FOREWORD (Fire in the Night and Other Stories)

It has been an honour to edit the 14 stories longlisted for the 2014 Writivism Short Story competition. Kudos to the Centre for African Cultural Excellence who have provided platforms for our stories - long may it fulfil its commitment to nurturing the Arts in Africa.

As a child, I believed that everyone loved stories. Period. It didn’t matter where they were set, they simply needed to be captivating. Fast forward to the 21
􀇥􀇦 century and the internet is crammed with discussions on African Literature. Should our stories be issue-based or idyllic characterisations that fit the PR image of the continent? The website presented a collection of African Books, pointing out that the sun rising, or setting spectacularly behind an acacia tree, has come to represent Africa. All the covers mirrored this image.

While the world may be comfortable with images that present Otherness in ways that are easy to understand, we must not allow this Otherness to penetrate our writing. Bookshops in Africa need to assimilate our work into the mainstream, so that this Otherness does not affect the reader’s choice either. Ben Okri, in his recent BooksLive interview says, “Writings from Africans need to be perceived purely as writing and not prefixed with the continent.”

I am with Okri on pushing forward and losing the prefix.

Let us write what we will, giving voice to the poor and the privileged, the unbridled optimism and the depths of despair. The full range of human emotion and experience set against our vast and varied rural and urban terrain.

If a novel is a film, a Short Story is anything from a photograph to a YouTube clip. The essence of a Short Story has been described as a punch in the gut. This anthology more than satisfies the above criteria while exhibiting a diverse, multi-cultural Africa.

The stories open windows on lives we may not know, events we cannot understand - like Sseguja’s Walls and Borders, a disturbing tale of a Rwandan refugee searching for her home. Or Ugbede’s Day After Tomorrow and its grappling with the madness that is often associated with Africa.

Sadly, all Africans are au fait with varying degrees of corruption, and Ngasa’s Devils speaks boldly to us all. There is dissonance in the form of Mwale’s Fire in the Night and Bhamjee’s Lunatic, both discomfiting but beautifully written stories. Coming of age and defying tradition are entertainingly tackled by Atemnkeng’sMy Breasts. I am ashamed that I was aware of foot-binding in China yet had no idea Breast- Ironing pubescent girls was practised in the Cameroon.

Kiguwa raises questions of identity in The Wound of Shrinking with aesthetic grace, a grace that colours Musalia’s tale of magical realism Kawesa and Preen’s sad but satisfying The Gift.

Bamjee and Lawal approach idiosyncratic notions of Motherhood with aplomb in Out of the Blue and Dr Lawanson. Human relationships and bizarre families are reflected in Kasese’s Inside Outside and Njoku’s Survived By. Paquita’s Friday Night is a zany portrayal of Born Free angst in Cape Town.

I invite you to be entertained, amused and disturbed - to celebrate common humanity while getting acquainted with Africa. Let our book covers make room for the Kolanut Tree and the mighty Baobab. And let our stories be perceived as stories. Let us not be the Other in our land.

Sumayya Lee
London, May 2014 Author: The Story of Maha / Maha, Ever After
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