Il Corpo Nero: Alumna Anna Maria Gehnyei Publishes First Book

JCU alumna Anna Maria Gehnyei, also known as Karima 2G, recently published a book called Il Corpo Nero (Fandango Libri, 2023). The book talks about her experience growing up as a second-generation Italian. The Italian magazine L’Espresso recently published an open letter that Karima wrote to Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, inviting her to reflect on the issue of citizenship for second-generation Italians. Karima graduated from JCU in 2020 with a double B.A. in Communications and Political Science, and minors in Art & Design and Entrepreneurship.

Anna Maria Gehnyei

Anna Maria Gehnyei

Tell us about your new book Il Corpo Nero.
The book is about my life, and the people that were and are involved in it, including my parents. Since I’m a second-generation Italian, (my parents are Liberian immigrants) I focus a lot on immigration. I was inspired by my political science studies, because my thesis was about the history of Liberia and Liberian refugees. So the research for my thesis turned into research on my parents, my history, and my community.

My book is also about the connection between Liberia and the United States, which are historically related. In fact, Liberia was founded by the American Colonization Society as a colony where free black Americans were encouraged to settle. It is also about the Liberian community in the United States and Italy.

The book also describes my experience trying to obtain Italian citizenship. Children born in Italy only receive automatic citizenship if at least one parent is an Italian citizen. Those born to immigrant parents must wait until the age of 18 to apply for citizenship. Even then, the application is subject to strict conditions and the bureaucratic procedures can take years. There are about a million second-generation children in Italy who have to go through the process.

To those children of immigrants trying to obtain Italian citizenship, I would say that even though there may be difficulties and obstacles, don’t give up. Try to find a medium that gives you the strength to pursue your goal. I found it through music and art.

Il Corpo Nero book cover

Il Corpo Nero book cover

Tell us about the open letter that you recently published in the Italian magazine L’Espresso.
The letter published in L’Espresso is addressed to Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni. It is a letter where I invite her to reflect on the issue of citizenship for second-generation Italians. I also talk about my experience and how millions of second-generation Italians like me nowadays are still limited by just one single law that doesn’t grant automatic citizenship to children of immigrants. In my letter, I invite Meloni to reflect on this issue not only as Prime Minister but also as a woman and as a mother. How can children live without human rights? Because without a piece of paper like a passport, these children are not even allowed to travel outside of Europe, for instance.

In 2022 you had your theater debut with the show If There Is No Sun. Tell us about it.
If There is No Sun is a performance that combines dance and visuals to tell a story about history and slavery. We performed in Rome and other Italian cities in the summer of 2022. It was a challenging process, an experimental project with a script that took three years to write. The performance was futuristic in terms of lights and visuals, and we combined it with contemporary choreography. It was very powerful.

The first phase consisted of meeting the team and introducing our backgrounds, so as to figure out a way to collectively build a story and a concept. We had two dancers from Senegal and one from Tunisia, and the choreographer was Italian. We went to Senegal, selected some music,  and got to know the dancers. We asked ourselves “how can we create a single story that represents all of us?” I worked on the music production and I selected the music.

We will soon be touring in Senegal, Tunisia, and then Italy again, because the reaction here was great. The shows were all sold out. It was my first experience with a theatrical performance, and I had doubts because it’s difficult to see black dancers in Italy, especially dancers who talk about the African diaspora in their performances.

What classes or JCU professors impacted you the most and why?
The professors who impacted me the most were Peter Sarram, Pamela Harris, and Michael Driessen. Professor Driessen was my thesis advisor and he helped me a lot. He knew everything about Liberia, so he sent me a lot of readings for my research. Professor Mary Merva, who at the time was Dean of Academic Affairs, was always on hand to give me advice.

In terms of writing, I would say Professors Jonathan Jones and Tara Keenan, who work at the Writing Center, which all students should take advantage of. At the Writing Center, I learned not only to write in formal English, but to structure an essay in the correct way, conduct research, write a bibliography, and present my project. This helped me a lot not only with my book but also with the play.

I would also say Professor Riccardo Maiolini, because I took a minor in Entrepreneurship, which gave me the ability to put together political science and communications.

What advice would you give to aspiring writers or artists?
To not be afraid. Sometimes people are so talented that they become afraid because they are confused.

For someone who would like to be a writer, I would suggest always carrying a notebook, where they can write down any ideas that they get. Professor Antonio Lopez taught me to always have my notebook with me. Now I can’t live without it. Writing requires a lot of practice, and something that I learned thanks to my editor is that the more you read the more you learn, and the more you’ll be able to write. I could have never imagined that one day I would write a book.

At JCU we have a lot of students with different backgrounds and different cultures, so I would suggest that they read books in all the languages that they know. I recently read the same book in English and Italian, and the language changed the perspective somehow, which is interesting.

What other projects do you have in store for the future?
I want to be a film director. This is my next challenge. And I would also like to teach at a university in the future. Maybe at John Cabot, who knows? I’m also thinking about getting my Ph.D. But right now, I want to focus on my music. I want to dedicate myself for at least two more years to music and art in general, and then I will decide whether to apply for a Ph.D.