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Archive for the tag “creative nonfiction”

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

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…

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Before Living Where the Yellow Wallpaper Is

Day 8.  Reflections while People watching. Journal entry. Circa 2013

She stood at the corner of 18th and Sansom talking to herself– poised in business attire with an oversized wool coat and a pair of shabby brown boots, likely all digs found in a thrift store or taken from a soup kitchen. Her head was shorn and what grew on top had been dyed blonde and already pushed out by new black growth. She stood there all theatrical with a full face of makeup– mostly hues of pink and much too light for her skin tone– and lamented about what went wrong between “them”. This wasn’t a monologue, it was a dialogue. She saw her companion before her and pleaded for understanding, “You just don’t see what has happened with us, do you? I don’t know what you want me to do. I’m torn and you don’t even see it.”  There was a shrill in her voice, but the words came out proper and perfect– so perfect she would be accused of sounding “white” in the most urban parts of the city. A couple of young girls passed her and took a second look back and chuckled loudly with confusion at the woman. I took in an eyeful of her as I passed and dared not laughed or even smirk at her position– tall but hunkered over with desperation in her eyes. My brain rattled with how close I have come to losing myself in hurt and in love– never seeing myself on corners cursing or sobbing or begging, but coming pretty damn close.

Sister Girlfriends

Day 6. Excerpt from “Same-Sex Spirituality” an essay from the “Faith and Bullshit” collection. Circa 2011.

She had a lot to drink at the party and it has become pretty typical for her to get into some type of funk once the music stops and she has to move from dim-lit dance floors to concrete sidewalks to the carpet in her bedroom, a new mood unveiling itself along the way.  But tonight she is more contemplative than usual.  She and her partner of four years recently ended their stint and it’s obvious that the idea of her ex-girlfriend dating men and moving on makes her feel empty.

We arrive at her house, sloppily climb the stairs and fall on the bed.  Any other night, she is rambling off obscenities and spewing slurred lyrics that make us both laugh until sleep overtakes us.  But not now.  We lay in bed fully clothed.  Close.  The sole light source comes from beyond the windows and the quiet is interrupted only by the swoosh-swoosh of cars on Broad Street and the low hum of the miniature heater that we turned on to knock out the 2am March morning chill that hovered in the room.

I am fading to sleep.  I turn over first to make sure she is already dozing before allowing myself to slip into slumber.  She is staring up at the ceiling.  In the darkness, I see her lashes move with each blink, but otherwise her eyes are wide open.  I turn my body towards hers and move closer, resting my chin on her shoulder.

“What’s wrong, Pumkin?” I ask her through her dreadlocks which are splayed across the pillow.

“I’m sad, Nique.” The sniffles begin and the tears follow. “I miss her.  And I hate this dating shit.  And I don’t feel like I can talk to anybody about how I feel,” she managed between heaves.

“Awww, Pumkin,” I kiss her wet cheek and taste the salt on my lips. “You can always talk to me.  I’m here.”

I wrap my arm snugly around her. She tilts her head to rest on my forehead and continues to cry.  She doesn’t acknowledge my offer tonight and we say nothing more before going to sleep.

One God. Same God.

Day 2. This is an excerpt from my senior thesis work,

a collection of essays titled “Faith and Bullshit.” Circa 2011.

There is no light outside the window when he begins to move restlessly in bed—only an orange glow that spills onto the carpet and against the walls from the lamppost across the street.  I finally feel his warmth slipping away as he slowly peels back the comforter and sheets, careful not to disturb me.  It is minutes from sunrise and Hasan has to make his first salat.   He slips into a pair of shorts and t-shirt and tiptoes to the bathroom to make wudhu before he makes his prayers.  I lie awake in bed, silent as if still asleep, and listen to the way the water moves in the bathroom: the steady stream from the faucet to the basin intermittently interrupted by his cupped hands scooping water to his face, around his arms, and on top of his head—and then the squeaky turn of the knob to close the water valve.  He shuffles out of the bathroom, feeling his way through darkness until he reaches his designated place of prayer—a little area in the corner of the bedroom that allows him to face the Ka’abah.

 He begins the series of movements that accompany his prayer routine—takbir, ruku, qiyaam, sujud, jalsah—as he utters the rhythmic, foreign words from his mouth, his monotone voice sounding musical at certain intervals of his recital.  I am completely awake in bed now, eyes fixed on the ceiling, pondering when and how I would get on my knees and make my own petitions to God.  I decidedly keep my place after convincing myself that Hasan is hardly worried about who is holier than who—that was usually my role in our relationship.

After several minutes, Hasan completes his sura and, for a brief moment, there is stillness in the room.  The morning light has finally rested on the pillows and throughout the house and I am able to clearly make out Hasan’s silhouette as he disrobes before rejoining me under the sheets.  My body is considerably warmer than his now, so he pulls me close—my back to his chest and one of my breasts already cradled in his palm.  I feel his humid breath on the nape of my neck before he settles his lips there to whisper a sweet and sensual “good morning” which will serve as his invitation to commit today’s first sin.

It wasn’t long before meeting Hasan that I had settled into my own religious walk— the original faith of my childhood now repackaged and reintroduced as a personalized adult version of Christianity.  This new and improved God wanted to be my friend, my father and was described with words like patient, forgiving, full of grace which were different from the harsher and more familiar terms like angry, wrathful, and jealous.  While it seemed so much easier to worship this nice God, it was often just as bewildering to have once been plagued with legalistic checks and balances to now only be covered in the “blood of the Lamb,” once and forever after repentance. The Presbyterian doctrine of today seemed so different from the Pentecostal gospel of my youth.

Yet I never revealed such ambivalence about my beliefs to Hasan.  Instead, we engaged in stimulating conversations about our respective faiths—he maintained that there was only one God, and both Muslims and Christians served the same God, while I insisted that his religion lacked the vital component of recognizing Jesus Christ as Savior of mankind and ultimately the channel through which one reached salvation.  Hasan would allow me to say my piece before he offered a reassuring smile, sometimes lifting my hands to his lips before speaking again. After a long pause he would respond softly, “Zenique, the truth will find you.”

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