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“Literature from a Black perspective”: an Interview with @eine.schwarze.liest.buecher

Please introduce yourself: who are you, what do you do, what should our readers know about you?

I’m Chidera, I’m 29 years old and a law student. I’m currently getting ready for my first staatsexamen, as well as being mother to a three-year-old son and married. I wasn’t born in Germany, but in Nigeria, and have only officially been a ‘German’ since 2006, when I got my German citizenship.

Your Instagram account eine.schwarze.liest.buecher (in English, roughly, a Black woman reads books) has over 1360 followers. In its profile, you write: “Literature from a Black perspective”. Could you describe what that means and entails for you?

It’s a reference to my skin colour: I am a Black German woman and that – sadly – has meant that I’ve had very many experiences that were not pleasant; experiences that were painful and sometimes traumatic. It means that I consume and grapple with literature to some extent quite differently to those who are a part of Germany’s majority white society. Through my account, I want to share my particular point of view.

For these reasons, I deliberately select books by writers of Colour. My own personal interests here are with Nigeria and the African-American sphere, because I believe that both take up much too little space, even though such wonderful writers emerge from these contexts – for example, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Chinua Achebe, Wole Soyinka and Teju Cole.

What do you hope to achieve with your posts? Who do you imagine your audience to be? What do you hope your followers will take away with them?

Primarily, I want to create awareness: awareness for the perspective of a Black person in Germany, so that people who belong to the majority white society can develop a sensitivity. I also consume book blogs. For the most part, they’re white, and the people who follow me are also mostly white. I want to create awareness for what it means to be Black and German – that it is not either/or, but complementary, part of the same whole. That’s what I would like to express with my posts.

Are you happy with the development of your Bookstagram presence so far? Do you have the impression of contributing to a change in the book scene?

Yes, I’m overwhelmed by how this has developed. I started with five followers, who were all my friends. Now I’m at over 1360. I’m overwhelmed that people are using the platform that I’m offering. I’m more than happy with it as it stands, but of course I’m also delighted by the growth my account is experiencing, by the fact that more followers join me every day. I’m touched, and also proud. This is a project that I invest a lot of myself in, but from which I also I get so very much back.

I do have the feeling that this is contributing to a change in the Bookstagram world. An example would be when, at the beginning of October, I was invited along with poco.lit. and Tugba Yalcinkaya to speak on a panel organised by Bessie Berlin about visibility in the literature scene. That was a big opportunity, and it was wonderful to be a part of that platform. I also hope for more of that kind of thing in the future.

Many of the books you post about have been translated from English into German. What are your thoughts on that? Do you find that more books that deal with the themes you’re interested in are written in English? And what is your attitude to the translations?

When I started getting involved with literature that spoke to, or reflected, my identity, I often read in English because a lot of things just weren’t translated. That has certainly changed. But of course, a lot also gets lost in translation. That’s always a bit of a pity. A good example would be Toni Morrison’s Beloved – which already goes wrong in the German title (Menschenkind). It makes me cross that such a wonderful book was translated in this way.

Another example: last year I attended an event at the international literature festival in which James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time and its German translation were discussed. I had read both, and it was interesting to see the white translator Miriam Mandelkow describe how she had interpreted some passages. The speakers on the podium had understood some of these moments quite differently – and some of these speakers were also Black people.

A lot really does get lost. Nonetheless, I think it’s important that translation happen because many people in Germany don’t enjoy reading in English. Books that have been translated less successfully – especially the classics like Beloved – might need an update. Many of these are very old translations. And perhaps they should be translated by People of Colour – that might be a whole different thing.

What book absolutely still needs to be translated into German?

I’m already looking forward to the German translation of Bernardine Evaristo‘s Girl, Woman, Other. And then another book, which is no doubt less well-known: the poetry collection the geometry of being Black by ogorchukwu. The writer is a young American with roots in Nigeria. Her Instagram is also great.

For me, this is an empowering book. The poet has divided it beautifully: into phases that describe how Black people encounter and deal with racism. It starts with “receiving” – what Black people receive from the world. Then it goes on to “internalizing” – the hate and rage we internalize. Then “unlearning” – changing what we’ve internalized, unlearning it. And finally “loving” and “resisting”. It’s done really well and it’s a book that I keep returning to.

What is your attitude to social media in general? Do you see in Instagram, for example, a political power to speak to a larger portion of society? Can it serve to change minds?

In principle, I take a critical view of social media because I find that many people don’t engage with it consciously. Often, it’s just consumed in order to escape one’s thoughts or reality. But when it is really used consciously and deliberately, with a goal in mind, in order to change something for the better – like informing people about climate change or racism – then I think it can achieve something. We saw the waves it caused in the wake of the murder of George Floyd. One video made waves across the whole world. The resonance was unbelievable, in a way that had never happened before in regard to racism, at least not in Germany. Of course, that was great, but I definitely enjoyed it with care because my feeling was that it might be merely a trend for many people. That’s why I’m not sure how sustainable it is and take a critical view of it. But, certainly, it created consciousness, people were made aware – for that, it was great.

I looked it up again today: 2,4 billion people in the world use social media (that’s including everything, Facebook, Whatsapp, Instagram). That’s an unbelievable number. That kind of reach has never been available before and one can do amazing things with it. That’s important, but I remain critical.

Do you have plans for the future? What are your goals? Are you actively trying to grow your community?

I’m just going to keep on producing ‘content’. I write about the books that I read and share a little bit of my life, as far as I am comfortable doing. I’m not actively trying to recruit new people, I don’t constantly do competitions or advertising. I am who I am and whoever is interested is warmly welcome to follow and exchange ideas with me.

Do you think you might like to write a book yourself one day?

I’ve thought about it. I think I could imagine doing it because I do have quite a few stories to tell. It’s still far in the future, but it would probably be something relevant to my own story, the things that I’ve experienced. I’ve noticed the response to posts in which I share something personal. Many people have written to me and said: I know this feeling, this feeling of inferiority, and not just in relation to racism, but in general. We have so much in common, even if we don’t know each other. I find this power in books and that’s just wonderful.