(United Kingdom, 1964) focuses in her work on how horrors of war are remembered. Forna spent a part of her childhood in Sierra Leone where her father, a politician, was falsely accused of treason and hanged. These events were the subject of her memoir The Devil that Danced on the Water (2003). Before her debut as a writer, Aminatta Forna worked as a reporter and documentary filmmaker with the BBC, where she wrote and directed several notable documentaries about African history and culture. In her novel Ancestor Stones (2006) four elderly Sierra Leonian aunts tell stories of the past to their niece. And in the novel The Memory of Love (2010) a British psychologist in Freetown attempts to penetrate a collective silence about the past. In The Hired Man (2013) Forna brilliantly paints lingering tensions in one village in postwar Croatia. In Happiness (2018), a Ghanaian psychiatrist visiting London offers a view of Europe through African eyes.(WU2024)
Archive available for: Aminatta Forna
Freedom to speak or write is important but impossible for many. The festival opened with "human voices" (the theme of this edition) from The Netherlands and beyond: a unique lineup of famous writers speaking out. This was one of those evenings of inspiration, creative thoughts and apt words that make a deep impression. Meet the authors who make their voices heard for four delightful days of this Hague festival!
Opening Night 2024 was focused on freedom of speech and the power of literature, with appearances and readings by US author Celeste Ng, internationally one of the most-read authors with Asian roots; the British writer Aminatta Forna (The Hired Man); Adriaan van Dis, whose moving new novel Naar zachtheid en een warm omhelzen was published Fall 2023; Burhan Sönmez, author of Istanbul, Istanbul and chair of the writers organization PEN International.
Young spoken-word artist and writer Daniëlle Zawadi from The Hague and, accompanied by percussionist Hashem Kabreet, writer and novelist Sholeh Rezazadeh gave spoken word performances.
Host Jörgen Tjon A Fong discussed with the US novelist Celeste Ng (Our Missing Hearts) and French writer and photojournalist Emilienne Malfatto (Le Colonel ne dort pas; The Colonel Doesn't Sleep) what "human voices" means to them in relation to freedom of speech. Finally, Hague mayor Jan van Zanen kicked things off by officially opening the festival!
The programme included the short film Monument for murdered writers and journalists 2023, a project by Theatre of Wrong Decisions, Committee To Protect Journalists (CPJ) and PEN International.
Our favourite Hague bookstore De Vries Van Stockum had well-stocked tables of books for sale in the foyer of the Theater aan het Spui throughout the festival (English and Dutch language) by the authors appearing at the festival. Browse to your heart's content, and maybe the author is even present to personally sign your freshly bought book.
Writers tell us about their favourite book: the book that inspires or touches them, that set their artistic, moral or intellectual compass. In short, the book they would recommend to everyone. Interview: Hassnae Bouazza.
Aminatta Forna chose as her favourite Anils Ghost (2019) by Michael Ondaatje. In this novel, Anil returns to her homeland Sri Lanka, devastated by civil war. Commissioned by the United Nations, she investigates the victims of massacres on the island. When she falls under the spell of a skeleton she finds, a feverish search for its identity ensues - until Anil's own life is in danger.
Where do we belong? One of the most fundamental questions of humanity. A question writers have been asking themselves for years. The many different answers to this are an important part of our literature and heritage.
We found the perfect authors to reflect on this big question: Alejandra Ortiz and Aminatta Forna. Where to Belong is a theme that returns in various ways in their publications, books and essays, and touches on important themes such as identity, gender and migration.
Alejandra Ortiz and Aminatta Forna wrote down their thoughts on this subject in advance and presented their stories during the event. An interactive talk followed, led by host Shantie Singh.
One of the things that distinguishes humans from machines is that humans have a body. A body that can experience pleasant sensations as well as pain. The body is our initial calling card to the outside world, an outer shell that is seen by others, judged and pigeonholed. Writers Aminatta Forna and Celeste Ng discussed this matter and read from their work. Writer and journalist Hassnae Bouazza moderated.
Aminatta Forna (UK) is the daughter of a Sierra Leonian father and a Scottish mother. The question of how the horrors of war are remembered years after the fact is central to her work. Forna spent her youth partly in Sierra Leone, where her politician father was accused of treason and hanged. She writes about these events in her 2003 autobiography The Devil that Danced on the Water.
Before this debut, she worked as a reporter and documentarian at the BBC, where her probing reportages about Africa stood out in particular. In her novel Ancestor Stones (2006) four elderly Sierra Leonian aunts tell stories of the past to their niece. In the 2013 novel The Memory of Love, a London psychiatrist in Freetown recognizes that everyone suffers from post-traumatic stress but no one talks about their experiences. In 2013's The Hired Man, Forna brilliantly depicts the fermenting tension in post-war Croatia.
Celeste Ng (USA) visits The Netherlands for the first time for the 2024 Writers Unlimited festival. Her three novels are true page-turners; currently she is the internationally most-read author with Asian roots. Her debut novel Everything I Never Told You (2014) is a sensitive portait of a family with several cultures. Little Fires Everywhere (2017), an even bigger bestseller, was turned into a film with Reese Witherspoon and Kerry Washington (available on Prime).
Her third novel Our Missing Hearts (2022) takes on the love between mother and child, discrimination against people with Asian roots, and humanity in dark times. Ng grew up in Pittsburgh and Shaker Heights (Ohio) and studied at Harvard. Her stories and essays have appeared in publications such as The New York Times and The Guardian.
Festival tip: Celeste Ng and Aminatta Forna also appeared during Opening Night (Thursday, 18 January 2024) and Saturday Night Unlimited (Saturday, 20 January 2024).
Join the regulars' table. Host Francis Broekhuijsen welcomes Arie Boomsma, editor of beautiful poetry anthologies. We listen to their favourite music, and talk to them. Don't forget to have your books autographed. In English.
Which texts from world literature has writer Aminatta Forna cherished as long as she lives? This most beautiful or most inspiring text can be a poem, an excerpt from a novel or a song-text. She discusses the text with the audience. In English.
Tonight three authors talk about their drives, motivations and inspiration for taking up a career as a writer in an often violent and complex world. Architect Andries Samuel, documentary maker and BBC reporter Aminatta Forna and constructional engineer Nihad Sirees decided to turn to fiction at a certain point in their lives. Andries Samuel, the son of Antjie Krog, made his debut in 2013 with the book of poetry Wanpraktyk. In her latest novel The Hired Man Forna sketches the fermenting tension in postwar Croatia. Nihad Sirees' great power is that he succeeds in turning fear into humor in his novel The Silence and the Roar. What compelled these three people to start writing? In English.
See me. Hear me. Read me. Appreciate me. Be like me. Do like me. Join me: with the democratisation of the media owing to the Internet and the social media, there is a growing longing for recognition. Not only do celebrities have a stage to sparkle on, all those with a blog, Facebook or Twitter account can create their own little kingdom and think themselves a poet, a writer, a political expert or an expert on the environment. Boundaries fade; idols and politicians can be reached on Twitter, making it seem as if one really counts. And a like or a retweet is the reward. New online communities are formed, not hindered by national borders or local politics. The new world citizen creates his own virtual society of kindred spirits. What does it mean to live in a virtual world and what are the consequences for people's identities? Amin Maalouf ponders the deper layers and consequences behind a simple request: Like me. Followed by a debate on the topic. In English.