Lily Nuku on the crossroads of culture


 "Lose yourself in the service of others and you will find yourself like never before".

I am “Liberia’s American,” says Lily who is happy to call both places home. Lily writes simply to inspire others to love who they are and to love one another. Lily and her family fled Liberia following the civil war that ravaged the nation for many years. Throughout the face of war, economic hardship and social barriers, she learned to seek peace and love above all, and wants to share a unique and personal message of hope and the resilience of the human spirit with others.Lily holds a Bachelor of Arts in Mass Communication and is currently pursuing an MBA. She worked in the communications field for four years, as a journalist, event planning, social media organizing and website maintenance
Little Alien: American Adventures of a Liberian Girl,a children’s book is her debut as a published author.

AG: What are some of our fond memories of growing up in Liberia before the civil war started?
LN: Unfortunately I don’t have memories of Liberia. I was two years old when the civil war started, three when we left. I only hear stories from my four older siblings and other family.

AG: What were the most challenging issues you had to overcome after leaving Liberia?
LN: My biggest challenge has been learning to adjust to several different cultures. I lived to very different realities in school then from my home life. I had to learn to speak German as young child adjusting to life I Europe. Once arriving to the U.S., I grew up with a big Liberian family, but at school I was considered African American, a culture I knew nothing about.
All of this shaped the person I am today. I've learned to go beyond cultural prejudices and take people for who they are, and can work and make friends with people from any culture.

AG: Your family moved from Liberia to Ivory Coast to Europe, can you tell us which country in Europe and how long you were there for?
LN: Germany, 2 ½ years.

AG: Is your journey into writing by accident or have you always had the intention to one day write a book?
LN: I've always wanted to be a writer. I studied communication in college and wanted to experience life as a professional that world, but soon learned that I wanted my talent to be used for something more meaningful, something that could help others.

AG: What was the turning point when you decided to share your childhood experience with the world?
LN: It was divine inspiration. I quit my job, knowing God was calling me to something greater, but not having a solid plan. Then one day I started drawing, and the words came. I believe I was in a position where my soul felt free and the little girl inside me could finally tell her story.

AG: Can you share the synopsis of Little Alien: American Adventures of a Liberian Girl,” with us?
LN: Lily is a little girl who is uprooted from her home in Liberia and starts a new life and new school in America shortly after arriving. She experiences culture shock, and as a little girl, is not sure how to deal with it. Lily learns that she has to be brave and be willing to share her story with her classmates so they can understand her differences. Once Lily shares, her friends open up about the differences they have. This allows them to be closer to one another. The book loosely chronicles my experiences from moving to the U.S. and starting school at six years old. The students, teacher and family members in the story are modelled after real people in my life.

AG: The book looks at the issue of cultural differences and identity, how easy was it adapting to the American culture?
LN: It was not easy J. Lily is my pen name. My real name is Ashley, a name my late father heard and liked when he attended grad school in America, in the early 80s I think. So here’s this fair-skinned black girl named Ashley who mixes her German with her English and speaks in a Liberian accent. “African?” my friends thought... I heard the phrase, “you don’t look like an African” so many times. Some people insisted I was not, and made it all up.

And in the Liberian community, many people thought that I wasn’t really Liberian... This was for two main reasons: My family and I are “Americo Liberians” or “Conga” who emigrated from the U.S. to Liberia in the 1800s. My fair skin is because I am a mix of African, Native American, White, and West Indian. There was a lot of contention between this group and the native Liberians for a while, especially during the war. Most Liberians now are a mix of the two, but both my parents were 'Americo Liberians', and so there is still some contention. The other reason I wasn't so readily accepted is because many people in the Liberian community believed that I had lived in America too long and didn't understand the culture. I was even teased by my older siblings and cousins because I didn't remember what life was like there.

When it comes to issues of culture, I've always felt like I was on the outside, looking in.  It bothered me for a long time until I realized that I can only be myself, and all the experiences I had makes me the unique person I am today. I consider it freedom to not be confined to one cultural barrier.

AG: What were the challenges in bringing the book to life?
LN: It was easy. It was like a stress reliever. When I did work an office job, I spent so much of my time drawing and creating... thinking of ways to help humanity. Writing the book and imaging a life where I could actually make a living doing what I love was so exciting for me.

AG: A portion of the book sales goes to goes to the “More than me Foundation” a non-profit organization that rescues girls from the streets of Liberia and puts the girls into school, Why is this important to you?
LN: The “More Than Me” organization is a great group of people who decided that the little girls in Liberia are important and deserve the same educational opportunities of girls anywhere else in the world. The people of Liberia have suffered a long time. A 13-year war and a slow recovery have made life extremely hard there.

My family and I escaped with not much more than our lives. My mother said she packed one bag for her seven-person family. We boarded an overloaded plane for the Ivory Coast, one my mother said almost fell out of the sky. But what if we hadn’t been able to escape? What if we couldn’t afford to leave? I could have been one of those girls, left as a victim without options or hope. But God saved me, and because of that, I believe I need to reach back and help those who were not. More than me is already helping, so I wanted to join their effort.

AG: Looking back now, are you totally satisfied with the outcome of the book?
LN: No. I always feel like I could do better. I think it gives me the edge I need to keep striving for better.

AG: You are first a Liberian and then an American, how do these 2 cultures and identities shape the lens with which you see the world?
LN: I’m very interested in the way people interact with one another and how different culture, religions and ideologies affect the way we see each other. I believe there’s insight that I have that could influence peace worldwide. My late father said I was born a diplomat, and I do believe that’s true. I believe I have a gift of helping people see life from different perspectives.

AG: Which writers do you particularly admire and what did each teach you about the skill of writing?
LN: When I decided to write a children’s book, my main influence was Dr. Seuss. Sounds silly, but his books teach children lessons without them knowing they are developing their character. This was my goal with “Little Alien.” I wanted to make being kind and compassionate “cool.”

Marianne Williamson is one of my favorite authors and she is my inspiration in writing my soon to be published book, “The Sparrow’s Plight”.

AG: What kind of feedback have you gotten so far? What is the worst review you have received so far?
LN: So far I've gotten a positive response. Now, most of the response is biased because they are from family and friends... LOL. But I look forward to sharing it with more people and seeing the response I get from people of many cultures. I think the message translates to children and cultures worldwide.

AG: Are you a full time writer or a part-time writer, and how do you organize your writing time?
LN: I am a full-time, “starving” writer. Leaving my job as an online political organizer to write and draw is the biggest risk I have ever taken. But I feel confident that I am where I need to be, and I have faith that all will work out. Now that I have committed myself to writing, I can only hope the rest of the world does the same.

AG: Have you gone back to Liberia since your childhood departure, if yes, how often to you visit?
LN: No. I have not had the opportunity to visit again. Maybe in the next year or so, I’ll go and visit the girls of “More Than Me.”

AG: What are your hopes for Liberia?
LN: My biggest hope for the nation is that the people can heal from past hurts and want good things for the nation and everyone in it.  I hope that we can learn to put aside resentments and bias for the good of the nation.

Also, I hope that Liberia could have a spiritual revolution, that leaders and constituents alike could prioritize honesty, ethical business practices, strong faith, love for one another and love and care for  all children. I know this is a tall order, but I feel strongly that only with these things can we move forward as a nation. A country is more than its roads and businesses. It’s more than its leaders. It is about the sprit with which the people operate. Hatred and malice has only destroyed the nation. We must learn to operate with love. I say “we” because I consider myself part of the solution. I won’t give up on Liberia.

AG: If there is one thing about society and humanity you could change, what would it be?
LN: I wish that we could replace fear with love. When we fear something, it is only because we don’t understand it. So, what if we took a moment to understand and empathize with the people we meet, even if they are different than we are? We could really change the world if we stopped drawing imaginary borders between ourselves.

AG: What are you working on at the moment and what's coming up next?
LN: Lily, the main character of “Little Alien,” will continue to have adventures in culture, experiencing the home lives and cultural differences of her classmates. Book two is in progress but under wraps. In a perfect world, “Little Alien” would become a stage play! *Here’s hoping*

I am also currently working on my second book titled, “The Sparrow’s Plight”. “The Sparrow’s Plight” is aimed at young women, it is an attempt to inspire them to realize their personal power and realize how important it is to the future of humanity. You can read an excerpt on my website:
I’m excited about this new venture. I’m satisfied with self publishing but may be looking for other options.

AG: What’s the big picture for you?
LN: The big picture for me is that God has placed something on my heart, a message of hope for my generation and generations to come.

Maya Angelou says, “You don’t have to be popular to be powerful.” I believe that whole-heartedly. My priority is to deliver the best product I have to give, and touch the hearts of those I reach. I don’t need a lot of people to read my writing, just the right people.

AG: Is there any book which you would recommend as absolute must read, if yes, which would it be?
LN: Lois Lowry’s “The Giver” has been one of my favorites since grade school. In a society that has strict rules and has stripped away races, personal choices and even color  Jonah, the main character of the book, can see color and the world beyond all the rules. He tries to hide his gift but gets tired of pretending. I identify with the boy in the book. It’s a powerful read for any age of reader.

We would like to thank Ms Nuku for a great interview and  wish her the very best. To find out more about Lily, visit her website or ask a question below.

© 2013, GeneAfrique. All rights reserved.

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  1. I can't put my finger on why but I love that picture of the author.

  2. I wanna read the book Lily...the title is captivating

  3. Beautiful interview, with lots of lessons to pick out. The tragedies of life should not break us, but make us. I love what Lily is doing, especially in obeying God and bringing out the message He has placed in her heart. Loved that Maya Angelou's quote. This summed it all up for me:

    'Maya Angelou says, “You don’t have to be popular to be powerful.” I believe that whole-heartedly. My priority is to deliver the best product I have to give, and touch the hearts of those I reach. I don’t need a lot of people to read my writing, just the right people.'
    Well said, Lulu.