In February, we published Innocent Immaculate Acan’s short story, “Songbird,” taken from a yet unreleased anthology, Go the Way Your Blood Beats: New Short Fiction from Africa. The e-book, which comprises twelve short stories following queer characters, is now available on our website.
Edited by the South African writer Anathi Jongilanga, and with an introduction by the Somali writer and visual artist Diriye Osman, Go the Way Your Blood Beats also features work by Odah Brian, Vuyelwa Maluleke, Tsholofelo Wesi, Mercy Wandera, Fiske Serah Nyirongo, Riley Hlatshwayo, Penninah Wanjiru, Dennis Mugaa, Thato Patrick Tsotetsi, Karin Henriques, and Agajem Jemima Japhet.
Here is the Editor’s Note.
I constantly yearn to read books like this: books centering African, Queer characters in fiction, (re)imagining African queerness into existence for its own sake. Of course, many books had been out in the public long before the idea for this anthology was even conceived: anthologies such as Queer Africa (2013) and Queer Africa II (2016), 14’s We Are Flowers (2017) and The Inward Gaze (2018), and novels such as Chinelo Okparanta’s Under the Udala Trees, Ekow Duker’s The God Who Made Mistakes, and K. Sello Duiker’s seminal The Quiet Violence of Dreams, to name a few.
This anthology exists both as a contribution to an ongoing conversation and as resistance: because we must write about queerness from a place of love, to bring to life queer characters who exist just for existing, without the cis-heterosexual gaze, without the insult of a life determined for them by other people, without being sidelined in their own stories, without being the Joke, the Other Person, the Unspeakable Thing, the Errant One, the Mutant. To just be. To live a life. To claim themselves back from the fringes. To live with grace and joy and pain and love and all the things that make a person a person. To be complicated, be human. Because sometimes it is when we see these things in other people that we can also start believing them about ourselves – that we are not broken, we are just different. And where else to look but stories?
One evening in July 2018, I was crazy enough to flirt with this idea. I approached a few people who actually were willing to work with me on curating such a book. A few days later, none of them were excited about the idea anymore and I started to fret. Was I about to take on such a mammoth of a task by myself and see if I had it in me to see it through, to fulfill that need? My knee-jerk reaction was a resounding no. But my right thumb flicked on my phone’s screen and went to Twitter, and, just like that, I sent out word that I was looking for short fiction with the theme “Go the Way Your Bloods Beats.” Originally, this was only a theme and not a title – there were two working titles in the process of compiling this book – until a conversation with Otosirieze made me decide on it as title.
Why this theme and title – “Go the Way Your Blood Beats”? I’d seen the line in an article – which I can’t remember now – and it stuck. It was evocative, the kind of thing that you could be given as a prompt and you would send your pen sprawling. It was enticing, and I think I was drunk enough from the idea of actually creating something from it such that it sounded easy, doable. I wanted to see journeys made, journeys inward and outward, to the world, to the heart, back in time, a run to the future. I wanted to see stories of hope, of love, heartbreak, joy, resistance, identity, politics, grit, magic. Little did I know at the time that the phrase is James Baldwin’s.
After a month, there were eight submissions, seven of which were good enough. But that wasn’t enough. Aside the low number of responses, something was lacking: a flow between the stories, a communication. Those seven wouldn’t do, and again, I thought of giving up. But with the help of The Kalahari Review and the Ja. Magazine teams, I put out another, more formal, call for open submissions, and two months later, I had over twenty entries to choose from. Twelve of those stories make up this anthology.
But because I was running only on passion and “need,” I had no place to house this wonderful work. I must be honest: I let my imposter syndrome get the better of me almost all the time. This was why I didn’t have it in me to approach Brittle Paper in December when I finished editing and putting the book together, why I had not thought about it until the last minute. But by late January 2019, I had contacted them and, to my delight, they said Yes. I sighed with relief, with happiness. It is not only that our work would be given space to be seen; it was also that there would be one more book about queerness out in the world and someone would be happy that there is.
I am grateful to the following people:
Everybody who shared my social media posts about looking for material for this work.
The Ja. Magazine and The Kalahari Review teams.
The authors. This book would not exist without you: this is your work. Thank you for trusting me with your words. To those who submitted but their work couldn’t make it to these pages – thank you for submitting, for giving it a chance.
Diriye Osman. For agreeing to write the introduction to the book, for giving us the most generous compliment.
Saint Sdumo, Mandisi Mzenze.
Dlozi Mthethwa. For the cover design.
Otosirieze Obi-Young and Brittle Paper. I don’t know how I could thank you enough for everything that you have done – giving this book a home, assisting me with so much more. For the many lessons that working with you has taught me. For your patience and generous spirit – you cannot know how much all that means to an emerging writer and editor like me.
I can only hope that, together with the authors of these stories, I have achieved my goal.