Congolese poet Sarah Lubala has recently published her debut poetry collection. It is titled A History of Disappearance and was published by South African publisher Botsotso Publishing this past march. Sarah’s work has been published here on Brittle Paper previously, so we are ecstatic to celebrate and share this anthology of her new work!

Sarah Lubala is a Congolese-born, South Africa-based writer. Her family fled the Democratic Republic of Congo two decades ago amidst political unrest. They relocated first to South Africa, then the Ivory Coast, before returning to South Africa and settling in Johannesburg. She has been twice shortlisted for the Gerald Kraak Award as well as The Brittle Paper Poetry Award and longlisted for the Sol Plaatje EU Poetry Award. Her work has been published in the Mail & Guardian, The Daily Vox, Brittle Paper, Apogee Journal, Entropy, and elsewhere.

A History of Disappearance contains 37 poems and photographs by Julien Harneis, Bill Wegener, and others. Some of the themes addressed in the anthology include forced migration, displacement, xenophobia, gender, sexual violence, mental illness, memory, and remembering. Sarah recently had an interview with Adhiambo E. Magak for OkayAfrica about the book and her life experiences, writing that “Death, abandonment, displacement, disavowal, much of these histories are marked by disappearances of all kinds…I wanted to write about disappearance as a structure of experience, and not only as an event.”

Reading through the collection, Sarah’s collection connects with the lives of many in spite of historical, social, and political disappearances. Throughout the poems we see memorials for family members, elegies and reflections on girls/women and girlhood/womanhood, and retellings and litanies of biblical accounts centered on women. The poems are deeply personal and emotional, leaving readers in a state of reflection and heartache at times. Sarah has discussed in other interviews the importance of centering women’s lives and terrifying experiences with gender violence:

For many women, the threat of sexual violence haunts our lives. Pumla Gqola, a South African academic, calls it ‘the fear factory.’ I don’t know that I navigate it as much as I survive it, and I survive it by writing about it. The female ‘fear factory’ functions through shame and control. Poetry is about freedom of articulation and affirming the truth of our experiences. I think of my writing as joining a long line of women’s resistance poetry that exposes the social and political conditions of women’s existences.

Regarding memory and grief, In “Boy with the Flying Cheekbones” the speaker of the poem speaks to “Dear Théophile,” a sibling or friend from “the same bruised piece of earth” as the speaker. The poem describes the pair’s history with a previous home, with “the hot bread/the overripe mangoes/the filthy currency…the sweltering April sky/the villages aflame/the potholes like wounds.” By the end of the poem we realize the speaker is not talking to Théophile directly, but instead has lost connection with him. The gnawing pain of not knowing how a loved one is doing or where they even are seeps through the pages and remains with you long after the pages turn.

of all the prayers
commit but one to memory:
me before you.

you bury me.

Reader’s interested in poetic responses to injustices against girls and women especially as connected to displacement, gendered violence, and mental health may connect to this collection. It is a lyrical, painfully beautiful debut for Sarah and we look forward to seeing her continued success.

Buy A History of Disappearance: African Books Collective