As a student at Harvard, Sanneh worked in the punk department of radio station WHRB, a position that required him to take a written exam. He still considers himself a punk at heart, a jarring claim for someone with his temper who writes that his mother chaperoned him at a Ramones concert when he was 14.
It is easy to imagine that he inherited his caring but questioning spirit from his parents. Her father, Lamin Sanneh, was born and raised in poverty in The Gambia. Raised Muslim, as a teenager, he converted to Christianity, which he discovered through his own studies. He became a distinguished scholar of world religions who taught at Yale for 30 years.
His son may remember him discussing various topics at the family dinner table and becoming “impatient for boisterous explanations.” He was also annoyed by simplistic Christian political positions and by instinctive rejections of Christianity; and, after September 11, by broad-based arguments that either lumped Islam into the same bag as Christianity or posed the denominations as rivals at the antipodes. Kelefa Sanneh’s mother, Sandra Sanneh, has followed her own remarkable trajectory. White and raised in South Africa, she became a specialist in Zulu and other African languages, retiring from Yale in 2020 after her three decades there.
Kelefa Sanneh was born in Birmingham, England, and soon after moved to Accra, Ghana, where his father was teaching. Two years later another job took the family to Aberdeen, Scotland, and when Sanneh was 5 the family moved to Massachusetts. He’s always been more comfortable and confident writing in a “a little more analytical, a little less brash” mode, he said, and tries to explain the topics as if they came from them. another world.
âI always thought it had to do with being an immigrant,â he said.
Growing up, Sanneh also remembers “an immigrant’s feeling of wanting to understand things:” What are they doing? the? ‘ And the feeling that immigrant has every time someone says, “No, it’s country music, they’re singing on the troops, it’s not for you,” saying, “Wait a sec. , I will be the judge. So I always thought of it as curiosity and maybe a bit of mischief.