Baltimore writer and beloved voice of classical music radio (WBJC) Judith Krummeck describes her sense of place — in the U.S. and Africa — and her sense of longing for each land she’s called home.
A hidden nerve is what every writer is ultimately about.
I was born in Africa. I am an African. But, because of the color of my skin, I am not truly African. Strictly speaking, because I was born in Africa and I am now an American citizen, I am an African American. But, because of the color of my skin, I am not truly African American. In the truest sense, I am neither African nor American.
“Think of the long trip home.”
–Elizabeth Bishop, Questions of Travel
For almost all of my twenties and thirties I resided in Austin, Texas; my widowed mother lived 2,000 miles away in our ancestral home outside Asbury Park, New Jersey. Game to the last, she visited often, particularly after her grandsons appeared on the scene.
She would come out of the baggage claim with her roller bag and tote, a Carlton 100 clamped between her lips, and after a quick kiss I would inquire, “How was your trip?”
For my mother, the reply to this question was no routine nicety. “Tough,” she might pronounce, sucking on the skinny white cigarette smoked in the car despite all protests. Then she would dive into the account with relish, exuding the triumphant yet embittered air of a field marshal summarizing a battle won after many reversals.
As her visit proceeded, others would politely pose the same question, and she would tell her tale again and again. Certain words would float toward me over the hum of conversation at a party or bar — runway, turbulence, layover.
Later, when I moved to Pennsylvania, she could get almost as much of a nail-biter out of her three-hour drive on the turnpike, fraught as it was with overturned tractor-trailers, inexplicable jams at Bethlehem or Pottsville, mysterious aberrations in the operation of E-Z Pass.
Well, the only pursuit more delightful than recalling one’s mother’s quirks is re-enacting them. I find myself adopting so many of the questionable habits of lost loved ones these days, from my father’s bellowing and name-calling, to my grandmother’s bottomless dish of Hershey’s Kisses, to my first husband’s weakness for synthetic codeine. An odd sort of memorial, but a memorial nonetheless, and in that light I present this logistics-only account of a recent trip to Uganda with my mother’s namesake, my daughter Jane. We flew there the day after Christmas to visit our friends, Jim and Steve, a writer and a medical researcher, who are based in Kampala for a year.
The exhibition includes a variety of seats, vessels, blankets, combs, hats, and other objects created for individuals and households in twenty-one African countries. But as you peruse the works, it’s unlikely you’ll feel as if you’re at a department store. Every utilitarian, household item is an exquisite, exciting piece of art.
Hand Held showcases art objects from Angola, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Cote d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Ghana, Guinea, Ivory Coast, Kenya, Liberia, Mali, Malawi, Morocco, Niger, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Tanzania, Togo, Tunisia, and Zambia. But the exhibition is arranged by theme, not geographic location, as many African art exhibits are. This allows the viewer to gain a sense of the commonalities among African art as a whole as well the unique aesthetic heritage of each of the represented countries.
Hand Held is on view from September 25 to February 5 at the BMA.
Tonight at 7, at Atomic Books in Hampden, two authors share readings from their celebrated new books set in Africa. Susi Wyss’s ultra-readable The Civilized World, a Novel in Stories (Holt Paperbacks), follows five women, black and white, as they confront obstacles great and small, in a quest to find balance, even happiness. Wyss, who works in public health, was inspired by her aid work in Africa; the interwoven stories are set in five African countries and in the U.S. Booklist notes, “Whether in Africa or America, the characters in Wyss’ linked stories navigate a world ‘that could knock you off your feet when you least suspected it.’ Wyss grants her appealing characters a mesmerizing mixture of fresh starts, second chances, forgiveness and redemption.” Glen Reteif’s The Jack Bank: A Memoir of a South African Childhood (St. Martin’s Press) tells the story of a difficult boyhood spent in a strict all-male boarding school world, and of Reteif’s coming of age at the close of apartheid in the late 70s, while also coming to the realization that he was gay. Robert Olen Butler calls The Jack Bank, “[A] memoir with the deeply resonant power of the finest fiction.” Baltimore-based fiction writer Kathy Flann hosts the event.