Lilianes-Balcony-206x300“But its language was not language at all,” Kelcey Parker writes. “Music, perhaps, chords of concrete, stone, glass; the melody: falling water.” How very apt. As I’ve been reading through Kelcey Parker’s Liliane’s Balcony I’ve had a confession on my mind: that I often read for language. I’m not a poet, and I’m not a novelist, but when I read in either genre what I’m looking for so often deals with language—the way words hit like a rock, or fall like water.

The day’s first sound was its most abrasive, the bell’s vibrations heavy in the pre-dawn mountain thick. The tolling came closer, so close it was no longer possible to assimilate it into dream, and faded, leaving the air behind it changed. The subsequent lull was slowly filled with the shuffling of blankets against bundled bodies, clumsy footsteps making their way to the light switch by the cabin door, the swishes of clothing being doffed and donned, the key in the latch.

Tear gas, for the uninitiated, really does make you cry.

And not in the gradual fashion of an organic cry, with the palpable build-up of liquid emotion that your body ultimately can’t contain and spills out onto your cheeks, your shirt, your lover’s shoulder.

I should be in school right now, steeling my ear canals against a six-hour onslaught of Finnish verb conjugation, suffixal agglutination, and phonemic molestation. While there, I’d watch the sky go from black to leaden to wan and back again. I’d pour coffee in one end of my body and drain it out the other. I’d envy the reindeer begging for alms outside the nearby train station. I’d weep.

The stories in Gary Lutz’s first three collections often derive their linguistic energy from a narrator’s imprisonment in an ill-fated marriage, a soul-crushing job, or a body that causes more anxiety than joy. His most recent collection, Divorcer, continues to worry at the subject of confinement.  Narrators make frequent reference to the inescapable dictates of their DNA: “I wasn’t foremost even in my body,” one says, “where my parents spoke themselves up out of my disposition.” Time, too, seems to resemble a cage: “One day got chocked into the next: there was a blockiness to time, like a month’s evident rectangulation on a calendar tacked fast to a wall.” (“I Have to Feel Halved”) Hours get “razored into ever keener minutes that [can] barely cut anything away.” (“Middleton”) Evenings are “narrowing”; sleep is “unramifying” (“To Whom Might I Have Concerned?”). Lutz’s stories have the urgency of a phone call made just before a plane crash. His narrators live in existences that, claustrophobic to begin with, are now closing in on them even more. They have no time for small talk or pleasantries.

Not long ago, some bozo rear-ended my wife. He wasn’t going fast enough to injure her, but he was driving a pickup, and his bumper sailed over the bumper of our sedan and caved in the trunk and one of the quarter-panels. It caused more damage than the value of the car, and when the insurance adjuster left us a voicemail with news of the appraisal, he described it as a “total loss.” Then at the end of the message he said, “Have a great day.”

Blue Light

By Don Mitchell

Memoir

The hard things happened at night, sometimes in the dark, sometimes lit by a yellowish bed lamp, or the light from another room.

But right now she’s telling me about blue light, because one time the light seemed bluish, but how could that have been? Light isn’t actually bluish, is it? she says, It’s yellow, really. Maybe she’s thinking blue because she remembers blue flames.

So probably it wasn’t blue light, but more an infusion of blueness, a perception, from the blue flames she could see in the space heater, which she can see into because she’s on the floor in the kitchen, she’s sure of that, well pretty sure, at least the blue flames imply that’s where it was, because that’s where the space heater is. Or was. Is, who knows anymore?

I’m kinda losing it, she says to me, I mean, um, time. I don’t know when it is right now, I mean, when I am, but it’s blue then, it’s blue and it hurts, you know, they’re hurting me. One’s sitting over me like you just did, ah, you didn’t mean anything and how could I know this was gonna happen? But you did and now.

This. Blue. Shit.

She looks at me in the room, not my kitchen but my bedroom, we’re on the bed, and I know she wants to give me her blue light, so it can become mine. So I can feel it with her, or see it. So I can be on that kitchen floor, if that’s what it was, or when.

So I can go there. Me, the guy who semester after semester tells innocent freshman, The spectacular evolutionary advance of even an early language is that it permits shared consciousness. You can invite me into what you know and take me places I’ve never been. And show me what’s there.

Ah but now we’re not talking flint, chert, obsidian, chokecherries, blueberries, hackberries, carrion, fresh-kill, glacial light, mesa light, storm light. We’re talking blue light.

I know she’s going to take me, the me who’s sitting on the bed looking at her, she’s taking me back where the blue flames were, no, are, were, it doesn’t even matter, and I see in her eyes I’m no longer the me I know, but some other me she knows or doesn’t know for sure.

She’s transformed me into that person, too, and for a moment I think, Well allright, maybe this can help her work it out, yes, maybe symbol of, or standing in for so she can get ontop of it, but then I think if she takes me there, if I go along, how will she tell it? Through whose eyes will I witness it? Please, hers. Not the guy’s.

Tell me what you see.

It’s dim, but when I turn my head I see blue. One is my father  (she never says Daddy, Dad, Pa, Pop, only My father, only he, his, him, not before this night, and will not after it) but I can’t see the other one, too close, I couldn’t move my head, he’s sitting on my chest, he broke my collarbone, I don’t know who it is.

Only pain, his knee, choking, blue.

Recently, while escorting my Two Insane Russian Dogs on their afternoon feeding rampage behind the local playground, I stumbled across a scene of domestic chaos: one snot-faced child clamoring over a fence, another escaping through a gate, and a mother-type person pounding on the back door of a house while screaming into her cell phone. So I did what every other Finn was doing: ignored it.

At first it was difficult to suppress my American Hero Complex, but in truth not that hard. I’ve realized, after two years in this wonderfully strange Nordic land, that getting involved with such situations only makes for an embarrassing clash of oppositional cultural mores played out in broken English and mangled Finnish.

Privacy, you see, comes at a premium in Finland. It’s less of an aura than it is a veritable force field. Unless you’re sardined in a train car on a Friday night – in which case every drunken hobbit feels obligated to rub their butt cheeks on your arm – then two meters of separation is generally expected (as evidenced by Exhibit A, “Scene from a Finnish Bus Stop”):

I sensed that something was different on my very first day visiting Finland. While out hiking on a remote windswept isthmus, I passed only one hale elderly couple with poles strapped to their hands (which I assumed were for fending off ravenous penguins); the couple not only didn’t say hello, but in order to maintain the two-meter boundary they veered to the far side of the path, plummeted into a deep gulch, and scrambled up the side of a steep thorn-covered hill (where they were swiftly disemboweled by a pair of nesting polar bears).

When I had told my future wife about the unnerving coldness of her comrades, she merely laughed. What did I expect, for the strangers and I to actually, you know, acknowledge each other’s existence? No, Finnish Wife said, she finds the opposite to be more terrifyingly criminal: how Americans and Brits will speak to strangers for no reason other than the overabundance of love in their hearts. Life is much easier when one simply suppresses their emotions until they congeal into vomit.

Still, this screaming-pounding-wailing display I was witnessing was particularly disturbing, and a bold one for the (stereo)typically modest Finns. Had it been winter, the noises would have been attributed to vampiric reindeer and the mountains of snow would have shielded the action from voyeurs such as myself. But right now, and for months to follow, Finland is awash in near-constant daylight, making it downright impossible to have a wizz on the bumper of the neighbor’s BMW without the entire country witnessing it through the misty windows of their saunas.

It’s no secret that the majority of Finns don’t like attention. When they were slapped with the label of “Best Overall Country”, a Finnish newspaper did some quick math and determined that Switzerland should actually be the winner. Indeed, Finland’s aversion to attention is so great that they are now building their cities not outwards and upwards but downwards.

Such modesty is, for a supercilious hermit such as myself, infectious. More and more I feel myself adopting the disposition of my new comrades, and with each conversation become more attuned to the fact that my emotions dominate my speech. Conversely, Finns will rarely, if ever, reveal their inner workings to someone who isn’t related to them by blood or beer.

Emotional withdrawal, of course, easily becomes passivity or outright ignorance. After dragging my dogs off the merry-go-round, we passed through a horde of drunken grade-schoolers, one of which lay face-down in a pile of something brown and steaming. Again, I felt compelled to act: chide them, berate them, throw gang signs, but again I did nothing. When I spotted my stepson and his friends using a stolen grocery cart to push their books home from school, I closed the shades. When my dog came home with a freshly exhumed femur, I helped him pry up a few floor planks to hide it underneath. Life is so much more peaceful when you mind your own business!

Eventually the screaming woman got back into her house. I know this because the truth is that I turned around a block later and spied from behind some trees. The screaming ceased; the children were corralled back into their pen; no one seemed to have lost an arm or eyeball; my dogs urinated on a tricycle. I felt better about myself. Everything is ok. Never doubt that a single, thoughtful citizen can change the world, even if he isn’t a citizen and hasn’t done anything except stand by and observe someone else’s private parts.

Not long ago, the following sentence was entered into the personal literary canon of my household:

“She is m’ennerve because she is toujours trying to cache my doudou.”

It’s an even larger mess and a more resplendent marvel when you hear it.

The line was uttered by my four-year old who wanted to say that her sister is “getting on her nerves because she is still trying to hide her favorite plush toy.” But instead she spoke this one sentence from the two languages she has yet to fully unbraid. I stood over her at the time, ready to respond “Quoi?” before reminding myself to stick with English and leave her mother to the concerns of the tongue with all the accents.


As I mentioned in my wildly popular first column (nine different Viagra spammers linked to it from southern China), my wife and I agreed that if I moved into her little yellow house on the edge of the Nordic floe known as Finland, she’d sort of support me while I kind of wrote my novel. Happily, we both fulfilled our contracts. Sadly, as many of you writer and reader types know, the publishing industry moves at the curmudgeonly tempo of a thawing mammoth. Which is another way of saying my Golden Ticket® has yet to arrive. Which is another way of saying I’m broke and desperate.

Thus I’ve come to an icy, vague, windswept crossroads of sorts. One path leads to some horrid, rend-your-soul-in-half corporate serfdom; the second leads to language school; the last one leads to a computer where I can sit and repeatedly email my agent to see if any editors have changed their minds.

While learning the native language of the country in which I’m living seems like a good idea, after seven years of higher education I’m not exactly itching to squeeze my aging skeleton into a kiddie desk for the next – not kidding – five hundred weekdays. For six to eight hours per day. Plus studying time.

Despite the rich, multi-textured dread that language school evokes, I’ve begrudgingly begun the enrollment process, which begins with an interview and some paperwork. That interview is then followed up by a meeting in which you fill out more paperwork discussing your most recent interview. That meeting is followed by an interview discussing the most recent paperwork. If all goes well, and the door to the office you’re in actually unlocks, you then return for another interview and a “language test” that can best be described as a “circle-the-word-that-is-spelled-identically-to-the-one above” test. It’s so easy that our Insane Russian Dogs could do it while gnawing on the underside of the sofa. It’s so easy you leave feeling deeply, truly stupid. I really hope I passed.

During these interviews and meetings and paperwork sessions I have been repeatedly asked what I do for a living. I won’t lie: I live for this question. Despite the fact that I rarely get paid to write, and despite the fact that my book doesn’t yet exist, and perhaps never will, I still like to give myself the cute little label of “writer –novelist.” (Some days I spend hours making these labels with my wife’s glitter pens and posing in the bathroom mirror. My author photo alone will win awards.)

So when an interviewer asks this question, my eyeballs start to shake and my heart hopscotches. I sit up straight, tilt my head eleven degrees to the northeast, and tell them exactly who I think I am.

Interviewer nods, types.

You might think such an inarguable testament of identity would be grounds for further discussion. You might think that in a country where the literacy rate is 100% – a country that reads more books per capita than anywhere else in the world – some might consider it interesting to find an aspiring semi-young American writer in their foggy midst. Fantasy and reality, however, rarely feed from the same trough. Outside of these bureaucratic settings – in two years of living in Finland – only a single person has asked me what I do, or don’t do, for a non-living. Family, friends, the children we hire to clean the polar bear’s cage – doesn’t matter. Instead we discuss: hockey, snow, snow-hockey, hockey pucks made from compacted snow, and hockey that is played on the pavement during the five summer days in which there is no snow. If I want to talk about my meta-career, I have to corner some reindeer in the back yard and bribe them with fried blueberries.

Making matters worse is the fact that my wife, who never dreamed of writing books, has not only published her first hugely successful cookbook, but has begun work on her follow-up. Instead of asking about my non-existent book, people ask me which of my wife’s dishes I am going to massacre tonight.

I am humbled by my inadequacy.

Most days it feels selfish and petty to complain about such problems when so many people are involved in much direr circumstances – revolutions, earthquakes, polar bear attacks. At the same time, writing is my own personal anarchy, a way to subsist outside of systems. Of course such a notion is purely illusion, as the only way my writing will make it to publication is via a series of systems – agent, publisher, retailer, etc. And yet again it’s a system I can abide by, one that is leaps and bounds beyond the systems I’ve spent my whole life trying to escape. Systems like the ones in which I’ve found myself entrenched since arriving in Finland.

Right now the Finnish Language System is on the horizon. Fortunately, since all of Finland remains encased in three meters of ice, I’ve got time to sit and fret and scheme. Unfortunately, Russia recently sent over a nuclear icebreaker to smash apart the ocean and bring with it the first rays of spring sunlight. In the process they’ll probably run across my career. I can only hope that when it thaws out, it isn’t already dead.

My son Milo started reading when he was three. Almost seven now, he reads everything and anything–with the exception, he explains, of “fiction.” If it’s not based upon something tangible in the world he’s not interested, which makes him a strangely knowledgeable authority on things well beyond his years.

Milo knows about many subjects, but like his father he’s got a remarkable memory for dates, maps and events over the course of human history. And while he’s still very much a seven-year-old, thus making historical context a little complicated for him, he can tell you with fair accuracy the major events of both the First and Second World Wars. He knows about shipwrecks, which ones went down when, what the differences in their destruction were, why the passenger liner Lusitania is suspected of carrying weapons destined for England (a second explosion in her hull after the Germans shot her–a suspiciously huge blast which sunk her in eighteen minutes).

Last week over waffles in Hawaii, Milo was reading a souvenir newspaper I bought him from Pearl Harbor, a tiny little grownup pouring over the tragedies of December 7, 1941 with the gravity of a concerned citizen. “It’s so nice to see a kid reading the paper,” a gentleman told my brother, no matter that it was several years out of date and had the headline WAR! across the top in 200 point type. “No-one reads the paper anymore.”

My brother, not having kids of his own yet, readily recognized the opportunity to brag. “That’s nothing. Check this out.” He turned to Milo. “Tell me about the mongoose.”

Milo considered for a moment. “Well, they hunt during the day unlike the palm rats, which means they’re not nocturnal. So they’re diurnal. Yep. Diurnal. Also, they’re invasive here in Hawaii.”

The man just stared. “Okay, then!”

My brother laughed with pride when he told me the story.

This is what we have to deal with around these parts: a seven-year-old who is extremely seven-ish when it comes to his emotional maturity but can pull facts out of the clouds like rain. His insatiable quest for knowledge keeps us up long past his bedtime with his queries about historical events. Last night, in the dark, looking at the mottled shadows, he said: “Tell me about the French Revolution.”

The French Revolution isn’t one of my stronger suits. I admitted to Milo that he really should ask Dad about it, but the short of it is this: people were sick to death of monarchs and took matters into their own hands to create a republic, but then everyone got a little carried away and started slaughtering people mercilessly from all quarters. Then a little short guy led the French army throughout Europe, taking over a great deal of it until they got to Russia, which by its very nature defeated Napoleon and his troops.

“That’s the 1812 Overture,” Milo said.

Good grief, I thought.

So you will understand when I explain that his head doesn’t work within the realm of superheroes and sports figures. He works with historical heroes and villains, Nazis and Napoleon, U-boats and the Blitz, air raids and invasions on land and by sea. This is what he knows.

The other day he drew a picture in class on the back of his spelling test. It features two people in a fire truck driving up to a burning building, at the top of which is a tiny figure, apparently caught in the fire. One stick says to the other stick, pointing a little stick finger at the building, “That’s a Nazi.”

Which, if you know my kid, makes perfect sense.

But his teacher somewhat frantically pulled Lars aside to point it out. “I wanted to show this to you,” she started. “I didn’t even notice it at first, but some other parent saw it and was really upset by it.”

Lars took a look at it. “It’s what he knows,” he said. “He knows about World War II and he knows who the Nazis are.” She looked unmoved. “Our family is Jewish,” he said, a strange sort of justification when you get down to it.

“It’s just one of those things we need to be sensitive about,” she replied. But she was rattled and didn’t know how to deal with it. She wanted it to go away.

After Lars explained the situation to me, we were at a loss. Milo hadn’t condoned Nazism, nor written about how Adolph Hitler was a fine fellow with great ideas; he had drawn a picture with a Nazi in it. A stick Nazi. Had the words, “That’s a Nazi” not been written, it would have been just another seven-year-old artwork exploring seven-year-old anxieties and thoughts about his seven-year-old world.

And we realized, both because we were getting defensive, but also because we were genuinely angry about it, that if Milo had written “That’s the Shining Path,” or “He’s Pol Pot” or “There’s Darth Vader,” no-one would have thought twice about it.

Now we were placed in the unenviable position of explaining to Milo that his teacher was upset by something somewhat intangible. He hadn’t espoused any belief in the Nazi philosophy, nor had he made reference to anything they had done, either in support or condemnation. He didn’t call someone on the playground a Nazi. He hadn’t done anything wrong. We explained to Milo that we weren’t mad, but that he couldn’t talk about Nazis in school. “Why?” he asked – reasonably, I might add. If you can’t talk about Nazis in school, where can you talk about them? Are schools for learning about everything except the Nazis? He’d written a solitary word, one based in a period of history he knows about, in a drawing. He’d written a word. “I can’t believe my first grader is being censored!” Lars said, and while “censored” is a bit hyperbolic, I have to agree: this was much ado about nothing.

If the word “Nazi” still has the power to terrify in this knee-jerk way, it makes me extremely uncomfortable about where we’re headed. If we can’t talk about Nazis, we can’t talk about what happened in World War II. And if Mark Twain’s “niggers” are excised from Huckleberry Finn, we can’t talk about slavery or the Civil War with any realism. If we’re hair-trigger about certain buzzwords like “Nazi” and “nigger” even in their historical context while overlooking other historical atrocities, like Cortez storming the New World and Mao’s “Cultural Revolution,” we’re whitewashing all of them, either by hysterical touchiness or willful ignorance.

Language is as powerful as you’re willing to make it. To de-fang “Nazis,” who still feature prominently in popular culture despite our first grade teacher’s wish, we have to talk about what they did. Indiana Jones, made of either video game LEGO’s or Harrison Ford’s best years, still fights the Nazis in front of thousands of children every day. Children are exposed to Nazis; if we can’t explain why they’re important, we’ve lost the struggle for making meaning out of the meaningless.

Nothing was more meaningless than the Holocaust. If we cannot explore the senseless, meaningless horror of it because we can’t write the word “Nazi,” we’re in a whole heap of trouble.


*In the days that have followed, things, as they do, have changed somewhat. Milo’s teacher has talked to us more completely and we have an understanding. But certain things remain true, and it bothers me. I wrote a comment to Ronlyn Domingue which I think sums up my remaining feeling about the situation, even with the understanding with his teacher.

You know, I have to be fair here. The teacher has talked to me in the aftermath, and she’s okay. She knows that Milo is a kid whose curiosity runs from the interesting to the completely arcane. She felt she had to raise the subject with us because the other parent was sort of hysterical about it. This is coming clear in the days following–but it certainly wasn’t clear when I wrote this post. That’s the problem with internet immediacy. Facts changing to make a less charged situation.

However, having exonerated my son’s teacher I will say this: the parent who became hysterical about my son’s drawing had no jurisdiction to become so. The same truth of knee-jerk reactions about things applies as much as when I wrote it, and I’ve experienced it in other situations. People love to moralize where there is no moral.

The truth is, whatever issues this parent raised about my son’s drawing caused far more harm than good. First, there was no wrong done, and now my son feels embarrassed about it, doesn’t know what he can and can’t talk about in school, and feels like he did something wrong, no matter our assurances to the contrary. Second, what business was it of hers anyway? She’s not teaching the class; the teacher admitted that when she saw the drawing that was causing the fuss she just shrugged and knew it was Milo being Milo. The parent has no context, no history with him, doesn’t see him on a daily basis; how can she be so impertinent to think she should call him out to the teacher?

This sort of petty mischief in the guise of being a concerned citizen enrages me. It’s not the first time it’s raised my hackles and I’m sure it won’t be the last. The shrapnel from this one event is going to take a long time to remove.

Wanking, as many of you may know, is Brit slang for masturbating – a verb that can also be used as an insult. In our teens, my friend would defend herself against the cruel boys by calling them wankers. “A bastard is tough and manly,” she’d explain, “but a wanker sounds weak.” She had a point. I once called an angry ex a wanker and almost got a sock in the eye.

Truth is, whether we’re wanking or tossing or beating the bishop, none of it sounds pretty. And the technical term is almost as bad. If I didn’t know better I’d assume masturbation was rather a boring activity, like unclogging a drain. How sad, considering the act itself can help us understand our sexual needs and even become more talented, imaginative lovers. Touching ourselves is nurturing – a form of self-love.

But as a term masturbation sucks. Like many long, depersonalized words it has its roots in Latin. Historically, this was the language of posh intellectuals, whereas your everyday Anglo Saxon (bless him) brought us tit, prick, arse etc. As an author of erotic fiction, I steer away from the technical term, favoring the more sensual touched herself. In a discussion, however, I tend to use solo-sex because I believe masturbation is indeed a type of sex; and maybe when we actually view it that way, the pride can’t help but spread.

Of course, the fact that terms like wanker and tosser double as insults speaks to how little our society respects solo-sex. When was the last time you heard someone walk into a bar and brag, “I had sex with myself last night and woah, was it hot!”? Which reminds me, when Woody Allen jokes that masturbation is “sex with someone you love,” the reason it’s funny is because loving ourselves sexually is so often seen as perverse. And yet notice how peaceful a climax can make us feel. Imagine a world where we all took care of our sexual selves – might there be less aggression? But that’s a topic for a later discussion.

Right. So here’s my 10 point, language-driven plan for encouraging folks to love themselves and promote self-pleasure:

1. Come up with sexier verbs for solo-sex. Like russing, perhaps. Heaven knows why that popped into my head: maybe I’m marrying the sibilance of pussy with the animal glory of rutting? “Last night, I was russing, and damn was it good.” That sort of thing. But better.

2. Make female self-touch sound as hot as possible – terms that suggest you have a vagina seem to be rare, which perhaps speaks to our society’s repression.  In Britain, we have jillying. I believe it comes from Jilly Cooper, a famous Brit writer of hot novels.  God love her and all that, but who wants to jilly? Holy heck.

3. Start counting solo-sex as a type of sex. Note: If we all did this, any of those social networking surveys that say, “People who use such-and-such-a-product get more action,” would be scoffed at, and rightly so.

4. Try dropping solo-sex into a conversation in a cool, thoughtful manner. e.g. “Yes, I own a pair of gorgeous leather handcuffs. But sometimes, dammit, I only need the one.”

5. Buy products from sex shops, such as vibrators, lube, body paint, and use them ourselves. I recently went shopping with a group of trusted friends, and it was great fun. There’s something sweet about your pal spotting a certain kind of vibrator and saying, quite thoughtfully, “This wouldn’t work for me, but it would be perfect for you.”

6. Support a great cause that articulates the importance of solo-sex, such as podcasts like In Bed, With Susie Bright or activism sites like Our Porn Ourselves.

7. Foster vivid fantasies in which solo-sex plays a titillating role. In Donna George Storey’s “The Big O” for instance, a woman learns to control her muscles through solo-sex with delicious results. You can find “The Big O” in Orgasmic: Erotica for Women, edited by Rachel Kramer Bussel. If porn is more your thing, check out Violet Blue who is THE expert on sex and the web.

8. If you’re single or have recently come out of a relationship, and someone asks whether you’re sleeping with anyone yet, reply, “Well yes, actually. I’m sleeping with myself and loving every moment.”

9. Question folks when they call us wankers. What exactly are they saying? Most of us are wankers. Aren’t they?

10. Refuse to be silenced about the benefits of solo-sex. For more information, including statistics, check out the recent National Survey of Sex and Behavior from Indiana University.

The photo on the Main Page & Archives Page is by Flickr photographer TheAlieness GiselaGiardino.

I’ve long trumpeted (most recently in “50 Observations on 50 years of Nigeria, part 3”) the marvelous efflorescence of young Nigerian writers, and especially Nigerian women writers, both in Nigeria and in diaspora. I’m not much of a reader of novels, but I waste no time getting stuck into any new work by Adichie, Oyeyemi or Okorafor. Nnedi Okorafor is the author of the novels Zahrah the Windseeker (winner of the Wole Soyinka Prize for Literature) and The Shadow Speaker (winner of the CBS Parallax Award), and the children’s book, Long Juju Man (winner of the Macmillan Writer’s Prize for Africa). Her latest novel, Who Fears Death (DAW Books), was released in June. Her forthcoming novel, Akata Witch (Penguin Books/Viking Press), is scheduled for release in 2011. Nnedi was also a finalist for the Andre Norton Award (The Shadow Speaker), the Essence Magazine Literary Award (The Shadow Speaker), the Kindred and Parallax Awards (Zahrah) and the Golden Duck Award (Zahrah and The Shadow Speaker). Nnedi is working with Disney to produce a chapter book in the Disney Fairies series, tentatively titled Iridessa and the Fire-Bellied Dragon Frog.

This is a continuation of a series of personal observations about my native country on its golden jubilee. For items 1-16, please see part 1. For items 17-32, see part 2. In this final installment I include a few observations I’ve culled from my father’s memoir of his life in Nigeria and abroad “Seeing the World in Black & White.” (SWBW) (AWP, 2006)¹

33. Modern Nigerian literature, ever vibrant, is certainly on the up. Young as it is Nigeria has already had an early generation of great writers, household names such as Chinua Achebe and Wole Soyinka, not to mention the likes of Cyprian Ekwensi, Amos Tutuola, Christopher Okigbo, Flora Nwapa, Buchi Emecheta, and even the prolific pulp novelist Dan Fulani. It’s almost too much to ask for more, but as it happens, we have much, much more with new generations exploding on to the scene, including poets Chris Abani, Uche Nduka, Olu Oguibe and lesser known contemporaries such as Chinweizu. But the real earthquake manifests in novel form, with the emergence of the likes of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Helen Oyeyemi, Sefi Atta, and Nnedi Okorafor. I can’t pass without a word for the recently deceased poet and playwright Esiaba Irobi. One of the neat aspects of these 21st century blossoms is that so many of them are young women.