Grand Forks artist Koriko receives federal grant to translate Togolese play

Joe Bowen, Grand Forks Herald
·2 min read

Feb. 27—A Grand Forks artist and academic is set to make the first-ever English translation of a play about the African condition.

Hamzat Koriko, the executive director of the African Arts Arena, is in line for a $12,500 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, which he'll use to translate "Catharsis," a play by Gustave Akakpo in which Mother Africa herself questions other abstract characters about life on the continent, from French to English.

"It's pretty much like a self reflection on why things that are happening in Africa are happening. What are some of the responsibilities that lie at the foot of Africa? And what role the international community is playing in the state of affairs in Africa," Koriko told the Herald.

Characters include generals, Africans in diaspora, descendants of slaves, warlords, heads of state, and more.

"A family meeting where everybody is talking about what is right, what is not right, what we need to do so we can move forward," Koriko said. "That's why we call the play Catharsis. ... If she doesn't go through this ritual, nothing is going to change."

Translating the play to English, Koriko hopes, will widen English speakers' understanding of the continent. Koriko and Akakpo are both from Togo, and the pair worked together years before Koriko immigrated to the United States in the early 2000s. Koriko himself has appeared in "Catharsis" — he played a journalist and photographer who notes that fruitless wars rage across the continent and suggests that Mother Africa charge people for fighting there so she can glean at least some value from those conflicts.

"His play talks about things about Africa that people need to know, like the war and all the wealth that Africa has, but nothing is going forward for them," Koriko said.

Helping Koriko with the translation is Michael Beard, a former UND professor who can act as a figurative second set of eyes. Koriko hopes to finish the project by March of 2022 and schedule a reading of the newly minted English version of the play shortly afterward.

The arts endowment is set to award $325,000 worth of similar grants this year, which will pay 24 people to translate plays, novels, and other works from 19 different countries written in 16 languages into English.

"Supporting literary translation not only means that many of the world's talented writers reach a new audience, but also new and different perspectives and experiences are made available to readers in this country," Amy Stolls, director of literary arts at the National Endowment for the Arts, is quoted as saying in a news release. "The Arts Endowment is proud to continue its long history of supporting the art of translation through these 24 fellowships."