Monday, July 21, 2014

writers on gaza



A bloody night in Rafah. The shelling has not stopped nor did it go silent. I write a word and I am delirious with words. Where do we live? And why this abominable silence towards our death? Is our death that cheap? Do our lives mean anything to anyone? Is it enough that you cry, shed tears, and that a choking in the heart come upon you? 
~ Hedaya Shamun, "One Night Is Enough," July 10, 2014





Fado, I’ll sleep like people do
when shells are falling
and the sky is torn like living flesh
I’ll dream, then, like people do
when shells are falling:
I’ll dream of betrayals
~ Najwan Darwish, "Sleeping in Gaza," July 11, 2014





All the writing rituals escaped. I possess nothing except a lead pencil and a piece of white paper, even though I am wary of the word lead. I want a pencil of life because life is now so dear in Gaza, and there were so many who insisted on plucking it like a flower whose infanticide they hastened. Especially those small flowers because they are beautiful; the hands snatch them and do not let them live. Our children became flowers stripped of their leaves, colors, and nectar. I feel anguish.




Their house turning to rubble.
Their family turning to dust.
Their family turning to nothing.
Their world disappearing.
~ Nisha Bolsey, "Gaza, a poem," July 20, 2014





Wednesday, July 2, 2014

update: #kasaraniconcentrationcamp

According to an article in The Washington Post last month, "Twitter, with its #KasaraniConcentrationCamp hashtag, remains the best source of information" on the crackdown on ethnic Somalis under Kenya's "antiterrorism" operation, Usalama Watch.



It is exceedingly depressing that a hashtag is the best source of information on a program of ethnic profiling, harassment, and illegal detention and deportation that has now been ongoing for three months. But since that appears to be the situation, I've collected some of the material that's been posted to the hashtag, so that people can find it more easily.

The basics: Operation Usalama Watch was launched on April 2, 2014, following a major terrorist attack last year and a series of smaller bombings in Nairobi and Mombasa. The name "Kasarani Concentration Camp" comes from Kasarani Stadium, which was turned into a police station early in the operation, and where an unknown number of people are still being held. (Numbers have been a huge problem this whole time; those who have passed through the stadium are said to be in the thousands, those held at any given time in the hundreds). The detainees include women, children, and the elderly. Conditions at the stadium and police stations where people are held are atrocious. Humanitarian organizations have been told to keep out.



For a good early roundup, see this piece at The New Inquiry, which includes some history of Somalis in Kenya. A key part of this history--very much on the minds of those undergoing or witnessing the current crackdown--would have to be the massacres of Kenyan Somalis in 1980 and 1984.

Al Jazeera reports on the atmosphere of terror created by Operation Usalama Watch, and the victims' stories of beatings, extortion, and rape.

In this 15-minute video, journalist Asha Muktar interviews people in Eastleigh, security officers, activists, and detainees. "Are we leading this country towards genocide?"

In this 2-minute video, a pregnant refugee is interviewed inside Kasarani Police Station. "Where you sleep is where you urinate."

Despite their status as refugees and asylum seekers, hundreds of people have been deported. In the process, at least one person has died, while others face insecurity and harassment by al-Shabaab in Somalia. Three hundred children have been separated from their parents. Not a single person detained in this operation has been charged with a crime.

The effects of the ongoing violence are not limited to the stadium. There is the pain of those unjustly labeled as terrorists. There is the dangerous logic of exclusion that enables genocidal thinking. There is the creation of a situation in which it is difficult to argue for the human.



The term "concentration camp" obviously makes a connection with the European Holocaust. This is really the fear: that life will become impossible for ethnic Somalis in Kenya, whether they are Kenyan citizens, visitors, or asylum seekers. Literally impossible. The scenario is unfolding.

July 1, 2014: Start of the #kasaraniiftar movement to provide food and other necessities to detainees.



July 3: Hundreds still held.
July 4: Inspector General of Police denies existence of Kasarani detainees.
July 5: Reports of people being moved from the stadium to various police stations.


Wednesday, June 11, 2014

small things i have written

Things I have published recently in various corners of the web:

For Waryapost.com, a reflection on #KasaraniConcentrationCamp as a global issue. "We forget that migration is a human right."

For Lightspeed Magazine, a critique of Noah co-writer's explanation of why the whole cast was white. "What we're looking at here is the power of the neutral position."

For Tor.com, a short essay on the use of entanglement in Angélica Gorodischer's dazzling Kalpa Imperial. "Entanglement is a haunting."

For Lawrence M. Schoen's "Eating Authors" blog feature, a memory of a dinner alone with a book. "Good food, good words, and solitude. You can get there."

And last but DEFINITELY NOT LEAST YOU GUYS a collection of some of my favorite quotes from our Interfictions authors, to entice you to support our Indiegogo!


me & my co-editor Henry Lien at the Nebula Awards weekend
this photo is also supposed to entice you to support our magazine
idk
are you enticed?

Monday, June 2, 2014

my writing process

Maya Angelou, 1928 - 2014
So, I don't write like Maya Angelou, but I'm thinking of her this week, and I love this picture. What are the playing cards for? What was her writing process?

This post is part of a blog tour--I was asked to contribute by Daniel José Older, who was asked by Tananarive Due, and they both wrote excellent posts. Click those links! Next week you'll hear from two wonderful writers I invited to the party: Kiini Ibura Salaam and Carmen Maria Machado.

Here we go...

Question #1: What are you working on?

I'm finishing up the sequel to A Stranger in Olondria, currently entitled The Winged Histories. It freaks me out to even write that because my writing process involves a lot of superstition. I hate sharing anything about my WIP! But this one is so close to done that I hope it will be ok (I even read from it at a conference a few weeks ago). I'm also working on a book of prose poems called Monster Portraits, which I'm creating together with my brother Del. I've just finished a draft of a short story called "An Account of the Land of Witches." And I have two broken essays that need fixing, one on black academic life and one on Afrofuturism.

If this to-do list looks impossible, that's because it is.

Question #2: How does your work differ from others' work in the same genre?

I can't say anything about this without my anxieties chiming in. I think I write fantasy that's particularly engaged with language, and science fiction that's particularly engaged with character. My anxieties think lots of other people also do these things, and that my fantasy doesn't have a lot of plot and my science fiction doesn't have a lot of science. I think my work shows an especially strong commitment to exploring the nature of belief, identity, and the power, for good and ill, of narrative; my anxieties think this is true of a lot of other people and also it's kind of navel-gazing isn't it? I think I'm a fiction writer who's also a poet, and it shows. And my anxieties are like um, yeah, exactly.

Question #3: Why do you write what you do?

Because Toni Morrison said:

"If there's a book that you want to read, but it hasn't been written yet, then you must write it."

Question #4: How does your writing process work?

Short answer: not very well. I mean, I think the end products have been decent but the process is a mess. This is partly why I love that picture of Maya Angelou writing with the playing cards and the crossword like she's halfway through some kind of divination ritual. There's so much chance involved with writing. It's one chance word after another. That makes it thrilling, but there's always the risk that you'll turn up some kind of horrible fate, like a book or short story or poem that just totally fails, and sometimes it's really frightening, putting your trust in a future you can't see.

I am not the kind of person who outlines or does a lot of planning. I tend to rush into projects--often, as I mentioned above, three or four projects at once. This has its advantages, because when you're procrastinating about working on the novel, hey, you can work on the essay or the short story! But jumping in with no plan also means that you do a lot of work before you find the shape of the piece. The first draft of A Stranger in Olondria was twice as long as the final version; the first draft of The Winged Histories was three or four times as long. That's because I had no idea what was supposed to happen and I just wrote and wrote and wrote until I got somewhere. DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME. IT IS VERY INEFFICIENT. For my next novel, I really want to find a new writing process! I'm looking for someone who's neat, hardworking, and interested in a long-term relationship, so if you know a process like that, hook me up.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Wiscon 38 GOH speeches in conversation

I couldn't go to Wiscon this year, but I did read the speeches by N.K. Jemisin (left) and Hiromi Goto (right). Quotes from Jemisin's speech are in bold; quotes from Goto's speech are italicized.



I would like to acknowledge the Ho-Chunk and Dakota Sioux Nations and their traditional lands. I am a guest, here, and I am grateful.

[I]t has been almost twenty years since [Samuel R. Delany's] prophetic announcement, and in that time all of society — not just the microcosm of SFF — has racheted toward that critical, threatening mass in which people who are not white and not male achieve positions of note.

Our bodies, our genders, our sexuality, cultural and historical backgrounds, class, faith, atheism, migration, immigration, colonization, have had us experiencing our lives and our sense of place (if not home) in distinct and particular ways.

And indeed we have seen science fiction and fantasy authors and editors and film directors and game developers become much, much more explicit and hostile in their bigotry.

These differences, at times can divide us. These differences can be used against us to keep us divided.

And let me emphasize that I am by no means the only woman or person of color who’s been targeted by threats, slurs, and the intentional effort to create a hostile environment in our most public spaces.

But here we find ourselves. Look around you.

Reconciliation is a part of the healing process, but how can there be healing when the wounds are still being inflicted?

The faces of friends and the faces of strangers.

SFF are dedicated to the exploration of the future and myth and history. Dreams, if you want to frame it that way. Yet the enforced SWM dominance of these genres means that the dreams of whole groups of people have been obliterated from the Zeitgeist. And it’s not as if those dreams don’t exist.

We came here because of story.

And let’s talk about the threats — including the ones I’m likely to get for this speech.

What can a body do?

I have no idea what to do about all this. Just keep doing what I’ve been doing, I guess — just write, and try to improve my writing, and publish, and try to stay published.

We can read…

Gotta be more careful of my physical and psychological health. Gotta survive. Because that’s all anyone can do, if we’re ever to make it to the point that reconciliation is possible.

Writers who have been writing stories with diverse subject matter and subjectivities raise their fist high in the air and shout, YES!

We are fighting back. But I am desperately afraid that Delany’s prediction will continue to prove true, and that the violence will escalate as more of us step up and demand that our contributions be recognized, our personhood respected, our presence acknowledged.

It matters who and what is being focused upon in fiction. It matters who is creating a fictional account of these tellings.

Arm yourselves.

Stories are wondrous devices.

Go to panels at Wiscon and claim the knowledge and language that will be your weapons.

Stories are powerful engagements.

Find support groups of like-minded souls; these are your comrades-in-arms, and you will need their strength.

For just as the writer has ties to lives, communities, history, the future, so, too, do the story and the readers who will interact with the representation.

Don’t try to do this alone.

If you’re a writer (a dreamer) from a people, a community, a history that has been long-marginalized, silenced or misrepresented, we so desperately need to hear your story in your voice, in your own grammar of perception and articulation…

And from here on, wherever you see bigotry in the genre? Attack it. Don’t wait for it to come directly at you; attack it even if it’s hitting another group.

For all that vast swathes of my childhood memories have been lost or buried, I have not forgotten the sweet pain intensity of emotional engagement that can be felt through story. This is a feeling I still experience today. I have kept these feelings intact. Just as I have carried my imagination, or my imagination has carried me, from my childhood to where I am today. Here.

If you won’t ride or die for anyone else, how can you expect them to ride or die for you?

A brief and miniscule moment in the great vast stream of the universe. An engagement between friends and strangers, bridged by words, carried by story.

And maybe one day, when the fighting’s done, then we can heal.

And so we begin. With each telling. With every retelling. A slight skewing of the familiar toward a different plane. The perspective shifts and the way the light falls upon the world casts it anew, ripe with possibility.

On that day, all of us will dream freely, at last.

Thank you.

Thank you again.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

long hidden dialect roundup

Wow.

So, this anthology has been available for what, 10 days? 2 weeks? Anyway, it hasn't been long, and already Long Hidden: Speculative Fiction from the Margins of History has sparked a rich and necessary debate about the use of dialect in fiction.

It started with Katherine Farmar's review of the anthology in Strange Horizons, particularly this sentence:

"Troy L. Wiggins's 'A Score of Roses' features heavy use of phonetic dialect, a literary trick which works perhaps one time out of a hundred—a shame, because the story underneath all the 'chil'ren's and 'yo'self's is charming."

The dismissal of the use of African American Vernacular English as a "literary trick" is particularly unfortunate since the anthology is concerned with marginalized people, histories, and expressive forms. As Amal El-Mohtar commented on the review: "I don't understand, at all, how a diversity of Englishes is out of place in an anthology explicitly about showcasing diversity and placing marginalised narratives front and centre."

Strange Horizons issued a very professional apology, which people (including me) really appreciated, but the discussion of the issue continued, and this is where it gets interesting to me, because it seems that there's a deep need among SFF writers to talk about this.

Troy L. Wiggins responded here.

Long Hidden editor Daniel José Older was, I think, one of the first to respond to the review; see the storify here.

Rose Lemberg wrote about language hegemony: that storify is here.

Abyss & Apex posted an editorial here, in which the editors discuss "toning down" the patois in a story by a Caribbean writer. I was mentioned in that editorial, so I responded; a storify of those tweets is here. Please read Tobias Buckell's response here. You can also read the unedited and edited versions of Celeste Rita Baker's "Name Calling," the story discussed in the Abyss & Apex editorial; Amal El-Mohtar talks about her experience of reading both versions here.

Most recently, I came across LaShawn M. Wanak's thoughts on writing dialect here.

This is merely a SELECTION of the stuff you can find online that has been inspired by this anthology and the review.

It's not all a fun conversation; some of it's been difficult. But to me it's still really exciting, because people are writing about their experiences transferring spoken words into writing. Writers who do this in their fiction are blogging about it for the first time. Personal writing histories are coming out, tentatively and with pain, because language is so closely tied to identity. Identity has language (whether that language is verbal or not) the way skin has nerves. Language is how identity interacts with the world and, in a weird way, how it feels. That's why a negative comment about someone's language hurts so much, especially if their identity is already bruised.

And that's why people are writing these long, circuitous posts, I think, trying to say what language means to them, the language they speak and the language they write. It's so complex, and they don't want to get it wrong. And by the way, this is a conversation that's spread beyond the issue of different kinds of English, into what it means to write different languages together, whether or not people use italics, why to code-switch and when, how to write in a language that's usually not written at all. It is AMAZING. And I don't think this jinni is going to go back in the bottle (jinni, genie, genius). And I think that's great. It's great that SFF writers are being explicit about how we use language. It's great that we're thinking about it. It can only make our voices stronger. All these long hidden thoughts on language coming to light.

Updates, because people are passionate about this topic! Recommended reading:

Joyce Chng, "Languages, dialects and accents: why our voices matter"

Charles Tan, "Language in the Written Word"

Sunday, May 11, 2014

a picnic party in wildest africa

Long Hidden: Speculative Fiction from the Margins of History
ed. Rose Fox & Daniel José Older
with stories by lots of people including me!
(and also with pictures!)

At long last, Long Hidden has launched!

I wanted to be a part of this anthology as soon as I heard about it, and I was delighted when Rose Fox and Daniel José Older accepted my story "Ogres of East Africa," which is told by a clerk who works for a white big-game hunter in Kenya in 1907. Basically, this hunter has shot every kind of animal there is in East Africa, and now he is going after the monsters. The story is inspired in part by a horrible book called A Picnic Party in Wildest Africa, by C.W.L. Bulpett, which was published in 1907.

good times

This book is full of… information. Seriously, it did give me a lot of information for my story, like what a hunter would take on a trip like that, and how much things cost, and even what currency was being used (rupees), and what the tents were made of. It also, of course, gave me bucket-loads of information about what various "tribes" in Africa are like, because Bulpett has a lot of opinions about this, A LOT, and so does his wife, whose journals he uses at random, just putting quotes around the excerpts, I guess she was ok with that. (The Mrs. Bulpett story is actually pretty intriguing--you have to wonder what the hunting trip was really like for her. It would be interesting to read between the lines of her journal. There's no wife in my story, so maybe someday I'll go back and write a Mrs. Bulpett story, even though it would mean spending more time with this poisonous book.)

In my story, the white hunter voices similar opinions, in the same kind of pompous tone, but what he says is a lot milder than what you read in A Picnic Party. He doesn't dwell on dirt and nakedness, for instance. The disgust isn't there. My hunter is more cheerfully racist. He's a teddy bear compared to the Bulpetts.

I also did a lot of research on monsters in folklore in the region. My ogres are partly drawn from that research, and partly made up. Often the made-up part was just imagining the ogres into the industrial era (there's one who gets around by clinging to the undersides of trains).

I really loved writing this story. It was like a cure for the toxic experience of reading Bulpett, an experience which was also weirdly mesmerizing, I mean nobody made me read Bulpett, I went to the library and found him and finished his whole book in a state of fascinated revulsion. Very often, I laughed. It's interesting how you can be shocked, but not surprised. I would not say I was surprised by anything in A Picnic Party. It was all to be expected. Yet there was still a shock, almost a physical shock, a sort of heart-jolt, reading that stuff in black and white. And of course you have to read the book as Bulpett, or Mrs. Bulpett. You can't not be them. They're your only way in. You may think you're reading around or past them, but your vicarious experience of boats, mosquitoes and reed-fires comes entirely from the Bulpetts. And that's where Long Hidden comes in, I suppose--as an antidote, not to history, but to what history has done to the imagination. Like Achebe's Okonkwo springing from a footnote.

Margins seem so rich to me. Sometimes everything you need is there.