Subscribe to Newsletter
Monthly Newsletter: Join more than 3,000 African literature enthusiasts!
Subscribe for African literature news, and receive a free copy of our "Guide to African Novels."

Diriye Osman. Image from Africa Is a Country.

Describing himself as “first Somali, second Muslim, third gay,” the enchanting Diriye Osman is arguably the most fascinating writer on the African scene—he owns his identity, speaks his truth. A frank champion of other people’s work, his debut short story collection, Fairytales for Lost Children (2013), was awarded the 2014 Polari First Book Prize. His debut novel, We Once Belonged to the Sea, is forthcoming in September of this year.

In the brief essay below, titled “The Thrill of Literary Androgyny” and published on his Website, Osman uses the main character of We Once Belonged to the Sea—a lesbian—to intimate us on the meaning of “literary androgyny,” that gender-straddling sensibility possessed by the best storytellers.

*

In my debut novel, We Once Belonged to the Sea, the lead character, Señora Zahra, is an eccentric lesbian Somali artist who finds pleasure in expensive colognes, mink coats, and diamond-encrusted paintings. She is a fabulist who dedicates her life to the pursuit of refinement and revelry. I wanted to write about a queer black female artist that was obdurate about her proclivities and was, in many ways, celebrated for them. At a time when black folks like myself have to account for our black bodies, which is to say, our mere presence in the real and virtual world, I wanted to write about a queer black female artist in her prime who couldn’t care less about anyone’s approval, naysayers be damned.

Señora Zahra’s perfect foil is her protégé, Anissa Rouhani, a talented teenaged hijabi punk who finds herself grappling with her morality as she edges towards her creative goals. For Anissa, there is a tension between her desire to become a great artist and the Islamic faith which has sustained her during moments of self-doubt and trauma. This tension plays out in her coil-tight exchanges with Señora Zahra, who represents, in Anissa’s mind at least, the height of hubris and haramic shenanigans. It is a book about the intersection between art, faith, trauma and ambition.

The question that is frequently asked, however, is why write about these two women at all. Why not focus solely on the lives of queer Somali men? I wrote about these complex women because I understand this world. I grew up surrounded by strong, ambitious women and, as such, I’m familiar with this milieu. The prevalent Western perception of the Somali woman is someone who is meek and lacks agency. This narrative couldn’t be more contradistinctive to the culture I grew up in, a culture steeped in feminist discourse and dominance, a culture where the menfolk are often ancillary footnotes in the arcs of women’s lives. In my family alone, my mother, sisters, cousins, aunts and grandmothers were the keepers of the kingdom. It was always fascinating to witness family get-togethers where the men would pontificate about the state of Somalia and the women would sit down and analyze what needed to get done, which relative needed help, which youth was losing their way, whose sex life had stalled and, conversely, who was having the best sex of their lives. Whilst the men played politricks with their peers, the women formed a pick-sharp alliance, a sisterhood that was stronger than any marital bond. It was a sisterhood of love, friendship and carefree silliness spiked with spicy tea, comicality and clapbacks. I wanted to write a story that celebrated these kinds of relationships.

I am also a devotee of what Jhumpa Lahiri deemed, ‘a certain androgyny of the mind’. My favorite writers, from Edwidge Danticat to Zadie Smith to Donna Tartt, exercise this androgyny of the mind in their best work by writing from the male perspective. If writing fiction is a performance, it is important to imagine other lives, other ways of being. One must approach this responsibility, and it is a responsibility, with empathy and exactitude. One false note and the whole enterprise collapses in on itself.

Continue reading HERE.

Tags: ,

About Otosirieze Obi-Young

View all posts by Otosirieze Obi-Young
Otosirieze Obi-Young is a writer, academic, literary journalist, and Deputy Editor of Brittle Paper. His fiction has appeared in The Threepenny Review, Transition, and in an anthology of the Gerald Kraak Award for which he was shortlisted. His work has further been shortlisted for the Miles Morland Writing Scholarship in 2016 and a Pushcart Prize in 2015. He attended the 2018 Miles Morland Foundation Creative Writing Workshop. He is the curator of the ART NAIJA SERIES, a sequence of themed e-anthologies of writing and visual art exploring different aspects of Nigerianness. The first, ENTER NAIJA: THE BOOK OF PLACES (October, 2016), focuses on cities in Nigeria. The second, WORK NAIJA: THE BOOK OF VOCATIONS (June, 2017), focuses on professions in Nigeria. He studied History and Literature at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, is currently completing a postgraduate programme in African Studies, and teaches English at Godfrey Okoye University, Enugu. He has completed a collection of short stories, YOU SING OF A LONGING, and is working on a novel. He is represented by David Godwin Associates literary agency. When bored, the boy just Googles Rihanna. Find him at otosirieze.com.

No comments yet.

Leave a Reply

I hold a doctorate in English from Duke University and recently joined the Marquette University English faculty as an Assistant Professor. I love teaching African fiction and contemporary British novels. Brittle Paper is the virtual space/station where I play and experiment with ideas on how to reinvent African fiction and literary culture.

Monthly Newsletter!

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

Archives

In Conversation with Hadiza El-Rufai, Author of An Abundance of Scorpions | Deaduramilade Tawak

an abundance of scorpions - syncity

Hadiza El-Rufai, founder of the Yasmin El-Rufai Foundation, debuted a novel this year, An Abundance of Scorpions, for which she recently […]

I Started Reading and Just Stopped Halfway and Thought—This is Really Bad | What Achebe, Soyinka, Adichie, Forna, Teju Cole and Serpell Thought About VS Naipaul

vs naipaul - irish examiner

VS Naipaul, Nobel Prize and Booker Prize-winning novelist and nonfiction writer, passed on days ago at 85 years of age. […]

This Mournable Body, the Last Book in Tsitsi Dangarembga’s Tambudzai Trilogy, is Here

this mournable body - tsitsi dangrembga

This Mournable Body, the last book in Tsitsi Dangarembga’s trilogy which includes the modern classic Nervous Conditions (1988) and The Book of […]

Five Beautiful Acts of Generosity by African Writers

yewande omotoso, karen jennings, noviolet bulawayo

In the midst of the pressure to deliver under that heavy tag “African Writer,” in the back and forth between […]

Watch the Trailer for the Stage Adaptation of Chigozie Obioma’s The Fishermen

the fishermen copy

In May of 2017, we announced preparations for the stage adaptation of Chigozie Obioma’s debut novel The Fishermen. Later in […]

Apply to the Write with Style Workshop with Oris Aigbokhaevbolo

Write with Style flyer

Words run the world: On the internet, and in novels, magazines, films, songs, and even love letters. How do you […]

Thanks for signing up!

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

No thanks, I only want the monthly newsletter.