Category Archives: Crea(c)tive Senses

Artists and writers of African descent.

Bernadine Evaristo – Mr Loverman

Diriye Osman interviews Bernadine Evaristo author of Mr Loverman

In a revealing interview with Salon, Donna Tartt once said, “I had a fairly well-known editor tell me that The Secret History would never be published because no successful book by a woman had ever been written from the point of view of a man, and that I would have to change it to a female narrator.”

Although it’s tricky for both male and female writers to write from the point of view of the opposite gender, there have always been a number of tremendously talented and successful female authors who have not only risen to the challenge but, in doing so, have completely demolished deeply-embedded social codes that should not have existed in the first place.

British-Nigerian novelist and poet, Bernardine Evaristo is not only a master of literary gender-bending but she’s also adroit at subverting well-worn tropes from slavery to stifled sexuality in a way that feels new, visceral, vital. Although Evaristo has always been an innovative stylist, her latest novel, the critically acclaimed, award-winning smash, Mr. Loverman, is her chef d’oeuvre; a masterful dissection of the life of a 74 year-old, British-Caribbean gay man. It is a book about secrecy and self-protection, freedom and fear, history and the future, family and faith, repression and renewal.

For Evaristo, this extraordinary act of ventriloquism was necessary. “I knew this was an explosive mix for fiction”, she says. “Not only is black homosexuality all but invisible in British fiction, but the idea that a septuagenarian is actively gay is potentially very controversial.”

“I like the challenge of writing beyond my own culture (I’m not Caribbean), gender, age, sexuality and so forth, but it does mean that I have to work hard to create authenticity with my characters. To make them totally believable and convincing.”

Evaristo, who originally trained as a stage actress, nurtured her writing talent by penning roles for black actresses “because few parts existed for us in the early 80s.” She dropped acting but fuelled the fire to keep writing. “The magic of writing,” she says, “the emotional, intellectual and imaginative connection I feel to it, is addictive. My influences are wide and varied, and certainly many writers inspired me to tell my own stories when I was very young – Gloria Naylor, Ntozake Shange, Keri Hulme, Toni Morrison, Michelle Cliff, Audre Lorde, Alice Walker.”

With the recent anti-gay legislation in Nigeria and throughout a depressingly large part of Africa, does she feel there’s been enough of a response from African writers in terms of exploring the issue of homosexuality in fiction or non-fiction?

“I’d say not,” she says. “It’s still quite a taboo subject in many communities and certainly not enough people speak out. You’re probably one of the very few writers writing black African stories with gay characters. When I chaired the Caine Prize for African Fiction a couple of years ago we shortlisted a gay story by Malawian writer Stanley Kenani. Lola Shoneyin’s super novel The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wivestouches on lesbianism, as did Monica Arac De Nyeko’s Caine Prize winning “Jambula Tree”, which won the Caine in 2007. But essentially, when you can list such stories on one hand, there is a problem. I wrote a piece for The Guardian about the long history of pre-colonial homosexuality in Africa when the recent anti-gay legislation was passed in Nigeria, my father’s homeland. We need more voices out there, gay or straight, writing stories that include homosexual characters.”

Aside from her work as a novelist and poet, Evaristo teaches creative writing at London’s Brunel University, where she spearheaded the creation of the prestigiousAfrican Poetry Prize, which offers a powerful platform for gifted poets on the rise.

Part of what makes Bernardine Evaristo such an important cultural figure is that she’s an intellectual who’s unafraid to take creative risks. Every book that she has written doesn’t feel so much a progression as a complete re-invention of style, subject matter and genre. Once you add a hearty dose of compassion and energetic forward-thinking to the mix, what you get is not only an artist who repeatedly resists status quos and shoots straight for the jugular but a bonafide literary rebel with a cause. This in itself is worthy of celebration.

Bernardine Evaristo’s Mr Loverman (Akashic Books) is out now as is Diriye Osman’sFairytales For Lost Children (Team Angelica Press).

This piece was originally published on the Huffington Post

Interview with Dorothea Smartt, Brit born Bajan literary activist, live artist & poet

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Dorothea Smartt is a literary activist, live artist, and an established and respected poet with an international reputation. Born and raised in London she is of Barbadian heritage. Described as a ‘Brit-born Bajan international’, her work typically bridges the islands of Britain and Barbados, effortlessly shuttling between local and global scenes as it weaves a diasporic web. With two full collections, Connecting Medium and Ship Shape [Peepal Tree Press] her twenty years of experience, includes been engaged by the British Council and travelling to Bahrain, South Africa, Egypt, and Hungary. In 2013 she was keynote speaker at the Frank Collymore Literary Endowment Award, the premier literary award in Barbados. She is an honorary team member and advisor to Cambridge University’s Caribbean Poetry Project. She is Co-Director of Inscribe, a national writer development programme, Associate Poetry Editor of “Sable Litmag” and guest co-editor of their LGBTQI issues, and an Advisory editor to “Scarf”, a global arts & literature magazine. In her forthcoming third collection she continues to rework standard narratives, this time examining same-sex relationships and cross-gender experiences as push-pull factors behind ‘West Indian’ émigré workers on the Panama Canal.

In this interview, Dorothea underlines her relationship to her Bajan voice as a critical medium for her poetry. She reflects on her South London birth and upbringing in a Bajan household and the process of finding her voice and creating her place in the world as a Black girl in Britain. In the course of discussing her depiction of specifically located characters and their particular voices within her poetry collections, she repurposes historical and mythological figures, from Medusa to “Samboo” whom she renames Bilal. She engages us in her practice of historical “healing, restitution, recovery, re-membering and re-calling” in the excavation of overlooked and erased voices in past and present contexts. Her philosophy as a cultural practitioner is revealed through her treatment of cultural narratives as they impact individual and collective memory and consciousness, and implicate themselves in geographical landscapes. Her work re-inscribes a gendered, multiply located, lived and mythologized individual, familial and collective healing space.

She concludes by reading the introductory poem to her latest publication, “Reader, I Married Him & Other Queer Goings-On”, which was launched in Barbados at the Bim LitFest held on May 15-17, 2014.

Kagendo Murungi is a Kenyan writer, video producer and activist with a background in international sexual and gender rights advocacy. Her writing has been featured in the Queer African Reader (2013), Kwani? 07 (2012), United Nations Days of Vesak/International Association of Buddhist Universities Conference Journal (2012), Yellow Medicine Review (2011/2010) Sing Whisper Shout Pray: Feminist Visions for A Just World (2002), Role Call: A Generational Anthology of Social & Political Black Literature & Art (2002) and a range of other publications and multimedia productions.

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Coffin of Love and Loss

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Via Inkanyiso – Zanele Muholi “Of Love and Loss” An exhibition

Isiphiwo Sami – An exploration of Black Queers in SA [Video]

Isiphiwo Sami a short film by Zanele Muholi – an exploration  of Black Queers in SA (Beauties)… Queerizing Public Spaces.  Produced in Durban in 2013, an exchange between black trans/ femme gay identifying persons from Durban and Johannesburg.

Nollywood What? {Poems of Resistance}

Nollywood What?

These are the stagnant waters of our time
Big names propagated away for our minds
Women rule the world men disrupted it
After, “men in love” the gay theme dried up for good
Men rule the world women helped
Help that was often
Was swept under the carpets of laughter…
Claims accused of lesbian capones fright
Sooner or later latterdayers ran the show.
What’s his name again? This isn’t about names.
Interesting isn’t?  Go see Nollywood films if you no gree

Homosexual are assumed dirty, unnatural
Heterosexuals mix sexualities for fun to
Ward off boredom hiding quiltbag pleasures.
You no hear… big men after young girls?
You no hear… de mamas after young lads?
They call it, “enjoying fresh meat,” na so dem dey.
Don’t get me started on how they treat trans affection?
When they heard this they sent another clarion call
Out: come see oh, come see oh  dis man na woman oh
Na woman; dat woman na man. Wetin dem go say next?

This dem want dat dem want till dem pafuka de
Country them go say quiltbags dey unnatural.
Which one dem dey scream, “quiltbag” oh?
Jandon naija or americana na dem know dis devil stuff
We wey dem dey call, “quiltbag” no be beddings?
Try it this way: “QUILT BAG” abbreviates us:
Queer, queersome, queerings, we are all queer
Unquestioning, undecided, unacknowledged
Lesbian, women in love with women lesbians
Trans, transexual, transgender transgender…

Bisexual, bigender, bi affection by preference
Asexual, agender, by choice and that’s fine too
Gay men, gay women, gay queer everybody
Sex sexual sobriety subtly sensual all senses
Come one come all.
Do these answer your questions? Nollywood
Can’t until it realises sex gender & sexualities
Are what make our species diversely rich…
Until we are able to address issues clearly
Until we each experience life truthfully…
What is Nollywood? Movies or madness???

Mia Nikasimo (c) January 2014

Who said it was simple? Exhibition in Dakar,Senegal

The ‘Who said it was simple’ exhibition runs from 28 January- 29 March 2014 at the Raw Material Company Gallery in Dakar, Senegal. Through a series of exhibits,  workshops and talks the exhibition explores sexualities, the treatment of minorities and marginalised people, and what it means to create societies where people can fully express their identities including around sexuality.

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L’exposition Qui a dit que c’était simple* ouvre un programme d’un an dédié aux libertés individuelles, à leur perception et à leur restriction. Le programme offrira expositions, ateliers, projections, laboratoires de réflexion et une publication finale. Qui a dit que c’était simple, le premier acte de la série d’activités, s’attache à l’univers des médias pour interroger la situation actuelle au Sénégal et en Afrique du traitement des minorités ou des marginalités.

Qui a dit que c’était simple est un programme critique ouvert commissarié par Eva Barois De Caevel. À travers un travail de mise en perspective et de mise en espace d’une abondante documentation — y compris des coupures de presse, du matériel audiovisuel et des cartes — cette exposition cherche à poser, sur la base de la production médiatique, la question du traitement des marginalités, mais aussi à poser une question plus fondamentale : comment défendre les droits humains et retrouver une structuration à laquelle la société puisse adhérer quand les conceptions des libertés individuelles, notamment en matière de sexualité, sont déterminées par un héritage complexe ainsi que par des formes contemporaines de conditionnement social?

* Le titre est emprunté à un poème d’Audre Lorde (1934-1992), auteure et activiste africaine-américaine. Le travail de cette figure importante traite de la discrimination, de la marginalisation et de la sexualité.

Coming out is scary..

 

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Coming out is scary,” Osman says, “speaking truth to power is scary, but it’s a risk that’s worth taking…The gay, lesbian and trans folks that came before us made it easier for us to enjoy the freedoms we have now. Part of how they accomplished that was by consistently (and loudly) voicing dissent. The only power I have is to tell these stories of freedom again and again. The only power I have is to lend my voice to the chorus.”  

- Diriye Osman speaks candidly to New York’s Next Magazine about what it means to be a gay African man living in the west, pride and the importance of speaking up. You can read the interview here: http://bit.ly/1edtNvj

Diriye Osman is photographed by Boris Mitkov

Storm [Poem by Mia Nikasimo]

Storm

The tremors vibrate through
This isn’t a storm. No wind.
Nothing just the door slam
Six door slams and I wonder

Why, why, why this thunder?
“You are not a woman,” as if
Your mess was all there was.
Why is my heart in my throat?

Six door slammed one after the
Other… Slam, slam, slam. And
More… slam, slam, slam like a
Bloody oversized metronom

Even the walls trembles each
Time the door is slammed then
A sudden pause followed by a
Slam, slam, slam. A headache

Emerges. my heart pounds mad
That’s what hatred causes aloud?
Then I remembered your words
“Get noise blocking headphones.

No one can handle such abuse…
The most foolhardy collapse…
You are no different. We all hurt.
You are no different, gorgeous… ”

Mia Nikasimo (c) December 2013

The Art of Ama Ata Aidoo [Film]

Indiegogo Fund Raiser for “The Art of Ama Ata Aidoo

We are waiting for this film, we want this film, lets help get this film made – Donate Here

The Art of Ama Ata Aidoo explores the artistic contributions of one of Africa’s foremost woman writers, a trailblazer for an entire generation of exciting new talent, including internationally acclaimed Nigerian writer Chimamanda Adichie. The publication of The Dilemma of a Ghost in 1965 at the age of 25 made Aidoo the first published African woman playwright. In Anowa (1970), she demonstrated her courage by addressing slavery, a very sensitive topic even today in Ghana. Her most recent work is Diplomatic Pounds and Other Stories.

Ama Ata Aidoo
Ama Ata Aidoo

The film follows Aidoo over a course of a year during which she travels to her ancestral village in the Central Region of Ghana and is feted at a Festschrift orqanized by friends and colleagues at the University of California, Santa Barbara. She then attends the premier of her seminal play about the local African experiences of the slave trade, Anowa, performed by UCSB Theater.

This hour-long documentary locates the multi-textured variety of Aidoo’s writing in an historical and cultural context, and charts her pivotal journey through moments of inspiration in a life that spans seven decades, from colonial Ghana through the tumultuous era of independence, to a more sober present day Africa where nurturing women’s creative talent remains as difficult as ever.

This documentary celebrates Aidoo and her work and brings it to new audiences in a way that will inspire future generations.

Who we are: We are a team. Director/Producer is Yaba Badoe an award-winning documentary filmmaker and writer based in the UK. Her latest film, The Witches of Gambaga, won the 2010 Best Documentary Award at the Black International Film Festival 2010 and the 2nd Prize, Documentaries at FESPACO 2011, and was nominated for the One World Media Award, Best Documentary in 2012. Producer is Amina Mama, one of Africa’s leading activist feminist scholars. She founded the journal Feminist Africa, has taught courses in African cinema, co-produced The Witches of Gambaga, and is currently on the faculty of Women and Gender Studies at University of California, Davis. Margo Okazawa-Rey, a feminist scholar activist, is Associate Producer and leading this campaign.
What We Need & What You Get

Courageous. Controversial. Compelling. Truth-teller. Ama Ata Aidoo is a poet, novelist, and feminist. Women make up fewer than 10% of the world’s film directors, so it’s a struggle to tell the story of any woman, especially an African woman. So we are asking you to help us raise $45,000 to tell Aidoo’s story, the fascinating tale of an iconic writer whose work both captures the specificities of history, culture, and geography and transcends them.

The Art of Ama Ata Aidoo is almost there. After two years of fundraising, excitement, negotiation, and filming on location in Ghana and California, the good news is that we’re half-way through the journey and we need your help. We are trying to raise $45,000 (two-thirds of the budget) here on Indiegogo. The money you help us raise will pay post-production costs: editing, music clearances, colour grading, and a sound dub. We are confident that the final 1/3 of the budget will be raised from organizational donors like the African Women’s Development Fund and the Global Fund for Women.

When you donate, you will be acknowledged on the Donor Wall of our website and receive project updates. In addition, you can receive a signed postcard, t-shirt, limited edition DVD, Aidoo’s books, and other memorable perks.

Kiini Ibura Salaam author of Ancient, Ancient

I have been meaning to read Ancient, Ancient so appreciated this discussion between  Sofia Samatar and  Kiini Ibura Salaam - I especially like her answer to the question ‘who influenced her? and the push to draw on comparisons.

 I recently finished Ancient, Ancient, Kiini Ibura Salaam’s award-winning short story collection. She was kind enough to take the time for a chat with me. Influence, writing teachers, and self-promotion–enjoy! (Kiini’s comments are in bold.)

The first thing I’m interested in asking about after reading Ancient, Ancient is music. Your work strikes me as having a real musicality about it–stories like “Desire” and “Of Wings, Nectar, & Ancestors” read like voices singing to each other. Can you say something about the relationship between your written words and sound?

I don’t feel like I “got” a piece I’m writing if I can’t get the rhythm of it. I’m not sure if the rhythm is always musical, but each story has it’s own rise and fall, rhythm and tone of sentence. Sometimes the rhythm is what gets me into the story, like “Desire”—I heard the rhythm of the story, well actually the rhythm of “Faru, Faru running through the bush” first, then I built the story from there. But in many cases, it takes multiple drafts to get to the rhythm. Sometimes it feels like I’m digging and digging trying to get down to the heart/bones of the thing. Any word will do, but only the right words will sing–will make the story slip like silk so that you’re not aware that words are carrying you though, you’re just aware of the rhythm and flow of the story and the tales it tells. It’s a very intuitive process because each story differs in the rhythm and tone it calls out for.

I do love music and I love lyrics. I post random song lyrics on Facebook a lot because I’m listening to music as I work and loving the feel of the words as they’re nestled inside the music. Something about that interplay is intriguing to me. You know what I think, I think I enjoy conveying more than the logic of the sentence. I enjoy conveying the feeling of the moment through word choice, of course, but also through the play of words, how they fit together and run on or stop short. When I haven’t achieved that, reading through my work is like hitting snag after snag. When I have, I just roll through the story feeling that, yes, I’ve conveyed this moment well.

I’m also wondering about influences–what you read, what you like, which writers you feel are good at “conveying the moment.” Such a boring typical-interview-question but I really do want to know. :)

I avoid this question like the plague. Partly because my memory is so bad and I don’t want to leave anyone out. It’s so embarrassing to draw a blank when asked a completely reasonable question, but I have the memory of a child–a thing is only on my mind as long as I’ve recently engaged with it, other than that, details, facts, even the value of things fade from memory. This includes books. I read mostly whatever I can get my hands on and whatever my book club is reading. I also collect books that I want to read or should read but usually don’t read because my free time is my novel writing time and my train commute time (when I would be reading) is my editing time.

I think I draw more influence from who writers are, their identities, how they make their way through the world, how they embody their unique voice–than looking at someone’s craft. You could pick 10 master writers and they would all do craft differently–yet they each have something to teach, no matter how close or how far their writing style is from yours. I actually think I absorb everything I read and if there is value there, I absorb it knowing that it will help inform my choices as a writer. I could rattle off a list of names of writers and/or books that stand out to me because of their voice and the depth and plushness of the writing, but are they influences? I don’t know.

Take Octavia Butler for example. Amazing, peerless writer who is not afraid to carry you into the darkness of the human condition. I am inspired by the depth of her intelligence and her unwavering eye in dissecting humanity, her ability to do social commentary, and the fierce hold she maintains once she has a reader in her clutches. I want to do all that with my writing, but I don’t think it makes any sense for me to emulate her to get there. Her writing, her craft is hers. I believe my journey–and the journey of all artists–is to learn how be you–to improve your expression of yourself, to burnish and strengthen your own unique voice. We’re all different facets of expression and I think good writing just inspires me to do better, pushes me to find a way to be a better version of myself–so I can one day be on par with amazing artists, rather than lust after the possibility of being like them.

That’s such a great answer! And okay, can we talk more about this? Because I’m really curious about the question of influence. I’m the kind of person who can rattle off names (Michael Ondaatje, Marguerite Duras, Assia Djebar, etc etc forever), and let me tell you, those people are INFLUENCES. I mean influences to the point where I feel I’ve absorbed the rhythms of their writing–like those rhythms are now part of my DNA. But this doesn’t feel like emulation, although I also emulate those writers. It’s not like I sit down and think “Now I am going to write like X.” I agree with you that their craft is theirs. It still gets into me, though, through rereading–through adoration, really. Does that make sense to you? Or is your experience completely different?

This conversation is really pushing me to figure out my discomfort with this question. I think the truth is we don’t really know what all that influences us. I mean we’d like to say that the things we like influence us, but in could also be the things we sort of like, not the things we adore. Case in point, last year I (I think it was last year), I read Wildwood by Colin Meloy. It was a fun rambunctious read (I talk about it briefly here as part of my January “pleasures.”) Fast forward to this year when I’ve been challenged to write a story for the upcoming Long Hidden anthology for Crossed Genres. I was influence by the film Faubourg Treme to do something around the civil rights movement–of which there are many. The common history suggests there was slavery, Jim Crow, then Civil Rights, when actually there were multiple civil rights struggles—it’s been a long cyclical journey. In that film, it talks about black people integrating horse and buggies, then the streetcars in New Orleans, and it talks about the organizing and social disobedience around Plessy v. Ferguson. So I do some research, identify a time period and historical figure I want to write about and then a writer friend shares a term “calenture,” it’s a fever/delirious state that sailors suffered from where they imagined the sea was the earth and they plunged to their deaths (at least that’s how my friend defined it). Then that gave birth to the character I used and this alternate plane she created that was a suspended stretch of rolling land. She’s a swamp witch who, when she goes down to earth, has these swashbuckling adventures–I decided to make it swashbuckling because if the maritime roots of the word calenture. It’s possible that I drew from Wildwood in imagining new adventures around every corner of the swamps because that is what happens in Wildwood. But did I? I don’t know. But if you asked me to list my influences, I would list the things that I thought were uber-amazing and masterful, but it’s highly unlikely that those are the only things that influenced me. It’s like plucking out the bits of genetic code that we like and ignoring the others. The influences are vast, random, and spontaneous–I can still see and site random scenes from Tamora Pierce books that I read because I found them on the bookshelf at my job. Is she an influence? I actually wrote a story based on Marguerite Duras’ Malady of Death. I loved the destabilizing, urgent, but also disconnected nature of the narrative. I took it as a template to tell a story that was urgent but I was emotionally unprepared to get any closer to. There are iconic writers that move me–and I could tell you who they are–but is that the same as those that influence me and can I honestly say that I can pluck out the threads of who has influenced me and who hasn’t? I don’t believe I can…….Continue on Sofia Samatar

Feminist Chronicles: Tsitsi Dangarembga

One of the very first African Novels I enjoyed reading and actually took the time to walk into a bookshop and purchase was Nervous Conditions. Considering it was the first novel published in English by a black Zimbabwean woman, it was a special treat and a treasure indeed. I was 13 years old when I first read it. My appreciation of literature was quite limited then but then I re-read the novel at 18 and I have read it two more times and each time I am amazed at the beautiful style in which this novel was written. I am not surprised it won the African section of the Commonwealth Writers Prize in 1989 because the way in which it depicts the dynamics of education, poverty, race, class, gender, and identity crisis is nothing short of intriguing. The author is none other than novelist, playwright, filmmaker and activist Tsitsi Dangaremba (pronounced da-nga-re-mbwa).

 

The Book Nervous Conditions

 

This woman who partially studied Medicine at Cambridge University, got a degree in Psychology from the University of Zimbabwe, studied Film direction from the University of Berlin and holds a PHD in African Film from the Department of African Studies at the Humboldt University in Berlin is a woman of many talents and vast experience.Tsitsi’s uniqueness as an artist lies in how she uses art and culture, not just for entertainment but as a tool for progress and development.

 

One of the things for which I owe her great respect is the film Neria. She wrote the script. That film was and continues to be one of the strongest instruments for effective community education on the importance of writing a will. It is also pivotal in campaigning for the respect of laws governing succession and deceased estates to protect women and children. Neria is a story of a widowed woman who loses her material possessions and her child to her brother in law in a typical traditional fashion. The brother in law, Phineas, confiscates all of Neria’s wealth and abducts her daughter claiming that as ‘Sarapavana’ a Shona word referring to a guardian, he has the obligation to take care of her. All that Phineas wants is the property; he does not care about the child. Only through her friend does Neria regain all these things. I remember reading reports that the man who played Phineas, the evil brother in law, in the film was assaulted in real life in Harare by incensed citizens who had been moved by the widow’s suffering and angered by his ruthless greed and malevolence.

 

Neria, the protagonist in the film Neria

 

Another one of Tsitsi’s unforgettable works is the film Everyone’s Child which she directed. The film portrays the struggles of HIV orphans, illustrating the trials and tribulations that the poor children had to undergo without their parents to support them.

 

Tsitsi’s work has won her numerous awards. In 2006 she was the recipient of the Arts Personality of the Year Award and in 2007 the Arts Service Award, both from the National Arts Council of Zimbabwe.Her films have also received awards. Kare Kare Zvako (2005) won the Golden Dhow in Zanzibar, the Short Film Award Cinemaafricano in Milano, and Short Film Award at the Zimbabwe International Film Festival. Peretera Maneta (2006) received the UNESCO Children’s and Human Rights Award. She also won the Gender, Equality and Media Award for her film Growing Stronger in South Africa in 2006.

 

Her short story The Letter is rich in its illustration of the hardships that an African woman, entangled in the web of a patriarchal society with no voice, limited choices and an almost bleak future has to contend with.

 

Tsitsi Dangarembga
Tsitsi Dangarembga

 

In particular I love this extract from The Letter in which Tsitsi portrays the gentle, quiet strength and deep character of this (abandoned) married woman;

 

“This morning I received a letter from my husband, the first in twelve years. Can you imagine such a thing? As has been my custom during all this time that I have been waiting, I opened my eyes at four o’clock when the first cock crowed, and lay remembering the day that he left, without bitterness and without anger or sorrow, simply remembering what it was like to be with him one day and without him the next.”

 

Tsitsi has also delivered a lecture published as part of the Dakar, CODESRIA, Lectures Series entitled, ‘The Popular Arts and Culture in the Texture of the Public Sphere in Africa’ in which she explores the African culture and suggests how culture may be used to cultivate subjective consciousness.

 

As a founding member of many initiatives, Tsitsi promotes Zimbabwean arts and women’s rights. Her involvement with the Zimbabwe Association of Community Theatre, the Women’s Action Group and Zimbabwe Women Writers has promoted women in art as well as the use of art to advocate gender equality. She is currently the Director of the International Images Film Festival for Women, another one of her brilliant initiatives. She is also a trustee within the Envision Zimbabwe Trust, an organisation that explores developmental challenges and issues affecting Zimbabwean women and youth and devising solutions to these problems.

 

Tsitsi speaks out against women abuse, against domestic violence and more recently against political violence against women.

 

Not only England is blessed with talented writers such as William Shakespeare and Jane Austen. Right here in Zimbabwe we have them too and I hope you agree with me that Tsitsi is definitely in their caliber. If you don’t I can understand why, it’s probably a generational thing, just like Jane Austen was misunderstood in her time, future generations will get what Tsitsi is all about too.

Standpoint: A Journal of the Coalition of African Lesbians

A new exciting journal celebrating our lives as lesbian, bisexual women and trans-diverse people across Africa and the Diaspora

CALbanderoll

Standpoint: A Journal of the Coalition of African Lesbians – Invites contributions to a brand new Journal

The Coalition of African Lesbians (CAL) invites all our members, partners and friends to submit contributions for our brand new journal, the first of its kind. Our Standpoint Journal celebrates collective feminist resistance, resilience, revolution and power as lesbian and bisexual women and trans-diverse people across Africa through our association with CAL at various times and in different spaces of our intersectional movements in Africa.

We welcome critical and reflective articles; anecdotes, memories and photographs of particular moments of our herstory; poetry, stories, letters, speeches, conversations, diary and journal entries, media reports, book, art and other reviews; electronic media submissions (cellphone, facebook, twitter, blogs, etc); and creative visioning of the continent we want to live in.

Let’s surface our pain and pleasure, our fears and courage, and document our resilience and resistance, our challenges and victories.

The deadline for submissions is Friday 22 November 2013 at 19h00 UTC/GMT. Please send your submissions to standpoint@cal.org.za . We will confirm receipt of all submissions, and correspond further with the authors/creators of submissions selected for publication. Do please contact the Editorial Collective at standpoint@cal.org.za for any queries related to this call.

Appreciatively & in solidarity,

Bernedette Muthien, Fikile Vilakazi, Ingrid Lynch
On behalf of the Editorial Collective
Standpoint: A Journal of the Coalition of African Lesbians
Email: standpoint   AT  cal  DOT org DOT za
__________________________________

The Memory Snatcher – A Short Story

THE MEMORY SNATCHER – a short story by  DIRIYE OSMAN

(An exclusive new short story)

Photo from DiriyeOsman.com
Photo from DiriyeOsman.com

There was once a house built out of memories and inside this house lived a woman called The Memory Snatcher. This woman was my Aunt Beydan. She was a sorceress and as a child I feared she would stalk me in my sleep and steal all my memories until I could no longer remember who I was.

She looked like a witch:

red, red hair,

dark, dark skin,

skin dry as bark,

bark bad as bite,

teeth chipped,

nails unclipped.

She smelt of camel milk and Camel cigarettes. I couldn’t stand her stench or her stare. She could walk into a room filled with joy and slash the niceness in half. So yes, I detested this Memory Snatcher. But in a small way I saved her life when I was a child. And she returned this favor when I needed it the most as an adult.

I

Memory Snatchers are demoniacs trapped between the past and the future, between the spirit world and the earth, belonging to themselves neither in soul nor sense. Those are Satan’s keepsakes.

Beydan’s soul was possessed by Satan. So my parents locked her up in the basement and shackled her to her bed. That’s when the beatings began.

Reader, reader, do not get it twisted. I repeat, do not get it twisted. Every fruit, whether ripe or rotten, has its roots. So too does this tale.

Before Beydan became a Memory Snatcher she was a Mother. Before she was a Mother she was a Wife and before she was a Wife she was her Father’s daughter. Her identity was not hers to keep. Her life was a splintered spine, leaves too loose: an illegible manuscript left languishing on the shelf.

She belonged to the men in her family and Satan was now one of them. These men waged war for the rights to her soul using her body as battlefield. In order to punish each other, in order to prove sovereignty over the other, they thrashed Beydan physically and psychically. Satan may have caged her soul but mortal man, armed with sticks and scripture, held her body ransom.

But how did this woman’s life come to this?

When Beydan was her Father’s daughter there was a slice of time that allowed for roaming. These roaming activities included a spell in secondary school. For her two older brothers education was a birthright. For Beydan education was a gift that came wrapped in bespoke paper, and she pursued her studies with the single-mindedness of a monk seeking the Divine. She inhaled Buchi Emecheta’s The Joys of Motherhood, Tsitsi Dangarembga’s Nervous Conditions, Nawal El Saadawi’s Memoirs of a Woman Doctor. She was a spiky teenager rebelling against the soul-suck mirror reflected back at her in her mother’s blank stare, her question mark of a spine. Determined to beat the odds, she completed high school with distinction. But there was a caveat. Beydan was allowed to roam and educate herself – up to a point. On her eighteenth birthday her Father sat her down and held out his Rolexed wrist. Studded with crystals and flecks of diamond, the watch dazzled in the light. All Beydan could hear, however, was tick-tock-tick-tick-tick-tick -  time to neatly fold all her hard work, to parcel up her progress, send it to the attic in her subconscious and let dust gather on her dreams. There was a lump in her throat and a stopwatch in her womb.

Her Father introduced her to Rahim.

Rahim wore suede shoes, silk shirts. He was schooled in Homi Bhabha’s theories and spoke in sentences of exquisite gobbledygook.

RAHIM (glancing at BEYDAN’S jeans and T-shirt): As Bhabha might have noted, I feel your accoutrements represent the counterpressure of the diachrony of history.

BEYDAN: Que?

RAHIM: Your mimicry of western culture figuratively embodies an ironic compromise.

BEYDAN: Who is this Bhabha you speak of? Is he your father?

Despite his penchant for doublespeak, bwoy was sweet like money: relatively debonair, delicately textured hair, a lickle flavor to spare. Beydan accepted his proposal but nonetheless went into marriage with the mindset of someone facing hard time. On her wedding night, as Rahim spread her limbs and fucked her until her eyes rolled back, she placed her hennaed fingertips between his lips. That’s when the image of her body as machinery flashed into her mind. As Rahim worked her side-angles she hung suspended between dread and delight knowing that her body, her brain – every physical, sexual and cognitive capability – was an intricate machine with the capacity to surprise and appall. When she came she shoved Rahim’s face between her thighs and wrapped her legs around his neck until he had licked every inch of her, until he gasped for air. In that moment she understood his fragility and her own strength. She made him put in the work until it was time for breakfast, which she served with relish: poached eggs with salsa, pancakes with butter, spicy tea. She was now a Wife but she tweaked that role to cater to her own appetites.

This is where I come into the narrative.

When Beydan became pregnant I was sent off to help her around the house. It was the spring of ’98 and I was a buck-toothed thirteen-year-old with braids that made my skull resemble a giant onion. My Mother was ruthless when it came to my nappy roots, believing that coconut oil and a tenderly-wielded afro-pick were not enough to expedite appropriate follicular development. So she used muscle for the hustle, a technique that involved elbow grease on her part and much weeping on mine, resulting in braids so tight I couldn’t rest right.

I arrived at Beydan’s house during El Niño. The rains had flooded the streets of Nairobi, there were blackouts, and generators cranked noisily into the night. I feared Nairobi flies, tiny beetles that caused painful pustules when crushed against the skin. They had crawled onto the face of a classmate whilst he was asleep and he had come to school the next day bearing a close facial resemblance to Quasimodo. I started sleeping with towels wrapped around my face.

Nairobi flies and El Niño couldn’t fuck with Beydan’s flow. She was a woman galvanized by impending motherhood. As her body expanded so did her interior landscape. She imagined minarets, skyscrapers, entire cities being constructed inside her. Thighs thickened, belly became basketball-sized, buttocks deepened with dimples. Even her taste-buds shifted, and she held her tongue out for crushed ice, chalk, charcoal.

‘Aunt Beydan, stop eating my stationery!’ I shouted when I noticed her munching her way through my art materials.  ‘I can make you a sandwich if you’re that hungry.’

She stopped what she was doing and looked at me. I felt churlish for denying her my charcoal. I relinquished a stick and she relished it, black foam forming at the corners of her mouth. When she had devoured the charcoal she wiped her lips and said, ‘I never thought I would be happy about becoming a mother.’

‘Why?’ I asked.

‘I felt it was a trap. I wanted to go places, pursue a life unhampered by a husband or children. I never thought that being pregnant could give me such pleasure. I laugh at myself sometimes and I wonder if what I’m experiencing is not real happiness but a simulation of happiness.’

I took her hand. ‘What you’re feeling is real.’

‘Give me proof,’ she said with sudden urgency, and her nails bit into my palm.

I shook free of her grip, reached for her round belly and said, ‘Isn’t this proof?’  

 

Beydan gave birth while I was in biology class. My Mother called the school to let me know that the baby had been named Aisha after me. I skipped, hopped, skipped my way home.

I didn’t have any siblings. My Mother nearly died giving birth to me so my parents didn’t try for another child. My childhood consisted of reading, drawing and solo hopscotch, where my imagination had to make giant leaps. My mind was a pop-up book filled with forests, fortresses, dense-dense jungles: complex kingdoms, layer upon layer of imagined realities. In the outer world I was silent and solitary, but I had cultivated a textured, earth-deep interior life. 

I was ecstatic about having a younger cousin. The fact that we were namesakes was the icing on a multi-tiered cake. I begged my Father to take me to see Beydan and the baby. 

‘Your Aunt is tired,’ he sighed. My Father was Beydan’s older Brother and he was protective of her.

‘Is she okay?’ I asked.

‘Yes, she’s fine,’ he said, but I didn’t believe him.

That night I heard my parents arguing.

‘What do you mean ‘she doesn’t even want to look at the baby’?’ shouted my Father.

‘I don’t know! All Beydan wants to do is sleep. Her breasts are full of milk but she doesn’t want to nurse. She just lies there dead-eyed.’

‘What is Rahim’s reaction?’

‘That fool is so caught up in his studies that he hasn’t noticed something is wrong,’ said my Mother. ‘I think we should bring her here.’

The next day Beydan and baby Aisha were brought to our house. When I saw Beydan I knew something horrific had happened. She had shape-shifted from an exuberant woman into someone who had warmed to the idea of death. Lips dry, bleary-eye: she got out of the car and bolted to my bedroom, visibly shaking. My Mother went and got the baby and brought her in. My parents looked concerned. I kept quiet.

 

Continue reading The Memory Snatcher here

Review of Fairytales for Lost Children by Bernadino Evaristo

You can purchase “Fairytales For Lost Children” via the following links:

UK: http://amzn.to/12nRtp7

US: http://amzn.to/13p8PGk

CAN: http://amzn.to/1ePjj6u

Garlands

Garlands

What response befits a company of douche-bags?
This is not about us. No, it so isn’t about us.
The uninvited attention from wayward wands.

Fighting voices fly upwards from the street nags
Below. What makes everyone think they know?
What makes you think you know these lands?

Those questions were mine these bands these flags
All mine. Every feisty voice rang out unburying me
A corpse hard to forget. Expectations & demands!

All hours of the day. Swishing swashing windbags?
No, just people. People like me. People like us.
Not female, not male, everyone else. No reprimands.

If being autistic, black and trans are only tags…
All it took was a diagnosis of FOP & com nonplus.
Often you bang on the wall fussing garlands…

African ebony black, Demur lacklutred no free shags.
I don’t do porno stretches sucking up to the fee
Egocentric humans what do you expect -the badlands?

No longer all this maddening fuss of pitted flags
And then all the labels hover stripped of pedigree
How many times do we need to take the bandstands?

Attachment issues assail us all. That’s the fuss…
Such disorder masking as order yet we decree
Suffering and smiling; all is just dreamy garlands.

Garlands? Yes, garlands. This body isn’t a demo-fag.
Trans bodies must exist bodies too no matter the goal
This isn’t elective female, male dom not of badlands

This landscape of garlands consolidates all culture tags
Murmurs warm their way in on me. What is this cree?
Trans bodies too must exist bodies too. Tlk 2 th hands!

Mia Nikasimo (c) September 2013

Tey, a film by Alain Gomis: From Senegal to Haiti, timelessness and spirituality remain the same

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Tey, [Today] a film directed by Alain Gomis which opens  in NYC on Oct 6 at Mist Harlem,  won the Golden Stallion Prize for the best film at the  2013 FESPACO  in Burkina Faso.    The film has now been formally submitted as Senegal’s entry to the 2014 Academy Awards.  Haitian blogger and researcher, Alice Backer tweeted me with details of a discussion on the film between herself, star of the film, Saul Williams, Guetty Félin from Belle Moon Productions [distributors], and Alexandra Salazar of Creatively Speaking On Air. You can listen to the discussion here.

Briefly the synopsis of the film..

In a tradition where death warns its arrival, Tey recounts the journey of one man’s last day on earth. The role is Saul William’s first lead since SLAM, fifteen years ago. Despite scant dialogue, Williams, acclaimed African American poet, writer, musician and performance artist, brilliantly plays Satché — a man determined to bid a transcendent farewell to his community, family, friends, lover, and wife .

Tey is a powerful fairy tale. In a village outside Dakar, the gods, the stars, or destiny, have spoken — Satché must die by the end of the day. A countdown to his transition, it is a reverse journey to birth – a joyous celebration feted by his community, as if he were a saint. Chosen to disappear, Satché soon finds himself set apart from those closest to him, in beautiful scenes that seek to show those elements of friendship, desire, sadness, affection and anger that are usually left unsaid.

Satché’s journey from the U.S. back to his native Senegal mirrors director Alain Gomis’ own personal story. Born in France to a French mother and Senegalese father, Gomis says about Tey: “For me it’s a voyage… The film was shot in Dakar, this city I love, where I come from… I want(ed) to create suspense with simple moments… an adventure, a film about reconciliation with death — it’s a dream of life.” [From Press Statement]

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Alice and I had a brief email exchange where I asked a number of questions on Haiti’s connection  to the film and Senegal as well as her own personal relationship with Senegal in particular and Africa in general.  As a Nigerian living in Haiti, I wanted to know why so many Haitians are working on releasing the film in the US..

SE: Have you observed any connections between the two countries in the film.

AB: There is no difference aesthetically between the streets of Dakar and the Port-au-Prince I grew up in. The hustle and bustle, the colors of the people and of what they surround themselves with, the cement, the layout of the markets, the headscarves of the women are the same.
But much beyond that, the timelessness and spirituality are the same. The notion that there are higher forces beyond humans, whether energies, gods, spirits, the ancestors or nature that we must be in harmony with. Community is almost a character in the film. Gomis conveys well that sense that we have in our African traditions whether on the continent or in Haiti that family and individual must be in harmony. An African or Afrodescendant divorced from his/her root will loose his/her way. Satché bows to the ultimate end because it is foretold by forces greater than him that he knows look out for the whole.  As a result, he and the community both celebrate that prophecy and he is treated like a god. In this film, death, like birth is announced and celebrated. I often hear African Americans use the word “transition” and I suspect that is the reason.

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SE: What is your own personal involvement with the film, I recall sometime ago you were working in  Gabon?

I was tapped to help bring the film to its natural audience because of my personal and professional connections to so many elements of the film. My parents and I are Haitian but my formative years were spent in the Congo before my family moved back to Haiti when I was 5.

So I lived in the Congo before I lived in Haiti. My father was born in Haiti but died in the Congo at 42, having been exiled from Haiti for standing up for the whole.  There is something akin to Satché’s story there. My brother lives in Senegal and through his  Facebook updates, I look at the place every day.  Guetty Félin of Belle Moon Productions may not have known  all that but she and I had met before and she knew that I had covered Francophone African blogs for Global Voices Online and that having been raised in Haiti, I speak French.

Michelle Materre of Creatively Speaking has been a mentor for 20 years. I first met her when she recruited me as an intern on the US distribution of  Raoul Peck’s film Man by the shore. Oh and last but not least, Guetty Félin is Haitian and Michelle Materre and Saul Williams both have Haitian lineage. So anyone’s crystal ball should foresee a screening of this film in Haiti at some point down the line.

The social media campaign I conducted in Gabon during the 2009 presidential elections marked my first return to the continent of Africa since leaving it at 5. Africa never leaves me. How could it? It’s in my DNA.

Behind the scenes of TEY - Director Alain Gomis with lead actor Saul Williams.
Behind the scenes of TEY – Director Alain Gomis with lead actor Saul Williams.

The connections Alice makes between Haiti and Senegal are familiar. Haiti is possibly the only country in the African Diaspora that continues a visibly strong spiritual, cultural, religious, linguistic relationship with the continent. On my first visit to Haiti in 2007, I was struck and emotionally moved by how similar it was to Nigeria, to Lagos or, in terms of size, to Port Harcourt. The streets, the market, the movement of people,  everyone doing something with so much colour and vibrancy.   I still see and feel these everyday as I walk and tap tap myself  around Port-au-Prince and other cities.    But the relationship goes much further and deeper into our common historic roots. As Alice says, Haiti is in Africa and at least [I could safely say] West Africa is in Haiti, through body language, drum rhythms, voudou dance and the way voudou is embedded in the history and everyday life even for those who profess to be christian. Its so much part of the reality in the same way that indigenous religions, gods, spirits and ‘majik’ are in Nigeria.

TEY-Today Trailer for US release.. from Guetty Felin on Vimeo.

 

The U.S. Premiere of Tey will be held  in NYC at MIST Harlem–Oct 6-13th:  Other events are as follows:
Multi-Award-Winning Film TEY (Today) by Alain Gomis Starring Saul Williams (Slam) Launches its U.S. Theatrical Run
on Sunday, October 6th!
Red Carpet Premiere with Director and Stars in the Heart of Little Senegal

For more details and contacts

Commercial screenings: Guetty Felin Bellemoonproductions AT gmail.com

Educational Screenings: Alain Kasanda apkas AT hotmail.com

Community screenings: Natalie Teter natalie.tey AT bellemoonproductions.com

Screeners, press screenings and interviews: Steffan Horowitz Steffan.tey AT bellemoonproductions.com

Media related issues NY: Michelle Materre & Alice Backer: films  AT creativelyspeaking.tv

Phone contact: 415-375-0670 or 415-935-7013

 

 

 

HIV: A silent relative

by Kopano Sibeko

“It’s amazing how the death of someone can also be a blessing” shares Thembela ‘Terra’ Dick. She walks me on a tale of how her sister, Thembi Ngubane’s memorial service was the day her life really started.
“Thembi” was an AIDS activist who was diagnosed with the Hi-virus at the age of 14, so at her memorial service I was courageous enough to speak out, because she had always motivated me to come out and be open about my sexuality and stop hiding as a “boy” she sighs .

Thembela sounds a bit skeptical I can tell by the tone of her voice, and I quiclky pick up that she doesn’t know whether to be grateful that her sister passed on or that the thought of how her life has shaped up is a bit discomforting considering how far she’s come since then. However shares with me that her speech at the service  where she officially came out about her lesbianism created an interest in Richard Mills and Jo Menel from Street Talk, a media production company that was documenting the memorial that day.

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Thembela Dick & Mpilo Cele during Paris visit in 2012

She utters that “they approached me and asked if I could be a Researcher for my sister’s story and they offered me training which also afforded me the chance to learn about the visual media.” She currently  holds a position as a researcher, a filmmaker, a director and she also does some editing. She stresses that she can’t do this on her own but she gets the support from her colleagues.

Terra tells me that she is a very persuasive person and that it is easy for people to trust her, so those are the traits that she uses to communicate with people of different cultures, age groups and races because StreetTalk is about stories in the township and putting people together, “I deal with two types of filming,  those are profiling and group discussions” she said.  Then she explains that in the meantime there are only covering the Western Cape. In the midst of our telephonic interview I also get an awakening that her voice is pretty gentle and akwardly convincing so it makes sense that people could easily warm up to her.

Though her life  might seem picture perfect  with her doing what she’s passionate about, but Terra  tells me that she didn’t complete her matric and she knows that one day that reality will catch up with her “I wanna go back to school, I need to know the basics of these technicalities”. She admits that she has to know how to talk and be knowledgable about what she does “I only see a future in film” she insists.

After a few minutes of silence, I ask her to tell me more about her family and where she comes from, “I was born in Gugulethu township, Cape Town, but I was raised in Queenstown in the Eastern Cape”. She tells me that she is a child of Buyiswa Komeni Mtshakazi and Mbambeleli Mtshakazi, who were not so actively involved in her childhood as she grew up with her siblings and that the absense of her mom in her life made her bitter “I refused to go for almost 3 months to see my mother, I was angry at her and after a while I discovered that she was HIV positive” she confesses.

I could easily sense her discomfortness resurface, though she assures me that she is comfortable and  transparent “it’s time we stopped hiding, we need to be there and support our family members who are HIV positive” she confesses.
Thembela also opens up to me about how the virus has become so much a part of her life “it has become a silent relative” she shares with me that five people in her immediate family are living with the virus and she encourages the society at large that they need to do away with the mentalty of not using a condom .

She tells me that she was lucky to have met Zanele Muholi who has been so supportive “Zanele has been great, though sometimes she doesn’t show how much she cares, but she does and she motivates me” she giggles. She also mentions that she’s an emotional person and all this can be too much for her  to handle at times.

Thembela Dick in F&P 151

Thembela Dick’s portrait in Faces & Phases series by Zanele Muholi (2011)

In the reality of it all it suddenly hits me that Terra featured in Muholi’s Faces & Phases and also in a 4 mins intimacy video. In the latter she was part-taking in unprotected sex, so I asked her if that is not hypocritical of her to preach that people should  use condoms while she is not, her response was “my girlfriend and I have been together for sometime now and we get tested almost every after three months and when we did that video we both knew each others statuses” she explains calmly.

I also voice out the fact that most people that don’t know the beauty of art will say that, that clip is not any different from pornography she says “sex is not a taboo and it’s also not porn especially if you’re doing it with you’re partner.”
She laughs gently as she explains to me that, that video was not even planned. She recalls that it was on Human Rights day in 2012 and Muholi took our intimacy photos for Being series which forms part of lesbian safer sex education. She photographed Terra and her lover Lithakazi Nomngcongo and she explains that they were standing, but later on pose on the mattress which heated the moment.

“I was very close to my girlfriend and it just happened, so I even forgot that Muholi was there” she laughs with excitement. She also adds that Muholi didn’t stop them so  they also didn’t care, because they were focused on what they were doing . However she tells me that Muholi asked if they wouldn’t mind if s/he exhibits their video” I asked my girlfriend, she said she doesn’t mind and I thought why not?”.

“I want to make the best of my life, this is a memory I’ve created” she adds while giggling. She slowly moves away from the topic and tells me that she is learning photography and that she is currently filming two documenataries called ‘Lesbian Love‘ and another one  called ‘Terra the Les’ it’s about her personal life telling the story about her family members who are HIV positive.

 

Fairytales for Lost Children

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Publisher’s Note:

FAIRYTALES FOR LOST CHILDREN is narrated by people constantly on the verge of self-revelation. These characters – young, gay and lesbian Somalis – must navigate the complexities of family, identity and the immigrant experience as they tumble towards freedom. Set in Kenya, Somalia and South London, these stories are imbued with pathos, passion and linguistic playfulness, marking the arrival of a singular new voice in contemporary fiction.

Praise for FAIRYTALES FOR LOST CHILDREN

‘Fantastic writing. I am most highly impressed. I’ve read some of the stories more than once and saw in each one of them plenty of talent everywhere – in every sinew and vein.’ - NURUDDIN FARAH

‘There is nothing more humbling than good writing except when the author is fiercely beautiful and ferociously generous of heart. That Diriye Osman should possess so much talent is only fair in light of his goodness. Read this book.’
MESHELL NDEGEOCELLO

‘The characters in these fairy tales are displaced in multiple, complicated ways. But Osman’s storytelling creates a shelter for them; a warm place which is both real and imaginary, in which they find political, sexual, and ultimately psychic liberation.’
ALISON BECHDEL

‘East Africa. South London. Queer. Displaced. Mentally Ill. My excitement over Osman and his writing comes, in part, out of delight at the impossibility of categorisation.’

ELLAH ALLFREY, The Telegraph

Fairytales For Lost Children is out now and available here and here.
 

Rokia Traoré – Beautiful Africa

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From PRI  The World – An interview and music by Malian singer,  Rokia Traoré

How Rokia Traoré Created a Beautiful Album Amid Constant News of Torture and Killings in Mali

 

Last year, a coup d’etat in Mali fed an Islamist uprising in the country’s north. Thousands of Malians were displaced, and hundreds more tortured and killed. The French military went in earlier this year to help the Malian army stop the Islamists.

These days, stability seems to be holding.

Earlier this month Malians voted in a new president–Boubacar Keita. So many are looking toward a bit brighter future. But they’re still cautious. That includes singer Rokia Traoré. She says, “I’ve never stopped being optimistic and also hopeful concerning Mali. And yes, I know the situation is still definitely fragile.”

Rokia Traoré was born in Mali, the daughter of a diplomat.

She began recording her latest album Beautiful Africa when the conflict in northern Mali was at its height.

And although she produced the CD in the capital, Bamako, far from the fighting, Rokia Traoré says she and her band still felt it.

“When there was war in the country, it affected everything,” she says “It was difficult but we could make it and that’s great. I mean there was no delay and we could make everything on time.”

Rokia Traoré admits some people, especially here in the West, may think of places like of Mali–many countries in Africa–and wonder if they’ll ever be stable.

But she says the reality of the continent is far different from what’s often portrayed in the media.

Though like her father, Traoré wants to be diplomatic.

“The title of my album is Beautiful Africa and I guess this title just pushed people wondering about what is beautiful about a place which can be considered hell on earth and it’s not. It’s life of everyday, of beautiful people, so it was important for me to sing it.”





Via Neo-Girot

“emotion runs under one umbrella, it is the ‘weather’ that changes.” Uche Peter Umez interviews Jumoke Verissimo

Interviewer’s Note: JUMOKE VERISSIMO has performed her poetry in Nigeria, Macedonia and Norway; some of which have appeared in “Migrations” (Afro-Italian) Wole Soyinka ed., “Voldposten 2010″ (Norway), “Livre d’or de Struga” (Poetes du monde, sous le patronage de l’UNESCO) and are in translation in Italian, Norwegian, French, Japanese, Chinese, and Macedonian. Some of her fiction has been published in print and online magazines. Jumoke is regarded as one of the most exciting poets amongst her contemporaries in Nigeria. Her poetry collection I am memory was adapted for stage by Crown Troupe, Nigeria.

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Uche Peter Umez: Your debut collection I am Memory was hailed as “passionate, sensual” by the multi award-winning playwright Biyi Bandele. You’ve been on the literary scene for a very long time, why did it take you so long to publish a collection?

Jumoke Verissimo: Well, one never knows why these things decide the time they do. For, there were indeed plans to get the book published, but it just never became a reality for one reason or the other. It is good to recount how I had people who were genuinely interested in publishing my first collection. However, it found a home with DADA Books, because it shared the ideas I had for the book. At the time, I was thinking of some sort of collaboration—drawing and poetry, photography and poetry etc., and Ayo Arigbabu was thinking along the same line. We spoke about it when he came to The Guardian newspaper, where I worked as a freelancer at the time.

In the earlier days, it was called Songs of Reparation. By time it would get to Ayo Arigbabu, it had been rewritten too many times and the voluminous pages had slimmed down into a very different book from its earlier version. For this reason, I like to think the book came out when it was ready. It is a rather slim volume—and I am proud of the effort that entered into it. Now goes that cliché: “it is not how far…”

Uche Peter Umez: A friend who recently read I am Memory said it was “seamless, flowing non-stop.” I admire the way you use language in a very musical way; each poem is so lyrical it could be sung easily. How long did it take you to write “Memory Lane 1″? Was there a point when you thought the poems will have to be performed on stage?

Jumoke Verissimo: I appreciate that consistency in the response I have received from readers. I have always been fascinated by the tonal possibilities of my indigenous language—Yoruba. This is not possible with English, but with a careful choice of words one can create some sort of harmony.

As for the period it took to write, “Memory Lane I”, I can’t tell. Perhaps it is time to confess that the first few lines were written for someone I had a crush on as a teenager. This was in 1998, or so. It is therefore a poem given to a non-fulfilled desire and imagination. I developed some other lines in an exercise book; I wrote a long poem and handed it over to him. Some made it into the published version and some did not. The first five lines would later be ‘pasted’ on a press board in the university in 2001 and the response I received made me decide to explore the theme of love much further. I continued rewriting now and again. Soon, the poem became entirely different from what it started out as, different from the first five lines. Perhaps, it is what I called a ‘memorial deviant’ of love in an interview I had with Dr Nereus Tadi (published in Matatu (No. 40).  It is no longer a poem for someone I had a crush on. The persona in the poem: ‘Ajani’ has become a good resource objectifying romantic love not only as an emotion, but a participant in the course of mundane human lives. More so, it gave shape to the idea of ‘reparations’ which I was pursuing as a book.

Uche Peter Umez: Sappho, that’s who I was thinking of when I first read your collection, which is intense and replete with erotic impulses, even though the themes you handled are purely political. Audre Lorde stated that the erotic approximates the “assertion of the life force of women”. Still, why did you appropriate an erotic metaphor to frame your poetry? What attracted you to this approach? Don’t you think it will detract from the political urgency in your poetry? Is there a dichotomy between the erotic and the political?

the raped vulva pleads for menopause,
oversexed vulvas beg for a sex-change,
against violence, your thrust on their impotent will.

Jumoke Verissimo: Yes, too many good literatures are replete with the trope of eroticism and this is rather different from soft porn. I have to explain something however, before I delve into answering whether the metaphor in the poetry would detract. First, I’ll like to say, I would love to use the word ‘sensual’ rather than erotic to describe my poetry. My preference for the word is that indicates an experience being imagined—something anticipatory in a desired emotion. In this case, the narrated is experienced. Eroticism, most times, is the experienced being narrated. That said, the Niger-Delta experience has made an advocate of too many Nigerians. I think this is one poem that came in later to the collection. The situation of the place was brought to life through some photographs which Muhtar Bakare and Yemisi Ogbe (editor of Farafina at the time) commissioned a particular photographer to take. The images were haunting and I wanted to know more. This was alongside the lackadaisical response of government to the issue— considering that the environmental policies that should protect a place like that. I was angry and desirous of change at the same time, because I was experiencing also the first-hand suffering of people ‘shuffering and smiling’ each time I was on a bus. Bus-stops housed numerous zombies who appeared not to know what to do with themselves as their humanity has been stripped away. The masses living in a horrible condition—such a state of destitution was haunting. I must say, it is not that the situation has changed; lives are still impoverished and people are still angry, but we now have Zombies seem living on a shot of false hope: this time we assume our humanity has been restored again. The rape was in the Niger-Delta, but the dehumanization went across borders. The shame of the rape was for us all.

As for the dichotomy between the erotic and the political, I would only say that emotion runs under one umbrella, it is the ‘weather’ that changes. In this regard, I will conclude that though passion might be different in context. I have since found eroticism as a voice to exact a metaphor that repugned an environment that denied logicality. I did not set off to use eroticism as a trope in my writing; it only answered the messed-up emotions in me.

Uche Peter Umez: How do you approach the process of writing a poem? Do you have a concrete image in mind, or you start a poem by playing around with a few words, expecting them to cohere into something of meaning? For you, what often comes first – words or image?

Jumoke Verissimo: I am not sure. I am at times inspired by a word on a page uttered or read from a book. There are days, an image inspires me. I once worked with a photographer, because I was trying to experiment how pictures inspire words. For my books, I love to work on themes and to do this; I meditate for long periods—viewing the subject matter from different angles until I am sure I have an idea of what I want to write about. The writing process has to be planned these days.  In many instances, I have a line come to mind and I play with the words until I have a picture of something I could interpret into a body of meaning. In this regard, for me, anything is possible—it could be words or image.

Uche Peter Umez: The ancient Greeks personified memory as a female Titan by the name of Mnemosyne. And it is quite interesting to note that Mnemosyne is the mother of the Muses. From your experience in writing this collection how does poetry make history memorable – seeing as you evoked a lot of remembrances? Is poetry an act of remembering “of dry bones that failed to rise” or “yesteryear’s wound”?

Jumoke Verissimo: I love to think that memory exists so that we can ‘disremember’. I have used the word ‘disremember’ because it is only a medium to place out of mind, rather than delete from it. The multi-dimensional lifestyle in contemporary time has placed memory as a result of our collective living experiment. In borrowing Roger Moseley’s phrase, although he was referencing music adaptability and extemporaneousness. I will like to borrow that phrase for this purpose. Poetry is: the “improvisatory fluency in historical idioms”.  History as a past would at times need reinvention and rendering of which poetry becomes a variable medium for actualizing this as a possibility.

Uche Peter Umez: Afam Akeh says, “Memory is the master griot stubborn with tales”, and in your collection I find this statement quite true, even truer in your poem “Mnemonics”, in which Calabar and Badagry signpost our colonial legacy. In Nigeria, however, there is a deliberate striving not to remember, to forget the “festival of transgression,” to evade our history. As a nation, it seems to me that we keep struggling against dealing with our bloody past. How, then, can poetry help us as a people not to keep “voyaging into waters of amnesia”, given our penchant for misadventures? Politics-wise, is this nation doomed to becoming another “generation of fief’?

Jumoke Verissimo: One of my favourite poetry lines is from Derek Walcott’s poem, “Origin”: “Memory in cerecloth uncoils its odours of river…” The imagery captures the entirety of the question you’ve asked.

You see, I have grown rather significantly from the time I wrote this collection, from being a very angry younger person in need of answers to all the social maladjustment around me. Today, still the questions I seek are yet to be answered. The present we live in is as bloody as our past—for me. We’ve only reinvented the past in series. Too many atrocities happen across the country; shared calamities like the Boko Haram, Niger Delta, social unrest, ‘Official’ Corruption, or is it  plane crashes due to ineffectual government policies, and of course personal ones like Armed Robbery, assassins, drug counterfeits, and the never talked about depression, which many Nigerians are presently suffering from! Nigerians are daily conversing with disillusion. In this situation memory is a revision of needs.

Uche Peter Umez: The late Kenyan activist Wangari Maathai said, “Women’s issues are environmental issues are issues of social justice. No separation.” How do you react to this? As a female poet, excuse my catergorisation, what do think is expected of you by the female sex? Is it to give voice to their fears, dreams and hopes? Is it to bear witness against male privilege and domination?
Jumoke Verissimo: You could as well ask me why I write. (LAUGH). Understandably, women issues are a confounding representation of many years of how sexual category has become an identity. That is why I must first state that I think women issues is a collective responsibility, and whoever you are and whatever you do, it is important to stand against injustice, if you believe in humanity. Well, if you look at it, don’t you think it is interesting that there are just two divides—male and female; and one would expect that both parties respect themselves to make progress in the environment, but in many cases, those who even raise the issues of desiring “equality” for women as “male privilege and domination” as effrontery and trouble making. Even with widespread public relations on this, we still have some tradition that makes many women timid by imposing subservience on them. Indeed, this is why your quote on Maathai is rather significant for the cheated becomes the stripped that strips what is around it. Summary: a society that does not take care of its women loses its environment and its future.

As for what is expected from me as a ‘female poet’ I must confess I do not know. However, I would rephrase that to be, how do I intend to make my writing a tool that represents the cause of women? To this, I would write, I have and would always stand against injustice in whatever form it comes.
Uche Peter Umez: There is a lot of energetic writing by many aspiring poets and social media have made it much possible for anyone to access these writings. You would have heard some older Nigerian writers sneering at the writing of your own generation of writers. How would you respond to that?  And what differentiates your poetry from the immediate generation before you? Do you feel connected to them in a literary sense?

Jumoke Verissimo: Well, I think this is something that has always been in the arts is for preceding generations to be condescending of the one before it.  Personally, I think it is simply a way of validating and perhaps, understanding their art better in the context of a newly developed intellectual culture which appears to ‘ease’ things for the younger generation. The coming of the internet has communalised knowledge and this appears to make our lives ‘easy’. The hypertextuality of the arts even makes it all the more complex for many who are still steeped in the debate that certain things are to be done ‘traditionally’. Culture is dynamic, and what I referred to as intellectual culture is not exempted. In this regard, I see the older generation as a foundation—and even in certain cases where they are still writing, a newer lens to view social issues from a different dimension. You know there is a Yoruba proverb that says; Agba gbon, omo de gbon la fi da Ile Ife: (Translated: The wisdom of the young and the old built the city of Ile-Ife; this is with a background that ancient Ile-Ife was a vibrant city). Anyway, any young mind that wants to grow would not abandon the wisdom of the old, and would most importantly, not walk away from the reality of her time also. I guess one just have to understand the idiosyncrasies of both categories and reinvent it, perhaps one might find audience among them. I’ve always believed if your art is true to self, it is valid for all.

Uche Peter Umez: In using graphic sexual images, especially in the poem, “The Rape”, what did you hope to achieve? Is this some sort of feminist agenda to draw attention to male violence – or man’s tendency to disfigure what is held beautiful and sacred? Finally, what is the future of poetry in Nigeria, since there is so little public support for the arts?

Jumoke Verissimo: Many women would see rape as the highest form of debasement that can happen to their body. The words that came showed the contempt I felt, in that degree—speaking for a land which had in the past, enjoyed enormous fertility and hope. In that regards, I opt for your second assumption ‘man’s tendency to disfigure what is held beautiful and sacred.’
I think the best thing that can happen to the future of poetry in Nigeria is for poets to continue to write poetry. The issue of poetry advocacy is something topmost in my mind, especially as we have no records to how many poetry books are published annually, and by whom. How then would we generate interests from sponsors? Do they even know what we’re doing?

Although, the first step would be an aggressive poetry advocacy and I think it is coming—though slowly. Small groups across the nation organizing poetry events and sharing their talents, as for publishing, we have more of online magazines like Saraba, NigeriansTalk, etc., sustained by the individuals with their own funds, a few publishing houses are genuinely interested in publishing poetry.  The structures for publishing are tilted towards prose, and the energy for poetry is much of a virtual world these days, and I can’t tell whether this is a good sign for now.  Perhaps, the poetry ‘saviours’ are online. (LAUGHS)

One thing though, the more aggressive the advocacy the better, as it would come to a point where the audience is sensitized enough to desire to make an input. People would support what they are passionate about, and have an understanding of.

Let’s do our bit. Every poet should write in journals across the globe. Organise events if you have some skills with that. Do something. In the process, the form will adapt and reinvent itself into some form of importance—perhaps then, it would find widespread support. We are all just doing our bits. And no, I won’t bring government not giving artists grants into this; although there are bodies that should ensure that ideas are traded to encourage art grants and foundation for poetry, and other art forms.

***

Uche Peter Umez is a poet and short fiction writer. An Alumnus of the International Writing Program (USA), Uche has participated in residencies in Ghana, India, Switzerland and Italy. He has twice been shortlisted for the Nigeria Prize for Literature in 2007 and 2011, and was one of the winners in the Commonwealth Short Story Competition in 2006 and 2008 respectively. His latest children’s books The Boy who Throw Stones at Animals and Other Stories and Tim the Monkey and Other Stories have just been published by Melrose Books and Africana First Publishers (Nigeria) respectively.

Feminist Chronicles: NoViolet Bulawayo

NoViolet-A true African woman who does

not wither despite the hardships surrounding her

To use the language of the wrestling world, or at least what I hear them saying when introducing a wrestler on television when I watch WWE Raw, this woman ‘hails’ from the second largest city in Zimbabwe, Bulawayo. In Ndebele, one of Zimbabwe’s local languages we would say ‘Uvela koBulawayo, konthuthu ziyathunqa’ “She comes from Bulawayo-where everything happens.”

 She wrestles with societal prejudices that limit the potential of women and with boundaries that restrict the horizons women can reach. Her weapons – words; leave inerasable imprints on the self esteem of women, uplifting them in their spirit and giving them a new hope. She creates new dictionaries full of ‘I can’ words, she paints new pictures reflecting hope and she draws new borders with her magic pen and paper, borders that call out and say any woman can reach me.

A violet is believed to be the flower that symbolises modesty, virtue, affection, watchfulness, faithfulness and love. I have always wondered why she calls herself the opposite of a violet, or maybe given my limited understanding of the arts, she means something different from what I understand her to be saying . Her name is Elizabeth Tshele but her pen name; NoViolet is what many people know her by. Although she claims English is not her first language I am confident in her mastery of the language that I would bet my (to be acquired in the future) million bucks that she knows it better than the current British Prime Minister.

The recipient of the 2011 Caines Award, considered to be Africa’s highest literary award, she makes me proud to be a Zimbabwean woman. Her award winning story Hitting Budapest  is a moving tale of the journey of six starving and poor children who decide to steal guavas in a residential area for the affluent. The story is a clear illustration of social classes and how they shape the givens and granted of one class differently from the other class. Food is a given for the rich and guavas can rot in trees, but guavas are more than a delicacy for the poor-they are survival itself and the poor will go to great lengths to get them, even stealing as the characters in Hitting Budapest do.

NoViolet has also been recognised as a finalist in the 2009 SA PEN/Studzinski Literary Award for her story Snapshots.

Yes, we all write with our own pens but the quality of NoViolet’s pen just seems that much better than most because the marks it leaves behind, in her words, are indelible. A read of just one or two of her stories will tell you that she is at a level of her own.

Her stories have been published in collections of short stories. The story  “Snapshots” appeared in Where to Now?, “Shamisos” appeared in Writing Free, “Hitting Budapest”  appeared in To See The Mountain an Oxford Publication, “Main Street”  appeared in African Roar while the story ‘ Flag’ appeared in the Warwick Review.

Last night, I read her story Red and I could not help shedding a tear or two afterwards. This story of a Zimbabwean man who walks barefoot, hungry and destitute in the streets of Johannesburg in South Africa where he meets a street child left a hollow feeling in my stomach. The vivid images that NoViolet’s words evoke of the man as he holds the little girl, sings and imagines he is holding his son whom he head to leave behind in search of greener pastures stirred deep emotions of sadness and yes anger in me. Many Zimbabweans are in Shepherd, the character in Red’s shoes. They have been forced to leave their homes by poverty, difficult economic circumstances and hopelessness. They hope for better lives but across the border all they face is rejection, segregation, a worse kind of poverty than the one they left home, bereft of human warmth and understanding of their circumstances. As NoViolet says in the story all they know is “hard laughter, sarcastic laughter, angry laughter, hollow laughter, fleeting laughter, dry laughter.”

On her blog she discusses real life issues and how they affect real people. The topics discussed on her blog range from HIV/Aids where she laments the loss of her brother to the disease, to the challenges of life as a migrant in which she expresses her surprise and discoveries living abroad in a foreign land.

I know people say that art is a talent that one is born with, and writing being one form of art is a natural talent, but I will never give up hope that someday I will be able to put words together in the indelible manner that NoViolet does. Since she holds a Masters Degree in Fine Arts from Cornell University in America specialising in creative writing, I would like to think these studies honed her unique voice. Maybe if I become one of her students at Cornell where she now lectures, I may learn to write as well as she does.

This blog post was first published on my blog  Ma Dube’s Reflections