African Literature on Facebook

A few weeks ago a dear friend asked me if I could help admin a page on Facebook.



It has taken over my life! I LOVE IT.

Our little family has grown by leaps and bounds, and the people who have joined and are actively participating in discussions surprise me with their passion every day.

Africans have long been accused of being the bane of African Literature. We are accused of not reading it, not buying it, not supporting authors, not selling it, not distributing it… we are the reason it is not as successful as literature coming from other places.

The problem is we have believed these lies about ourselves, which is a pity.

While it is true that it is difficult to sell books on the continent, the reasons are not as clear cut as everyone would make it seem.

  1. English is a difficult language. The objects and verbs come in weird places in a sentence. But imagine interpreting one book in 55 different languages for just one country!
  2. Authors understand their audience and their point of view. It is difficult to sell a story to someone from the West unless it tells of war, of poverty, that explains some strange quirk of the culture they come from. This is not interesting to audiences in Africa (generally speaking). There is a reason why Nollywood is such a huge industry. Here are stories that the local population understands. 
  3. New books are EXPENSIVE and understandably so. Turning trees into paper is an expensive project, printing can be expensive too.  By the time all the expenses are tallied, the book agent, distributor, printer and publishing house get paid (oh wait! We haven’t counted the author and illustrator) the book is too expensive to purchase.

Africans are thirsty. We want to know, to read, to understand. What is someone from Zimbabwe thinking about something we’re all concerned about in Nigeria? What about the bruhaha over the other thing that happened with president so-and-so? How is the government in Mogadishu going to deal with the minerals they just found in  Seylac? 

We want to know and it is evidenced by the sheer number of people asking to join the group on a daily basis.

I hope someday they will all know, it is my honor to serve. Come and join us!

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When it is good to be a woman

The past few days have been almost whirlwind like. Finally, one of my projects is complete and I’m proud to share it with anyone who thinks things like these are totally cool.

In doing the research I needed to compile my super duper list of African authors, I came across the story of an Algerian author.

Yasmina Khadra (Arabic: ياسمينة خضراء‎, literally “green jasmine”) is the pen name of the Algerian author Mohammed Moulessehoul.
Moulessehoul, an officer in the Algerian army, adopted a woman’s pseudonym to avoid military censorship. Despite the publication of many successful novels in Algeria, Moulessehoul only revealed his true identity in 2001 after leaving the army and going into exile and seclusion in France. Anonymity was the only way for him to survive and avoid censorship during the Algerian Civil War. 
The irony of this is completely incredible!
For those who have not had the privilege of studying African literature, many authors from the 70’s were very vocal about corruption and the state of their countries. They were subsequently jailed, killed or forced into exile. This was about 10 years after Europeans decided it was time to stop fighting so hard to control people and give them their independence.
Almost every author I know who was sent into exile was a man and in reading Moulessehoul’s short biography, I see why. Maybe the words women wrote were not considered quite as powerful, or subversive. Even today women struggle trying to get their voices heard. They write and speak and invent titles meant to instigate others and force them into conversations about issues they find important.
On the other hand we have a man, using a woman’s name, in order to say what he wanted to say.
I wonder if this is still where we are. Ignoring female voices because their words do not weigh as much as a man’s words would. Maybe not.

Unpacking my Afrocentricity

I was born and raised in Uganda. A few years in the middle were spent in Canada. I came to consciousness in Uganda, first fell in love there, bones were nourished there… I consider myself Ugandan even though I do not live there right now. I’m not sure how else to exist. My identity is not confused or mixed, my people live in the land where my great grandparents were buried. They’d have moved around, but Berlin Conference circa 1884.

Subconsciously, Uganda comes first, then the wider continent, then the descendants of African people spread throughout the World, then the rest of the World. I’m not sure I can change that so easily. I’m Ugandan-centric, then Afrocentric. I look for and celebrate the achievements of African people. In a circle of “others” they are practically my cousins.

Somehow I am now representative of all Ugandans in an international arena. I have learned to carry my responsibility with pride and honor. I’m an Ambassador.

I’m going to excise the accusatory tone of Afrocentricity from it. I have to be. It is weird to ask me to be something else -centric.

Old Poetry

Because I’m feeling it today.

walking

For Your Love

I see you, Dark Chocolate
Swinging your hips to the throom throom of this foreign music
Your skirt so short, my imagination is unnecessary
Your titties jiggling in your dress like the many eyes trying to keep up with them.
Know that I love you, no matter what
That the tears of your pain and loneliness stain my pillow.
I know if I fell in love with you
You could shatter my soul with your passing interest
And the sweet succulent love I was encased in
Would pass to another.

Hey there Tangy Caramel
Swinging those dreadlocks to the beat of my heart
You have me arrested in those wide brown
Deep pools of cinnamon chocolate.
You cling so steadfast to the notion that your voice is drowned out
You yell so loud, to be heard, to be remembered
I love you sweet Caramel
I hear your words, golden drops of honey
Reverberating in that beautiful throat.
I cannot let my heart be swayed
Your passion would drain me completely
Overwhelm me till I am just a shell of the woman I used to be.

Tall glass of sweet dark Ebony
Strong long legs strutting to your own internal beat
Polished like well worn wood, reliable, sure
Your essence is so fragrant wafting behind you
Every eye stretches completely as you Tyra stomp by
Your beauty prostituted for the attention
Of the least of people.
I adore you, dark coffee, filling my senses
With your soft and tender embrace.
Don’t you dare touch my skin
I’ll be tingling forever with the memory of you
And ache to be touched again…

@ndungi2012

Micro 0119: Welcome

Welcome.

Your mother told you not to join a gang. But here you are, foolish rebel. You have romanticized this moment but it is not going to turn out the way you think. You need to stop watching movies. There is no information in there that will tell you the truth. We live hard lives, we are not friends, you will not be receiving fringe benefits for a long time.

We are a serious organization. It is not our fault that the ‘authority’ call us a gang. We do what we want, when we want it, regardless. And don’t you go “regardless of what” -ing me. REGARDLESS! That should be enough, you lazy sunzabee… Now look what you made me do.

That scared look you have donned is not going to help you either. My emotional armour is tighter than your little brother’s briefs and cannot be penetrated by pathetic looks. Mcccchhhheeeww. So stand up straight, and look into my eyes.

First order of business: Today you thought you would be attending some kind of briefing. This is not to be so. You were brought here by someone who hand picked you from a throng of admirers of our work, and some seriously twisted parents who want to make a little money off you. A rival gang has challenged us to a duel at 51st and Juma Avenue. We are not cowards and we will not be put to shame. You will be sent to battle on our behalf. Do not return until you are victorious. If you are unable to achieve victory, be sure to perish in battle. There will be no sympathy for survivors.

Line up against that wall. I will be handing your weapons to you in a just a moment, as soon as Yunia stops crying. Wipe those tears, foolish child. No one wants to be here as much as you do. And yes, George, you have to fight. No way to get out of it.

NO MORE QUESTIONS.

What do you think this is? Chatterbox time. Look at my face. My I-am-not-playing face. Remember it.

Take only one package from the top of the pile (thank you Cissy), the small bag is to be worn against your hip. All the packages go inside and your weapon is worn against the side of your chest for easy access.

What is it George? Are you old enough? For what? Fighting? You think you can stop the inevitable? You think that you have earned the right to question the laws put down… hold on…

The vehicle is here. No more time. Line up!

Enjoy your day at school.

Micro 0115: I wrote a letter to my friend

My Dearest,

My heart is spilling emotions, squeezing them through cuts. I’m bruised from keeping this in.

You’ll wake up this morning and find I’ve gone. I could not stay. Not because I didn’t love you, because I do. You know that too. After all the pain and fear and anger have gone (I promise you they will), you will be able to see that once again. Since the day we met my heart has only had eyes for you. I wanted you to feel it, every day. That is why I kissed you, and held you, and watched you tenderly as you cared for us and our home.

My Angel, you have my heart for all time, but I must do this and leave you. I know you would have never let me do it this way, but this is how it must be. We talked about it, but it upset you. For days we tried mending the agony that arose because I brought it up. We got passed it.

Life is cruel. It is taking me from you. Not all of a sudden, a band-aid ripping off the tender scab of a slowly healing wound. No. Slowly. So that what will remain is the shell of the shadow of my shadow. Nothing of me will exist. I cannot bear that. To watch the look of love and honour and trust wither into pity and sorrow. Lines of worry stretching across that beautiful face as you watch my life force slowly ebb from my body into… nothingness. No, my love. It would be torture for me, and in that way, torture for you.

I watched Musazi grieve. Struggle to give away Deeya’s belongings. Watch him look at them with acute loss and try to comfort him as he struggled. His new wife is fighting the ghost of a perfect woman in his eyes. He will make her miserable. She will make him miserable. That is why I took my things. So that the empty space can be filled with love again. Because you deserve it.

Do you understand why I had to leave?

You’re going to be angry, and I understand why. You may grow to hate me, I hope you do not. Just don’t give up on life and love and living it to your fullest.

I did not lie when I said you are my life. If you wither while I wither, I cannot live. Maybe I’ll get better and we can have coffee. But that is wishful thinking, my love.

Don’t say goodbye.

Your forever gal,

Kiya

Thankful to all my subscribers

The African Literature Magazine on Flipboard has gone from strength to strength. What a journey!

Thank you for being a part of the journey in 2014 and for continuing strong into 2015.

With 15,491 subscribers catching up on stories coming out of Africa, it is easy to forget where we started.

flip Feb 25 14

With humble beginnings in Feb 2014, I just wanted to collect stories about African Literature in one place. I wanted to fill my tablet with these books and read them without much fanfare. Then 6 people subscribed to the magazine. That was so startling, but also VERY informative. Other people were looking for these too!

flipb june 2014

By June it was obvious that people were searching for this content online. But it also meant that I had created a baby that needed caring for. It was exciting, and daunting, and so very, very humbling.

 flipb august

By August we hit 10,000 + subscribers! Every day was like Christmas, checking to see how many more of you came to the magazine for more stories. It was wonderful.

Now we’re in 2015 and I’m still committed to bringing you the latest from my sources. Invite your friends, invite your relatives, invite your enemies. As we continue to write our stories, lets make 2015 the biggest year yet!

Happy 2015!

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Micro 0112: Through the Yellow Door

Gayaza High School

The hallway was empty.

The clean floor, polished by years of moping rags and stomping feet, reflected the cool, crisp early morning light through the glass door that marked its end. The brightly coloured doors that separated adjoining rooms from the hallway entombed the sleeping girls, who floated on the last vestiges of their dreams.

With a soft noise, the ruffling of a many layered skirt, Pajini stepped out of nothingness into the middle of the HSC block in Korgi House. Her image shimmered, a bad signal adjusting itself, and then solidified and stabilized. This was her hour and there were changes that needed to be made. Asiimwe was key.

With silent, but purposeful footsteps, she sent ripples of slumber through the floor and warm sleepy bodies turned around in bed pulling their blankets closer to their faces, breathing deep and allowing their minds to be drawn in further into wild and vivid dreams.

Asiimwe’s door, the only yellow door blazed like a beacon, beckoning. Pajini glided soundlessly to the door pausing for a quick second before passing straight through the thick door to the darkness inside.

Asiimwe was locked in a familiar dream. Children. Lots of children in an idyllic setting, but as they passed her, haunting images flooded her mind, grabbed her gut and squeezed. In a dream minute Nambi was beside her exchanging worried glances. They had to do something, anything to take these children away from whatever suffering had snuffed out the innocence in their eyes, replaced by a magnetic hopelessness, strong and unavoidable.

“Please take us away.” The voice of a child who had not yet turned four.

Nambi reached for the child’s hand and Asiimwe flinched. Something was not right. This was not what happened at this point in the dream. Was it changing?

“Asiimwe,” Nambi’s voice urged.

“Something is wrong.”

“Don’t be ridiculous.”

“I’m no…”

“We’re wasting time Asiimwe, come on!”

There were children who needed to be saved. Worrying about what  felt wrong would not help. She grabbed the free arm of the child who stood with Nambi and raced to one of the free standing buildings that dotted the grassy hillside.

“Don’t let go,” the child whispered, locking eyes with Asiimwe.

“I won’t,” her voice was resolute.

Pajini smiled, the warmth of victory spreading over her body. She reached deeper into Asiimwe’s body enjoying sensations alien to her, watching imagination build a World that rippled, a syncopated accompaniment to Time’s own ripples.
It was going to be a wonderful day, the warmth of the room had already risen by a few degrees. The night was chased away by the galloping sun, fleeing in all directions.
Loud thrum, thrum, thrums of cowhide drums echoed through the dewy morning air and the HSC block of Korgi House stirred with the noise.

“Asiimwe!”

“Yeah, I’m coming!”

Pajini smiled with someone else’s lips, the last vibrating tremors of her call still echoing in her lungs.
This was going to be a fantastic day.

Never ending battles & Micro0109: For the Queen

I wrote a story today.

I liked it. Wasn’t sure anyone else would so for a moment I decided I was going to keep it to myself. Started on something else that did not inspire me and it fell flat like a cake with too much moisture.

Time and time again we’ve heard people say that you need to write for yourself and not try to pander to an audience. The ones who like your story will find it wherever they go, and those who don’t will read other stories. How hard is that to learn and understand? Quite hard, apparently, coz I’m still working on that.

So, in light of that, here is my story, the one I actually wanted to tell, the one that inspired me. Enjoy.

For the Queen

Once upon a time, a woman inherited a kingdom. To the west, grassy knolls rolled over the countryside curving artfully around overflowing gardens that burst with bounty, stretching as far as the eye could see. The eastern border came to an abrupt halt at the jagged edge of plunging cliffs, where the sea writhed and roared and moaned and spat.
The land was rich and the people lacked for nothing and lived in peace with their neighbours, but the crown sat heavily upon her brow, each stone a ton of worry, each pearl a thundering wild horse pounding through her mind.
A spell of great and dire magic had been cast on the kingdom by a Witch Queen, wild and deadly, her bewitchment reaching out with deadly fingers of greed, malcontent, envy.
Sister struck down sister, soaking her garment in the blood, brother struggled against brother, pushing him six feet underground. Chaos reigned and the young woman’s ears were filled with the desperate cries of her people.
She called to the Witch Queen, the fell words like bile against her tongue, and begged her to undo the magic and free her people.
The Witch Queen demanded one thing. Her soul.
The hopeless councillors spread their hands, their pain a Goliath against their own consciences, and they surrendered to fear.
The crown upon her head sunk deep claws into her head refusing to be cast off, perplexing the councillors and angering the Witch Queen. Only the crown bestowed the kingdom upon the wearer and it had a mind of its own.
Urged on by the spell, the young woman’s people dragged her from her throne and marched her eastwards to the edge of the cliff. A vile threat. An action. Collective consciousness stained with the blood of a young Queen who had no choice.
Her body lay broken, the waves smashing her against the toothy wall of the cliff, the weight of the crown dragging her into the depths of the sea.
The spirit of the young woman rose out of her watery grave and fell upon the Witch Queen destroying her utterly. It flowed through her kingdom, raining justice like a thunder roar and ending the years of malcontent and strife. She does not distinguish between friend or foe. So when you pass through the rubble remnants of her kingdom, remember your offering at the cliff’s edge, and bow the knee when a jewel encrusted crown floats your way.

Naming my Characters

Hello there, anonymous people of the intertubes! How do you fare today?

Today is get-story-done day. I started a short story the weekend before last and it remains unfinished. It ballooned from a short story that was supposed to take a few pages (3 or 4) but is now 6400+ words long and I haven’t yet dealt with the meaty substance of the story.

With short stories, I do not work with an outline and just let stuff pour out of my head through my fingers onto the computer, but this particular story has me wondering about my method. I did not even name my main character! Nine pages in and I have yet to give her a name, which is one of the things I struggle with. I like to use African names that sound like they should be accompanied by deep resonating sounds from cow hide drums, like the rhythms I hear whenever the bakiga dance or the baganda play their drums, stomping on the floor and making my chest vibrate.

My editor says no. I say I can’t come up with any other name. My editor wears this blank look and points towards the door. I walk out, stubbornly determined to find a name with Xs and PW combinations because she dared to use her PEN to point to the door.

I should be writing.