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ISSUE TWENTY FOUR mosaicmagazine.org RELEVANT LITERATURE
JUNOT DIAZ A NEW ‘TOON GORETTI KYOMUHENDO
Annual Spring Reading
Sunday, June 14, 4-6 pm
The New School Tishman Auditorium
66 West 12th Street, NYC
— Featuring —
Original solo works by NYC’s best teen writers & Keynote Speaker Jean Thompson
�� ��� ���� �� (Simon & Schuster, June 9)
Girls Write Now: Mentoring the Next Generation of Women Writers since 1998 www.girlswritenow.org —Sponsored By —
Contents Issue #24 The New Black Memoir An Interview with Ta-Nehisi Coates ..................................... 8 by Abdul Ali Excerpt The Beautiful Struggle by Ta-Nehisi Coayes ........................ 14 A New ‘Toon Robert Truillo on graphic artist Dawud Anyabwile .............. 18 Every Woman An Interview with Goretti Kyomuhendo ............................. 26 by Beatrice Lamwaka Excerpt Waiting: A Novel of Uganda at War by Goretti Kyomuhendo .................................................... 33 Junot’s Oscar An Interview with Junot Diaz by Alison Isaac ..................... 36
Cover illustration: Robert Truillo
Editor & Publisher Ron Kavanaugh email@example.com | Twitter: @mosaicbooks Copy Editor Tawny Pruitt
Mosaic Literary Magazine (ISSN 1531-0388) is published four times per year by the Literary Freedom Project. Content copyright © 2009. No portion of this magazine can be reprinted or reproduced in any form without prior permission from the publisher. Individual Subscriptions One year: $15.00 | Two years: $25.00 Subscribe online: MosaicMagazine.org Institution Subscriptions EBSCO 1.205.991.6600 or WT Cox 1.800.571.9554 Contact the editor We welcome letters and comments. Send us an e-mail, firstname.lastname@example.org or a letter: Mosaic Literary Magazine 314 W 231 St. #470 Bronx, NY 10463. Please visit Mosaicmagazine.org for submission guidelines. Colophon Layout Software: Adobe InDesign CS Graphic Software: Paint Shop Pro 12 Mast Typeface: Zanzibar Regular Editorial Typeface: Zapf Humanist Computer: Dell XPS 400 POSTMASTER Please send address corrections to: Mosaic 314 W. 231 St #470 Bronx, NY 10463
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he paints. Her thoughtful and poetic reviews on an eclectic mix of artists ranging from Zaki Ibrahim to DJ A-Trak have appeared most recently on Okayplayer. 7 . Urbanology. Since his arrival in Brooklyn he has created an online forum of illustrators and writers of color called Come Bien Books. illustrator.com. Beatrice Lamwaka is finalist for the PEN/Studzinski Literary Award 2009. Black Issues Book Review. including Pound. tours. Jamrock and Sheeko magazines. She has published various short stories in different anthologies. In addition. Alison has earned a degree in Communications and Spanish from York University as well as a certificate in Magazine Publishing from Ryerson University. Alison Isaac has contributed to numerous publications across North America and the UK. An accomplished writer. and exhibits with his crew. His work has appeared in TheRoot. teaches. Robert Trujillo is a Bay Area bread muralist. and a fellow for. and arts educator. She is currently working on her first novel. D.C.Contributors Abdul Ali is a freelance arts and culture writer living in Washington. and The Washington Post.com. Young African Scholars program 2009. the Trust Your Struggle Collective. Butterfly Dreams. the Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation/African Institute of South Africa.
THENeWBLA Interview with TA-NEHISI COATES by Abdul Ali 8 mosaicmagazine.org .
AcKMEMOiR When Ta-Nehisi Coates sat down to write The Beautiful Struggle. he broke new ground for young memoirists whose work challenge what a black story can be in this contemporary moment where a black male can conceivably top the New York Times bestselling list and be President of the United States at the same time. Perhaps not since Claude Brown’s Manchild in the Promised Land have we seen such an unflinching Photo credit: Mya Spalter 9 .
While managing to stay lighthearted and painting a rather colorful cast. What makes Ta-Nehisi Coates’ memoir compelling and different is its father-son dynamic. But what’s 10 mosaicmagazine. only a handful of memoirs about the black male experience have gained critical recognition. pugnacious type.look at urban life and the rites of passage of black youth navigating issues of identity. survival stories—surviving abuse and learning the transcendent power of forgiveness (think Antwone Fisher’s Finding Fish). it’s about riding its tidal waves.” Two narratives run side by side. It is honest. This is important. a sensitive kind who seems ill-suited for the hood. Salinger. manhood. It’s also about igniting one’s imagination and the possibilities that come from reading.org . In recent memory. Ta-Nehisi writes himself into a long tradition of black men who also could not fit any mold that society offered. books. goofy kid running away from brutes.D. and the particular quirks of coming-ofage. And any writer whose first book was compared to the likes of a Joyce of Salinger should be honored. Coates makes his native Baltimore both familiar and something to be observed at arm’s length. reflective. The Beautiful Struggle is about not getting lost to the streets. and all of the accompanying pathologies over intellect. There is something heartening and rare in learning about Paul Coates. particularly when you juxtapose it against all of the popular imagery of young black stories that celebrate bravado. surviving it all then cracking a joke about growing up. and words using them as a tool for change. the guy who refused to see his sons lost physically and spiritually to the streets of Baltimore amid the tumult of the crack era. but it’s important to examine how the critics define “good. The critical reception of The Beautiful Struggle more or less has been good. culde-sac ghetto living. surviving it by the cleats of his pants. forcing us to care about all of the characters that people Coates’ world which begins in West Baltimore and goes all the way to “the Mecca. their stories typically stay within the realm of one-dimensional. and the fact that Coates represents a rarely seen black boy—not the loud. father-son bonding. Rather.” The Washington City Paper masks their praise of the memoir to comparisons of James Joyce and J. To the chagrin of many. never self-aggrandizing. There is the young Ta-Nehisi who morphs dramatically into an awkward. and knowing one’s legacy. The Beautiful Struggle remains true by not being preachy or overly indulgent as a confessional story. to a pensive wordsmith who through his father’s example is able to make connections from histories. and surviving the episodic drama of the hood. or navigating the absentee father pandemic and its impact on relationships (think Michael Datcher’s Raising Fences). introspection. like two trains running.
” 11 ...that road went right through Dad. whose only point in life was toil. He worked seven days a week.“. for weekly he issued sweeping edicts like he had a line to God. Big Bill called him the pope.
and the vision of a Frederick Douglass. Each sentence is formed like a true wordsmith who came-of-age during the bourgeoning of hip-hop. and (with father) trying to navigate the drama of living in drug-infested West Baltimore with hopes of making something his parents. we’re suppose to just accept it as a compliment. and self can be proud of. black. Salinger in order to see validity in what he’s writing about. and an unlikely road to manhood? Ta-Nehisi Coates: Nah.D. Following the release of The Beautiful Struggle. Also. there is a stark difference in socioeconomic backgrounds between Holden Caulfield and TaNehisi Coates. Abdul Ali: I noticed the title of your memoir is the same as a Talib Kweli album--is there a connection? Can you expand on your subtitle: a father. So. two sons. forgetting the beauty.org . There is a poetic sweep to Coates’ high impact. free-loving. To survive the hood of Baltimore or elsewhere. community. strong (and flawed) black man who worked overtime for the revolution. I think that originally refers Continued on page 48 12 mosaicmagazine. lean lines. I was able to catch up with Ta-Nehisi Coates about his new memoir. the inside journey towards selfhood. armed with a father who possesses the dedication of a Nat Turner. It’s troubling that black writers can be so casually compared to white writers without any justification. In short. one needs to be in conversation with his ancestors. not only were the comparisons a bit questionable—since his subject matter is closer to a James Baldwin or a Claude Brown—there also was no real attention to the language. Never mind the way this author implicitly pays homage to his father for being a mentor through it all—he describes his father as being a vegetarian. making the struggle all the more beautiful and worthy.missing is the discussion of what Coates is actually writing about: being young. The virtue of The Beautiful Struggle is that weaves a new thread in the African American literary aesthetic where black men have seemingly been limited—only allowed to talk about struggle. one does not have to compare Coates to a J. And what a gift Coates shares that his being a writer is directly connected to his father’s love for knowledge and books.
95 PAPER • ISBN: 978-1-55861-498-7 The Living Is Easy DOROTHY WEST “[A] powerful work.95 PAPER • ISBN: 978-1-55861-539-7 Brown Girl. Waiting evokes the courage of a young woman battling for her family’s survival as Amin’s army runs amok in her village. and complicated woman.” $16. $13.” and “an American masterpiece. Brownstones A Novel PAULE MARSHALL FOREWORD BY EDWIDGE DANTICAT The classic coming-of-age novel about “one of the most fascinating and memorable female characters in American ﬁction” (Edwidge Danticat) and her Barbadian immigrant parents in Brooklyn during the Depression.” The Living Is Easy is a vivid portrayal of a beautiful.95 PAPER • 978-1-55861-147-4 ������������������������������������������������������ 13 . $16. the daughter of sharecroppers and the wife of a wealthy “banana king. vivacious.Waiting A Novel of Uganda at War GORETTI KYOMUHENDO Set during Idi Amin’s rule.
They sported the Stetsons of Hollis. until they met North and Pulaski.org . When Murphy Homes closed in on us. They shrieked and jeered. . danced wildly. the name rang out: Murphy Homes beat niggers with gas nozzles. craven and honorless. flew out on bat wings. would punk you right in front your girl. urged themselves on. they were all that I’d heard. Still. . flash amulets or secret signs. Baltimore was factional. segmented into crews who took their names from their local civic associations. waved as I broke ankles. Murphy Homes waved the scepter. Across the land. It took time for me to get clear. I was spaced-out as usual. even after they touched my older brother with a right cross so awkward I thought it was a greeting. Murphy Homes split backs and poured in salt. They had no eyes. jab--from a block away. A goblin stepped out from the pack-Fuck. but with no gold. packs of them took up different corners. blew by. leaving dents and divots in the concrete. bitch? --and stunned me with a straight right. like they could three-piece you--jab. I could feel their awful name advancing out of the lore. Big Bill made them a block away. 14 mosaicmagazine. but they cut me off. Murphy Homes turned to me. you going.CHAPTER 1 THE BEAUTIFUL STRUGGLE I didn’t catch on till his arms were pumping the wind. They were shadow and rangy. They were remarkable. The scale of their banditry made them mythical. The streetlights flickered. They did not wave banners. Bill was out. We were surrounded by six to eight. In those days. performed dark rites atop Druid Hill. Murphy Homes moved with one eye. who. uppercut. I tried to follow Bill. Shake and Bake. chanted Rock and Roll is here to stay. Above them all. the harbor--they busted knees and melted faces. Wherever they walked--Old Town. but I did not understand. It was their numbers that tipped me off--no one else rolled this deep. the moon ducked behind its black cloak and Fell’s Point dilettantes shuffled in boots. I left There lived a little boy who was misled . Walbrook Junction ran everything. and when the bandits reached to check me. but up and down the street. When they caught us down on Charles Street. grew tense. About that time my Converse turned to cleats and I bolted. lost in the Caves of Chaos and the magic of Optimus Prime’s vanishing trailer.
15 . The wrestlers barnstormed the country perfecting their insane number. who were our latest sensation. sprawled out on the living room floor. bikinis. Baby Doll. punctuated by jabs at the air. find an adult. But for me only the American Dream could endure. would rush the ring. that made an eye gouge a ritual.only imagination and air. too. *** We’d come out that night in search of the wrestlers. and recited poetry. They held summits and negotiations. like age could shield me. I doubled back to Lexington Market. spread their gospel. named. white music blaring. His eyes were black histories. bathed in applause and fireworks. berserking everywhere. adjusting the hanger behind our secondhand color TV. patented. Whole histories were pillaged. we got banked. the stew of language that gave a beat down style and grace. They ranted with the rhythm of black preachers. until the Fabulous Freebirds. I lost Bill. I reached for a pay phone. and raise their chins until their egos were eye level with God. There was no sign of Bill. You could find us. Glossy mags sprung up from nothing. Stand next to an adult. I’m on the way. and spangled belts. stretching down the block in packs. and Ron Garvin emerged from the wavy lines and static. lost boys with a stake in only each other. all of these ending in a rain of blows. They gave dressing room interviews. and feared-heaven help Bob Backlund in the camel clutch--and we loved that. His gut poured over bikini trunks. carried parasols. myths bastardized. I had crossed a border. But word to Tucker’s Kobolds. Other fans had their Hulksters or the golden Von Erichs. This was more than Dad’s black leather belt--I knew how that would end. Son. Okay. He waddled down the aisle. Dad. Son. They elevated bar fights to a martial art. wore silk robes. They were confused. their hollow threats and lore. until Hercules Hernandez stepped off Olympus and the Iron Sheik delivered the Mideast to the Midwest. this thing filing out across the way. all juiced on jeers and applause. Van Halen hair waving in the wind. noon on Saturdays. their scowling mugs. Moves were invented. I’m in front of Lexington Market. He looked over at me unfazed and then back across the streets at the growing fray of frenzied youth. was awful and random. I stood near a man about Dad’s age waiting at a bus stop.
org . for weekly he issued sweeping edicts like he had a line to God. at six. His tune was internal. He outlawed eating on Thanksgiving. He made us cut the grass with a hand-powered mower. But I lost it all out there. all that emerges are the tendrils of Murphy Homes. that that nigger is from Alabama. hot dogs. With two tickets to live pro wrestling. In the morning he’d play NPR and solicit our opinions just to contravene and debate. At the Baltimore Arena we were in full effect. he did the math on Tarzan and the Lone Ranger until. and popcorn. But that road went right through Dad. I thought they looked dirty. had taken to guerrilla warfare--masks. He was always oblivious to his theme music. resplendent in wraparound shades. They wore caps and jeans sliced into shorts. under pain of lecture. how they dug into my brother’s head. ambushes. and this was the most I’d ever seen of them. In the midst of his fleeing adversaries--the battered Tully Blanchards and shattered Andersons-he’d look out at the crowd gone mad and snatch the mic like KRS-It’s me. the Great. yelling for him to get up. reverse figure fours. Like I told you. The king of the ring. And you will understand. the Dream IS professional wrestling. throw bionic elbows and Sonny Liston rights. But I don’t remember. and outnumbered. whose only point in life was toil. herded kids. But Bill always rooted for villains. and it will take a hell of a man to knock me off. a Jheri curl. I saw the dull taint of colonial power. I am sure this is what brought him comically to our side. and Atari. who was at the height of his feud with the Horsemen. over a series of days.The Horsemen would tie the Dream to the ropes. VCRs. and wanted to cheer the Birdman. We had to see them. beat him until his hair was a mop of bloody blond. and fluorescent gold-and-blue spandex. He was already a kid of the streets. as I do. There were white people everywhere. Big Bill called him the pope. and maybe that night he dipped and glided toward the ring. He disavowed air-conditioning. he offered a gift and a joke-Go see Kamala the Ugandan Giant. capes. I’d like to tell you what immediately happened next. and cackled as Ric Flair strutted the ring. I was open. flipping his wig of platinum blond. flapping his arms and talking to the parakeets perched on each of his shoulders. I’d cringe and pound the floor. Once. 16 mosaicmagazine. beef extended into parking lots. driveways and dream dates. Then the Dream would dig in. and when I dig for that night. He worked seven days a week. We peered down from cheap seats so high that the ring was our own gift box. I have been to the mountaintop. and this made me racist and proud. I wanted to see the Dream.
mothers summoned us to dinner tables. that Dad ran off into the swarming night to find his eldest son. My folks in a modest master. swooped down to the harbor and found Bill first. I know that Bill returned to Tioga days later. Dragonlance. Linda. *** We lived in a row house in the slope of Tioga Parkway in West Baltimore. A cottage industry sprung up to consider our fate. this thievery of your own person. All the old rules were crumbling around us.YBut this highway robbery. but caught myself on the back door roof and came lucky feetfirst to the ground. At schools we were herded into auditoriums. some time after I made the call. Jawanza Kunjufu was large in those days. black boys were assembled. pushed him toward something else. he was incredulous-Fool. and always checkered with scattered volumes of World Book. I was afraid for him. he was my father’s first son. and Narnia. My room was the smallest. I know that Dad and Ma saved me. At conferences. but he turned this minor advantage into heraldry. was up top. shuttled him back out to their crib in Jamestown. Leaning against the crumbling wood I tumbled headlong. Kris and Kell--when back from Howard University. they let you get away so they could chase me. and there they delivered the news: Our time was short. I almost died out there one day. three bedrooms. and for the first and only time. There was a terrace out back. He began sentences with “As the oldest Continued on page 46 17 . At home. in an area where Dad also stored his books. But we were another country. There was a small kitchen. By mere months. more of us in jail than college. The statistics were dire and oft recited--1 in 21 killed by 1 in 21. My two sisters. as in all things. and now fully comprehended the stakes. shared the bottom with my baby brother Menelik. fraying at our seams. Childcraft. and when I told him how I’d dusted Murphy Homes. pulled up in their silver Rabbit. with a rotting wooden balcony. his book Countering the Conspiracy to Destroy Black Boys promised answers and so was constantly invoked. the greater world was obsessed over Challenger and the S&L scandal. *** If the newspapers Dad left around the house were true. and three bathrooms--but only one that anybody ever wanted to use. how I was on some Kid Flash shit. I know that Bill’s mother. He was touched by the desperate. Big Bill. I slept on bunk beds made from thick pine. All of us slept upstairs.
The steely eyes of a superhero.A NeW ‘TOON DAWUD ANYABWILE by Robert Truillo I discovered Dawud Anyabwile’s work about two years ago while researching illustrations that were representative of African Americans and Latinos in contemporary comics and graphic novels.org . I thought “What? I’ve seen this before!” 18 mosaicmagazine. I had never read his stuff before. but I immediately recognized his work. his forehead emblazoned with a huge “B” was permanently imprinted in my mind.
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animator. and illustration my entire life. Fresh. I flipped out.com. New Jersey. and OG Comics creator. where I was. and The Source were a part of my daily diet. 20 mosaicmagazine. traditional comic aesthetics. In the artistic sense he is not only the illustrator of Brotherman: Dictator of Discipline. but he also creates much of the artwork that decides how Turner Studios’ Cartoon Network will look. Dawud’s work spoke to the creative and inquisitive side of my brain. brothermancomics. Not only that. It was after reading ancient traditions and many articles or newspapers dealing with terms like capitalism. and New York. muralism. I was quickly reacquainted with his art and discovered Dawud is a veteran illustrator. and found out that I wasn’t the only one. Brotherman is by far my favorite of all of his work. I scanned previous interviews he had done on his and other websites and discovered some actual pages from the first few issues of his comic–his original Brotherman comic came out in the early nineties. I already tell my son about Brotherman and I can’t wait to see if Dawud creates an animated short or a live-action film based on his hero. I got a sense of destiny and validation. but it was empowering. feel. sexism.I can’t say that I remember exactly which magazine I first saw his work in. It encompasses graffiti. laziness. Word Up. The hero of the story addresses some tough issues like apathy. This is an important achievement considering that it took place in the early ’90s and that some major recording artists (not to mention cartoonists) don’t move that many units today. socialism. and act. and elaborate scenery. graphic design. Their setting is a fictionalized fusion of Philly. I’ve been following his work ever since. “Damn this #@&% go hella hard. I immediately started to read the words and figure out the theme of the narrative written by Dawud’s brother Guy A. with the help of his family. I started taking African-American and Raza (Latino or Hispanic) history classes to learn more about myself. Vibe. Sims–they team up on a lot of Dawud’s projects. This is priceless information coming from someone who. The characters seemed inspired by brothers I’d seen. and cartoonists also tune into his site regularly to show recent work. I didn’t find books until I began to question who I was. When I saw some of the pages from the comic. His characters were ridiculous. I had been drawing and studying art forms such as graffiti. Many young illustrators.org . hip-hop culture. Thanks for doing what you do Dawud! Much love and respect! You can find Dawud’s work at www. I committed myself to the study of illustration so that I could one day achieve such a level of excellence. has sold over 750. So. If you’re lucky you can catch him at various speaking engagements where he shares his work and experiences. I looked at it and said to myself. Lowrider. imperialism. cartoonist. appreciation. and respect. I wasn’t much of a book reader and spent my days buried in all kinds of magazines. Yo!. and communism that I began to hunger for some type of comic or visual artwork that tackled some of these issues. and political corruption. fine art.” Raw! What I mean is that seeing African features in young teens and adults in this story was inspiring. visual artists.000 comics without major distribution. and what was happening around me in a profound way.
22 mosaicmagazine.org .
2009 23 . Shields 1969 .Nichole L.
business accomplishments.org . -Ron Kavanaugh Mosaic 24 mosaicmagazine.. But in the end she was simply my good friend.I could go on about her beautiful soul. writing skills. and I will always be the better for it..
org .EVeRY W An Interview with GORETTI KYOMUHENDO by Beatrice Lamwaka 26 mosaicmagazine.
Kyomuhendo holds an MA in creative writing from the University of KwaZulu-Natal in Durban. FEMRITE was created out of a belief that gender-defined support is essential to developing new voices. Secrets No More (1999) which won the 1999 Uganda National Literary Award for Best Novel. Whispers from Vera (2002). Ugandan writer Goretti Kyomuhendo is one of the founding members of FEMRITE. and Waiting (2007). South Africa. the Ugandan Women Writers’ Association and Publishing House where she worked as the programme coordinator for ten years (1997-2007). Her publications include The First Daughter (1996).WoMEN 27 Born in 1965. her first novel pub- .
a few computers. were published. Women lacked the space. a facility to publish their stories. Over the years. I think. and the facilities to enable them write their stories. I never have to stretch my imagination very far. and promote upcoming writers who have won some of Africa’s most coveted literary prizes including the Caine Prize for Short Story writing and the Macmillan Writer’s Prize. were having similar difficulties in having their stories published and promoted. She currently lives in London. which included novels. and short stories. A Chance to Survive. The reasons for this discrepancy were varied: women lacked the confidence and personal empowerment to tell their stories and have them published. at the time of FEMRITE’s inception in 1996. Most of these writers went on to become internationally recognized. to increase the number of women in print. nurture. She has also published short stories and used to run regular columns for Ugandan-based newspapers The Monitor and The New Vision. BL: As one of the founders for FEMRITE do you feel that women writers in Uganda are getting the recognition you dreamt of? GK: When we started FEMRITE and announced that it was a gender-defined writers’ support group and publishing house. FEMRITE has continued to groom. Kyomuhendo was the first Ugandan woman to receive an International Writing Program Fellowship at the University of Iowa in 1997. about five. really. and to give them the opportunity to function. and Justus Saves His Uncle (2008). and most crucially. time. poetry. 28 mosaicmagazine. male included. yes. There are simply too many stories around me. to the best of their potential. Sara and the Boy Soldier (2002). including training to enhance their writing skills. FEMRITE now has over twenty books published under her imprint. this is what we dreamt of. Hare and the King’s Cow (2004). writers in Uganda. and also their personal empowerment--space. Women writers who came to join the association were offered the support that they required.org . So. Kyomuhendo has also written for children: Different Worlds (1998). When we started FEMRITE. But you see. most people did not understand our motivation. BL: Where do you get your ideas to write your stories? GK: My ideas come from my immediate surroundings. these are some of the issues that we set out to address. FEMRITE had published nine books all authored by women. Within five years. and the association has grown to become one of Africa’s leading writers support groups. only a handful of women. After all. as writers. compared to an impressive number of their male counterparts.lished in the United States.
who have made writing their full time job. ‘Oh! So you mean you have no job!’ Here. There are more publishing houses. When people in Uganda or elsewhere ask me. ‘So. as a career. They can earn enough from it to lead a meaningful life. writing is like a calling. can also be regarded as a job. as a means of deriving one’s livelihood. and that’s all they do. for the first time in my writing career. and actually.BL: Is there a good opportunity for you as a writer in the UK than in Uganda? GK: Yes. It’s quite encouraging. people buy books. what keeps you going on? GK: For me. BL: Is your next novel set in the UK? GK: Partly. To be honest. It’s what I want to do with my life. Some of it is set in Uganda. What I find most fascinating is that most people here in the UK readily understand that writing. I think it is about the only thing job-wise that I really care about. they look at me with eyes filled with sympathy as if to say. BL: You are in a business that sometimes can make you go without food on the table. If it was for the money I would have stopped writing 29 . though an art. I’m beginning to meet writers who live on their writing. many bookshops. what do you actually do?’ and I tell them I’m a writer.
long ago because I hardly earn anything from my publications. for some. there are no guarantees and it can be extremely lonely and makes you feel isolated. I can’t stop. And usually. it’s always very hard at the beginning. One day. but only for the right reasons. But I love doing it. especially those published in Uganda. I will write that book that everyone wants to read and then the money will start coming in. I mean financially. Most writers I know have to keep at it for several years. Very few writers make it big with the first book. which should include the love for writing. 30 mosaicmagazine. long wait.org . yes. It’s hard work. So. But usually things will improve with time. BL: Would you advise someone to go into writing? GK: Sure. go for it if that’s what you really want to be. with their tenth book. it is frustrating most times. and success comes after a long. so if you go into it for the money then you can’t last long.
and to promote reading and writing. An organisation that started from very humble beginnings has trained women who have gone on to win or get onto shortlists for nationally. The organisation came into being at a time when the Ugandan literary scene had almost no visible creative literature written by women. FEMRITE acronym stands for Female Writers. FEMRITE objectives for the period 2007-2011 FEMRITE is a membership organisation whose current objectives are: to develop. to develop the institutional capacity of the organisation and to develop a Research. Monitoring and Evaluation System. regionally and internationally celebrated literary awards. Below are some of the 1997 * Waltraud Ndagijimana’s story “The Key” was short listed in the BBC short story writing competition * Violet Barungi’s play “Over My Dead Body” won the British Council International New Play Writing Award for Africa and the Middle East 1999 * Mary Karoro Okurut was voted Woman Writer of the New Millennium by New Vision (Uganda’s Leading Daily) Survey * Goretti Kymuhendo’s novel Secrets No More won the National Book Trust of Uganda Literary Award for Best Novel of the Year.Uganda Women Writers’ Association is an indigenous.FeMRiTE FEMRITE. publish and promote women writers. * Dr Susan Kiguli’s The African Saga won the National Book Trust of Uganda Poetry Award and the Editor’s Choice Award of the USA National Library of Poetry 2003 * Mary Karoro Okurut’s novel The Official Wife won the National Book Trust of Uganda Literary Award for Best Novel of the Year * Jackee Budesta Batanda’s story “Dance with Me” won Africa Region Commonwealth Short Story Competition * Mildred Kiconco’s poetry anthology Men Love Chocolates But They Don’t Say won the National Book Trust of Uganda Poetry Award * Jackee Budesta Batanda’s story “The Blue Mable” was shortlisted for Macmillan Writers Prize for Af- 31 . to develop an Information Communication Technology Strategy. non-governmental. non-profit making women’s organisation that was launched on May 1. to develop a Resource Centre with relevant literary information. FEMRITE achievements Since her inception. FEMRITE members have worked together to develop their writing. FEMRITE desired to change that situation and build level ground for Ugandan women creative writers enabling them to contribute to national development through creative writing. to develop and implement a Marketing and Advocacy Strategy. 1996.
rica. winning a prize for the second Best novel of the National Book Trust of Uganda * Jackee Budesta Batanda’s story “Dora’s Turn” was highly commended for Commonwealth Short Story Competition * Monica Arach’s short story “Strange Fruits” was short listed for the Caine Prize for African Writing * Jackee Budesta Batanda’s story “Remember Atita” was highly commended for the Caine Prize for African Writing * Doreen Baingana’s story “Hunger” was short listed for the Caine Prize for African Writing * Doreen Baingan’s story. Senior Category * Jocelyn Ekochu’s novel Shockwaves Across the Ocean was nominated for the Dublin Impac Literary Award 2006 * Doreen Baingana’s short story collection Tropical Fish: STORIES OUT OF ENTEBBE won the Commonwealth Writers Prize for First Best Book. The collection was also shortlisted for Hurston/Wright Award 2006 32 mosaicmagazine. Junior Category 2004 * Monica Arach’s essay “In the Stars” won the first prize in the Women’s WORLD essay writing competition * Mildred Kiconco’s story “Effigy Child” was highly commended for the Commonwealth Short Story Competition * Mary Karoro Okurut’s novel The Official Wife was again voted among Best Books of the year. “Tropical Fish” won the Washington Independent Writers Fiction Prize. Africa Region. 2005 * Doreen Baingana’s story “Tropical Fish” was short listed for the Caine Prize for African Writing * Glaydah Namukasa’ s first novel Voice of a Dream won the Macmillan Writers Prize for Africa.org .
She used her walking stick to hit a bananafiber ball out of her way. • • • We had learned about the details of the war a month 33 .” “But what ways can they go? Today is Sunday. I want to catch people before they go their separate ways. forming rivulets as it ran out from the enclosure into the compound. “But why are you bathing so early in the morning?” she asked him. Father was already in the bathroom enclosure.” “But so early in the morning!” “It’s not that early. “Don’t you have any mercy on the people who fetch it?” Kaaka made her way towards us. and the churches are not open. the sun is already up.” he replied. and she seemed to be pushing it in front of her as she walked. looking down at the soapy water. J. “I want to know what’s happening in the city. and he shouted his greetings to us. “I’m going to the Center to try to get some news. “You use so much water. and inquired about Kaaka’s night. leaning her body on her walking stick. Her big stomach was visible through the long. Daymond Published by the Feminist Press © 2007 by Goretti Kyomuhendo The birds’ morning conversation woke me up. All the priests are in hiding.EXCERPT FROM WAITING: A NOVEL OF UGANDA AT WAR Waiting: A Novel of Uganda at War Goretti Kyomuhendo Afterword by M.” Father laughed briefly. loose dress she was wearing.” “They go to the beer clubs.” Kaaka replied. and it rolled towards us before falling into the water streaming out of the bathroom enclosure. “Look. “I slept well.” Father protested. Father came out of the bathroom. a towel wrapped around his waist.” Mother commented.” “But won’t you eat first?” “When I come back.
By midday. Riding his bicycle at breakneck speed.” he informed us. looting. Amin’s soldiers were using it as their exit route. banks. He asked Tendo to fetch the spade and the pick. Kaaka lit a big fire to soften the banana leaves that would be used to line the pit. And they had come in large numbers. hospitals.” He was speaking breathlessly and gesturing like an actor. and so. Our district was situated on one of the highways that led. Now we must hide whatever we own that’s of value. “Last night they invaded five homes near the Center and stole everything of value. The soldiers were advancing quickly. the red soil that Tendo had scooped out from the pit as Father dug had formed a large mound like an anthill. All shops. Amin’s soldiers were looting shops. banks. People had vacated the city in fear of both the advancing Liberators and the fleeing soldiers. via Lake Albert. “We must dig a pit immediately. hospitals. and killing people at night. and most people had retreated to the villages. churches. and during the day most homes posted a sentry in a tree to watch out for the soldiers. schools. They wanted to seize as much as they could before the Liberators arrived. Luckily. saying that they would dig the hole a little distance from the sleeping area where the trees and shrubs were thicker. But everything was taken— everything.org .before. their home areas. to the West Nile and northern regions. The bush and banana plantations were the safest places to sleep. and private homes in the city. Some were fleeing towards the West Nile and Northern Ugandan regions. invading the town of Hoima. Father sped back from the Center. and police stations were closed. when Father returned from the city where he had worked at the Main Post Office as a clerk. who felt they had nothing more to lose as the Liberators approached. which were much safer. the families were sleeping in the bush. No one knew what each group was likely to do to civilians. otherwise they could have killed them too. He told us that President Idi Amin was about to be overthrown by a combined force of Ugandans who lived in exile and the Tanzanian soldiers who were assisting them. heading for Kampala from the southwestern border that Uganda shared with Tanzania. The districts along that route were already in the hands of the Liberators. had taken over Hoima town and had set up roadblocks from which they attacked people trying to move from one location to another. The soldiers. 34 mosaicmagazine.
I carried the little girl. He did not sleep much. and Maya and I slept in his room. Tendo slept in the sitting room.” We reached the house. The dew from the spear grass felt cold on my legs. I dug a shallow pit. What about you?” “I hid only the mattress and a blanket. the Lendu woman was to go to Uncle Kembo’s house. though he had said he was very tired from digging the pit. After we had eaten. and our best clothes. “Did you hide all your valuables in a pit?” she asked. Father did not want to leave her alone in the house. “Yes. She placed the child on the mat and covered her with the piece of cloth that I had used to carry her. • • • Kaaka was calling my name. and I responded. “It’s almost here. we went to bed. Nyinabarongo laid her sleeping things on the floor there too. Big head. She seemed weightless! Like a waif. He would go out every now and then to scout for soldiers before returning to his foldaway chair beside Mother. you know. My shoulder felt damp where she had rested her head. and Nyinabarongo carried her sleeping things. Kaaka came to sleep in our house in case Mother needed her during the night. Threads of smoke rose from the grass thatch of the Lendu woman’s house.” Kaaka was saying. I opened one eye. the radio. then we placed two old corrugated iron sheets on top. and slept in the small bedroom I usually shared with Maya. Nyinabarongo and I walked back to our house together. Mother was whimpering softly. almost everything. and she seemed to be looking down over her stomach. I had been sent to tell Nyinabarongo that she should come and sleep at our house. as we walked along the small path from her house to ours. Continued on page 42 35 . Mother’s back was hurting badly. We could hear Father moving about—going out—and coming in again. the saucepans. we were ready to take our most valuable possessions to the pit: the bicycle—which Father had dismantled—our mattresses.By evening. “I can see the hair now. That night we did not go to the sleeping place. Her head was raised. I undid the cloth I had used to tie the child on my back and she slid down to the ground. The yellow light from the lantern blinded me. and the balm did not soothe it. The termites could eat them.” She called my name again. We covered them with mats and goatskins. I hope they will be safe.
the challenges facing writers of color.When Junot Díaz published his first book. The Paris Review and African Voices (among others). Drown. that you were going to be a writer.” Díaz’s work has been published in The New Yorker. where you do it.” “powerful” and “convincing. but you don’t really commit yourself. I think I probably have the worst. you’re still afraid. About 12 years later. I didn’t realize that I was really serious about this until my first book was published. and the unrelenting issue of identity. Described as “mesmerizingly honest. Díaz took the time to speak with Mosaic Magazine about the trajectory of his career. as well as yourself.org . it was met with critical acclaim from countless media sources. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. AI: How did you convince your family. I think I had internalized JuNOT’S An Interview with JUNOT DIAZ by Allison Isaac 36 mosaicmagazine. Years after the book came out I still wouldn’t say that I was a writer. especially coming from an immigrant background? JD: I didn’t. It was really kind of half-assed. GQ. dullest story about this. the Dominican-American writer has won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction (2008) with his first novel.
OSCaR 37 .
chances are. JD: There’s no definitive answer to the first part–it’s folkloric belief. But other times it’s just some sort of bad luck that can be afflicted on you. plenty of people catch shit–try being gay in my community–but I mean nobody seems to catch more unwarranted.so much of my family’s ideas about being an artist. hyper-literate little kid. If you’re a smart kid of color.” And I thought it was such a fascinating way to talk about Dominicans. which means you’re some sort of secret traitor. In my book. strange shit. and the other thing that’s present is the idea that at a more local. But I watch little kids who are smart in these poor. I took the form I found most telling and in my opinion. And I thought our alienation. you’re a freak. AI: Tell me about the fukú in the traditional/folkloric sense. “You’re so white. as well as the way you used it in The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. by the nightmare that was conquest and enslavement. you’d think that would be a positive thing. and their most fundamental identity questioned because of the very fact that you’re a smarty-pants. You can ask a thousand different people what it means and you’ll get a thousand variations. and Oscar was just a fascinating contracanto. you’re not like us. it’s shifting. the same alterego in most of the work. ridiculed. personal level. People are always like. or your “local” culture and also the culture that has received us. I mean. that all the histories that are invisible to us and also unacknowledged. bizarrely irrational. or that you can acquire through your actions or misdeeds. I think that the biggest challenge for me as an artist was never the material. And there are plenty of sectors in the community who believe that we’re all living under the historical doomsday cloud that was produced first in the Caribbean but expanded slowly outward. It’s understood as a curse. especially if you’re from a poor immigrant community of African descent from the Caribbean. vis-a-vis the immigration process and the racial voyage of the New World. AI: Oscar is quite different from most of the other protagonists in your short stories.org . it’s always been myself. There’s something really illuminating about putting those two guys together. sometimes linked to the deeper history of the New World. How did you and Oscar find each other? JD: I kind of have the same narrator. even by the most bigoted of standards. countersong. to Christopher Columbus in a fundamental way. but at least in my experience–grow up beleaguered. the deepest: bad luck brought on by the history of the New World. immigrant communities–not always. therefore. I think nobody catches as much shit for no reason. These are not places where people are very familiar with the smarty-pants. that’s present throughout. plays itself out in a really interesting way if you happen to be smart. just for being smart. 38 mosaicmagazine.
AI: There’s a lot of Spanish in the book. three. 20. We’re often just given prizes so we can be destroyed and ignored. What sort of reaction have you had from non-Spanish speaking readers? JD: I love it: You get on Amazaon.com. five chances to reinvent themselves. understanding that it’s simplistic–who we find desirable has everything to do with what happened in the first hundred years of conquest and enslavement. AI: As a writer of color.still exert a tremendous amount of influence on our choices. a Pulitzer Prize-winning author of color. far more extreme. And it all seems to have a lot in common with the way we were wounded in that initial New World moment.” But the real reason I did it wasn’t to piss anybody off. four. but when you look more closely at our behavior on a collective level we seem to have a lot in common. but the Spanish isn’t translated. I think we’d all like to believe that we are unaffiliated agents in the world. Like half my comments are. maybe other people really like that shit. 30 people like you of your generation are getting the same thing. And I guess those things don’t go away so easily. I don’t think I’m the sum total of my prizes. It’s by a Latin American writer. I guess I’ve never felt that this is a natural or safe state to be “The One. In the most simplistic way–and I say this. it’s all in Spanish. there’s been a lot of straight up xenophobic hate. I see all these wonderful artists of color who’ve done tremendous work that nobody cares about. you don’t feel safe or home on an individual level. and reminded of our position. and you see the reaction from mainstream readers. The real reason I did it was books are there to form 39 . I think we’d all like to believe they do. How desire is shaped for those of us who survived this…fundamentally a child of that traumatic experience…I mean. Maybe as an individual you might think so. what sort of passport do you hold in the literary world? JD: The same passport I held before. but in my mind I think that’s problematic of a system that really doesn’t acknowledge and reward enough of the activities of lots of different sectors. but I think it’s been made far more acute.” I mean. The idea is that 10. Being an artist of color in the United States–whether one is given laurels or not–I would not describe it as any safer or more stable than being your average person of color in the United States. and far more painful and pragmatic from the fact that most of us were enslaved and owned and raped for hundreds of years. where did we learn to desire white people more than we desire ourselves? Where did we learn to have such poor relationships with our bodies? All of this stuff is generalized within any given experience. They always tell you white folks get two. where did we learn about light skin being beautiful. “Don’t read this book. The idea isn’t that one individual gets a pass.
Alejandro Aguilar. I think of Colin Channer. I assume everybody is as mixed up vis-a-vis their place of origin as I am. comic book shit. It [the Spanish] wasn’t there to alienate or to create any political statements–I mean. How can you feel like you’re a divided person when all you’ve known is two countries? I’ve never felt any identity confusion at all. their own political statement–but at the most fundamental level…I mean. because to have identity confusion would mean you knew this moment of utter clarity. my point of view is probably really skewed because I’m really into that. A novel is read individually and approached collectively. I see all these white kids who leave their hometowns and never go back and don’t want to talk about it.” So we naturalize some things and make “others” out of other things. Hannah Menendez. and yet feel totally comfortable in. we’re taught that it’s more than that. of course. AI: What is the community like among Caribbean writers (outside the Caribbean)? JD: I think it’s really strong. but also how not wanting anything to do with their community is equally as toxic. Nalo Hopkinson…it’s so strange because I feel like in so many ways we’re much closer than we would be at home. They’re just like. they are. and I’m like. AI: Where is home? JD: I always joke around that home is getting ready to board a plane to Santo Domingo or the United States. How do we find the balance? 40 mosaicmagazine. But what I’m saying is. but maybe that’s because the writers who I really like and want to spend my time around are Caribbean people. I’ve never felt like I was a divided person. The dream of the Antillean Federation lives. It’s not to say that being an immigrant is the same as leaving your suburb of Toronto to move to the city. Edwidge Danticat. in exile. AI: You’ve spoken about writers of color having to be spokespersons for their entire ethnic group. and who’s more fucked up?” Immigration makes explicit a very human condition. books are there to invite you. Home is an oscillation between two places I’ve never felt completely comfortable in. I don’t have anything to compare it to. and then suddenly had this moment of non clarity. as a reader. we’re all in it together. But an English speaker is so traumatized by the presence of the Spanish that they don’t even notice all the other alien words. I think of my boy. to me. I think. But again. that sticks out more than any of the Spanish. I just refuse to pathologize this.a community. it seems like an extreme version of something everybody deals with all the time: Who am I? What really is my home? Why does nobody in my “culture” understand me? It sounds pretty normal. all of these Caribbean cats. “Okay. my friends who all speak Spanish don’t know any of the comic book stuff. “Eh. but because we’re immigrants. For them.org . to reach out to someone who can explain the bits you don’t understand.
holy shit. I just think of the enormous privilege I have. AI: Do you feel any pressures/responsibilities from your community? JD: Of course. In fact. And while I know its weight can be something we wrestle with. overprivileged writer–because if you’re writing you’re overprivileged no matter what the fuck your source background was–is not going to be speaking for anyone besides [himself]. who didn’t go to prison because of a simple mistake or because we have such an unfair system that prosecutes us at 10 times the rate of white people. Recognizing that sometimes there are unrealistic but understandable demands on you as a person doesn’t mean that you’re in any way beholding to them. But both of these poles represent particularly odious byproducts of the colonial experience. I just put it into perspective. “Why aren’t they doing this?” But what we really want to say is. it’s to confront and demolish a lot of those toxic colonial structures within ourselves. I think many people can find communion in your work. the system is organized to guarantee that a huge sector of our communities is neutralized. “Why am I not doing this?” And I think that that’s more important. period. You got to make sure to let your work do its work and you do your shit. once you get those two extremes out. self-hating doof. People want you to tell their stories. “Why don’t you tell this story?” And I’m like. do these expectations outweigh the enormous privilege I have? It seems like an incredibly small price to pay to be the one person who didn’t get raped so much that my spirit was shattered. We’re in a situation where most of our community is not given any advantage or opportunity. One particular. I’m like.JD: First of all. what a small price to pay. that’s your work. clean living for a person of African descent.” A lot of times. people are like. If you just take that right off the table. And I think that if anything makes for good. I think many people can find things that are representative of what they believe is their collective experience. “Because that is your story. I think if you take that off the table and take off the table being a sellout Uncle Tom. At least once a reading in the United States. And so that means that a lot of people have a lot riding on me. It sounds like something you want to do. you’ll be a healthier person. or they want you to be the promised child. 41 . My question is: Do these demands. it’s a journey. The idea isn’t that it’s a situation that gets settled once and for all. everything else in-between can be quite healthy. you’re no spokesperson. bizarre. but that has nothing to do with you directly. we look at people and we say.
I raised my head a little and saw six men in army uniforms walking towards the house. Their harsh barks sounded very close. but Father clamped his hand over my mouth and choked the scream back.” Silently. “Who is it?” Father’s voice called out quietly but loudly enough to make me jump. where Mother had told me to put it. They were shouting. you can be very stupid. They were speaking loudly.” she said. “Go and get them. He crawled a few paces forward. “Has the baby arrived? Is she all right?” He was whispering. Daylight had now broken. noiselessly. More shots rang out from all sides. “How is your mother?” he asked anxiously. I stepped outside. “It’s me. which was sitting on top.” I told Kaaka. “It’s almost morning! The cocks are already crowing. My heart was beating so loudly I thought the soldiers would hear it. Father looked back and made an impatient gesture for me to stay where I was. pushing.“Where are the baby things your father brought from the city?” “In the pit.” Father whispered. Then I moved to the door and opened it. I walked swiftly.” I whispered back. “I have to go and save your mother and Kaaka. Kaaka turned her attention to her and urged her to push harder. the soft grass beneath my feet muffling the sound of my footsteps. Ask him to take you to the pit. and I crouched beside him. We had begun moving towards the house when we heard the gunshots. Heavy boots ran towards the house.” Mother let out a prolonged groan. “God have mercy. “Why ever did you put them in the pit? At times.” Father whispered. You knew the baby was going to arrive soon.” He sounded both excited and fearful. and we could see the soldiers clearly.” I replied. the soft light and the silence was broken only by the croaking sound of the frogs. Father picked it up and handed it to me. Father beckoned me to crawl closer to where the banana trees were at their thickest and would shield us from the light of the dawn. I stood up and wrapped Mother’s dress around my shoulders. I pointed out the plastic bag. He crawled a little further ahead. “Now. I’ve come to fetch the baby clothes from the pit. Your father is out there. He removed the two corrugated iron sheets gently in order to make as little noise as possible. It sounded as 42 mosaicmagazine. I started to scream. “The baby is almost out. “I’m afraid of the dark. The gentle light from the breaking dawn made the banana trees look like the silhouettes of soldiers standing to attention.org . but I could not make out their words. quick. urgently. Quickly. and one of them raised his gun and shot into the air. I crawled behind him. where are the clothes?” he whispered hoarsely. the plastic bag tight under my arm.” I replied. “I hope they’re not right down at the bottom. Father pulled me to the ground.
and Uncle Kembo translated. Kaaka told them urgently that she was in the process of delivering a baby. panga poised.if they were speaking in another language. The soldiers sounded agitated and dangerous. regretting that Kaaka had talked him into sleeping in the banana plantation. food. Father stood up again. pointing their guns at her.” But Kaaka did not understand their language. Father dropped to his knees. “Shh. Kaaka laughed loudly. Father had stopped moving.” he said. “Don’t be stupid. the tension seemed to ease. I don’t have any. They all started talking at once. Lying on the ground. “It’s only me. Two had climbed into the mango tree. Father slowly rose to his feet. his voice shaking. Uncle Kembo put his hand on my shoulder. More soldiers came. Father seemed to understand what they were saying. But the soldiers began to argue as they ate the mangoes and threw the seeds into the yard. ready to move forward. and she was needed back in the house. Kaaka screamed. She seemed unafraid. Uncle Kembo said they were speaking in Kiswahili.” and somehow I felt a little comforted that we were not quite alone. What have I to fear?” The soldier kicked her again. “They want women. Had we not been told that they would kill the men first? Fear seemed to freeze my mind. Others are arguing that the house is empty with nothing of value to steal. I could not believe it. “Do you have no respect?” she called out. and money. so they should move on. and I heard him whisper something. “No shame? Pushing around an old woman. “You want to kill an old woman like me? Go ahead then. For a moment. . The three or four who had entered the house came out and started talking to those outside. “and they want to know where everyone else is hiding. Again a soldier fired in the air. I felt someone moving behind me and gasped. a language mainly spoken by Amin’s soldiers. How can a man armed with a panga fight twenty men with guns?” “But we have to do something!” Father hissed desperately. Uncle Kembo translated.” he said. If you want . “If you want food. . Kaaka asked the soldiers loudly what they wanted. and its branches creaked under their weight. “Some say they must search and find the owners of the home. who snatched them up and ate like monkeys. shouting. Kaaka continued talking. One soldier seemed to be roughing up Kaaka. who is trying to deliver a baby?” One soldier kicked her hard in the stomach. and they all entered the house. They began throwing the fruit down to their friends. Kaaka came out of the house.” Kaaka’s voice faded as the men simply pushed her aside. scornfully.” Their loud voices sounded ugly as they echoed across the 43 . The soldiers advanced until about three or four of them stood in the doorway. He shouted at her. and I wished I could warn Kaaka to speak to them nicely. The soldiers who had been standing in the doorway followed. Father cursed. Uncle Kembo spoke.
empty yard.” she laughed. She asked me to bring the clean basin I had washed the previous night. one who seemed to be their leader shouted at him to follow them.org . Nyinabarongo’s child clinging to her back. Nervously. and then. and she’s dead!” The soldier whom she had addressed pointed his gun at her and fired. and I could not hold the razor blade steady. I tried 44 mosaicmagazine. aiming at her stomach. finally. wool. my hands still trembling. Uncle Kembo silenced us with a curt movement of his hand. I feared to look at the jellied blood next to the baby. The soldier who had assaulted her muttered something. How can you beat a woman old enough to be your great-grandmother? “Do you think you can scare me? Me. and the women joined us. Then he turned around and began to walk away. “Go. The sound of their footsteps beat loudly on the dry earth. There was a movement behind me in the bushes. Then he fired again. I severed the cord. The soldier kicked Kaaka once more and she screamed loudly. and put the afterbirth in it.” My hands trembled. Then I saw something like a fleshy string. who used to beat my husband until he urinated in his trousers? Heeeeh. Mother told me to find a small bundle under her pillow. Slash! It fell off. they were gone. Mother was commanding me to cut. It was thick. and calling out softly for help. I put the razor on the cord again and cut. his arms lifted in despair and frustration. Only half of it was cut. and heard a baby crying. He bent over her. I touched it gingerly. Kaaka was covered in blood.” she commanded. thicker than I had imagined. It had lots of hair. Kaaka slowly managed to sit up. I was still clutching the plastic bag that contained the baby’s things when I ran inside the house to find Mother. I thought I might vomit and tried hard to contain myself. which contained a razor blade and some cotton. when I told her I’d found it. Eh?” “What’s wrong with her?” Father was beside himself. I could not see the cord. The other soldiers had walked away. something like a groan escaping from his lips. We all stood up and started talking. Father was standing. I saw a cushion of blood. Father rushed forward into the yard. and gauze. “Cut what?” “The umbilical cord. The baby was crying loudly. “If you are real men. and the other soldiers laughed as if they were drunk. too quickly. Kaaka spoke again. but it was covered in caked blood. instead of coming here to terrorize a poor harmless old woman like me. you beasts! I have to attend to a woman giving birth to a baby who will be more useful than you. “Cut. “Only one of them needs to understand her. We heard the soldiers laughing in the distance. coiling out of the bloody mess and winding its way to the baby’s stomach. breathless with anxiety. Mother was gasping. go and fight with your enemy.
I tried to hold the baby. She is singing the song of the doves: Kade efokere kisato (The calico has turned into a goatskin) Kade efokere kisato (The calico has turned into a goatskin) Mujungu agambire kugyokya (The white man has said he is going to burn it) Mujungu agambire kugyokya (The white man has said he is going to burn it) 45 . holding the baby. He is crying silently. Instead. Stupid girl. which we had baptized “Kaaka’s song” because she loved to sing it to us and narrate the story of its origin. I stand up and put him on my shoulder and start rocking him back and forth. They never seemed to wear out—like goatskins. She picked up the dress I had used to cover myself. “Give me the baby. His head dangles from his soft neck. I am seated next to her. but it slipped through my fingers and fell back towards the baby. The white men ordered that all girls should wear dresses to cover their breasts and buttocks. He has refused to take milk because his gums are covered with weals. They would just cover their private parts with pieces of goatskin.” Mother was talking to me. She is washing the plates and cups we used for last night’s supper.” The words seemed to be falling from her lips. When the white people first came to our village. and wrapped the baby in it. but it was covered in slippery liquid. can’t she see I am holding the sick child? “Ask Mother. Maya comes back from the well carrying the big earthen pot on her head. “Dig a hole and bury it there—deep. swimming like an egg yolk. “Mother is not here!” Maya yells at me. mixed with blood. She asks me to help her put it down. “Is it a girl?” I was shivering so badly that I could hardly speak. her legs crossed at the ankles.” I tell her. so the dogs don’t find it and eat it. and I quickly place my right hand at his nape to support him.to get hold of the afterbirth. but their parents were too poor to buy the readymade dresses sold in the shops. She is seated on a low stool. dribbles from the corner of his mouth onto my dress. But I can still hear Mother singing the song of the doves. they used calico to make wraps that the young girls wore for a long time. I could see her mouth opening and closing. “Don’t throw the afterbirth in the latrine. his mouth opening and closing like a baby bird when it wants to drink water. and small girls and boys never used to wear clothes. Kaaka was only a little girl. The white men became angry because the adults were not buying the ready-made dresses • • • Mother sings as she works. Saliva. but I could not hear what she was saying. Mother pulled herself up into a sitting position and reached for the baby. Her voice seemed distant and weak. It danced around in the pool of blood still seeping from Mother’s womb.” Mother told me.
A. completely shrouding the mountain’s top with layers of cloud. Know what that means? Nigger. like a mosquito. making buzzing sounds close to my ear. Chuckie killed his father. got gaffled by the jakes. so they would be forced to buy dresses. Chuckie cursed and waved the stake. acne. swung it at fat Wayne until he retreated all the way into our living room. When we lined up for five on five. he’d entertain himself.s. all the white men in the village gathered for a meeting and decided that the young girls should burn their calicos. cracking on your busted fade. The baby starts to cry again. 46 mosaicmagazine.. One day. When bored. He had a bop that moved the crowd. every tackle he took personally. That night I lay on the bottom bunk. I don’t know what you laughing at in those four-stripe Cugas. A female dove was sitting in the branch of the tree under which the meeting was being held and heard this conversation. If he ever step to me. She started singing to the young women as they passed by on their way to the plantations in the morning. replaying it all for Bill. every block was an invite to scrap. and preempted beef. Know what that shit stands for? Next time buy Adidas.. crazy Chuckie threatened our neighborhood. I can vaguely see Maya’s figure moving about the yard. swirling around the top of Kakundi hill. That’s when Dad came out and revealed the face of This Is Not a Game. the mist begins to clear. The mist begins to thicken. *** Me: Man.B. And. Chuckie is crazy. *** In those days. Bill: Fuck Chuckie. or your off-brand kicks. A mist is rising in thin strands. After a while. . *** That fall. can u get Adidas . Gary. warning them that the white man was going to burn their wraps: Kade efokere kisato Kade efokere kisato Mujungu agambire kugyokya Mujungu agambire kugyokya I can’t hear Mother’s voice anymore. *** Bill: Ta-Nehisi. and disappeared into the netherworld of Boys’ Village or Hickey Juvenile. Then he stalked off. Big Bill was seldom scared. and I can now see the hilltop again and Maya’s figure more clearly. Once he pulled a metal stake from the ground. But where is Mother? son. get the fuck outta here with those weak-ass N.” and sought to turn all his younger siblings into warriors. .org . I’ll fuck him up.sold in their shops.
” Bill and my brother John spent all summer busing tables. The magic words were “fraud. and could not know that all the alleys we took as original. This was the summer of ‘86. turned our homey town into a bazaar of cheap ornaments bought expensively. and cool. But the price tags and fat-ass honeys made boys turn killer. the smoke darkened everything. *** Bill’s head went reeling. Afterward. like him. They held massive rings. Big Bill was enthralled by the lights. I would stand in my bedroom. Joes until I realized that this made me a target. another spanning two fingers. do the math. one that dangled from his neck like sin. our system flogging eardrums. three. 47 . In all our dreams we cruised the avenue in black Cherokee Jeeps. pumping “Latoya” and “Sucker MCs. throwing up my hands. A young man’s worth was the width of his blond cable-link chain. in the light. Bill: You’re bugging. jennys would jump on his jock and soldiers would collapse or salute. Son. and when he bopped through Mondawmin. KRS-One laid siege to Queensbridge. each glimmering. and though I never saw a fiend fire up. Dad went over to Mondawmin and had Bill point out the merchants. Son. Across the street was Mondawmin Mall. The space between two. and I was only ten. when Dad stepped to him. In those days cocaine was the air. his money was young. and he could not stomach the months of layaway. Then he walked to the glass counter. He flashed them before me. And I don’t know what was worse--the negative results or Dad’s rueful chuckle and sermon.” and “State’s attorney. Every window glittered with leather. then four finger rings marked footmen from cavalry.I. molded into a dollar sign. He was profiling. the pit of sex. each the size of a woman’s fist. If it’s ten karats or more. the fashion seat of West Baltimore. Bill would wear the scarlet robe. We were young. drunk on ourselves. So he returned from the mall with two mini-ziplock bags. He found a place to smelt the gold. Let’s have them smelted down and tested.” “Black community. sterling. and I was caught by how the glowing metal made him swell inside his own skin. one adorned with a golden kite. then parked at the corner of Hot and Live. beat downs. cavalry from the great gentry of this darker age. convinced he was on the better end. Bill schemed on a fat rope. brandished the results. I’d sit outside playing with his G. Dad: Son. One misstep onto suede Pumas. lost in all his glory. fur. he’d stepped through before. and stickers with large red numbers and slash marks. reciting the words of Todd Smith--”Walkin’ down the street. Still.” Even I shared those dreams. to the hardcore beat/While my JVC vibrates the concrete. and spoke magic words. So he agreed to my father’s proposition. *** Dad: Son. While I was hobbled by preteen status and basic nature. In the order of Slick Rick.Private school Stevie lived two doors down. a Gomorrah on the inner harbor. They’re fake.” Bill never felt the same about gold again. the dream within reach: He saw a gold herringbone spread over his Black BVD. you’ve been had. and the jihad begins. I paid cash money. With interest. I will pay you for the rings. This is fourteen-karat.
It wasn’t clear what happened to your younger brother Melenik.” It was just a great emotional capper. AA: I’m particularly interested in how you chose to end the memoir. As far as the subtitle. I’d leave the connection-drawing to others. AA: Above all. And I want them to enjoy the story. AA: Do you see any connections between your story and Claude Brown’s Manchild in the Promised Land? Though ages apart. It was such a dangerous and yet colorful time. And I thought there was something interesting about it ending with Menelik firing a gun--even if it was a water gun. TC: Heh.org . actually. I did my best to capture that spirit and then wrap it around the story of two boys trying to advance into manhood. she said. what would you like your readers to take away from your memoir? TC: More than anything I want them to feel these people in the book as human beings. you’ve got to end your book with that story. My long- time partner Kenyatta actually came up with the ending. “Man. we just wanted to allude to the path that so many young black boys--and boys in general--have trouble walking. as opposed to simple statistics. both of you became writers and went to the Mecca and wrote movingly about coming of age. As soon as she heard it. AA: What was your impetus for this memoir? TC: I’ve been writing this in various forms since I was a kid MCing. We were driving past that park one day and I told her about the memory. It was my editor’s idea. I really wanted to write a piece of narrative that told the story of kids who came up in the crack age. TC: Menelik just graduated from Howard. I want them to have some understanding of them as real people.to a MLK speech. That is the major theme of the book. 48 mosaicmagazine.
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org 51 . To subscribe visit www. profiles.mosaicmagazine.� � Mosaic is a quarterly magazine exploring the literary arts by writers of African descent. and reviews. Each issue contains a unique blend of essays.
com can help you find that next great read or advertise your book to an audience of avid readers. AALBC. President of AALBC.com.troy@aalbc. (866) 603-8394 . The African American Literature Book Club The #1 Site for Readers of Black Literature.AALBC.com 52 mosaicmagazine. is available to answer your questions.com. Troy Johnson.org .