lastletterfirstword

this is where the firstword down to the lastletter all begins with Z…

Archive for the category “What’s Going On”

Coming Home (an update)

“It may be that the satisfaction I need depends on my going away, so that when I’ve gone and come back, I’ll find it at home.” –Rumi

During the holiday season, I decided that I would make a move back home to St. Louis.  By early March, the project I had been working on concluded and I was packing up the life I had made in Philadelphia for nearly thirteen years and getting ready to start all the way over in the Midwest.  It took little more than a week to organize my things, fill up boxes and, when that was all done, say a few goodbyes and quietly exit the state of Pennsylvania for Missouri.

But not without its thickets and snares: along the trek, Jaxon (my 100lb pet) and I got a flat tire on the expressway after leaving the PA Turnpike.  At close to midnight and on a poorly lit part of the road, it was a pretty scary 45-minute wait for the tow truck that arrived to load us up and drive us to a safe spot to change the damaged tire to a spare.  With a handicapped car and very few options for lodging (especially with a dog), Jaxon and I found a parking lot to rest in overnight until Walmart opened the next morning.  At 6:30am, we started our Sunday looking to get the tire changed and rotated so we could continue our trip.  However, it wasn’t until after three Walmarts and two auto stores that we finally found a PepBoys thirty miles off-route that had the tire I needed and was able to change it out so we could get back on the road.

By 6am on Monday, I arrived at my mom’s house where she was waiting to hug my weary, 2-day un-showered body and help me unload my car.  When we finally settled in, Jaxon nestled himself on a couch my mom gave him when he spent some weeks with her last year and I curled up in the bed of my sister-turned-nephew-turned-my-temporary-room for some sleep.

That was almost a month ago.  Since then I’ve gained 10 pounds from eating with my mom and grandma, had a million false starts with working out and dieting; I’m being Auntie to the little squad of my pregnant-with-triplets best friend; I’ve been on five interviews and scheduled to start two new part-time positions this month and grad school this fall; I’ve stopped watching the news and started looking into organizations I’d like to get involved with to help mentor youth and/or ramp up voter education. I have unpacked a few things, hung up my dresses and jackets and tucked away my winter items in a couple of plastic bins to make way for a warm and balmy Midwestern spring.

Although writing has been slow, sleep has been erratic, and a feeding and exercise schedule has been all over the place for Jaxon, it has, overall, been pretty good thus far and I have yet to miss my makeshift life in Philly (although I am missing my partner and friends tremendously).  While trying to get comfortable in my old city once again, I have been intentional about taking my time to reach out to friends, both here and back East, as I find it hard to say late goodbyes and long-lost hellos when life still feels a bit unsettled.

So, here it is: a little blog post to share with you via a small window of my life to let you know that times for me are a’changin’. I’m changing… evolving… turning into a butterfly in this cocoon called “home.”

Why We Must Not Go Quietly…

“Yeah, we’re gonna tear it up/ We gonna trash it up/ Gonna round it up/

Gonna shake it up/ Oh no no no, I will not lie down/

Turn this thing around/ I will not go quietly…” –Don Henley

When, Black America, did we go hoarse? When did we become so consumed with Being Mary Jane and rocking 2 Chainz that we could allow our community to be subject to this country’s greatest Scandal? When did we become so afraid of discomfort that we would allow ourselves to be comfortable with injustices that plague our daily lives and our well-being?

And this isn’t just about Michael Brown’s cold blooded murder and Darren Wilson’s exoneration.  This isn’t just about Tamir Rice and our boys’ inability to play cops and robbers with toy guns in a neighborhood park. This isn’t just about the acquittal of George Zimmerman, or the choke hold that killed Eric Garner, or the conviction of Marissa Alexander for telling her abuser to back off with a warning shot.

Oh, it is much bigger than this.

This is about voter ID laws in Southern states– laws that serve to reenact a new Jim Crow era by disproportionately disenfranchising black folks, immigrants and formerly incarcerated men and women from using their voices at the polls. This is about Republican governors’ refusal to expand Medicaid in half of the states across this country, once again disproportionately affecting the accessibility to affordable healthcare in impoverished and underserved communities full of people who are dark like me or who speak languages too foreign for the GOP to care about.  This is about crack carrying heavier charges than cocaine and about what kind of trouble weed in the hood could get you versus pot in the suburbs.  This is about HIV growing fastest among people of color than any other group. This is about an entire nation blatantly disrespecting our President on all fronts because he is a Black man.

And yet, there has never been a time when our people have acted as cowardly as they do today.  Are we so distracted by raunchy rap music and ratchet reality TV that we have forgotten ourselves?  Are we so busy filling the pews of mega-churches that we can no longer preach about our rightful place in this world? Are we so enamored by Facebook posts, Instagram images and Twitter tweets that we do not read in black and white the words of Garvey, Washington, X, Davis, King?—Because they still ring true today.  Oh, yes—their words still ring true today.

And they would not have gone quietly, lying down and allowing the powers that be to walk all over us so we can feel a false sense of peace.  They would not have sat in front of their televisions, lit up with scenes from protests and peace rallies, and pray for it all to blow over soon.  Because it will not blow over soon.

Today, we are more powerful than we have ever been. With social media, cell phones and greater solidarity across color lines than ever before, we have the potential to mobilize, organize and create a force to be reckoned with.  This is not the time to be quiet, to be cowardly, to be fearful.  We must be strong, vigilant, active and brave if we are to pursue fight for justice.  It is time for us to stop living off of yesterday’s legacy and start building up our own.

“We must organize for the absolute purpose of bettering our condition, industrially, commercially, socially, religiously and politically. We must organize, not to hate other men and women, but to lift ourselves, and to demand respect of all humanity. Our goal is not to create offense on the part of other races, but to be heard and to be given the rights to which we are entitled.  We must determine among ourselves that all barriers placed in the way of our progress must be removed, must be cleared away for we desire to see the light of a brighter day.”Marcus Garvey, an excerpt from “The Future as I See It.” (I took liberties and heavily edited, revised and modernized this excerpt– and I take full responsibility for it.)

How to Make Noise? Contact and get involved with these organizations:

POWER

PURP (People Utilizing Real Power)

National Action Network

PICO National Network

NAACP

Building Character(s): A Call for Personal Stories

I am working on my very first novel, which has been both daunting and exciting.  I am also simultaneously finishing a couple of short stories and writing speeches– it is a very busy time.

However, in comparison to the short stories, which are primarily memoir pieces, the novel requires so much more time and energy and RESEARCH. When writing essays and creative nonfiction, which has been my focus since undergrad, I am telling stories from my own memories and experiences– what I’ve seen and felt and conquered, if you will. But when creating fictional characters and scenes, some of which are complexly different from me and what I’ve experienced, I am learning that I may need to go beyond beautiful language and pictorial settings to get at the heart of my characters. Instead, I must actually meet these people, live their lives, hear their stories, and watch them work– that is, if I desire a well-rounded, well-written body of work.

That said, I am looking to meet people and hear some stories.  So here it is, my call for personal stories:

  • I am looking to meet young black men who are or have been members of a traditional, predominately black church and active in some form of ministry (ie. choir, praise dance, mime etc.) who are or have also struggled with sexual/gender identity and lives or have lived a double life or ultimately left the church because of it.
  • I am also looking to meet pastors or church leaders who have relatively strong views regarding same sex relationships, gay rights, and “homosexuality” as a whole.

There will be no judging or telling here– I simply want to hear your story. All correspondence will be kept confidential.

Lastly and for the record, I will not be telling your story, but rather listening and gathering information to help inform my characters’ point of view and help me create a narrative that is both realistic and relatable.  If you are interested in sharing your story or would like more information about what I am writing, please feel free to contact me at lastletterfirstword@gmail.com

Could 2014 Be My PEN-ULTIMATE Year??

I have declared 2014 my Write or Die Year.

Of course I don’t plan to physically die, but I do plan to let the dream of becoming a full-time, novel/short-story writer die if I can’t prove to myself that I can be totally committed and disciplined to write—not just regularly—but on a daily basis.

My vision board for 2014 is all about writing, submitting and applying to contests, publications, residencies and MFA programs.  I promised myself to complete two short stories that have been on my computer for over a year and begin the rigorous process of writing a novel. To be sure I stay focused, I have even sworn off Facebook for the first six months of this year (with a few exceptions).

My personal goal is 1000 words a day.  To the seasoned novelist, I am sure this goal is equivalent to a text message word count. I get it. However, what I am really aiming for is a consistent writing schedule instead of sporadic, manic writing fits where I type 3000 words in one night, but won’t fit in another writing day for two or more weeks.

Those stories are usually left untold.

In addition to signing out of my most addictive social media site, I also did a few other things to prepare for my PEN-ULTIMATE Year. Here’s a glance at my plan:

  • Taking advice from Pinar Tarhan who had a feature in the November 8th Funds for Writers newsletter (if you’re a writer and you don’t already receive this free weekly newsletter, you absolutely should subscribe!), I decided to commit to a part-time retail job for the months that I will be writing.  My job provides enough flexibility to allow me to stay up late nights to write while also being lucrative enough to pay the bills.
  • I scaled back on social time, allowing myself only certain days and times for play.  Before, I jumped at too many events without considering my work first.  This year, I intend to maintain a good balance of work and play.
  • I decided to take a break from freelancing, journalist gigs and blogging until my stories are complete.

Ten days into the year and my writing commitment and I am feeling pretty good.  However, I have decided to keep my blog going, contributing to it at least once a week. I am very excited about this endeavor and I think sharing my writing experiences—or whatever other stories I feel compelled to share— here on lastletterfirstword will also help me build brain muscle!

What are your writing goals for 2014? Could this be your Write or Die Year, too? Pens up!

Surprise Disasters and Little Miracles

My computer broke.  I’m not sure how it happened and, at some point, I decided that the “how” doesn’t even matter.  I pick it up one day, a couple days after I last used it, and find that the touch screen is cracked and bouncing around uncontrollably.  I try to get into my files, but it is futile. I instantly become frantic because I haven’t backed up any of my work, which is incredibly dumb, I know, especially after experiencing the same kind of drama earlier this year with my other laptop which was broken for about three days.

I carry my laptop like a baby from my room to my host-brother’s bed where he is taking his regular siesta and I desperately shake him awake and, with tears in my eyes, tell him that something is wrong with my computer.   He takes it from me without saying anything and with a whine in my throat, I let the words fall from my lips, “It must have fallen or something fell on it. Can the files be extracted from it? What’s wrong with it? Can you fix it? Please, Mubeezi.” I am pleading with him. He remains silent, poring over the machine, tracing his fingers along the new cracks on its screen, pressing on keys, watching it light up and do nothing.  Finally, he speaks softly, in Luganda, to Kasujja, the baby boy (who is really no baby at all, but rather a pretty cool-ass teenager) and they engage in a brief conversation about the situation.  These guys are like my real brothers and even in speaking a foreign language, I have learned to read them well.  Mubeezi is completely out of bed and done with his nap.  The electricity has been out for several hours.  He assures me that when it returns, he will work on it and see what can be done.  He places it carefully on his desk, next to his silver Mac, which he purchased as a hopeless case with a smashed screen but brought it back to life days after bringing it home.  This is what he does when he isn’t painting—work on computers, fixing them by deconstructing them and putting them back together. With little resources, my brother Mubeezi is my only option, so I leave my laptop in his room, go and crawl under my mosquito net and into my bed, send a text to my closest friend back home asking her to say a prayer for me and my ASUS, and cry myself to sleep.

That was Sunday afternoon.

In Africa, you can’t make big waves out of your personal problems when people are trying to find food for their families and pay school fees for their children—at least, that’s how it is in the village where I live.  Of course I am stressed and worried about the damn computer, but I can’t allow myself to be in an individualistic frame of mind and bring down the morale of my family, so after my initial breakdown, I brush myself off and keep pushing as I have.  I become dependent on the pen, refer to my notes in my Moleskines, and put ink on paper.  I don’t ask Mubeezi endless questions regarding the laptop and I only trust he is doing his best.  I say a prayer and trust that my host-Maama here and my friend back home is praying for me too.  I decide not to mention it to anyone else and to figure out my next moves only when it is time to make them. “It is not the end of the world, Zenique,” I reassure myself.

Mubeezi works diligently on my laptop for two days—and on the third day, it rose.  It is not at 100%– the screen is still cracked and its tactile functions had to be disabled—but the files are intact, all the keys are working, and my stories are still here waiting to be finished.  When Mubeezi hands the computer back to me, explaining what had to be done to make it work again, I half-listen, prop it open and start this blog post to be uploaded the moment I get some internet access.   I just want to show some love to my brother, Mubeezi, or Alex Kitonsa, and give thanks for answered prayers and little miracles.

Writing with Giants

Earlier this year, I took writing classes with Sonia Sanchez.  Next week, I will be in workshops lead by Binyavanga Wainaina.  Today I am in a class with Eghosa Imasuen and Chimamanda Adichie has been teaching all week.

With each interaction with these accomplished authors, I have taken the opportunity to carefully construct new material as assigned, observe the examples chosen by the instructors, and put into practice the feedback and advice given regarding the art and practice of writing.

This process, however, would not be as effective and inspiring if not for one of the most vital entities of such learning environments: its students.  My peers.

With any creative piece of work, as its creator, we are very protective and even defensive about the art that is born out of our souls.  Generally, we are usually receptive to the opinions of professionals—taking their word as gospel regarding the formula in which we should write, the words to employ, and how tone, voice, and point of view has positively affected the work we have shared.

However, when it comes to building with others who come from different backgrounds and varying levels of expertise, our vulnerability heightens.

In writing workshops, trusting the other to respectfully critique your work while, in turn, delicately offering suggestions on how one can improve her/his creative piece is quite a balance.

This week, I, along with 21 other New African Writing Fellows, have opened our 8-9 hour workshop days with creative compositions that we have spent the previous night composing and perfecting.  When we share our pieces, we are thoughtful about the other’s style and voice and we respond accordingly, working only to provide feedback to improve the flow and readability.

It is no small feat, actually.  Sometimes, we are fighting for why we have chosen certain words while at other times, we are persuading our friends on why particular sections of a piece should be omitted or revised.  It’s a BIG task before a writer further develops work, revises the work, and ultimately, submits the work.  It takes writers who are just as BIG to both dish out and take in feedback that will help elevate the work.

This week, I am happy to be writing with Giants who understand that aspiring to be great at what we do should be no tall order.

Selected Writers for 2013 Farafina Trust Creative Writing Workshop

I am extremely honored to be counted among these amazing writers and to be learning under the tutelage of Chimamanda Adichie, Binyavanga Wainaina and our other esteemed teachers. These are the moments when you are affirmed in the work that you do and the choices that you make to pursue your craft. I won’t get to preaching here, will save it for another day. But I am feeling really blessed.

Farafina Books

Chimamanda Adichie

In April, Farafina Trust called for entries for the 2013 Farafina Trust creative writing workshop, inviting writers from all over the world to submit their short pieces. From the numerous applicants, twenty-five outstanding writers have been selected to participate in the workshop this year, which will be taught by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Eghosa Imasuen, Binyavanga Wainaina and other writers of note.

The selected writers this year are:

1. Zenique Gardner (USA)
2. Maryam  Shuaib (Minna)
3. Tolu Agunbiade (Ketu)
4. Timendu Aghahowa (Ikeja)
5. Abdulrashid Muhammad (Abuja)
6. Uchenna Ude (Lagos)
7. Udoh Charles Rapulu (Onitsha)
8. Gbolahan Adeola (USA)
9. Lilian Izuorah (Minna)
10. Suleiman Agbonkhianmen ( Lagos)
11. Nicholas Ochiel (Kenya)
12. Yakubu Damilola Daniel (Kwara)
13. Kelechi Njoku (Abuja)
14. Lesley Nneka Arimah (USA)
15. Tajudeen Sagaya (Lagos)
16. Adaora Nwankwo (Onitsha)
17. Chidinma Nnamani (Enugu)
18. Arinze Daniel Ifeakandu (Kano)
19. Okpanachi Eyo Michael (Zaria)
20. Okechukwu Otukwu…

View original post 23 more words

My Own Affirmation

I believe that when I return to Africa, I will write my best work.  I will write one story or many of them that will be as notable as the works of Morrison, Walker, Kincaid, Bambara.  I will breathe life back into Black Literature.  I feel it in my bones and I know I will do this—like Chimamanda Adichie knew she could write an American novel; like Natasha Tretheway knew she could produce Pulitzer-winning poetry; Like Edwidge Danticat knew she could write beautifully when representing two, and sometimes three, different lands.   I will do this work and you will one day count my name amongst those who are aforementioned here.  I just need you to believe with me.

 

Post Navigation