The ‘About Me’ page of the Life As Fiction tumblr reads, “My name is Nicholas Ochiel. I am an unpublished Kenyan writer, striving to be published. Mostly, I read a lot and quote things. I have an opinion about everything.”
In the past few months I’ve felt the weight of what it means to tell others that I’m a writer. On many occasions, my declaration is followed up with questions — the most dreadful thus far: “where can I read your work?” Beyond For Harriet, I have not submitted my work anywhere, but I imagine that if I did, I’d be using my “rejection is redirection” affirmation a lot more. I am a writer who spends a lot of time reading and writing and trying to discern what is good and what is not so good as both reader and writer. In not even attempting to explain this to others, it sometimes feels like the embodiment of non-achievement.
On a recent post entitled, “On not winning literary prizes” Nicholas shares some thoughts on writing after not making the shortlist of this year’s Commonwealth Short Story Prize:
For those of us who lose (because it really is losing if one does not win: judgement has been passed; “the shadow remains cast”) the publication of yet another list on which our names do not feature is an opportunity to remember that writing fiction is to embrace an absurdity: one writes with the conceit of hope that one’s words and thoughts matter, that one’s imagination is bright enough to illumine the hearts, minds, and lives of a small cohort of unknown kindred others, that perhaps the writer is in fact brilliant, her output perspicacious or even vatic, her existence necessary. However, those of us who remain unpublished write not because we really believe these things which we hope but because there is not an alternative: the hand that holds the pen propels itself, wending its way across the page, and it matters very little if anyone else reads these words.
Probably the most important thing I heard this weekend during the Black Collectivities Conference (which at times was overwhelming in the way that the academy is):
“Like a galaxy giving birth to stars, that’s what Chicago is to black people” – Cauleen Smith, experimental filmmaker, afrofuturist
Whenever I tell folks from my past that I live in Chicago now, there is almost an immediate reference to the city’s problem with violence. I’m not naive; but I know that I’ve had some of the most healthful encounters and relationships with black people since I’ve been here. I also know that my artistry has grown exponentially in the past several months. So as a black woman exploring herself as an artist in a city with black population often denigrated by the media, Cauleen’s statement was perfectly timed and thoroughly felt.
Jonah (trailer above) premiered at Sundance 2013. A synopsis of the film from its creators follows:
Mbwana and his best friend Juma are two young men with big dreams. These dreams become reality when they photograph a gigantic fish leaping out of the sea and their small town blossoms into a tourist hot-spot as a result. But for Mbwana, the reality isn’t what he dreamed – and when he meets the fish again, both of them forgotten, ruined and old, he decides only one of them can survive. Jonah is a big fish story about the old and the new, and the links and the distances between them. A visual feast, shot though with humour and warmth, it tells an old story in a completely new way.
The visuals alone captured my attention, but reading up on the director, Kibwe Tavares, got me excited. On the TED Blog, Tavares discusses the relationship between his training as an architect and the science fiction aesthetic of his films:
As an architect, you’re always thinking about the future, too. You build in narratives that are in the future, because you’re always thinking, “When I design a building, I’m designing it for what happens 10, 15 years into the future.” And when you start looking at the future, it’s hard not to have that kind of science-fiction element.
Tavares’ commentary took me back to my initial impression of the film trailer. Afrofuturistic.
Hopefully you haven’t grown too tired of the word’s (mis)use because I think it’s really important here, especially after I’ve read Keguro Macharia’s Imagine in Black. In the blog post, Macharia offers a parallel between our everyday lives and those in dystopia:Read More »
I wasn’t too moved when I first read the synopsis for Taiye Selasi’s debut novel, Ghana Must Go:
Kweku Sai is dead. A renowned surgeon and failed husband, he succumbs suddenly at dawn outside his home in suburban Accra. The news of Kweku’s death sends a ripple around the world, bringing together the family he abandoned years before… What is revealed in their coming together is the story of how they came apart: the hearts broken, the lies told, the crimes committed in the name of love.
I don’t know…something about it starting off with a death in Ghana didn’t sit right with me; but a lot of folks were cosigning the book, so I went ahead and added it to my to-reads list. My hesitance, then, resurfaced once I saw all of the press the novel was receiving from mainstream media. (I mean could I really trust them to recommend me a book set in Africa?) Still I placed a hold on the book at my local library. I got the email that it was ready for pick up several days ago but waited until yesterday to check it out. I started to read it while still in the library. Within a few pages, my concern that the book was over-hyped quickly faded. I mean if someone else’s writing gets me to put pen to paper, it’s got to be something special, right?
Well, I had an interesting encounter at the library and Taiye Selasi’s writing encouraged me to write a flash piece about it. Check it out:Read More »
As was the case with other nations coming out of Western occupation or colonialism, the Dominican Republic during the 1960s was marked by political instability. Before the United States’ second occupation of the nation in 1965, Dominicans saw multiple changes of power initiated by assassination, election, and coup. Many who left their country during this period, did so for political reasons.
Julia Alvarez, author of In the Time of the Butterflies, was 10 years old when her family left the Dominican Republic in 1960. Her father had been involved in underground political activities which sought to oust Rafael Trujillo (who at that point had been in power for 3 decades). Her father’s underground activities were led, in part, by 3 sisters: Patria Mercedes Mirabal, Minerva Mirabal, and Maria Teresa Mirabal. The 3 sisters were murdered months after Alvarez and her family fled to safety in the United States; because of the stark contrast of these similarly timed events, Alvarez says the story of the Mirabal sisters haunted her.
“A novel is not, after all, a historical document, but a way to travel through the human heart.” – Julia Alvarez, In the Time of the Butterflies (Postscript)
In the Time of the Butterflies tells the story of the four Mirabal sisters and their family during the Trujillo regime. Patria, the eldest, was very religious; she got involved with resistance efforts after she witnessed a massacre of revolutionaries while she was on a spiritual retreat. Dedé, the second-born, never became directly involved in the political activities of her sisters but to this day she is the one who keeps her family’s story alive. Minerva, the boldest of all the sisters, was the first to become involved in politics; even in her early political activities, she attracted the attention of Trujillo. While the first 3 daughters were born in succeeding years, Maria Teresa, the youngest was born 9 years after Minerva. She became political after seeing Minerva’s efforts and of the three politically active sisters, Minerva and Maria Teresa were the only to be imprisoned.Read More »
The interview excerpts are from an installation piece that Zina Saro-Wiwa has in the exhibit, ‘The Progress of Love‘ which is currently at the Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts (St. Louis) and the Centre for Contemporary Arts (Lagos) and will open at the Menil (Houston) on December 2nd.
I’ve been procrastinating like hell on writing up my thoughts on this book but I guess I should explain why I’m so sore about missing Binyavanga Wainaina dj in NYC this week. Wainaina has published several essays and short stories, including Discovering Home which won the Caine Prize for African Writing in 2002 and How to Write About Africa which was turned into a video featuring Djimon Hounsou as the narrator. Though Wainaina is well-established writer, I was largely unfamiliar with him and his work when I decided to read his memoir, One Day I Will Write About This Place.
Using a sometimes-exhausting first person present point-of-view, Wainaina takes us along as he goes from a shy, imaginative boy raised in Kenya to a writer travelling the world. But it’s not some romanticized journey of triumph. Though interconnected with post-Independence East African politics and his own family life, Wainaina’s journey is largely about internal struggle. When he moves to South Africa for university (because education is no longer being susbisdized by the Kenyan government), he shifts into a deep solitude and a depressive state: he rarely leaves his room which is littered with cigarettes, candy wrappers, and dirty dishes; his sister, who is also in S.A. for university, helps him out by sliding money under his door; and he spends most of his time and money on books. (This all may sound familiar to some of you writers…)
Aside from his strange, wonderful creativity (from a young age he invents words to describe experiences he cannot label in the languages he knows), his experiences in S.A. are what endeared him to me the most. I checked this book out from the library a couple of months ago and I keep renewing it, not because I’m re-reading it but because it provides a sense of comfort for me. I keep it in my writing space (which also serves as my sister’s couch and my bed) as a reminder of what this writing life is sometimes about.
Even if you’re not a writer seeking consolation for the life we sometimes live, I’d still recommend this book based on the Wainaina’s style, knowledge and incredible stories.
I don’t know if every October is this packed with amazing art events, but I’m claiming October 2012 as a month of Black Art Rising because I’ll be supporting quite a few indie Black artists this month and I’m more than excited.
A few events in NYC I’d be at if I still lived there… New York Film Festival
09/28 – 10/14 Punk in Africa would be on my agenda if I were in town. Check out the full schedule here.
Congo in Harlem 2
10/8 – 10/23
Two weeks of Congo-related films and events. Check out the details here.
Change the Mood: Africans Are Real Release Party
!!! Binyavanga Wainaina is DJing at this party!!! Apparently the incredibly talented writer also has some DJ skills or he’s going to completely wing it; either way I have a feeling it’s going to be good and I’m really annoyed I can’t be in NYC for this. Check out details here.
Reel Sisters of the Diaspora Film Festival & Lecture Series
Byron Hurt’s Soul Food Junkies is the feature film and Sam Pollard is teaching a workshop. Check out full details and schedule here.
I hope all you New Yorkers enjoy these (and the million other art events going on this month)! Thankfully the Chicago art scene ain’t too bad. Here are a few things I’m planning to check out
Chicago Artist Month
THE WHOLE MONTH!!!
I just discovered this last night so I haven’t completely checked out the calendar but 20 Neighborhoods, a woman-centered exhibition with workshops looks interesting. All details here.
I was hooked from the moment I saw the teaser for Terence Nance’s An Oversimplification of Her Beauty. So before I got to experience the film I checked out some of his other work that is available online, including a short entitled Exorcising Rejection which features this incredibly soothing song from RJD2: