Subscribe to Newsletter
Monthly Newsletter: Join more than 5,000 African literature enthusiasts!
Subscribe for African literature news, and receive a free copy of our "Guide to African Novels."
Saaleha contributes during the Writers Studio workshop

Saaleha contributes during the Writers Studio workshop

It was on a narrow stretch of road, sometime in January, somewhere between Victoria Falls and Bulawayo, that my phone connected to Wifi out of nowhere and vibrated. I was surprised, having grown accustomed to a silent phone over the previous two weeks. It was an email. It started with the word: Congratulations. As a serial non-winner of competitions, I was amazed.

I needed to present myself in Cape Town for a one day workshop that would be conducted by Whitbread Shortlisted Writer, Rachel Zadok (of course, at the time I didn’t know this), since my “application to the Writivism 2014 Creative Writing Workshop had been accepted”.

The application had been carelessly sent. Something done on a whim, without too much thought given, to which bits of myself I would bare to the organisers. It was simply, a story taken from my blog, pasted in the body of an email, with a short introduction of myself. I knew that had I agonised over what to send, I’d have gotten cold feet and just forgotten all about Writivism.

Cape Town turned out to be nothing short of enchanting, the only blight on an otherwise idyllic weekend being The Workshop. I sucked at it. Really sucked.  I wasn’t made for these exercises. I couldn’t write with an audience. I especially couldn’t share my icky first draft (written in pen, as opposed to my computer) with a room full of polite strangers, all trying to find something good to say, in the hope that I’d return the favour when their turn came. Had it not been for my doppelganger, Saaleha Idrees Bamjee, who had also been successful with her application, I would have died a zillion deaths by the end of that day, as opposed to just a dozen.

But, it was when I got home, that the real work began. I was introduced to my mentor, Nigerian poet (doctor too), Dami Ajayi. He was a prickly man. I was suitably intimidated. I penned my flash fiction piece, Breaking Glass, published on Deyu African.

This was the easy part though. Wondering how people would react to this piece was less easy.

That behind me, my next task was to write a short story. Anyone who knows me, knows that short stories have always been “my thing”. I wrote them (rather poorly) in one sitting, often without too much thought. But with Dami, I learnt how to count my words, how to tighten my prose. He was a harsh critic and for that I am thankful.

Once my story, Lunatic, had been submitted, I got on with baking and caking. The memory of the talented writers I’d met during the workshop was still very fresh. Writers who, unlike me, didn’t collapse at the sight of an audience. Writers who could turn clever little phrases and write glowing prose under pressure. So, when another email, beginning with the word ‘congratulations’ landed in my inbox, I was stunned! Really pleased, but completely stunned. Delighted too, that my doppelganger had made the longlist along with me. The 14 longlisted stories would be published in an anthology, Fire in the Night, and launched on June 20 at the Writivism Festival in Kampala. This was more than I could ever have hoped for.

I could now throw myself into the task of preparing for Ramadhaan, knowing that with all its soul sapping fracas, 2014 had finally redeemed itself. So, when another mail arrived on the May 27, beginning with the word (you guessed it!) ‘Congratulations!’ I was shocked into silence. (Yes, incredible, I know.)

I had made the shortlist. One of five writers. I’d be attending The Writivism Festival in Kampala and thankfully, so would my doppelganger. (Can you imagine how terrifying this would be if I was doing it alone?!)

I don’t think the enormity of what had happened had sunk in by the time I travelled. Those few weeks were a blur of chicken fillets, kids’ homework, and worrying about how my mum would deal with my absence.

The very last week before departure was the craziest. There was a week’s worth of meals to prepare, along with shopping to be done and kids to assist with studying for exams.

There was anxiety to face and a dream to embrace. There was disappointment to swallow too. It’s not only hard times that reveal our friends, see. Our successes expose them too.

There was insecurity to brave. I CAN write.  There was a meeting with an agent to prepare for. I MUST write.

Thank you. I wrote, all these years, and you read.  And that always gave me one more reason to write even when there were a hundred others not to.

Most importantly, Alhamdulillah. All praises are His alone. Writing is, sometimes, an act of faith!

******************

 About the Author: 

Saaleha Bhamjee’s shortlisted story, Lunatic {Read HERE} won second place of the 2014 Writivism Short Story Prize, announced at the June Writivism Festival in Kampala. Bhamjee writes between mothering five children and running her bakery. A self-confessed Twitterholic, she writes a blog titled Afrocentric Muslimina. She was part of the Cape Town February Writivism workshops and the online mentoring program. Her shortlisted story is titled Lunatic.

Tags: , , ,

Ainehi Edoro is an Assistant Professor of English at the University of Wisconsin-Madison where she teaches African literature. She received her doctorate at Duke University. She is the founder and editor of Brittle Paper and series editor of Ohio University Press’s Modern African Writer’s imprint.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. #Writivism2015: Interview with Saleeha Bhamjee | - August 15, 2015

    […] to know. In 2014, you were shortlisted for the Writivism Short Story Prize. You wrote a piece in Brittle Papers, recounting how this made you feel and there, you described writing as an “act of […]

Leave a Reply

Welcome to Brittle Paper, your go-to site for African writing and literary culture. We bring you all the latest news and juicy updates on publications, authors, events, prizes, and lifestyle. Follow us on Twitter and Instagram (@brittlepaper) and sign up for our "I love African Literature" newsletter.

Monthly Newsletter!

Subscribe for African literature news, and receive a free copy of our
"Guide to African Novels."

Archives

Bernardine Evaristo Becomes First Black Writer to Win Author of the Year

Bernardine Evaristo Becomes First Black Writer to Win Author of the Year in the British Book Awards

  Bernardine Evaristo’s winning streak continues as she dominates two categories of the 2020 British Book Awards: Best Fiction Book […]

Apply for the 2020 Morland Writing Scholarship | £27,000 for Nonfiction, £18,000 Fiction

Apply for the 2020 Miles Morland Writing Scholarship

The Miles Morland Foundation is currently accepting applications for the 2020 Morland African Writing Scholarships. The awards offer a fiction […]

The Million Naira Nigerian Prize for Difference and Diversity | Here is How to Nominate Someone

The Nigerian Prize for Difference and Diversity

As part of their goal to ensure visibility and adequate representation of minorities, The Working Group for The Nigeria Prize […]

This is Why I am Endowing a N1 Million Prize for Difference and Diversity in Nigeria | Chude Jideonwo

This is Why I am Endowing a N1 Million Prize for Difference and Diversity in Nigeria _ Chude Jideonwo (2)

Last year, I wrote a piece on CNN during Pride Month​—​a month set aside to celebrate sexual and gender diversity […]

Derek Owusu Awarded 2020 Desmond Elliot Prize

Derek Owusu Awarded 2020 Desmond Elliot Prize (1)

British author of Ghanaian heritage Derek Owusu has been awarded the 2020 Desmond Elliot Prize for his debut novel That […]

My Sister, The Serial Killer Wins Crime Fiction Book of the Year

My Sister, The Serial Killer Wins Crime Fiction Book of the Year

Oyinkan Braithwaite’s comic crime thriller, My Sister, The Serial Killer (2018), has won the 2020 British Book Award for Crime Fiction […]

Thanks for signing up!

Never miss out on new posts. Subscribe to a digest, too:

No thanks, I only want the monthly newsletter.