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READ: Selves: An Afro Anthology of Creative Nonfiction | New Project Collects Powerful Nonfiction from Across Africa

Just like previous generations have produced platforms like The Horn, Black Orpheus, the Mbari Club, The New Horn, amongst others, that captured new voices, culminating in the creation of the literary periods in the country, it is imperative, for every generation hoping to carve a niche in the literary spectrum of its country, to create collections of thoughts that speak to and about their various issues.

In January 2018, the Nigerian writer Basit Jamiu curated a project, Selves: An Afro Anthology of Creative Nonfiction, that, according to him, “seeks to speak to people in the same way that good fiction can.” In an age where depression, disillusionment, mental health issues and suicide have become the lot of many youths who, as a result of the gender inequality, state-backed sexual prejudice, and the general disorientation that comes with living in a country where unemployment and youth illiteracy are rife, the anthology captures the mostly unsaid tales and unvoiced stories that most young writers find difficult to share with the entire world. It is compendium of secrets, repulsive habits, realities you are compelled to suppress and things you would wish your folks never saw.

Most of the stories in the anthology come from the deepest recesses of the writers’ collective humanity and clandestine individuality; stories that help us to deeply comprehend loss, hatred, love, found and lost, depression, anger and the grave confessions that, without the freedom that literature promises, would never have seen the light of print.

Selves seeks to capture the essence of millennial existence, to amplify the personal stories of young, restless minds, who, sometimes because of their radical ideologies and approach to things, are labelled misfits. Someone says all the misfits of this world are lonely; but the essays collected in this book seeks to discard that garment of loneliness to find closure in catharsis.

The opening story, “The Miseducation of Gratitude” by Sibongile Fisher, collects woes buried in the receptacle of a mother, who, at twenty-six, “had a face that was already growing tired of mothering and playing wife,” but could not leave the relationship because “she was taught to do her homework,” like every other mother. There is its pain of having your name misspelt by a teacher, the daring exploration of young bodies, even if both are of the same gender, and the sweet-bitter experience of losing your virginity to the only man you love, but who eventually breaks your heart.

TJ Benson’s “Waterborne,” a story swimming in a bath-tub filled with warm water in a borrowed room at the Ebedi Writers’ Residency, bothers on the pain of losing your parents and your home, of growing up with foster parents, the scathing uncertainty that propels you to become unattached to things, the fear of bodies of water that resulted from “watching an isle sink to the bottom of a large ocean in Aladin after waxing gold by the hand of Midas, the last survivors screaming for help.”

There is the uncertainty and eventual excitement of meeting a renowned writer in Binyavanga Wainaina, as expressed in Sada Malumfashi’s “Finding Binyavanga.” It reminds me of the mild fear that greeted my own meeting of Jude Dibia, a writer I had admired since reading his novel Walking With Shadows. Malumfashi describes Binyavanga’s as “the hurricaning way, the thundering way, the lightning way,” something you could smell from a distance when you saw Binya at Ake Festival, where you hardly saw him without a cigarette nonchalantly stuck in his mouth—which perfectly describes the writer’s unrelenting voice in the fight for equality.

Umar Turaki’s “Shapes of Losses” dissects how it feels to walk out of a relationship because you are “cornered by the pain of loving someone into their wilderness,” the cold bitterness that tugs at your insides from the recurring heartbreaks you have mustered, the obscurity of your personality and denial of family friends, who deserted the family after your father’s demise.

In Ama Asantewa’s “Missing Wombs and Closed Wounds,” the presence of two ovarian cysts pressing down on the writer’s bladder, the pungent smell of the hospitals’ antiseptic corridors, disinfected floor and human sweat, and the departure of a lover who thinks “he is changing himself because of her and does not want that,” makes the writer a bundle of bewilderment, confusion, and pain.

In Gbolahan Badmus’ “Like Rambo’s Bullets,” pain takes on another form. It comes as deformed dentition that makes you abstain from smiling. There is a feeling that comes with discovering that one part of your body falls short of general expectations; ineptitude creeps into your consciousness, making you scared of being yourself in public. His teeth, in the words of a classmate in school, was “scatter-scatter teeth like Rambo’s [Sylvester Stallone’s] bullets.”

Mapule Mohulatsi in “The Nervous Conditions of the Mother Tongue” describes the frustrations and shattered sense of confidence that comes with being unable to meticulously speak the English language years after South Africa’s national freedom. Particularly when her mother also fantasized about the crystal-clear English she would grow up to speak in the New South Africa.

Qamarun Nisa explores the unquenchable curiosity with which she lived each day, hunting mysteries beyond even her comprehension in “The Efficacy of Goodwill.” Because of the sins she thinks her skin shields, she sees ill health as a means of atoning for her sins. The bouts of self-loss and the mild deprivation of consciousness, even when she is awake, she sees as the devil visiting her.

In “This Hell Not Mine: On Moving from Nigeria to America,” Kenechi Uzor reveals America, often seen as the cradle of freedom and limitless opportunities by folks from impoverished nations, to be as hellish and as turbulent as his home country of Nigeria. The move between the countries is quantified as “the obscenity of humanity who often seek heaven to find hell.” Kenechi advises young people, particularly writers: “where the grass is sparse means more could grow.”

Alithnayn Abdulkareem, in her “Coffee and Guinness,” explores the vibrancy that many youths have tried to suppress because of conservative parents who see the youths’ realities as behavioural corruption filtering from the West. The unexpected summon home from her mother is a reminder that parents always hover around our experiences, our existence, as youths.

In “Violent Punctuations,” Hauwa Shaffii Nuhu explores a new twist to the tale of loss vis a vis grief, one whose full effect hits in tiny but devastating measures. The death of Ma, a female relative that the she loves, swoops down, like an Eagle, clutching in its talons grey doom and grief that breaks the rhythm of her life. Death, the cold finality of it, has a way of making life and its accoutrement aspirations seem banal.

Kelvin Alaneme writes about violence in “The War Within,” exploring religious extremism and its resultant chaos, which stretches Nigeria’s already threadbare fabric of togetherness. Children are kidnapped at will, homes are bombed, even the attack of the virulent herdsmen makes living a complicated mess in many parts of the world. It resonated the most with me with its message: we all carry a part of the war in our bones, whether we like it or not.

In “Before We Grew Up,” Howard M-B Maximus writes about growing up in a regimented household, where life is lived according to pre-designed time-tables, and the after-effects of growing up. The writer’s father is used as a reference point for parents who take it upon themselves to make sure that their children follow in their own footsteps, even if it meant stifling the children’s realities. His childhood home “was a jungle and his dad was the lion.”

Selves is a convergence of stories that speak from the reality of life in 2018 Nigeria. If you are interested in ascertaining the issues that face young adults in the country, pick up this anthology, flip through the gripping pages of various truths and you could point out those things that are anathema to the growth of the present generation. This will serve as a reference material years after now, when history retraces its steps to recollect the truths of this generation. We can only hope that more compendiums of voices are born.

DOWNLOAD: Selves: An Afro Anthology of Creative Nonfiction



About the Author:

Adefolami Ademola is a poet, social commentator, and content writer. His poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Sentinel Literary Quarterly, Poetry Potion, New Orleans Review, Poets in Nigeria (PIN), Prosopisia, and Black Room, among others. His creative nonfiction has been published on Akoma, The Nerve Africa, The Afro Vibe, Newshunter, YNaija, and Medium. He lives in Lagos.

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