A Journey to the Present
Mali Kambandu, Willie Lee Kinard III and Yovanka Paquete Perdigão
Sometimes a story doesn’t begin with the first words that we read on the page; often, the root of the story is years, or decades away. Our stories can be rooted in childhood, flow through the different stages of our lives, and colour our adult lives. As Michael Ondaatje writes in his novel Divisadero: “…we live with those retrievals from childhood that coalesce and echo throughout our lives, the way shattered pieces of glass in a kaleidoscope reappear in new forms and are songlike in their refrains and rhymes, making up a single monologue.” Some of the stories of this issue so beautifully carry the voices of children as they muddle through their mysteries, face their conflicts and explore new friendships, such as in Jedidiah Mugarura’s ‘Can I Show You Magic?’, in Shanette Monrose’s ‘The Daughter’ and in Nana Afadua Ofori-Atta’s ‘A Generation of Fragile Things’. Our writers in this issue convey a depth of emotions that is breath-taking at times and in one case, left me heartbroken.
There is a particular gift in being able to dig deep into the mind and heart of someone we knew long ago and make those experiences real again. There are moments in ‘Somewhere Inside Bitrus’ by Theophilus Sokuma that are so tender, with gently-paced revelations that kept my attention rapt. I loved the banter between the characters in ‘Invisible’ and the craft with which Caroline Okello filtered through all those amusing voices to hone in on the main characters and let their story unfold. ‘The Believers’ by A.K. Herman is so brilliantly written that it leaves the reader wanting more, wanting to sit closer to the characters and become immersed in their bubble. It’s an honour and pleasure to read this stunning work.
The essays in this issue explore with visceral emotion and tenderness, the many human facets of the human experience. Grief and depression interlink in a dangerous dance in Aida Muturia’s ‘My Dance of Fire and Water Chasing The Ghosts In Between’, as she explores generational trauma. In a dizzying and powerful essay, Shalom Esene takes us through ‘Your Body Is Not Yours’, painstakingly recounting the many ways a woman’s body is denied agency. The story of a neighbourhood, a home that houses memories that marked a country and the enduring love of a grandfather turned father is the catalyst for the touching essay behind Rod Martinez’s ‘Writing Home’. Eric Otieno Sumba’s ‘Deep Afield’ brings home the meaning of saudade in a journey to one’s childhood home. Whereas ‘Mirror’ by Rabhelani Mguni is an intimate story of one’s journey to love the reflection staring back.
Through the curation of images, lyrics and difficulties in carefully crafted verse, the poetry of this issue renders our habits, fears, faith and desires as passionately as linguistically possible. Constantly between “departure / & arrival […] everywhere & nowhere,” as Sudan’s Faatimah Solomon eloquently distils of the body and belonging in ‘solar mouths,’ the poets featured are specialists in the transcribing the cycles of the human condition, carving realities of the diaspora into the marble that is the open space of the page. In motion and in stillness, their words become chisels. Each one a tinkering chip placing tiny bits of hope, resilience and determination against insurmountable circumstances, “every shard takes the form of language” powerfully captures Nnadi Samuel in ‘Crash Course in a Slaughterhouse,’ seemingly channelling something out of nothing, or, further, Samuel writes, “moulding a miracle from mirage, till the ‘nointing slacks.”
In a powerful visual statement ‘Through the Walls of Colourism’, the Cameroonian photographer Kreative Kwame zooms his lens in on Chris, a person living with albinism, and he shows us the dangers of society not understanding this genetic condition. Maroula Blades’ landscape photographs of beautiful and vast spaces, taken during the pandemic, are a reflection on the difficult times we are living through and how the mind can yearn for mindfulness.
It can be understood that these contributors assume the artist’s duty described by the late great Nina Simone, reflecting the times and opening an invitation for others to experience their art as one could only collectively describe as a contemporary movement of linguistic awareness and tenacity. The stories, poems, essays, and photographs, like different parts of a symphony performed by an orchestra, are all in conversation with each other in a way that art often is. They provoke us to think, allow us to inhabit other lives and experience what it is to be another human being. This issue, dear reader, is what we informally choose to call ‘The Human Issue.’ Get in, allow yourself to feel.
Mali Kambandu is a writer living in her homeland, Zambia. In 2018, Mali won the Kalemba Short Story Award in its inaugural year for the short story ‘A Hand to Hold’ and was shortlisted for the Writivism Short Story Award for the story ‘The Photograph’. Mali’s other work has appeared in several literary platforms, such as Gyara Journal, African Writer, Kalahari Review, Menelique and Maapilim’s Sand magazine. In 2020, Mali sat on the Judging Panel for the Kalemba Short Story Prize. In 2022, Mali’s short story ‘When There are No Words’ appeared on the Brittle Paper, and for this story, she was the Brittle Paper June Writer of the Month. Also, in 2022, Mali was longlisted for the inaugural Island Prize for first novel for an African writer. She is finalising the novel.
Willie Lee Kinard III (he/they) is a nonbinary American poet, designer & musician forged in Newberry, South Carolina & the author of Orders of Service (Alice James Books, 2023), winner of the 2022 Alice James Award. Winner of the POETRY’s 2021 J. Howard & Barbara M. J. Wood Prize, their musings include surrealist portraiture, gospel deep cuts, Black folklore & superstition. With words appearing or forthcoming in Obsidian: Literature & Arts in the African Diaspora, Boston Review, The Rumpus, Penguin’s Everyman’s Library Pocket Poet Series, & elsewhere, they have received fellowships & support from The Watering Hole & The Pittsburgh Foundation. Go see ‘bout them at www.williekinard.com.
Yovanka Paquete Perdigão is a Bissau-Guinean writer. Born in Lisbon, Yovanka grew up in Guinea-Bissau until the age of six when a civil war forced her to relocate to Lisbon. She has since lived in Abidjan, Dakar, London and Dublin. Yovanka’s writing has been deeply inspired by her early experiences of conflict. When she returned to Guinea-Bissau after more than twenty years, she became interested in researching Portuguese colonial legacies in Lusophone Africa, discovering the impact across oceans and in her own family. Yovanka has since worked to champion Lusophone African stories as an editor, translator, and formerly as a podcaster on the Not Another Book Podcast. Yovanka’s writing has been featured in several platforms such as the Johannesburg Review of Books, AFREADA, etc and shortlisted for Penguin 2016 WriteNow, The Spread the Word’s City of Stories competition and the Miles Morland 2018/19 scholarship.