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Afro-Nordic Update by Anthony Grooms

[By Anthony Grooms]

As I continue to explore Black American writers in Scandinavia, some delightful and interesting surprises have been revealed.  Here is a short report.  Recently, with funding from Kennesaw State University, I travelled in Sweden for two weeks in May 2014.  My research focused on the American deserter community of the 1970s as I continued to study materials to support my novel, “Burn the House,” about an African American deserter and his struggle with identity and adjustment to Swedish life.  Most of my time was spent reading in the archives of the Labor Movements Library,  which has two collections of deserter materials, but there was also time to meet with Afro-Swedes and talk about literary matters.

In Malmö, Sweden’s southernmost city, I met with Madubuko Diakite.  Diakite, an American who has lived in Sweden for more than four decades, is a Researcher in Migration Law at Raoul Wallenberg Institute of the University of Lund and Founder of English International Association (thelundian.com), a group focused on Afro-Nordic culture.  Diakite has recently published a chapter in Afro-Nordic Landscapes: Equality and Race in Northern Europe, edited by Dr. Michael McEachrane (Rutledg
e).  The book, a study of the African Diaspora in the context of Scandinavia, focuses on how the presence of the African Diaspora has shaped white identity and human rights in the Nordic region, as well as, the challenges presented to Afro-Nordics as they define themselves in this region. The book also touches on Nella Larsen and her connection to Denmark.  Co-incidentally, Diakite’s mother knew Larsen when they both lived in New York.

Highly recommend is Diakite’s excellent memoir, Not Even in Your Dreams, about his childhood in New York and Nigeria. It is available at trafford.com.  At its core, Not Even in Your Dreams is a moving story about the complicated relationship between a son and his Garveyite mother, Lillian.  In an effort to ‘un-Americanized’ her children, Lillian kidnaps Diakite and his sister, ages 10 and 8, gives them new identities and sends them to live with their step-father in pre-independence Nigeria.  The stepfather is none other than Chief MCK Ajuluchuku, a prominent independence leader.  The matter is complicated even more when the children fall afoul of Ajuluchuku’s embittered second wife.  This is an exceptional memoir because it tells an extraordinary story that touches on personal identity, cultural relations, and family bonds.

In Stockholm, I met with Malin Adams Hammar, the daughter of Sherman Adams.  Adams was born in Atlanta and immigrated to Sweden in the 1960s, where he became a prominent activist and journalist. His memoir, Mitt Amerika (My America), published in 1980, is still well known in Sweden.  It gives an account of Adams’ childhood during Jim Crow.  The memoir was published in Swedish and the whereabouts of the English manuscript was unknown, until now.  Hammar reported that she is in possession of many of her father’s papers, including an English language draft of Mitt Amerika, and several chapters of its unfinished sequel, “Minn Sverige” (My Sweden).  She is excited about sharing these papers with scholars.

I found it interesting to observe how the black communities in Sweden, coming from various origins, are re-defining themselves  as an integral and important aspect of contemporary Scandinavian society.