Category Archives: Literature

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

FOR COLORED BOYS WHO HAVE CONSIDERED SUICIDE WHEN THE RAINBOW WAS NOT ENUFF

FOR COLORED BOYS WHO HAVE CONSIDERED SUICIDE WHEN THE RAINBOW WAS NOT ENUFF

BY DIRIYE OSMAN

 

There’s a revelatory Lauryn Hill song called “Little Boys” , in which she sings, “What happens to young men/ Disappointed once again/ When they find out they’re not supposed to grow?/ Do their lives become a lie?/ Should they wither up and die/ When they find out they deserve more than they know?”

As a young, gay, African man living in the west, these lyrics always hit me in the heart because I know what it’s like to feel an earth-deep sense of disconnect from who I am, where I’ve come from and, crucially, where I’m headed in relation to the wider culture.

When I was a kid growing up in Kenya, I imagined that one day I would step out of the closet and find a sense of brotherhood and belonging in the beautiful, rainbow-flag-waving LGBT community. But the reality differed a great deal from my dreams.

In Somali culture, like the majority of the African, African-American and African-Caribbean communities, there’s a premium placed on masculinity. Any deviation from this ideal is frowned upon and homosexuality is considered not merely unpalatable but unacceptable. This lack of familial and communal support seeps out into feelings of unworthiness in the still-developing minds of young LGBT men whether they’re from Kinshasa, Kuala Lumpur or Kansas. Such psychic damage manifests itself as a corrosive form of self-hatred that often results in self-medication with illegal drugs and alcohol, unsafe sex, body dysmorphic perceptions taken to the point of anorexia and bulimia, and suicidal ideations.

When these young men eventually step out into the wider gay community in search of acceptance and companionship, they’re confronted by a mainstream gay culture that prizes whiteness, muscularity and the hypervalorization of a particular narrow construction of hypersexualized masculinity. Individualism on a visceral scale is deemed an unattractive quality and clone-culture the epitome of desirability. It’s a situation that creates a Russian Doll-like effect of otherness, a series of lacquered layers that give the impression of wholeness but are either empty or contain only other, smaller, frightened selves. Considered alien by kin and unappealing by both sides of the cultural coin, one’s sense of difference as an LGBT man of color is often felt in an intense and harrowing way.

I get emails every day from young, black gay men who tell me about their painful experiences as survivors of suicide attempts, mental illness, heartbreak and ostracism from first their families and then the gay community where they dreamt they would find kinship. These emails are threaded together by a sense of sadness spiked with hopefulness. “Maybe it will get better?” seems to be the subtext of each email. “Maybe I’ll be okay.” My heart breaks every time I read these emails. They’re beautiful and overwhelming testimonies that knock the air out of my lungs and leave me feeling helpless. As a minority-within-a-minority who happens to be a writer, I know that I have a sense of responsibility to my readers, most of whom are young and vulnerable. When they write to me, I often forget to say the things that these young men need to hear the most: “You are valuable”, “You are wanted”, “You are necessary and you matter”.

So I’m saying it now.

This is for colored boys who have considered suicide when the rainbow was simply not enuff. You are valuable. You are worthy and wanted. You are necessary and you will always matter.

***

FAIRYTALES FOR LOST CHILDREN is available via the following links:

UK: http://amzn.to/12nRtp7?

US: http://amzn.to/13p8PGk?

CAN: http://amzn.to/1ePjj6u

Diriye Osman is photographed by Boris Mitkov.

Mr Loverman – portrayal of a gay, British-Caribbean late bloomer

 

Review of Bernardine Evaristo’s ‘Mr. Loverman’ by Diriye Osman

James Baldwin once stated that “love takes off masks that we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live within.” This is a sentiment that applies equally to anyone who has ever experienced a profound sense of difference, a secret identity that is both a source of comfort and corrosion.

One of the many challenges with settling for “living in Narnia” — the closet — is that it invalidates half of your existence without you realizing that you have consented to such a huge degree of self-erasure; and what is left is a half-life teeming with anxiety, paranoia, shame and fear. This is where the love that Baldwin discusses so eloquently retains both its balm-like and burning qualities.

Stepping out into the sun requires strength. Although the majority of us who do come out of the closet increasingly do so at a younger age there are also those late-bloomers, those beautiful, older LGBT men and women who have spent a lifetime with one foot in the shadows and the other in a state of strenuously cultivated emotional paralysis, a seemingly sunlit space peopled with straight spouses, children and grandchildren.

This concept of double-identities, of secrets and consequences, forms the crux of British novelist and poet Bernardine Evaristo’s latest work of fiction, Mr. Loverman, a dazzling, gorgeously textured portrayal of a gay, British-Caribbean late bloomer and his infectious zest for life, language and love. In fact, one of the most remarkable feats of the novel is show how a septuagenarian can possess the kind of sizzle and sexual passion that would make most millennials look like poor relations of Mary Poppins.

The septuagenarian in question is Barrington Jedidiah Walker Esq, an Antiguan-born dandy based for decades in East London, who’s deeply in love with his childhood sweetheart, Morris Courtney de la Roux. The caveat is that Barrington is married to Carmel, his wife of 50 years. Carmel suspects that Barrington, or Barry as he’s also known, is having an affair, but assumes it to be with a woman. What Evaristo does so well is not only depict the strain that Barrington’s justifiable deception places on his marriage but she also deepens the narrative to include Carmel’s side of the story. One uses the term “justifiable” deception entirely accurately here. Homosexuality is still illegal in most parts of the Caribbean and Antigua is no exception. As evinced by the attitudes of Barrington’s grandson, Daniel, this stigma has seeped from generation to generation, from one continent to the next, creating a virulent animus against gay relationships within Britain’s collective black community, and the consequence of coming out of the closet is immediate rejection or violence.

So if Barrington’s deception can be considered justifiable — even for a minute — what about Carmel’s reality? A 50-year marriage is a lifetime’s investment, and Evaristo depicts Carmel’s disappointments with earth-deep empathy, showing us her vibrant youth, her pursuit of spiritual sustenance through the Church, and her struggle with post-natal depression. It is a beautiful, touching portrait of a woman pushed to the edge of her parameters. There is no victimhood here, and that sentiment extends to Barrington’s circumstances as well. The plot fizzes in a way that enables Barrington to confront his fears and face up to the truth of his “down-low” lifestyle with results that are poignant and cathartic in equal measure.

It must be noted that by writing directly in the voice of an older, gay Caribbean man, Bernardine Evaristo, who’s British-Nigerian and a woman, has executed an extraordinary act of ventriloquism that crosses gender boundaries as well as racial, cultural, sexual and linguistic differences. The fact that she accomplishes all of this with lyricism, authenticity and compassion is not only an act of bravery and confidence but a testament to her virtuosic capabilities as a writer. If the novelist’s job is to make sense of the world, Bernardine Evaristo’s entire oeuvre attests to her desire to upend preconceived notions of what is and isn’t impossible and reflect that mirror right back at her readers. Mr. Loverman is a powerful, morally rigorous and joyful novel and Bernardine Evaristo is a writer at the height of her imaginative powers.

Mr. Loverman by Bernardine Evaristo is published by Akashic Books. You can purchase the book here.

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Diriye Osman: Why we must tell our own stories

Diriye Osman
Diriye Osman

 

I once attended a book club in which my short story collection, Fairytales for Lost Children, was being discussed. Except for me and the acquaintance who had invited me to this event, all the members of this book club were white readers. Everyone was curious about the idea of a sexually explicit book that tackled issues of family, faith, immigration and love filtered through the very specific lens of the LGBT Somali experience.

The book club members asked me questions about the structure of the book, the use of Arabic calligraphy and illustrations and the fact that I chose to write in a lexicon that was studded with Kiswahili, Kenyan street slang, Jamaican patois, Italian and Somali. They were fine with my use of Italian phrases because they could easily use Google Translate to offer them meaning and context. But what about my pesky use of Jamaican patois, Kiswahili or Somali? They tried to use Google Translate for these “challenging” terminologies but came up short. The sting in the tail came when one reader, a middle-aged, middle-class Englishman asked me, “Who are you writing for?”

I was slightly taken aback by this question and the atmosphere suddenly assumed a hostile edge. I reached for blandishments in order to keep my cool and, ultimately, my dignity.

“I write for anyone who has an interest in the lives of others, which is all readers,” I said. The reader was dissatisfied with this response so the moderator kept the conversation moving along until it was time to go home.

As I sat on the bus, however, I gave the question serious consideration. Who do I write for? I thought about this again and again over the next few days until the answer crystalized in my consciousness. I was right the first time. I write for all readers. But my primary interest is in representing the complex but universal experience of Somalis. I do this because the media representation of the global Somali community is one that is carved out of derivative clichés crammed with pirates, warlords, terrorists, passive women and girls whose entire existence seems to be nothing more than a footnote on the primitive dangers of female genital mutilation. I write because I want to give a long-overdue voice to a community that has experienced a tremendous array of challenges but who constantly face these challenges with the most wicked sense of humour, humility and dignity. My father always used to tell me that in our culture, the done thing when you’re facing hardship and your belly is empty is to moisturize your face, comb your hair, press your clothes and step out into the sun with your sense of humanity intact. It’s a lesson I’ve carried with me to this day.

My book, “Fairytales for Lost Children”, was important for me to write as an openly gay Somali man because I was telling an untold story. I was offering a window into the lives of young people who happen to be African and gay in the midst of considerable hostility, but still managing to hang on to their identity. Who hasn’t experienced moments of despair? Who hasn’t faced rejection or unrequited love?

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Not all my future books will focus strictly on the gay Somali experience. My second short story collection-in-progress, “The Shape of Purity”, examines the lives of feisty, rebellious Somali women and girls – straight, lesbian, transgender – as they deal with the challenges of filial love, passion, heartbreak, careers, motherhood and even hardboiled, gangster shenanigans! The first story from this book is a dark, haunting fable called, “The Memory Snatcher”, which hinges on the sense of sisterhood between a troubled Somali woman and her young niece. These characters are punk rebels in hijabs and part of telling their stories is because I want to challenge the pervasive image of what the Somali community is all about. In telling these stories, I’m offering up a mirror and saying, “There are other ways of being.” That’s the beautiful thing about literature. We read in order to catch a glimpse of other lives that will ultimately reflect our own empathetic and imaginative capabilities. As writers, we must keep giving voice to the unexpressed; we must keep telling these untold stories again and again armed with the small knowledge that it is a joy-inducing, transformative privilege to be the teller of these tales. That, in itself, is something worthy of libation.

Diriye Osman is photographed by Boris Mitkov.

You can read and share Diriye Osman’s latest story “The Memory Snatcher” here and you can order his critically-acclaimed book “Fairytales For Lost Children” here. You can also connect with Diriye via his personal website and Tumblrwww.diriyeosman.com

This article was first published on Huffington Post 

“When the internet arrived, the homosexuality deamon went digital”

a brief scientific history of deamons.

Binyavanga Wainaina on the scientific history of African deamons

Ivan Forde

Image by Ivan Forde

When the internet arrived, the homosexuality deamon went digital, and was able to climb into optic fibers. Homosexuality deamon learns fast. Full of trickery. Read a lot and decided to convert from simple analogue deamonhood, to an actual ideology. Homosexuality demon is by this time quite African, a middle class one, likes old colonial houses, comfy hotels, really likes imported things. Homosexuality deamon decided to occupy son of a pastor to a scholarship in the Netherlands where they ate cheese, wore clogs and smoked bang. While smoking bhang and at tenting philosophy they came up with a Homosexual ideology. They called it Gayism and Lesbianism. Homosexuality deamon and son of Pastor knew that Africans would never accept them unless they were imported and western. So they bought skinny jeans and balanced trousers.

Flight back to Nairobi (first class with NGO money), they were attacked overflying Sudan, by a chariot of male African homosexuality deamons. It was very traumatising – a bunch of Wolof speakers afro-deamons, some Azande, some refused to say. Two Kings. Shaka and Kabaka Mwanga. So. they were hijacked and taken to a hotel in Entebbe. They were taught many things, secret Baganda things, warrior-like Zulu things. Kabaka Mwanga said he really liked young boys, pages. He liked girls too. Actually he liked a feast of flesh.

So, deamon of Homosexuality (French mum, English dad) and Pastor’s Son were very well educated. Shaka, they learned was into pain: thorns, shot spear stabs, soulful war cries. He taught them geopolitics and how to shield their websites. Shaka was not into women. Hated lesbians. Kabaka mwanga hated white people, kept trying to poison Imported Homosexual deamon. He really hated Catholic priests. They killed his lovers. The things they did in the Cathedral!Over two weeks in Entebbe, they used social media to spread Afro-homosexualism everywhere with a few dutch techniques…………Continue on Brittle Paper

 

I can’t honestly say what this is. Really. You just have to read and make of it what you will. Looks like Binyavanga was possessed by Marechera’s spirit or something. The most I can say is that when storytelling tips over the edge of prophecy, you get this.

#BrazeYourself

Ivan Forde

So the deamon for homosexuality, is it French? Coz many Pentecostals say it is not African. Now, the deamon of homosexuality—I’m thinking it came on a ship, coz deamons must be hosted by a body. They just can’t arrive by teleporting. Bible Scientists who know the field very well have deeply researched ALL African knowledge and are sure Gay deamon DID indeed come from the West. Scientists and experts on Bible Africa are sure Homo deamon was imported. I’m not sure though whether by plane or ship. Container number? Homosexuality deamon could very well have arrived, not in a container (carrying Friesian bulls maybe?), it could have come with passengers. Homosexuality deamon must have sat around bored for a long long time occupying one or two people, until the internet arrived.

When the internet arrived, the homosexuality deamon went digital, and was able to climb into optic fibers. Homosexuality deamon learns fast. Full of trickery. Read a lot and decided to convert from simple analogue deamonhood, to an actual ideology. Homosexuality demon is by this time quite African, a middle class one, likes old colonial houses, comfy hotels, really likes imported things. Homosexuality deamon decided to occupy son of a pastor to a scholarship in the Netherlands where they ate cheese, wore clogs and smoked bang. While smoking bhang and at tenting philosophy they came up with a Homosexual ideology. They called it Gayism and Lesbianism. Homosexuality deamon and son of Pastor knew that Africans would never accept them unless they were imported and western. So they bought skinny jeans and balanced trousers.

Flight back to Nairobi (first class with NGO money), they were attacked overflying Sudan, by a chariot of male African homosexuality deamons. It was very traumatising – a bunch of Wolof speakers afro-deamons, some Azande, some refused to say. Two Kings. Shaka and Kabaka Mwanga. So. they were hijacked and taken to a hotel in Entebbe. They were taught many things, secret Baganda things, warrior-like Zulu things. Kabaka Mwanga said he really liked young boys, pages. He liked girls too. Actually he liked a feast of flesh.

- See more at: http://brittlepaper.com/2014/01/african-homosexual-deamon-binyavangas-treatise-demonology/#sthash.gL5YBZ0u.dpuf

I can’t honestly say what this is. Really. You just have to read and make of it what you will. Looks like Binyavanga was possessed by Marechera’s spirit or something. The most I can say is that when storytelling tips over the edge of prophecy, you get this.

#BrazeYourself

Ivan Forde

So the deamon for homosexuality, is it French? Coz many Pentecostals say it is not African. Now, the deamon of homosexuality—I’m thinking it came on a ship, coz deamons must be hosted by a body. They just can’t arrive by teleporting. Bible Scientists who know the field very well have deeply researched ALL African knowledge and are sure Gay deamon DID indeed come from the West. Scientists and experts on Bible Africa are sure Homo deamon was imported. I’m not sure though whether by plane or ship. Container number? Homosexuality deamon could very well have arrived, not in a container (carrying Friesian bulls maybe?), it could have come with passengers. Homosexuality deamon must have sat around bored for a long long time occupying one or two people, until the internet arrived.

When the internet arrived, the homosexuality deamon went digital, and was able to climb into optic fibers. Homosexuality deamon learns fast. Full of trickery. Read a lot and decided to convert from simple analogue deamonhood, to an actual ideology. Homosexuality demon is by this time quite African, a middle class one, likes old colonial houses, comfy hotels, really likes imported things. Homosexuality deamon decided to occupy son of a pastor to a scholarship in the Netherlands where they ate cheese, wore clogs and smoked bang. While smoking bhang and at tenting philosophy they came up with a Homosexual ideology. They called it Gayism and Lesbianism. Homosexuality deamon and son of Pastor knew that Africans would never accept them unless they were imported and western. So they bought skinny jeans and balanced trousers.

Flight back to Nairobi (first class with NGO money), they were attacked overflying Sudan, by a chariot of male African homosexuality deamons. It was very traumatising – a bunch of Wolof speakers afro-deamons, some Azande, some refused to say. Two Kings. Shaka and Kabaka Mwanga. So. they were hijacked and taken to a hotel in Entebbe. They were taught many things, secret Baganda things, warrior-like Zulu things. Kabaka Mwanga said he really liked young boys, pages. He liked girls too. Actually he liked a feast of flesh.

- See more at: http://brittlepaper.com/2014/01/african-homosexual-deamon-binyavangas-treatise-demonology/#sthash.gL5YBZ0u.dpuf

“Walking With Shadows” by Jude Dibia [A Review]

From the Nation, Kenya a review of Nigerian novelist, Jude Dibia’s novel “Walking With Shadows

If I were to write a novel to respond to the anti-gay politics seeping through the Ugandan border into Kenya, it would probably be like the Nigerian author Jude Dibia’s Walking with Shadows. But I’d write mine in my mother tongue.

Dibia’s novel is a fearless book that is reputed to be the first work by a Nigerian literary artiste to explore in detail the theme of male homosexuality.

Dibia is a bold writer. One of the many admirers of Kenya’s Binyavanga Wainaina, the Nigerian writer does not shy away from taboo topics, including writing graphically about incest. His other favourite authors include Toni Morrison, James Baldwin, and Virginia Woolf.

Besides Binyavanga, among Dibia’s contemporaries the Nigerian novelist is most closely drawn to the Zimbabwean Petina Gappah (author of An Elegy for Easterly) and NoViolet Bulawayo (pen name of Elizabeth Tshele, author of We Need New Names).

Born in 1975, Dibia belongs to the “third generation” of Nigerian writers, a loose group of artistes that comprises such household names as Chris Abani, Helon Habila, Sefi Atta, and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Adichie is the best known in Kenya among these writers.

Dibia’s Walking with Shadows was first published in Nigeria by Blacksands Books in 2005.

Noting the pervasive presence of subversive queer desire, one of the leading queer theorists in the world today, Tavia Nyong’o (cousin to our golden Lupita), urges us to take seriously that “figure of absolute abjection that is, paradoxically, part of our everyday experience.”

Dibia uses language exquisitely to examine an issue that many writers would give a wide berth: homosexuality among married men in Africa.

Sympathy for gay people in Wole Soyinka’s The Interpreters (1965) is very oblique. It took Gaurav Desai’s essay, ‘Out in Africa’ (1997), to clarify to most critics that Soyinka’s novel is not homophobic in its portrayal of one of its characters, Joe Golder, as both African American and gay.

Like the South African K. Sello Duiker — author of The Quiet Violence of Dreams (2001) and Thirteen Cents (2000) — Dibia is more open in his sympathies towards gay men than Soyinka in The Interpreters. However, Dibia avoids the confrontational tone we encounter in Duiker, some of whose passages read like angry pornography for the queer oppressed.

Dibia’s novel is a deftly told story about Adrian, a Nigerian head of a risk business unit. His job description connotes the “risks” he has to negotiate around, as he is also a gay man in the closet, married to a beautiful woman, the father of gorgeous daughter, and a respected mentor to many young men.

It becomes public that Adrian is gay, thanks to Tayo Onasanya, a former employee whom Adrian had sacked for corruption. Tayo learnt about Adrian’s sexual orientation from a lesbian mutual friend.

The narrator depicts in detail and with great sympathy the crisis that hits Adrian when his wife, Ada, is told about his sexual past.

His relatives’ responses are varied. Younger people sympathetically reach out to Adrian, but his elder brother, Chiedu, engages a priest to exorcise the ghost of gayness from Adrian.

The novel broaches several issues about sexuality. It demonstrates that even the most liberal people might become suddenly conservative when it comes to homosexuality.

Adrian’s wife, an innovative interior designer, is not one to believe in such a thing as an immutable African culture. But it is impossible for Ada to even begin to wrap her mind around her husband’s non-normative sexual desire.

Although he insists he had not slept with a man since he met his wife, Ada cannot believe what she has heard about her husband’s sexuality even without waiting for him to put everything in context.

She asks: “You knew this and still deceived me and still married me and still had the guts to make love to me and put your thing in me!”

The infelicitous repetition of “still” signals her shock, anger and bewilderment. The narrator rubs in her disbelief to also underscore her coldness towards a man she had claimed to love.

“She could not bring herself to look at him,” the narrator says. “She kept trying to wipe out the mental image in her head about him and another man.”

Queer theorists mostly see sexual identity as socially constructed. But Dibia’s novel seems to present Adrian’s gayness as congenital. He has always liked boys and enjoys playing girls’ games as a kid.

In presenting Adrian’s homosexuality as somewhat in-born, the author is trying to enhance our sympathy towards the character. There is nothing Adrian can do about his gayness. He would even want to leave it behind him, to no avail.

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The novel has many virtues in its characterisation. While men are usually presented negatively in novels critical of patriarchy, African feminist novels usually depict at least one good man who is sympathetic to women’s issues in order to avoid demonising all men as gender-insensitive.

Following this trajectory, Dibia added an episode in a revised edition of the novel published in South Africa in 2007, in which a straight young man, Rotimi, stands by Adrian in his troubles at work.

We learn from Rotimi, one of the novel’s voices of reason, that right-thinking straight people should always stand with the oppressed minorities.

From its inception in the 1950s, African writing has always painted the folly of a society that mistreats its minorities. For example, in Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, the society disintegrates partly because it pushes its minorities to defect to new religions.

Male gay novels tend to represent women negatively, including lesbians. Although we don’t see many positive traits among female characters in Dibia’s Walking with Shadows, Dibia is deferential to the few women who feature in the novel.

His next novel, Unbridled (2007) is, to the best of my knowledge, the only African novel by a male writer that convincingly uses an autobiographical female voice. It is hard to tell from the story itself that the author is male.

Reminiscent of Nuruddin Farah’s Ebla in From a Crooked Rib (1970), Ngozi in Dibia’s Unbridled narrates with great candour her experiences in abusive relationships. But unlike Farah’s novel, Dibia’s work uses the first person narrative voice.

Besides Walking with Shadows and Unbridled, Dibia is the author of Blackbird (2011), an equally provocative novel about the moral and political corruption in Africa.

Dibia’s Walking with Shadows demonstrates that queer is the new colonised. But it does not explore in detail the factors behind homophobia among African elites, except suggesting that homophobes are either stuck in the past or are negatively influenced by American Pentecostalism.

According to Richard Ryan, a professor of psychology at the University of Rochester, homophobes are usually closeted gay people.

The all-male anti-gay caucus in Kenya’s Parliament and the equally comical all-male Maendeleo ya Wanaume should be read in a similar light when they make statements dismissing “gayism” (sic) and “resbianism” (sic): they are acting out their repressed homosexuality.

“Throughout history people everywhere have explored and experimented with their sexuality.

From the Guardian Africa Network, Nigerian / British writer, Bernadine Evaristo dismisses the mantra that homosexuality in Africa is a ‘western import’ and provides examples of  same sex relationships and multiple gender relations.  “Throughout history people everywhere have explored and experimented with their sexuality. The desire to do so has never been confined to particular geographical locations. Its reach is universal.”

 

Bernadine Evaristo
Bernadine Evaristo

Africa has 54 countries and more than a billion people. One of the most ridiculous myths about it is that homosexuality did not exist in the continent until white men imported it. Robert Mugabe is one such propagator, calling homosexuality “un-African” and a “white disease”.

Throughout history people everywhere have explored and experimented with their sexuality. The desire to do so has never been confined to particular geographical locations. Its reach is universal. Yet today the myth of a pre-colonial sexual innocence, or more fittingly, ignorance, is used to endorse anti-gay legislation and stir up homophobia and persecution in Africa. In my father’s country, Nigeria, a new law passed in January carries a 14-year prison sentence for same-sex marriage and up to 10 years for membership or promotion of gay groups. In Uganda, the Anti-Homosexuality Act can impose life imprisonment. Latter-day evangelicals from the US are partly to blame for this continuing persecution, but so are Africa’s political leaders such as presidents Yahya Jammeh of the Gambia and Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, who use rabble-rousing anti-gay rhetoric to increase their power base and popularity.

While much has been written about this dangerous turn of events, little has been written about its origins. Two trailblazing studies in the field – Boy Wives and Female Husbands edited by Stephen O Murray and Will Roscoe, and Heterosexual Africa? by Marc Epprecht – demolish the revisionist arguments about Africa’s sexual history. From the 16th century onwards, homosexuality has been recorded in Africa by European missionaries, adventurers and officials who used it to reinforce ideas of African societies in need of Christian cleansing.

The Portuguese were among the first Europeans to explore the continent. They noted the range of gender relations in African societies and referred to the “unnatural damnation” of male-to-male sex in Congo. Andrew Battell, an English traveller in the 1590s, wrote this of the Imbangala of Angola: “They are beastly in their living, for they have men in women’s apparel, whom they keep among their wives.”

Transvestism occurred in many different places, including Madagascar and Ethiopia. Among the Pangwe people of present-day Cameroon and Gabon, homosexual intercourse was practised between males of all ages. It was believed to be a way to transmit wealth. The Nzima of Ghana had a tradition of adult men marrying each other, usually with an age difference of about 10 years. Similar to the pederasty of ancient Greece, Sudan’s Zande tribe had a tradition of warriors marrying boys and paying a bride price, as they would for girl brides, to their parents. When the boy grew up, he too became a warrior and took a boy-wife.

In this same tribe lesbianism was practised in polygamous households. In the 18th century the Khoikhoi of South Africa used the word koetsire to describe men considered sexually receptive to other men, and soregus was the word they used for a friendship which involved same-sex masturbation.

Homosexuality is also recorded among the Siwa of Egypt. It was considered a boy’s rite of passage in Benin, and woman-woman marriages involving a bride price existed in more than 30 African societies from Nigeria to Kenya to South Africa.

How far back can homosexuality be traced in Africa? You cannot argue with rock paintings. Thousands of years ago, the San people of Zimbabwe depicted anal sex between men. The truth is that, like everywhere else, African people have expressed a wide range of sexualities. Far from bringing homosexuality with them, Christian and Islamic forces fought to eradicate it. By challenging the continent’s indigenous social and religious systems, they helped demonise and persecute homosexuality in Africa, paving the way for the taboos that prevail today.

The main character in my latest novel, Mr Loverman, is a 74-year-old black gay man, Barrington Walker. Married with two daughters, he has been in the closet for 50 years. Soon after the book was published, a young gay man emailed me from Nigeria expressing his fear that his life would turn out like Barrington’s. I didn’t know what to suggest except that, if he wanted to live openly and legally as homosexual, he had to leave his homeland. What else could I say?

Millions of gay people living in Africa face a similar choice. If they stay, they can either repress their natural sexuality or risk losing their liberty and their lives. The legacy of colonialism is alive and well. As another character in Mr Loverman says: “It’s homophobia, not homosexuality, that was imported to Africa.”

 

Guardian Africa Network

Nigeria SSMB: unconstitutional, ambiguous, and a strange priority in a country with so many real problems

An excellent essay in which Chimananda Ngozi Adichie joins other high profile Nigerians in condemning the Same Sex Marriage Bill and extended criminalization of homosexuality.  The law has led to vicious and humiliating attacks on men ‘suspected’ of being gay, in the nations capital, and elsewhere. Instead of protecting the men from the mob, the police have joined in the violence.

The government and religious leaders, the self-righteous lawmakers and pious preachers watch in silence as people are chained and beaten. The visceral hatred expressed by the mob, the state and religious institutions, even from afar is palpable and one imagines death will soon be registered. Adichie rightly condemns the law as unconstitutional, ambiguous, a strange priority and above all else, unjust – a refusal of a fact of existence    Adichie’s essay appeals to the humanity and humility of the haters rather than a focus on the politics of the Bill. Nonetheless, it is a strong piece and one hopes other Nigerians will begin to express their disgust at this law.

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Chimamanda Adichie: Why can’t he just be like everyone else?

I will call him Sochukwuma. A thin, smiling boy who liked to play with us girls at the university primary school in Nsukka. We were young. We knew he was different, we said, ‘he’s not like the other boys.’ But his was a benign and unquestioned difference; it was simply what it was. We did not have a name for him. We did not know the word ‘gay.’ He was Sochukwuma and he was friendly and he played oga so well that his side always won.

In secondary school, some boys in his class tried to throw Sochukwuma off a second floor balcony. They were strapping teenagers who had learned to notice, and fear, difference. They had a name for him. Homo. They mocked him because his hips swayed when he walked and his hands fluttered when he spoke. He brushed away their taunts, silently, sometimes grinning an uncomfortable grin. He must have wished that he could be what they wanted him to be. I imagine now how helplessly lonely he must have felt. The boys often asked, “Why can’t he just be like everyone else?”

Possible answers to that question include ‘because he is abnormal,’ ‘because he is a sinner, ‘because he chose the lifestyle.’ But the truest answer is ‘We don’t know.’ There is humility and humanity in accepting that there are things we simply don’t know. At the age of 8, Sochukwuma was obviously different. It was not about sex, because it could not possibly have been – his hormones were of course not yet fully formed – but it was an awareness of himself, and other children’s awareness of him, as different. He could not have ‘chosen the lifestyle’ because he was too young to do so. And why would he – or anybody – choose to be homosexual in a world that makes life so difficult for homosexuals?

The new law that criminalizes homosexuality is popular among Nigerians. But it shows a failure of our democracy, because the mark of a true democracy is not in the rule of its majority but in the protection of its minority – otherwise mob justice would be considered democratic. The law is also unconstitutional, ambiguous, and a strange priority in a country with so many real problems. Above all else, however, it is unjust. Even if this was not a country of abysmal electricity supply where university graduates are barely literate and people die of easily-treatable causes and Boko Haram commits casual mass murders, this law would still be unjust. We cannot be a just society unless we are able to accommodate benign difference, accept benign difference, live and let live. We may not understand homosexuality, we may find it personally abhorrent but our response cannot be to criminalize it.

A crime is a crime for a reason. A crime has victims. A crime harms society. On what basis is homosexuality a crime? Adults do no harm to society in how they love and whom they love. This is a law that will not prevent crime, but will, instead, lead to crimes of violence: there are already, in different parts of Nigeria, attacks on people ‘suspected’ of being gay. Ours is a society where men are openly affectionate with one another. Men hold hands. Men hug each other. Shall we now arrest friends who share a hotel room, or who walk side by side? How do we determine the clunky expressions in the law – ‘mutually beneficial,’ ‘directly or indirectly?’

Many Nigerians support the law because they believe the Bible condemns homosexuality. The Bible can be a basis for how we choose to live our personal lives, but it cannot be a basis for the laws we pass, not only because the holy books of different religions do not have equal significance for all Nigerians but also because the holy books are read differently by different people. The Bible, for example, also condemns fornication and adultery and divorce, but they are not crimes.

For supporters of the law, there seems to be something about homosexuality that sets it apart. A sense that it is not ‘normal.’ If we are part of a majority group, we tend to think others in minority groups are abnormal, not because they have done anything wrong, but because we have defined normal to be what we are and since they are not like us, then they are abnormal. Supporters of the law want a certain semblance of human homogeneity. But we cannot legislate into existence a world that does not exist: the truth of our human condition is that we are a diverse, multi-faceted species. The measure of our humanity lies, in part, in how we think of those different from us. We cannot – should not – have empathy only for people who are like us.

Some supporters of the law have asked – what is next, a marriage between a man and a dog?’ Or ‘have you seen animals being gay?’ (Actually, studies show that there is homosexual behavior in many species of animals.) But, quite simply, people are not dogs, and to accept the premise – that a homosexual is comparable to an animal – is inhumane. We cannot reduce the humanity of our fellow men and women because of how and who they love. Some animals eat their own kind, others desert their young. Shall we follow those examples, too?

Other supporters suggest that gay men sexually abuse little boys. But pedophilia and homosexuality are two very different things. There are men who abuse little girls, and women who abuse little boys, and we do not presume that they do it because they are heterosexuals. Child molestation is an ugly crime that is committed by both straight and gay adults (this is why it is a crime: children, by virtue of being non-adults, require protection and are unable to give sexual consent).

There has also been some nationalist posturing among supporters of the law. Homosexuality is ‘unafrican,’ they say, and we will not become like the west. The west is not exactly a homosexual haven; acts of discrimination against homosexuals are not uncommon in the US and Europe. But it is the idea of ‘unafricanness’ that is truly insidious. Sochukwuma was born of Igbo parents and had Igbo grandparents and Igbo great-grandparents. He was born a person who would romantically love other men. Many Nigerians know somebody like him. The boy who behaved like a girl. The girl who behaved like a boy. The effeminate man. The unusual woman. These were people we knew, people like us, born and raised on African soil. How then are they ‘unafrican?’

If anything, it is the passage of the law itself that is ‘unafrican.’ It goes against the values of tolerance and ‘live and let live’ that are part of many African cultures. (In 1970s Igboland, Area Scatter was a popular musician, a man who dressed like a woman, wore makeup, plaited his hair. We don’t know if he was gay – I think he was – but if he performed today, he could conceivably be sentenced to fourteen years in prison. For being who he is.) And it is informed not by a home-grown debate but by a cynically borrowed one: we turned on CNN and heard western countries debating ‘same sex marriage’ and we decided that we, too, would pass a law banning same sex marriage. Where, in Nigeria, whose constitution defines marriage as being between a man and a woman, has any homosexual asked for same-sex marriage?  Continue Reading on The Scoop Nigeria

 

“I am a homosexual, Mum”

From Chimurenga Chronic Blog, Binyavanga Wainaina

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“I am a homosexual, Mum

(A lost chapter from One Day I Will Write About This Place)

11 July, 2000.

This is not the right version of events.

Hey mum. I was putting my head on her shoulder, that last afternoon before she died. She was lying on her hospital bed. Kenyatta. Intensive Care. Critical Care. There. Because this time I will not be away in South Africa, fucking things up in that chaotic way of mine. I will arrive on time, and be there when she dies. My heart arrives on time. I am holding my dying mother’s hand. I am lifting her hand. Her hand will be swollen with diabetes. Her organs are failing. Hey mum. Ooooh. My mind sighs. My heart! I am whispering in her ear. She is awake, listening, soft calm loving, with my head right inside in her breathspace. She is so big – my mother, in this world, near the next world, each breath slow, but steady, as it should be. Inhale. She can carry everything. I will whisper, louder, in my minds-breath. To hers. She will listen, even if she doesn’t hear. Can she?

Mum. I will say. Muum? I will say. It grooves so easy, a breath, a noise out of my mouth, mixed up with her breath, and she exhales. My heart gasps sharp and now my mind screams, sharp, so so hurt so so angry.

“I have never thrown my heart at you mum. You have never asked me to.”

Only my mind says. This. Not my mouth. But surely the jerk of my breath and heart, there next to hers, has been registered? Is she letting me in?

Nobody, nobody, ever in my life has heard this. Never, mum. I did not trust you, mum. And. I. Pulled air hard and balled it down into my navel, and let it out slow and firm, clean and without bumps out of my mouth, loud and clear over a shoulder, into her ear.

“I am a homosexual, mum.”

July, 2000.

This is the right version of events.

I am living in South Africa, without having seen my mother for five years, even though she is sick, because I am afraid and ashamed, and because I will be thirty years old and possibly without a visa to return here if I leave. I am hurricaning to move my life so I can see her. But she is in Nakuru, collapsing, and they will be rushing her kidneys to Kenyatta Hospital in Nairobi, where there will be a dialysis machine and a tropical storm of experts awaiting her.

Relatives will rush to see her and, organs will collapse, and machines will kick into action. I am rushing, winding up everything to leave South Africa. It will take two more days for me to leave, to fly out, when, in the morning of 11 July 2000, my uncle calls me to ask if I am sitting down.

“ She’s gone, Ken.”

I will call my Auntie Grace in that family gathering nanosecond to find a way to cry urgently inside Baba, but they say he is crying and thundering and lightning in his 505 car around Nairobi because his wife is dead and nobody can find him for hours. Three days ago, he told me it was too late to come to see her. He told me to not risk losing my ability to return to South Africa by coming home for the funeral. I should not be travelling carelessly in that artist way of mine, without papers. Kenneth! He frowns on the phone. I cannot risk illegal deportation, he says, and losing everything. But it is my mother.

I am twenty nine. It is 11 July, 2000. I, Binyavanga Wainaina, quite honestly swear I have known I am a homosexual since I was five. I have never touched a man sexually. I have slept with three women in my life. One woman, successfully. Only once with her. It was amazing. But the next day, I was not able to.

It will take me five years after my mother’s death to find a man who will give me a massage and some brief, paid-for love. In Earl’s Court, London. And I will be freed, and tell my best friend, who will surprise me by understanding, without understanding. I will tell him what I did, but not tell him I am gay. I cannot say the word gay until I am thirty nine, four years after that brief massage encounter. Today, it is 18 January 2013, and I am forty three.

Anyway. It will not be a hurricane of diabetes that kills mum inside Kenyatta Hospital Critical Care, before I have taken four steps to get on a plane to sit by her side.

Somebody.

Nurse?

Will leave a small window open the night before she dies, in the July Kenyatta Hospital cold.

It is my birthday today. 18 January 2013. Two years ago, on 11 July 2011, my father had a massive stroke and was brain dead in minutes. Exactly eleven years to the day my mother died. His heart beat for four days, but there was nothing to tell him.

I am five years old.

He stood there, in overalls, awkward, his chest a railway track of sweaty bumps, and little hard beads of hair. Everything about him is smooth-slow. Bits of brown on a cracked tooth, that endless long smile. A good thing for me the slow way he moves, because I am transparent to people’s patterns, and can trip so easily and fall into snarls and fear with jerky people. A long easy smile, he lifts me in the air and swings. He smells of diesel, and the world of all other people’s movements has disappeared. I am away from everybody for the first time in my life, and it is glorious, and then it is a tunnel of fear. There are no creaks in him, like a tractor he will climb any hill, steadily. If he walks away, now, with me, I will go with him forever. I know if he puts me down my legs will not move again. I am so ashamed, I stop myself from clinging. I jump away from him and avoid him forever. For twentysomething years, I even hug men awkwardly.

There will be this feeling again. Stronger, firmer now. Aged maybe seven. Once with another slow easy golfer at Nakuru Golf Club, and I am shaking because he shook my hand. Then I am crying alone in the toilet because the repeat of this feeling has made me suddenly ripped apart and lonely. The feeling is not sexual. It is certain. It is overwhelming. It wants to make a home. It comes every few months like a bout of malaria and leaves me shaken for days, and confused for months. I do nothing about it.

I am five when I close my self into a vague happiness that asks for nothing much from anybody. Absent-minded. Sweet. I am grateful for all love. I give it more than I receive it, often. I can be selfish. I masturbate a lot, and never allow myself to crack and grow my heart. I touch no men. I read books. I love my dad so much, my heart is learning to stretch.

I am a homosexual.

Binyavanga discusses why he came out on Books Live SA

 

Review of Queer African Reader

From The Feminist Wire a review of the Queer African Reader edited by Sokari Ekine and Hakima Abbas

By Rita Nketiah and Rose Afriyie

QAR Cover

In the past decade, African sexual minorities have received increasing attention. 2013 alone saw numerous headlines most notably around  the murder of activist Eric Lembembe in Cameroon and the passage of  the “Anti-Homesexuality” and “Same Sex Marriage Prohibition” bills in Uganda and Nigeria respectively. But there is much more to Queer rights in Africa than murder and policy advocacy.  For example, most mainstream media outlets have been reluctant to include: accounts from queer Ugandans in their own words about the root of African homophobic policy in the Western evangelical movement; the lack of sustainability of lesbian-led nonprofits in Kenya; the marginalization of intersex and trans folks in Uganda; and the fearlessly captured lives of Queer South Africans through photography, to name a few.

For better or worse, there has been much debate and controversy about the place of queer people in African societies. The most heinous of these opinions has been that homosexuality (a term often used to generalize the much more complex sexual experiences of queer-identified people) is an “un-African” ideology superimposed by former colonial powers. In response, many queer Africans and allies have sought to challenge the deeply ingrained gender and sexual norms that continue to threaten the quality of life for non-straight Africans.

Amidst these debates comes a bold new anthology called the Queer African Reader, published by Pambazuka Press, and co-edited by Sokari Ekine and Hakima Abbas. Indeed, the very idea that one places “Queer” and “African” side by side radically challenges the notion that these identities are mutually exclusive. Understanding LGBTI Africans holistically, not just as newsworthy after vicious murders or after the passage of discriminatory laws, but in their everyday resistance against sexual identity oppression seems within reach. This resolution arrived at in Queer African Reader is especially relevant now as we embark on a new year and new possibilities of envisioning LGBTI Africans and it is important to call out the notable contributions to this effort by name

The Week on Sunday – The Reward for Love is Death!

Very briefly -

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The December issue of Chimurenga, The Chronic is out and the $7 digital edition price is worth it if only to read two pieces.   First Nick Mwaluko’s  “XXYX AFRICA” a review of  “three new excellent works: Queer African Reader, African Sexualities: A Reader, and Queer Africa: New and Collected Fiction.”  The best book review I have read, possibly ever!

LGBT Africa held two truths: you fuck, you die” How’s that for the spectacular!   African Queers woke up on Friday morning to learn that this statement was in fact too near the truth.   In Uganda the Anti-homosexuality Bill was finally passed and is  awaiting President Musoveni’s signature before becoming law.  This places it in the same status as the Nigerian Same Sex Marriage Bill which is also waiting presidential approval.  These two Bills have played havoc with the lives of  Ugandans and Nigerian Queers for some 5 years.  Just when you think they are forgotten, their ugly heads rear up and slap you back to homophobic reality.  Ugandan queers responded by sticking to their party plans a  bit like the last supper. Celebrate, share stories, eat, drink for tomorrow they might be,  as Kasha Jacqueline wrote  on Twitter,  starring in a Ugandan version of ‘Orange is the new Black’.

The death Nick speaks of comes in many forms.  Death as criminal punishment, death from loneliness, death from invisibility, death from the pain of the closet and ‘keeping safe’, ‘being normal’! But there’s another possibility,

“Maybe just maybe, a tribe is in my future if I survive this moment.  If I claim the body that holds the story to voice my song, if I taste the death-wish during illegal fucking , if I re-imagine the world behind my eyelids, recreating reality to make it mine.  Is this why some of us refuse to hide? When I live in integrity, don’t I like myself more ? Aren’t  I more alive?

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Guy Regis Jr, is a Haitian playwright, poet, filmmaker, translator who has translated  Albert Camus, and Maurice Maeterlinck into Haitian Kreyol.   Presently he is translating Marcel Proust’s ‘Remembrance of Things Past’.  Haitians speak Kreyol but even though it’s  been the official language since 1987, children are still forced to learn in French.   Regis explains the development of Kreyol from a fluid language to one ‘rendered uniform’, codified and recognised and importantly some educators are now teaching in Kreyol.     Regis makes two interesting points.  First contrary to popular opinion, Kreyol and French differ significantly. The syntax is different and Kreyol is  drawn from other languages including Taino, various African languages and Spanish.   The second point is on the art of translation.    To translate you have to ‘reach the heart’ of the text so for example  the opening sentence of Camus’, The Stranger  is ‘Today maman died’ .   The obvious Kreyol would be  “Jodi a Manman m mouri”.  However a more simple and unemotional interpretation and closer to the French original is  “Manman, m mouri Jodi a”.

Over the past 10 months I’ve been teaching  ‘African Literature’ to a small group of  students.  The biggest frustration voiced by the students is the unavailability of any African writers either in original French or translated  into French let alone into Kreyol.  It would be wonderful if Guy Regis would one  day take on the task of translating some African texts into Kreyol!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Her First Day in America

The U.S. Military’s Pivot to Africa, 2012-2013 (key below article) ©2013 TomDispatch ©Google
The U.S. Military’s Pivot to Africa, 2012-2013 (key below article) ©2013 TomDispatch ©Google

Monkoki rolls up the apartment blinds and sunlight rushes into the square studio apartment, forming bright rectangular patterns on the beige carpet. Although she is still lethargic from last night’s long flight from Botswana, Monkoki feels somewhat refreshed, anticipatory really, to wake up bathed in the newness that waking up in a foreign city creates. This new city is, after all, in the United States of America, a country where prosperity is rumored to rain down on hungry immigrants like a dream. Monkoki muses on Kitsano’s stories of Real America and wonders about losses endured in pursuit of the American Dream. For comfort, she presses her nose to the warm coffee mug that she is holding in her right hand. Through the tall window, she looks high at the blue and blithe sky and begins to blinks too fast: she left Botswana without telling  most of her relatives, fearing that they would pull down her airplane from the sky with jealous medicinal herbs – how else should they react to talk of golden-paved streets of America when they themselves are stuck to the dusty streets of Mahalapye?

But as she now stands at this too-tall American window, with her nose pressed against the mouth of the coffee mug, Monkoki feels a sharp longing for the same jealous relatives: Uncle Barobi whose sonorous voice is incapable of whispering particularly after a few fingers of scotch; Cousin Raymond who is always jumping from one prosperity-preaching Pentecostal church to the next in search of “matrimonial miracle,” Cousin David who is divorced and has been not-so-secretly having sex with Cousin Raymond; Uncle  Dikgopiso whose dutiful wife, Mma Betty,  always treated Monkoki like her own daughter; Grandmother Mma Gabanthate whose deeply sunken eyes always told the story of bitterness living as a woman in Botswana.

Monkoki wipes a tear and takes a sip of her coffee which has now become too cool. She presses her nose to the window gauze and, for comfort, hums a Tswana hymn she learnt from Mma Betty as a child.

As she hums, it strikes her that the wind in Anaheim is too warm, too unclean and it smells of old rust. It is that clumsy grit which leads Monkoki to conclude that Anaheim, although in California, must be far from Hollywood where the wind must surely be cool and dreamy. Below, on Ball Road, blue dumpsters sit randomly along the street, their wide mouths foul and agape with bags of assorted  rubbish, usable furniture and usable television sets. The minty but skunk-like smell of marijuana seems to permeate the entire street, brazenly. Pudgy teenage boys of Latino extraction swagger up and down the street dressed in oversized grey tracksuit pants and tight white vests, screaming unintelligible sounds into their cellphones. A homeless man is beating his tiny dog -

“Good morning, ratu.,” Kitsano whispers and turns in the bed to face her. His eyes are still half-closed. As he smiles, his perfect set of white teeth is revealed behind beautiful, thick and dark lips.

“Morning. O robetse sente?” Monkoki asks as she turns away from the window and sits on the bed next to him.

Even after five years of seeing each other, Monkoki’s elegant beauty still sometimes surprises Kitsano. Kitsano always tells his American friends that unlike the rest of the world, Monkoki does not wake up looking uglily startled. Rather, like this morning, she wakes up already looking like a mermaid.

He looks up at her and smiles, “Very well. And you, how did you sleep?”

Sente, very well, Monkoki rubs Kitsano’s forehead. “Are you going to show me the town today, Kits?”

“Yes, ratu. I thought that since it is your first day in the US we might do something American like walk down to Disneyland. It is only ten minutes away, you know.”

Monkoki silently returns to the window, realizing with a tightness in her chest that she is indeed in the US. She says too loudly, “For such hot weather I wonder why these boys wear heavy tracksuit pants. I mean, vests I can understand but as for – ”

Kitsano lapses into rapturous laughter. His chest heaves up and down as he laughs lying on the bed face-up, like a baby. Finally he catches his breath: “Dang it, ratu, I have not heard those words in such a long time. Here they call them sweatpants. And the vests are called wife-beaters.

Gatwe wife-beater?” Monkoki stares out of the window, and points at the boys as though she is talking to them: “How American to reduce a real word to a cheap popular phrase!”

Kitsano laughs again, a robust open-mouthed laughter that almost sounds like a series of hiccups: a Motswana man’s laughter. He emerges out of bed and stands there topless, laughing. His pajama pants are bulging with a mild morning erection which, to her amusement, seems to intensify with his laughter. She laughs at Kitsano’s laughter-triggered erection. He, unaware of his own erection, laughs at her use of Botswana English. In those peals of laughter she hears only his laughter because hearing Kitsano’s very Motswana laughter echo throughout the tiny American apartment assuages Monkoki’s anxieties like a firm hand to a sore muscle. She finishes her coffee and allows the coffee mug to hang from her hand and hover over the window sill.

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.

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

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.
 

After the bees and the frogs we are not far behind

In an August 2013 report, Haiti Grassroots Watch wrote that Haiti’s mineral wealth could be worth as much as $US 20 billion and for this already land has already been given to US and Canadian businesses fronted by Haitian firms.   These awards have been taking place over the past five years and behind closed doors with no oversight.

The “gold rush” in Haiti has been going on for the past five years or so, since the price of gold and other minerals rose. Until last year, the government and the companies cut their deals behind closed doors. After an investigation revealed that 15 percent of the county was under contract, on February 20, 2013 the Haitian Senate adopted a resolution demanding all activities cease in order to allow for a national debate and for analysis of all contracts.

Writer Edwidge Danticat goes further by tracing the quest for Haiti’s gold back to Christopher Columbus who set in motion and ongoing disaster for Haiti  culminating in the present day unregulated quest for gold.   People have already been displaced, land will be destroyed which forebodes a warning for something more to come such as the disappearance of frogs along with the disappearance of people.

The land has been  destroyed, the rivers, and all of nature.   Greed has no respect for any of these – It  takes  and takes and takes till there is nothing left, then pockets full of dollars,  moves on to somewhere else and repeats.

From The Coffin Factory an interview with Edwidge Danticat ….

The Coffin Factory: You have this whole environmental aspect of Claire that I haven’t seen in the other books. There are what initially seem to be surreal, almost magical, elements, like the exploding frogs. But then you explain that this is part of climate change.

Edwidge Danticat: The Cuban writer Mayra Montero published a wonderful novel a few years ago called In the Palm of Darkness, which is about two men, one Haitian and one foreigner, who are looking for a very rare kind of frog in Haiti. Every once in a while some rare species of frogs are discovered in Haiti, which are either endangered or extinct elsewhere. Given how little tree cover there is now in Haiti, something like less than five percent, it is amazing that something like this is even possible. I did some research and it seems that frogs, like bees, are a bellwether species. Like the Jean de la Fontaine poem the radio personality quotes in the book, when all these types of animals start disappearing, we can’t be far behind. So the facts that the frogs are disappearing in Ville Rose is a sign that something big is going to happen, something even more environmentally drastic—and everyone knows it. In a way, you have this ongoing disaster in Haiti that started with Columbus’s quest for gold and continues through the renewed interest in Haiti’s gold mines today.

 

 

 

 

“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.

jumoke

 

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