Namwali Serpell

Namwali Serpell presented her newest book Stranger Faces at the Transnational Series Presents on Tuesday, October 13, 2020.

Namwali Serpell first came to continental fame when she won the Caine Prize and shared the prize money with her fellow finalists in 2015. Her first novel The Drift, published in 2019, has won several awards including the Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards, Los Angeles Times Book Prizes, and the Arthur C. Clarke Award. The Zambian-born U.S.-based Harvard University academic incidentally also pledged to donate the winnings from the Arthur C Clarke Award to the pool of money for bail funds for those protesting that the police who murdered US citizen Breonna Taylor weren’t charged. She also was awarded the Windham-Campbell Prize this year.

Serpell has a new book called Stranger Faces published by Transit Books with the following blurb;

If evolutionary biologists, ethical philosophers, and social media gurus are to be believed, the face is the basis for what we call “humanity.” The face is considered the source of identity, truth, beauty, authenticity, and empathy. It underlies our ideas about what constitutes a human, how we relate emotionally, what is pleasing to the eye, and how we ought to treat each other. But all of this rests on a specific image of the face. We might call it the ideal face.

What about the strange face, the stranger’s face, the face that thwarts recognition? What do we make of the face that rides the line of legibility? In a collection of speculative essays on a few such stranger faces—the disabled face, the racially ambiguous face, the digital face, the face of the dead—Namwali Serpell probes our contemporary mythology of the face. Stranger Faces imagines a new ethics based on the perverse pleasures we take in the very mutability of faces.

Stranger Faces is part of the Undelivered Lectures series from Transit Books.

One of the first events for this new title with the official publication date of October 20 was the Transnational Series Presents on Tuesday. The series which focuses on stories of migration, the intersection of politics & literature, and works in translation was where Scholastique Mukasonga’s Igifu was recently presented. It is hosted by Brookline Booksmith a bookstore in Greater Boston, Massachusetts, United States.

At the Zoom event, moderated by Transit Books’ Adam Levy, the audience watched Serpell talk about her new book which is a nonfiction offering of essays. For the next one hour, we listened to one of the best African writers working today talk about her new title that focuses on the face and its place in our society. The discussion also revealed that part of the book incorporated how faces are dealt with on social media.

If you want to get a copy of the new essay collection, here is a good place to start. You can also read an excerpt here.