Acclaimed African author to visit York

The internationally acclaimed Somali writer Nuruddin Farah is making York University one of only two stops in Canada during his promotional tour for his latest novel Knots.

Farah, who has been referred to as “the most important African novelist to emerge in the past 25 years” by the New York Review of Books and praised as “one of the world’s great writers”, will appear at four separate events at York on March 8.

Right: Nuruddin Farah

“I believe it is very important to meet with students to discuss peace prospects in Africa, and in Somalia in particular,” says Farah.

Born in Baidoa, Somalia, Farah first got caught up in the political turmoil in his native country when border disputes in 1963 forced him to flee the newly independent Somalia. He found refuge in India where he studied at Punjab University, Chandigarh, and later pursued postgraduate studies at the University of London and the University of Essex.

Farah returned to teach in Mogadishu and in Nigeria while simultaneously embarking on a literary career, writing short stories, novels and plays.

Somalia is a common backdrop for his literary works. His first published novel, From a Crooked Rib (1970), about a woman’s struggle against the constraints in Somali society, deals with one of his central themes: the liberation of women as a precondition for political and individual freedom. Farah also wrote two trilogies: Variations on the Theme of an African Dictatorship and Blood in the Sun, which largely focus on characters who suffer abuses under authoritarian regimes.

Farah’s growing profile made him a target for the Somali authorities who felt threatened by his work. His play A Naked Needle (1976) raised their ire and upon the publication of Sweet and Sour Milk (1979), the first novel in the Variations trilogy, he became persona non grata in Somalia.

While in exile, Farah taught in the United States, Germany, India, Sudan and Gambia. In 1998, he won the prestigious Neustadt International Prize for Literature; he is the first African to do so.

His latest novel, Knots, is the second in a new trilogy. It follows the story of Cambara, a Somali-Canadian who returns to the Somali capital, Mogadishu. She finds a war-ravaged city plagued by violence, dominated by warlords engaged in clan rivalries, and threatened by increasingly powerful Islamists. This setting mirrors the current-day situation in Somalia.

Farah says that his lifelong literary project has been “to keep my country alive by writing about it.” He has also been engaged more directly in recent years by trying to broker dialogue between the various armed groups of warlords in Somalia who are vying for power.

These efforts to bring about peace will be the subject for his talk, titled “The Prospects for Peace and Security in Africa” for his first event at York on March 8. The event is part of the McLaughlin College lunch talk series. It will begin at noon in the McLaughlin Common Room. 

Later that day, Farah will be meeting members of the Somali Students’ Association at York and the African Studies Students’ Association and attending a reception at McLaughlin College. He will be giving an informal presentation to the students in the the Canadian Writers in Person class taught by Professor Gail Vanstone, of the School of Arts & Letters at Atkinson. The presentation is not part of the official Canadian Writers in Person Series.

“Farah has an excellent reputation as a spokesperson for Somalia and for justice and fairness and as a literary figure,” says Vanstone. “It’s a feather in York’s cap that we have this international figure coming to us,” she adds.

For the students in the Canadian Writers in Person course, Farah will read from his novel and speak about his experiences as a writer and political figure. Afterwards, he will sign copies of Knots. The event is open to the broader York community and the public.

This article was written by Olena Wawryshyn, communications officer, Marketing & Communications.