The Zambian-American author Namwali Serpell has been featured on the cover of the September/October 2022 edition of the literary magazine Poets & Writers.
The bi-monthly magazine is published by Poets & Writers, one of the largest nonprofit literary organizations in the US.
In the cover issue, Serpell is profiled by Renée H. Shea. The feature highlights Serpell’s latest novel The Furrows, described as “a powerful exploration of grief, memory, and loss that becomes part of a larger story of Black identity and double consciousness”.
We learn from the feature that the novel is vaguely autobiographical and loosely inspired by the loss of Serpell’s own sister Chisha to a drug overdose nearly two decades prior. Serpell dedicated the novel to her sister and started writing the novel in 2008. She completed a first draft six years later, way before what would eventually become her debut novel The Old Drift.
The profile also maps out a brief biography of Serpell’s life, including her struggle of growing up mixed race – born to a British-Zambian father and a Zambian mother – in 1990s Baltimore. The immediacy of the racial tension she witnessed growing up was revived for her in the aftermath of the murder of George Floyd in 2020. The novel is written in “two sections with vastly different narrative styles and structures.”
Read an excerpt from the magazine feature below:
In writing as in life, Serpell crosses boundaries—or simply ignores them. The scope and scale of her comfortable movement among fiction, including novels and award-winning short stories, as well as literary criticism, film and television reviews, and journalism, is extraordinary. She reviewed the HBO series Watchmen for the New York Review of Books (“In the Time of Monsters”), Jordan Peele’s Us (“Uncanny Valleys”) for the Nation, and Pixar’s Soul for the New Yorker. She has published essays in the Paris Review, the Guardian, Slate, the Yale Review, and the New York Times. Serpell is a frequent contributor of long-form journalism for the New York Review of Books, and her essay “Black Hole,” which paid tribute to the Black vagina, went viral. She has numerous academic publications, including two theory-based works on ethics and literature: Seven Modes of Uncertainty (Harvard University Press, 2014) and Stranger Faces (Transit Books, 2020). Both academicians and other writers recognize the ease with which she brings disparate, sometimes conflicting fields together. Award-winning writer Carmen Maria Machado describes Serpell’s work as “formally inventive and gorgeous” but also “accessible,” adding: “I don’t mean that in a condescending way—it’s just that so many academics have trouble writing well, and she does it so effortlessly, in Stranger Faces especially. That level of thinking is dissected and argued so clearly to me, a nonacademic.”
Congrats to Serpell on being featured on the cover of Poets & Writers!
Read the full essay here.