Bastards of the Reagan Era (Reginald Dwayne Betts)

U.S.A. / 2015

Photograph via Gesi Schilling, Poetry Foundation "& still, I want to stop & embrace my brother, to hold him close & pause to inhale the scent of prison, to tell him what I smell, what I inhale, is still the body of a man.& still, I want to stop & embrace my brother, to hold him close & pause to inhale the scent of prison, to tell him what I smell, what I inhale, is still the body of a man." — "What We Know Of Horses" 

Photograph via Gesi Schilling, Poetry Foundation

"& still, I want to stop & embrace
my brother, to hold him close
& pause to inhale the scent of prison,
to tell him what I smell, what I inhale,
is still the body of a man.& still, I want to stop & embrace
my brother, to hold him close
& pause to inhale the scent of prison,
to tell him what I smell, what I inhale,
is still the body of a man." — "
What We Know Of Horses" 

I love Reginald Dwayne Betts' poetry. I've previously featured his beautiful and devastating poem, "When I Think of Tamir Rice While Driving." I didn't know much about Betts as a poet, but I just came across a stunning profile of him on NPR. What a life this man has lived. At 16, he was charged as an adult and sent to prison for eight years for a carjacking. He even spent a whole year in solitary confinement. While in prison, he used books to escape and grew into a poet. He was released in 2005, and is currently studying at Yale Law School. He's a fabulous poet, and people are really enjoying this collection, which was nominated for the PEN/Open Book Award. Publisher's Weekly called it "a devastatingly beautiful collection that calls out to young black men lost to the pitfalls of urban America." Betts says Bastards of the Reagan Era was inspired by "This notion that whole sort of generation of young people were bastards of an era, of the Reagan era. I think about my own life, I think about the life of people that's close to me, and I just recognize that we were ... we were just lost — lost in time, we were lost in space, and we were struggling to find, I think, a sense of who we were."

Blackass (A. Igoni Barrett)

"It was easier to be than to become."

"It was easier to be than to become."

Nigeria / 2015

"Furo Wariboko, a young Nigerian, awakes the morning before a job interview to find that he’s been transformed into a white man. In this condition he plunges into the bustle of Lagos to make his fortune. With his red hair, green eyes, and pale skin, it seems he’s been completely changed. Well, almost. There is the matter of his family, his accent, his name. Oh, and his black ass. Furo must quickly learn to navigate a world made unfamiliar, and deal with those who would use him for their own purposes. Taken in by a young woman called Syreeta and pursued by a writer named Igoni, Furo lands his first-ever job, adopts a new name, and soon finds himself evolving in unanticipated ways."— Graywolf Press

Love Is Power, or Something Like That (A. Igoni Barrett)

"Love means you make me happy until you don’t."

"Love means you make me happy until you don’t."

Nigeria / 2013

This collection of nine short stories explores the inner-lives of contemporary Nigerians who grapple with desire, conflict, love, and power. A. Igoni Barrett is the author of Blackass, a novel about a Nigerian man who turns white, which I read back in April. The story itself didn't enthrall me as much as I had anticipated, but I was very impressed by the writing on a technical level. I've heard that Barrett's strongest writing is actually found in his short stories. So, I really want to check out this collection.

So Long a Letter (Mariama Bâ)

“Friendship has splendors that love knows not. It grows stronger when crossed, whereas obstacles kill love. Friendship resists time, which wearies and severs couples. It has heights unknown to love.”

“Friendship has splendors that love knows not. It grows stronger when crossed, whereas obstacles kill love. Friendship resists time, which wearies and severs couples. It has heights unknown to love.”

Senegal / 1979

After Ramatoulaye's husband dies, she must observe four months and 10 days of mourning, per tradition. As she copes with his death—and his painful betrayal—she writes to her best friend, Aissatou, trying to heal, gain strength, and understand women's fate in Senegalese society. Originally written in French, So Long a Letter was Mariama Bâ's first novel. Born 1929 in Dakar and raised Muslim by traditional grandparents, she struggled throughout her life to accept the inferior roles she felt women were forced to take on. Thus, her writing tended to examine and criticize gender inequality in West Africa. She reminds me of the late, greats Buchi Emecheta (Nigeria) and Lauretta Ngcobo (South Africa)—women writers who also explored gender inequality in their novels.

"Bush Baby" (Chikodili Emelumadu)

"He spits out a molar. It’s crescent-shaped as if something took a bite out of it. My head swells and goose pimples pop all over my body. My brother opens my palm and places the damaged tooth in it."

"He spits out a molar. It’s crescent-shaped as if something took a bite out of it. My head swells and goose pimples pop all over my body. My brother opens my palm and places the damaged tooth in it."

Nigeria / 2015

When Ihuoma's brother, Okwuchukwu, shows up at her doorstep totally dazed and exasperated, he won't, at first, tell her what went wrong. When time starts ticking, he has no choice but to reveal that he's been cursed by a reckless spirit. He has two options: withstand the painful curse for seven days, or falter before day seven and face a gruesome death. Will he manage to survive? "Bush Baby" first appeared in the 2015 collection of African speculative fiction, African Monsters. "Bush Baby" is nominated for this year's Caine Prize. The Caine Prize for African Writing is a literature prize awarded to an African writer of a short story published in English. The winner will be announced on July 3rd.

Read the full story here.

"The Story of the Girl whose Birds Flew Away" (Bushra al-Fadil)

"As long as the innocent birds were struck with stones and selfish desires, they would continue to land in such ugly places against their will, in patches full of violence and hate."

"As long as the innocent birds were struck with stones and selfish desires, they would continue to land in such ugly places against their will, in patches full of violence and hate."

Sudan / 2016

This is the story of a luckless man who falls for a beautiful, mysterious girl who transforms his luck. Or does she? Bushra al-Fadil hails from Sudan and has published four collections of short stories in Arabic. This story was translated from Arabic, as well. He holds a PhD in Russian language and literature. "The Story of the Girl whose Birds Flew Away" is nominated for this year's Caine Prize. The Caine Prize for African Writing is a literature prize awarded to an African writer of a short story published in English. The winner will be announced on July 3rd.

"The Virus" (Magogodi oaMphela Makhene)

"The man the Steenkamps mistook an attacker turned out the first cyvivor, as we call them now. We went from dismissing him a crazed American bloated on too many McBurgers, to something of a never-ending Vakansie Mann (tourist). Then, eventually, after news reached us in the papers, we took a real interest in this Cyberwar Refugee. But the cyvivors always resisted that name. Sounds too much like Africa, I suppose, even though the government said Africa, having never really been inter-webbed, is the one true refuge."

"The man the Steenkamps mistook an attacker turned out the first cyvivor, as we call them now. We went from dismissing him a crazed American bloated on too many McBurgers, to something of a never-ending Vakansie Mann (tourist). Then, eventually, after news reached us in the papers, we took a real interest in this Cyberwar Refugee. But the cyvivors always resisted that name. Sounds too much like Africa, I suppose, even though the government said Africa, having never really been inter-webbed, is the one true refuge."

South Africa / 2016

First published in The Harvard Review, "The Virus" tells of a hypothetical war in which American "cyvivors"—survivors of a national cyber holocaust—flee America and settle as refugees in South Africa, where they attempt to colonize white Afrikaaners. Makhene tells the story through the lens of an Afrikaaner man, which is interesting. Her writing style is very different from what I've usually encountered; it's incredibly sharp, fast, immersive, and hectic. "The Virus" is nominated for this year's Caine Prize. The Caine Prize for African Writing is a literature prize awarded to an African writer of a short story published in English. This year's five nominees were named on May 16th. The winner will be announced on July 3rd.

Read "The Virus" in full here. 

"Who Will Greet You At Home" (Lesley Nneka Arimah)

"Ogechi woke in the middle of the night with the hair child standing over her. It should not have been able to stand, let alone haul itself onto her bed. Nor should it have been able to fist her hair in a grip so tight her scalp puckered or stuff an appendage into her mouth to block her scream..."

"Ogechi woke in the middle of the night with the hair child standing over her. It should not have been able to stand, let alone haul itself onto her bed. Nor should it have been able to fist her hair in a grip so tight her scalp puckered or stuff an appendage into her mouth to block her scream..."

Nigeria / 2015

"Who Will Greet You At Home" was shortlisted for this year's Caine Prize for African Writing. The Caine Prize is a literature prize awarded to an African writer of a short story published in English. 2017's five nominees were named on May 16th. The winner will be announced on July 3rd. Lesley Nneka Arimah is the Nigerian author of What It Means When A Man Falls from the Sky—a short story collection that I devoured and loved. She was also shortlisted for the Caine Prize last year. This dark story is about a lonely Nigerian girl named Ogechi who makes a baby doll out of human hair—a doll which comes to life. It's creepy, intricate and heartbreaking. Her obsession with owning a doll reminds me of Pecola in Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye. You can read this story in full on The New Yorker's website. It also appears in her book.