Kalamu ya Salaam's information blog


Call for Submissions:

Voices – an anthology

of contemporary art

and literature


Voices is an anthology of contemporary art and literature interested in exploring every single place that makes up our world. It is a curious work, determined to reveal places and the lives they consist. The world is one global place, and is made up of smaller places called continents, which is made up of smaller places called countries made up of smaller cities and towns. Thus, we want to showcase the various places that make the world a global village.

‘Voices’ is as it is called is a conglomeration of voices from a place, be it a region, town, country or county. The voices are unique, stemming from various notions and interpretations of different people on this particular place. The anthology places its interest on places rather than ideas or abstract nouns. For us, places reveal people, places have a life of their own that we want to show the world.

Voices welcomes submissions of all kind and is opposed to stereotypical writing or art. We want something dynamic, uncommon and unusual that tells the true story of a place.

The Ife Issue

Mayfair Roundabout, Ile-Ife (photo courtesy of Voices Anthology)

Mayfair Roundabout, Ile-Ife (photo courtesy of Voices Anthology)

Ile-Ife is an ancient Yoruba town in Southwestern Nigeria, Osun State. Also known as Ife, the town is renowned for its place in Yoruba folk myth as the traditional home of Yoruba civilization and doubles as a holy city of humankind. It boasts of art and culture and rich history that stands it out as one of the most desirable archaeological sites in Southwestern Nigeria. These exquisite characteristics of the small city peppered with mysteries ignite the interest to debut this anthology with this place- Ife.

We are accepting submissions from all over on the theme of ‘Ife’. We believe in the concept of borderlessness, that everyone can talk about every place, especially through art and literature, and we want to reach every one in every place with the stories and pictures and arts of Ife as well.

All submissions must explore, reveal and / or revolve around the place ‘Ife’. We accept compelling and atypical short fiction, non-fiction, book reviews, poetry, photography, art, and conversations.


All submissions must;

  • Be formatted in 1.5 line spacing
  • Be properly edited for errors (Works dotted with errors will have reduced chances of being selected for publication)
  • Be in font 12 Times New Roman
  • Contain a cover page stating name, mailing address, email address, phone number (with International dialing code, title of piece and word count.
  • Be sent as a Microsoft word doc or docx file attachment. Photography and art may be sent as jpeg file.
  • Be sent as attachments
  • Have email subject as FIRST NAME LAST NAME for example  Akintunde Bello (where there are multiple submissions, the submissions should have a number after the first name and last name signifying what number of submission it is.)
  • Be sent along with a bio of no more than 50 words (in third person) in the body of the mail.


Submission window is from July 15th to September 15th. Upon receipt of your submission, you will receive a mail within 72 hours acknowledging receipt. If you do not receive a mail, please do not resend your work, simply send a query to



No responses are given about pieces being accepted for the anthology until the end of October. Only selected works will get responses by the end of October.



Multiple submissions are accepted, however, we aim at publishing as many views and as many names as possible with a wide as possible geographical spread.



Please note that we do not accept already work already published elsewhere in print or on the web. All submissions must be previously unpublished. We maintain first copyrights of all works submitted for the first six months after publication of the anthology after which the work may be used elsewhere.



Must be between 1,500 and 4,500 words

We accept any form from horror to surreal and magical. Any form is acceptable as long as it conforms to the theme and is compelling.

Multiple submissions must be sent as individual attachments with individual cover pages

Fiction submissions should be sent to



Must be between 1,500 and 2, 500 words.

Memoirs, essays, travel writings and all forms of creative non-fiction are accepted. News pieces, op-eds, articles, scholarly and academic papers and journalistic writings are not accepted. We want creative and compelling non-fiction.

Multiple submissions must be sent as individual attachments with individual cover pages.

Submissions should be sent to



We are accepting a small number of book reviews so submissions of book reviews must be pitched. Pitches may be no more than 400 words and be sent in the body of the mail to .Response time for pitches is 24 hours.

All book reviews must be sent to the fiction editor to



Each poem must be no more than two pages long. No more than three poems may be submitted in one document. Each poem title must be indicated above the poem individually as well as on the cover page.

All poetry submissions must be sent as attachment to



We are also open to digital art and photography.  Must be high resolution jpeg files (300 dpi or higher) and not larger than 3MB. Each submission must be properly named and sent as an attachment to



We are not looking for bland interviews, we want active, participatory and lively conversations that inspire, intrigue, and even spark more conversations.

Conversations must not exceed 1, 500 words.

All conversations must be first pitched. Pitches must be no more than 400 words and should be sent to . Pitches will be responded to within 24 hours. Conversation submissions should be sent to

For more information visit











fashionably late

Please read the below guidelines thoroughly before submitting your writing. A link to our Submittable page is at the end of the guidelines. 

Eldredge Books has opened up a second round of submissions for Fashionably Late, a collection of personal narratives by gay, bisexual, and transgender men who came out well into adulthood. For this round, we are specifically seeking stories about life on the other side of the closet door (as opposed to stories leading up to the point of coming out). We want to read about the challenges and joys men faced after shedding their affected straight or cisgendered identities. Additionally, we would like to read more stories from men who grew up in non-Christian families (particularly Muslim or Jewish) and from racial minorities.

Topics of interest for this round include (but are not limited to) the following:

  • Integrating with the LGBTQ community after years of being an outsider
  • Entering the dating scene
  • First same-sex sexual experiences
  • The realities of same-sex sex versus the fantasies you may have built up about it in the closet
  • Redefining relationships with your spouse and/or children
  • Coping with divorce
  • Letting go of closeted behavior
  • Embracing gender expressions that didn’t “fit” with your closeted persona

Submissions are open to all gay, bi, and trans men who identify as late bloomers (this typically refers to men who came out after their mid-twenties). All stories must be true and the original work of the author himself. Your submission may be previously published elsewhere; however, a strong preference is given to original work. If your work is published elsewhere, you must be able to demonstrate that you own the rights to reprint the work.

Please limit your submission to 7,500 words.

The book is tentatively scheduled to released March of 2016.

The collection will be edited by Vinnie Kinsella, a Portland-based editor, book designer, and educator who himself came out of the closet at age thirty-four. Vinnie is the founder of the PDX Late Bloomers Club, a social/support organization for men who came out later in life.

To submit, please visit our Submittable page (link below). Along with your submission, please include a one-paragraph summary of your submission’s topic and a brief author bio highlighting any previous publishing experience you have.

If your story is chosen for publication, you will receive a small stipend for your work, two free copies of the print anthology, two free downloads of the ebook, and the right to purchase further print copies at the wholesale price.

To submit your story, please use our Submittable page. We will not accept emailed submissions.











Cesaria Evora 01


Live D’amor 2004

Cesaria Evora 02

Live At the Grand Rex, Paris April 2004, Cesaria Evora performes: Nutridinha, Isola, Vaquinha Mansa, Velocidade, Cretcheu Di Ceu, Bia d’Lulutcha, Lua Nha Testemunha, Saia Travada, Angola, Sodade, Besame Mucho, Ramboia, Carinha Di Bo Mae, Mar De Canal, Nha Cancera Ka Tem Medida, Fala Pa Fala, Beijo Roubado, Nho Antoine Escderode, Cize, Velocidade, BONUS: Le Grand Rex Backstage, Voz d’Amor Sessions, Video Mar de Canal



photo by Alex Lear

photo by Alex Lear



(to/for Thelma Thomas)


The last time you saw me you were looking at my back as I walked away. Were you aware you would never see me again? Was I aware that over fifty years later I would want to tell you this face to face? And those two questions are the major realities of life—does either person know how significant and long-lasting a particular moment will be when those fleeting minutes are going down? In the moment we can never know how deeply events will affect, indeed, not simply affect but even accurately foretell our future; nor, in that moment, can we predict how long we will carry those specifics with us in our rambles through life. Like a swift razor slice leaving a keloid scar and in this particular instant the knife was me dipping out and the face was what should have been my heart but instead was your murdered silence. I heard nothing as I left. What did you hear? This is an apology on paper. I wish it were delivered in the warm air between my mouth and your ears as we looked each other eye to eye. If I had not been such a barbarian, I could have been a real man rather than an unfeeling block of flesh thinking…


—kalamu ya salaam










super selected

JULY 14, 2015


New Exhibition


Haitian Photography

From the 1890’s

to the 1970’s.

haiti 01

The small Caribbean nation of Haiti is wrought with tragedy, triumph, history, heritage, and political conflict.  From Within and Without: The History of Haitian Photography, a new exhibition at the NSU Art Museum Fort Lauderdale, curated by Haitian-American artist Edouard Duval-Carrié, explores Haitian culture and history from multiple viewpoints, from the late 19th century to present day.

The exhibition, which features the work of Haitian photographers and journalists alongside American and European photographers, gives viewers an intimate look into the history of the nation. The images paint many pictures of Haiti, as a post-colonial nation, to a small country struggling with democracy and modernization.

By the late 19th century, photographic studios had been set up in major cities throughout Haiti to document the grandeur and respectability of Haiti’s political elites and wealthy merchant classes. Photography quickly became a tool for capturing Haitian life in broader terms as photographs were made of its less affluent classes, as well as aspects of the social unrest and injustice that plagued the island nation.

Albums and photographs dating from the 1890s through the 1970s display rural habitats and Haitian landmark sites such as Port-au-Prince’s Metropolitan Bazaar, National Bank of Haiti, Cathedral and Palace. Subjects include photographs of Haitian presidents, such as Francois Duvalier, Elie Lescot, Paul Magloire, Stenio Vincent, military leaders, farmers, families with their children, Vodou priests and festivals, baptisms and marriages, and numerous political events, such as the election rallies of 1913.

The power of photographs became particularly acute in shaping public opinion about Haiti during moments of political and natural upheaval. Photojournalist Carl Juste’s Ready to Vote, February 7, 2006, and Ruined Prayer, January 12, 2012, taken just after Haiti’s catastrophic earthquake bring the politics and religions of Haiti and its natural tragedies to life. Haitians are survivors and bravely continue to preserve their traditions and assert their voices, as demonstrated in the riveting photographs of Pablo Butcher dating from 1986 and the overthrow of the Duvalier regime, to 1995, when the United States intervened to reinstate Jean-Bertrand Aristide as Haiti’s democratically elected leader. Butcher’s photographs of people gesturing in front of wall murals, which were destroyed during the earthquake, are not only compelling but are among the only documents of these historically significant murals. Maggie Steber’s photograph Mother’s Funeral, Port-au-Prince, Haiti, November 1987 and Paolo Wood’s Graduation, 2012, provide windows into multiple components of Haitian contemporary life.

Works from contemporary photographers such as Phyllis Galembo, Leah Gordon, Mario Delatour, Maksaens Denis, Maggie Steber, Stephane Kenn de Balinthazy, Jean-Ulrick Désert, Andrea Baldeck, Pablo Butcher, Antoine Ferrer, Adler Guerrier, Carl Juste, Daniel Morel, Gary Monroe, Chantal Regnault, Roberto Stephenson and Paolo Woods, are also featured in the exhibition.

From Within and Without: The History of Haitian Photography is on view at NSU Art Museum Fort Lauderdale from June 21 through October 4, 2015.

Haitian PhotographyHaitian PhotographyHaitian Photography

Haitian Photography

Haitian Photography

Haitian Photography




black culture

8 March, 2014





A Dark-Skinned Girl’s

Response to

Lupita’s Oscar Win



By Danielle Daley


Long after Lupita Nyong’o won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her role in 12 Years A Slave I lay in bed awake. Although she was most deserving, past experience has taught us not to anticipate the recognition of talent if possessed by a person of color. We’ve learned to expect very little, to minimize potential disappointment. I replayed the moment from memory multiple times; the images shone like a highlight reel on a projector, illuminating parts of my past self long-ago relegated to the recesses of my mind. The surprise in her eyes as her name was announced. The congratulatory cheers from her peers as she stood and hugged Steve McQueen. The acknowledgment of Patsy’s plight acting as the catalyst for the actualization of her current joy. The pride on her brother’s face, a sense of pride we shared as if she were kin. The stark contrast of her Nairobi-blue gown against the deep sienna of her skin. Her skin. I considered her recent confession of hating her complexion, and began to ponder the quest toward acceptance of my own reflection. I knew I could not rest until I’d spoken these thoughts aloud.





elle uk





Amandla Stenberg

Is A New Kind Of


Role Model–One

We Desperately Need




Last week, everyone was talking about actress Amandla Stenberg’s latest clap backagainst cultural appropriation and one of its repeat offenders, Kylie Jenner. Then it was Laverne Cox’s commentary on the incident that helped to extend the discourse beyond Instagram comments and fast-flying tweets. And we’re going to keep talking about it.

amandla 01

But first, a recap: Kylie Jenner posted a photo of herself to Instagram with her hair in cornrows. Among the hundreds of thousands of people to comment on the photo was Stenberg, who wrote, “when u appropriate black features and culture but fail to use ur position of power to help black Americans by directing attention towards ur wigs instead of police brutality or racism.” The story went viral. Countless media outlets, including this one, commented on it. And on an episode of Bravo’s Watch What Happens Live, host Andy Cohen crowned the feud between Stenberg and Jenner the “Jackhole of the Day.” He asked his guest, Laverne Cox, to weigh in. Cox was widely criticized for what many felt was her weak defense of Stenberg. (Cohen was also criticized for opening up two teenagers to criticism and indirectly calling them “jackholes.”) Cox later took to Tumblr to clarify her statements saying, “In that moment…I felt that the topic of cultural appropriation needs way more than the 10 seconds or less I had to respond at the end of the show.” After familiarizing herself with Stenberg (especially with her now-viral video about cultural appropriation, “Don’t Cash Crop on My Cornrows”), Cox went on to praise Stenberg, stating that she was “very impressed” with the actress who “has spoken out quite eloquently on this topic (of cultural appropriation).”

So what does all this prove? For one, that these two teenagers hold a tremendous amount of fascination. But more importantly, that Stenberg (hopefully) heralds a refreshing and welcome change in an industry that too often worships the superficial at the expense of glossing over complicated issues lurking just beneath the surface—like sexism, appropriation, and lack of diversity.

It’s encouraging to see an actress take a stand and fight back. And I’m here for all of it. Stenberg’s trillness on issues of cultural appropriation in the backdrop of the great change that this country is facing is necessary. And it’s necessary because young women, particularly those of color, need to know that they matter, that it’s possible to be beautiful and political. 

Growing up in the ’90s and early ’00s, it seemed to me that for many young Black actresses, the emphasis was on visibility and representation; there wasn’t the space yet for someone like Lisa Bonet, Thandie Newton, or Cree Summer (three of my actress she-ros growing up) to discuss these cultural politics without being forced to pay a heavy price for speaking out. Had Stenberg been around then, this writer would’ve been an even bigger fan of hers than I am now.  

Stenberg is not just an amazing role model for young women of color (and the young women that are their allies) that are trying to navigate these important conversations, but she also seems to be a pretty dope human being. As young Hollywood finds its political footing in these changing times, let’s hope that Stenberg’s profound and nuanced commentary continues to serve as an example and inspiration.

Case in point? Five times that Stenberg came to slay.


Stenberg found herself at the center of a controversy when thousands of Hunger Games fans took to the Internet to decry the casting choice of a Black actress for a Black character in the trilogy’s first installment. (The book’s author has repeatedly said that Rue is and was written as “African-American.”) The comments were pretty disgusting. With a maturity far belying her then 13 years, Stenberg gave all her haters a Miss America-wave press release in which she said, “I want to thank all of my fans and the entire Hunger Games community for their support and loyalty.”


Another day, yet another post of Kylie Jenner culture vulture-ing on Instagram. That is, until the Stenberg clap back. “When you appropriate black features and culture but fail to use your position of power to help black Americans by directing attention towards ur [sic] wigs instead of police brutality or racism #whitegirlsdoitbetter”. Kylie’s response: “Go hang w Jaden or something”. (Kylie was rocking with Jaden for the longest, but we won’t go there.)

amandla 02

Justin Bieber and Andy Cohen have come to Kylie’s defense, the latter calling her (however indirectly) a “jackhole,” but it’s probably best they leave that hornet’s nest alone. When one comes for Stenberg, one had better not miss. And one could say that Kylie, Justin, and Andy are all shooting blanks.


amandla 03

Does this photo have Kylie in her feelings? Either way, for prom, Amandla came in with her signature tactic–slay, basically. Not to be outdone by Jaden Smith’s colorblocked dress, Amandla came in her own equally bomb dress, grey braids, and a septum ring that kind of looked like a tiara. In the process, Amandla rewrote the prom playbook, helped break some gender conformity barriers, and sent the usually hard to impress Black Twitter crowd into a “we are not worthy” tizzy. Well damn.


Back to these grey braids though. Not everyone that actually has silver strands wears it well or even gracefully, so it’s pretty impressive when a 17-year-old does–and maybe/might/probably starts a trend in the process. (Because who now wants some? Me.) But it’s not just the braids. Between the bangs, the natural curls, the bold lipsticks, and clothing choices, Amandla’s hairstyles and fashion are just as interesting and forward thinking as her social commentary. And it’s pretty safe to say when she hits the age that her follicles actually produce grey, she’ll still be laid for the gods.


What began as a video project for a history class instead became one of the most thorough articulations of cultural appropriation in recent pop culture. As the conversation intensifies, Amandla’s video has become a touch point in the conversation, praised for its clarity, depth and nuance. After cleverly declaring, “don’t cash crop my cornrows,” the teenager very poignantly asks, “What would America be like if we loved Black people as much as we loved Black culture?”

From the editors of












July 25, 2015






chuck d


Chuck D is doing damage control. “I never said I was cool with what Bill Cosby is being accused of,” he says in a “Can-you-believe-this-shit?” tone. “There’s no way you can defend that. No way.”

Chuck D is referring, of course, to the barrage of drug and rape allegations against Cosby, and to his own comments this month on Twitter, suggesting Cosby was a victim of character assassination. Among the series of tweets was this one:

chuck d tweets

Outrage ensued. Twitter users accused Chuck D of everything from making light of rape to taking up for the disgraced comedy icon. Outlets like the New York Daily News put Chuck on blast.

Fortunately, the celebrated emcee, now 55, is used to courting controversy. As a frontman for Public Enemy, Chuck led his crew to hip-hop royalty status, releasing a string of landmark Black nationalistic, game-changing albums. The most recent, Man Plans God Laughs, dropped on July 16. OZY caught up with Chuck D to hear his side of the story. An edited version of our conversation follows. 

OZY: You recently got some heavy pushback from tweets you posted about the Bill Cosby rape allegations. A lot of people thought you were taking up for Cosby.

Chuck D: Right. And sometimes Twitter doesn’t give you the characters to make your point in context. So when it was misconstrued that Chuck D sided with Cosby and dissed Marvin Gaye, none of that was true. What I don’t like is the erasing of history. Bill Cosby did this all to himself. I would never justify his actions. But when we attempt to act like that person’s history never existed — or we say, “You that nigga too?” — it starts to be more about character assassination. In the Salem, Massachusetts, days, they would accuse people of being witches. So if you say, “I saw him make something disappear!” And they are like, “You did? That means you are a warlock too!” So how you going to make a point in 140 characters? 

OZY: You made the point that people believed what they wanted to believe when it came to Cosby …

Chuck D: I think people just didn’t want know about the same Cosby that would hang out at the Playboy Mansion. We are talking about people who were 10 years old watching the Huxtables. I was 23, 24 years old when [The Cosby Show] first came on. I never watched The Cosby Show like that. I never watched it, period. So it wasn’t like I was rushing home like, “Oh, let me see what’s going on with Theo and Denise!” 

The Bill Cosby I remember is the same Cosby who would fill in for Johnny Carson with a cigar in his mouth. The Cosby I remember is the one I saw pictures of at the Playboy Mansion with two bunnies in front of him, hanging with Hugh Hefner. So then decades later, we find out all this stuff about Cosby. Go figure, right? Don’t people know what was actually going on at those Hollywood parties? 

OZY: So you never bought into the family image that Cosby presented?

Chuck D: I never knew the man personally, but I knew the scene he came from. And Cosby took it to a whole other level. What he did was some foul shit. If you got to give women drugs without them knowing it to get them fucked up or knocked out, that’s some sick, foul shit. But that has nothing to do with me saying you can’t erase Bill Cosby’s history. It’s there and we have to deal with it. Charlie Chaplin was accused of being a Nazi lover, but they didn’t try to remove his silent comedies from history. And no one is burning Woody Allen movies. That’s why I mentioned Marvin Gaye. 

OZY: What was the harshest response you received following your tweets? 

Chuck D: I had one sister who I have known a while basically telling me, “I can’t believe the shit you said about Marvin Gaye!” And I’m like: The point is they accused Marvin of dealing with an underage woman, abusing women, drug abuse … but we still love his work. We don’t associate that Marvin Gaye with the music we love. So she came at me without knowing the full story. I just told her: If I was somebody else, I would be demanding an apology from you [laughs]. I let it slide. 

OZY: What’s the one thing you regret about this entire blowup? 

Chuck D: I’m sorry that I dragged Marvin’s name into it.






la review of books July 20th, 2015

NoViolet Bulawayo

NoViolet Bulawayo


David Palumbo-Liu


NoViolet Bulawayo

The Falling Apartness of Things


LITERATURE CIRCULATES in such unpredictable manners, flows amongst people of diverse backgrounds, changes hands between strangers, and from that moment on they are no longer as unknown to each other than formerly.

Last summer, I met a young woman from CCNY who was visiting Stanford and who was working with me in a summer mentorship program. She was entranced by a book I had not heard of, We Need New Names, by the young Zimbabwean author NoViolet Bulawayo. The student was from Ghana, and felt strongly that what Bulawayo wrote of — the postcolonial world of Zimbabwe and then her relocation to Detroit — spoke to her life in important ways. As we read through the text together, I found it a remarkably powerful novel. Not only does it connect with a tradition of African writing, it also seemed to echo in different ways the work of Sandra Cisneros, Junot Díaz, and Toni Morrison. Each of these authors of course comes from a particular time and place, yet there is no doubt that they too are part of this unpredictable circulatory system.

I was fortunate to have the chance to sit down and talk with Bulawayo recently, and asked her more about her background, writing, and outlook in this extensive interview. I was especially interested in how she locates her writing in a tradition of storytelling and literary narrative, and also within the context of African literature, culture, and politics.

As her website states, 

NoViolet Bulawayo is the author of We Need New Names (May 2013) which has been recognized with the LA Times Book Prize Art Seidenbaum Award for First Fiction, the Pen/Hemingway Award, the Etisalat Prize for Literature, the Barnes and Noble Discover Award (second place), and the National Book Foundation “5 Under 35” Fiction Selection. We Need New Names was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize and the Guardian First Book Award, and selected to the New York Times Notable Books of 2013 list, the Barnes and Noble Discover Great New Writers list, and others. NoViolet’s story “Hitting Budapest” won the 2011 Caine Prize for African Writing.

NoViolet earned her MFA at Cornell University where she was a recipient of the Truman Capote Fellowship. She was a Stegner Fellow at Stanford University, where she now teaches as a Jones Lecturer in Fiction. NoViolet grew up in Zimbabwe.


we-need-new-names-by-noviolet-bulawayo DAVID PALUMBO-LIU: First, thank you so much for speaking with me. I know you are busy on a writing project and have been touring extensively. It must be very different writing under these circumstances, compared to your first book. Or is it? Can you tell us a bit about what has perhaps changed in your approach to writing?

NOVIOLET BULAWAYO: Thank you David. It’s definitely different from when I was writing Names; there wasn’t a book to travel for then, along with the attached hecticness — I mean I just had all the solitude and stillness I needed. Perhaps most importantly, nobody cared, and there were no expectations, and I absolutely loved just being left to my own devices. The solitude and stillness are not always readily available now, I have to actively fight for them, sometimes fake them, work a bit to channel my energy and give myself room to create, work even more to honor and protect the time and process of writing. Thankfully I’m back at work, doing what I need to be doing, and quite excited to be writing the way I need to be again. But, really, I can only complain with restraint — Names is such a lucky book from all that has happened to it, and it’s still great to share it with readers everywhere.


Many interviewers have spoken to you about your use of a young girl as the narrative voice, which you do with such authenticity and sensitivity. You are able to tackle tremendously complex and difficult subjects through this voice, and have them appear both as they might appear to a young girl, but also in a way that reveals their rather deep significance. The question of hunger, for example, appears as a gut-level experience which most of us can only vaguely and distantly relate to, and use those sensations to get at the reality of Zimbabwe at that time; you attach that felt experience to rather profound political and historical insights that go well beyond that girl’s conscious understanding. Why was it important to tell the story in this way?

I wasn’t necessarily pushing for the reader to recognize anything specific, but to map a vulnerable young girl’s experience against a background of a country coming undone, which is a story that can happen anywhere really. I’ll quickly mention that I didn’t always start out with a girl narrator, early versions of Names were told in an adult perspective that ironically ended up falling short in achieving what Darling seems to have, and with less effort. I think to some of my favorite young narrators —Tambu in Tsitsi Dangarembga’s Nervous Conditions, Yunior in Junot Díaz’s Drown, Pip in Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations, and I remember that I loved them for some of the same reasons you bring up, including their being acute observers and commentators of the world, so perhaps a part of it could speak to the possibilities of this kind of narrator, how sharp and alive and resonant and engaging a child’s gaze can actually be, even as the world is complex. I’d say for me the child narrator also allowed for this giving voice to a marginalized and powerless character, someone we ordinarily wouldn’t hear from, and this on its own is important, in the sense that children are the real victims in a situation like the Zim that inspired Names, which in some ways is different from the Zim of now by the way. The dilemma of children is that they are not really major players in the grand narrative at all, but of course still suffer profoundly as the most delicate members of society, as we know from the general condition of children in times and places of crises all over the world. But still I wanted Darling and her friends to be more than victims, I wanted them to push and direct and illuminate the conversation, and raise hard questions.


You told me you came from a line of storytellers. Could you expand on that a bit? How did that influence you, both when you were very young and heard your relatives tell stories, and then when you began yourself to write?

I do come from a space where stories were told, especially when I was growing up, part of the air we breathed, and I was lucky that my grandmother and my father were some of the most riveting storytellers I have ever known. And, sure enough, their stories were a big part of what sparked and sustained my imagination when I was young (my grandmother’s were mostly fictional, my father was in the nonfiction department so I had a nice balance) and quite inevitably from an early age I became interested in language, character, image, tone, composition, and other components of the verbal arts, though I couldn’t always necessarily name these things at the time. And of course in the everyday, people dealt in language — in my ‘80s, ‘90s Gwanda and Bulawayo, where I grew up, men went to work and a good number of women stayed home, running things and talking neighborhood truths and lies and hopes and dreams and lives — we even did live Twitter years and years before it came to the US on fancy gadgets. It was beautiful — you woke up everyday to inhale language, and you understood it as currency and character, as something alive, something that made things move.


I loved it all, and I know I would not have become the kind of writer that I am without this specific background, and indeed when I started writing seriously, this influence came out, especially through voice and style, because I don’t necessarily imagine just a reading audience, but a listening one too, so I must actively write for the ear, an ear that also has to see things of course. And, somewhere inside me I suspect is a consideration for a reader who isn’t a reader, you know, someone who has no time for books but might, if you dished it out in a certain way — I’m always figuring out how to write for this type of person as well. And lastly, I’d also say the influence also comes out in my English — it definitely gets its energy from my mother tongue, IsiNdebele, it being the language that all the different storifying happened in, so that my imagination naturally understands it as the language of telling stories. I see its fingerprints in all I do.


Well that leads to an obvious question, so obvious that I didn’t even write it down initially; but I was just wondering, what authors influenced you?

I like the term “spoke to me” better — and my list includes my favorite Zimbabwean writer, Yvonne Vera, who was especially important to me in my early years. There’s Tsitsi Dangarembga, who wrote one of my favorite books, Nervous Conditions, she is another, and so is Junot Díaz. Toni Morrison, Colum McCann, Zakes Mda, Jhumpa Lahiri, IsiNdebele writers Barbara Makhalisa and N.S. Sigogo, and many others. And of course, in the list are the many storytellers I’ve known, two of which I mentioned, they are not writers, but when I think about “influences,” I’d say these are even at the top of my list.


In terms of influences and legacies, I was also noting how throughout Names the phrase “things fall apart” recurs, an obvious reference to Achebe’s Things Fall Apart. Can you talk a little about that?

Achebe was certainly in my imagination, and I was interested in continuing the dialogue of the falling apartness of things, but of course in a different context, i.e. a nation not in direct confrontation with the beast of colonialism, but with a different animal, seeing as it is that Names is happening about three decades after the fall of colonialism. The scars are, and will always be there of course, but the beast has changed shape.


That’s exactly what I was going to ask you, Nigeria in the ‘60s and then Zimbabwe after 1980.

The Names’s Zimbabwe is specifically the Zim of the 2000s, which is different from the ‘80s, ‘90s Zim — decades of promise, excellence, and stability for the most part. Enter the 2000s and the beast that is the nation starts eating itself, and self-rule and independence and black power don’t save it, and things do fall apart in the recognizable ways of non-functional governments — political unrest, repression, economic collapse, et cetera. The tragedy of Darling’s generation is that they are betrayed by their own, through failure of leadership, and I was interested in how this affects what happens when a country starts unraveling, and what happens to its most vulnerable citizens. I have to mention that engaging like this means I’m also desperately interested in how we can move forward of course, as most are. I write because I care.


You said you first intended to attend law school. What changed your mind? Do you see anything that you hoped to do as a lawyer seeping into your writing? Or do you see those two things as totally separate?

I did intend to study law, yes, but that was mostly a result of coming from a background where you’re expected to pursue sensible and practical things, and if you told people, at least at the time I came of age, that you were studying “law,” “engineering,” “medicine,” et cetera, then you were a person-person you know, whereas “writer” or “artist” would be a waste of time. Of course it’s perfectly understandable for families to push their kids toward “real,” “tangible” careers, but that unfortunately always means traditional fields; the arts can just be another distant country for those who cannot afford the luxury. I sometimes see the same dynamic play out with the many young people who come through my classes, the agonizing over what to do, what they love versus what is practical and what not, what the parents expect, and of course I just wish them the courage to sort it all out. It’s not always easy, like most life decisions.

Anyway, I suppose what changed my mind, or should I say, what opened my eyes, was finding myself on the page after taking classes at Kalamazoo Valley Community College in Michigan (I can’t speak highly enough of that school) and understanding that writing was what I was meant to be doing, which then shaped the 12 or so years between taking my first creative writing class, and the publication of my debut novel. My law aspirations at 18, 19 were vague, I was still in the process of figuring myself out, but as an artist I’m interested in literature as a social project that allows for imagining ethics-driven representations and interrogations of the world, that allows us to talk about and around rights, wrongs, problems, issues of justice, et cetera. I imagine this is where my powerless and marginalized characters, normally children and women, as well as my socially engaged themes, come from.


There are some notable moments in your novel where you note the naïveté of Western aid workers. You do not doubt their good intentions, it seems, but still you see a gap in understanding. Was your novel at least in part motivated by a desire to correct some notions people in the West have about Africa? What kinds of misconceptions do you feel it’s most important to address?

The misconceptions about Africa are numerous, but I believe a better way to think about the issue is to perhaps consider why they exist in the first place — from cultural arrogance to problematic media representations to lack of information et cetera. And quickly, I’ll note that as an educator I’m quite surprised by how much Africa seems to be missing from the formative Western Curriculum, so that it’s possible for a student to get to college and complete it without encountering Africa in any meaningful and balanced way. And as we all know, uninformed young people make for a dangerous society, because these are future leaders and players who will, among other things, have to deal with Africa in one way or the other. Let’s prepare young people who are able to adequately engage with the world, period, not just Africa by the way. It is 2015 after all, and globalization is here.

The NGO section in the novel is concerned about the culture of dependency, where the adults are in fact not inspired to take any initiative, but to simply wait for handouts, being disappointed when these don’t come on time. Where aid is concerned, people in the receiving end are better served by the type of intervention that also leads to self-empowerment, otherwise the aid itself can easily cease to be a solution and become a part of the problem. Even as I cast a light on it, the gap in understanding seems to me like it would need more than literature — I’m writing about characters of course, but they come from systems that are in many ways responsible for shaping who they are. It reminds me of how I sometimes watch America’s racial madness, count the black boys and black men that are still being murdered by white policemen, and it’s business as usual, and I think how mind-blowing that the prophetic James Baldwin spoke about these issues decades ago, and his literature did not, and is not, saving anybody, not counting the numerous contemporary writers who are writing around the issues everyday. Literature has its value of course, but systems need to have active participants, after all. Not everybody is reading.


I read the novel as both a call to political action, but also a very realistic understanding of capacity and effectiveness. Has anything changed in terms of your optimism or pessimism about how positive change might come in Zimbabwe?

As long as we are under the same leadership that failed the country, and that arrogantly believes that liberating the nation gave it the right to choke its dreams, and not be accountable, then I’m still disappointed, even as I’m grateful for the quiet. I mean, it is no longer the Zim of 2008-09, when I wrote the novel, and the crisis was at its height. I’ll say that to hope is human, so I do and still hope for the kind of leadership that is able to carry the country forward.


David Palumbo-Liu is the Louise Hewlett Nixon Professor, and Professor of Comparative Literature, and, by courtesy, English, at Stanford University.