For those who attended the celebration of The Good Braider on July 11th, you may remember the preview we showed of the book trailer featuring the song “A Girl From Juba” by OD Bonny. We’re pleased to announce that the final version has been released! You can view it below and on YouTube.
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.
We now have a book guide available for readers on The Good Braider page! Scroll down to beneath the book information to view a PDF. The guide is designed to start conversations and offer suggestions on how you can engage with the Sudanese American community in Portland. It is divided into four sections, Discuss, Explore, Engage and Read. In addition to discussion questions, it includes background and resources about South Sudan and Sudanese immigrants, and a recommended reading list.
Please join us at the I’m Your Neighbor, Portland event for The Good Braider this Thursday, 7/11/13 at the Portland Public Library.
When author Terry Farish was working at the Portland Public Library, she befriended a young man from the Sudan who told her “there is no word” when asked about his favorite family meal. “My mother will cook it for you,” he said. Terry Farish joined his family for a meal and from that day, began a journey of listening. Her new friends in Portland’s Sudanese community told of their tumultuous path from South Sudan to Portland, Maine.
The cultural exploration that started as “there is no word” became a braiding of stories, experiences, and words which culminated in the award-winning novel, The Good Braider.
The Good Braider will be celebrated at the Portland Public Library in Monument Square on Thursday, July 11, 2013 at 6:00 PM as part of city-wide read entitled “I’m Your Neighbor, Portland.” Bianca Abdalla, a local performer, will read aloud from The Good Braider, the author Terry Farish will talk about the development of the novel, and South Sudanese rapper OD Bonny will perform songs from his new CD, “Kwo I Lobo Tek.” The event will include a book signing and the sharing of East African refreshments from Asmara Restaurant. The event is free of charge. For more information, contact Curious City at 207-420-1126.
The free verse novel for teens and adults is told in the character’s Viola’s strikingly original first person voice. The narrative follows Viola’s dreams of South Sudan and her navigation of the strange world of America – a world where a girl can wear a short skirt, get a tattoo or even date a boy; a world that puts her into sharp conflict with her traditional mother who, like Viola, is struggling to braid together the strands of a displaced life.
“As I built relationships with new friends in Portland from Sudan,” Terry Farish said, “I explained to elders that I wanted to write a book about the teens as they made their homes in Maine. The elders very much wanted this story to be told and shared their experience and struggles with me. I approached the work as documentarian, spending a lot of time with families and learning how they spent their days, about their art, the work of their hands, the music they love, the stories they tell. However, I used this research method to create a novel. The Good Braider is fiction and based on research and dozens of stories I recorded.”
Sudanese American rapper and performer OD Bonny was given a copy of the book prepublication and recognized Viola’s journey in The Good Braider as he and brothers also fled South Sudan as young men. In response to his reading, OD Bonny wrote and recorded the song “Girl from Juba” and is currently producing a music video for the song and book with local filmmaker Fred Ben. OD Bonny performs in a mixture of English and his native Acholi. His new CD “Kwo I Lobo Tek” translates as “Life is Hard in This World.” “The song is about the struggle that we are facing in this world,” says OD Bonny, “and what we can do to solve some of those issues.”
Author of The Good Braider
“Tom Haines, international reporter for the Boston Globe wrote about his work, “I have sought to document intimate moments of humanity…By writing about such scenes I hope readers might find not difference of land and lives, but a more personal understanding of our common experience.” The I’m Your Neighbor, Portland books also document intimate moments about the lives of newcomers to Maine. My hope is that a community reading these books will feel curiosity and begin to imagine each other’s lives with interest and feel safe with one another.” –Terry Farish on I’m Your Neighbor, Portland
I’m Your Neighbor, Portland could not be a success without our Immigrant Literacy Adviser Terry Farish. She is also the author of featured book The Good Braider which follows a refugee named Viola in her journey from her village in South Sudan to Portland, Maine. Here Farish talks about her experience and inspiration in writing The Good Braider.
VISIT Farish’s blog “The Good Braider” for more about South Sudan and her research on the book.
JOIN US at the Portland Public Library on July 11th to celebrate the title.
On Writing The Good Braider
Terry Farish’s involvement with the Sudanese community began at the Reiche Branch Library in Portland, Maine, where she worked in 2001. She worked with families from countries around the world including children and teens from Sudan. She remembers talking with one boy from Sudan and asking him about the food that he ate and instead of trying to describe it, he invited her over for dinner where his mother could cook for her and she could experience it for herself.
Farish originally started out researching and writing a non-fiction book about Sudanese teens in the U.S. but after many years of writing nonfiction, she turned to fiction, after beginning to write scenes in verse. After talking to people in the Sudanese community, she saw that the parents worried about their children who became Americanized quickly while the parents wanted them to keep their cultural identity.
Farish researched the history of Sudan and neighboring countries, including the impact of colonialism. She also researched the civil war that was taking place in Sudan. Some of her sources included The Shadow of the Sun, The White Bone, Me Against My Brother, and Voices of the African Ancestors. For more resources, see Farish’s “The Good Braider” blog under Researching South Sudan.
To understand the Sudanese culture, Farish turned to the Sudanese community in Maine. It was in their living rooms and kitchens where she collected oral histories of the families. She saw the expectations a family has for the daughters, and the power of the mother in the family – all of which helped her create the mother-daughter relationship between her character Viola and her mother. She witnessed the ritual of braiding and learned the significance of the braids to the girl as part of her identity and culture. She also used specific details that were real for many Maine immigrants, such as the experience of going to an ESL class and working at Barber Foods in Portland.
Remember to save the date for I’m Your Neighbor, Portland’s celebration of The Good Braider!
The American Library Association named the I’m Your Neighbor, Portland featured book, The Good Braider (Amazon Children’s Books) a A YALSA Best Ficton for Young Adults Book, 2013. Congratulations to author Terry Farish!
The city of Portland looks forward to engaging in a conversation about The Good Braider on July 11, 2013 at the Portland Public Library. More info here.