Under the Mango Tree
One of the real pleasures of working as a writer is meeting new writers who are just starting to figure out their way around the publishing world. I talk to several dozen new writers a year, advising them about how to finish their books, how to get published, and how to find the reading audience for their work.
Over Christmas break last year, I met with another one of these eager new craftsmen, Michael Gibbs. Although Michael is the adult son of a friend, I’d never met him before. He’s currently serving as a Peace Corps volunteer in Sierra Leone.
Michael had an ambitious plan. In his effort to teach his students English, and to help them understand their own rich cultural heritage of storytelling, he wanted to collect stories from Sierra Leone’s oral tradition. (Much of the oral tradition is dying, as the country struggles to recover from years of brutal civil war.) He envisioned his students learning enough English (which, for many of them is a third, fourth, or fifth language) to write their stories. They would learn about revising their work. They would learn about computers, as he typed and formatted their work. And the collected stories could be made available to a broader audience, with all profits from sale going to the students’ village, to help build desperately needed infrastructure and supplies.
I listened to Michael’s plan, and I was impressed. I also though he didn’t have a chance of completing his project — there were too many barriers with regard to his students, and those didn’t even begin to take into account the obstructions from local government, Peace Corps bureaucracy, and the challenge of creating an electronic book when electricity typically wasn’t functioning!
But Michael did it. And the stories he edited are now available in Under the Mango Tree: Tales of Kamakwie, which can be purchased at Amazon. All profits go to the people of Kamakwie.
When I read these stories, I was most struck by how much people reveal their culture when they tell their stories. Even the fables that were familiar to me took on a different tone when viewed through the Kamakwie lens. This collection of stories is an excellent educational tool for any writer struggling to illustrate “the other.”
I hope you’ll buy the book. And spread the word. And support the fine work of Michael Gibbs and the people of Kamakwie.