Africa a Continent not a Country, Wordsbody Tells Author-Me.com

“It is a constant source of frustration, despair almost, for the average African – this Western mindset that insists on seeing the African continent as one unfathomable mass of misery,” writes Wordsbody in response to Winona Rasheed’s reference to Africa as “a courageous country”. The occasion: Publication of a new collection of short stories by African writers. Platform: The Foreword section of the Africa 2008 anthology. Context: Author-Me.com (and Lulu?) African writers publication opportunity.

I don’t know what Winona’s reasons for labeling Africa a country in two different anthologies were, but I can’t find words to express how I felt as I read the article on Wordsbody. The Africa series is part of Author-Me.com, a playground for emerging writers from more than 41 countries.  The participating African countries are listed individually as countries, each with its own editor. Winona Rasheed is listed as the Managing Editor, “presiding over” the numerous country editors.  So, Wordsbody seems to wonder, at what point of the publication process at Author-me does Africa shrink from continent to country?  One would add: where are these African writers when a decision is made to call their 50 countries one country? Or is it a marketing strategy that appeals to commonly-shared stereotypes of Africa?

Below is part of the text Wordsbody was responding to:

[Africa+2007a.JPG] 

Writes Wordsbody: “I am tired of it. The West’s lack of education, or the refusal to be educated, about Africa. The lack of curiosity about her except to the extent to which she reinforces deep seated stereotypes.”  

As writers from the continent,  we appreciate opportunities publishers everywhere offer to promote our art, but we must not let ignorance discredit our efforts. On another note, Africa, which I believe is going through a massive literary renaissance, should grow and nurture its own editors and compilers.  I doubt if the editors of African Writing Online or Kwani?  would ever encourage anything that comes close to  calling Africa a country. The African editors at Author-me, great writers themselves, should work more closely with their managing editor when compiling upcoming Africa anthologies.    

Impressive Responses to Valerie Tagwira’s Short Story

Valerie Tagwira etched a spot for herself in the Zimbabwean literature by producing a whopper of a novel, Uncertainty of Hope, described by early reviewers as an honest statement to the political, economic, and social situation in  contemporary Zimbabwe. Now she has turned to another literary medium– the short story– and has just produced “Mainini’s Grace’s Promises”, which deals with the effects of HIV-AIDS to children in Zimbabwe. She has touched the hearts of many readers again, receiving so many favorable responses that it would be easier to predict that this genre might widen her readership more rapidly than the novel. In fact, the compact message in the short story is as suitable to the subject matter as it is to the interest of a reader who would like to read something in a short span of time.

Several readers have posted comments on Tagwira’s website, expressing the different ways in which the story touched them. All but one of the readers found the form and content of the story matching perfectly; the reader who had reservations about the content commented that the message needed to be enlightened by elements of humor, stating that life already is suffused with enough moments of despair. 

Some readers stated that the story was more realistic than fictional, and that it should be read as such, implying that fictional or not, the work does its job of representing the nightmares caused by a widespread pandemic. Others focused on the style of the work, its immediacy and singleness of purpose; its brevity and suspense: once you begin reading it, you will stare at the screen of your computer until the the story’s end.

For those who have not had a chance to read “Mainini Grace’s Promises” , here is the first sentence: “Sarai’s mother had concluded that it was not the three successive funerals, but her own subsequent illness that finally did it.” 

I just coudn’t believe the story’s dizzying outcome, certainly a good reason to keep on reading once you begin.
 

CRC Celebrates Black History Month

The community is invited to participate in the activities at Cosumnes River College for Black History Month during the month of February. The kickoff event will be Monday, February 4, 12:00 noon in the Recital Hall with keynote speaker Dr. Joycelyn Moody.

Dr. Moody is the Sue E. Denman Distinguished Chair in American Literature at the University of Texas at San Antonio and the Editor-in-Chief of the African American Review. She was educated at Spring Hill College, University of Wisconsin – Madison, and University of Kansas. She has held faculty positions in the United States, Zimbabwe, and South Africa and has been a recipient of numerous awards, including the NEH, the Mellon Faculty Grant, Royalty Research Fund Fellowship and many others. She has published widely on issues of multiculturalism in America, the portrayal of black women in nineteenth century literature, and on slave narratives. Her Keynote address is going to be linked to the 2008 Black History Month theme: “Carter G. Woodson and the Origins of Multiculturalism.”

Events on black history for the entire month range from lectures on Hip-Hop to equality in relationships, as well as a special night recognizing African American students attending CRC.

For additional information, please contact Emmanuel Sigauke at (916) 691-7739.

South African Play Premiers in Canada


Karen Dempster has announced that The African Theatre Ensemble will be presenting the Canadian premiere of “Have You Seen Zandile?”, “a much-loved story based on the childhood memories of South African playwright Gcina Mhlophe. The stellar cast includes Toronto’s multi-talented d’bi Young as the child Zandile and one of Nigeria’s most acclaimed actors Joke Silva as her grandmother and Olivia Duodu who plays Zandile’s friend, Lindiwe.”

Below is the full schedule for the play:

Dates, Times and Locations:
Wednesday January 30 PREVIEW – 8pm – Workman Theatre (1001 Queen St. W.)
Thursday January 31 Afternoon Performance – 1:30 pm – Workman Theatre (1001 Queen St. W.)
OPENING NIGHT – 8pm – Workman Theatre (1001 Queen St. W.)
Friday February 1 Afternoon Performance – 1:30pm – Workman Theatre (1001 Queen St. W.)
Evening Performance – 8pm – Workman Theatre (1001 Queen St. W.)
Saturday February 2 Evening Performance – 8 pm – Workman Theatre (1001 Queen St. W.)

Monday February 4 – Wednesday February 6
School Performances – 9:30am & 1:30pm; Burton Auditorium (York University)
Thursday February 7 & Friday February 8
School Performances – 9:30am; Burton Auditorium (York University)

Thursday February 7 & Friday February 8
Evening Performance – 8pm -Equity Showcase Theatre (651 Dufferin Street)
Saturday February 9 Afternoon Performance – 2:30pm; Evening Performance – 8pm

Ticket Information:
Adults $25; Students, Children & Preview $10; Seniors and Groups of Three or more $15
Free tickets for teachers/chaperones!

Box Office: Workman and Equity Showcase Theatres
http://www.tapa.ca/totix or TO TIX booth at Yonge and Dundas Sts.
Burton Auditorium tickets, York Fine Arts Box Office: call 416-736-5888 or email boxoffice@yorku.ca. Tuesdays and Thursdays 12 – 4 pm

General inquiries & school bookings for shows at Workman Theatre: Niki Poirier 416 364 7313; mobile 416-526-1163.

SOURCE: African Theatre Ensemble

Media Contact: Karen Dempster, karendempster@rogers.ca or 416-364-7313

Some Grass Quotes

“The solicitous affection prescribed in my case would have surely deterred my friends from bringing me anything so dangerous as a blank paper and making it available to this mind of mine which persists in excreting syllables.” This statement by Gunter Grass’s character in The Tin Drum is revealing of how writing feels sometimes. In the hands of Grass, statements like this are priceless. Let’s hear some writing advice from the character Herr Osker:

” You can begin a story in the middle and create confusion by striking out boldly, backward and forward. You can be modern, put aside all mention of time and distance and, when the whole thing is done, proclaim…that you have finally, at the last moment, solved the space-time problem. Or you can declare at the very start that it’s impossible to write a novel nowadays, but then, behind your own back so to speak, give birth to a whopper, a novel to end all novels”.

This quote is from the same book, The Tin Drum, which is part of the Danzig Trilogy. The other two are Cat and Mouse and Dog Years. I like the ease with which Gunter Grass paces the stories and his mastery of language. And oh, for those who may not be aware, he is a Nobel. I am always drawn to all Nobels and Bookers and Oranges, although I am an equal opportunity reader — give me a book and I will read it, no matter what.

Kangira Reviews Chirere’s Tudikidiki

Dr. Jairos Kangira of Namibia Polytechnic has written a capitivating review of Memory Chirere’s Tudikidiki, a collection of short stories. You can find the full text of the review in The Herald.

Excerpt:

New year present from Chirere!

Reviewed by Dr Jairos Kangira MEMORY Chirere’s second book — Tudikidiki — is a New Year’s present.

Reason: save for the multi-authored collections by Zimbabwean Women Writers, the short story in the Shona language is almost non-existent.

The poem and novel heavily dominate the space and yet the short story in English is on a massive rise in Zimbabwe.

Tudikidiki is heavily influenced by Chirere’s first book, a collection of short stories in English called Somewhere In This Country.

Here as in the first book, the stories are short. Reading, you remember Flannery O’Connor: A story is a way to say something that can’t be said any other way and it takes every word in the story to say what the meaning is.

Chirere reading from Tudikidiki at the African Drums Festival in Harare (December 2007).

Memory Chirere is a writer to watch.

Another excerpt:

Chirere’s wit is honey coupled up with grit and the conversations are dreamlike and childlike.

As Ignatius Mabasa warns in the introduction to this book, most of these stories are not for children, but are about children. Yet you come away feeling that the word “children” is more complex than meets the eye.

The struggles in life bring out the most basic instincts, making us all children.

Chirere is at his best with stories with subterranean meanings and you might be caught reading and re-reading these stories for their various levels of meaning and wit.

I have come across this in the few stories of Langston Hughes.

New Arts Season at Alliance Francaise de Harare

Tonderayi Chiyindiko, Cultural Affairs and Communications Officer of Alliance Francaise de Harare-ZIMBABWE just informed me that their center is starting a new season of arts workshops on January 14. See their menu below:

-MBIRA
-MARIMBA
-MODERN DANCE
-PERCUSSIONS
-HIP-HOP
-TRADITIONAL DANCE

Let’s quote from Tonderayi’s message:

“These workshops will be conducted by experienced and talented facilitators.All workshops last for 8 weeks and are conducted twice a week i.e. 2 sessions per week. Each session is 2 hours.

Phone on 263-4-704795 or 263-4-704801 and speak to Nyarai or Tonderai for registration and any other information you may require about this and other activities that we have lined up for this year at Alliance Francaise.

A bientot

Tonderai Chiyindiko
Cultural Affairs and Communications Officer
Alliance Francaise de Harare-ZIMBABWE”

SPC Reading Update

Sacramento poets spent an evening with Oscar Bermeo and Barbara Jane Reyes of Oakland, California. Reyes read from her latest publication Poeta en San Francisco, while Bermeo shared works from his chapbook Anywhere Avenue. He also read a couple of poems by Octavio Paz.

Barbara Jane Reyes, reading from Poeta en San Francisco.

PROFILE (from author’s web page)

Barbara Jane Reyes was born in Manila, Philippines and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area. She received her undergraduate education at UC Berkeley, and her MFA at San Francisco State University. She is the author of Gravities of Center (Arkipelago, 2003) and Poeta en San Francisco (Tinfish, 2005), for which she received the James Laughlin Award of the Academy of American Poets.

Reyes is a recent Pushcart Prize nominee, and her work has appeared or is forthcoming in numerous publications, including 2nd Avenue Poetry, Asian Pacific American Journal, Boxcar Poetry Review, Chain, Crate, Interlope, New American Writing, Nocturnes Review, North American Review, Notre Dame Review, Parthenon West Review, Shampoo Poetry, Tinfish, Versal, as well as in the anthologies Babaylan (Aunt Lute, 2000), Eros Pinoy (Anvil, 2001), InvAsian: Asian Sisters Represent (Study Center Press, 2003), Going Home to a Landscape (Calyx, 2003), Coloring Book (Rattlecat, 2003), Not Home But Here (Anvil, 2003), Pinoy Poetics (Meritage, 2004), Asian Americans in the San Francisco Bay Area (Avalon Publishing, 2004), 100 Love Poems: Philippine Love Poetry Since 1905 (University of the Philippines Press, 2004), The Lambda Award finalist Red Light: Superheroes, Saints and Sluts (Arsenal Pulp, 2005), Graphic Poetry (Victionary, 2005), The First Hay(na)ku Anthology (Meritage, 2005). She is a Visiting Assistant Professor of Creative Writing at Mills College, and she lives with her husband, the poet Oscar Bermeo, in Oakland, CA.

Reyes & Bermeo

Oscar Bermeo, reading from Anywhere Avenue.

Born in Ecuador and raised in the Bronx, Oscar Bermeo is a BRIO (Bronx Recognizes Its Own) award winning poet, educator and literary events coordinator who now makes his home in Oakland, where he is the poetry editor for Tea Party magazine and lives with his wife, poeta Barbara Jane Reyes.

Oscar has been a featured writer at a variety of venues and institutions including the Nuyorican Poets Café, the Bowery Poetry Club, Bronx Academy of Letters, Rikers Island, San Quentin Prison, WBAI radio, WGLT Poetry Radio, Kearny Street Workshop, California College of the Arts, Columbia University, UNC Chapel Hill, NYU and many others.

His writing appears in I Just Hope It’s Lethal: Poems of Sadness, Madness, and Joy; From Page to Stage and Back Again; Same Time, Same Place; 12 Ways; Achiote Seeds, Vol 2; Five Fingers Review, and many others.

Moments in Literature

I have opened a new place for literary discussions called Moments in Literature. The necessity for this forum is to open space for me to share with readers the exciting moments I discover as I read different novels. I have already posted some thoughts on Valerie Tagwira’s Uncertainty of Hope, and I am moving on to Thomas Hardy’s Far From the Madding Crowd. There is no specific criteria for choosing the works other than my random selections of what to read in a given month. Often when I read, there are those moments I discover (more like epiphanies)in the book which are worth sharing with others. The website will run in series format (covering one author at a time).

Moments in Far From the Madding Crowd

In Tagwira’s Uncertainty of Hope we saw people struggling to survive in the face of brutal change; we saw a narrator with a great sense of detail and soft spot for the ordinary urban Zimbabwean. Now we switch to Thomas Hardy, an author that Valerie Tagwira most likely studied in high school. The shift from Tagwira was random because, since I am on a short break from work, I am reading anything that presents itself to me first when I approach one of my shelves. I am currently reading Far From the Madding Crowd, which was really one of the books I read as a child in Zimbabwe ( I didn’t study it in school). Finishing Uncertainty of Hope inspired me to revist those authors that had some facility with a concern for the ordinary people whose lives are altered by forces beyond their control.

Thomas Hardy, whom I have wanted to revisit for the past ten years, was the next selection, although the day before, I had just bought War and Peace by Tolstoy. And as soon as I started reading, Hardy I was struck by the thematic similarities in the writing of Tagwira and Hardy, a very excting thing because the moments I will choose to share may be an extension of the discussion we started in Tagwira’s work. As  mentioned by critics repeatedly, there are no new stories; we just retell the same human story, but doing so with our own variations and applications. This is where  Joseph Campbell’s idea of the hero with a thousand faces comes in- that the story of the hero is the same but particular to individual cultures, experiences, and so on. 

Join me as I explore moments in Thomas Hardy’s Far From the Madding Crowd. After this one I will move on to The Return of the Native, followed by The Mayor of Casterbridge, Tess of the d’Urbervilles and Jude the Obscure. Then I will resume work on my novel Three Lives.

Tom’s Worry in Uncertainty of Hope

“But, seriously, one thing does worry me. When the economy does recover…if it ever does…will we recover enough honesty to maintain economic order; or will we continue to operate as, to use Melody’s phrase, ‘semi-criminals’?” (Uncertainty 351). 

These words by the young businessman and farmer, Tom, are revealing of one of the concerns of Valerie Tagwira’s Uncertainty of Hope.  This is one of the places in the novel where what’s happening in the country today makes hope in the future appear uncertain.  While these words show pessimism, the novel gives many possibilities for hope. For one, the experiences of the new situation are bringing major changes in the way the sexes relate, leading to a new consciousness about the roles of men and women. Tagwira empowers Onai, the hero of the novel,  to bring a message of hope by showing her exploring her potential in order to resolve the difficulties in her life.

The change of her life circumstances, which eventually lead to her freedom, bring a fresh promise to the enduring spirit of survival. Of  her children, Onai says, “They would not be oppressed by a system beyond their control,” because she “would do her best for them.” By the time the novel ends, we have already seen how people are coping – some have left the country but they send money back home, others have stayed and are making a difference in helping the society survive, some corrupt police officials are being brought to justice, and marriages are still occuring.  All these are examples of hope in a society where hope seems impossible.

Perhaps to answer Tom’s question, one can say that when the economy recovers, and it will, honesty as a virtue will still exist. One aspect of the Zimbabwean community that’s likely to change drastically is culture and its religious implications. As the partriarchal system weakens, the cultural structures that support it will crumble as well. No matter how devastating the change in Zimbabwe is going to be, let’s bear in mind what William Faulkner said about the human spirit: “I believe that [it] will not merely endure: [it] will prevail.”  Uncertain as it may seem,  hope is the one ingredient that will enable the country recover.  

Stubborn Hope in Valerie Tagwira’s Uncertainty of Hope

Uncertainty of HopeI finished reading one of the content-rich novels written recently by a Zimbabwean. When I first started reading The Uncertainty of Hope, I responded to the use of language, especially the transposition of Shona and English words in character dialogue, with a hint of dissatisfaction. Well, I read on, and my attention switched to the grim story of survival that the novel portrays. 

The novel offers dizzying details of problems ranging from AIDS, government corruption, cultural decay, gender strife, to the ordinary people’s increasing victimization in a society changing rapidly. The narrator is at best an advocate for the poor, for women, for the girl child, for everyone who is affected by the difficulties piling up in the daily experiences in Zimbabwe. It is indeed a novel of intense realism, placing Mbare under a microscope and reflecting the lives of the characters in great detail. While the primary concerns of the novels seems to be the life in Mbare, it also takes a general sweep on other classes of characters, showing that the suffering in Zimbabwe affects everyone, home and abroad.

The narrator attempts to pace the story by making frequent switches in the scenes of action, but some of the details slow down the story. As the  story draws to the end, however,  it speeds up, building tension as we wonder if Mawaya will recognize Onai,  if John will return from South Africa, and if Faith and Tom will break up or proceed with their plans to get married; then the story comes to its end with Onai securing employment with Mr. Jongwe (Mawaya) and movng to Borrowdale. This journey from Mbare to Borrowdale is as fascinating as it is a hero’s coming to a better understanding of the hardships of the times.

While Tagwira covers different levels of the society, the emotional center for her story is the experiences of ordinary Zimbabweans (especially women and children). These characters, ravished the most by the economic collapse in the country, are ennobled only by their resolve for survival. They exist in a world where they should either endure or fade away, willing to live as “semi-criminals”,  but for some endurance alone doesn’t work anymore.  Something else is needed, and that, if there is a way to know it, is what the society needs.

If this missing ingredient is hope, the writer seems to argue that it is uncertain, but it is there somewhere. Onai finds it and plans to budget it well for her children’s future. But is her destiny really now in her own hands? The title of the book answers this question, somewhat.

Key moments in literature

As the new year begins, I am introducing a new dimension to my blogging. Each time I read a novel, there are moments when the story comes to a key point which is always worth sharing with the next person, but usually there is just no set of ears available to listen to the passage. This forum will be used to chronicle, by way of discussion and analysis, those moments in a story that stand out.

Enjoy what you see here, explore and share what you think about the key literary passages.