Book 30 – Short Story Day Africa – Terra Incognita

Books I've read, Short pieces

Terra Incognita, Africa, fiction, speculative fiction

I’ve enjoyed speculative fiction for ages (even as far back as when it used to be called sci-fi) so it was really cool to find an anthology of it crafted by African writers. Plus – what a beautiful cover. This project will be the bankrupting of me I swear – African fiction writers have the best covers.

Short Story Day Africa is the 21st of June, and this is what it’s all about:

“When Nigerian novelist, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, addressed the TED Conference in 2009, she spoke of the danger of the single story, a distorted, one-dimensional view of Africa that sees the continent only through a prism of war, disease, poverty, starvation and corruption. Short Story Day Africa has established a day, 21st June – the shortest day of the year – on which to celebrate the diversity of Africa’s voices and tell you who we really are; what we love; love to eat, read, write about. We want to bring you the scents on our street corners, the gossip from our neighbours, let you listen to strains of the music we dance to.

Short Story Day Africa brings together writers, readers, booksellers, publishers, teachers and school children from all over the globe to write, submit, read, workshop and discuss stories – and foster the love of reading and writing African fiction. Because we have something to tell the world. About us. In our own voices.”

The Short Story Day Africa 2014 anthology ‘Terra Incognita’ is packed full of stories that will creep you out, make you laugh, and worry about the parameters of your daily life. Of course, I only read the ones written by women this time around, but I look forward to getting to the rest when this project is done. I must say that my personal favourite was Dianne Awerbuck’s ‘Leatherman’ which led me to read her book ‘Home Remedies’ as my final fiction book in the project.

Get this collection, and support the call for funds for the next one here.

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Book 27: Arja Salafranca: The Thin Line

Books I've read

Arja Salafranca, The Thin Line, South Africa, fiction, short story

Real people have complex lives. The ones who, from the outside, look as though they are enjoying idyllic stress-free existences are often the sources of the most conflict. It takes work to look fine all the time. That’s often why love is such a respite – it’s an opportunity to relax the guard we construct for others. To breathe above the water, if only for a moment. But, it is reckless to believe in stability, always.

The Thin Line, a collection of short stories from South African writer Arja Salafranca, provides snapshots into the lives of real, flawed humans. Short stories seem to place more pressure on a sentence, and Salafranca’s prose is tight. Many of her descriptions had me nodding jealously, aptly capturing some characteristic of South Africanisms.

That’ is because these short stories are not only about people, but also reflect the changing context and themes of South African middle-class existence. The theme of crime, emmigration, the fear of violence travel through many of the stories, revealing the characters through their reactions to these themes. Her devices are slick and impressive.

This collection is well-worth a read, especially for anyone who wants to write short fiction. I definitely learned a lot from her use of style and descriptions.

Book 21: Wame Molefhe: Go Tell the Sun

Books I've read

Wame Molefhe, Go Tell the Sun, Modjaji books, Botswana, fiction

The past few weeks for me have been manic – work has been crazy, my personal life has been busy, and there just hasn’t seemed to be enough time for me to write or read much. So, instinctively, I sought out a collection of short stories because I knew I’d have the chance to squeeze them in on the train to work, or in the morning with my coffee.

I was aiming for light interactions with fictional friends, but Wame Molefhe was somehow able to transport you right into the heart of a character and get you to feel so much for them in only a few pages. All the stories are set in Botswana, and some share characters which I found really interesting as a technique. It allowed you to get perspective that would have been difficult to sustain in a longer text.

In ten short stories she covers sexuality, HIV/AIDS, death, family struggles, love, heartache and passion. No topic is taboo and each one is addressed with skill and compassion. The characters are allowed the flaws and complexity of real people, which makes them all the more convincing. They are just humans, often trying to do the best they can to get through life.

And that’s all there is, isn’t there – doing your best to work through the obstacles that life presents you with, to achieve the things you want to, with the least harm possible? We don’t know what life is going to throw at us, and sometimes it’s simply not fair, but that doesn’t mean we have the option to ignore it. We must live, and Go Tell the Sun gives us a glimpse of the beauty and pain of that.

Book 8: The Short Sharp Stories Collection

Books I've read

Short Sharp Stories, South Africa, sex, fiction

After reading Petina Gappah’s collection of short stories, I went straight onto another one – this time one that was a little more awkward to read on the train.

The Short Sharp Stories collection was drawn from submissions to the competition (which you can still enter until the end of November) in 2014. This was the second collection produced out of the competition. The first was a crime fiction theme and was called ‘Bloody Satisfied’.

The theme was ‘Adults Only’ and thus many of the stories focus on sex. They’re not all written by women, but in the spirit of this project, I only read the ones that were. The collection was edited by Joanne Hichens, a South African author, editor, and blogger. All three judges were women too. So really, it had a lot going for it.

I went to the launch of the collection this year at the Book Lounge in Cape Town because one of my AWW14 friends Tiffany Kagure Mugo has a story featured in the collection (and was chosen as Best New Voice). I was already going to buy the book to support her, but when the evening ended and I’d heard snippets about what some of the stories were about, I was even more chuffed with my decision.

Some of the stories are REALLY sexy. I remember when I was doing my MA in Creative Writing and we had a whole class discussion about writing sex scenes and how for some reason they always feel a bit creepy, or awkward. But the writing in this book was neither. Let’s just say it was good bed side reading.

Other stories were sad or really funny. I loved Alex Smith’s story about the Sea Point ‘Madam’ and her domestic worker, Fundiswa, who open their minds to art, and art opens their world to magic.

If you want to get a taste of some new South African voices, then get this collection, put it by your bed at night, and read it to yourself, or to a partner.

Book 7: Petina Gappah: An Elegy for Easterly

Books I've read

Women, Writers, Zimbabwe, Petina Gappah, feminism

I found Petina Gappah’s collection of short stories at the second hand book shop near to my house. After many months of my fiance trying to convince me to download SnapScan, it was this particular book that made me do it. You see, I didn’t have any cash on me and the bookshop only accepts cash or SnapScan and so I did it. He was very pleased with that, and so was I.

Short Stories are not something I read frequently – occasionally I pick up a collection at a coffee shop, or in a book shop, to have a brief interlude in fiction. But I love the novel – I love getting stuck into characters and really having the time to get to know them and how I feel about them. But, Gappah’s collection came with the a recommendation from a very well known South African author on the cover, so I thought I’d give it a try.

I really enjoyed it. There are thirteen stories in the 274 pages and they are all about different elements of Zimbabwean society. Gappah is excellent on a sentence level – this was one of my favourites:

“Fame is an elastic concept, especially in a place like this, where we all know the smells of each other’s armpits.”

Those types of sentences make me jealous as a writer – it tells you so much about the people, the place, and the sensation of the scene that she’s trying to describe. My favourite stories, or at least the two that I have thought of most often since finishing the book about a month ago, were In the Heart of the Golden Triangle, and The Cracked, Pink Lips of Rosie’s Bridgegroom. These stories tell so much about what it means to live in a polite society, where people lie to each other for the benefit of not causing a fuss.

But surely, this collection was meant to cause a fuss. The very first story begins with reflections on the Presidency and the state of Zimbabwe’s political leadership. Many of the following stories develop this theme without being extensions of one another. Gappah tells things as they are, but does so in a way that doesn’t feel like a lecture, or like she’s trying to force you to believe in her point. I love that it feels like the personal is political in all of the stories, and that the political is personal in many of them.

One of the saddest stories is The Maid from Lalapanzi. When I finished reading that one it made me think a lot about how much children miss growing up, and how painful it is when you suddenly realise that the world is not an equal, friendly place, but that it is unequal, and that you are either privileged or not. Those are hard realisations.

Each of the stories is really strong and so I looked up Gappah wondering if she had written any more. The Wikipedia entry on her is outdated, another reflection on how African women writers are not given the attention or credit they deserve. But, both her book and the page revealed that she is fact a practising lawyer. I love that! I’m always so pleased when I find other writers who are trying to work their ‘real job.’ I always wonder whether they have dual passions, or whether they are just biding time.

She writes for the Guardian too and was an Open Society Fellow. You can read a piece written by her for Chimurenga this month here.

I have never been to Zimbabwe but Gappah’s collection made it come alive for me. I can tell that this project is going to give me major wanderlust.