On July 11th, I’m Your Neighbor, Portland celebrated its first featured book in the collection, The Good Braider. Author Terry Farish was joined by local performers O.D. Bonny and Bianca Abdalla in an evening of exploration and celebration of both the title and the Sudanese American community in Portland.
Kristen Cappy, project director, opened the evening with wishing South Sudan a “Happy Birthday,” as July 9th marked its second year of independence. Student and performance artist Bianca Abdalla reading from the chapter “Be Free,” which takes place early in the novel while the character Viola and her family lives in Juba, South Sudan. Bianca beautifully expressed Farish’s writing and the character Viola’s voice.
Farish then led the audience through a discussion of the mother-daughter relationship a central theme throughout The Good Braider, based on what Farish observed in the Sudanese-American community in Portland. One audience member noted Viola’s preference to confide in her grandmother over her mother and wondered if that was a common occurrence in Sudanese culture. Bianca responded that like Viola, she often talked more to her grandmother about certain things that she would never talk to her mother about. She shared that her mother commanded more authority and might try to lecture, whereas her grandmother, as an elder of the family, would listen.
Sudanese rap artist OD Bonny came on stage next to perform two songs from his album “Kwo I Lobo Tek” sung in Acholi, OD’s native language and one of the languages spoken in Sudan. He concluded his set with “A Girl from Juba,” which was inspired by the book. He also shared a special preview of The Good Braider book trailer that he is currently in the process of filming.
Many wonderful connections were made during the book discussion, from OD relating his own personal experiences coming to Portland from Uganda to Viola’s story, to a Portland librarian connecting the book’s theme of identity to her family’s history of being Russian Jewish immigrants in the early 1900s. O.D.’s friend Chris, who plays Andrew in the trailer, said that he enjoys friendships with people of all different backgrounds and that as a child, he felt a connection with the kids who were bullied because of their skin color since he too was often picked on.
Bianca performed a second reading, “Flea Market,” which takes place in Portland and describes an afternoon with her American friend Andrew and a moment when Viola first experiences a step towards a new identity in the U.S. The discussion concluded with a conversation on the ability of fiction to connect readers with people of a different culture and life experience. “I moved to Portland a few years ago,” one participant said, ” and I’m aware of the immigrants in the city, but I don’t know any of them, I don’t know their stories. This book series opens your eyes… It offers a chance to hear their stories.”
Afterwards, the audience was free to talk with the performers or have Farish sign a copy of her book, as they tasted Sudanese Cinnamon Sweet Tea, and vegetable sambusas and himbasha bread from Asmara Restaurant. They were also able to pick up an I’m Your Neighbor Portland discussion guide to the novel to continue the conversations.
35 readers of varying ages and cultures joined in this wide-ranging discussion made more powerful by the performances of Sudanese Americans, OD and Bianca. Thanks to all who joined us and to the staff of the Portland Public Library who support and partner with I’m Your Neighbor Portland.