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Deesha Philyaw's Interview with Kola Boof



Kola Boof: In Her Own Words

by Deesha Philyaw

[October 2006 (c)]

India.Arie is not her hair, and Egyptian-Sudanese-American novelist and poet Kola Boof is not her headlines. There’s more to Kola than sensational labels like “Bin Laden’s Former African Mistress,” more to her than the credentialed journalists poking fun at her name care to know, more to her than the tales of Osama lusting after Whitney and wanting Bobby eliminated. All of that--along with Kola’s unmistakable middle finger to her critics—all of that can easily be Googled or Wikipedia-ed. I wanted to interview Kola Boof not to debate the details of her controversial autobiography, Diary of a Lost Girl (Door of Kush, 2006), nor to write a fluff piece. I wanted to interview Kola because I have found her to be one of the most consistent, maddening, encouraging, fire and ice people I’ve ever encountered. Kola Boof is an original.

Diary of a Lost Girl chronicles Kola’s childhood in Sudan; her being orphaned after her parents were murdered for having spoken out against the enslavement and oppression of black Africans under Sudan’s Arab-Islamic political ruling class; her placement for adoption by her Egyptian grandmother for being “too dark”; and her subsequent adoption by a black American family. From the beauty and horror of those early years, Diary… goes on to describe Kola’s ensuing tumultuous, transcontinental life—a life that is certainly not an “Internet legend created by white college boys,” as some of Kola’s detractors once claimed.

I “met” Kola a few years ago, the way so many of us meet people these days: online, inadvertently. I was looking for a book, and the Internet search engine results included a link to the African American Literature Book Club (AALBC) [www.aalbc.com]. On the AALBC message boards, I discovered a flame war in progress: Kola Boof versus….well, everybody else. The archives, years’ worth of them, were bursting with similar showdowns. I found myself alternately entertained, enlightened, and disturbed.

I had heard of Kola prior to visiting AALBC, had read her writing in fact—an open letter she penned as a feature for the progressive culture and style magazine, Black Book. Kola’s wrote the letter in response to “I ain’t no African”-type comments attributed to Whoopi Goldberg and Morgan Freeman. There, on the AALBC message boards, was that same voice from the letter in Black Book—eloquent and unflinching, plus a whole lotta Southeast D.C. thrown in when you crossed her. Board regulars and unsuspecting visitors sparred with Kola over issues of race, religion, identity and history. They called her a fraud and everything but a child of God (and Kola gave as well as she got). Folks could do everything but ignore her. Determined to be a dispassionate observer, I vowed not to jump into the fray, but I could not keep that vow. With a penchant for messing with folk at the dangerous intersection of race, color, class, religion, and sex, Kola can provoke you. To thought, as well as to anger.

But you have to possess that kind of moxie in spades when your writing is fiercely pro-woman, pro-black, and pro-Africa, and unapologetically critical of Arabs, of Islam, of white supremacists and self-hating black folks. In addition to her autobiography, Kola is also the author of The Flesh and the Devil, a novel; Long Train to the Redeeming Sin, a collection of stories about African women that the New York Times called, “alluring, earthy, angry, and impressionistic”; and Nile River Woman, a collection of poems.

From Nile River Woman:

There is Slavery in Sudan

The lonely war imprisons even the sun.
Licking at the scrotum of an Un-Godly Imam.
Charcoal children chained to the back doors of
Arab households.
Charcoal children fed like prison stock
from doggy bowls.

The lonely war bestills all Gods.

But I am the future. I am love.

I am that future of my open scalp’s freedom.

I fear not Satan
nor his brothers, nor his religion.
Selling Sudan.
Dinka girl…raped and sold for fourteen dollars.
Nuer fathers gunned down in the marketplace.
Shilluk mothers, tongues removed, sent to Palestine.
To be slaves.

Lost boys…living it up in the Pet cream of America.


So I wanted to interview this gifted writer and mother of two sons, to continue a conversation we started long ago.


DP: You chose the name “Kola Boof” for yourself. Why “Kola Boof”?

KB: Kola Boof is actually a two word poem that I wrote. The poem encompasses my African acculturation while simultaneously mirroring my fascination with silent films of the 1920's. The kola nut is the favorite snack of African children and the sound the African drum makes is "boof". On the flip side, I loved Betty Boop and Clara Bow as a teenager and dreamed of an African version of those screen images. Hence the poem "Kola Boof"--and then I took it as my name.

What is the biggest misconception about you?

Well, just today, there's a new documentary claiming that I'm a victim of "mind control" by the CIA and working for George Bush...which is ridiculous since I'm a liberal Democrat and have a lot more in common with Malcolm X than Condoleeza Rice. But people don't like it that I support Israel instead of Palestine--they're not Black women from North Africa so they wouldn't understand why I would support Israel and not Palestine, and though I am half-Arab and was born Muslim--I find myself constantly being lied on and attacked by people in media and politics who are afraid that the American public will begin listening to my truth.

There is no support for me from the world writing community whatsoever, and yet, I am not a political figure. I am an African mother and a writer.

You are incredibly generous toward, and supportive and complimentary of fellow writers, including me (full disclosure). Who are some of your favorite authors?

The obvious three that I'm compared to the most and patterned myself after, Toni Morrison, Alice Walker and Nawal el Sadaawi...but also Richard Wright, Sherwood Anderson, Z.Z. Packer, Paul Beatty, Gloria Naylor, Marita Golden, Susan Sontag, Gloria Steinem, Chris Abani, Chinweizu, Amy Tan. There's so many I love.

Are you a fan of so-called “urban/ghetto lit”?

Well, I would be if it was on the level of Chester Himes and Donald Goines. Unfortunately, it's not, but I definitely think it should be published--I mean, people need entertainment and variety.

Much of The Flesh and the Devil and the beginning of Diary… are celebrations of black skin which we know doesn’t always find favor in popular media. Flesh… in particular reads at times like a fairy tale with mystical and romantic elements and the varied descriptions of dark skin and woolly hair, cherished and embraced. How do you respond to critics who say that you go beyond being celebratory and pro-black to being anti-white…or even anti-light-skinned blacks? In your non-fiction, as well as your fiction?

I don't see why an African writer would prefer "white" or "light skinned" beauty to Black beauty. Why do they expect me to write like a slave? Why do the whites and yellowstock always expect me to love them...more than I love myself? I have not marginalized them. They can go to hell.

Flesh and the Devil is part-fairy tale, part-over-the-top soap opera melodrama. You were born for the soaps, so what happened with the Days of Our Lives writing gig?

Well, first...I think Flesh and the Devil is far more substantial than you described it. Nigeria's great Scholar, Chinweizu, wrote a letter to Chinua Achebe and Toni Morrison after reading that book in which he declared me 'Africa's most important new writer.’ There is enormous subtext and depth, historically and sociologically to that book, although it was also my intention that it be entertaining and breathtakingly romantic.

As for Days of Our Lives, it's the same old story. Unexpected publicity about my past with Osama Bin Laden frightened the sponsors of the show, and I was let go after only four months. However, the producers Stephen Wyman and Ken Corday, really hated to let me go because of the Story Bible and the episodes I wrote and because they had wanted to be daring and make the show edgier. I learned English watching that show, so I'm extremely loyal to them, and I spend every day cheering on Hogan Sheffer, Beth Milstein and Jeanne Ford--really wonderful writers, and of course, I owe so much to Stephen Wyman. I will always be grateful to him.

Flesh... is indeed more substantive than my question appears to suggest. Actually, I meant nothing insubstantial by "fairy tale.” I wish I had grown up reading about dark skin and hair and facial features like mine, in such a positive light. What books and authors do you share with your sons?

My sons are still in cultural "muocap" (the state where they are more raised more by the father than the mother), so I don't give them books to read. Their father doesn't allow them to watch television. We prepare videotapes for them to watch of things like Discovery Channel and E.T. Once they turn 16, I will make sure they read Black Boy by Richard Wright and Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison. Those are mandatory.

What are you reading right now?

Regarding the Pain of Others by Susan Sontag.

What’s the latest with your forthcoming novel, The Sexy Part of the Bible?

God. Writing that book almost killed me, it was so intense. But it will come out next year. Before that, however, will be my new poetry collection The White Man's Mother and a national tour for my autobiography.

Why do you appear topless on the back covers of your books?

Out of respect for Nilotic culture, the "Zarpunni" (my African mothers and ancestors)...and also because I despise the lack of Goddess images among Black American women. Their sexuality is compartmentalized here, they aren't allowed to have sexual power within the society--only white women and other straight-haired women are. American women are Christians or Muslims. My religion is the "Womb". My black breasts are to remind America of the fertility and power of Black women as well as to symbolize that the Black woman is the future--not the past. But I wish White Americans would stop calling me "earth mother" and "mother Africa"--I am no more mystical than Bessie Smith or Joni Mitchell. I am a serious artist.

The artistic merits of your collections of stories and poems aren't considered nearly as often as the controversy surrounding your life and the political consequences of your writing. Why has your writing angered so many in the Muslim world and beyond? And why do you think it's important for your work to be read as art?

I feel that "Kola Boof" as an artist has been shunned by everyone, not just Muslims, and I feel that the reason is because my work demands respect and acknowledgement of the black man's mother. This is a white supremacist planet that retains its power by uplifting the white man's mother while outlawing the black man's mother or presenting a mulatto imitation of her to render her invisible--even black men take part in this--and I'm hated because I understand that and rebuke it.

Would it be correct to say that you are no fan of interracial relationships? If so, shouldn’t people be free to love and make babies with whoever strikes their fancy?

I'm not against interracial relationships, I've been in several interracial relationships. What I'm against...is the epidemic of self-hatred amongst Black people and how that manifests in destroying us as a people, and especially how it erases our blackness by systematically excluding the black woman's womb. I truly believe that because of the slave trade and colonialism, more than half of the world's Black people are now "niggerstock". What kind of human beings would refuse to give birth to their own image, systematically breed it weaker and weaker? Niggers.

Lighter-skinned blacks—such as my adopted daughter, and my late grandmother--who have no choice in the circumstances of their birth, and who may also be opposed to black self-hatred, would rightfully take offense to being called “niggerstock.” There are some dark-skinned black American entertainers, athletes, and other public figures who, to me, embody “niggerstock” with their self-hatred and coonery. When you use the phrase “niggerstock,” are you referring solely to physical appearance, or also to a state of mind?

I'm referring to African peoples who believe and perpetuate the belief that whiteness is superior. It can be the blackest Clarence Thomas-type to the lightskinned Ward Connerly-type to the kiss-ass Desmond Tutu-type to dark chocolate South African singer Lebo, a pathetic woman who may as well tattoo 'Please spit on me--I am Inferior' across her forehead. You notice blacks love to talk about ancient Egypt or anything in the distant past, but you can't get them to discuss the reasons their teenaged daughters are bleaching their skin and wearing blonde hair. It's because more black people worldwide are 'niggerstock' than they are black.

As for "color", I am sick of very yellow skinned black people claiming that they're just as black as the blackest African--that's camel-crap. If you have large quantities of non-black blood in your veins, then you are not as black as the authentic blacks. They empower white supremacy by advancing the idea that you can be 'white' and represent blackness, but no one has confronted them about this, because none of us have any respect or love for blackness in the first place. I am sick of people disrespecting black people and disrespecting Africa by claiming that Mariah Carey is a black woman--she is not black. Neither is Vin Diesel. Why in the hell won't they claim Alek Wek who really is black? They hate authentic black people, that's why!

Journalist Mark Fogarty has written of you: “I prefer the writer to the public personality. I believe the marks of literary greatness can be discerned in Kola Boof. Coming from the womanist tradition of such American writers as Alice Walker and Toni Morrison, she adds and blends an African experience into that tradition.” Do you see yourself as a “divided soul” of sorts, as Fogarty describes, or do you see your writing and your public personality as inseparable?

I would love to do my work and not be seen. It's just that people fear the messages in my work--about race, sex and religion--so they try to keep me from being published or my books out of the stores, and in doing that--they force me to become a 'public' crusader. For instance, in order to get my work published, I had to become a 'brand name.” I had to generate sales and attention. Talent wasn't enough. In order to speak on Sudan, I had to become famous. They force me to do that in order to be heard. The American media hates me, people in the publishing industry are white or mulatto, so they hate me. Unlike people like Z.Z. Packer, Rebecca Walker and Zadie Smith...I'm not a part of the status quo...AT ALL. Those writers have college educations and huge organizations and foundations supporting them--major authors like Toni Morrison and John Updike blurb their work. Kola Boof has none of that.

You identify as a “womanist”, a term Alice Walker gave us years ago to recognize black women’s unique brand of feminism—because historically, feminism has been (and continues to be) such a loaded and yet inadequate word when it comes to addressing the realities of black women’s lives. How do you define “womanist”?

A womanist is a black feminist who is conscious of the lives other black women and strives to live her own with a sense of enormous purpose.

You're a classic film buff. Seriously old-school. What are some of your favorite flicks, favorite actors?

I love silent films from 1915 to 1929, stuff like Wings, Greta Garbo's Flesh and the Devil, Greed, and especially French silents by Abel Gance like J'Accuse. Those films touched my soul when I couldn't speak English as a kid in America. And then I love anything by Senegalese director Ousmane Sembene...Guelwaar, Faat Kine, Moolade. He's simply the greatest black filmmaker the world has ever produced--and my personal favorite of all time.

In Diary…, you write about acting overseas in hopes that it would lead to opportunities to direct. What kind of stories would you like to tell on film? Who, living or dead, would be in your dream cast?

I would like to make films that star a Black American actress named Yolanda Ross. She played the lead in Stranger Inside. There's a Black American Christmas story I want to make with her called "Better Angel," and I have an African love story-fairytale in mind about a soldier and a mermaid. I would like create roles for African actors, but I'd also love to direct Angela Bassett and give Vivica Fox something really difficult to do, because she's so underrated and poorly used. I wish Esther Rolle was alive so I could have her play an African Queen. I have a story set in Virginia about a group of Baptist church women battling a sexy ancient witch they all descended from.

Harper's magazine published excerpts from your autobiography, with details about your time with Osama Bin Laden, including his interest in Whitney Houston (and his talk of having Bobby Brown killed), and his fondness for certain American TV shows? What do you feel was their motivation for publishing this particular excerpt?

Because the book is so literary and so serious, and yet they chose such a snippet of gossip--I think that's a brilliant question. But I really don't have the answer.

In the wake of the publication of that excerpt, you appeared on MSNBC Live, and during that appearance, you objected to being described as Bin Laden's "sex slave." Were you held against your will? How would you describe your relationship with Osama Bin Laden?

Patty Hearst was held against her will and forced into sex with her captors. Why wasn't she ever called a sex slave? It's because she's rich and she's the image of White America, so they respectfully called her "captive" and "kidnap victim.”

Newspapers began introducing me, on the other hand, as "Sex slave Kola Boof.” It wasn't just degrading--but it was very misleading.

A sex slave isn't allowed to look her master in the eye, she doesn't go hunting and fishing with him, she doesn't sit up and write poetry with him, she doesn't clip his split ends and discuss how he should wear his hair with him. Not only that--but I had a maid at La Maison Arabe--a white English maid--I supervised Osama's staff when he was away in Afghanistan and Sudan. He sent me to Milan for a shopping spree, and when he let me go, he gave me more than a million dollars in property and jewels. So yes--just as many Arab women are forced into marriage against their will, I was forced into being Osama's mistress. But I was not a slave. White news editors in New York made up that lie.

Can you talk about the fatwa that was issued against you in 2003?

Well, once a threat like that is made against you from the Arab world--it's forever. You will always have to watch your back. The Sudanese government now claims that they will never harm me...but what really hurts is that even after the U.N. acknowledged that I had been ordered to be killed...there was no one anywhere who cared about me or my children, and out of hostility for the books I write, many reputable people continued to tell the lie that I had not been threatened, that I was making it up. This is what happens to Black women when they tell their truth.

The Sudanese People's Liberation Army (SPLA) affectionately calls you "Queen Kola." Can you talk about your work with this organization? And what can people of conscience do to help end the genocide in Darfur?

In 1998, I was trained by the SPLA in London how to pretend to be a geologist and slept with men at Talisman Oil in Port Colborne, Canada, at Ludin Oil in Sweden and at China National Petroleum company in Nairobi, Kenya, so that I could attain information that allowed the SPLA to bomb oil fields in South Sudan, specifically Operation Miuokda a few years later, where they bombed oil refineries using my blue print. In 2004, I went to Israel and gave a speech that resulted in guns and ammunition being given to the South Sudanese rebels, specifically Commanders Atho’sl and Yaka's armies. I have never received full credit from the SPLA, because the men are very sexist and feel that I'm acting out of place, bringing too much attention to myself--but for the funeral of our leader John Garang, they had me write the poem "Chol Apieth" to eulogize him, and that was their way of acknowledging my contributions.

And Darfur?

I don't know--write a letter to your government asking them to save the people of Darfur, donate money to Doctors Without Borders [www.doctorswithoutborders.org], which is the only trustworthy charity involved in the situation. Educate yourself about what's going on over there and tell and remind other people what's going on over there.

Imagine that Queen Kola really is Queen for a Day. You've got the run of the planet. What would you do to heal the social ills and injustices you speak out against?

I would issue everyone on earth a report card with an "F" on it, and then blow up the planet. Ha ha! Honestly--I don't know what I would do. I'd have to think about it over a lot of cooking and swimming and hot sex with my newly appointed bed slaves--Evander Holyfield, Michael Jordan and James Scott.

Back in the real world, what practical solutions would you like to see others take to create a more just world?

I would like to see Black people, for once in a thousand years, acknowledge and embrace the full humanity and worthiness of authentic blackness. Without that, we can't even begin to discuss the word justice, because the Slave is a bigger Satan than the Master.

From your letter in Black Book magazine in response to "I ain't no African" from Whoopi Goldberg and Morgan Freeman, fast forward to 2006 and the "I am African" and what appears to be a trend among white American celebrities, adopting African children... what are your thoughts about this?

I hate the "I Am African" campaign, because it promotes skin bleaching in Africa by using people who are clearly not African--like Alicia Keys--to once again celebrate images of mulattoes and whites rather than give African people the images they need, which are images of themselves saving themselves. Of course none of our "saviors" would dare think so deeply about the white supremacist images they keep enforcing. While pouring money into Africa, they do untold psychological damage to the people. You'll notice that no successful Africans like Djimon Hounsou, Akosua Busia, Kola Boof or Alek Wek were asked to participate, because the hand spoon feeding the lowly African must always be white--never black. This is why we have an epidemic of skin bleaching.

And celebrities adopting African children?

Well, like everything else that has to do with White people and Africa, it's two-fold. On the one hand, I myself was adopted (though by Black Americans via UNICEF, a bunch of white people), and I realize that it's a blessing for children to find a home. On the other hand, it's quite tragic that the cycle of African erasure and the image of the African as a perpetual helpless child continues. Everything black has been invaded and compromised and the death of Africa itself is in motion, because we have become the weakest race. But after years of being a huge Madonna fan, I'm really disappointed in her, because she could have used her enormous wealth to keep a family together. It takes less than a thousand dollars a year for a family to live in Malawi, and she could have given the father and grandmother money to keep the baby in his own culture with his own people. She's your typical white bitch savior.

What are people surprised to find out about you?

That in my romantic life, I'm so submissive to men--it shocks people--and that I'm very funny and that I prefer cooking and watching soap operas most of the day.

Speaking of soap operas, L.A. has to be one of the fakest places on the planet. How did you come to relocate there?

My Black American mother in D.C. wanted me to come to California and tell the father of my children that I was pregnant by him. I was going to keep it a secret, but after my first son was born, she made me take Simon, the baby--and after that we just started living together as a family, which lasted ten years. Two years ago, he gave me and the boys a ranch that's quite a ways outside of L.A., so I very rarely am actually in Los Angeles.

What's next for Kola Boof?

Hopefully, I'll begin to direct films about black women. The authentic, un-mixed black woman. Our real mother, because after all...where will we find her under the days? And what good are we to God if we let our own mother die?


”Anger comes from hurt and that is why nobody likes an angry woman, because she’s hurting inside.

An angry woman is dismissed as ‘bitter’—which is just people’s way of excusing themselves from having to heal that angry woman or to care about or understand her.

And whereas Roman Polanski can be known worldwide as a child molester and still manage to win an Academy Award in the year 2003, and whereas angry black men can rap and hip-hop their age, uncut and completely raw, into the public consciousness and become celebrated, well-respected millionaires from defiling their own mothers and poisoning their own communities…a woman being angry and exploring that ager…even in art…is still not acceptable, understandable or even pitiable by most of the people who order the society and think of themselves as fair judges of ‘rational behavior.’”

--Kola Boof, Diary of a Lost Girl

Read more about Kola Boof and excerpts of her writing at http://poetwomen.50megs.com and www.kolaboof.com.



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