Monday, April 13, 2015

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Award-winning hip hop artist, activist, author, and former lost boy Jal Jok, better known as Emmanuel Jal, was born around 1980 into a destiny of pain.

When he was seven years old, Sudanese soldiers killed his mother—the first of many of his family to die at government hands. After his father joined the Sudan People’s Liberation Army or SPLA, Jal sought refuge in Ethiopia along with thousands of other children, and ended up enslaved by the SPLA as a child soldier—the so-called “lost boys.”



Jal eventually escaped to the town of Waat where he met a British aid worker named Emma McCune who was married to SPLA commander, and future South Sudanese vice president
Riek Machar. After adopting Jal, McCune took him to Kenya for education, but she herself died in a vehicle accident only months later, and he soon found himself living in the slums of Nairobi.

It was there that Jal discovered hip hop and devoted his life to political art, particularly to engaging the struggles of South Sudan, and became an international star. He’s released six albums including Gua, Ceasefire, Warchild, Emmanuel Jal’s 4th Studio Album, See Me Mama, and The Key. He’s the author of the autobiography War Child, has appeared in a biographical documentary of the same name, and has acted in the feature film Africa United, as well as in the controversial movie The Good Lie, directed by Ron Howard and starring Reese Witherspoon; 54 Sudanese refugees have sued the film’s producers for exploiting them.

Jal has performed at Nelson Mandela’s 90th birthday celebration in London and at the One Concert for the Dalai Lama. He’s spoken before the United Nations, the US Congress, and the Carter Centre. He founded a charity, Gua Africa, that provides scholarships for Sudanese war survivors and Nairobi slum children.

Jal currently lives in Toronto, but by his own description is “always on the road.” He was in Edmonton as part of an Alberta-wide tour that the John Humphrey Centre organised for Jal to share his experiences in “social-emotional learning.” We spoke at the John Humphrey Centre in Edmonton on March 20, 2015. Our topics included:

  • Jal’s philosophy on “benevolently stereotyping” strangers
  • His approach to being a settler on First Nation land
  • Why, in his opinion, the optimism that led to the creation of South Sudan has decayed into misery under the presidency of Salva Kiir Mayardit, the vice-presidency of Riek Machar, and the influence of Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni
  • The responsibility of the United States for the chaos inside its client state South Sudan, and
  • The effects of US Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush and former Kenyan president Daniel Arap Moi on the people of South Sudan.

For clarity’s sake, note that Jal uses the acronym SPLA to refer to the Sudanese People’s Liberation Army, the armed wing of the Sudanese People’s Liberation Movement, which fought the Omar al Bashir government based in Khartoum, before South Sudan seceded with the city of Juba as its capitol.

I began our discussion by asking Jal what his life is like in Toronto, given the widespread racial profiling by police there, including the infamous “carding” system in which police, apparently as a matter of policy, stop all African men to demand identification.

Emmanuel Jal's homepage


My acclaimed novel The Alchemists of Kush is about two Sudanese lost boys. Click here for reviews, videos, text, and audio about the book.

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NOW READ THIS! 16 Awesome Authors, Activists, Artists, and Academics Recommend Righteous Reading, Part B (MF GALAXY 020)

Last episode was part one of NOW READ THIS!, in which ten awesome people awesomely awesomed up their awesome reading recommendations. Why? Because a whole bunch of angries didn’t like the Bradford Reading Challenge.

What’s the Bradford Reading Challenge, you ask? Simple! Author, tech-reviewer, and fandom activist K. Tempest Bradford suggested in an opinion piece that readers should discover the world of writers who never get confused for Mitt Romney, Stephen Harper, or Patton Oswalt.

This episode, instead of ten boffo-socko book baptisers, let’s level up to SIXTEEN SCINTILLATING BOOK SPEAKERS.

That’s right! We’ll hear from:

  • Directors Ernest Dickerson, Seith Mann, and Reginald Hudlin
  • Alternative Radio founder and interviewer David Barsamian
  • South Sudanese community activist Buk Arop
  • Sociologist and author Algernon Austin
  • Columnist, author, and activist Bill Fletcher
  • Hip hop artist and activist Young Mav
  • Actors Isaiah Washington, Jamie Hector, Robert Wisdom, and Scott Wilson
  • Academic and artist John Jennings
  • Academic and activist Nene Khalema
  • Novelist and journalist Sparkle Hayter, and
  • Scholar and author Runoko Rashidi

To hear the recommendations of Wab Kinew, Chuck D, Daryl Lennox, Lisa Yaszek, Gene Luen Yang, Geoffrey Anguyo, Clark Johnson, Clarke Peters, Denis Simpson, and Levar Burton, just download episode 19 of MF GALAXY from iTunes, and to hear my full interview with Bradford, download episode 18, or stream live from MF


Monday, March 30, 2015

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NOW READ THIS! Ten Amazing People Talk About the Amazing Books They Love, Part A (MF GALAXY 019)

On the previous episode, we heard all about the controversial Bradford Reading Challenge. It shouldn’t be controversial at all, of course. Author, tech-reviewer, and fandom activist K. Tempest Bradford suggested in an opinion piece that readers should branch out beyond the extremely typical, self-imposed restriction of straight, White, able-bodied, and presumably English-speaking male authors.

That’s right: thanks to the educational and media systems and cultures of Canada and the United States, that author category is default for way, way, way too many readers.

So how about, said Bradford, for one year, open up your minds and eyes to encounter the whole universe of writers beyond? To hear all about the outrageous and even vicious backlash Bradford got for suggesting people read books to make themselves happy, download episode 18 of MFGALAXY from iTunes.

But tonight, let’s pick up the Bradford Reading Challenge ourselves, and hear suggestions from:

  • Canada Reads host Wab Kinew
  • Public Enemy leader Chuck D
  • Comedian Darryl Lenox
  • Science fiction scholar Lisa Yaszek
  • Graphic novelist Gene Luen Yang
  • Medical activist Dr. Geoffrey Anguyo
  • Actors Clark Johnson, Clarke Peters, Denis Simpson, and Levar Burton

You’ll notice that almost all those guests are male, and you are about to observe that almost all of will discuss books that men wrote. And that’s yet another example of why the Bradford Reading Challenge is so important. I personally need to read work by more women authors--and I’m happy to say I have several fascinating interviews coming your way in the near future with Nalo Hopkinson and NK Jemisin--but I definitely need to grow, too.

So please, instead of cursing the fart, open a window and let in some fresh air. Post your reading recommendations for work by women writers, coloured writers, Indigenous writers, queer writers, or writers with disabilities right here in the comments section on and the MFGalaxy Facebook group.

Say the title and author and why you loved the book so much. If you like, include a picture of yourself holding the book, or shoot a quick webcam video telling us about your choice!

The three most interesting entries will get each winner a copy of any of my novels--winner’s choice--and you can read all about those on and also watch all the handy-dandy videos including the snazzy cinematic book trailers.





Monday, March 23, 2015

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Before I tell you about editor, tech reviewer, blogger, and fandom activist K. Tempest Bradford and what she did, I want to ask you, a typical reader, to do a thought experiment. 

Since you’re a typical reader, I know that in any given year, 90 to 100% of the books you read are by Buddhist lesbians from Beijing.

Now, I know that Buddhist lesbians from Beijing have written many, many excellent novels. I would never claim otherwise. But since you’re already so familiar with books by Buddhist lesbian writers from Beijing, I’m thinking, hey, how about for the next year, you try reading books by authors from the rest of humanity? Like, Buddhist gay writers from Beijing? Or Buddhist lesbians writers from Shanghai? Hey, they don’t even have to be Buddhist. Or lesbian. Or from any Chinese city at all. Because… there’s a planet full of writers.

I’m sure you’ll find a few—maybe dozens, maybe thousands—that you’ll like, especially since you’ve been unconsciously or maybe even consciously excluding them your whole life.

But then again, so did the educational system, and major media book reviews, book promotions, literary events, and Hollywood. So I’m definitely not blaming you for personally for focusing 90 to 100% of your reading on Buddhist lesbian writers from Beijing.

But because I suggested you broaden the range of writers that will entertain you, you’ll think about it, right? And obviously you wouldn't launch vicious attacks against me for my race, gender, sexuality, or appearance, right? Because we're adults.

So back to K. Tempest Bradford.

- See more at:

- See more at:


On the website, Bradford recently challenged readers for one year to read books by queer writers, writers with disabilities, women writers, coloured writers, and any who overlap categories.

Put another way, Bradford challenged readers to read books by writers representing the vast majority of humanity. 

However, she didn’t quite phrase her challenge that way--instead, she said that readers should, for one year, read books by writers who aren’t straight White men who were cis-male (that is, born and widely accepted as male).

The result of Bradford’s challenge was so much pearl-clutching that many people outright asphyxiated themselves. Many people accused Bradford of what they called “racism,” or “reverse racism,” and said they didn’t want to be “limited” in their choices, despite the fact that Bradford’s goal was to get them to stop limiting themselves.

She was not, as she put it, "coming to get their White man books."

She did, however, include a photo of herself holding a Neil Gaiman book with a big red cross-out circle over the cover.

K. Tempest Bradford spoke with me by Skype from her home in New York City on March 4, 2015. She told me about:

  • her goals in issuing the challenge
  • the obscene and deranged attacks her challenge drew
  • what’s she’s learned from the experience
  • how all of that compares to her experiences of multiculturalism vs. Eurocentrism at science fiction and fantasy conventions, and
  • how Neil Gaiman himself reacted to her challenge and the backlash (one case is here; Bradford also collected dozens of disgusting tweets against her, but that link may be gone; if you can find it, please post it here).

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