The Subversion of Language 

Nsah Mala, Ber Anena and Loic Ekinga

For most of us writing in English, it remains the “received” colonial language — one we try to carve out space for our imagination within. Language is power, and sometimes in writing, we find ourselves interrogating that power, questioning its limitations and launching our attempts at subverting linguistic prescriptivism.

The stories in this issue subvert linguistic norms, transport us to strange places, and continue to ring in our memories long after we’ve read them. lanaire aderemi, Malica S. Willie, and Kirk V. Bhajan turn language upside down and seem to suggest that various forms of liberation are contingent on freeing ourselves from grammatical and linguistic prisons. The two women in aderemi’s story wonder:

“why were their names erased as though they had no lineage? why did their children take the fathers’ names and states of origin? where was the money and joy marriage and motherhood had promised them?” 

Accordingly, the author apparently confronts linguistic norms as part of the search for answers to their questions. Similarly, Bhajan carries us along the journey of a human love story turned sour under the watchful eyes of our feline kin: a black cat. Willie invites us to uncover how and why justice dispensers sometimes serve us injustice. 

While Chido Muchemwa’s story explores the contours of a father’s unvoiced love for his daughter, reminding us that there are countless ways to express love, Victor Forna and Fomutar Stanislaus transpose us to unfamiliar territories. Forna’s world is mainly a memorial territory where love between unusual beings plays out. Fomutar’s universe is a supernatural territory where the groundwork for the renewal and regeneration of the Earth is laid.

Honesty is crucial for telling a human story. When someone recounts their fear, joy, hunger, or that feeling after having a cup of coffee, or describing God, death, or loving, they allow the listener to notice themselves. The ability to recognise ourselves in a piece of writing is triggered by an honest speaker, someone who can draw out aspects of our nature that are mundane and even terrifying. This is very true of each essay appearing in this issue. These essays give us words of reckoning, but also permission to consider our standing vis-à-vis questions of existence.

They speak a language we have all spoken before: the human language in words we have either blurted out or murmured. Here, we find Patrick Shyaka’s ‘A Person’s Restaurant of Grief’ inviting us to remember that no matter how uniform loss may seem, it is different for everyone and that it affects our existence in many ways with its lessons and pains. We also learn that we lose so much of ourselves when the origin of our names is distorted, as Maxine Sibihwana demonstrates in ‘The Art of Naming’, while Yaa Konadu explores the body in order to examine where we are in relation to identity and society. Each one of these depicts a different facet of who we are. Whether prophet, or model, or even a pupil hiding under a desk, we are experiencing our humanity through our shared existence.

N.K.A Prempeh’s poems delve into the violence and brutality we suffer when our countries fail us. Death and grief are prevalent in Timi Sanni’s poems and Ayouba Toure’s poem ‘Because We Are Made Up of Water’. There is a search for meaning, a deeper grappling with the vagaries of human existence and, ultimately, the recognition that the human condition is one that presents more questions than we could ever have answers to.

Toka Hlongwane, in his photographic exploration, says that “I do not want to dwell on western explanations of what my experiences mean, since their feeble explanations are often pedestrian and usually neglect the many facets of our existence” while Namafu Amutse’s ‘Soft’ “aids in combating the hegemonic forms of black masculinity, and revisits the intersections of blackness and manhood contributing towards diversifying images of black masculinity”

In all, these are stories of liberation and transformation — both within the characters and also within the language used to convey these stories. Reader, we hope the selections included in this issue create a new idea of what can be achieved when we subvert language. Most importantly, we hope you enjoy reading the short stories, essays and poems in this issue.

Nsah Mala is a poet, writer, children’s author, and literary scholar from Cameroon. He writes in Mbessa, English, and French. He has published four poetry collections in English and one in French, including Bites of Insanity (2015), If You Must Fall Bush (2016), CONSTIMOCRAZY: Malafricanising Democracy (2017), and Les Pleurs du mal (2019). His picture books for kids include Andolo, the Talented Albino – Andolo, l’albinos talentueux (2020), Little Gabriel Starts to Read – Le petit Gabriel commence à lire (2020), and What the Moon Cooks (forthcoming in 2022). He recently co-edited (with Mbizo Chirasha) an international bilingual poetry anthology on the ongoing war in his native Anglophone Cameroon entitled Corpses of Unity – Cadavres de l’unité (2020). His poetry and short stories have appeared or are forthcoming in many magazines and anthologies viz. Tuck Magazine, Tiger Moth Review, Kalahari Review, PAROUSIA Magazine, Scarlet Leaf Review, Dreaming Machine, Bearing Witness: Poems from a land in Turmoil, Ashes and Memories – Cendres et mémoires, Redemption Song and Other Stories, Wales – Cameroon Anthology, and Best “New” African Poets Anthology, among others. In 2016, he won a literary prize from the Cameroonian Ministry of Arts and Culture for his short story ‘Christmas Disappointment’ and received a special mention for his story ‘Fanta from America’ in a competition organised by Bakwa Magazine. In 2017, he won a literary prize for poetry from Malraux Magazine in France. Nsah Mala is an alumnus of the Caine Prize Writing Workshop. Nsah has published numerous peer-reviewed articles in journals and book chapters in edited volumes. In December 2021, he submitted a dissertation for a PhD in Comparative Literature at Aarhus University.

Ber Anena is a Ugandan writer, editor, and performer. She is the 2018 joint winner of the Wole Soyinka Prize for Literature in Africa for her debut poetry collection, A Nation in Labour. Her fiction has been shortlisted for the Commonwealth Short Story Prize and twice longlisted for the Short Story Day Africa Prize. In 2013, her poem ‘We Arise’ was shortlisted for the Ghana Poetry Prize. Anena’s prose and poetry have been featured in The Atlantic, adda stories, the Caine Prize anthology (A Memory This Size & Other Stories), New Daughters of Africa: An Anthology of New Writing by Women of African Descent, Jalada Africa, FEMRITE anthology (Go Tell Home), Sooo Many Stories, among others. She graduated from Makerere University with a bachelor’s in Mass Communication and a master’s in Human Rights. Anena is also a 2021 graduate of the MFA Writing program at Columbia University. Anena is working on a memoir, and her young adult novel is forthcoming from Storymoja Africa.

Loic Ekinga is a Congolese writer and screenwriting enthusiast. He is the author of the poetry chapbook How To Wake A Butterfly, published by Odyssey Books. His works of fiction and poetry have appeared or are forthcoming in Type/Cast Magazine, Ja. Magazine, Poetry Potion, A Long House and Kalahari Review. His experimental mini chapbook Twelve Things You Failed at As A Man Today was an honourable mention by JK Anowe for Praxis Magazine Online. In addition, his short story ‘Loop’ has been adapted into a short film by Vivanation. He is a finalist of Poetry Africa’s Slam Jam competition 2020. Loic currently resides in the south of Johannesburg where he reads, writes, and daydreams.

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