Nancy's Writing About Africa
"The time I spent in Africa has certainly affected me. Some people go overseas and they want to become Indian or become African, but I never tried to join another culture. I knew I was never going to be an African, an Indian, a Hindu, or anything like that. I just approached everyone like people. Most of the time I was pretty ignorant about them. My preparation for going to India was reading Rudyard Kipling, and I'd read H. Rider Haggard and Tarzan books before going to Africa. I always figure, when you go to a country the people there are surviving somehow, so I'd just watch and see how they did it and copy them. I would sit around with people and listen to their stories, and I'd pick up a lot of other cultures that way. Though I spent time in India and in Australia, I was in Africa a lot longer than any other place and I got into the African mindset.
"Even so, it took me about ten years before I was able to write about Africa, because it's a complicated culture. They will sit and tell you anything you want to know -- that was the lovely thing about the Africans. But it took a long time to fit it into a system, to understand that it actually was a philosophical, religious system. A lot of what they said made a lot of sense to me. When they write about the spirit world, they're covering the same stuff that Sigmund Freud covered. They have their own terminology for it, but it's very much like the ego, the superego, and the id forces. Things like spirit possession are parts of your own personality and psyche, and their description of the subconscious is the spirit world.
"I wrote about Africa because I knew it -- I'd been living there 17 years -- and I didn't know the United States anymore. The first book I wrote while in Africa was about California hippies because that's exotic and the Africans liked that. But when I wrote it I realized I'd forgotten what it was like, and I didn't really have a feel for American language patterns any more. That was when I realized I had to write about Africa. Do You Know Me? was for little kids. The Ear, the Eye, and the Arm was the first 'big' book -- I made a thorough study of African mythology, religion and customs to make sure I got all the facts right. Then I did A Girl Named Disaster (I even have a bibliography on that one, because I intended it as an African Studies book.) In between, I wrote The Warm Place. That one was more popular in Africa than it was in the US. I retold certain Bible stories and Talmudic stories from an animal's point of view. It's fantasy, but it's a small book and has some religious aspects. It's not a bad book, but people remember the books that get awards, like The Ear, The Eye, and the Arm and A Girl Named Disaster.
Read an interview with J.L. Powers on Nancy's books set in Africa.