Interview with South African Writer, Ashley Quigley

July 22, 2014
Photo Credit: Ashley Quigley

Photo Credit: Ashley Quigley

Brief Biography:

Ashley Quigley was born in Johannesburg, South Africa. In high-school, she developed a love for writing and English and excelled in both aspects. She studied at Rhodes University and holds degrees in Biochemistry, Microbiology and Molecular Biology. She lives in Umhlanga with her husband, son, and three dogs.

Geosi Gyasi: How did you step a foot into the world of writing?

Ashley Quigley: In high-school, I developed a love for writing and English and excelled in both aspects. For college, I headed to Rhodes University where I was to study English and Journalism, but as fate would have it I registered for a science degree and received my undergraduate and postgraduate degrees in Biochemistry and Microbiology. After a five-year stint working in commercial laboratories I discovered that my love of English and writing was too great to ignore. So I came a full circle and reverted back to my first love, writing, which I have found more fulfilling than anything else I have done in my career.

Geosi Gyasi: Your most recent book, Breeders was recently published. Is there any special reason why you chose a female as the main central character?

Ashley Quigley: Yes. The story revolves around women who are selected for a breeding project where they have to produce offspring, so the character has to be female. The second book centers more on the male leads.

Geosi Reads: What inspired the story in the Breeders?

Ashley Quigley: Having studied the ethical issues and controversies surrounding genetic breeding and designer babies, I started to wonder what would happen if your genetic prowess was the new currency and determined your place in this world. Would our interference of natural selection by genetic breeding create super humans? This book inspired me to investigate further the human reaction to a situation which could threaten our entire existence.

Geosi Reads: Did your background in Biochemistry and Microbiology influence the story in any way?

Ashley Quigley: Although the book centre’s around science fiction, the scientific terms and genetic references are factual and make reference to studies performed worldwide, where researchers are trying to select for genetically favorable characteristics and disease free humans.

Geosi Reads: What writers among your contemporaries do you most admire?

Ashley Quigley: I really admire Suzanne Collins, not only for her success, but for her dedication and perseverance in getting her work out there and gaining readership.

Geosi Gyasi: Do you ever encounter challenges ending a story?

Ashley Quigley: Not really. I usually jot down ideas in a sketch book as they come to me. More often than not, I will draw a mind map of the plot. This may change some as I write the book and the characters develop, but helps me keep the story on track as far as possible, so the ending is always developed and worked towards.

Geosi Gyasi: In writing fiction, do you consider entertainment a priority?

Ashley Quigley: As far as the storyline is concerned, yes. A book needs to be gripping, to pull you into its world and engage you so that you will keep turning the pages. I find that long drawn out books with low entertainment value, often has reviews where readers have either not or battled to finish the book.

Geosi Gyasi: What about humor?

Ashley Quigley: For me, yes. A drama or thriller can always have one or two lines where the character or situation may be humorous. However, it always depends on the tone of the book.

Geosi Gyasi: Do you have any secret flaw as a writer?

Ashley Quigley: I’m such a neat freak and perfectionist, that my husband often teases me by saying “We don’t live in a lab.” This definitely flows into my writing and my critiquing of it.

Geosi Gyasi: How much are you conscious of the reader when you write?

Ashley Quigley: I always try to maintain a reader’s outlook when reviewing my book. I ask myself if this is something I would buy or recommend to a friend, so I try to be as reader conscientious as possible.

Geosi Gyasi: Does environment matter to you as a writer? Where do you write?

Ashley Quigley: I write in my study where I’m surrounded by my favorite books and is a brightly lit and happy place, its also private. You can often find me listening to music when I write. I like soft, soulful musicians, such as Jack Johnson and John Meyer and then Florence and the Machines.

Geosi Gyasi: Do you think the public taste for Science fiction, thrillers and suspense have declined?

Ashley Quigley: Not at all. I think the recent success of novels transitioning into film such as The Twilight Saga, Hunger Games and the series by Stieg Larsson have highlighted that this genre is becoming increasingly popular.

Geosi Gyasi: Is your South African citizenship important to you and your writing?

Ashley Quigley: Yes. I am proudly South African and hope that I portray this aspect into my writing where relevant.


Interview with Nigerian Writer, Ejiọfọr Ugwu

July 15, 2014
Photo Credit: Ejiofor Ugwu

Photo Credit: Ejiọfọr Ugwu

Brief Biography:

Ejiọfọr Ugwu is a street photographer. He lives in Nsukka, Nigeria. He has edited poetry for The Muse, a journal of creative and critical writings at the University of Nigeria. A graduate of the Fidelity Bank International Creative Writing Workshop, Ejiofor has had his poetry and short fiction published in Drumtide, The New Black Magazine, The Muse, Sentinel Nigeria, and The Kalahari Review. His work is also forthcoming in African American Review.

Geosi Reads: Between photography and poetry, you honestly have a first love?

Ejiọfọr Ugwu: Poetry. I’m not sure I have a very beautiful story of childhood and writing. I wrote the first thing that looked like poetry inform three in High School. It was after I encountered a poem by an English poet which I don’t remember the poet’s name. I have gone online to search for the name but I did not succeed: “There Is No Sanctuary for Brave Men.” I think the Collection is Oladele Taiwo’s. The poem made me think that I should begin to look for words because I already had stories. I come from a Community of stories: beautiful and gory. Alor-Agu has a rich oral lore, which I’m yet to fully explore. I encountered it quite early. My mother is a storyteller. She married early and had turbulences early too but that’s not the source of her stories. They come from deep, deep within. She was her grandmother’s pet and that was usually an opportunity for many a child to get spoilt. She picked a different thing. She gave us the image of her grandmother as one all season beautiful old woman with hawkish fingernails. At least we were able to learn that she used the fingernails to ‘chuck’ sense into anyone around who acted silly. I refuse to think that there’s more to the fingernails. But as a child the fingernails conjured the image of a merciless witch to me but I did tell my mother that. So my mother has a photographic memory almost comparable to her own mother. I got stories quite early from them but I didn’t have the words that early. Immediately after High School I wrote a story of the size of Achebe’s Things Fall Apart. It was my first outing. And I will get it burnt very soon. I burnt my first poem that way and was purified. That is one thing fire can do to your life. Photography is a newer art form for me. I know I have always wanted to do a particular photography but I didn’t know the name until I met Teju Cole. It was not the commercial photo that I was thinking of. It was photography for me and me alone. You know, as selfish as that. Then with Teju Cole, everything took shape.

Geosi Gyasi: I am curious to know what entails in the work of Street Photography?

Ejiọfọr Ugwu: The kind of photography I am talking about is the achievement of a thing similar to what Teju Cole and everybody in that group does. I recommend Teju Cole’s “Who’s Got the Address” in Guernica Magazine. Go, see and watch. You will get a big feel of what is involved in street photography. Hear Teju Cole, “The element of surprise is the key. You head out of your house not knowing what you’re going to encounter. After a while, you see lyricism inherent in the world. To capture this takes tremendous amounts of luck”. This is the kernel of the art. And there is something with image and my poetry. Much of it happen first as images before becoming words. Street photography has poetry in its soul – the poetry of instance. But the art is risky too considering the security situation of the world today. People can think that you are a terrorist taking pictures of places to bomb and you may get lynched before your true identity is revealed. So you have to be careful. Possibly, steal your art. Let me also make this confession once and for all. There was something functional in that description. I did not want to be described immediately as a writer or poet because I was not sure. I was not sure whether I was getting it. I felt safe with being described as a street photographer even though I am yet to develop the art form to my wish.

Geosi Gyasi: Is there a Nigerian writer who is particularly important to you?

Ejiọfọr Ugwu: Afam Akeh is an important poet to me. There is this indescribable depth in his poetry. Just have a feel of it:

American Trauma

There is a hole in the ground the dead cannot fill.

Only memory can feed it. And silence,

that populous sound. What the world calls power

is suddenly rubble, concrete piled on grief.

The ruins of everything everywhere

evidence of dreams not traveled.

Assorted body parts in disposable bags,

dust coated, almost earth.

People look like rubbish

when they are no longer people.

Memory is the cruel companion –

familiar voices in old phone calls,

remembered faces, traveled spaces,

the loves that time locks in a heart.

They lift boulders, gather bones,

looking in the rubble for somebody’s father.

Some sift the tale, filling the gaps in spaces

where things once were.

As if the sky crashed, taking the top to the bottom,

breaking faith. And there is no longer certainty,

no sunlight, only craters and mystery, gravity,

absence, the violence of not knowing.

There you are. Afam terrifies me like Rilke, Camus and Kafka. If you can’t have access to his books of poetry such as Stolen Moments; Letter Home and Other Poems immediately you can get considerable e-copies of his poems or you watch what he and his team are doing for African Poetry at the Centre for African Poetry (CAP).

Geosi Gyasi: What relationship do you have with short poems?

Ejiọfọr Ugwu: I don’t particularly set out to write short or long poems. My work as a poet is similar to that of a midwife. I think I’m echoing someone here: dead or alive but I don’t remember who now. I help them to be born. I don’t determine their growth. ‘Blood Rain’ was a terror and I just had to flow with it.

Geosi Gyasi: From your poem, “Sunrise”, is there any relationship between the sun’s reluctance to rise and the rope that almost loops in the feast of beheading?

Ejiọfọr Ugwu: I am not the best reader of my work; especially because I don’t know where this thing (poetry) comes from or what it is in its nature. But it seems to me that there is a connection. And you just made me to begin to see. I suspect this case of monstrous hope. Maybe the persona shouldn’t have taken the pain to beseech the sun-god because everything is innately damned.

Geosi Gyasi: What activities do you engage in before the start of a poem?

Ejiọfọr Ugwu: I can’t really pick out particular pre-writing rituals; because I write anywhere. I respond to a story anytime and where it comes from. It could just be a line that can even take months to gather and take life. Others can come fully made in a day. Some two poems came around recently. One is ‘I Bought My Banana From Ayetoro’. The other is ‘A Game of Magun’. The former took three months to gather. The latter almost completed her life cycle in a day. So it depends on the individual poems. What may look like a ritual is that I tend to write after reading. I also do not force myself to write. There is this thing they often say that you should try to form the habit of writing something or some number of words daily or weekly but I’ve not been able to. Maybe I’ve not been regular or I have just been lazy. I would really like it if it is possible but not yet. I just take it that I would restart anytime favourable to my system and writing would begin. And I don’t fall short of what to write with. My phone is always there. Unless the battery is down. I have something like a Microsoft Word app called Kingsoft Word on my phone so that I can type and format anywhere. Technology is a beautiful thing. And I belong to the Facebook generation.

Geosi Gyasi: Tell us a bit about your education at the University of Nigeria? What happened to your writing there?

Ejiọfọr Ugwu: I trained as a graduate of English and Literary Studies at the University of Nigeria. But if you looked closely you would notice that I do not emphasize it. In all the brief bios you can find about me on the internet and in print you won’t see a thing like this; because people would always like to give one excuse or the other for their inability to try. ‘Oh! He is a graduate of English. That’s why. That is why he can write’. That’s a huge lie. I was already writing before I joined the Department. I am really trying to say that whether you studied astral Physics or the Mechanics of Dam you can still be a writer. In fact I dearly wanted to study Economics or Law but with some twists of events (Life has a cause often known to it alone) I joined language studies. I don’t write off its importance (which I will return to later) but that is not why I write. When I joined the Department in 2008 it was really an event. I met a literary environment. The spirit of Achebe was hovering over there and ever. He started The Muse journal in the University in 1963. I would always pass his office in order to walk up to my class on the second floor of the Faculty of Arts, Block B – a name tag on his door – “Emeritus Professor Chinua Achebe”. We had this big spirit ‘Achebe was here’. I am part of the people that inherited The Muse, ‘the spiritchild that took life and dwelled among us” in words of the poet James Nnaji. The names of other inheritors cannot be exhausted here: Dubem Okafor (of blessed memory. He is an ancestor now, just like Achebe). Chimalum Nwankwo. Emeka Nwabueze. Osita Okagbue. Fidelis Okoro. Chika Unigwe. Obari Gomba. Unoma Azuah. So many. I edited Poetry for its 40th edition, 2012. There was also a young literary group in the school called The Writers Community. I was a member. They published my poetry and short fiction on their board and I got tremendous validation. We also organized Workshops. We had such venues as the University zoo where we read our works, critiqued and drank Sprite amidst the chirpings of birds and crickets and the chatters of monkeys. I had such interesting individuals as Ruth Atuh; Kelly Enoche; James Nnaji (Aronsi); Adaeze Amaka; Ifeanyi Edeh; John Attah; Jane Ejibe; Gerald Olisemeka; and some I can’t remember now. Writing was not easy with coursework and personal demons. Then in 2011, I entered for the Fidelity Bank International Creative Writing Workshop and was shortlisted. We were taught Writing by Sudanese writer Jamal Mahjoub, British Diana Evans and Nigerian Helon Habila. I’m always grateful to these Big Guys and the Fidelity Bank PLC. This is where I met the poet, Iquo Eke, shortlisted for the 2013 Nigeria Prize for Literature. I can also remember Obinna Udenwe and Jessy Mallums. I will not forget the gods I met in the Department. These three stood tallest: Albert Camus. Rainer Maria Rilke. Franz Kafka. Rilke’s poetry, Kafka’s Metamorphosis, Camus’ The Stranger and Notes From Underground almost drove me crazy with numinous illuminations. The magic is that they all translations. Rilke and Kafka: German. Camus: French. I was a lover of Star beer and occasional spirit and Guilder in School just like James Nnaji. Timo Alabi drank Harp. And Alex drank Stout. At the beginning, evenings were spent in the female hostels and we were usually richly blessed. And sometimes, cursed. My favourite female hostels were Balewa, Akintola, Akpabio and Zik’s Flat.

Gyasi: Is poetry a difficult genre to indulge in?

Ejiọfọr Ugwu: I don’t think it is for me. But for others it can be. People see writing and even reading Poetry as a difficult work. And I think they are not completely wrong. The fact that Poetry tends to gather so many within a terribly small space and in a language often similar to that of madness makes it quite an engagement to many. But I think people should see its beauty first of all in its ability to do that magic within that short space. If you still care about the complications of the human condition in general, Poetry should not be an enemy. As for Poetry as a form it is up to you the writer. If you have a story and you think the form can carry it try it. If it can’t try other forms such as Prose-fiction (the Short Story and the full length), Creative Nonfiction or Dramatic Literature. It mustn’t be Poetry. I can say now that Poetry comes naturally to me. But I’m working very hard to fine-tune my two other interests, which are Prose-fiction and Creative Nonfiction. I’m hoping strongly.

Geosi Gyasi: What do you regard as the best time to write?

Ejiọfọr Ugwu: Anytime. Anytime you feel like writing or find something writable. Spontaneity can really be a genius. Because something can walk past and get lost forever. Have some listening ears. And watchful eyes. Get lost in the world. Take risk. Feel pain. Be ready to kill, at least your characters. Have sex in abundance. Be careful though. Visit the brothels and cool off. The mortuaries and the cemeteries can give you beautiful treats on a Christmas Day. Have a God. Jilt and get jilted. Fall in and out of love. Fuck and forsake. Listen to your daemons. Read your Bible regularly. The writer is no spirit or saint. He is a normal human being you see on the street, who can do all that (if not for his or her enduring fascination with words, with stories, with life and with death and dying) That saying ‘go ye into the world and multiply’ is yours alone! If your guardian is disturbed by all that tell him you are training your imagination. But be polite enough. Then write anytime. Anywhere. Even in the toilet.

Geosi Gyasi: Blood Rain falls into the category of long poems. How long did it take to write?

Ejiọfọr Ugwu: I kept on returning to the draft for more than three weeks. I can’t remember exactly but it was not written in a day. Something makes me think that it’s not even complete yet. Or maybe no work of that nature is.

Geosi Gyasi: Do you want readers to like your work?

Ejiọfọr Ugwu: Yes and No. Yes because writing is like giving birth. You would be happy that your children do well. You are happy that your solitude pays off. Writing is really a solitary path. Sometimes you are just there alone with spirits of dead writers. You are fighting your own daemons too. That’s why it brings you joy that people appreciate what you do. But to say that you now write to please them is a risk. The ugly has a natural place in your writing too. The Other (otherness) can even be the spirit of your writing. And people can then place your neck on a slaughter slab. You may have read about Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita. So I am more comfortable being free. That is how political I am. If you like what I write good for us. But if not, and not that it is bereft considerable craft but because one ingredient of the work shocks your belief, I can say I am not obliged to. My primary duty is to my craft.

Geosi Gyasi: What are you reading now?

Ejiọfọr Ugwu: I am reading some ten short stories by Alice Munro, which include “Boys and Girls”, “Face”, “Deep-Holes”, “Runaway”, “Train”, “Wenlock Edge”, “Amundsen”, “Passion”, “Gravel” and “The Bear Came Over the Mountain”. I am also reading the 2014 Cain Prize shortlisted stories. And that of the Commonwealth Prizes. The only book length is Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things. I follow these magazines and e-zines always: Granta; The Atlantic; n+1; Foreign Policy; The Virginia Quarterly; Transition; The Paris Review; The Kenyon Review; Boston Review; Words Without Borders; The Kalahari Review; Harvard Business Review; The Financial Times; The New York Times; Gulf Coast; Eclectica; The Oxonian Review; The Coffin Review; The New Inquiry; Per Contra; The New York Review of Books; The Millions; The Stinging Fly; The Post-colonial; The Wasafiri; and The New Yorker. I am facebooking too. Any upcoming writer who doesn’t take Facebook seriously may just have been posturing. And it is not good for his health. All he needs to do is to get connected to the right persons and his skill will be richly blessed daily. I am a facebook child. And we in the facebook generation of writers are really lucky. We no longer find it too difficult to emerge. All it takes is to produce something good and people are ready to watch you. They are even ready to pay you before you get to the publishers. That is if, for instance, money is considered as a push. So, no excuse again. Get to work.


Interview with Brunel University African Poetry Prize Winner, Liyou Mesfin Libsekal

July 8, 2014
Photo Credit:  R. Belay

Photo Credit: R. Belay

Brief Biography: Liyou Mesfin Libsekal was born in 1990 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and grew up traveling with her family, spending the majority of her childhood in different parts of East Africa. She earned a BA in Anthropology from the George Washington University in 2012 with a minor in international affairs and a concentration in international development. Liyou found her way back home to Ethiopia after spending a short time in Vietnam. Since January 2013 she has written several articles relating to culture and the changing environment of her rapidly developing country for a monthly business magazine, Ethiopian Business Review. Liyou recently won the 2014 Brunel University African Poetry Prize.

Geosi Gyasi: What do you remember about your first poem you wrote?

Liyou Mesfin Libsekal: I can’t quite remember the contents of my first poem but I remember feeling overwhelmed (as one often does as a preteen), grabbing a notebook and just letting it all out. What I never forget is the absolute relief I felt by the end of it.

Geosi Gyasi: You were born in Addis Ababa yet spent most of your childhood in different parts of East Africa? How much of these experiences do you bring to your poetry?

Liyou Mesfin Libsekal: I think poetry, when it’s honest, is such a reflection of who the writer is and how they view things and our experiences contribute to that. So my experiences do impact my poetry sometimes in ways I can pinpoint, sometimes not. Because it’s part of my nature to be observant, I draw so much on observation, so I think experiences inevitably find their way into my work.

Geosi Gyasi: Do you write on a computer?

Liyou Mesfin Libsekal: Yes, I do write on a computer, but I also keep a notebook around so I don’t forget some ideas before I get to my computer!

Geosi Gyasi: How long does it take you to write a poem?

Liyou Mesfin Libsekal: I would’t be able to say accurately because it really varies. I hardly ever write a poem and leave it at that, I come back to different poems all the time, I’m always playing with things I’ve written. It helps me to leave things for a little while and come back to them so I can read them with more perspective. I’m not focused on finishing, I don’t say “ok, this is good, I can not touch it again” because I feel I can always make it better with a fresh set of eyes. I have poems I’ve written years ago that I still go back to; that’s the most enjoyable part of writing for me, revisiting something, understanding myself better through it, and transforming it.

Geosi Gyasi: Have you ever written a poem when you were angry?

Liyou Mesfin Libsekal: Most of the time when I write, even if it’s a subject that is agitating or really intense for me, I’ve gotten in the habit of stepping out of it in a way; it’s an analysis of sorts for me, so I tend to be calm when I’m writing.

Geosi Gyasi: Do you consider winning the Brunel University African Poetry Prize a huge turning point as a writer?

Liyou Mesfin Libsekal: Definitely. The competition was pretty much the first public thing I did with my poetry and it’s really been such a great experience. Being shortlisted for the BUAPP also gave me the opportunity to send in some work to the African Poetry Book Fund, and that resulted in the opportunity to publish a chapbook as part of next year’s New Generation African Poets series, so the competition really has impacted me as a writer.

Geosi Gyasi: Could you tell me how the idea for writing Riding Chinese Machines came about?

Liyou Mesfin Libsekal: The inspiration for that poem came from observing Addis Ababa at the moment. There are a lot of infrastructural changes happening, and as positive as that is, there are of course, negatives as well. The poem came from observations, and really just thinking about how inescapable the environment has become, how everything is affected by this rapid development.

Geosi Gyasi: Are you addicted to short poetry?

Liyou Mesfin Libsekal: I wouldn’t say addicted, my poems just end up the way they do, I hadn’t really thought much about that aspect. They do tend to be relatively short so maybe that’s just what is natural to me, at least at the moment.

Geosi Gyasi: Do you have any special factory for generating words for your poetry?

Liyou Mesfin Libsekal: Not really, initially I just try to write without putting too much pressure on myself, and just welcoming whatever words come. I then go back and tinker with the words but a lot of poems that I really love have come out of me initially being able to really let go, which I still find difficult at times, but that is part of what I’m learning to do as a writer.

Geosi Gyasi: Do you read a lot of poetry?

Liyou Mesfin Libsekal: I do read a lot of poetry, I love finding something I feel connected to, it’s inspiring for me to read something honest and moving. Reading poetry like that motivates me to be unafraid to really explore what I can do, it urges me to be better.

Geosi Gyasi: Do you enjoy reading your own work?

Liyou Mesfin Libsekal: I don’t read my work specifically for enjoyment because it is difficult for me to read something I wrote without looking for ways to make it better. I read my poetry in an effort to improve my work, make sure it sounds the way I’d like it to sound.

Geosi Gyasi: If I were to ask you to name just one writer you admire most, who would it be?

Liyou Mesfin Libsekal: It’s so hard for me to pick one because I really love so many different works and different writers. In fiction, I really enjoy Joyce Carol Oats. If looking at poetry, I love Kwesi Brew, Lucille Clifton, and most recently I’ve really been captivated by Henri Cole’s work.


Interview with American Poet Amit Majmudar

July 1, 2014
Photo Credit: Ami Buch Majmudar

Photo Credit: Ami Buch Majmudar

Brief Biography: Amit Majmudar is a novelist, poet, essayist, and diagnostic nuclear radiologist (M.D.). He writes and practices in Dublin, Ohio, where he lives with his wife, twin sons, and baby daughter.

Geosi Gyasi: You practice full-time as a Diagnostic Radiologist and you are also a poet. How do you combine the two?

Amit Majmudar: I guess the correct way to think of it is that I split the two, rather than combine them. I split the two roles the same way people split roles in everyday life—the way a young man can behave one way with his buddies from college, and quite another way around his parents. When I am at work, I speak and think in a medical way. When I am writing, my language and my thought patterns alter drastically. But I do not think this ability to toggle in and out of either mode is all that unique; we do it naturally in our various social roles.

Geosi Gyasi: Your approach to your poetry is quite refreshing – for instance, your Rune Poem has a unique style. From where did you acquire your style of writing?

Amit Majmudar: I think I am, more than most of my contemporaries, oriented toward poetic styles of distant antiquity from a variety of cultures. I am more likely than other poets to take a bygone form or mode of poetry and try to make it work in a modern context; or rather, I am more likely to believe, in the face of all evidence to the contrary, that there is no such thing as a historically antiquated poetic form or mode, only poets inadequate to meet their challenges.

Geosi Gyasi: Can a writer learn style?

Amiit Majmudar: A writer can learn not to make obvious mistakes. That is a crucial part of style. But it is, alas, also a form of caution. And caution never accomplished anything of worth in literature. This paradox, coupled with the institutionalization of the teaching of writing, accounts for the unprecedentedly high level of technical competence in American writing—and for its stubbornly unchanged percentage of dross.

Geosi Gyasi: When did you first start writing?

Amit Majmudar: In one of my past lives.

Geosi Gyasi: When you’re writing a book, do you look back on your previous works?

Amit Majmudar: With disgust and contempt.

Geosi Gyasi: Your poetry and prose have been published in a number of venues including The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Best American Poetry, The Atlantic Monthly, Granta and other places. What is the best response you’ve ever received from a reader?

Amit Majmudar: I once wrote a novel called The Abundance, and a woman wrote me from New England, and her story was, uncannily, almost identical to the fictional one I created. Even her voice, in the email, was similar. It was like hearing from the character herself.

Geosi Gyasi: Have you ever received a negative review? How to do react to negative reviews?

Amit Majmudar: The first review I ever got as a poet, in a UK journal called The Dark Horse, and the first review I ever got as a novelist, in Publishers Weekly, were both very negative. I reacted to them with a mixture of disbelief and anger; I felt that I had seen far inferior writing routinely praised to the skies, and I was frankly astonished that mine should be singled out for insult. I promptly used that anger to fuel more writing.

Geosi Gyasi: You are a blogger for the Kenyon Review. Do you think there is a relationship between blogging and writing?

Amit Majmudar: It is a form that has existed for centuries, I suspect, just never in public; the blog is a sort of diary or notebook, only opened to the world. In a hundred years, I predict, one or two blogs from our time will have been elevated to literary status; in the manner of the diary of Samuel Pepys, or the notebooks of Dostoevsky.

Geosi Gyasi: How much emphasis do you place on rhyme? I am actually thinking of your poem Pattern and Snarl?

Amit Majmudar: I think it is good for what it is good for, and not good for everything. It is unnecessary; but so is every other kind of fun.

Geosi Gyasi: How much of your writing comes from your own personal experiences?

Amit Majmudar: 23.3%.

Geosi Gyasi: What do you mostly read?

Amit Majmudar: I mostly read the beginning of anything at all, and then get bored and abandon it. I listen to audiobooks more than I read; I listen to books during my work commute. Only great poetry keeps me awake. Reading prose puts me to sleep within a few pages; I simply operate on too great a sleep deficit to sustain wakefulness for more than a couple of pages of low-intensity or diffuse writing. My desert-island reading list would consist of classical heroic epics in translation, the Bhagavad-Gita, McCarthy’s Blood Meridian, Oswald Spengler’s The Decline of the West, and Shakespeare.

Geosi Gyasi: What poets among your contemporaries do you admire?

Amit Majmudar: Don Paterson, Kay Ryan, A. E. Stallings, Joshua Mehigan…. But I confess I regard Cormac McCarthy (author of Blood Meridian and The Road) as the greatest living poet in the language; he just happens to write in the form of the prose narrative.



Sunday Times Literary Awards 2014 Winners

June 29, 2014


Max du Preez and Claire Robertson were announced as the winners of the 2014 Sunday Times Literary Awards at a gala event this evening in Johannesburg.

Du Preez won the Alan Paton Award for his book A Rumour of Spring: South Africa after 20 Years of Democracy while Robertson won the Fiction Prize for her novel The Spiral House. Both prizes are worth R75 000.

The Fiction Prize judges called called The Spiral House an “astonishingly adept and richly imagined novel, a layered, subtle story that resonates with important ideas about history. We applaud the sensuous quality of the writing and were amazed by its remarkable language.”

Read more information here.

Jennifer Makumbi Wins 2014 Commonwealth Short Story Prize

June 20, 2014


Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi from Uganda is the Overall Winner of the Commonwealth Short Story Prize, 2014.

The judges praised Jennifer’s short story, Let’s Tell This Story Properly, for its risk- taking, grace and breadth.

The winning story is about a grieving widow who arrives at Entebbe Airport from Manchester with her husband’s coffin, but events take such a dramatic turn that she must relinquish her widowhood and fight.

This year unpublished stories were entered by nearly 4,000 writers from the five Commonwealth regions. The award was presented in Kampala, Uganda, on 13 June by the novelist and short story writer Romesh Gunesekera.

Congratulations Jennifer Makumbi.

Interview with Australian Writer Zenobia Frost

June 13, 2014
Credit: Raw Bones

Credit: Raw Bones

Brief Biography: Zenobia Frost is an Australian writer and editor whose debut poetry collection, The Voyage, was released in 2009. Zenobia (Brisbane) is the assistant editor of Cordite Poetry Review. Her work has been published in Voiceworks, Overland, Southerly, The Lifted Brow and Rave Magazine. Zenobia was shortlisted in the 2013 Overland Judith Wright Poetry Prize and won second place in the 2013 John Marsden Prize for Young Australian Writers. Her debut collection, Salt and Bone, is forthcoming from Walleah Press.

Geosi Gyasi: Between Page and Stage, which one is your first love?

Zenobia Frost: Page, I think. Writing poetry was how I learned to be happy with my own company. I can fiddle with one line or one piece of punctuation for hours on end. Sometimes, when I write a new poem, I’m excited to wake up the next morning just to see it with fresh eyes and make it better. When it comes to other writers’ poetry, time spent reading quietly with a cup of tea is sacred.

Geosi Gyasi: The stage is constantly in motion; performing or reading poetry. How do you translate the static, tactile pages to the stage?

Zenobia Frost: I aim to choose poems that have a distinct conversational voice or rhythm. It’s true that some poems live in and on the page — they need time and rereading to be absorbed. For me, the best performative poems marry rhythm with semantic resonance. Musicality and meaning.

Geosi Gyasi: Do you ever regret venturing into this business of writing?

Zenobia Frost: I think it was inevitable. I’m grateful that I’ve found my way into jobs that help me balance the writing life with getting the bills paid. I find that full-time professional editing, especially when working from home, can eat up the motivation to write creatively. I much prefer having a day job that differs drastically from writing and editing (though the occasional freelance contract helps keep me sharp).

Geosi Gyasi: Your debut poetry collection, The Voyage, released by SweetWater Press (Brisbane) in May of 2009 brought you much attention. Moving on, how has this attention been managed?

Zenobia Frost: I wouldn’t say that it brought unmanageable attention. It did, I think, catalyse some fantastic opportunities, like touring around Australia with the Arts Queensland Touring Poets program in late 2009. But I’m still a quiet voice in Australian poetry — I’m not sure, to be honest, if I’m emerging or emerged.

Geosi Gyasi: Ross Clark said of your debut chapbook as “this first collection somehow combines undertones of both The Ancient Mariner and The Hunting of the Snark, while remaining determinedly in her own voice’. Have you therefore found your own voice and how would you describe it?

Zenobia Frost: I think I have, especially in the last couple of years. I expect it’s a very Brisbane voice; I find myself returning again and again to Queensland’s architecture, weather and animals — if not to our Brissie lingo, mate. I’ve finished proofing the book that will be out, hopefully, within the next couple of months: Salt and Bone (Walleah Press). (Forgive the plug.) It’s been fascinating reading it with distance: to pretend I’m an editor who’s never heard of me. I think I’d describe my poetic voice as lyrical and assertive.

Geosi Gyasi: Do you consider place an important ingredient in the writing process?

Zenobia Frost: For me, definitely. A poem can be a way to visit or revisit a place, via scent or sound. In writing, I find a poem can be a way into an old memory; I spent my early childhood in New Zealand and the UK; all those memories are sensory. I also think I feel an obligation to exalt Brisbane, a city that’s sometimes a little embarrassed of itself. I’ve lived a lot of places and this one is home. I think artworks that unabashedly live in and for Brisbane are important.

Geosi Gyasi: …cotton-gloved rabbits/a few aeons late/to taste the blade’s full thrust. (From your poem, Archaeology) The question is where do you purchase your diction?

Zenobia Frost: To answer this question, I have dragged up old drafts of “Archaeology” to look back on early iterations of those lines. I think the diction emerges, like a sculpture, via a process of whittling. My early drafts are often very verbose; later edits are slimmer and slimmer. My hope is always that the end product will be a concise, clear image.

Geosi Gyasi: May I query you on the caption on your blog – A Storm of Tea Cups? Are you obsessed with tea?

Zenobia Frost: Heh. A bit. Yes. A visitor recently remarked, “You seem to have bought the whole tea shop” — or something to that effect. There’s something to be said for the ritual of tea. Having a pot always brewing nearby seems meaningful. I’ve always been a black tea drinker, but recently I had to cut down on caffeine, so suddenly I have a new shelf: rooibos, mint, honeybush, lemongrass, ginger…

Geosi Gyasi: Who would you likely pick as your literary influence?

Zenobia Frost: Just the one? Eep! Early on in my writing, I might have said Oscar Wilde, because I was obsessed with The Picture of Dorian Gray. As an adult, my influences are many and variable, but often include lyricists. Josh Pyke and Glenn Richards (Augie March) certainly stand out to me as musicians whose lyrics have a poetic, distinctly Australian flavor. My favourite novels are poetic and surreal: Virginia Woolf’s Orlando, Janette Winterson’s Sexing the Cherry, Italo Calvino’s If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller. I’m no good at following one writer’s whole career, but I read a lot of bits and pieces.

Geosi Gyasi: What did you have in mind at the time of writing your poem “Early Rituals”? How much of your personal life is reflected in your poetry?

Zenobia Frost: When I was around 11 or 12, Mum would let me put temporary colours in my hair – usually purple-ish or reddish washes. These would last as long as the holidays — but sometimes, if I was careful, a little longer. I always liked that my mum was complicit in these subtle rebellions against dress code. This ritual – something Mum and I did together – was emblematic of her support as puberty kicked in, with all its attendant rites of passage.

More often than not, my poems might be considered confessional. I certainly write fictional poems, but I find that writing from memory comes easiest.

Geosi Gyasi: You work as a writer and editor. How does these two complement each other?

Zenobia Frost: I think writing and editing are inseparable: editing is just the biggest chunk of the process known as writing. As soon as the first draft is down, the editing begins. They complement one another, as do two sides of the same coin.

Geosi Gyasi: This may sound silly but here it is – how did you fall in love with graveyards?

Zenobia Frost: When I first moved out of the family home, I lived in a sharehouse two streets away from Brisbane’s biggest cemetery. In the Victorian tradition, Toowong Cemetery is a parkland first and graveyard second. I spent a lot of time there: walking, writing, meeting with the friend who I’d wind up falling in love with. To me, graveyards signify new beginnings and nature. They have just enough inherent weirdness to please my inner teen-goth too, I admit. They’re such a funny, human thing: a beautiful botanical garden dotted with little stone shrines to our ancestors. In the 1970s, a large number of tombstones were removed from Toowong Cemetery with the aim of increasing its sense of park-ness — some land was even cleared as a cricket or picnic area. You can imagine how well that went down. This clearing, pockmarked with grave-shaped indents, remains quite un-picnicked. Except by me. So there you go.



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