Today, two words describe most of the discourse around Africa and the black diaspora: “racism” and “colonization.” But the idea of a black self outside of external definitions requires language that exists beyond the influences of these boundaries. What existed before racism? What exists despite racism? What existed before colonization? What exists despite colonization?
In thinking about these questions, the outline of an ethos emerged for this submission call. We wanted to (p)re-language odd, vexing questions and conversations about our origins.
A question in this mold that we were particularly fascinated by, one that continues to be posed in varying forms of discourse as new is: What happens when a colonized person is placed at the center of an epic? Here, epic is used to loosely suggest “framework of meaning”. This question presupposes that the colonized person has never existed in his or her own epic, or made an account of this, and makes clear to us that the questions that matter more in this moment require an expansiveness that leads us towards a reckoning with the age of our enlightenment as a people.
We wanted to think or be nudged towards frameworks that showed us how we have codified knowledge and ideas historically. We wanted to re-investigate the points at which the forms of enlightenment we have known [scientific, artistic, ideological] began to be interfered with, what distortions these forces of interference imposed, how we have reimagined nationhood and our private lives.
At first, such a task might seem to require the invention of something entirely new. Yet history shows us that this is not true. We know that there was a time when one could say the black persona was entirely self-determined. This period, before colonization or the slave trade that saw millions of Africans traded across the world, was one where Africans decided their own ways of being, made their own art, constructed their own societies, and invented their own philosophies. Not that there was anything particularly romantic about this time; it was a time like any other in human history: empires were built and destroyed, there were tyrants, people fell in love, rain fell, and flowers bloomed. But it might be correct to say that this was a genuinely African time, where the entire black experience was self-determined. If the African oppressed another, they did so in full ownership of their wickedness. If they spoke poetry, it was borne out of an imagination linked to the earth on which they walked. The autonomy of a full human experience was afforded to the African, until colonization and slavery came to redesign the black self.
The aim is not of course to deny racism or colonization––these are important touchpoints in our collective black experience. The goal is to consider how we might constitute ourselves today outside of these projects which have long sought to hold our imagination in chains. Is there a black self outside of these boundaries? Is there historical precedence for such a black self? How far do we dig in order to discover such possibilities? What is to be discovered if we dig so far? Of what use is such a discovery in the world today? Can this digging be fruitful if only oriented toward the past? Are there diggings to be done to rediscover subjectivities hidden in the plain sight of the present, or even the future?
We are persuaded that this self determining, self-shaping African milieu—spatial and temporal, continental and diasporic, a canopy that extends to anywhere there are black people in the world—is not situated only in the past. We are interested in its manifold futuristic visions and versions, and the radically creative and subversive ways it exists in the present. Our lives—tenderly, erotically, historically, with sweetness or even harshness—within our own gaze.
Ngugi Wa Thiong’o once told a story that expressed the enigma of origins; these creative redrawings that allow us to exist authentically within our bodies as a bulwark against the violent blindness and erasures of colonized histories and archives.
Here, we reproduce the story:
In May, 1994, my wife and I called a few friends to our house in Orange, New Jersey, to celebrate the arrival of our daughter, born at the end of April. Among them was Kamau Brathwaite [the great Caribbean poet] who later rose to read a poem to honor the new arrival. The poem had lines that repeated the name of our daughter, Mumbi, Mumbi, Mumbi, almost like a religious chant. Now, Mumbi means creator, and we gave our daughter the name because she is in fact my mother, Wanjik, who died in 1989 but is now reborn in Mumbi. Her full name, then, is Mumbi Wanjiku, creator of my mother.
My thoughts took me back to 1972, when Kamau, then Edward Brathwaite, came to the Department of Literature at Nairobi University, Kenya, on a City of Nairobi Fellowship…
Then something happened that I will never forget. I invited Brathwaite to my rented home in Tigoni, Limuru. The land around Tigoni and Limuru is truly beautiful. Not surprisingly, Tigoni was fairly central to Kenya’s history, because it was one of the earliest bones of contention between the British colonial settlers and Kenyans. The demand for the return of the stolen lands of Tigoni to their original owners was one of the key elements in the anticolonial militancy which in the fifties erupted into the Mau Mau armed struggle. The fact that now in the seventies Tigoni was occupied by African landlords, though not the actual original owners, symbolized that Kenya was no longer exclusively a white man’s country. Brathwaite was coming into an area hallowed with memories of intense struggles. I should add that the invitations to meet Brathwaite were sent solely through word of mouth. It turned out to be a big welcome party, with the faculty and some students driving thirty kilometers from Nairobi to attend the gathering. Women led by my mother came from all the villages around. So the peasants from the villages and the men and women of letters from Nairobi, the big city, now gathered in this rural outpost to celebrate Brathwaite’s presence. Ceremonial goats were slaughtered in his honor. The women performed. The voice of orality from rural Kenya. It was during the ceremony, with the women singing Gltiiro, a kind of dialogue in song and dance, that Edward Brathwaite was given the name of Kamau, the name of a generation that long ago had struggled with the elements to tame the land and make us into what we now were. Edward, the name of the British king under whose brief reign in the 1920s some of the Tigoni lands had been appropriated by blue-blooded aristocrats who wanted to turn Kenya into a white man’s country, had now been replaced by Kamau. Naming [renaming] Brathwaite became the heart of the ceremony, which was also symbolically appropriate. The right to name ourselves, our landscape; the struggle for the means with which to name ourselves; the search, in other words, for the true voice of our collective being.
Of course these contentions are not new. Their roots are deep in the very beginnings of modern African writing, and black diasporic writing ever since the earliest novelists, poets, and playwrights began to work on the stage of the world. Achebe’s novel was instantly reduced to “a clash of cultures,” as if it was not enough for Okonkwo to exist as central in his own epic, and Soyinka had to write that famous author’s note for Death and the King’s Horseman to prevent such reductionist readings. There’s that well worn Toni Morrison quote:
“What I’m interested in is writing without the gaze, without the white gaze. …..what interested me was the African-American experience throughout whichever time I spoke of. It was always about African-American culture and people — good, bad, indifferent, whatever — but that was, for me, the universe.”
Here now, in an age where the African/Black sense of being, philosophy, poetry, stories, and history is seemingly completely bracketed by discourse surrounding slavery and post colonialism alone, we offer the possibility to create new readings of ourselves.
As is our manner at A Long House, the hope is to, with this first issue of the journal, connect a long line between the present and the past beyond the presently accepted past, so that we begin to properly reassert the right to our names, our gaze, our bodies, to name our bodies, to name our prophecies, our lineage, our hungers, and our futures in ways that are purely defined by us, devoid of any boundaries.
We seek work that, with seriousness and tenderness, ruminates over, expands, elevates, questions, delineates, and most importantly, complicates our origins.
Format for submissions
We are interested in critical discourse, fiction, non-fiction, poetry, philosophy, memoirs, conversations, photography, collages, illustrations, sound and soundscapes, film and works that subvert these genres.
For poetry, upload a single document of 4 to 10 poems.
For prose (critical discourse, fiction, non-fiction, poetry, philosophy, memoirs, conversations, hybrid forms) upload no less than 1000 words, no more than 6000 words.
For art, photography, mixed media, illustrations, upload between 5-10 images. Please include a descriptive paragraph about the work including: the title, size, medium and date in the cover letter.
For sound and soundscapes, film, please email us a link to it in a Google Drive, making sure that email@example.com has access. Please include a document in the folder with a paragraph explaining the work. We are open to answering questions on submissions and helping out where necessary via email.
All textual work should be submitted in Times New Roman, Georgia, or Cambria 12-point font as Word documents. You can send an accompanying pdf to show us how your work is spaced where necessary but please include a word version for easy editing.
Please make sure work is properly formatted. Prose submissions should be double spaced. Poetry may require special space considerations depending on form, so there are no restrictions.
Submit only work that has not been previously published.
Call is open till August 5, 2021.
How to use the Submissions Manager
To submit your work, click here or enter https://alonghouse.com/submissionsmanager in your browser.
Please note the following:
1. If you are submitting work for the first time you have to sign up to create an account on the submissions system. The submissions system allows you to monitor progress with your work.
2. After you’re done signing up you will see a confirmation page. Here, the system will ask you to confirm the data you have uploaded. Click “continue” if you are satisfied with the data you’ve uploaded. Please note that if you do not click “continue” here your account will not be created.
3. You can sign in at any time with your email and password to view progress with your work.
4. Please feel free to write us firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions, but do not send your submissions to the email.