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Contributor

Geoff Wisner

Contributor

Geoff Wisner

Geoff Wisner is the author of A Basket of Leaves: 99 Books That Capture the Spirit of Africa and editor of African Lives: An Anthology of Memoirs and Autobiographies. His third book will be Thoreau’s Wildflowers (Yale University Press, 2016). His website is geoffwisner.com and he tweets at @geoffwisner, @africanlives, @thoreausflowers, @strongscivilwar, and @strongsnewyork.

Articles by Geoff Wisner

PEN World Voices Festival As It Happened: “In and Out of Africa”
By Geoff Wisner
Photo: Molly Leon/PEN American CenterRegular attendees at PEN World Voices know that the advertised theme of a panel may have little relation with what you end up hearing from the participants. The…
J.M.G. Le Clézio Shows Us How It’s Done
By Geoff Wisner
Read The African, the newly translated memoir by Nobel laureate J.M.G. Le Clézio, to learn more about the author’s childhood, personality, and relationship with his father. Read it for the…
This novel is smoking
By Geoff Wisner
The Museum of Innocence, translated from the Turkish by Maureen Freely, was the first novel published by Orhan Pamuk after winning the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2006. A memory novel of more than 500…
PEN World Voices Festival Dispatch: Haiti in Two Acts
By Geoff Wisner
When an earthquake struck Haiti in January 2010, among the 300,000 killed were Georges Anglade, the president of PEN Haiti, and his wife Mireille Neptune. Today novelist Jean-Euphèle Milcé…
Sebald and the Old Masters
By Geoff Wisner
Until last year, I had never read a word of W.G. Sebald. So far I have read only Vertigo, his first work, and The Rings of Saturn, but I have greatly enjoyed not only the beauty, grace, and dry humor…
Messages from Mexico
By Geoff Wisner
Published in January by Small Beer Press, Three Messages and a Warning brings together thirty-four of what the editors call “contemporary Mexican short stories of the fantastic.” Each of them…
The Restoration of “Solar Throat Slashed”
By Geoff Wisner
Notebook of a Return to the Native Land, the best-known work of the Martinican poet Aimé Césaire, appeared in book form in 1947. A year later Césaire published Soleil cou coupé,…
The Neighborhood Gangster
By Geoff Wisner
Christian Dumoux was born around 1950 and grew up as a mixed-race child in Madagascar. He went on to live in Benin, Ivory Coast, Cameroon, and Chad before moving to Paris. Dumoux’s memoir Une enfance…
“Friendship is a religion”
By Geoff Wisner
Tahar Ben Jelloun was born in the city of Fès in 1944. He attended an Arabic-French elementary school, studied French in Tangier until the age of eighteen, then studied philosophy and wrote his…
First day at military school
By Geoff Wisner
Yasmina Khadra is the pen name of Mohammed Moulessehoul, who was born in 1955 in the Algerian desert town of Kenadsa. His novels The Swallows of Kabul (2006) and The Attack (2008) were each shortlisted…
The Marco Polo of Morocco
By Geoff Wisner
Born in Morocco in 1304, Ibn Battuta was the greatest world traveler of his time. He began his journeys in 1325, a year after Marco Polo died in Venice, but traveled five times as far before he was done.…
“To read a text with the eyes of the world”
By Geoff Wisner
The book I most look forward to from Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o is the next volume of his excellent memoirs. But in the meantime we have Globalectics: Theory and the Politics of Knowing, based on…
Poetry from the Horn of Africa
By Geoff Wisner
Launched in November 2011, Warscapes magazine has taken on an unusual niche: the art and literature of war zones around the world. On March 6, Warscapes hosted An Evening of Poetry from the Horn of Africa…
A Memoir Disguised as a Novel
By Geoff Wisner
Harper Perennial, which reissued A Life Full of Holes in 2008, describes it on the cover as “the first novel ever written in the Arabic dialect Moghrebi.” Yet there is more than a little doubt…
Günter does India
By Geoff Wisner
The prolific Günter Grass has produced poems, plays, novels, novellas, memoirs, essays, and speeches, but Show Your Tongue is (at least so far) his only work that could be described as a travel book.…
The Narrator Never Dies: An Interview with Dany Laferrière
By Geoff Wisner
On October 28, the Haitian-born author Dany Laferrière appeared on a panel presented by NYU’s Institute for Public Knowledge and UnionDocs, with the support of the Villa Gillet and France’s…
How to write about Africa, revisited
By Geoff Wisner
I am currently editing an anthology of memoirs from the continent of Africa, so I was excited to see that the long-awaited memoir by the Kenyan writer Binyavanga Wainaina is scheduled to appear this summer.…
“Mr. Pamuk, did all this really happen to you?”
By Geoff Wisner
The Naive and the Sentimental Novelist, translated from the Turkish by Nazim Dikba, is based on a series of lectures delivered at Harvard by Orhan Pamuk as part of the prestigious Charles Eliot Norton…
A tale from the Ebony Coast
By Geoff Wisner
Fama is a handsome prince of the Malinké people, but he spends his days in the capital city, far from his people, wandering from one funeral to the next as an uninvited, sometimes unwanted orator.…
Fragments of Sappho
By Geoff Wisner
The Greek poet Sappho, who lived on the island of Lesbos from around 630 BC, was a singer and songwriter who wrote nine volumes of verse lyrics. Of all this work, only one poem has survived intact. Yet…
The Romance of Diva
By Geoff Wisner
The first time I saw Diva, I was about the same age as Jules, the French mailman, opera enthusiast, and thief who is its hero. Most likely I saw it at the intimate and old-fashioned Brattle Theater in…
Adrift on the Nile by Naguib Mahfouz
By Geoff Wisner
The fiction of Naguib Mahfouz is marked by a clear, harsh view of modern Egyptian life, and his characters are frequently unsympathetic. Adrift on the Nile, one of the brief novels Mahfouz wrote in the…
A Congolese creation myth
By Geoff Wisner
In The Fire of Origins, translated from the French by Lillian Corti and published in 2001, the Congolese writer Emmanuel Dongala has produced not so much a novel as a national creation myth. His hero,…
A gift suggestion for the Günter Grass fan on your list
By Geoff Wisner
If there’s a Günter Grass reader on your Christmas list, you’ve probably already thought about giving him or her a copy of The Box: Tales from the Darkroom, the quasi-novel quasi-memoir…
Transition 103 goes to Cape Verde
By Geoff Wisner
Most of the latest issue of the magazine Transitionis devoted to the art and literature of Cape Verde, the drought-stricken archipelago, once a colony of Portugal, that lies some 350 miles off the west…
War and politics in Angola
By Geoff Wisner
In some ways the novel Mayombe resembles an old World War II movie. A rugged military officer and his closest friend are fighting for a better life, but their passion for the same woman tests their friendship…
Max Frisch as a nature writer
By Geoff Wisner
In 1986, when the Swiss novelist and playwright Max Frisch won the Neustadt Prize, the New York Times described him as a “perennial Nobel Prize candidate.” Frisch died five years later, still…
Chekhov’s mongoose
By Geoff Wisner
You don’t always realize the art that goes into a good memoir until you read one that isn’t so good. I came to Anton Chekhov: A Brother’s Memoir with high hopes, but had to admit after…
The Scorpion by Albert Memmi
By Geoff Wisner
A scorpion, it is said, when surrounded by a ring of embers and unable to escape, will sting itself to death out of rage and frustration. Or will it? Perhaps this is an old wives’ tale. Perhaps…
Around the Day in Eighty Worlds
By Geoff Wisner
Around the Day in Eighty Worlds, by the Argentine writer Julio Cortázar, appeared in its first version in Spanish in 1967. This “collage book” was followed two years later by another,…
The Savage Night by Mohammed Dib
By Geoff Wisner
Mohammed Dib was born in Algeria in 1920 and was deported for his nationalist views in 1959, during the country's long and bloody war for independence. Though he was a prolific and honored writer…
The Last Will and Testament of Senhor da Silva Araújo
By Geoff Wisner
It’s a discouraging sign of the state of translated literature in this country that The Last Will and Testament of Senhor da Silva Araújoby Germano Almeida arrived here only after appearing…
A Border Passage by Leila Ahmed
By Geoff Wisner
I nearly gave up on Leila Ahmed’s memoir A Border Passage. After a lovely, quiet opening that describes the wind in the trees at the house on the edge of Cairo where the author grew up, the narrative…
Treasure Island, Genesis, and The Blue Lagoon: on Le Clézio’s The Prospector
By Geoff Wisner
Alfred Kazin once said of Hemingway that he “brought a major art to a minor vision of life.” To judge from the novel The Prospector, the same could be said of its author, the 2008 Nobel laureate…
Forest of a Thousand Daemons
By Geoff Wisner
Forest of a Thousand Daemons was written in 1938 in response to a literary contest sponsored by the Nigerian ministry of education. It is considered the first novel to be written in Yoruba and one of…
The Apex Book of World SF
By Geoff Wisner
The December issue of Words Without Borders was devoted to International Science Fiction. One sign of the vitality of the genre is The Apex Book of World SF, a new anthology edited by Lavie Tidhar, the…
Ben Okri and Anderson Tepper at the PEN World Voices Festival
By Geoff Wisner
Don’t say I didn’t warn you. If you missed Ben Okri’s appearance on Sunday, you may have a long wait before another one comes along. Okri doesn’t like to fly — “I…
Toni Morrison and Marlene van Niekerk at the PEN World Voices Festival
By Geoff Wisner
Marlene van Niekerk is one of the most prominent Afrikaans-language writers, the author of (among other books) two big and ambitious novels: Triomf and Agaat. Toni Morrison’s enthusiasm for Agaat…
Patti Smith and Jonathan Lethem at the PEN World Voices Festival
By Geoff Wisner
I was lucky enough to be in the middle of reading Patti Smith's memoir Just Kids when I went to hear her in conversation with Jonathan Lethem. The book centers around her relationship with Robert…
Shohreh Aghdashloo reads from The Ecco Anthology of Int’l Poetry
By Geoff Wisner
On April 19, supporters of Words Without Borders had the rare opportunity to hear the Iranian actor Shohreh Aghdashloo read a selection of poems from the new Ecco Anthology of International Poetry. The…
Ben Okri at PEN World Voices
By Geoff Wisner
African authors are few and far between at this year's PEN World Voices Festival — but the festival does offer a rare opportunity to hear Ben Okri, the Nigerian-born author of The Famished…
The Rising of the Ashes
By Geoff Wisner
Better known as the author of novels such as The Sand Child and Leaving Tangier, and of nonfiction such as Islam Explained, the Moroccan-born author Tahar Ben Jelloun is also a poet. The Rising of the…
A poem from a very small place
By Geoff Wisner
São Tomé and Príncipe is the smallest country in Africa. It consists of two islands off the coast of Gabon, with an area of 371 square miles and a total population of about 150,000.…
For Bread Alone
By Geoff Wisner
I first read Mohamed Choukri’s memoir For Bread Alone when I was working on A Basket of Leaves. I considered using it as one of the books I discussed for Morocco, but before I had read very far…
God’s Bits of Wood
By Geoff Wisner
Though better known in his later years as a film director, Sembène Ousmane (1923-2007) staked an early claim as one of Africa’s finest novelists. God’s Bits of Wood, first published…
A poem from Madagascar
By Geoff Wisner
Around Valentine's Day, the go-to book for romantic African literature in translation has to be Bending the Bow: An Anthology of African Love Poetry. One of its many gems is this poem by Flavien Ranaivo…
Algerian White
By Geoff Wisner
Assia Djebar is a fiction writer, filmmaker, professor — currently at NYU — and a regular contender for the Nobel Prize in literature. She is known in the US for her novel So Vast the Prison…
Reading “Life A User’s Manual”
By Geoff Wisner
In The Pattern in the Carpet, her recent memoir cum history of the jigsaw puzzle, Margaret Drabble pays tribute to Life A User's Manual by Georges Perec, an enormous experimental novel also concerned…
Smara: The Forbidden City
By Geoff Wisner
Listening to NPR over breakfast last month, I was surprised to hear a story from Western Sahara, a country that doesn’t make the news very often. Formerly a colony of Spain and occupied since 1976…
Translate This Book!
By Geoff Wisner
Perhaps it’s unnecessary to draw attention to Translate This Book! at The Quarterly Conversation — after all, The New Yorker has already done so — but I wanted to point out two African…
Dispatches: Fault Lines by Meena Alexander
By Geoff Wisner
I covered a few events at this year's PEN World Voices festival, and when I arrived at a storytelling event sponsored by The Moth I was lucky enough to be seated next to the poet and author Meena…
Dispatches: Mission to Kala by Mongo Beti
By Geoff Wisner
I wrote about Mission to Kala by Mongo Beti for my book A Basket of Leaves. I've been surprised to see that that review has become one of the most visited pages on my site. The novel, translated from…
Dispatches: Shadows of Your Black Memory
By Geoff Wisner
Shadows of Your Black Memory is a rarity — a novel from the tiny West African nation of Equatorial Guinea. Of Africa’s three Guineas — Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, and Equatorial Guinea —…
Dispatches: Breyten Breytenbach
By Geoff Wisner
The South African poet Breyten Breytenbach has been a regular participant in PEN World Voices events, but although I had seen him on panels I had never had the chance to hear him read and discuss his…
Dispatches: Under the Volcano
By Geoff Wisner
November 2, the Day of the Dead in Mexico, marked the 70th anniversary of the day on which Malcolm Lowry’s masterpiece Under the Volcano begins. In honor of that anniversary I began rereading it,…
South Africa: A Traveler’s Literary Companion
By Geoff Wisner
Based in Berkeley, California, Whereabouts Press publishes an intriguing series of Traveler's Literary Companions. “Unlike guidebooks written by professional travel writers,” they explain,…
Three Kilos of Coffee
By Geoff Wisner
Manu Dibango is a jazz saxophonist with an international reputation. His song “Soul Makossa” is sometimes credited with being the first disco tune. Dibango was born in Cameroon in 1933. At…
Brown Turtle Press
By Geoff Wisner
Recently I blogged about Bending the Bow, a surprising and engaging new anthology of African love poetry edited by Malawian poet and professor Frank Chipasula. Since then I’ve learned that Chipasula…
Chain of Voices
By Geoff Wisner
Although André Brink is one of South Africa’s leading Afrikaans-language writers, and although his work has appeared in English, at least one article has questioned whether we can categorize…
Dispatches: African Memoirs
By Geoff Wisner
Dear reader: I need your help.Lately I’ve been reading a lot of African memoirs: books like Echoes of an Autobiography by Naguib Mahfouz, An African in Greenland by Tété-Michel Kpomassie,…
Dispatches: An African in Greenland
By Geoff Wisner
With its bookshelves organized by country, New York’s Idlewild Books is a great resource for anyone who wants to delve into a particular corner of the world. For instance, fiction from the Cape…
Bending the Bow: An Anthology of African Love Poetry
By Geoff Wisner
Bending the Bow: An Anthology of African Love Poetry was released in July 2009 by Southern Illinois University Press. Edited by Frank M. Chipasula, himself an African poet, it is a generous and attractively…
Return to Childhood by Leila Abouzeid
By Geoff Wisner
Return to Childhood is a memoir by the Moroccan writer Leila Abouzeid, who is better known for her story collection Year of the Elephant.Translated from the Arabic by the author and Heather Logan Taylor,…
Dispatches: Memoirs of an Arabian Princess from Zanzibar
By Geoff Wisner
In its no-frills way, Dover Publications has been performing a valuable service: returning to print 19th-century books that few other presses would take a chance on, and doing it affordably.Without Dover,…
Dispatches: The Seventh Heaven by Naguib Mahfouzby Geoff Wisner
By Geoff Wisner
In August 2006, just a few hours after I finished reading The Seventh Heaven, the final work by the Egyptian writer Naguib Mahfouz, I heard that he had died at the age of 94—a spooky coincidence…
Dispatches: Echoes of an Autobiography by Naguib Mahfouz
By Geoff Wisner
My reaction to the work of Naguib Mahfouz has been exceptionally mixed. I have enjoyed the light touch and raffish characters of short novels like Adrift on the Nile (my review) yet I could make no headway…
Dispatches: Leaving Tangier by Tahar ben Jelloun
By Geoff Wisner
Most readers, I think, know the Moroccan writer Tahar ben Jelloun from his novels The Sand Child (my review) and its sequel The Sacred Night. Those books are marked by a prose style that is rich yet never…
Dispatches: Machete Season by Jean Hatzfeld
By Geoff Wisner
In the New Yorker recently, Philip Gourevitch published a follow-up article to his book We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families (my review).In it, he explored what is sometimes…
PEN WORLD VOICES FESTIVAL: Nawal El Saadawi and Kwame Anthony Appiah
By Geoff Wisner
On the last night of this year’s PEN festival, the Egyptian writer Nawal El Saadawi appeared at Cooper Union to deliver the fourth annual Arthur Miller Freedom to Write Lecture and to talk with…
PEN World Voices Festival: Is Nonfiction Literature?
By Geoff Wisner
íIs nonfiction literature?ë That was the provocative question that Philip Gourevitch, Colum McCann, and Norbert Gstrein addressed at a panel discussion in the auditorium of the Museum of Jewish…
PEN World Voices Festival: Mark Z. Danielewski and Rick Moody
By Geoff Wisner
I haven’t yet read House of Leaves, the ambitious experimental novel that Mark Z. Danielewski published in 2000. I am unlikely to read Only Revolutions, the even quirkier second novel that Danielewski…
Dispatches: The Moth Revolution: Stories of Change
By Geoff Wisner
Great writers are not necessarily great storytellers. They are, after all, people who spend a great deal of time alone. But some of them are, and The Moth exists to showcase this rare breed. The Moth’s…
Dispatches: Updike on Africa, Part II
By Geoff Wisner
My book A Basket of Leaves covers the 54 countries in Africa by way of 99 books, which is barely enough. I had originally planned to include some books that deal with more than one country, like Sacred…
Dispatches: Camus in Oran
By Geoff Wisner
What makes you an African writer? That is a subject for another day, and one that’s not likely to be resolved anytime soon. One consideration, though, must surely be the ability to convey a sense…
Dispatches: In the Name of God by Yasmina Khadra
By Geoff Wisner
The Algerian writer whose pen name is Yasmina Khadra was one of the most intriguing characters at the 2007 PEN World Voices festival. Each time he appeared he would undermine the premise of his own panel,…
Dispatches: Season of Migration to the North
By Geoff Wisner
In a recent post I wrote about the passing of Tayeb Salih, author of Season of Migration to the North. Here’s what I wrote about that book in A Basket of Leaves:Season of Migration to the North…
Dispatches: On the 100th Issue of Transition magazine
By Geoff Wisner
The 100th issue of Transition magazine just arrived in my mailbox: a milestone I wasn’t sure it would reach.From the time of its revival in 1991 until now, Transition has been an essential resource…
Dispatches: Aya by Marguerite Abouet
By Geoff Wisner
Aya, written by Marguerite Abouet and illustrated by the French artist Clément Oubrerie, is a lively and colorful glimpse of life in Ivory Coast in the late 1970s, a time when the country was enjoying…
Tayeb Salih 1929–2009
By Geoff Wisner
Tayeb Salih was the most eminent writer from the largest country in Africa, yet as Leonard Lopate pointed out last year on a radio program called Underappreciated, his work was barely known in the U.S.…
Ambiguous Adventure by Cheikh Hamidou Kane
By Geoff Wisner
Not long ago my partner Jenn and I were visited by a couple we first met in Brooklyn, but who later moved to Paris. John is a jazz trombonist from Montana. Ana is a Parisian actress and translator from…
Dispatches: African Literature in Translation
By Geoff Wisner
In the course of writing my book A Basket of Leaves, I looked for books that told the best stories I could find about each of the fifty-four countries in Africa. They included novels, short story collections,…
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