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Archive for the ‘Cameroon’ Category

“It’s Our Victory”: Cameroonian Writer Enoh Meyomesse Finally Freed from Prison

nullnullnullEnoh Meyomesse, one of the five “Writers at Risk” cases selected by PEN last year, was released this week after spending more than three harrowing years in the overcrowded Kondengui Central Prison in the Cameroonian capital of Yaoundé.

PEN International and PEN England believe that the charges against the Cameroonian poet, essayist and political activist were politically motivated, and that he was imprisoned because of his criticism of the government and his political activism.

“It’s funny to see the prison from outside,” Meyomesse told writer Patrice Nganang, who campaigned for his release, as reported by The Guardian. “They practically threw me outside. It was quite forceful. But if it is kicking me outside to freedom, then there’s nothing to complain about.”

Alain Mabanckou, who wrote an open letter to Meyomesse on the Day of the Imprisoned Writer in November last year, said on Twitter: “It’s our victory. Freedom of speech is stronger than ever. I am proud of having wrote an open letter for Enoh.”

Meyomesse, who is the author of over 15 books and the recipient of the 2012 Oxfam Novib/PEN Free Expression Award, was arrested in Yaoundé in 2011, and charged, along with three other men, with attempting to organise a coup and aggravated theft. He was sent to a prison in Bertoua in the Eastern Province of Cameroon, and held in solitary confinement and, according to PEN, complete darkness for 30 days.

In 2012, after 13 months in prison, Meyomesse was sentenced to seven years’ imprisonment and fined 200,000 CFA (about US$418) for supposed complicity in the theft and illegal sale of gold. As PEN reported: “No witnesses or evidence were presented during the trial, and he was not allowed to testify in his own defence. According to Meyomesse, he was sentenced ‘without any proof of wrong-doing on my part, without any witnesses, without any complainants, and more than that, after having been tortured during 30 days by an officer of the military.’”

During his time in prison, Meyomesse suffered from several medical conditions, but continued to write and publish. In November 2012 he self-published a collection of poetry, Poème carcéral: Poésie du pénitencier de Kondengui, which available to read online (in French). In 2013 English PEN launched a crowd-sourced translation of the volume in order to raise funds for him and his family, and create greater awareness of his case. Jail Verse: Poems from Kondengui Prison is available to download here.

In a powerful piece on the immeasurable value of receiving books in prison, Meyomesse wrote: “They are like oxygen, they cannot be replaced.”

We hope Meyomesse will be back among his own bookshelves soon.

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View PEN’s tweets announcing Meyomesse’s release:

Image courtesy of Free Enoh Meyomesse

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Fiction Friday: Read a New Short Story from Cameroon’s Million-Dollar Author, Imbolo Mbue

33-year-old Cameroon-born newcomer Imbolo Mbue made headlines when she sold the rights to her debut novel, The Longings of Jende Jonga, for a cool $1 million (R11,5 million) at the Frankfurt Book Fair last year. Now the public finally has the chance to read her writing, as she has had her first short story published.

As Publishers Weekly reported back in October, David Ebershoff of Random House purchased the North American rights to The Longings of Jende Jonga from agent Susan Golomb.

The novel opens in New York City in 2007 and focuses on the West African immigrant of its title, who lands a job as a chauffeur for a high level executive at Lehman Brothers. Jende’s family becomes close to his employer’s—Jende’s wife is quickly hired by the exec’s wife—only to have both families thrown into disarray when the 2008 financial collapse hits.

Ebershoff said the novel is written with “equal amounts of intelligence, empathy, and talent,” and compared the author to writers ranging from Chimamanda Adichie to Jhumpa Lahiri.

Mbue, who has degrees from Rutgers and Columbia universities, has lived in the US since 1998, currently living in Manhattan with her husband and son.

Read her first published story, from the Threeprenny Review:

By Imbolo Mbue

It is a disease of the blood, the doctors told him.

He didn’t ask many questions—he knew about the disease more than some who came in to treat him. He knew that blood is the river of the body and with his being contaminated, his body might soon shrivel up and die like plants on a dried river bank. He knew this truth and yet he showed no great sorrow at the news, only a frail optimism. Bolow and I stayed by his side in those first days, watching as esteemed experts came in pairs and threes and sometimes enough to form a half moon around him. They asked him questions about his appetite, his sleep, his excrements. They read notes in his chart, listened to the beatings of his body, whispered to each other, and left the room with their heads down. The medicine, which the nurses put in through veins in his arm and back, made him drowsy but his sleep was light, ending when he awakened hot and sweaty from nightmares fueled by too many chemicals pumped into his body. After he had toweled off, he would tell us about the nightmares. In one, he was given a glass of blood by a hand without a body, and asked by a baby’s voice to drink it all in one sip. In another, he saw his head on a tray, laughing at him. Over the course of a few weeks, he became lean, then skeletal. His friends filed in and kept his spirits high and he kept theirs high too. When we left his presence we cried, for we saw on that bed a man whose mind and soul were well but whose body appeared to have lost half its contents.

He made a rule for all who came to visit him: no crying. What are you crying for, he would ask us with a short laugh. Yes, what are we crying for, we would ask ourselves. This, after all, was Emke. He was going to be a healer of others. Why would he not heal himself? He wanted to become a doctor because he was certain that to give a man good health was to give him a life worth continuing. Good health for all, he always said, is what Africa most needs.

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