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Malawi’s part in continental literature showcase

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EXCITED — Macheso

By Foster Benjamin:

Classic, contemporary short stories do not come any better than the 56 tales in Voices that Sing Behind the Veil: Anthology of Short Stories from Africa and the Diaspora.

The 684-page volume is edited by Ivor Agyeman-Duah, a Ghanaian historian and author, and published in collaboration with the Accra-based Pan African Writers Association (Pawa).

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“This is an exceptional collection that spans three generations of African writings and re-alignment with its diaspora,” Agyeman-Duah explains in his introduction, “It’s a multitude of Anglophone and Francophone stories but also of the Caribbean; of a shared history and what became the African-American heritage in the new world.”

In fact, out of 56 writers that Agyeman-Duah has assembled, 15 are from African countries.

Malawi is no exception.

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Well, the collection features Wesley Macheso, Temwani Mgunda, Chikumbutso Ndaferankhande and Davie Chingwalu. And the feeling these Malawian authors are having is that of ecstatic and lively.

For Macheso, it is sheer honour and glory.

“It’s always an honour to be published internationally by reputable presses,” he says, adding “I’m greatly excited that my story ‘Children of the River’ has been included in this brilliant literature.”

Children of the River is an immensely powerful account of David Livingstone, a Scottish missionary and explorer. It explores his life and times down in the Port Herald (present-day Nsanje) and some colonial legacies across the Shire Valley in Malawi.

However, Macheso, who is a literature lecturer at the University of Malawi and a columnist for The Daily Times, deep down feels sad. He argues that writing—just like reading—is slowly dying in the artistic world, thanks to technological advances.

“Writing in Malawi, just like elsewhere, has dwindled, over the years. This is something we shouldn’t be proud of, I tell you,” he laments, “Mine is a call for writers in the country to take on new challenges and establish themselves out there. They shouldn’t enjoy their comfort zones in local and self-publishing.”

He is right.

Ndaferankhande, Malawi Writers Union (Mawu) leader, speaks in the same breath. According to him, Malawian writers should cast their literary pen wider than ever before, just as their Nigerian and Ghanaian counterparts.

“Our friends [in Nigeria and Ghana] treasure reading and writing a lot,” he says. “They know that books can bring change. They can also be a great point of entry to broaden your world. When I travelled to Nigeria last June for Writers Conference, I was amazed to see how Nigerians are hooked to books. Yes, I was surprised by high levels of talent there. Here, sadly, we’re too far behind. But it’s not too late. We can still borrow a leaf and improve for better.”

He reveals that his story ‘The Escapee,’ which is an excerpt from his debut novel Chronicles of an Inmate, and also featured in the superb anthology, captured many a heart in Nigeria. As he read it, he says, many kept glued to its captivating and poignant plot.

It is a harrowing account of a man wrongfully convicted of murder of his son with albinism. Upon his escape from jail, the man, unexpectedly, confronts his wife who is about to wed another man.

In a similar way, Chingwalu offers a tragic-love triangle in his piece entitled ‘Blind Love.’ In it, he tells a tale of a soldier who, on his return from a peace-keeping mission from abroad, finds his wife arrested, alongside a witchdoctor. She’s taken in for aborting pregnancy, apparently ‘planted’ by her husband’s colleague. It ends in murder in which the cheated husband kills the other—a fellow soldier—joining his faithless wife in police cell.

Chingwalu thinks this short-story collection holds the perfect key to his great exposure.

“I’m thrilled I’m part of this exceptional work of short fiction. As an emerging writer, I know that I’m now out into the world, all because of my story. I will, really, reach a wider audience,’’ Chingwalu, a former police spokesperson, explains.

In fact, he admits that Blind Love is a work of fiction but “it can happen and touch the depth of our being.”

“This is fiction but I know such things can happen, in one way or another. As writers, we explore different storylines of various genres, based on all life’s trajectory. Again, I feel great for being part and parcel of this short-story collection, and this is very encouraging,” he muses.

Mgunda, another renowned short story writer, oozes the same pride.

“Surely, it feels super to be featured in an anthology. It strengthens one’s literary CV (curriculum vitae). In my case, and this collection, I know my writing CV will be high, and sold to the ends of the earth,” the maker of ‘A Dance in the Dark’ says.

In his story, which was once shortlisted for the 2018 African Writers Awards, Mgunda presents a portrait of a girl torn between abuse and despair. She is impregnated by an unknown man during “a dance in the dark,” a harmful cultural practice in the Northern Malawi.

Associate Professor in the Department of English Department at the University of Malawi, Nick Mdika Tembo, says he is excited to see Malawian writers in international space through exceptional writings.

“It always warms my heart to see Malawians being recognized at international level,” he says, “I don’t think the people behind the anthology were influenced by a random or regional selection of authors for their work. I believe they went for the best, and they found vintage writing in Malawi.”

But, during the book launch in Accra on July 7 2022, Agyeman-Duah revealed how he had faced a hard decision in gathering stories to use in the book. He said he had received numerous entries, beautifully executed and original.

“This is a clear testament of how rich and diverse our African literature is,” he said at the time.

In fact, in this engaging collection, he has also featured such iconic writers as Ben Okri (UK/Nigeria), Zaynab Alkali (Nigeria), Molefi Kete Assante (US), Athol Williams (South Africa) and Dr Wale Okediran ( Nigeria).

South African High Commissioner to Ghana, Grace Mason, launched the anthology. She described it as “truly Pan African” both in content and nature.

A Nigerian historian and the Jacob and Frances Sanger Massiker Chairperson of the University of Texas, Austin, Professor Toyin Falola, echoed the same sentiments.

He said the editor precisely combined stories that “communicate appreciation with comprehension, and presence with essence.”

Falola went further describing the anthology as “a good read” thanks to its powerful and poignant moments in the everyday African life, a view that enthralls Agyeman-Duah.

“Issues of mental health, corpse donation for scientific research and Covid-19 are addressed alongside Pentecostal redemption, fake prophets and the havoc they exert on societies as do their counterparts in Islam,” Agyeman-Duah writes.

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