The Vanguard Book of Love Stories is a new anthology of short fiction focused on romance. It is the third by the Nigeria-based book promotion company Vanguard Literary Services—after Gossamer: Valentine Stories (2016), introduced by Toni Kan, and Love Stories from Africa (2017), introduced by Helon Habila.

Edited by the writer Nonso Anyanwu, aided by Brigitte Poirson, The Vanguard Book of Love Stories collects six short stories by Howard M-B Maximus, Klara Kalu, Ugochi Okafor, Peter Ifeanyichukwu Eze, Gideon Chukwuemeka Ogbonna, and Halima Aliyu.

Here is the introduction by Brittle Paper deputy editor Otosirieze Obi-Young.




The most fascinating explorations of love succeed because they are layered: whether written outwards from the inside or inwards from the outside, they show us human beings on our own, in our social realities, then they show us tied to other human beings, in our emotional realities, then they show us for what we can be in this meeting: loving or beloved, fragile or strong, nurturing or selfish, protective or destructive. While, because of this lure of the layered, it is the grand portrayals of love that have long held our collective attention—James Baldwin’s presentation of it as an impossible antidote to racism, Toni Morrison’s treatment of its persistence as radical salvation, Michael Ondaatje’s painting of it in indelible imagery, as examples—the other portrayals in which love is the accrual of small, everyday living, are also worthy of fascination: its writers succeed by simply letting love be love, writing it with no artistic anxiety to provide any layers. It is very much the point of writing, after all: telling it as it is.

Life is how it is, and most stories of life, when stripped down, become stories of love: of its presence or absence. In writing love, the understanding of this juxtaposition is key, because, in their physical and emotional transactions, the subjects of love are essentially asking each other: Do you feel me?

The seven stories here aren’t simply about Valentine’s Day Love, that brand of love manifest on or building up to a climactic day; the seven stories here are about the characters’ journeys as human beings and how they are affected by the decisions they make about love. Some of them are straightforward tales of characters searching for and finding romance. In Howard M-B Maximus’ clever presentation of love as a series of calculations, an aging mathematician dismisses those who frown at his relationship with a student as “the absolute sign bending positive numbers: inconsequential.” In Klara Kalu’s second-person tale, a heterosexual romance buds during secondary school and blooms in university; when he is inside her, it “felt like your dick had been born there, grown there, went to school and had plenty of friends and would die there.” In Ugochi Okafor’s tour of a young woman’s love life, we see a central moment in which an expectant “I love you” is replied with “I don’t hate you.”

The rest of the stories offer life-range perspectives. In Chukwuemeka Ogbonna’s promising portrait of pain and survival, a man’s love for a woman trembles in the shadows of his Biafran War memories, including his previous affection for a soldier. In Nonso Anyanwu’s tale, a man sees another man in a bar and proceeds to share the heterosexual romances that define his life in unusual ways. In Halima Aliyu’s story, a woman whose husband “had lost his mind only twice before” finds herself at the center of an unexpected rivalry right in her home. And in short, often clean, sentences, Ifeanyichukwu Peter Eze details a boy’s journey to discovering sensuality and sexuality.

The tradition of Valentine’s Day anthologies has been solidified by The Vanguard Book of African Love Stories series. The series’ first anthology, Gossamer: Valentine Stories (2016), with an introduction by Toni Kan, set the precedent for the proliferation of independent anthologies on the African literary scene: anthologies curated by young creatives without institutional support and funding. It was followed by Love Stories from Africa (2017), with an introduction by Helon Habila. In the three years since the series’ debut, independent anthologies have proliferated, freeing a generation most different in its recourse to confessionalism. At Brittle Paper, this is the eleventh such anthology we have published, following, in addition to the two mentioned above, the Art Naija Series’ Enter Naija: The Book of Places (2016) and Work Naija: The Book of Vocations (2017), 14’s We Are Flowers (2017) and The Inward Gaze (2018), A Mosaic of Torn Places (2017), the Afro Anthology Series’ Selves: An Afro Anthology of Creative Nonfiction (2018), the 20.35 Africa collective’s 20.35 Africa: An Anthology of Contemporary Poetry (2018), and Erotic Africa: The Sex Anthology (2018). In many ways, they owe something to Vanguard Literary Services’ Valentine’s Day series.

Unlike the series’ first two anthologies, featuring stories of 400 and 1,000 words respectively, The Vanguard Book of African Love Stories accommodates full short stories. More than instances of affection, we now have entire trajectories of characters who at every stage of life are embroiled in a struggle with love, their journeys steeped in social realities. In some, there is a sense of completeness.

Otosirieze Obi-Young,

March, 2019.