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Behind the words of Africa: an interview with the editors of Short Story Day Africa’s latest collection, Migrations

Published in the Times

Diane Awerbuck asks its editors – Bongani Kona, Efemia Chela and Helen Moffett – some difficult questions.

MigrationsMigrations: New Short Stories From Africa
Edited by Efemia Chela, Bongani Kona, Helen Moffett (New Internationalist Publications Ltd)

Which is your favourite story?

Kona: Today it’s “Diaspora Electronica” by Blaize Kaye. It’s set in the future where people are migrating to a better digital world, but there’s a lingering sadness at the core of the story. Despite Twitter, Instagram and new technologies of connection meant to bring us together, we somehow feel depressed and more alone.

Moffett: In “Naming” by Umar Turaki, words from multiple languages weave together the lives of men, women, children and even a rooster on a lethal journey that bristles with beauty and menace.

In “Exodus” by Miriam Bahgat Eskaros, an unusual narrator tells the story of a refugee child with poignance.

I tear up every time I remember it. Izda Luhumyo’s “The Impossibility of Home” is superb – the most original quest and women’s friendship story I’ve read in a while.

Chela: “Naming” plays around with temporality in a fascinating way and Umar Turaki’s writing is incredibly cinematic. Stacy Hardy’s “Involution” masterfully explores womanhood, eco-futures and invasion. It’s unsettling and unique.

What makes these stories African?

Kona: The writers are looking at the world from an African perspective.

Moffett: “African” stands for multiple voices, telling of often precarious lives in the wake of past and ongoing pillaging of a continent, of human movement (often forced), of outsiders and insiders, of reinventing the “heart of darkness” and subverting the western gaze – done with humour, panache and context.

Chela: African writing is so diverse that African doesn’t mean any particular voice, themes or style will necessarily be present. Migrations will surprise you.

What did you learn about editing?

Kona: Writing is a collaborative process. Before a story ends up with the reader it’s gone through an editor, proofreader, typesetter, the writer’s last last-minute changes.

A number of people work in the service of the story. It’s magical to witness.

Chela: My fellow editors have an almost telepathic knowledge of what the writer is trying to achieve. Often less is more. A great story can be told without a lot of ornamentation.

Moffett: The serenity of leaving in errors when these reflect the embedding of local languages, images and idioms in multiple Englishes. The courage to wade in and clean up muddled syntax that is obscuring brilliant storytelling. The wisdom to know the difference.

What did you learn about your own writing?

Chela: There’s so much talent in African writing. As a writer myself I have to watch my back.

Kona: Don’t worry too much about making mistakes. It’s part of the process, and mistakes can be fixed.

Moffett: To finish the damn book/story/poem and push it out there.

What advice do you have for aspiring writers?

Moffett: READ. READ. READ. And read local.

Chela: Write what scares you. Be an active part of the nebulous, far-flung African writing community: buy and read books by African writers (and not just ones who write in English, please); create a writers’ group; start a funky literary zine. You’ll never know if you don’t put yourself out there.

Kona: Is there any better advice than “just write”?
 

Migrations

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