Prince Mensah was born in August 1977 in Accra, Ghana. He attended Adisadel College, Extra Mural Academy, African-American HIV University and Mediation Training Institute. His works have been published in One Ghana, One Voice, Munyori Journal, UNESCO's Other Voices International Project, and the Dublin Writer's Workshop. He lives in Maryland, USA with his wife, Charisse. Prince is open to visiting colleges and universities in the USA to promote Ghanaian poetry and culture. Feel free to contact him about opportunities to market African poetry.
Prince is the head of North American promotions for One Ghana, One Voice.
Five questions with Prince Mensah:
1. Your metaphors are often surprising for the reader, such as "your breath becomes lottery". Is surprising the reader an intentional element to your writing, or do you simply enjoy being taken away by the writing (and are surprised yourself as much as the reader is)?
I get into the moment when I am writing and, yes, I surprise myself sometimes. Got that phrase after hearing a description of someone drawing their last breath. Indeed, sporadic breath and slow death are similes of each other. We tend to take life for granted until something tragic happens, which peels off the façade we wear in our earnest escape from realities of life. Life is like a train and we are all passengers, alighting when it is our time to go.
2. You noted recently that you agreed with Wole Soyinka's "call for native criticism of African literature." Do you think it's possible to build a culture in Ghanaian writing in which such criticism is encouraged? If so, how?
Charity begins at home. For the world to understand Africa, Africans must contribute to the hub of literary criticism. Soyinka was right to call for native criticism because African literature tends to be interpreted, mostly, through the eyes of non-native opinion, which can be ignorant, condescending or detached. This is not to bash the great work that several objective critics have done on African literature.
The truth is that the world understands the Western world better because of the balance between its writers and critics. That has been the best advertisement given to that kind of literature. Africa has not had that equilibrium of writing and criticism which drives the stock of intellectualism and cultural appreciation high.
The absence of critics is, indirectly, linked to the absence of writers. Ghana has to place priority on literature. Our people attend the best schools in the world but there is nothing done in the social fabric to enhance the worth of literature in our society. Our TV and radio stations only regurgitate western ideologies and our originality, as a country of interesting cultures, is lost in this labyrinth of misplaced priorities. We can start, as we are, with projects such as One Ghana, One Voice. The British Council, UNESCO and the Ministry of Education can be asked to assist in this drive. Are we going to do it as a group or as individuals? I don’t know. What I know is that, as a country, we possess the resources we need to do what is necessary in our society.
3. You have mentioned that Nas is a favorite of yours. Has his lyricism influenced your work at all? If so, has his work been particularly more important to you than other rappers and musicians. If so, what is it about his work that makes this so?
Nasir Jones is a great lyricist who has always surprised me with his lines. My favorite line from him is from the song, ‘Nas is Like’:
"Freedom or jail, clips inserted, a baby's being born / Same time my man is murdered, the beginning and end/ As far as rap go, it's only natural, I explain / My plateau, and also, what defines my name…"
To me, he is more of a poet than a rapper. He pays attention to words and their meaning. He is a voice of the struggle against a hypocritical system, an orator of immense conviction. His body of work spans from the nitty-gritty of life in the ghetto to human relationships.
Apart from Bob Marley, Kojo Antwi and Josh Groban, Nas inspires me with his passion and persistence as an artist. I relate to that part of his work because it is true and unadulterated by public opinion. That, to me, is what writing should be about. With apologies to none. Even though I do not agree with some of the themes in his songs, I respect Nas’ artistry very much.
4. As a politically-minded Ghanaian living in the USA, which election had you more excited, the Ghanaian or the American, and why?
The American elections! Wow, what an iconic triumph of will over improbability! I followed the elections every day, every moment. What a roller coaster it was. The lesson from it all is the power of dreams, to pursuit one’s dream, no matter what others said. Politically, this represents a rare opportunity for Americans to realign their national consciousness with the ideals that founded the nation. With President Obama ready to use common sense and mutual respect, the sky is the limit for the United States of America.
As to Ghana, I am playing wait and see. The Mills story is a wonderful story of tenacity, which inspires me a lot. President Mills has a golden chance to turn Ghana around from the politics of corruption, chaos and cronyism. He is also an asset to the drive for an appreciation for literature in Ghana. It is an irony that Israel went through the same electoral headaches that Ghana had. The most important thing we must take from this is the power to move beyond party and parochial interests. May God bless President Mills in his efforts.
5. How have you found the experience of releasing your book of poems "Memoirs of a Native Son"? Is it keeping you busy right now, or do you have other projects on the go as well?
It was a cathartic experience to get "Memoirs of a Native Son." At last I was able to get something out. I have another anthology coming out soon. It is "I Shall, I Will, I Can (Poetry Inspired by Barack Obama)" and, God willing, should be in stores by April 2009.
My prose piece, An African’s Epistle To The Mosquito, has been selected to be included in Dike Okoro’s Anthology of Contemporary Short Stories from Africa, 2009. I am working on other projects which, hopefully, shall pan out right.