#WorldBookDay Pre-Order The Cooking Gene today


On November 8, 2016, HarperCollins will release my first book:  The Cooking Gene:  A Journey through African American Culinary History in the Old South.  



RACE.  We are fascinated by it and imprisoned by it, frustrated by it and endlessly debating its meaning.  Since 1492, few issues have complicated the human journey like the way we have braided categories of color, character, creed and class into the illusion of “race.”  We are weary and we need a way into more constructive dialogue and world-changing action.

wpid-fb_img_1432697119295.jpg wpid-img_2550.jpg.jpeg

FOOD. We are fascinated and imprisoned by it, frustrated by it and endlessly debating how it should function in our lives, culture and personal identities.  We have braided our feelings about culture, history, race, class, gender, health and sexuality into the reality of food.  Waves of human migration, innovation and cultural collisions have created a global food culture where regional food identities are capital in the marketplace of ideas.



FAMILY.  We are fascinated by genealogy and genetics, imprisoned by our upbringing, frustrated by our heritage and the shortcomings of our kin, and endlessly recounting the importance of family—blood and otherwise—in our lives.  It’s hard for us to see ourselves outside of the nexus of family and even harder for us to embrace the idea of the human family. And yet, the meaning of family and kinfolk is elastic—and we can find family where we least expect it.

In the 1760's my direct paternal and maternal ancestors arrived here at Sullivan's Island near Charleston, South Carolina.

In the 1760’s and 1770’s my direct paternal and maternal ancestors arrived here at Sullivan’s Island near Charleston, South Carolina from Sengal, Sierra Leone, Ghana and Angola.

In 2011, I started planning a never-ending journey to finally answer nagging questions—“What are my roots and where do I come from?  How does all of it impact my work as a food writer, a culinary historian and a historic interpreter who educates people about America’s second original sin—the enslavement and oppression of Africans and their descendants?  And how does food tell the story of my family and my people-from Africa to America and from slavery to freedom?”

Me at 3 with the Webster's Collegiate Dictionary on a Fisher-Price Table--You can't see it but my toy stove and cooking set is in the background...

  Me at 3 with the Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary on a Fisher-Price Table–You can’t see it but my toy stove and cooking set is in the background…

I set out on the roads of the Old South to look for places of cultural memory and culinary importance—fields, towns, coasts, swamps—where cooks—both enslaved and free people of color stirred the pot that became Southern food.  I began taking a series of genetic tests—each one peeling back the layers of time to reveal what the records I pored through could not—my Old World origins and place among the wider Southern family.  I talked to elders, planted seeds with children, visited farms and battlefields and cooked in kitchens where I saw tears, ghosts and realizations…

With Dr. Henry Louis Gates wrapping up taping of part of Many Rivers to Cross

   With Dr. Henry Louis Gates wrapping up taping of part of Many Rivers to Cross

Not the least of which was that I was inextricably connected to a bigger family than I had ever dreamed possible.

This book is part food memoir, part genealogical and genetic detective story, and a love letter to the culinary story of my Ancestors and their food-steps across the Southern landscape—from their arrival in chains to their day of liberation and Jubilee.  Ten years ago I set out to become the first antebellum chef in 150 years—bringing the historic traditional foodways of the South back to life.  Now I set myself to the task of telling my story and my family’s story through food—exploring every angle of our American journey through the meals, ingredients, flavors and delicacies that defined our dynamic, ever changing identities that lead to this moment, now.

Cymlings and Okra in Mississippi

Cymlings and Okra in Mississippi at an African American run farmer’s market

To do this I ate dirt–specifically–I sucked on red clay.  I picked cotton and primed tobacco, plucked rice and cut cane.  I shared a drink with Confederate army re-enactors and cooked at Southern synagogues.  I met a 101 year old man who was born in the days of Jim Crow but lived to see and vote in 2008 and 2012.  I cooked meals alongside black and white and Native and Asian and Latino chefs searching to understand their role in the flow of Southern history and culture.  I met kinfolk of all colors and my family—blood and bone and kindred spirits—became wide—from Ghana to England to Sierra Leone to Alabama to Canada to the ends of the world.  I searched for culinary justice and opportunities for uplift using food, farming and tradition to improve our lives.  And I ate.


This journey is not about kumbayah—it’s centered in confrontation and digging for the truth.  And yet, our confrontation takes place at the table of brotherhood.  This book is an account of me confronting the illusion of race and the reality of food.  This work is about confronting history, confronting my heritage and its misrepresentations, confronting my health, my future, my family and my pre-conceived notions.  This is an account of my confrontation and conversation with my region, my nation, and with Southern whites—my cousins rather than combatants—and in all of it–food is the vehicle.

Dialogue with Hugh Acheson at Stagville Plantation, North Carolina

Dialogue with Hugh Acheson at Stagville Plantation, North Carolina

I don’t know if what you’ll be reading in November will change your lives.  However I hope it starts a conversation of how we got here and where we need to go and how we can help each other on the way.  It is first and foremost a love letter to my people and my country on the eve of our 400th un-official anniversary as a people born in pain raised to an uneasy triumph.  It is second, a message of reconciliation and healing to the Southern family in a time when we desperately need it on a national and regional level.  It is third an offering to my Ancestors—from the kingdoms and villages of West and Central Africa to the kitchens high and low across her Diaspora where a great cuisine was forged in chains.  And lastly it is a prayer for our humanity and the hope we can sit as a global family at the feast of peace.

Here’s how you can pre-order your copy today:  For Amazon click here.  For links to HarperCollins, Barnes and Noble, Indie Bound, Powell’s etc. click here.



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Interview with Senongo Akpem, Creator of HoloHalo | Inverse

Senongo Akpem, HoloHalo, 2016

HoloHalo is a speculative science fiction project and the brainchild of artist Senongo Akpem. The HoloHalo is described as “a holographic communication device that learns and adapts to you. Autonomously project colors and patterns that sync with your mood.” The site provides specs on the software and hardware needed to make your halo work, and gifs model the halo on Afrxdiasporic subjects.

Wowwwwwwww. I’m in love. And I want one. Can you imagine a Purple Lemonade halo? Or the halo around slavery scholars working in the slave ship’s archive or on maroonage?


There is an interview with Senongo Akpem, Creator of HoloHalo in Inverse:

“For HoloHalo, I wanted to speculate on what futuristic technology would look like when used by the types of people that look like me. It’s a part of the world of Afro-futurism. I’m exploring a very specific idea, visualizing expressive communication through tech, and what that means (or could mean) for Africans and members of today’s African Diaspora. Kind of deep, but what sci-fi isn’t?”


“My design process is quite similar to my other projects — lots of drawing and testing the limits of what I can do. There were a few technical challenges that really forced me to buckle down and work out what I wanted to design. It was important to use readily accessible web tech. That meant HTML, CSS, and SVG. I needed it to be animated, so I had to learn quite a bit about SMIL and CSS3 animation, finding a way to standardize all the halo movements in my code.

Finally, it needed to be proudly Black. I’m a Nigerian, born and raised, and it was important for me to show Africans and people of color front and center in this speculative future.”


“Back home in Nigeria, people often wear amazingly colorful clothing, often made from wax print. For nice traditional clothes, it’s still very uncommon to buy off the rack — instead, if you want a new outfit, you choose some fabric and have something custom made. Those bright custom clothes that I grew up wearing and seeing feel like much better candidates for personalized wearable tech than the Dick Tracy wrist phones or Starfleet combadges we are selling currently.”

Read it all: Meet Senongo Akpem, the Real Artist Behind the Fake (and Brilliant) HoloHalo | Inverse

Filed under: #DH Research, Black Futures, Black Life x Ephemera Tagged: #transformDH, african continent, african diaspora, afrofuturism, art, black code studies, culture, digital, digital black studies, digital media, music, radical media, technology, tumblr

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Tracing Family Roots Through Food With Michael Twitty – The Kojo Nnamdi Show


I had a great time today with the one and only Kojo Nnamdi of DC’s NPR affiliate, WAMU 88.5.  We discussed my new forthcoming book The Cooking Gene on his renowned program where Wednesdays are food days! We talked food, genealogy, genetics, faith, family, and recipes. Have a listen and be sure to contribute to your local NPR affiliate! 


The Cooking Gene available for pre-order here!

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Zimbabwe: Storm clouds gather

It would not be an exaggeration to say Zimbabwe is entering into one of its most uncertain times, but oddly hardly anyone is giving any attention to this.

At 92, President Robert Mugabe is already the oldest leader in the world, and is threatening another run for the presidency in 2018 when he will be 94. That is unless mother nature and biology don’t have a say in it.

Murmurs for Mugabe to groom a successor are reaching a crescendo, but for some reason, he and a huge section of his party think that this is not a good idea.

A good number in his party, Mugabe included, have opined that only after the president is gone, should the succession issue be broached.

This disingenuous argument was well tackled by one of Mugabe’s former ministers, who said some countries are loathe to invest in Zimbabwe at Mugabe’s instigation because not even a bank would give a 92-year old person a loan.

For the past decade or so Mugabe’s succession has been one of the most topical issues and has created a lot of uncertainty in the country, but he has refused to budge.

The election of his successor, where he to fail to continue in office for any reason, is also murky and adds to the anxiety, meaning only the brave or the hopelessly foolish can be willing to invest in this country until this prickly issue is sorted.

As it is, the constitution says if the president cannot continue in his office, his party – in this case Zanu PF – should submit a name of who should replace him within three months.

The voting criteria in that party is as clear as mud; as it is there are only two elected people in the upper echelons of Zanu PF – Mugabe and his wife Grace – and the rest are appointed by Mugabe himself.

So the question is, who gets to vote, the whole party, the central committee, the politburo or congress; and all this being done in a three-month process makes it a mammoth task.

Maybe Zanu PF have this locked down, but we are yet to hear the details in full.

Finally, there have been ructions in Zanu PF and succession is at the centre of it all.

There is growing paranoia, with people routinely being accused of plotting to unseat Mugabe, no matter how fantastical the accusations are.

A number of people that served Mugabe since before independence have either been kicked out or are on their way out. Discussing Mugabe’s successor is heresy in the country, but surely at 92, after such a long innings, this is inevitable.

Many fear chaos is certain when Mugabe goes, maybe because he has been synonymous with Zimbabwe for so long, or because no one knows who will take over when the day finally comes.

In the meantime, Mugabe’s supporters believe it is unAfrican to discuss his succession when he is still alive, but this does nothing to allay the fears and the anxieties.

The post Zimbabwe: Storm clouds gather appeared first on Africa on the Blog.

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