Liberian International Writer Vamba Sherif speaks at Harvard University

By: Paul M. Kanneh*

Mr. Vamba Sherif

“If you can’t make it to Harvard University on Monday, you can pick up a copy of Land Of My Father by Vamba Sherif at Chez Alpha Books”, Vamba urges fans. Vamba Sherif, Liberia’s International Writer based in the Netherlands has delivered an inspirational speech at the United State of America’s prestigious University, Harvard. He spoke on Monday, September 13, 2021.  Professor Timothy Ogene invited Vamba Sherif.

“I will be speaking at Harvard University this Monday, 13 September, 2021. Professor Timothy Ogene, who read my novel Land of My Fathers, wrote to say that he was immediately struck by my nuanced take on history.

Vamba described the opportunity to speak at Harvard as the best compliments he has ever had, because according to him, it sums up his approach to life in general. He thanked Professor Timothy Ogene for affording him the opportunity to interact with students and faculties of the Department of African and African American Studies at Harvard University.

His speech focused on literature in general, Liberian literature in particularly and his career as a writer. Following his speech, the students asked him questions about one of his novels, Land of My Fathers, which made headway in Europe.

“My speech was not a prepared statement but an interaction with the students at The Department of African and African American Studies about literature in general, Liberian literature in particular and my career as a writer. The students asked me questions regarding my novel Land of My Fathers”, said Vamba Sherif.

In a related development, the Liberian International Writer, on 19th, October 2021 delivered the Black Achievement Month Lecture at the Royal Dutch Academy of Arts and Sciences. The lecture froum was organized by The Royal Dutch Academy of Arts and Sciences. Vamba’s motivation to participate in the Black Achievement Month Lecture steamed from his courage about the “Black Lives Matter movement and his ownn struggles as a black man and migrant.

“In recent years, The Black Lives Matter movement and the protests that followed reached every corner of the world. In the light of this great event, I saw the need to make my own contribution by reflecting on my own past, my struggles as a black man and migrant to belong”, Vamba reccolects his strguggle moments.

Accordiing to him, he was inspired by the work of African-American writer James Baldwin and Novelist Marilynne Robinson, his memoir: “Unprecedented Love”, focused on my children. He said he wanted to show his children with their mixed heritage, colour and different-sounding names, that their past and future were connected to the efforts of people, black and white, who took to the streets in great numbers demanding justice for black people in the “balck lives matter” campaign.

Vamba Sherif is a Novelist, Essayist, Film Critic and Speaker. He was born in Kolahun, Lofa County to the union of Wata Amara and Bendu Sherif. He grew up in Sherif Quarter and attended Kolahun Muslim School, where he learned English, Arabic and other subjects. He later moved to Kuwait, where he attended Asmai High School. During The First Gulf War, Vamba fled Kuwait, spent a few months in Amman, Jordan, then two years in Damascus, Syria, before settling as a refugee at the height of the Liberian civil war in the Netherlands in 1993. He attended Tilburg University law school.

Vamba Sherif has written a number of novels. In 1999, he published his debut novel, The Land of My Fathers, which is about the founding of Liberia as the first African republic in 1822. In The Kingdom of Sebah (2003), in his second novel, Vamba explored the theme of migration and its effects on a Liberian family. Bound to Secrecy, another novel published in 2007 by Vamba, is a detective novel about a man investigating a disappearance in a remote fictional forest town called Wologizi in Lofa. The novel describes power and its abuse in an isolated community. Bound to Secrecy became his most successful novel: it was chosen in Germany as one of the best translated novels of 2009. This was followed by The Witness (2011), a novel about the social changes occurring in the Netherlands. His novel The Black Napoleon (2015) is an ambitious epic about Samori Touré, who founded the Wasulu Empire, one of the greatest in Africa at the end of the 19th century.

Vamba Sherif’s work has appeared in many languages, including English, French, German, Spanish, and Indian Malayalam. He has also published essays, stories, film reviews, columns and opinion pieces in The New York Times, the German Kulturaustausch, African Writing, Trouw, Volkskrant, NRC and ZAM-Magazine, among others. With Ebissé Rouw, he compiled Black Afro-European literature in the Netherlands and Belgium, a unique anthology of Afro-European experience in the Low Countries. In April 2021, his memoir Unprecedented Love was published, in which he tells his life story in a letter form to his ten-year-old daughter Bendu, the namesake of his mother.

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