Natasha Gordon-Chipembere, professor of African Diasporic literature and editor of Representation and Black Womanhood: The Legacy of Sarah Baartman, held a discussion of her newest novel, Finding La Negrita, during a DAAS Diasporic Dialogues event on October 12. Gordon-Chipembere was joined by DAAS professor Dr. Frieda Ekotto, who led the discussion. Audience members were also invited to speak with Gordon-Chipembere about her writing process and the development of her new book.

Finding La Negrita takes place in colonial Costa Rica during the 17th century. Through multiple perspectives, it tells the story of Dakarai, a famous African sculptor who must buy his freedom after he is kidnapped and enslaved, and his daughter Jendayi, whose mother died while giving birth to her. The two are separated, and must find a way to reunite and learn to live in the New World.

In a statement to DAAS, Dr. Ekotto shared her thoughts on the importance of the story Finding La Negrita tells. “I think this is an important book for the African Diaspora. People need to know that Costa Rica was another region in the world with a dark history of slavery and this is an historical novel that traces that story,” she wrote. “Natasha Gordon-Chipembere writes beautifully; it is a joy to read this book.”

Much of Finding La Negrita is told from the perspective of the free Black population in Costa Rica during the 17th century. Gordon-Chipembere shared that she chose this point of view because she didn’t want to write about slavery as the breaking of a black body, as many popular narratives like Django Unchained do. Instead, she said wanted to create an “Afrocentrist retelling of colonialism in Costa Rica.”

Gordon-Chipembere started by reading the prologue of her novel, which she said was the first part of the book she wrote. The prologue follows Jendai’s mother, who has passed away when the novel begins. Still, writing this part was important to Gordon-Chipembere. “I didn’t want to leave this African woman without a story, without a voice,” she said. “I wanted to give her passion, a dream.”

When asked about how she decided to write a historical novel, Gordon-Chipembere shared that she began writing Finding La Negrita as a historical text, but found that she wanted to write about the Black Madonna narrative in a creative way. Her goal was to tell a story of the icon being developed based on African experiences. For Gordon-Chipembere, who now lives in Costa Rica, imbuing the icon with this history was important to her because of its role in the national identity of the country.

For more information on Finding La Negrita, as well as Gordon-Chipembere’s other work, visit her website.