New year, new local literature

Photo: Martha Mukaiwa

Supernatural stories from east and southern Africa, reflections on a childhood at Katima Mulilo, Doek’s debut anthology and a megachurch murder mystery are the bait for bibliophiles as a number of authors greet the new year with new local literature.

From Femi Kayode returning investigate psychologist Philip Taiwo in ‘Gaslight’ to MA Kelly’s nine fictional tales in ‘A Bed on Bricks’, Sylvia Schlettwein’s autobiographical anecdotes in ‘Katima – A Namibian Childhood’ and Doek’s continental selection of sparkling short stories, Namibians who’ve resolved to read more in 2024 can do so while supporting various homegrown writers.

“One of the most gratifying aspects of getting my book into print has been the opportunity to meet and engage with emerging local authors and other creatives,” says Kelly. “Many of them deserve to have their works reach a wider readership and hopefully they will get the encouragement and support they need to do this and thereby counteract the mentality that ‘we don’t have a reading culture’ here.”

For the reading cultured, Kelly offers a selection of short stories collectively titled ‘A Bed On Bricks’. Published by Cape Town’s Modjaji Books, the collection mostly mines the intrigues of the unexplained with nature as an underlying theme.

“The stories feature characters from very diverse cultures and backgrounds and one through-line connecting them is the struggle we all have in communicating with each other as our once separate communities interact and try to find common ground in rapidly changing times.”

As the demands of making a living and the instant gratification of the internet make mush of our attention spans, Kelly suggests ‘A Bed on Bricks’ as a piecemeal return to reading.

“Many people haven’t the time to battle through a long and complex novel these days,” Kelly says. “I hope that anyone interested in the ways individuals and societies meet, clash and work towards meaningful understandings will recognise some of the situations and protagonists I describe as they dip into my short-form work.”

Also a treat for short story enthusiasts is ‘Now Now: The 2023 Doek Anthology’. The first of a biennial collection of writings from Namibia and Africa, the anthology includes writers from the Doek Collective alongside storytellers from Africa and the African diaspora.

“The anthology, which features stories that resonate with Namibian readers, is a crucial addition to the country’s literary landscape. It showcases the diversity of narrative styles employed by Namibian writers as well as the richness and inventiveness of local storytellers. More than just a collection of local writings, the anthology bursts with stories that have universal themes,” says co-founder of Doek! Literary Magazine, Doek Arts Trust chairperson and anthology editor, Rémy Ngamije.

“Truly, the anthology would feel at home on a bookshelf in Windhoek as it would in Nairobi, in Accra or in Cairo.”

The anthology is supported by the University of East Anglia’s International Chair of Creative Writing and championed by its inaugural chair, award-winning author Tsitsi Dangarembga.

For those who enjoy long-form literature, Windhoek-based Nigerian author Femi Kayode gifts ‘Gaslight’, the next instalment in his Philip Taiwo crime thrillers following 2021’s ‘Lightseekers’.

Published by the United Kingdom’s Raven/Bloomsbury and Mullholland Books in the United States, ‘Gaslight’ follows an investigation amid a Nigerian megachurch after the esteemed bishop Dawodu is arrested for the apparent murder of his wife.

“I think lovers of a good mystery, who love using fiction to travel to other cultures and experience other societies will enjoy ‘Gaslight’, says Kayode.

Adding autobiography to this year’s crop of newer works, Schlettwein describes ‘Katima – A Namibian Childhood’ as “a compilation of vignettes, accounts and reflections that form a mosaic or patchwork of memories”.

An exploration of her formative years in the former Caprivi in the 1980s, Schlettwein’s book, published by Kuiseb Publishers (Namibia) and Palmato Publishing in Germany, is alive with the area’s idiosyncrasies.

Reflecting on the state of local literature, Schlettwein sees a scene slowly coming of age.

“What we need at this stage are dedicated readers, reviewers and publishers (not the same as printers!) of Namibian fiction, in Namibia and internationally.”

Commending Bank Windhoek for its support of the local literary sphere, particularly through its partnership with Doek, Kayode hopes for even more support from local businesses and institutions this year.

“Frankly, we hope to be taken a bit more seriously,” Kayode says.

“Not as a ‘sponsorship’ case, but as a viable economic and social development platform that can elevate Namibia’s standing on the global stage.”

‘A Bed on Bricks’, ‘Now Now: The 2023 Doek Anthology’, ‘Gaslight’ and ‘Katima – A Namibian Childhood’ are all available at The Book Den in Windhoek.

– martha@namibian.com.na; Martha Mukaiwa on Twitter and Instagram, marthamukaiwa.com

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