Now, More Than Ever, We Need Language

Troy Onyango

Beginnings. The idea of a beginning or a start fills us with so much hope and thrill, and yet also, dread. They present to us a myriad of possibilities – endless – and as we stand and peer into the distance, we are sometimes scared to take the first step into the waters. How deep? How far? What if? We question. And yet the thrill lies in taking the first step. The importance of beginnings cannot be understated as they determine what direction one takes. They can be shaky. They will be shaky. But we have to remember that this is a journey we are all taking and the destination is a common one.

Indeed we are living through strange times. It feels as if this is the beginning of a new, different world. Humanity is being ravaged by different kinds of aches and pains from the Covid-19 pandemic to the scourge of racism and police brutality. For most of these, we must rise up and stand together and fight against them. For others, we can only wait and hope things take a turn for the better. And while we wait, we turn to art to find solace. We turn to language to comfort us and to be able to understand the happenings around us. We need language so that we may be able to put our pains in words, so that we can understand the other’s pain, so that we can be able to listen and be heard. Our experiences during this time needs to be languaged in ways that help us to cope. In his 1964 essay titled Why I Stopped Hating Shakespeare, James Baldwin says: “It is experience which shapes a language; and it is language which controls an experience.”

For some of us, it has been difficult finding the right words to express the emotions we have felt and so we have learnt to become better listeners. We have turned to the work of the people whose words and thoughts have sharpened us and readied us for this moment. We’ve become observers – we watch. This is not inspired by a feeling of hopelessness or helplessness, but an acknowledgement that when someone comes along who has done the work and whose voice speaks loud enough for all of us, we ought to step aside and listen. When we share a language, when we are able to find some commonality, great things happen.

The short stories and poems and essays in this first issue all achieve different things while having a common thread through them; they are an exploration of our shared humanity and they tell stories that connect us all. They push the boundaries of language and teach us that language is a malleable, flexible thing that should be stretched at all times to accommodate us – our everyday lives and our dreams and realities. As Toni Morrison said in her Nobel Prize Lecture: “We die. That may be the meaning of life. But we do language. That may be the measure of our lives.”

I am grateful to the guest editors JK Anowe, I.S. Jones and Moso Sematlane for the wonderful work they have done putting together this issue – reading through the hundreds of submissions, selecting the work that is featured therein and editing them – and I really appreciate their commitment and hard work. I couldn’t have done this without them.

To Sef Adeola who provided the illustrations for the stories, poems and essays, and Edwin Maina of UrbanPitchaz who took the cover image, thank you so much.

I want to express my gratitude too to everyone who donated towards Lolwe’s goal of paying the contributors. This means so much to me because, as I have stated before, it is important for artists to get paid for their work – especially during these times. We have to move to the point of helping artists gain something from their work.

I cannot thank everyone who submitted and the contributors enough, for it is their work that have made and will continue to make Lolwe the magazine we all want it to be.

To you, dear reader: it is my hope that you enjoy reading this issue, and I thank you for being here.