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#STBooks: Bedclothes the Book Cover; Ink and Paper the Lover by NoViolet Bulawayo

We Need New NamesBy NoViolet Bulawayo for The Sunday Times

I had this spot on the 7th floor of my favorite library at Cornell University, but there I mostly did less intense stuff. The real work was done in my bed. Maybe it was because my days started very early so it seemed much easier to just work from it, especially as New York winters are colder that a witch’s tit.

I slept with my books and notebooks and pens under my pillow, under the bed, by my side, like weapons, like lovers, and woke up to just flick on the lights and write away. And I wrote, Jesus, I wrote. I don’t know, there was always something special about writing from my bed, somehow inspiration came like water gushing from a tap. My book really lived in my head in those days, those years, and to give it room I barely had a social life.

I went to workshops, or to teach, and attended book readings, but beyond that I didn’t do a whole lot. I remember one night joining my peers at a bar, and how when I walked in they cheered. But what was I to do, We Need New Names had walked into my life, occupied it, and like some jealous lover, demanded I live for nothing else.

When it seized me proper I’d turn off the phone for days and disappear, much to the bemusement of my sisters with whom I was usually in constant touch. I’d emerge after days to listen to messages ranging from concerned to disappointed to annoyed, messages demanding I give a sign, so they could stop worrying because they insisted there was no way they could ever know I was fine since I was living by myself. “One line, just write one line before you disappear,” my oldest sister would say.

I kept disappearing and disappearing, unable to stop from giving myself fully to my jealous lover. Names was literally the last thing on my mind when I went to bed, and the first when I woke up, and when, a couple of years later, I was engulfed in so intense a relationship that I would sleep or wake up thinking of my beloved, it confirmed to me that We Need New Names was born out of some kind of strange love.

Perhaps this is where the bed fit in. It is, after all, an intimate space. During the day my mind would be busy at work, thinking about my characters, holding conversations, planning plots, and by the time I went to bed I could feel the writing holding its breath inside me.

Sometimes it simply couldn’t wait till early morning, and gushed out. It leaked and oozed. I remember often waking in the daze between sleep and consciousness, groping in the dark for pen and paper and just Flowing. In this zone, there was no pause for thought, no, no stopping to consider the texture of words, or if a line made any sense. I was blind with inspiration, the words came and came and came and I wrote desperately, my hand dancing fast and faster and fastest, until the impulse stopped and I rolled back into my second-hand bed, my body seeking shelter among paper and crumpled, ink-stained sheets.

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