The Taifa Trilogy Is Back! In this Interview Author Nkechi Taifa Talks Shang-Chi, Cinderella, and the Power of Africentric Fantasy in Her Three Re-Released Books
Nkechi Taifa is a person for whom every day is filled with reflection on Black folk and their collective power. So how is she rolling with today’s current “racial reckoning?” By preparing to conquer the online and book-and-mortar bookshelves in the names of our youth.
In her top-selling memoir, Black Power, Black Lawyer: My Audacious Quest For Justice Taifa talks about being a young teacher in an Independent Black School, wanting to create culturally nourishing material for her students to read. So she accessed her inner griot and produced what she today calls The Taifa Trilogy: Shining Legacy, a young-eyed journey through Black history, and The Adventures of Kojo and Ama and Three Tales of Wisdom, two fiction works starring Black children.
Her trio has enjoyed significant, documented impact. Here’s the proof: these once-out-of-print books became classics on the Africentric book circuit of the 1980s and 1990s, and much to her chagrin, have been seen to fetch for hundreds of dollars on Amazon.
And here’s more: during the summer, the Central York, Pennsylvania school district listed her works as banned books.
Decades from the original publishing came the so-called “racial reckoning,” an international 2020 joint memorial and protest over the police murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. More than 25 million people filled streets worldwide to protest police brutality. Attention was again being paid to the dark corners of America, where white supremacy, in the midst of a global pandemic, still flies a flag of stars and bars. Call it Zeitgeist or the Ancestors working in concert, but Taifa was prepping all of these books for re-release during the turbulence of the times.
Taifa is now proud to re-publish The Adventures of Kojo and Ama, Shining Legacy and Three Tales of Wisdom today, wedged right in the pop-cultural space between Amazon Prime’s Cinderella remake, Marvel’s Shang-Chi release and Marvel’s upcoming other non-European epic, 2022’s Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.
In this interview, she discusses the power of fantasy to mold young minds and what cultural workers like her can do to complement and balance corporate-produced fantasy.
Q: So I heard you recently saw Marvel’s Shang-Chi and The Legend of the Ten Rings. What did you think?
Nkechi Taifa: Honestly, I was ecstatic and spellbound. WOW! I loved how it depicted the double-consciousness and identity quests of Asians in America and displayed well the yin and the yang, or, to be African-centered about it, the Male Principle and the Female Principle — of Ma’at, of spiritual balance. I’m glad my books for youth are being republished at this exact time because, similar to Asian-Americans, Black folk also need to conceive and present our own African-based conception of balance — we just can’t allow ourselves to be swamped with white-controlled corporate media images, even those that are impressive and well-meaning. Frankly, the success Marvel had with the first Black Panther movie was an inspiration to me to dust off my works for a new generation of children. You see, we need more identity quests and powerful women as found in those Hollywood stories, but organic ones, authentic ones, done from our own Africentric cultural lenses.
Q: Noted! Speaking of notes, please give me a synopsis of your three re-published books for youth: Shining Legacy, Three Tales of Wisdom and The Adventures of Kojo and Ama.
Taifa: Shining Legacy uses rhyme to profile Black heroes and heroines: leaders, inventors, scientists and other 19th and 20th century notables. Children of African descent have to see themselves as part of a people who have changed, are changing, and continuing to change the world. That’s what Shining Legacy does — it’s my attempt to get them to recite personalized griot songs to themselves — for them to see the continuation of their Ancestors in the mirror.
The Adventures of Kojo and Ama share the misadventures of two Black youngsters and their pet cat, Sheba — who, for those who know African culture, is more than she seems! LOL! The two children see different parts of the Black world and get to know themselves in the process, with help from a family friend, Brother Shaka. We all have had Brother Shakas — and Sister Ashakis! — in our lives, so I wanted to honor that, too.
In Three Tales of Wisdom, I strive to create my own Black/African folktales, complete with morals of the stories! So I made up three. The first tale, “Ayanna, the Beautiful Flower,” is my take on the age-old Cinderella story. Although a revolutionary, I’m nevertheless a romantic at heart, and put my special stamp on the “savior fairy godmother” theme, casting the African folk hero Anansi the Spider in the fantasy role. My stories incorporate images and portrayals of Black nationalism, culture and Pan-Africanism — what I taught my students long ago as part of the Independent Black School Movement.
Q: Were you shocked by the racial reckoning and how in-time your reissued works were going to be?
Taifa: Well, because I am a human rights lawyer, I was not shocked at the reckoning per se but by the scope of it. The fact that many jurisdictions are now considering reparations for Black people — the subject of my next book, coming out in early 2022 — says how much crushed truth has indeed risen again. (By the way, a reparations book I co-authored way back in 1987 was also on that Central York, PA banned book list!).
Q: Wow! A fifth book! You don’t stand still LOL! Okay, anything else you’d like to add?
Taifa: I’d just like to affirm that all cultures have value — including those that are not Western or Judeo-Christian. That’s why Shang-Chi’s father asked Awkwafina’s character, Katy, what her real name was, and talked about the importance of her traditional name and the culture it came from. We need more culture-based stories like that — and that’s why I’m so very excited for my children’s books, that once graced the shelves of Black bookstores, to now also traverse the internet, showing that the stories of the culture of freedom-fighting resistance, in both fantasy and reality, are just as valid as any others.
For info about the author and her books, please go to: www.NkechiTaifa.org.