African Poetry: Hope Wabuke

Black poetries seek and create forms to imagine and render dispossession.
The Table of Contents to Hope Wabuke’s The Leaving anatomizes: the first poem is titled “Mind” and the final word in the last poem’s title is “Hips.” Between the two, readers encounter “Mouth” (poem 4), “Breath” (poem 5), “The Nerve” (poem 8), “Skin” (first word in poem 10), “Spine” (poem 14), and “Belly” (poem 15). As a student of the black diaspora and of poetry, I am intrigued by how these titles map and re-map the black woman’s body—a body I approach through the poet’s gendered signature. Within histories of poetry, the blazon is the privileged form that anatomizes women. We know it most famously from Shakespeare’s Sonnet 130: My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun; Coral is far more red than her lips’ red; If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun; If hairs be wires,… Read More...

African Poetry: Gbenga Adesina

"This is how you love in war"--Gbenga Adesina
form(alism) Writing about Ngwatilo Mawiyoo’s poetry was easy: I’ve been reading her work for close to ten years and she’s a friend. I might not know the Kenya she writes about so expansively—I haven’t traveled as much within Kenya—but I know the vernaculars of travel and the habits of hospitality she describes. Ngwatilo and I are Nairobians with complicated relations to the geohistories we traverse, from the ruralities that ostensibly ground us to the abroadness that supposedly deracinates us.We have forged our language practices as we cross time zones and encounter borders. Such intimacies shape interpretive practices; at the very least, they provide access, if not complete understanding. Writing about Gbenga Adesina’s poetry is less easy. I find myself wondering what kind of tools are available. As always, I ask myself, “what do I need to know to write about… Read More...

African Poetry: Ngwatilo Mawiyoo

Image| Jerry Riley | http://www.jerryrileyphotography.com Dagoretti Corner begins as “the dust that has no place” and ends with “a glimmer train / of bioluminescence.” The…
Dagoretti Corner begins as “the dust that has no place” and ends with “a glimmer train / of bioluminescence.” The restless land meets the restless ocean. These images are particular and grounded—even grounding. Ngwatilo Mawiyoo writes a poetry of place. M. NourbeSe Philip explains, I think if you write from place, the writing will be about place. . . . [S]o much of the writing, especially by people who aren’t from that place, is about the place, without engaging with and emphasizing the deep, and often dangerous, currents and contradictions that any place or person has. For me . . . writing from means that I am always trying to stand on that place when I write about it; while physical distance is often necessary to get a perspective on a place or event, emotionally there is a desire to… Read More...

African Poetry: Introduction

Everything queer about me is troubled by this frame of generations.
By now it is a generally accepted fiction that we are in the third generation of African fiction written in European languages. In that strange way that Africa distorts temporality, the first generation stretches at least from Leo Africanus (1494-1554?), if not Augustine of Hippo (354-430), includes J.E. Casely Hayford, and nestles comfortably against Cyprian Ekwensi, Flora Nwapa, Wole Soyinka, Chinua Achebe, and Ngugi wa Thiong’o. This group includes ethnographic novels, urban novels, been-to novels, anti-colonial novels, and nationalist novels. Broadly speaking, all these novels grapple with the ravages of Afro-modernity, though, surely all African fiction in European languages grapples with Afro-modernity. I’ve never quite figured out when the second generation of African writing starts. It is dominated by women writers—Ama Ata Aidoo, Mariama Bâ, Rebeka Njau, Bessie Head—most of whom are contemporaries of the first generation of writers. I’m… Read More...

Toward Freedom

What kind of knowledge is freedom-building, freedom-creating, freedom-pursuing, freedom-sustaining?
Wiathi began with a word my mother gave me, a word that taught me how to imagine and desire a livable and shareable world. Wiathi is a grounded word, though it lives in that “leap of invention” Fanon writes about. It’s a word that my mother learned when her father was arrested by the British in 1952, her family home bulldozed by colonial forces, and her family forced into a colonial village. I think it’s the word my mother learned to chant when she sold sweet potatoes to train passengers to raise school fees. It’s the word that allowed her to survive when colonial officers laid out dead bodies in front of her school and taunted her to check whether her father was among them. It’s the word she held on to when her grandmother handed her packages of food… Read More...

Staff at Wits University Threatened

We now work in a condition of occupation.--Wits University Staff
Dear academic colleagues We are writing to ask for you to take a moment to respond to a grave threat that has been issued against academic staff at Wits University in Johannesburg: a threat which sets a worrying trend for times to come for all of us who teach at universities. The backdrop is the militarisation of our university in the last few days in response to student protest. Private security forces which by appearance earn the label paramilitary have been brought onto our campus under undisclosed contracts and terms of engagement, in order to quell the sorts of protests that led successfully last year to a national agreement not to increase student fees for 2016. The South African student movement continues to fight for a fully publicly funded higher education system, but this year their planned protests have been… Read More...

Stories of Our Lives: Suicide

I do not know if any Kenyan families save suicide notes from their queer children.
Stories of Our Lives does not contain a section titled Suicide. The book’s seven sections are Memories Childhood and First Times Identity Society and the Future Coming Out Love, Sex and Everything in Between Religion and Spirituality Yet, suicide haunts this book. I’m trying to find a way to name the ghosts that appeared and threw me off track. I had completed the first and longest section, Memories, and moved on to Childhood and First Times. Before I moved on, I thought I wanted to write about patriarchy as terrain: many figures in the Memories section could only imagine themselves within heteropatriarchal frames. This writing would not indict those figures. Instead, it would ask how terrains shape the possible. What kind of queer imaginations are possible in Kenya’s deeply ethnopatriarchal space? Queer writing has speculated that queers invent and re-invent… Read More...

Liberation:Transmission

South African students: We see you. We hear you. We stand with you.
Historians teach us that freedom dreams travel and infect. They spread desires and transmit energies. The history of black emancipation, the long emancipation as Rinaldo Walcott has it, is full of freedom dreams moving from one site to another, jumping from body to body, imagination to imagination, geohistory to geohistory. It is also full of oppressive power trying to halt this transmission. We must consider why the Haitian Revolution is still not placed alongside the French Revolution and the U.S. Revolution—what must be impeded, held back, refused, made unimaginable, and why. We learn from history that owners of the enslaved in the U.S. did not want news of the Haitian Revolution to reach the enslaved. News that would feed dreams. News that would create new energy. News that would fuel alternative ways of imagining being and being together. Revolution Clusters:… Read More...

Stories of Our Lives: Memories

Repeatedly, these narratives try to navigate between what a queer life might be and what a Kenyan life is.
If history represents—in both senses of the term— a dominant story, an official story, not simply how events happened but how events should be arranged so they can be remembered, memory is often taken as the counter to history. Memory is often unofficial, often unrecognized, often minoritized. Its archives are fragmented and fragmentary—borne on the body, carved into landscapes, floating on winds, buried in ocean beds. Sometimes it hides in plain sight, because history, like all dominant forces, appropriates and distorts. Sometimes it seeks fossil-making events, hoping that if it anchors itself in what will survive, it might be discovered, deciphered, used. Often, it lives as breaks and pauses, interruptions and amnesia. And here I mean the amnesia caused by repeated violence. Not a gentle forgetting, but a damaged imagination. If history is not simply what is remembered, but how… Read More...

Stories of Our Lives: Introduction

How might a cum stain on a bathroom wall theorize?
Kenya’s Nest Collective has released a new book! I’ll be engaging with the book over the next few posts. In this first one, I stage the problem of queer writing or, more precisely, the problem of how queer writing is defined, recorded, captured, and valued. There will be detours. * A recent thread on Twitter returned me to a blog post a few years ago. The thread asked for names of queer Kenyan bloggers. I noted that my name was absent—both from the Twitter thread and the blog posts a few years ago. (This is probably hurt arrogance speaking—so be it) I wondered, a few years ago, about what that erasure meant. Perhaps, I thought, it was about the politics of location. After all, I started blogging while in the U.S. and few, if any, of my posts on sexuality… Read More...

Mara

You will learn that chickens have their pride.
You are crying again, aware, maybe, that you’ve been born into a fractured world. He will walk toward you, lift you up, hold you, as he holds no one else. He holds you when you’re crying and when you’re still, when you wake up and as you fall asleep. As he holds no one else. Every week, he secures his travel pass around his neck, holds you before he leaves, nods to your sister, brother, and mother, and heads to town. He needs a pass to go to Nairobi. He wears the pass around his neck. Kipande, it is called. A little tin container that breaks his world into time with you and time away from you. He goes for you. Every week he dons his kipande pass and travels to town to buy bread. Bread is only sold in… Read More...

While I Was Away

Image | Wambui Mwangi Image | Wambui Mwangi Three semi-related pieces have emerged: A meditation on love, written when I felt more optimistic about the…
Three semi-related pieces have emerged: A meditation on love, written when I felt more optimistic about the world. It was commissioned as a keyword piece. Which is to say, I had been asked to write about a keyword in critical ethnic studies, and I wanted, perversely, to remove myself from the expected words, the ones that already have critical and political weight, and to think, instead, of a word I wanted to get more attention. As I read it now, I realize that it is very telegraphic--my besetting sin--but, I think, readable, which is what I wanted. Relatedly, some thinking on the romance novel and Octavia Butler's novel Survivor. Perhaps a year ago, I tried to return to romance novels written in the 1970s and early 1980s, and I couldn't. They were full of rape. It was a vernacular. I… Read More...

Garissa

the morning after a massacre / a country wakes nauseous
the morning after a massacre a country wakes nauseous no food stays down no chai comforts on the roads they drag crosses blood is given blood invoked blood sanctified blood is our national language on TV the men talk blood and markets tears stay out of the newsrooms there will be more killing there will always be more killing a state will punish survivors with pogroms an army will terrorize the terrrorized, traumatize the traumatized the merchants of war have already moved on to the next transaction the death-profiteers spent the night reviewing cost-benefit reports a country stares at its amputation stumps the morning after a massacre Read More...

Poiesis & Gnosis: #rhodesmustfall and #cadaanstudies

one hopes the juxtaposition of #rhodesmustfall, #cadaanstudies, and #blacklivesmatter creates space for dialogue
Poiesis is the Greek root of the term poetry. In its most general sense, it means to “make.” The internet tells me it means “an action that transforms and continues the world.” Gnosis, the internet tells me, is the “common Greek noun for knowledge.” In my final semesters of teaching, I shifted my focus from thinking about how students learned to how they created knowledge. It was an odd experiment that went against much of my training and much of what circulates as pedagogical knowledge and strategy (where “learning styles” are a major thing and “grading” evaluates what students have “learned”). At some point, I think I had students performing mimes to illustrate what they had learned. And my final exams shifted to oral presentations-where I asked students to describe the most important thing they had learned during the semester.… Read More...

Mbiti & Glissant

We-formations are wake formations: we-formations might be about the mati work of wake work.
A starting point. Here is John Mbiti: What then is the individual and where is his place in the community? In traditional life, the individual does not and cannot exist alone except corporately. He owes his existence to other people, including those of past generations and his contemporaries. . . . The community must therefore make, create or produce the individual. . . . Whatever happens to the whole group happens to the individual. The individual can only say: ‘I am, because we are; and since we are, therefore I am.’ (African Religions & Philosophy). Here’s Édouard Glissant: Summarizing what we know concerning the varieties of identity, we arrive at the following: Root identity -is founded in the distant past in a vision, a myth of the creation of the world; -is sanctified by the hidden violence of a filiation… Read More...

Visiting Africa: A Short Guide for Researchers

You are not coming to teach the natives.
1. Prepare. Prepare as you would for an important job interview. If a formal institution has invited you, read about the institution. If a department has invited you, read about the department. If specific scholars have invited you, read their work. Know it well. Have something to say about it. 2. You’re coming to co-create knowledge. Co-create. 3. Map the intellectual terrain. African intellectual work happens across multiple spaces, not simply in North American or European peer-reviewed journals and monographs. Look for exciting intellectual work on Facebook, Twitter, blogs, YouTube. Figure out how to engage that work. If you’re a very traditional scholar, get digital. And quickly. 4. You have been invited to share your research AND to speak to particular audiences. Do not forget your audience. Make your audience a priority. If no one tries to engage you, you… Read More...