The professor of African history at San Francisco State University published the new graphic novel “Abina and the Important Men,” co-authored with South African illustrator Liz Clarke. The book is available at Book Passage, Green Apple and City Lights.
How did you first discover Abina’s story? I was doing research in Ghana on 19th-century liberated slaves of West Africa. I stumbled upon a long testimony of a young woman who fought with the judge, defending the importance of her experience, and it captured me.
Why did you choose the graphic novel format? I believe in the genre. It’s effective and intellectually stimulating. It’s also popular. Abina fought hard to be herself, and I felt a duty to try and bring her story to as many people as possible.
What makes her story so unusual? Abina was poor, young, a woman and a former slave in the 19th-century British colonial system. Historically, you almost never get to hear what these folks said, and here she was, in the courtroom, forcing people to hear the truth of her experience. And we get to read it, over a hundred years later.