On November 30th, 2021, the Lannan Center presented a reading and talk featuring author Tope Folarin Introduction by Aminatta Forna.
About Tope Folarin
Tope Folarin is a Nigerian-American writer based in Washington, D.C. He won the Caine Prize for African Writing in 2013 and was shortlisted once again in 2016. He was also recently named to the Africa39 list of the most promising African writers under 40. Folarin was educated at Morehouse College and the University of Oxford, where he earned two Masters degrees as a Rhodes Scholar. He is the author of A Particular Kind of Black Man (Simon & Schuster, 2019), and is currently the Lannan Creative Writing Visiting Lecturer at Georgetown University and Director of the Institute for Policy Studies.
From A Particular Kind of Black Man
She told me I could serve her in heaven.
She accompanied me to school each day. School was about a mile away, and a few hundred feet into my trek, just as my family’s apartment building drifted out of view behind me, she would appear at my side.
I don’t remember how she looked. Memory often summons a generic figure in her place: an elderly white woman with frizzled gray hair, slightly bent over, a smile featuring an assortment of gaps and silver linings. I do remember her touch, however—it felt cool and papery, disarmingly comfortable on the hottest days of fall. She would often pat my head as we walked together, and a penetrating silence would cancel the morning sounds around us. I felt comfortable, protected somehow, in her presence. She never walked all the way to school with me, but her parting words were always the same:
“Remember, if you are a good boy here on earth, you can serve me in heaven.”
I was five years old. Her words sounded magical to me. Vast and alluring. I didn’t know her, I barely knew her name, but the offer she held out to me each morning seemed far too generous to dismiss lightly. In class I would think about what servitude in heaven would be like. I imagined myself carrying buckets of water for her on streets of gold, rubbing her feet as angels sang praises in the background. I imagined that I’d have my own heavenly shack. I’d have time to do my own personal heavenly things as well.
How else would I get to heaven?
One day I told my father about her offer. We were talking about heaven, a favorite subject of his, and I mentioned that I already had a place there. “I’ve already found someone to serve,” I said.
“What do you mean?”
Dad smiled warmly at me. I felt his love. I repeated myself:
“Daddy, I’m going to heaven.”
“And how are you going to get there?”
I told him about the old lady, my heavenly shack, the streets of gold. My father stared at me a moment, grief and sadness surging briefly to the surface of his face. And then anger. He leaned forward, stared into my eyes.
“Listen to me now. The only person you will serve in heaven is God. You will serve no one else.”
Music: Quantum Jazz — "Orbiting A Distant Planet" — Provided by Jamendo.