The Universal Language of Stories

Tlotlo Tsamaase, Michael Frazier and Lucky Grace Isingizwe

Often, we come across a work of art that reminds us that what we once thought was a singular experience is, in fact, a universal experience, shared by many whose lives are so varied and different to ours. The universality of the human experience is what allows us to enter any piece of art and identify with the themes, the joys, the pains, the struggles and the triumphs. As James Baldwin in his 1963 profile published in LIFE magazine says: “You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, who had ever been alive.”

As you read through this issue, with the stories, poems, essays and photographs curated therein, you will find that some of them strike a cord and you will identify not just with the themes but also some of the characters. Even when the work is in a different language, the universality in storytelling will draw you in and keep you close.

The tenderness in ‘He Leaves Silence at the Door’ by Olly Nze is an intimate conversation between two partners with touches of a coming-of-age story as the protagonist vacillates between coming to terms with his sexuality and honouring his relationship with his religious mother. The following two stories use the lens of horror and genre fiction and perform a beautiful job in deconstructing the impact of history and ancestors on their descendants: ‘Enitan’ by Naomi Eselojor focuses on the impact of a parents’ actions on a child and becomes a psychological examination on whether it’s right for a young child to bear that weight, and the devastating impact with regards to sacrificing youth. ‘The Bone Stomach’ by Ziawa Jande is a visceral and emotive journey to the past and the now told in gorgeous prose full of voice and spirit as it explores the effects of greed and inheritance on the matriarchal lineage and brings an intriguing spin on birth and rebirth. I was drawn by the personality and identity of ‘Jaba’ by C.K.R. Mose captured in the language, voice, and characterisation interlaced with the Sheng language, which made for a vibrant read. Full of humour, ‘Jaba’ is an incisive and captivating portrait of a group of men and their questionable relationships – a vivid story where no word is wasted. ‘Weekend in the Dust’ by Friday Faraday is a horror-fueled journey fused with surrealism and achingly beautiful prose to illustrate a man at war with himself as he deals with the inescapable trauma of his past.

The essays in this issue delve delicately into the issues of identity: identity by our traditional names and what they mean to us in Kosisochukwu W. Ugwuede ‘By What Name Will Your Child Be Known to God and to Us?’; sexual identity and the relationship battles that surround it in Mhembeuter Jeremiah Orhemba’s ‘A Boy’s Symphony’; identity by our skin colour and how we relate to people who do not look like us in Chibuikem Anyanwu’s ‘Black and White Love: From Port Harcourt to Pennsylvania’; and identity by body image and what it feels like when we’re unhappy with how we look or how other people perceive our bodies in jamilla vandyke-bailey ‘The Black Binger: The Reboot’. Each exploration is deeply personal and opens a window to give us a glimpse into the writers’ lives.

“My life is heavy,” begins Tina Bethea Ray’s poem ‘Stitched’ which is a line that could have begun a number of the poems in Issue 6. Many of these poems wrestle with the heavy. Mental health crises, building collapses, terrorist attacks, infant mortalities: death hovering above or lurking behind these poems like a storm cloud. And under the insurmountable weight these poems find themselves under, they still resist. The poets turn to prayers and mumbled duas in reliance on a greater power. They dream up worlds where they are “unbridled / unscathed unshot.” They find celebration in festival trumpeters and the bright pop of Britney Spears. What unites these poems is their insistence on hope, no matter how bullet-riddled the landscape, sweat-soaked the bed sheets, or intense the ER visit. In Abu Bakr Siddiq’s poem ‘MAQTOOB’ he says, “I have lost so much but not a memory of anything I’ve lost.” Indeed, the poems you will read in this issue embody the spirit of safekeeping. Paying homage and witness to those gone missing, to those taken too early, to those who are fighting through their life’s December.

In ‘Ẹ̀jìrẹ́’, Tossin Bolade “explores the uniqueness of twin birth while interpreting the Yoruba Oriki (eulogy) for twins into a photography artwork” and in Tales of the Coast, Bagha Abdulkader, in “need an escape from the mundane, a way to get away from everything for a while and unwind” captures the beauty of the ocean and the coast and reminds of us the tranquillity found around water. Both photographers, with simple yet meaningful photography, invite us into their world, a rich world with such texture and beauty.

As you read these stories, poems and essays, you will smile, you will laugh, you will be sad, you may cry or a little or a lot, but you will also think and reflect on each of these themes. Because each writer on their own speaks powerfully, emotionally, and critically about pains and joys and fears and faiths. Visible and invisible emotions that constantly revolve around our humanity. What makes us a people. As citizens of the world.

Dig in. Enjoy.

Tlotlo Tsamaase (xe/xem/xer or she/her pronouns) is a Motswana author. Tsamaase’s debut adult novel, Womb City, comes out in 2023 from Erewhon Books. Tsamaase’s novella, The Silence of the Wilting Skin, is a 2021 Lambda Literary Award finalist and was shortlisted for a 2021 Nommo Award. Tsamaase has received support from the Rolex Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative, and xer story “Behind Our Irises” is the joint winner of the Nommo Award for Best Short Story (2021). Tsamaase’s short fiction has appeared in Africa Risen, The Best of World SF Volume 1, Clarkesworld, Terraform, Africanfuturism Anthology, and is forthcoming in Chiral Mad 5 and other publications. Tsamaase is a 2017 Rhysling Award nominee and a 2011 Bessie Head Short Story Award winner. Xe obtained a bachelor’s degree in architecture from the University of Botswana and won an award for design architecture. Tsamaase is currently pursuing an MFA in Creative Writing at Chapman University. You can find xem at tlotlotsamaase.com.

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Michael Frazier is a poet, performer, & educator living in central Japan. He graduated from Gallatin at NYU, where he was the 2017 poet commencement speaker. He’s performed at Nuyorican Poets Café, Lincoln Center, Gallatin Arts Festival, & other venues. His poetry & prose appear, or are forthcoming, in Poetry Daily, The Offing, Cream City Review, RHINO, Visible Poetry Project, Tokyo Poetry Journal, MadeforPax & elsewhere. He’s received fellowships & scholarships from Cave Canem / EcoTheo Collective, Bread Loaf, Callaloo, The Watering Hole, & The Seventh Wave. He’s passionate about anime & bubble tea, and most passionate about the power of Christ to change lives! He currently is a poetry instructor & mentor for Ellipsis Writing & The Bridge at Brooklyn Poets, & facilitates a monthly zoom poetry book club open to the public. More at fraziermichael.com

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Lucky Grace Isingizwe is a Rwandan writer and editor. She’s currently pursuing an MA in Publishing at the University of Exeter and is a recipient of the 2022/2023 Chevening Scholarship. She’s an associate editor at Huza Press and has worked with Huza Press across editorial, marketing and sales since 2017. Her short story, The Weaving of Death, was published in the 2018 Caine Prize anthology, Redemption Song and Other Stories. Her creative essay Losing Your Mind was published in the 2019 Writivism anthology Unbreakable Bonds. She’s obsessed with stories and music because of the lyrical, melodic, and poetic composition of words and songs. 

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