Memories of the Future
Mapule Mohulatsi, Gbenga Adesina and Esther Karin Mngodo
All species have a notion of emptiness, and yet the flowers don’t quit opening. Blood. History. Longing. Ecstasy. Agony. Dust. Human memory. Human forgetting. The wail of the dead. The wail of the living. The silence of both. All distilled as stories, songs, essays, images (some are full of light; some need the dark to be revealed), psalms, and poems.
In the poems (Wishbones and other poems) of Jerrice J. Baptiste, a grandmother is myth, brittle flesh, and granular of memory. Or, consider the softness of Isaac Ouro-Gnao’s, ‘water father.’ The governing presence of the poem is softness. Sea is lineage and absence, water is death and birth. In Ehi-kowochio Ogwiji’s poem, ‘for toys, i will buy my daughter a doll and a gun’, a poem of moral tragedy and devastation, violence is choreographed with a visual lexicon so sharp that the very act of reading is an invitation to witness, and at the end of that witnessing is indictment. The intelligence of the language shifts between registers at once scientific and emotive, measuring the DNA of brokenness. What to say of this line from Nkateko Masinga’s ‘Semantics of Living,’ a poem grappling with the insidious nature of mental health crisis:
“now I resign myself to this:
being committed, to the institution
…being committed to the institution”
The desolation in those lines, the elegy, but also the clarity.
In another poem (New Teeth), the poet writes:
Should I tell them that we lost more
than teeth in the accident? I will say,
I see this when I dream of that night:
a child running towards me, laughing,
mouth bare like his dad, pre-implants;
arms wide, hair & eyes just like mine.
Flight, restoration, reincarnation, laughter.
These works are seeded with plural pasts, and these pasts in turn are heavy with futures.
African literature is not necessarily tethered on to the past, it in fact, as Barbara Boswell so clearly elucidates, seeks new ways of reformulating the past while processing it in new ways. The fiction in this issue deals with themes that have been explored in contemporary African Literature in new ways. We are invited by the writers into perspectives so unique, one cannot dismiss the ways African Literature is continuously being shaped by the narrative choices contemporary writers are taking. Here we have views from a sex addict, a nipple-pierced sexual assault victim, the afterlife and a fantastic dive into hell, siamese twins as well as a father at death’s door. Through these stories it is clear that African Literature is a zone of interrogation as well as activity; these short stories showcase Africa’s new relationship with the past and the future.
Considering the growth of memory work in African Literature, these stories suggest that it is perhaps a healthy time for these memories to be evaluated. If the point had been to dig up the hidden tomb, then now it is imperative to re-investigate the freshly dug out corpse – what is remembered – and begin again to bring its mystery to the surface, to conduct another post-mortem; and question now what it is to remember, whether we have pieced together any missing parts of this corpse; and whether the frameworks of ‘our’ remembering have done any justice to the murder mystery of this corpse. As readers, these stories demand that we ask ourselves, firstly, what it means to be human, and secondly what it means to be African, in the continent, the diaspora, and the afterlife. We are invited into the secret lives of characters whose presence in the canon is often overlooked.
The stories are all fresh in their perspective and I believe that these writers will contribute significantly to the growth of African Literature.
The two photoessays in this issue explore identity within culture. They present us with the questions of conformity and how to live within/outside of the confines of the known and the acceptable. ‘Osu’ by Rachel Seidu attempts to find the photographic answer to the philosophical question: “What does it mean to be different, to not belong?” In ‘What Is in a Mark?’, the photographer Femi Amogunla documents the significance of traditional facial marks and takes us through an intimate journey in portraiture where different people tell us what the marks mean to them.
Where do we belong? To whom do we belong? How should we be identified? Does it matter if they cannot pronounce our names the right way? Does it matter if we are not comfortable calling the ones that birthed us, mom and dad? The question of identity and belonging has been thoroughly explored in these essays.
To be a writer is an act of love, said James Baldwin. When it came to choosing the five essays out of more than fifty that were sent, we wanted them to reflect that. And indeed, each one of them has the writer being vulnerable on the page. Drawing you in, to death in their home, to childhood memories, to divorce, they take you inside their dreams until you are unsure if where you are is on the page or in your own imagination. They tell you of the darkness and the light they have experienced intimately in very simple and beautiful language. We enjoyed reading them and we hope you do too.
Dear reader, we welcome you to our second issue.
*The opening sentence is from Lighthead’s Guide to the Galaxy by Terrance Hayes.
Mapule Mohulatsi is a reader and writer from Johannesburg. She is currently undertaking a PhD in African Literature at the University of the Witwatersrand. She is a Fellow in the Oceanic Humanities for the Global South project based at WiSeR. She writes short stories and essays, her children’s book, Mizz President, was published in 2018 by Everychild Books. She also works as an editor for the contemporary poetry journal, 20.35 Africa.
Gbenga Adesina is a Nigerian poet and essayist. His many subjects include memory, grief, violence, joy, complex joy, the minutiae of love and of home, the sea as archive and as history, migration, and the intimacy and violence of journeys. He was a joint winner of the 2016 Brunel International African Poetry Prize, the 2019 Palette Poetry Spotlight Award, and the 2020 Narrative Prize. He was the 2020 Olive B. O’Connor Fellow at Colgate University, where he taught a poetry class called “Song of the Human.”
Esther Karin Mngodo has worked in Tanzania as a journalist for more than ten years. She has done extensive work with regard to women’s empowerment and human rights. In 2017, she was the recipient of the prestigious William Southam Fellowship (Gordon N. Fisher / JHR Fellow) at Massey College (University of Toronto). Esther is an editor, a poet, singer and a writer of fiction in both English and Swahili.