Sacramento’s Stories on Stage Features Flash Fiction

Stories on Stage, which operates from mid-town Sacramento, continues to grow. Running every last Friday of the month, the series has featured writers from across the US and is preparing to feature African writers in June. The idea is brilliant: the stories are read by professional actors, and the events are well-attended.

On Friday, May 27th, Stories on Stage will present an evening of (very) short fiction, featuring the winners of Sacramento News & Review’s 2010 Flash Fiction Contest (these writers had a stingy 150 words to work with). Kent Gray will read Paul Mann’s”79 Miles,” Cynthia Mitchell Speakman will read Peg Alford Pursell’s “Guardian,” Ashley Lucas will read Jenni Wiltz’ “Letters,” Bonnie Antonini will read Peg Alford Pursell’s “This Guy,” and Pam Metzger will read William Doonan’s “Lady Anaconda.”

Sacramento Poetry Center
1719 25th Street (Between Q & R)
Donation: $5
Performance begins at 7:30PM. Doors open at 7PM

Peg Alford Pursell’s fiction has received The S.C. State Fiction Award and been a short-list finalist for the Flannery O’Connor Short Fiction Award. She founded and curates Why There Are Words, a monthly literary reading series in Sausalito, and is fiction editor at Prick of the Spindle. She teaches fiction writing at the College of Marin, Book Passage, and in private workshops. She is currently at work on a novel. Please visit her website and blog to keep up with her news. http://www.pegalfordpursell.com

William Doonan is a writer and professor of anthropology and archaeology in Sacramento, CA, where he lives with his wife Carmen, and his sons Will and Huey. Doonan is the author of two mystery novels; Grave Passage and Mediterranean Grave, which recount the exploits of octogenarian cruise ship detective Henry Grave. For more information about Doonan and his writing, please visit http://www.williamdoonan.com. William’s “Lady Anaconda” won first prize.

Jenni Wiltz’s short stories have appeared in The Portland Review and The Copperfield Review. She graduated Phi Beta Kappa from the University of California at Davis with degrees in English and history; she’s currently studying for a Master’s in English at Sacramento State University. Jenni lives in Folsom, California and blogs about her writing experiences at http://jenniwiltz.tumblr.com/. Jenni’s “Letters” won second prize.

Paul Mann grew up around the beaches of the Gulf Coast in Sarasota, Florida. It is a region he often visits through his writing. His stories and photos have been published in Susurrus, Sacramento News & Review, The Farallon Review and Sunken Lines. When not hunched over his keyboard, he enjoys spending time at home in California with his attorney wife, his smart and beautiful daughter, and his loyal canine companion Bode. Visit Paul’s website here. Paul’s “79 Miles” won third prize.

Bonnie Antonini returned to acting six years ago after taking a long hiatus to raise her children. She hit the ground running and has been in 20 stage plays, numerous commercials, TV shows, and industrials. She also is a poet and has had three of her poems published in the Sacramento News and Review. Her most recent role was in The Mystery Spot, where she played poet Sylvia Plath. Bonnie will read Peg Alford Pursell’s “This Guy.”

Cynthia Mitchell Speakman has been performing on Sacramento stages since 1994 when she joined Ed Claudio’s Actor’s Workshop. She performs with Story Voices, four spoken word artists that perform for benefits across the country, inspiring people to take on their lives with passion. Her son keeps her thinking young and she thanks him for being an inspiration to her. Cynthia will read Peg Alford Pursell’s “Guardian.”

Kent Gray is a man of many interests. He returned to Sacramento after attending law school in Des Moines. Kent has been in the theatre for 20 years. He holds a master’s degree from Humboldt State University and has appeared in numerous productions including playing Bo Decker in Bus Stop and Horatio in Hamlet. His directing credits include An Act of the Imagination and No Exit. In addition, Kent spent 10 years as a radio announcer working in the Midwest and California. Kent will read Paul Mann’s “79 Miles.”

Ashley Lucas has been acting for over five years. She has performed with Runaway Stage, Thistledew, and is a regular at the Playwrights Collaborative Workshops. Her other acting ventures include volunteering with the West Sacramento CERT as their Fire Prevention Trailer Instructors. Ashley will read Jenni Wiltz’ “Letters.”

Pamela Metzger was a radio announcer in the Sacramento area for 20 years. She has always enjoyed a good read on road trips, with each passenger giving their interpretation as they read aloud. The second child of 9 brothers and sisters made storytelling a necessary element in her well rounded personality. She resides in Sacramento and is in the Television advertising business. Pam will read William Doonan’s “Lady Anaconda.”

Visit Stories on Stage’s blog for more information about interviews and other events.

Zimbabwean Writer on 2011 US Foreign Press Center Media Tour


Zimbabwean writer, journalist, blogger, and gender activist, Delta Milayo Ndou will be touring Washington DC and Minneapolis in June as one of 20 journalists who have been identified by the Washington Foreign Press Center as emerging Global New Media Leaders. She is one of 4 African journalists – and the other African countries represented are Morocco, Uganda & Kenya.

The participants, selected from all over the globe will represent countries such Iran, Iraq, Israel, Oman, Yemen, Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Pakistan, among others.

Announcing the news of Delta Milayo Ndou’s acceptance to the programme, JB Leedy of the Washington Press Center commended the US Embassy’s Public Affairs Section in Harare for the “great nomination”, adding that nominations for the FPC Blogging for Social and Political Change tour were impressive. “We received 45 nominations for 20 available slots and all were impressive, so you can expect your participant to get a lot out of not only the official program, but networking with fellow global new media leaders on the tour,” stated Leedy.

The bloggers will be expected to do significant blogging both during and after the program, and to provide the FPC with feedback on the nature of those blog posts.
They will also be expected to find creative ways to amplify the USG message on the role of new media in civil society and press freedom when bloggers return home.
Activities during the tour include engagement in the Blogosphere to explore how the U.S Government (USG) advances foreign policy positions on the web by discussing new media strategy with top-level policy advisors, meeting with those implementing the strategy through official USG blogs to find out more about how they choose what to blog about, assess the interests of their target audiences, and gauge their effectiveness in conveying the USG message.

Some of the key discussions and activities will revolve around maintaining and promoting Freedom of Expression on the Internet; attending and taking part in Netroots Nation 2011, one of USA’s most prominent blogger conferences,an annual forum for exchanging ideas and using technology “to influence the public debate, inspire action, and serve as an incubator for progressive ideas that challenge the status quo and ultimately affect change in the public sphere.”

You can read Delta Milayo Ndou’s work on her blog, itsdelta.

New Novel focuses on the Zimbabwe Land Issue

I have started reading Na’ima B. Robert’s Far from Home, which focuses on two types land reforms or seisures in Zimbabwe. From the moment I heard about this book, I liked its premise and have been looking forward to reading. I have begun, and so I far I am drawned to the background, cultural details the author is giving, a familiar, relatable story, heightening that that nostalgic feeling in me. I will talk some more about the novel itself once I am done reading, but for now, here is some product information straight from the press release.


Exploring the untold history of Zimbabwe’s land reforms, Far from Home tells the story of Katie and Tariro, two girls linked by a terrible secret, grappling with the complexities of adolescence, family and a painful colonial legacy as their lives play out against the tragic history of the land in Zimbabwe.

14-year-old Tariro is a daughter of the soil: she loves the land, the baobab tree she was born beneath, her family – and brave, handsome Nhamo. She couldn’t be happier. But then the white settlers arrive, and everything changes – suddenly, violently – robbing Tariro of all that she loves.

Forty years later, 14-year-old Katie adores her doting father, her exclusive boarding school, and her farm with its baobab tree in rural Zimbabwe. Life is great. Until the land acquisition programme forces the family off the land and to cold, rainy London.

Atmospheric and epic in scope, Far from Home brings the turbulent history of Zimbabwe to vivid, tangible life, challenging the reader to view it with new eyes.

Na’ima B Robert, born Thando Nomhle McLaren, is descended from Scottish Highlanders on her father’s side and the Zulu people on her mother’s side. She was brought up in Harare, Zimbabwe, and graduated from the University of London. Her books include the popular ‘From my sisters’ lips’, and teen novels, ‘From Somalia, with love’ and ‘Boy vs. Girl’. Na’ima has also been published in The Times, The Observer and The Muslim Weekly as well as several online publications, including AfricaBe.com. She is married to a Ghanaian and has four children.

African Literature and the Internet

I participated in a discussion of African writing and the internet. Below is an excerpt, as well as a link to One Ghana One Voice (OGOV) for the rest of the discussion.

Prince Mensah: Considering the present shape of African writing, what visible steps are being taken to use the Internet as a medium of communication? Are those steps enough? What impact does all this have on indigenous readers who might or might not have access to the Internet?

Michelle Labossiere Brandt: The Internet is turning out to be a fantastic gift to the African writer, and an immediate way to publicize one’s creativity. It is the diving board, a place to launch and in doing so extends out to those readers who don’t have access to the Internet!

Let me use my own community as an example. Our goal as an organization (RIFE & RIFG) was twofold: bring poets from Africa and Canada together to publish an anthology to raise money for a project in Ghana, and educate the average Edmontonian poet and reader as to the incredible pool of African writers/poets. We have achieved those goals and it all started through the long arm of the Internet, one of our main sources being OGOV. Since that time a number of local non-African poets have now become interested in African literature/poetry. Some of these local poets don’t have access to the Internet but they are avid readers, and come out to poetry readings.

The long arm of the Internet is a bridge for global writers to share their talent and inspire one another and thereby perhaps impact the world at large in a positive and creative manner.

Emmanuel Sigauke: Most writers have websites, blogs, Twitter, and Facebook accounts, and they use these as tools to publicize their works, to create a platform. These are effective tools of communication, but as there is too much of a wide choice of information online, what’s needed is a more effective channeling of the information to make sure that it reaches as many people as possible. In other words, there should be networking, targeted linking of the media that the writers use.

While the Internet is helping develop the literature in urban Africa and in the Diaspora, there is still a wide gap in communication with the majority of African readers. Many people in African countries have no access to the Internet, so whatever programs are represented online should be replicated on the ground in different communities and especially at the grassroots level. Writers should also be involved in outreach programs that promote reading and writing in Africa.

Nii Ayikwei Parkes: The state of African writing is a big question. I’d say it’s abuzz with possibilities and disjointed (which is not necessarily a bad thing), meaning that the next few years will tell us what is really happening.

Steps being taken – as Michelle has shown, and Emmanuel has touched on – are as diverse as the forms and stages of writing themselves. I was recently contacted by a Ghanaian poet who sent me links to tracks from a forthcoming CD online to listen to. That triggered two thoughts – one, we use technology very quickly and effectively (I live in the UK and wouldn’t have thought of getting cross-continental feedback) and two, the Internet means that the distance between the practising writers and aspiring writers is very small – there is a lot of promise in that if we (the practising writers) stay accessible.

As for indigenous readers, this can only be better for them, because they barely had access to work when there was no Internet anyway so there is no way technology can impoverish them, it can only enrich their experience – even if it starts with something as simple as quotes in text messages.

Martin Egblewogbe: As a result of low Internet penetration in Africa, I strongly suspect that most users of literary websites dedicated to African writing tend to live in the diaspora, and may have a readership that is mainly non-African. In this regard, unless the target audience of a Ghanaian writer is global or non-African, there is a fundamental disconnect when the work is published online; this is the disconnect of speaking without the possibility of being heard. To most people on the continent, the publication simply doesn’t exist. Therefore, the impact in terms of widespread acknowledgement is naturally constricted (to an extent, this is also quite true of many hard publications).

It is quite clear that our social reflex has not yet quite adjusted to the Internet, especially when it comes to publishing literary works: we can see potential, we know it can be used for something, but we are not very sure what, or how it will be achieved. We may yet be surprised.

At this present time, the use of the Internet as a medium for publication has both detrimental and positive effects, both on the writer and the art, the extent of which depends on the fronts listed earlier. I will probably expand on this as the discussion progresses.

Ivor Hartmann: From my own interaction as, and with other African writers, I’d say we’re on the cusp of a never before seen explosion of African literature. This is not without its pitfalls: anyone can now self-publish, but this does not mean that what is self-published will be good. I say it often but it still holds true: writers have to have good editors. We still need gatekeepers, as not everyone who thinks they are a great writer (and we all think that of course), is necessarily so. But (and its a big “but”), there is plenty of room for mediocre writers too, and market forces.

In Africa (and Diaspora) we writers have the tendency to want to be the next Soyinka, Marechera, etc. In other words, to excel strictly in ‘literary’ writing. Who can blame us? They are Africa’s literary heroes whom we of course aspire to. This however leaves a wide open gap in all the other genres that needs to be filled, and is currently filled with imported writing. It is this gap that I’d like to see filled locally.

There is a desperate need for more (affordable) print books on the ground in Africa. We writers may have heartily embraced the online world, but not so much our potential local readers for many reasons (89.1% of Africa does not have online access). There is an ever growing technological divide, and the vast majority of Africa will not have access to the digital literature age that is fast upon us. This means that while African writers do indeed now have access to far more international markets, the same can not be said for local markets where affordable print still rules.

Read the full discussion at One Ghana One Voice.

A Reader and Writer: Miriam Shumba (Zimbabwean Novelist)

Miriam Shumba is the author of two novels, Show Me the Sun and That Which Has Horns, both published in the USA by Genesis Press. She has had several short stories and articles published in Zimbabwe, South Africa, and the United States. She earned her teaching degree at Rhodes University in South Africa and continued her education at Walden University. Miriam has taught elementary school in several countries. She moved to the United States in 2001 and now lives in Michigan with her husband.



Miriam Shumba’s 2010 Reading List

1. The Shack [book cd] : a novel/ William P. Young
2. The Bishop’s Daughter / Tiffany L. Warren
3. The First Lady [book cd] / by Carl Weber
4. Serena : a novel / Ron Rash
5. The Piano Teacher / Janice Y.K. Lee
6. Finding Nouf [book cd] / Zoë Ferraris
7. The Christmas Sweater [book cd] / Glenn Beck with Kevin Balfe and Jason Wright
8. Esteemable acts : 10 actions for building real self-esteem / Francine Ward
9. Your best birth : know all your options, discover the natural choices, and take back the birth experience / Ricki Lake and Abby Epstein ; foreword by Jacques Moritz.
10. Roses
11. An Elegy for Easterly : Stories / by Petina Gappah.
12. The Boy Next Door : a novel / by Irene Sabatini.
13. Knockout : interviews with doctors who are curing cancer– and how to prevent getting it in the first place / Suzanne Somers
14. The Actor and the Housewife [book cd] : a novel / Shannon Hale
15. Once Upon a Day [book cd]: a novel / Lisa Tucker
16. Roses / Leila Meacham
17. Her mother’s hope / Francine Rivers.
18. Shameless [book cd] / Karen Robards
19. Powder necklace : a novel / Nana Ekua Brew-Hammond
20. Fireworks over Toccoa / Jeffrey Stepakoff.
21. The help [book cd] : a novel/ Kathryn Stockett
22. Strangers at the feast [book cd] : a novel / Jennifer Vanderbes
23. Unaccustomed earth : stories / by Jhumpa Lahiri.


Interview with Miriam Shumba

1. Your reading list consists of both print and audio books. Which medium is provides a more effective reading process for you? Does a read get the same effect from a book when listening to it as when reading it? To what extent are both processes considered reading?

Both mediums are enjoyable. I always have a print book at home and an audio book in the car. For some reason I rarely listen to audio books at home and when I tried I found myself falling asleep. Listening to a book from some exotic location the actors/readers imitate the accents very well and it adds richness to the story. The story interests me more that way. Both processes should be considered reading because at the end I’m satisfied with the story in print and audio. Once in a while it’s nice to have both audio and print so I can reread some parts or see how things are spelt.

2. Do you always read as a writer or a reader? Do you read when you are working on your own writing? Does this slow down or speed up your writing?

I can’t help reading as a writer. It’s enjoyable to look out for fresh ways to describe people, for instance, or to find out how flash backs are used. The way words can transport you to another time in space and wreck havoc with your emotions fascinates me, so my notebooks are always close by. Keeping my “writer’s cap” on doesn’t really slow me down if I am lost in a good story.

3. What is the audience of your novels?

My audience is both male and females who enjoy reading about life and relationships but who also hope to grow and change after reading my books. I see people from 16 years onwards picking up my books and liking the stories.

4. How have your books been accepted in the United States?

From the reviews I’ve received the books have been accepted very well. I’ve attended book clubs where my books were discussed too and that was encouraging. Several people told me that they could identify with the characters even though they are from the US and the characters are from Zimbabwe.

5. Are your books available in Zimbabwe or any African country?

They are available in South Africa and right now I am in the process of making them available in Zimbabwe and Ghana initially then spread to other countries.

6. How do you deal with the issue of translation? In other words, are there cultural concepts that you find difficult to present in English?

Absolutely. I even had to translate the title into English and that proved challenging too. I know that there are so many phrases we say in Shona that get lost when translated into English. What I do is to write some sentences in Shona then add the translation immediately after so the people who speak Shona will really get the nuances and those who don’t understand the language will at least know what was said and not get confused.

7. You read short story collections like An Elegy for Easterly and Uaccustomed Earth? Considering that you are publishing in the novel sub-genre, what do you think of the short stories you read? How well do you appreciate the short story sub-genre?

I find most short stories engrossing. Before publishing my two novels I enjoyed and still enjoy writing short stories. I wrote for Drum Magazine in South Africa and Parade Magazine in Zimbabwe and the issues I had with writing them is the same I have when I read them. The challenge for me is that I get attached to certain characters and feel disappointed when the story has to end. Another thing is that not all the short stories in an anthology are enjoyable, and it takes me a while to get into the next short story after having been so absorbed in the one before. They are entertaining and thought-provoking and they are quick and hit you like a whirlwind with all the senses and emotions packed into a short work. With Jumpa Lihiri I noticed that she did continue one short story and I was so excited to see the characters back again in another short at the end of her collection.

8. You also read one of the contemporary Zimbabwean novels, The Boy Next Door by Irene Sabatini, which has been received well in some circles of the US readership. What’s your opinion of this book?

Irene’s novel is incredible. When I picked it up the cover drew me, which shows the importance of captivating covers. It was set close to the time when I was a teenager and I could relate to her protagonist. It was like taking a literal tour around Zimbabwe because she mentioned almost every place of great significance in Zimbabwe including our mysterious magnificent ruins, The Great Zimbabwe. The love story was breathtaking and handled very well. I thoroughly enjoyed her book and it got me excited about all the other new books coming up from Zimbabwe that I can’t wait to read. It’s great to see the children of Zimbabwe telling their own stories like never before.

9. When writing, do you care about the genre your work will come out in? Does it matter to you whether a work will be received as literary or popular fiction?

It would be great to see my work stand the test of time, and be enjoyed by generations either as popular fiction or literary.

10. In a radio interview, you stated that your current publisher features Christian (or is it spiritual) literature. What are the characteristics of this genre?

From the books I’ve read this genre is about characters that are Christians or become Christians. These are books to inspire you and in a way celebrate the love of Jesus in stories that are entertaining. This genre is so broad and can be divided into romance, science fiction, mystery and so on. I don’t know how I feel about categorizing books that way as it means that certain people will not read great works just because they are under the Christian section. Fiction should just be fiction and not be separated by religion.

11. What do you think of the reception of African literature in the USA? Do think this is the African writer’s time in (1) the USA (2) the World?

Many people who have book clubs in the USA tend to enjoy reading books from around the world and some even introduced me to authors J. Nozipo Maraire who wrote Zenzele, A Letter for My Daughter. In the US the books I hear about tend to focus on controversial and disturbing topics and my worry is that the same themes are marketed. What I’ve seen usually revolves around civil war, or politics. I think most people are interested hearing about Africa’s struggles which are truly there but every country has them but their stories are more varied. I haven’t seen that many novels on regular every day stories of families, romance, and friendships. I think it’s time to show more variety. We have more to offer and want to tell all our stories, not just one story.

12. What is your advice to aspiring writers looking to market their works in the United States?

My advice is to definitely find the publishers who are interested in multicultural books in the US. There are not that many out there but the book that I used to locate my publisher is called Writers Markets and it’s published every year. In there you can search for the agents and publishers who want your genre. The United States has always been a multi cultural and there is room for African writers and those from all around the world as well.

2010 in review

The stats helper monkeys at WordPress.com mulled over how this blog did in 2010, and here’s a high level summary of its overall blog health:

Healthy blog!

The Blog-Health-o-Meter™ reads This blog is doing awesome!.

Crunchy numbers

Featured image

A helper monkey made this abstract painting, inspired by your stats.

A Boeing 747-400 passenger jet can hold 416 passengers. This blog was viewed about 2,700 times in 2010. That’s about 6 full 747s.

 

In 2010, there were 9 new posts, growing the total archive of this blog to 120 posts. There were 21 pictures uploaded, taking up a total of 5mb. That’s about 2 pictures per month.

The busiest day of the year was January 6th with 79 views. The most popular post that day was Zimbawean Author Gets Joint Book Deal .

Where did they come from?

The top referring sites in 2010 were facebook.com, digg.com, academicblogs.org, vasigauke.blogspot.com, and 123people.com.

Some visitors came searching, mostly for zimbabwean literature, dambudzo marechera poems, adichie the thing around your neck, famous african literature, and moments in literature.

Attractions in 2010

These are the posts and pages that got the most views in 2010.

1

Zimbawean Author Gets Joint Book Deal August 2008
2 comments

2

Famous Characters in African Literature September 2008
2 comments

3

Adichie’s The Thing Around Your Neck: A Brief Review March 2009

4

Digital Libraries Devaluing Literature? March 2008
1 comment

5

Hard Times Have Freed Zimbabwean Literature February 2009
1 comment

Interview: Mirirai Moyo, Award-winning Zimbabwean Writer

Mirirai Moyo, a promising emerging writer from Zimbabwe, is one of the winners of the 2010 Golden Baobab Award, which features African stories for children anywhere. Moyo is not new to awards. In 1996, she was the Harare Region Winner for the Randalls National Essay Competition. Her short stories have featured in The Sunday Mail, Fascinating Tales and Parade as well as Drum Magazine’s fiction segment. Her radio play, Belonging, was awarded Honourable Mention in the BBC African Performance 2008 and published in Rory Kilalea’s collection In the Continuum and Other Plays (Weaver Press). What I find fascinating so far is how Mirirai Moyo features animal characters in her stories to deal with the realistic issues that concern humans. As the interview below shows, Moyo appreciates the power of the traditional story-telling tradition, but she puts a new twist to her story-telling to address contemporary issues affecting humans everywhere.

I got in touch with her and she agreed to do this brief interview. Enjoy.

1. What does winning the Golden Baobab Prize mean to your career?
I want to believe that this will be the beginning of more (I’ve had a few already) beautiful things/ experiences for me as a writer such as- naturally- being read more. And the recognition I’ve been given encourages me to keep at it (telling my stories).

2. Your bio shows that you are from Mberengwa. How has your home influenced your writing?
While I am from Mberengwa (was born there) I was raised a city girl, doing my growing up in the various areas in Harare we moved to as a family. The moving between ‘homes’ influences me more as writer rather than having stayed in any one specific place.

3.Who are your writing influences?
I find it extremely difficult to speak of influences because as an avid reader, titles and writers have flitted through my life depending on the phase (I’ve been in).

4.I listened to the BBC recording of your play “Belonging” and I was moved. What influenced your decision to use animal characters in your writing?
Thank you for the compliment on Belonging. I’m glad you liked it. Animals just seem to make for more flexible story telling; they make for delightful metaphors- something our ancestors discovered way back in the Stone Age… Animal characters give me room to be adventurous in exploring issues of interest with a twist.

5. What is your award-winning short story, Diki, the Little Earthworm about? What inspired it?
‘Diki: The Little Earthworm’ is a feel-good narrative, promoting self-acceptance and self -love. The story aspires to impart a lesson in the importance of self-belief. What better protagonist for this moral than an earthworm, one of the simplest but nonetheless essential of creatures in the universe?

Every child needs to learn from early on that it is okay to be different (in all the ways that we will be different) and that even when you are different, you are still special… and when others are different, they are special.

The idea is built on the premise that a child’s sense of self-worth determines his/her interactions within the community. A healthy sense of self-worth ultimately enhances sound and responsible personal and social habits. And every society needs well-grounded and open-minded leaders of tomorrow.

6.What do you think of the state of Zimbabwean writing?
My greatest lament is the Zimbabwe government could and should be doing a whole lot more to improve the state of writing in Zimbabwe. Too many stories are going unseen, unread, unheard. The government seems to have a strong bias towards investing in sports. How many hundreds of thousands of US dollars did they throw at hosting Brazil on the eve of the World Cup again? My point exactly!

Stories on Stage Calling on African Writers


Sacramento-based Stories on Stage will feature stories by African writers on June 24, 2011 at the Sacramento Poetry Center. Valerie Fioravanti, founder and coordinator of the reading series, has asked me to recommend African writers who are interested in submitting their stories for this special feature. I think it is a great opportunity to create more awareness of African fiction and for Northern California readers to discover the diversity of African writing. The stories are read or performed by professional actors.

Here is what Valerie is looking for:

“Two stories will be featured at each event, one from a writer with a short story collection or equivalent publication history, and one from an emerging writer. An emerging writer need not have previous publications in order to be selected. To submit a story for possible inclusion in the series, email your story as an attachment (.doc or .rtf only), and include a brief bio and publication history, if applicable. Please submit only one story, between 1000-4000 words. I am looking for stories that work well when read aloud, and not all short stories make a smooth transition off the page (this is true of some of my best stories. If you’ve never read your work aloud, I recommend a test run before you submit). Short stories only, please. No novel excerpts, essays/memoir, short plays/scripts, or monologues will be considered…” Email stories to valfiora[AT]yahoo.com and cc manu@munyori.com

The Sacramento Poetry Center is based in Mid-town Sacramento. It presents poetry readings every Monday and short story readings every last Friday of the month. The Stories on Stage has been running for a year and it has helped bring high-quality fiction writers and performers to the SPC.

Valerie Fioravanti says:

“I write fiction, essays, and prose poems. Stories from my linked collection, Garbage Night at the Opera, have appeared in North American Review, Cimarron Review, Hunger Mountain, Night Train and others. These stories have received four pushcart prize nominations and Special Mention in Pushcart Prize XXVIII. I received a Fulbright Fellowship in Creative Writing to work on a novel set in Italy, Bel Casino, which is one of two novels currently in the works. My essays and prose poems have been published in Eclectica, Silk Road, Puerto del Sol, International Living, and others. I live in Boulevard Park in midtown Sacramento, where I run the Stories on Stage reading series and Midtown Writing Workshops.”

Visit Stories on Stage for more details on the series.

Interview: Bryony Rheam Calls on Zimbabwean Authors to Move Away from “Overtly Political” Subjects

I recently finished reading Bryony Rheam’s novel This September Sun and the author agreed to answer a few interview questions. At the end of this very enlightening interview on her craft and influences, Bryony calls on suggests that writers expand their creative horizons and embrace genres that move beyond the “overtly political”. Below is the intervew.

1. I just finished reading This September Sun and I enjoyed it a lot. You created an impressive character in Ellie. I also now know that the book is not autobiographical, but what inspired Ellie?

Although the novel is not an autobiography, it is autobiographical in many ways. I am very much like Ellie and there are parallels in the events in our lives. I don’t see her as myself though – she is a character in her own right.

2. I love the first sentence of this novel, but this question is about the ending. Is it reasonable for Ellie to expect to go back to Zimbabwe and find Tony waiting for her after all these years? Was it just a momentary epiphany, or a sudden realization that there could actually be alternatives to how she had thought she could dream? Or does it really matter what she returns to as long as she returns with a sense of hope?

The ending of the novel appears to be a ‘happily-ever-after’ one, but the more you think about it, the more you begin to wonder if this isn’t another of Ellie’s dreams – like her one of going to live in the UK. Will Tony be waiting for her or will he have met someone else? That’s up to the reader to decide. However, although Ellie is an idealist who will probably encounter many problems and frustrations on her return to Zimbabwe, the most important thing is that she is going back to Zimbabwe with a sense of starting over rather than dwelling in the past.

3. Readers of my age seem to connect with Ellie in that she speaks for our times. But how important was it to make her ignore the war? If she was six at independence, was she too young to be bothered about the vagaries of war? I know I wasn’t too young not to remember, but then I was in an area that continued to see the signs of war four or five years into the eighties. In other words, was the war as irrelevant as Ellie seems to imply?

I don’t think that Ellie sees the war as irrelevant; after all, it had such an impact on her family. What she despairs of is the tendency of the older generation to almost wallow in its pain and therefore refuse to move on. It’s a time in Zimbabwe’s histrory that people seem to have to constantly return to, whether they be politicians, writers or the average person on the street. That’s all very well, but what about now?

4. I know you have pointed out that this novel is a mystery/romance. But I think it turned out to be literary too. Do you care about it being considered literary? Or are those genre distinctions even necessary?

I am sure there are many ways in which the novel may be considered literary. I have actually discovered a number of things that may be considered symbolic, but that wasn’t my intention when I wrote the book. T.S. Eliot believed that the author’s intention wasn’t as important as the reader’s response and I go along with that. I’m glad that it can just be read as a mystery/romance because it means it appeals to a wider audience than a purely literary work would.

5. You have already been compared with Doris Lessing and because of that, I couldn’t help but look for traces of the The Grass is Singing. Is this a fair comparison?

I have great respect and admiration for Doris Lessing and yes, I think it is fair to say that her writing has influenced me a lot. I remember sitting in almost trance like state after finishing the last page of The Grass is Singing!

6. Which writers have influenced your writing? How many of these are Zimbabwean, or is this even relevant?

There are three books which I could read over and over again. They are The End of the Affair by Graham Greene (I consulted this book many times when writing Evelyn’s diaries), Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf (I love the attention to the smallest detail) and Reef by Romesh Gunesekera, a Sri Lankan writer (politics are so much in the background here, they are almost non-existant, yet somehow you manage to feel its effects in the lives of the characters). Funnily enough, I haven’t always liked other books by these writers.

7. There is always debate about whether one is or is not an African writer, and often, the debates are fraught with misunderstandings, leading to unnecessary controversy. Do you consider yourself an African writer? And what does this mean to you?

This is one debate that will go on for eternity! I think I’d just like to call myself a writer actually. I don’t see any need to be anything in particular, even if I do live in Africa.

8.There are some subtle metafictional elements to This September Sun (which I enjoyed, by way). How important was it for you to present Ellie as a writer? As I read the story, I enjoyed being aware that it was being written as I read.

I feel writing is a way of making sense of your life. Why, for instance, do people keep diaries? Both Evelyn and Ellie use writing for a number of reasons. One, as I said, is to make sense of their realities; another is to record it – both women want to be ‘heard’ by someone: Evelyn uses to diaries as a confessional and eventually leaves them to Ellie because she wants them to be read. Ellie feels constantly overlooked and therefore demands that the reader listen to her. However, as with all first person narratives, how far are they to be trusted? At times we see an incident from two different points of view, such as the time when Evelyn and Ellie visit Miles’s house. Which is the truth?

9. I read somewhere that you studied literature in college. How has this influenced your writing? You are also a teacher. Do you believe, as Achebe, that a writer is like a teacher?

Studying literature at university definitely influenced me a number of ways. I had to read a large number of books that I would never have chosen to read for a start! I also became much more aware of how vulnerable the writer is and how you have to constantly think about how your writing may be criticised, both positively and negatively – but this shouldn’t stop you writing. The biggest drawback about studying literature is that you always want to look deeper into something and I really resented the way some of my favourite texts were almost carved up and dissected. I got to the point where I just wanted to read for reading sake and to be entertained, but I don’t think you can ever do that again after studying literature! I did get frustrated when studying post-colonial litertaure because I felt that many of the white characters in much of the writing weren’t ‘real’. They tended to be limited to the District Commissioner or a policeman. Issues of identity and belonging were never seen as ‘white’ problems. I used to argue quite a lot during turorials, but I never really felt that I got the others to listen to me. I think everyone was too busy being politically correct! As for a writer being a teacher, I would hate to be didactic in my work, but I do think you can prompt the reader to look at a situation differently. How many times have you heard someone say, ‘this book changed my life’? Books can have a huge impact on people.

10. Your novel has been hailed as the first one in Zimbabwe to educate readers about the white world in Zimbabwe in the 80’s. I don’t know how true this is, but having studied Zimbabwean literature at the University in Harare, I was well aware of the absence of white Zimbabwean literary works on the syllabus. Do you think the makers of the curriculum deliberately left out these works, or the works were not being written.

I don’t think there have been many literary novels by white Zimbabweans. In fact, I can only think of Doris Lessing and possibly John Eppel. However, I do think that will change.

11. What aspects of This September Sun were difficult to write. I imagine coming up with those letters and keeping them in the same voice may have been time consuming, yet they sound so natural, so believable. Was this difficult to do?

Yes, it was very difficult to ‘be’ Evelyn. Sometimes I thought she sounded too old-fashioned, like a character out of a Jane Austen novel. I also struggled to find her a place within England. Should she posh, upper-class or working class. I needed her to have a ‘neutral’ accent, because I would have found doing a broad Yorkshire accent or something similar very difficult! I had to be aware of the words I used in case certain expressions weren’t in use in the 1940s and also be aware of the era in general – what did women do and what didn’t they do? Getting the historical bits right meant a bit of research, but I enjoyed that.

12. What do you think of the future of Zimbabwean literature?

I think writers need to start to move away from the political, at least the overtly political. We need to write love stories and thrillers and mysteries, otherwise we will continue to go over the same ground.

The Eso Won Bookstore Reading and “African Roar” Launch

They came to support, they some bought books, and they engaged us in dialogue. Part of the audience at Eso Won Bookstore Reading and “African Roar” Launch, Los Angeles.

Copies of African Roar in a special display for the event.

This is going to be a long post, full of pictures and reflections. I will be publishing each update as I go, but this may take days to complete.

The reading at Eso Won Books in Los Angeles was a success. Bill Roper and Joseph Mitchell rendered a moving performance, which fit in well with our readings, as if we had researsed. I liked the connection, which led to a performance that kept the audience spellpound, but of course, I can’t speak for the attendees; only they know how the experience was to them. What I liked though was how everyone hung around after the event, asking questions, engaging us in dialogue and asking us to sign books.

Bill Roper playing the horn (vuvuzela) at the beginning of the event. What a fascinating instrument; I remember how it was used in the village to summon people to an important meeting at the chief’s.

Christopher Mlalazi setting up the table with books and art pieces from Zimbabwe. The bigger pile of books is Bryony Rheam’s This September Sun,by amaBooks, a book I have been waiting for. There were other amaBooks titles like Short Writings from Bulawayo III, Long Time Coming, Intwasa Poetry, Dancing with Life (Chris Mlalazi), and others. I had my copies of Forever Let Me Go, State of the Nation, and Speaking for the Generations. Believe me, it felt great to see our books in a US bookstore.

Part of the setting up was to wonder if I had overprepared, if I would not have enough time to read everything I had selected, and surely, I only read a quarter of what I intended.

Daniel Rothman of Villa Aurora introducing us. He worked very hard in making sure the event was a success, and I liked that he took Chris and I to Beyond Baroque, an archival bookstore that hosts poets nearly daily. Coincedentally, there was a reading on Friday evening which featured my friend, LA poet Catherine Daly, whom I have hosted at the Sacramento Poetry Center. She was one of several poets featured as Factory School Poets, all connected by the fact they have been published by the same press. Below is a photo of Factory school poets, which I took after their reading on Friday, July 30:
I don’t have all the names to match with the poets yet, but Catherine Daly is second from right; then from left to right: CA Conrad, Diane Ward, and Allison Cobb. The other names of the Factory school poets are: Sueyeun Juliette, Deborah Meadows, Sarah Manefee, Kathryn Pringle, Frank Sherlock, Brian Kim Stefans,and Heriberto Yepez. I enjoyed the part of the reading I caught, and what I liked most was meeting the staff of Beyond Baroque because they are talking of a poet exchange with Sacramento Poetry Center. So we would invite their poets, and they in turn invite ours, etc.

Joseph Mitchell, on Percussion. His duo performance with Bill Roper was good for our reading, it added resonance.

Christopher Mlalazi reading from Dancing with Life, a book I always knew would go far. He reading of “The Bulldozers are Coming” was touching, and it set the mood for the Charles Mungoshi and Chenjerai poems I read later.

Here I was introducing State of the Nation: Contemporary Zimbabwean Poetry, which was published in the UK last year and was edited by Tinashe Mushakavanhu and David Nettleingham. I told the audience that it was a key text in Zimbabwean poetry has it marks the latest update in the contemporary poetry, a multi-generational book which mixes classic and new names.

Reading from State of the Nation. My signature style is to read the works of one or two leading Zimbabwe poets before I read mine. This approach grounds me, it puts me in context. I started by reading Charles Mungoshi’s “A Kind of Drought”, which anchors our trust not in people anymore, but in birds, in trees, in rivers. Then I read Chenjerai Hove’s “Nights with Ghosts”, which connects very well to Mlalazi’s short stories about Murambatsvina. In this long poem, the persona reveals that he has written a letter to Samueri, but does not know where to send it as no one has an address anymore. It linked very well with the poem I read next, mine, entitled “A House for Mother”, published in the same book.

Reading from my poetry collection, Forever Let Me Go. I read “The Teacher and the Curtain”, which is everyone’s favorite at readings, and “Remembering Mother”, the most political I have gone in my poetry so far, I think. Of course, it always usually signals the end of my reading segment because of its emotional weight. But I had intended to read “Gonera Bees” and “Forever Let Me Go”, but I wanted to hear more of Bill and Joe’s music.

Judicanti Responsura doing their thing…

The great audience.

Chris reads “A Cicada in the Shimmer”, published in African Roar. The launch part of the event was interesting, as I had the opportunity to explain the process that went into the publication of the book, then I called Chris to the stage. Chris insists that he would not be the best person to explain what the story means, but when he read, it moved us.
I too read from African Roar. I could heard the sound of my story in front of an audience for the first time, and I could tell I needed to work on the female voice of my narrator, but overall, I thought I connected with the audience.

African titles sharing shelf space.

The Los Angeles Reading: Book Selections

Forever Let Me Go contains a taste of my poetry and Speaking for the Generations (AWP 2010) contains an excerpt from my short story “A Long Night”, set in Glen View 2, Harare.

The Los Angeles Event with Christopher Mlalazi is only one week, I know time will fly, so I thought I should start to prepare myself for the event. I have already selected the published works that I will carry, although I will take along some works in progress, like my selections from short story manuscripts. But here are the books I am carrying, from which I will read: Forever Let Me Go (poetry), African Roar (short stories), State of the Nation: Contemporary Zimbabwean Poetry, Speaking for the Generations (short stories), and Charles Mungoshi’s The Setting Sun and the Rolling World.

African Roar (StoryTime 2010), State of the Nation (Conversation 2009), and The Setting Sun (Beacon Press 1989).

Chris and I will be reading our works and launching StoryTime’s African Roar at an event coordinated by Villa Aurora Los Angeles and Eso Won Bookstore. A band will be performing as well. Below are more details about the event.

Villa Aurora & Eso Won Bookstore present

an evening of stories, poetry, book launch of African Roar & music with
2010 Feuchtwanger Fellow Christopher Mlalazi, Zimbabwe
fellow Zimbabwean writer and editor Emmanuel Sigauke
& Judicanti Responsura
7PM on Saturday, July 31, 2010 at Eso Won Bookstore
4331 Degnan Boulevard, Los Angeles 90008

Villa Aurora’s 2010 Feuchtwanger Fellow, Zimbabwean writer Christopher Mlalazi’s two books, Dancing with Life (2008, amaBooks), a collection of short stories, Many Rivers (2009, Lion Press, Ltd., UK), a novel, and his latest play Election Day (2010), deal with the social and political disintegration of his native Zimbabwe. In 2008 he was co-awarded the OXFAM NOVIP PEN Freedom of Expression Award at the Hague, which he received with Raisedon Baya for their play The Crocodile of Zambezi. The Crocodile of Zambezi (2008), a satire of the Mugabe regime set in a fictional country along the Zambezi River, was officially banned and members of its cast and crew were harassed and beaten by state agents. Christopher Mlalazi’s work has received numerous honors and awards, including the ‘2009 Best First Published Creative Work, National Arts Merit Award in Zimbabwe’ for Dancing with Life: Tales from the Township, which also received the NOMA Award Honorable Mention(UK) in 2009; Many Rivers was shortlisted for the 2010 National Merit Award for Most Outstanding Book of Fiction. He has also published poetry in several international anthologies. Mr. Mlalazi has completed a new novel while in residence at Villa Aurora.

Emmanuel Sigauke grew up in Zimbabwe where his interest in writing began at the age of thirteen. He studied English, Shona, and Linguistics and graduated with a BA. From 1993 to 1996 he was the National Secretary of the Budding Writers Association of Zimbabwe (BWAZ), an organization that has helped groom many contemporary Zimbabwean writers. Sigauke moved to California in 1996 and studied English at California State University Sacramento. He teaches composition, literature and creative writing at Cosumnes River College in Sacramento, is a board member of the Sacramento Poetry Center, where he hosts poetry readings every second Monday, is the book review editor of the organization’s bi-monthly publication, Poetry Now, and is also the co-editor of the recently published African Roar: An Eclectic Collection of African Authors. Sigauke has also taught fiction workshops for the UC Davis Extension and in the Hart Senior Center Annual Writing Conference. His collection of poetry, Forever Let Me Go, appeared in 2008, and he has since published poetry in State of the Nation: Contemporary Zimbabwean Poetry and in journals like Witness, One Ghana, One Voice, and others. His fiction has been published in online and print journals. He is currently working on a collection of short stories and a novel.

JUDICANTI RESPONSURA is a Los Angeles based chamber music ensemble formed in 1984 by tubaist William Roper and percussionist Joseph Mitchell. They perform their own compositions and generate new works from area composers. They specialize in works incorporating Euro-Classical and African-American improvisational traditions. Judicanti’s repertoire ranges from purely musical compositions to multi-media, multi-disciplinary works. The group is represented on recordings released by the Asian Improv, Tomato Sage Consortium and Heliotrope Dreams labels. As individual artists they have worked with “The Lion of Zimbabwe” Thomas Mapfumo, the L.A. Philharmonic, L.A. Opera, Aretha Franklin, Gladys Knight, Elton John, Yusef Lateef, Anthony Braxton and many others.

African Roar: An Eclectic Anthology of African Authors is a fiction anthology drawn from the very best stories published from 2007-2009, in the StoryTime weekly literary ezine dedicated to publishing African writers. Between these covers you will find eleven stories that stand as a testament to the upsurge of talented African writers boldly utilizing the cutting edge of technology and the writing craft to be read globally. Spanning Africa and the African Diaspora in past, present and future, each story has a fresh and diverse vision that opens up new vistas of experience. From the lucid terrors of domestic violence through the eyes of a child, and the anguish of those left behind by a fleeing Diaspora, to a full circle, when the prey becomes the hunter and has the opportunity for revenge, and a dryly humorous look at what it’s like to lose a quarter of your brain, to name just a few of the treasures that lie within. Edited by Emmanuel Sigauke & Ivor W. Hartmann.

Villa Aurora, with its unique émigré history, is an artist residence and historic landmark located in the former home of exiled German-Jewish writer Lion Feuchtwanger. To promote and foster German-American cultural exchange and to remember the European exiles that settled in Southern California, Villa Aurora offers a variety of salon style arts and cultural programs, including public lectures, concerts, screenings and performances. Villa Aurora and the Feuchtwanger Memorial Library at USC jointly provide the Feuchtwanger Fellowship to writers, like Christopher Mlalazi who face persecution in their native countries.

ESO Won Books is more than a warehouse of reading materials. It is your personal gateway to inspiration, adventure, laughter, healthy living, social etiquette, history, and so much more. At Eso Won, you can count on friendly, down to earth personalized service. An Essential Los Angeles destination in the heart of historic Leimert Park, Eso Won has played host to a variety of authors from Presidents Obama and Clinton, intellectuals Michael Eric Dyson and Cornell West, to comedian Bill Cosby. Eso Won (African for “water over rocks”) is a living proverb as it provides fluid, safe, stirring opportunities that flow to a reservoir of knowledge for both the African and African American experience as well as any other topic you may wish to find.

Eso Won Bookstore (323-290-1048) is located
in the historic Leimerk Park neighborhood at:

4331 Degnan Boulevard, Los Angeles 90008west of Leimert Boulevard, east of Crenshaw Boulevard south of West 43rd Street & north of Leimert Plaza Park on West 43rd Place.

An Evening of Stories, Poetry & Music in Los Angeles with Christopher Mlalazi

Chris Mlalazi

Villa Aurora & Eso Won Bookstore present

an evening of stories, poetry & music with
2010 Feuchtwanger Fellow Christopher Mlalazi, fellow Zimbabwean writer and editor Emmanuel Sigauke, and Judicanti Responsura
7PM on Saturday, July 31, 2010 at Eso Won Bookstore
4331 Degnan Boulevard, Los Angeles 90008

Villa Aurora’s 2010 Feuchtwanger Fellow, Zimbabwean writer Christopher Mlalazi’s novel Many Rivers (2009, Lion Press, Ltd., UK), Dancing with Life (2008, amaBooks), a collection of short stories, and play Election Day (2010), deal with the social disintegration of his native Zimbabwe, where he also contributes light entertainment articles for its major newspapers—a contrast that underscores a practice of self-censorship acknowledged by the 2008 OXFAM NOVIP PEN Freedom of Expression Award at the Hague, which he received with Raisedon Baya for their play The Crocodile of Zambezi. The Crocodile of Zambezi (2008), a satire of the Mugabe regime set in a fictional country along the Zambezi River, was officially banned and members of its cast and crew were harassed and beaten by state agents. Christopher Mlalazi’s work has received numerous honors and awards, including the ‘2009 Best First Published Creative Work, National Arts Merit Award in Zimbabwe’ for Dancing with Life: Tales from the Township, which also received NOMA Award Honorable Mention in 2009; Many Rivers was shortlisted for the 2010 National Merit Award for Most Outstanding Book of Fiction. Mr. Mlalazi has just completed a new novel about pre-election violence under a dictatorship.

Emmanuel Sigauke grew up in Zimbabwe where his interest in writing began at the age of thirteen. He studied English, Shona, and Linguistics and graduated with a BA. From 1993 to 1996 he was the National Secretary of the Budding Writers Association of Zimbabwe (BWAZ), an organization that has helped groom many contemporary Zimbabwean writers. Sigauke moved to California in 1996 and studied English at California State University Sacramento. He teaches composition, literature and creative writing at Cosumnes River College in Sacramento, is a board member of the Sacramento Poetry Center, where he hosts poetry readings every second Monday, is the book review editor of the organization’s bi-monthly publication, Poetry Now,. and is also the co-editor of the recently published African Roar: An Eclectic Collection of African Authors. Sigauke has also taught fiction workshops for the UC Davis Extension and in the Hart Senior Center Annual Writing Conference. His collection of poetry, Forever Let Me Go, appeared in 2008, and he has since published poetry in State of the Nation: Contemporary Zimbabwean Poetry and in journals like Witness, One Ghana, One Voice, and others. His fiction has been published online and in print journals. He is currently working on a collection of short stories and a novel. He blogs at Wealth of Ideas.

JUDICANTI RESPONSURA is a Los Angeles based chamber music ensemble formed in 1984 by tubaist William Roper and percussionist Joseph Mitchell. They perform their own compositions and generate new works from area composers. They specialize in works incorporating Euro-Classical and African-American improvisational traditions. Judicanti’s repertoire ranges from purely musical compositions to multi-media, multi-disciplinary works. The group is represented on recordings released by the Asian Improv, Tomato Sage Consortium and Heliotrope Dreams labels. As individual artists they have worked with the L.A. Philharmonic, L.A. Opera, Aretha Franklin, Gladys Knight, Elton John, Yusef Lateef, Anthony Braxton and many others. http://roperarts.com/judi.html

Villa Aurora, with its unique émigré history, is an artist residence and historic landmark located in the former home of exiled German-Jewish writer Lion Feuchtwanger. To promote and foster German-American cultural exchange and to remember the European exiles that settled in Southern California, Villa Aurora offers a variety of salon style arts and cultural programs, including public lectures, concerts, screenings and performances. Villa Aurora and the Feuchtwanger Memorial Library at USC jointly provide the Feuchtwanger Fellowship to writers, like Christopher Mlalazi, who face persecution in their native countries.

ESO Won Books is more than a warehouse of reading materials. It is your personal gateway to inspiration, adventure, laughter, healthy living, social etiquette, history, and so much more. At Eso Won, you can count on friendly, down to earth personalized service. An Essential Los Angeles destination in the heart of historic Leimert Park, Eso Won has played host to a variety of authors from Presidents Obama and Clinton, intellectuals Michael Eric Dyson and Cornell West, to comedian Bill Cosby. Eso Won (African for “water over rocks”) is a living proverb as it provides fluid, safe, stirring opportunities that flow to a reservoir of knowledge for both the African and African American experience as well as any other topic you may wish to find.

Eso Won Bookstore (323-290-1048) is located in the historic Leimerk Park neighborhood at:

4331 Degnan Boulevard, Los Angeles 90008
west of Leimert Boulevard, east of Crenshaw Boulevard
south of West 43rd Street & north of Leimert Plaza Park
on West 43rd Place.

Tolu Ogunlessi on the 21st Century Nigerian Literary Scene

Tolu Ogunlessi discusses the Nigerian literary scene since 2000 in this rich article entitled “Things Fall Together: Nigeria’s literary scene in the 21st century”, which is so good I think Tolu should consider making literary profiles for other African regions. I have the feeling that in all African regions, there has been an increase in literary production, but what would be interesting is to find out what the reading trends on the continent have been. Below is an excerpt of Tolu’s article.

Interestingly, another arena that has seen significant change, and provides evidence of an impressive cultural renaissance in Nigeria, is the one in which Adichie herself occupies a vantage spot: the literary arts. On a recent Saturday afternoon, the Silverbird Lifestyle Store in Victoria Island, was cramped with guests attending the 4th edition of the monthly BookJam reading series; featuring Adichie, Kenyan’s Binyavanga Wainaina, and UK-based Nigerians Chuma Nwokolo and Sade Adeniran.

Lagos is suddenly a hot new destination for writers from all over the world – courtesy of the exploits and efforts of writers like Adichie. Her four-year-old annual Creative Writing workshop, sponsored by Nigeria’s oldest and biggest beer company (which before now appeared to be more at home with sponsoring music festivals and talent hunts) has brought Jason Cowley, Nathan Englander, Binyavanga Wainaina, Jackie Kay, Doreen Baingana and Dave Eggers to Lagos, to facilitate writing sessions. This year Ama Ata Aidoo, Niq Mhlongo and Chika Unigwe are the guest writers.

To read the rest of this brilliant article, go to 3 Quarks Daily, which I now follow with a passion. What a rich website.

Book Review: YOUNG ZIMBABWEAN WOMEN POETS BREAK SILENCE

Title: Sunflowers in Your Eyes – Four Zimbabwean Poets

Editor: Menna Elfyn

Publisher: Cinnamon Press

ISBN: 978-1-907090-13-4

Year: 2010

Reviewed by Tinashe Mushakavanhu 

Zimbabwean poetry has been largely a choir of male voices. The absence of women is too visible in KZ Muchemwa’s Zimbabwean Poetry in English (1978), Musaemura Zimunya and Mudereri Kadhani’s And Now the Poets Speak (1982), Flora Veit-Wild’s Patterns of Poetry in Zimbabwean Poetry (1988) and more recently Jane Morris’ Intwasa Poetry (2008). The agenda of this book is to give women their voices as the editor Menna Elfyn outlines in her preface, ‘this book goes some way in redressing this imbalance.’ 

I read the book with so much relish. It is an empowering book in many ways. In poetry as well as in the other artistic fields, the Zimbabwean woman is often restricted to a subordinate role as a muse, confidant and comforter. This book brings a refreshing insight as the four poets – Ethel Kabwato, Fungai Machirori, Joice Shereni and Blessing Musariri reach out to many dreams.

 While, it is easy to get lost in the maze of implications concerning gender, these poets write without shouting WOMEN even though sometimes it is a legitimate claim for dignity and equal opportunities. The book is rich in the variety of expression drawing on different styles. The themes are very much wide-ranging and incisive. 

 What is remarkably interesting about the poetry is the autobiographical element, which is often central to women’s poetry as it allows them to express the sufferings, the pain and the deferred dreams of their personas.  However, in Sunflowers in Your Eyes, the poetry is celebrating a life that despite its hardships and injustice is often happy. It is an expression of injustice but also a celebratory expression of life.

 Ethel Kabwato is the most political in the book as she tackles the difficult subjects that have come to define what has been dubbed the Zimbabwe crisis, subjects of land, violence, patriotism through an intelligent employ of irony and wit. Despite being the youngest, Fungai Machirori’s poetry is of yearning, of self-exploration, of seeking answers to questions relating to her identity as a born free, ‘a composition ‘of many things. Joice Shereni writes more about personal relationships and relationships with the larger society. Blessing Musariri’s ‘assured poems’ are of resilience, of journeying away because as she asks in Holding on, ‘Everybody has moved on/What (are) you doing standing still?’ Hers is a more daring poetry that challenges us to alter our perceptions and our minds.

The four young women have proven beyond doubt that Zimbabwean women can write poetry.  Sunflowers in Your Eyes will considerably increase the depth and breadth of our knowledge of ourselves and a constant reminder of the redefining of those selves.  It is a very personal and yet political collection.

 

“Baobab Prize is pushing the literary giants of the next generation into the limelight”: Deborah Ahenkorah

Deborah Ahenkorah is the co-founder of the fast-growing Baobab Prize, which is now in its second year. The inaugural award drew participation from nine African countries. The winners were Lauri Kubuitsile from Botswana with “Lorato and her Wire Car”, the best story written for readers aged 8-11 years; Ivor W. Hartmann from Zimbabwe with “Mr. Goop”, the best story written for readers aged 12-15 years and Aisha Kibwana from Kenya, the most promising young writer with “Strange Visitors that took her Life Away”. Based on what Debbie says in this interview, this award will revolutionize African writing and reading.

1.What can you tell us about yourself?

My name is Deborah Ahenkorah and I’m Ghanaian. Lately, I have come to be given the name ‘Debbie from Ghana!’ Now let me tell you that story:
My South African friend Ntshadi, before I met her, once stopped to eat in a restaurant at a random location somewhere in mid-USA. When the waitress discovered she was from South Africa, she (the waitress) gushed and drawled: “Well I neva! You are really from Africa, aren’t you. Goodness me. You must know my friend, Debbie, from Ghana!”

It was a funny-ha-ha-are-you-kidding-me moment. I am certain I do not know this waitress and she does not know me. But I am and will always remain, yours truly, ‘Debbie from Ghana!’

2.What’s the source of your interest in promoting African reading and education? How successful have your book and education drive been?

I believe that deep-rooted change comes through education and so in my freshman year of college, I founded an organization, Project Educate In Africa (PEIA), to organize book drives and fund raising events in support of educational initiatives in Africa.
Building on my work with PEIA, I co-founded the Baobab Prize to encourage the writing of African literature for young readers.

The successes of these two initiatives continue to astound me. In PEIA’s two years of existence, we have shipped close to 8,000 books to more than 35 African countries. We have also raised over $ 7,000 through craft sales on the Bryn Mawr College campus and currently we are hoping to fund the building of a pre-school in Northern Ghana.

The Baobab Prize, now in its second year, has also been incredibly successful. We are now partnering with two major international organizations and a number of top name African publishers.

3.How early were you exposed to reading, and what kinds of books did you read as a child? At what age did you read books by African authors?

I am the last-but-one child of a huge family, so growing up there was a lot of pressure to be as cool as my older siblings. At the time when I was most impressionable, the cool thing to do in my family was to read. The more you read, the cooler you were. So I read. I read my heart out.

My first chapter book was an Enid Blyton from her ‘Famous Five’ series. I will never forget the ecstasy I felt at discovering the ‘joy of reading’- that through a book I could go anywhere, be anyone, do anything. It was glorious!

Unfortunately, I never got around to reading African authors while I was young. I felt at that time that the few African stories I came by were all cut from the same moral-laden folk tale genre. My love affair with African literature started in high school with Chinua Achebe’s Anthills of the Savannah. My copy of this book is tattered and worn, read over and over.


4.I admire your work in the Baobab Fiction Prize. What can you tell us about this award of African literature?

The Baobab Prize is an African literary award that has grown out of a dream that my co-founder, Rama Shagaya and I conceived, to encourage the writing of African literature for young readers. The award was inaugurated in 2008-2009 as an annual contest open to all African citizens, inviting submissions of African-themed children stories. The stories we receive fall in the categories: for readers aged 8-11 years; for readers aged 12 – 15 years. As well, we recognize a ‘Promising Young Writer’ under age 18. We award a cash prize and connect the stories we receive with interested publishers.

5. Why have you focused on young readers?

The focus on young readers is because we have identified young people below the age of fifteen to be African Literature’s most neglected audience. African children’s literature is just coming into its own and my co-founder Rama Shagaya and I are convinced that a crop of young readers who appreciate African literature will develop to become the readers and writers of African works in the future.


6.What is the future of the award? Who funds it?

The Baobab Prize is pushing the literary giants of the next generation into the limelight and producing classic stories that will be appreciated for many years. The Baobab Prize 2010 is funded by the Global Fund for Children, The African Library Project as well as friends and supporters of the initiative. We are proud to be associated with Bryn Mawr College (the alma-mater of Rama and I) that has believed in this idea from the inception.


7.Are there plans to publish prize-related anthologies?

Yes! Give us ten years and you will find African children’s books selling wildly in international bookstores all over the world. And all these hot-selling African children’s books will have one thing in common, a golden stamp on the front cover that reads: The Baobab Prize.

8.Based on your experience reading contemporary African writers, what can you say is the state of African literature?

African writers need to not feel burdened to tell of the ‘authentic African experience.’ What is that anyway? The wider the variety of work we produce, the bigger the audiences we can reach, like the African music industry. With the diverse genres our music industry is embracing and entering, we are amassing an incredible global followership. Rock, Jazz and Reggae fans all over the world for instance, can now find distinctively African music that appeals to the tastes of their genres.

9.Of late, there have been debates about the need for African writers to embrace genre or popular writing. What’s your position on this issue?
YES PLEASE, more diversity (of genre, style, theme, content) in our writing. What will it hurt?

You can imagine how happy we were to see lots of variety in the submissions we received for the Baobab Prize’s first year. The stories came from nine African countries and among them were comic tales, magical fantasies, tragedies, and futuristic sci-fis. More diversity we say!


10.What do you see as the role of social networking sites like Facebook in the promotion of writing and reading? What do you think needs more promotion, writing or reading?

Social Networking sites have changed the face of marketing, advertising and information accessing. Millions of people spend time on these sites looking for information. Writers can benefit greatly by milking this eager audience. I would encourage upcoming writers to utilize these media to sell their work for free. Yes, free. Income will come once you establish an audience base that recognizes and appreciates your work. People WILL pay for what they want.
The Baobab prize has benefited from the free publicity available through social networking sites. We appreciate the support of our Facebook friends and Twitter followers and we always have room for more. Join us in our quest to revolutionize African literature!

For 2010 guidelines visit the Baobab Prize website, and for more infomation, contact Deborah Ahenkorah at baobabprize[AT]gmail.com