVING.
I didn't like her choices in men, though now at 40, I understand. And
I feel that she was a SELL-OUT in several ways, though now at 40, I also
understand that. But at the same time, I can't deny that Miss Diana Ross
put real true Glamour (the love and spiritual spiritual appreciation of GLAM) inside me. Her voice was like Velvet--as though God and Caterpillars had
been fucking the night before and Diana's voice was the result. To this
day, her singing is among my very favorite...right up there with Bessie
Smith, Aretha, Streisand, Al Green, Fela, Burning Spear, Marley...Diana
Ross was absolutely magical and incredibly underrated and under-appreciated by Black Americans. She was one of the BEST singers there was in her day. She was. That was a BAD bitch!
I am a "literary writer and poet"...but I try to infuse some measure of
glamour, ceremony and sensuality into my work...because of Diana Ross.
She is a mother of Kola Boof.
8. Mari Evans
One of the reasons I posed topless/nude on the back of my books is a
line from a poem by Mari Evans. It goes: "I am a Black Woman..Tall
as a Cypress...look on me and be renewed." I love the idea of Black
girls and all Blacks looking at my breasts and feeling "renewal" due
to the health, sheen and dark beauty of my bare breasts--an intensely
Africanized image that was, for thousands of years, the SYMBOL of our
shared cultural Africanness. Regardless of whether they "sexualize" my
image or not...they will STILL receive the renewal that a mother's bare
breasts signify. It is "the circle of life", a food source...and in traditional
Africanist thinking...bare breasts represent TRUTH and spiritual integrity.
Mari Evans's entire book of poems from the 1960's, however, touched me
very deeply. The book is called "I AM A BLACK WOMAN". I absolutely love
it...my own first poetry collection "NILE RIVER WOMAN" is quite frankly
an updated, Nilotic "remake" of Mari's book. Sadly, I don't believe it's
possible to get Mari's genius classic today. Not sure. But Each and every time that I see images of "Black Breasts"....I immediately whisper in my mind: "Look on me and be renewed."
9. ESTHER ROLLE
I actually met Esther Rolle in person. It was like meeting an Authentic
West African Queen. She was so humble, sweet, open, motherly..her
eyes KEEN with amazing intelligence and spirit. And, most of all, she
was just...breathtakingly beautiful to my Sudanese eyes. For many
years before I met her in person, I had watched her on the classic
television series "GOOD TIMES". She was my favorite character on
the show because of the fact that her "untampered blackness" so
comforted the "lost, displaced" African in me. You just didn't see
images of BLACK Black women in media, and because she played
such a realistically noble and victorious woman, I watched everything
she did...from her "Touched by an Angel" cameo to "Mighty Quinn"
...if Esther Rolle was in it, I watched it for her.
I wrote a poem about Esther Rolle once:
**Thanks to all those sisters who made it so popular! Esther is one
of my mothers.
10. GLORIA NAYLOR
Gloria Naylor was for many years...the only writer (well along with
James Baldwin) that could somewhat rival/compete with the brilliance
of Toni Morrison's liteary works in my mind. My favorite book by
Naylor is "LINDEN HILLS"...just breathtaking and amazing to me; the
layers and the soulfulness. She dealt truth out so elegantly. And of
course, there are her better known classics "Women of Brewster Place"
and "Bailey's Cafe"....More recently, her semi-autobiographical telling
of the NSA (National Security Administration) harrassing & mentally
torturing her in the very important book "1996". She's a genius literary
voice and remains one of my mothers, a HUGE influence on the way that
I tell stories and write books.
11. GRACE JONES (Jamaica)
Like many Sudanese people---I found it so hard to believe that Grace
Jones is from Jamaica. To us, she looks like an authentic pure NUBIAN
Most Black Americans don't seem to know what the Nubian tribe
actually looks like (Nubians live only in Sudan)--but they don't look anything at all like Naomi Campbell, Beyonce, Alicia Keys or Rihanna. "Authentic" Nubians (not Half Arab, but "real" Nubians) are amongst the Blackest people on earth and are made distinctive from other Charcoal Sudanese due to their Sharp, Angular facial features. Look at Grace Jones, and you're looking at
what a "real" Nubian looks like.
And...as a child first coming to America, the image of Grace Jones was
remarkably important and comforting, because to me--she was SUDANESE;
a Nubian--and world famous; plus daring! Her artistry as a singer
also impacted me enormously. She's incredibly "underrated" by the Black
community...but she made some of the most inventive and infectious
Soul-Rock-Reggae hits of the 1970's-80's and she wasn't bad as an
actress and all around cultural icon...an AUTHENTIC Nubian-looking
sex goddess. Grace is one of my mothers.
Nowhere, in my mind, is the image of all womanhood better
represented than in this classic photo of Grace Jones:
12. MAYA ANGELOU
Well, what is there to say about Mother Maya? She is WISDOM and
integrity and timelessness. I also love that she's like me--she never
went to school; college. She started as a Stripper...an unwed single
mom. Even at one point became a "Pimp" to use her terminology.
But look at who and where she is today. She was enormously inspirational
and eye-opening to me. Her poems "Phenomenal Woman" and "And
Still I Rise" are among her classics...but it's one book, "EVEN THE
STARS LOOK LONESOME" that remains extremely dear and integral
to my spirit. I love her for so much. She's everybody's mother!