5 Questions with Aminatta Forna, Author of The Window Seat

May 18, 2021

Smiling author portrait of Aminatta

Aminatta Forna is the author of the novels Ancestor StonesThe Memory of Love, and The Hired Man, as well as the memoir The Devil That Danced on the Water. Forna’s books have been translated into twenty-two languages. Her essays have appeared in GrantaThe GuardianThe Observer, and Vogue. She is currently the Lannan Visiting Chair of Poetics at Georgetown University.

Aminatta Forna will be in conversation with Eula Biss about her new book, The Window Seat: Notes from a Life in Motion (published by Grove), in our City Lights LIVE! discussion series on Wednesday, May 19th, 2021!


Where are you writing to us from?

I’m in Arlington, Virginia.

What’s kept you sane during the pandemic?

A childhood spent in developing countries where things were often not as you would have wished: power cuts, curfews, coups. Dogs have always kept me sane and we had adopted a Blue Heeler a few months before the pandemic began. I have been running a good deal over the last twelve months and encouraged a friend to begin. Now she can run a 5K. I also go sculling on the Potomac. The outdoors, basically.

What books are you reading right now? Which books do you return to?

I’m reading Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants by Robin Wall Kimmerer, which I am loving for Kimmerer’s intimate and yet authoritative voice. Fevers, Feuds and Diamonds: Ebola and the Ravages of History by Paul Farmer, which is about the Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone and also blends history, memoir, and science. Also The Enchanted April, by Elizabeth von Arnim, which I saw recommended by Rabih Alameddine on Twitter in a discussion about joyful novels. I found I was in the mood for a restorative Italian holiday.

I don’t return much to books, my natural curiosity tends to lead me to new books. Books I love and own in every form from E-book to signed first edition are A Heart So White by Javier Marías and Michael Ondaatje’s Anil’s Ghost.

Which writers, artists, and others influence your work in general, and this book, specifically?

This book: Pico Iyer, Annie Dillard, Joan Didion, James Baldwin, Eula Biss. My wider influences: everything I have ever read.

If you opened a bookstore, where would it be located, what would it be called, and what would your bestseller be?

It would be in Freetown, Sierra Leone where we don’t have enough bookshops–the result of poverty and war. People in Sierra Leone love poetry. There are lots of good local poets and also excellent musicians who have won a national and regional following, such as Khady Black and Emmerson. Their hard hitting, political lyrics have propelled their very successful careers. Sierra Leone has a long history of political pamphleteering. I’d bet if someone ran off a few thousand copies of their song lyrics they’d sell in a day.

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