From Rwanda to Chicago’s North Shore, Clemantine Wamariya explores her refugee past to narrate her future.
Rwandan genocide survivor and New Trier High School alum Clemantine Wamariya shares her powerful story in The Girl Who Smiled Beads.
In the depth of darkness, some find tenacious courage. Clemantine Wamariya’s dramatic journey from Rwanda to Chicago—fleeing the country’s genocidal conflict at age 6, migrating to the United States as a 12-year-old and reuniting with her parents at age 18 on Oprah—is nothing short of miraculous. Now a 30-year-old San Francisco-based human rights advocate, Wamariya, who graduated from New Trier High School and Yale University, is just growing into her experiences. As she prepares for the April 24 release of her memoir, The Girl Who Smiled Beads (Crown, $26), coauthored by Elizabeth Weil, Wamariya shares her vision for the future, and why radical kindness and openness are the keys to her success.
Why tell your story now?
I wanted to create an impact. I really had to make sure I was in the right place to write, to share, to communicate, to connect. Being able to connect with other humans is something I’ve done since I was little.
What advice do you have for people seeking refuge?
Be open and be kind to yourself. Being kind to myself helped me deal with people who thought less of me and thought they were better than me. ... It’s about radical kindness and radical openness. I’m open to everything. Take me anywhere, show me everything.
Do you see yourself as a role model?
I’m a young woman who is trying to find my way, who is continuing to do the work, the goodness, of my ancestors, my sisters, my mother, my grandparents, whatever they had that trickled down into me.
What did you enjoy most about Chicago?
My Chicago is beautiful and diverse. It was able to give me all parts of the world all in one. I [still] love going to the 3 Arts Club Cafe and spending time with my friends. Get a bellini and walk around. I love the architecture, the way it catered to women artists who really wanted to defend their minds. That building was really meant to bring people together.
Photography by: CLEMANTINE WAMARIYA PHOTO BY JULIA ZAVE; NOVEL JACKET ART COURTESY OF CUSTOM HOUSE