“despite our wheel, our plasma tablet and our
tweets about the wrongs of those who rule, well,
what of concrete-crumb Nairobi when these
craters fire, the ground’s hot guts eviscerate,
the next erratic earthquake comes?” – Elementeita and the End of Kenyan Time, Stephen Derwent Partington
Perhaps the most anticipated literary event in January was the launch of Jalada Africa’s third anthology around the theme Afrofuture(s). When talking about Afrofuture, the element of interest is time: all the changes that take place within time, or just what it’s like to live in that time itself. The future is where the present (and the past) become memory; and are “the baggage beneath/the future”. It is where hopes and dreams are deferred to, delayed into, or sucked up by – “everything is better there right?” Teyie poses in ‘Refracted Futures’.
The stories and poems in the anthology explore various other questions, most importantly: what kinds of landscapes exist in the future? And where does that put us as Africans or people from the African continent? They are speculative, yet grounded in a possible world and time. Even with the varying uncertainty about how the future will play out – “careless eons spin like gambling balls” – there is some optimism in the collection. Each piece serves as a testament that stories survive, records and structures will be found because we are, after all, optimistic beings who are determined to leave our mark on the landscape of our time. Because
“[t]he horizon is adjustable.
All us kids, here and now, we know what we’re doing, no?”
There are post-apocalyptic/dystopic representations of the future in TJ Benson’s Oblivia, Ivor Hartmann’s Last Wave, Maria A. Bukachi’s Jestocost, Djinn and Melissa Kiguwa’s Daughters of Resurrection. Other stories take readers to brave, new landscapes. In Rebecca Onyango’s vignette, Glimpse, an autocratic, female society is the order of the day. Imaginum by the journal’s Managing Editor Moses Kilolo, portrays a city where art is preserved and produced to feed an outside world that is starved of it while Swabir Silayi’s ‘Color Me Grey’ presents a world that has lost, among many other things, all knowledge of colour.
Suleiman Agbonkhainmen Bokari’s story, Discovery Time Travel, which is almost entirely conveyed in dialogue, probes into the possibility of movement across time. The characters in Sofia Samatar’s Brief History of Nonduality Studies are also “preoccupied with the problem of time” and want to know “[w]as time created before or after creation or simultaneously with it?”
Progression into the future cannot fail to take into account technological advancement and how that affects our natural evolution. Stephani Maari Booker’s story Secret Insurrection has an interesting take on slavery through the cloning of oneself; the characters in Richard Oduor’s eNGAGEMENT constantly occupy virtual space and ‘For Digital Girls’ by Ytasha L. Womack looks forward to a time when “humans will successfully merge with machines.” “Maybe in future we’ll be able to take pictures with a blink. Or am I already doing that with memory?” the main character imagines.
There is still sentiment and the need for attachment to something familiar, whether through placental relationships (Glimpse, Secret Insurrection, Black Woman Everybody’s Healer and Daughters of Resurrection) or through animals like the main character in Valerie Thomas’s Red Bucket, Tango and Nahui Xochitl who finds that “animals hold certain qualities of memory and emotions that humans have renounced. We ground through their presence.”
Consistently, various characters in the stories and poems try to ground themselves in memory, even though it is an imperfect form of existence. The desperate recordings in Jestocost, Djinn and Last Wave are unreliable and un-objective – and is it possible to be objective when conveying the human experience? Each is unique, after all. Their records are “broken simulations of a past/we thought could last” and in them there is the fear of the utility of existence as well as that of forgetting.
“What happens if we forget how to/remember?” or when we are discouraged to remember as is the case in ‘Color Me Grey’ and Oblivia, or when we adopt new identities as in Babatunde Fagbayibo’s poem Merci, Bismarck:
Oh Bismarck, Merci beaucoup
for without you
French, English, Portuguese …
would have remained foreign languages.
Now we speak these languages so well.
It does magic to our egos … it gives us swagger.
Do we care whether or not our ancestors understand
Let them learn it in the land of the dead.
For nothing shall take away these beautiful, sophisticated
lingua francae from our tongues.
Within these far sweeps into future are some reflections on the past. Redscar McOdindo K’Oguya’s ode Afromutation and Myasthenia Gravis by Awuor Onyango engage deeply with history and most importantly pay homage to the key figures of our liberation and struggle. Representations of present day such as the shame of living with HIV/AIDS in Jude Dibia’s Salvation Avenue, adolescent mischief in Binyavanga Wainana’s Boonoonoonoos little bit Boonoonoonoos, are equally relevant and timeless.
As with the final lines in Partington’s poem quoted at the beginning of this review, no matter what we do, no matter how much we try to save of ourselves, nature ultimately decides how our futures end (up).
The anthology is filled with diverse stories that show how Jalada Africa is in its own way changing the literary landscape by etching places for genre fiction, unexplored yet prevalent themes and giving room to both established and new voices.