World Poetry Day: You Are Oceanic

 

You Are Oceanic

By Tapiwa Mugabe

All she wanted

Was find a place to

Stretch her bones

A place to lengthen

Her smiles

And spread her hair

A place where her

Legs could walk

Without cutting and

Bruising

A place unchained

She was born out of

Ocean breath.

I reminded her;

‘Stop pouring so

Much of yourself

Into hearts that have

No room for

Themselves

Do not thin yourself

Be vast

You do not bring the

Ocean to a river’

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Three Tips for Getting Out of a Reading Slump

I have been an avid reader ever since I first learned my ABCs.  On Saturdays, my mother would take my brothers and I to our local library and allow us to check out all the books we wanted to read that week…which, for me, was as many children’s books as my tiny arms could carry.

I was a voracious reader as a child and am even more ravenous as an adult.  But even the most passionate lifelong reader can lose steam from time to time.  For me, it usually happens after I finish a truly exceptional novel and can’t bring myself to start another because I’m unmotivated to move on. This feeling usually goes away after a week or so but every now and then, the feeling lingers.  When I am unable to start a new book after several weeks, I officially consider myself to be in a reading slump. Oh, the turmoil!

In recent years I’ve learned how to pull myself out of these slumps.  The following tips have helped me regain focus and recharge my love of reading.  I hope they can be helpful to other readers experiencing the same:

1) Switch Genres. If you typically read sci-fi, switch to historical fiction. If your reading queu is filled with literary fiction, try a romance novel. If lengthy world literature is your modus operandi, explore a collection of short stories. Whatever you do, shake things up!  For me, short stories are are great for getting out of a book slump because they allow exploration of new authors without committing to reading an entire novel.

2) Leave it to fate. In other words, allow someone else or something else to choose what you read next. That could mean picking up a title completely at random, joining a book club, or simply taking a friend up on her most recent reading recommendation. Removing the need to make a decision is a great way to get back into the swing of things. Sometimes having no choice gives you the freedom to read without bias. Having little to no expectations for a book opens up the opportunity to be surprised and appreciate something you may not have read on your own.

3) Choose a different medium of expression.  There are many ways to tell a story – theater, music, film. Different artistic forms of expression can inspire creativity and unique perspective.  In fact, Somali-British poet Warsan Shire is responsible for bringing me out of my most recent book slump and inspiring me to read a novel in my book queu written by another East African author.  This tactic may inspire you to read an old favorite with new eyes or to explore and appreciate a lesser known author or avant-garde writing style.

If the above tips don’t work, simply taking a break from reading for a while. Great books have a magical way of finding you when you aren’t looking!

Happy reading…

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Writing While Black (Words from Toni Morrison)

 

I never asked Tolstoy to write for me, a little colored girl in Lorain, Ohio. I never asked Joyce not to mention Catholicism or the world of Dublin. Never. And I don’t know why I should be asked to explain your life to you. We have splendid writers to do that, but I am not one of them. It is that business of being universal, a word hopelessly stripped of meaning for me. Faulkner wrote what I suppose could be called regional literature and had it published all over the world. That’s what I wish to do. If I tried to write a universal novel, it would be water. Behind this question is the suggestion that to write for black people is somehow to diminish the writing. From my perspective there are only black people. When I say ‘people,’ that’s what I mean.   

– from Conversations with Toni Morrison

I deeply understand Toni’s frustration.  Writing from one’s own truth/perspective/history is the surest way to resonate with readers from all walks of life.  I myself have felt deeply moved by authors whom I have little in common with – Edith Wharton, George Orwell, Charles Dickens, John Keats, etc.  From their hearts they wrote their stories, not mine.  Yet their words spoke to me, a black girl from Ohio (like Toni), in meaningful ways that still resonate today.  Similarly, Toni Morrison, Richard wright, and countless other black writers do an exceptional job of tapping into their introspective selves to tell their story in a way that resonates with a multitude of readers.  Why, then, are they asked to write “universally”?

Thoughts?

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A Poem by Warsan Shire

1. I’m lonely so I do lonely things
2. Loving you was like going to war; I never came back the same.
3. You hate women, just like your father and his father, so it runs in your blood.
4. I was wandering the derelict car park of your heart looking for a ride home.
5. You’re a ghost town I’m too patriotic to leave.
6. I stay because you’re the beginning of the dream I want to remember.
7. I didn’t call him back because he likes his girls voiceless.
8. It’s not that he wants to be a liar; it’s just that he doesn’t know the truth.
9. I couldn’t love you, you were a small war.
10. We covered the smell of loss with jokes.
11. I didn’t want to fail at love like our parents.
12. You made the nomad in me build a house and stay.
13. I’m not a dog.
14. We were trying to prove our blood wrong.
15. I was still lonely so I did even lonelier things.
16. Yes, I’m insecure, but so was my mother and her mother.
17. No, he loves me he just makes me cry a lot.
18. He knows all of my secrets and still wants to kiss me.
19. You were too cruel to love for a long time.
20. It just didn’t work out.
21. My dad walked out one afternoon and never came back.
22. I can’t sleep because I can still taste him in my mouth.
23. I cut him out at the root, he was my favorite tree, rotting, threatening the foundations of my home.
24. The women in my family die waiting.
25. Because I didn’t want to die waiting for you.
26. I had to leave, I felt lonely when he held me.
27. You’re the song I rewind until I know all the words and I feel sick.
28. He sent me a text that said “I love you so bad.”
29. His heart wasn’t as beautiful as his smile
30. We emotionally manipulated one another until we thought it was love.
31. Forgive me, I was lonely so I chose you.
32. I’m a lover without a lover.
33. I’m lovely and lonely.
34. I belong deeply to myself .

― Warsan Shire from Teaching My Mother How To Give Birth

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What She’s Reading: Love Is Power Or Something Like That

Its been a long time since we’ve written – sorry.  One major life update is that we got hitched!

We are back from our honeymoon and have not forgotten about our loyal readers. In fact, we read Incidence In The Life of a Slave Girl during our vacation and can’t wait to blog about it!  Yes, we read a book during our honeymoon.  We love reading almost as much as we love each other so it’s fitting that it was one of our activities 😉

Back to the matter at hand…

A. Igoni Barrett’s fascinating collection of short stories surrounding the lives of several unconnected characters living in both rural and urban Nigeria. This collection has completely captivated my attention since the new year began. The title is what initially grabbed my attention but Barrett’s prose is equally engaging.  He is outstanding in his use of witty and, at times, his devastating exploration of humanity in stories ranging from a trouble youth involved in money scams, a police officer balancing his unethical work life with his familial commitment, and an old woman struggling with isolation. These stories take you by surprise, unfolding the lives and relationships of each character masterfully.  It is clear that Barrett’s illustration that love is a dynamic force, transforming the actions of each character.

I’m in love with this collection. I highly recommend giving it a read but, as always, am interested in hearing your thoughts on Barrett’s work as well.  Share your impressions…
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Should African Writers Feel Obligated to Address “Issues” In Fiction?

“At the end of October I was at the Port Harcourt Book Festival, along with 22 of the writers featured in the new Africa39 anthology (Bloomsbury), which I have edited. As with any festival, the best conversations happened after the events – over meals or late at night, outdoors in the muggy air. Here’s what I didn’t hear being discussed: the plight of being an “African writer”; the burden of having to address “issues” in fiction; the lack of a reading culture. ”

 

Read more here:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/books/11212975/African-writers-no-longer-feel-obliged-to-address-issues.html

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What She’s Reading: Corregidora

20140802-192930-70170024.jpgHave you ever read a book that was so good you purposely delayed finishing?

Corregidora is only 184 pages, a book I could zip through on a rainy Saturday afternoon, but I have been reading as slowly as possible. My goal was to limit myself to reading only 25 pages a day but, unfortunately, I have no self control. With 20 pages to go, I will soon have to move on 😦

Let me try to explain why this novel is so captivating. Corregidora is the story of Ursa, a young woman whose ancestors were held as slaves on a Brazilian plantation and forced to work as prostitutes. Ursa was born after emancipation but her mother, grandmother and great-grandmother passed along their horrific stories in order to ensure that future generations bear witness to the harsh psychological and physiological realities of slavery.

The novel follows Ursa as she attempts to navigate the world as a black woman in the early 20th century, simultaneously living in the past (through her ancestors) and present. But this dichotomy renders her love life dysfunctional. Gayl Jones, the author, portrays Ursa as a young woman living with a form of cultural PTSD – post traumatic stress syndrome – passed down by her family’s tragic history. The impact of this trauma, brilliantly expressed in Jones’ writing, is crippling. This is a must-read for anyone interested in the impacts of inhumanity within American history.

I can’t say enough about this book (as evident by my numerous tweets on the subject) and its succinct and compelling description of slavery as a historical event as well as a long-term systematic means of dehumanizing a people. If that doesn’t tell you enough, I’ll leave you with the following reviews from a few literary greats, who were also blown away by Corregidora:

“Corregidora is the most brutally honest and painful revelation of what has occurred, and is occurring, in the souls of black men and women.” – James Baldwin

“Gayl Jones has concocted a tale as American as Mount Rushmore and as murky as the Florida swamps”– Maya Angelou

“She (Gayl Jones) lit up the dark past of slave women with klieg lights and dared to discuss both the repulsion and the fascination of these relationships.” – Toni Morrison

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What She’s Reading: The Dew Breaker

411rs-5IxlL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_The Dew Breaker

National Book Critics Circle Award finalist and author Edwidge Danticat’s fourth fiction novel is certainly ambitious.  Following classics such as Breath Eyes, Memory and Krik? Krak!, the Dew Breaker begins in New York with the depiction of a loving father on a road trip with his daughter.  After revealing the sculpture she created in honor of her father’s time spent as a prisoner in Haiti, the true and haunting story of this family’s past unfolds.  The reader soon learns that the beloved father is the perpetrator of unforgivably heinous war crimes which he has since distanced himself from.

Unfortunately, this novel doesn’t live up to what the book blurb promises.   The story is powerful but feels somewhat shallow and unfinished….or perhaps over edited by the publisher.  There were times while reading that I wanted Danticat to dig deeper into the psychological scars carried by both the victims and perpetrators of Duvalier’s bloody reign.  I also waited for a culminating moment, a climax perhaps, that tied in the victims narratives through either a confrontation or internal revelation.  I’m a few pages from the end of this novel and thus far neither has occurred.  I’m left wondering if this story is too ambitious for Danticat’s depth of writing.  I hope I’m wrong . . .

Share your thoughts?

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A Short, Cringe-Worthy Post: Achebe and Emecheta

I HATE when critics compare African novelists – whether they be Anglophone, Francophone or Lusophone – to Chinua Achebe.  It’s as though Achebe is the only writer to have ever written anything noteworthy on the Continent and that all writers thereafter must somehow be compared to his work.  Don’t get me wrong, he was a brilliant man; but there are countless other outstanding African authors (both past and present) who will blow you away in a variety of unique ways.

With that said, I have to make a statement that I swore I would never make about any author, particularly one coming from Nigeria.  Buchi  Emecheta’s The Joys of Motherhood reminds me of Achebe’s writing, specifically, Things Fall Apart.  There I said it.

Both authors are from Nigeria, Igbo/Ibo roots to be specific, and both write in a descriptive and introspective manner.  Both novels tackle social and cultural norms from a gender specific lens – Emecheta from a woman’s perspective and Achebe from a man’s – rooted in their village’s practices.  Both protagonists also fall victim to their loyalty for tradition, obligation, and ancestral legacy.  I use the word victim because historic events play a strong background role in both novels, a role which neither protagonist foresaw.

For me, the similarities don’t end there but the purpose of this post is to ask our readers for their thoughts on the two novels …

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What She’s Reading

Of Africa by Wole Soyinka

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To be honest, this text is a bit all over the place and Soyinka’s conclusions are not as tightly drawn as I expected.  However, in Of Africa Soyinka is attempting to tackle “Africa’s culture, religion, history, imagination, and identity” and “understand how the continent’s history is entwined with the histories of others”.  This, quite simply, is no easy task!  Soyinka ambitiously takes this on and writes as though he is having an intimate but eloquent conversation with an eager yet indivisible (and well-read… as Soyinka assumes the reader’s familiarity with World history and politics) reader sitting at his feet.  Soyinka cements himself as a treasure. This is made evident in Of Africa by Soyinka’s vast historical and cultural knowledge as well as the plethora of notable gems sprinkled throughout the text.

The Joys of Motherhood by Buchi Emecheta

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“Her love and duty for her children were like her chain of slavery.”

The above is a powerful quote from Emecheta’s The Joys of Motherhood that encapsulates the dichotomy between modernity and motherhood.  In less than 250 pages, Emecheta succeeds in scripting a tale that is both social commentary and compelling story.  Set in a small village in post colonial Nigeria and moving to the bustling capital of Lagos, this is the story of Nnu Ego and the tragedy and triumphs of childbirth.  Thus far, this is a beautiful novel and one that I will more than likely recommend for our Afro-readers.

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