A retrospective reflection on Binyavanga’s memoir

Exif_JPEG_420

Teddy, our compere when we met to discuss Binyavanga Wainana’s memoir, One Day I Will Write About This Place.

For matters related to introductions, Teddy, our compere for the book club meeting held on Friday, July 22, 2016, introduced Binyavanga Wainaina, the author of our common text for the month, as an award winning Kenyan author, whose memoir is an illustration of his continued stream of consciousness.

The One Day I Will Write About This Place, Teddy said, is, basically, an autobiography about his life; from childhood, all the way to the time he published How To Write About Africa. A lot of what is going on in it are stories about his family, and a lot of experiences in Kenya, about growing up there, under the Moi regime, experiencing the effects of post colonial British systems that all of have had the benefit of being baptised in.

He added that as soon as you finish reading the book, you realise there is a ghost in the room, especially if you know anything about his life. Binyavanga could have written more, but he purposefully dances around some particular topics in his life. Teddy believes that you can tell that he is not fully ready to talk about some of the topics in his life, as if he was waiting for another book.

When it came to the reading, it was not that easy picking on particular pieces to concentrate on. The writing is an admirable pear within its shell of a paperbound. We decided to read a few random pages and reflect upon them in the greater sense of African stories, starting with Chapter Twelve. We continued to study how narrative can change perception of a place from someone’s perspective. Even when we did, we were careful not to read too long, though. We did not want to spoil.

From that Chapter, Twelve, we touched on several topical issues and themes including on Kenya’s beginnings and its gradual falling apart. It was a time of structural adjustments and their impositions on Kenya and Africa. Kenya was, thanks to institutions like the World Bank, investing, and heavily so, in education, but potential students in its new schools were choosing to go study in countries elsewhere. It was the time of the height of most Africans leaving their home countries for places of presumed better living and opportunities. It was a time of elective migration.

Binyavanga’s style of writing was of interest to us too. He never seems to have a particular though pattern. He always has gazzilion thoughts, too much detail, and a short attention span. He, even in his childhood, is all over the place. He has a problem, we thought, sticking to one particular way of doing things. He always tries to package all of them in an exciting fashion, by describing the entirety of a scene all at once.

We dug deeper into the genesis of his name, his family’s roots on both sides of the border that rubs shoulders with Mount Elgon, and the title of the book. We wondered what could have happened if Binyavanga had chosen to unpack the scenes he writes about and unravel the stories into some sort of Fibonacci sequences which we believed would make it more much more intricate and just good enough to read. We found that his descriptions, of the places he has been to, or comes from, provide fair justice to those places and the virtues that they uphold.

On an inquiry about whether Binyavanga goes on to have a family, we concluded that discussing that before we covered much of the book would amount to a spoiler, and advised the inquirer to “stay tuned for new scenes from our next episode”. Unfortunately for them, we did not have enough time to discuss what got to be known as the book’s lost chapter.

On painting or writing about Africa, our compere, Teddy, highlighted a conversation he had with Binyavanga when they met in London, on the sidelines of the Caine Prize Award ceremony for the year 2009. Binyavanga, Teddy said, was quite particular in advocating for specificity while describing the diversity that makes up Africa. We found that, in One Day I Will Write About This Place, Binyavanga does illustrate his sermon with his picturesque descriptions of places like Togo, Uganda, South Africa, Nigeria, Kenya, and New York.

We went on to have a lengthy conversation on expression, exertion, sharing and criticising our stories, our inspirations, our influences, our opportunities, and more. We, also, wondered why a book this good is not yet on the school literature curriculum before reading another gripping chapter that most young people, especially those in their turbulent times, and/or times of discovery found relatable.

 

Poetry In Motion – Mulumba Ivan Matthias.

poetry-in-motion

Mulumba Ivan Matthias’ Poetry In Nature.

Mulumba’s first poetry collection is relatively an easy read. Comprising 51 poems on 58 pages, it’s separated into 5 sections; Rhythm and Rhymes, Cakes and Candles, Riddles of Fortune, Thorns and Roses, and Gospel Truth.

In Rhythm and Rhymes, he covers different areas of social life, its vices and virtues and where the lines are too thin to see a difference.

In Letter to the Pontiff, I feel Mulumba was at his most candid, most honest and most artistic in the entire collection. It’s not so much the rhyme as the symbols he picks on in this poem to relay one Priest’s struggle with priesthood.

Phrases like;
…academy of celibacy 
has kept me alive in faith
but dead to the world…” 
after which he makes a strong point and says 
“Food is aplenty and so is my flesh

noting the struggle he faces in his existence that should be heavenly but is presently carnal.

In Musambwa and the Moon, he tackles the old age stories of mermaids in Buganda culture in three short, but impeccable stanzas showing poetry is indeed about economy of words.

There are many other poems he pens that talk about unexpected topics like sports, secondary school sosh, and then more common aspects like history, culture and more. He is very bold when he pens down “Groans From The Cathedral” in which he recounts a murder/rape scene in a cathedral.

In Cakes and Candles, Mulumba seems to be celebrating particular people. It’s the shortest section with four poems.

In Riddles of Fortune, he continues his social commentaries on different topics like the government, war, poverty, alcohol.

However I feel he best expresses his art in Thorns and Roses, which is a section dedicated to love and sex. His imagination and craft seems to get a high when he talks about this particular topic. In poems like OdysseyMemories, Symphony from the shadows, his poetry becomes more vivid. (Either that or my imagination seems to go on a tangent). In my opinion it is his most intriguing exploit because when he sums up with the section Gospel Truth you get the feeling it is more like an ordinance rather than an expression of real tribute.

And that’s part of my criticism. In his more thrilling poems, Mulumba seems to be himself because you can identify with what he’s talking about. His images make sense, his sentence structure too. It doesn’t seem belaboured like some poems where he might have chosen a theme and decided to write about it.

Secondly, I feel that he uses inverted sentences a little too often. Phrases like At the sinking sun I gaze, Inside me fear kindled, Traffic policemen in the shadows stand and more. Not every poem has them, but a lot of them do, and the more I came across them the more I felt that Mulumba was not being as creative as he really is.

Nonetheless, I commend Mulumba on this first collection. There’s a lot of poetic device one can enjoy in the collection.

Mulumba’s book is available for purchase on the bookstore section of Turn The Page.

 

A Conversation With Harriet Anena.

On Friday, July 8, 2016, the book club section of Turn The Page was blessed with the presence of the wonderful Harriet Anena.

Exif_JPEG_420

Harriet Anena

Harriet Anena is the Kampala based author of A Nation In Labour, her debut collection of some dark, and others mellow, but all brilliant and rather quite bold, reflective poems about what can generally be considered as the complexities of life – in all its forms.

She joined us for an author appearance following an invitation extended to her as our writer of interest for the month of July, 2016.

Anena took us through her career by responding to posed questions. That, she revealed, started with her experiences from growing up in Northern Uganda. Writing, she said, provided her with the therapeutic release she needed to escape from the traumatic times of the day. Her break came when, after five years of working with Daily Monitor, a leading local daily, and, later, after meeting other creative people in entities like FEMRITE and Writivism, she decided to invest in self-publishing her work in 2015. The rest, like they say, is history. A Nation In Labour was well received, both locally and beyond. It was launched in Nairobi, where she also had four interactive sessions at the Story Moja festival there, and was also profiled on BBC’s Focus on Africa.

We had readings of several of our and her favourite poems as taken from A Nation In Labour and reflected upon each one of them in an engaging discussion that went on till we were asked to leave the premises.
On April 26, 2016, Anena put up a beautiful show, at the Uganda National Cultural Centre, of a political erotica that was aptly dubbed I Bow For My Boobs – one of the poems from her book. It was her first performance. She relayed to us, when we met, that the same will be rerun during the Writivism Festival in August, 2016.

Harriet Anena’s A Nation In Labour has been reviewed by Raymond Lule, who writes for the reviews section of Turn The Page. Her book is also available for purchase on the bookstore section.

We are sincerely grateful to those who shared their company, and those who followed the conversation remotely by way of our #TTPBookMeet Twitter medium, and continue to encourage both seasoned readers and budding ones to join us for our forthcoming meetings. As per schedule, the next one will take place on July 22, for an interactive reading and discussion of Binyavanga Wainaina’s One Day I Will Write About This Place.

On the count of three…

IMG_3738

Some of our members taking a reading from Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi’s Kintu. (Photo: Comfort E’bong)

Turn The Page is more than just an online bookstore. It is a community, one that engages writers and their audience in interactive forums dedicated to discussing their work in our book club meetings, and, also, churns out reviews aimed at interesting both a sceptical and a zealous readership in contemporary works of African literature.

The Turn The Page book club is an open and all embracing bowl of enthusiastic, wonderful people who meet every fortnight to confer upon a scheduled text or book. Our meetings happen every after two weeks in Hive Colab, which is in Kanjokya House and on Kanjokya Street.

The book club is not an exclusive club an elite class of people or any other classification of any sort. Everybody is welcome, irrespective of their distinction is welcome.

Our activities range from book discussions, to interviews of or engagements with invited authors, book swaps, and book sales. We hope to create the perfect opportunity for book launches as well.

Our interactions are broadcast to those far away by way of a hash tag, #TTPBookMeet, which relays live tweets from the venue for those who, for any unavoidable reasons, are not able to share their company.

Following our detailed, year-long schedule, the book club has had three engagements so far. In the first meeting, we had an enriching discussion on How To Write About Africa, by Binyavanga Wainaina. In the second, we hosted, interviewed and reflected upon The Headline That Morning, a new collection of the poems of Peter Kagayi. The third had everybody sharing about Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi’s Kintu, which was our common text for the month of June.

Our next two meetings, for the month of July, will take place on July 8 and on July 22. On July 8, we will have an interview and interactive discussion with Harriet Anena, the author of A Nation In Labour. Then on July 22, we will meet to confer upon One Day I Will Write About This Place, by Binyavanga Wianaina, which is our common text for the month of July.

We will always be immensely delighted to welcome you, and your friends.

A Nation In Labour – Harriet Anena.

a nation in ft

A Nation In Labour, Harriet Anena’s debut poetry collection, was published last year (in 2015). So, it’s not too late to revisit its pain-laden pages and try to determine the value of the work to the poet herself, to the literary world, and to the country Uganda.

The collection oscillates between “We” and “I” though the later is also a carriage of millions of fragments; it’s a self-appointed voice of the people, exemplar of socio-political writing. The “We” voice, from cover to cover, seems tellingly interested in what’s happening on the inside; the most private feelings. It swirls with a more notable knowledge of the people as a collective struggling with a number of longings. It’s also in this voice that the pains of giving birth to a fresh country, to a mindset, or to a peace of mind are most felt. Maybe the poet has discovered that it’s through acknowledging our pasts that we can effectively bring to life a whole new being.
To her, the present is only important if it allows itself to ruminate on the past; to accept that it’s a product of decisions it did not make. “We search mass graves/in our hearts/for skeletons of laughter/that lie/cold and broken./”

Mass graves? Does this mean we are all dead? Is the act of giving birth supposed to a form of cleansing? Are we mourning those who died in war? But then, which war exactly? This collection is haunted by blood, by gunpowder, by miles ran escaping belonging, by an aftermath. We are hauled back into moments of panic and helplessness. The monstrosities of the LRA (Lord’s Resistance Army) rebels that shattered Northern Uganda for over two decades are as contemporary as the voice that tells them. For those who were not direct victims, it’s not a mere call for sympathy but a bath in the insurmountable. One can only wonder what poems like Silent Ears, Forgiveness, Unafraid, and I Envy The Dead mean to survivors of such unending agony. But not all poems she wrote on war make one cry.

In We Arise, for example, you’d think the “nation” has already undergone labour. In the first line “We came. / We went. / We have come again. /,” the survivors are mostly speaking on behalf of their dead loved ones. They refuse to be forever lost in the ashes of burnt huts or to be in quietude after the hideous loss of their lips. Maybe the “going and returning” has invigorated them.
In the last stanza, “Today we rise up again / Today we rise and stand tall,” “Today” is synonymous with routine. The rising should be an adopted way of our lives.

However, the book also has poems which move with an eroticized playfulness.
In Cat Love, Say It, and Breathless Mount, it’s hard to tell whether the poet has succumbed to being the body and is now enjoying the love-making, or she’s stealthily planning to avenge the objectification. And then, on another side are poems like Hemline Cop, Kiwani, Disobedient, On this Black Dress, and I Won’t readers can relate completely different experiences with.
If they dare evoke feelings of a past war, then that war is/was with the self.

A Nation In Labour is a book on bereavement. Not entirely the loss of one’s loved one, but the daily pangs of grief associated with knowing that such loss did not leave the living the same.
It is about looking at one’s scars and having the guts to say I Envy the Dead.
It’s about a state of immobility; getting Stuck in a history of bones and wails.
But its failures are in not being able to predict the outcome of this labour. Or, satisfactorily hinting at it.

If this act of giving birth is purgative, then what next? Does the nation become unlearn its old evils? Does the nation eventually forgive itself? And these questions also concern the poet as an individual. And when they do, they look into the future: Will the poet’s mind recover from these horrors?
What, next?