Cooked Meat

I

She could not remember the exact moment she forgot her name, or what time it was, what she was doing, what she was thinking. But she was sure she was running, or thinking of running. In her head, she had covered a thousand miles, even though she had never known the world beyond Balambala, the small, permanent village two hundred miles northwest of Garissa, Kenya, where she had lived all her sixteen years. She was sure too she was crying, wet-crying—with tears, that is—or dry-crying, without. She must have felt fear too, fear forceful enough to wipe out the memory of herself, like a storm that ravages a city into unrecognition.

But she remembered the moment she realised she had in fact forgotten her name: two minutes ago when the woman selling khat asked her the question. She was at the Rahole bus stage, having just landed in Garissa town after a three-hour journey on the back of a speeding Land Cruiser from Balambala. She stood next to the stalls, not knowing what to do, where to go, her face red with dust, like the soil of Saka.

Uhm…my name? She hesitated to drink even though she was dying of thirst. She then took one little sip, wincing as she swallowed.

Yes.

My name is…uhm…my name is…

It’s alright dear I understand if you don’t want to tell me.

She thought she was having a momentary brain freeze that would go away immediately. Of course I know my name, she thought. I’ve known it all my life. Nobody forgets their name. It’ll come to me in a flash.

II

She walked away from the stage down the road, lest someone at the stage might recognise her. The midday azan rung out from the mosques. She walked on, even though every step she took was a step closer to getting lost. There were so many people than she had ever seen. The more she walked the more buildings she saw. Back in Balambala when you walked for two minutes in any direction you ran smack into woods. Here they had no end.

Perhaps the day she forgot her name was the day mom and dad told her about it. It was noon, and she had just come from school with her friends Najma and Ayaan. It was the last day of the school term. The girls stopped at a shop on the way home and bought candy.

They sat on a wooden bench outside.

Why are you grinning like that? Najma said.

I’m not grinning like anything, the girl said.

Is it a boy? said Ayaan. It’s a boy isn’t it? Spill the news girl. I’ll buy you an extra candy if you tell us.

It’s definitely not a boy, Najma said. She’s too shy.

Boys are too boring, the girl said.

Not to mention weird, Ayaan said.

They watched people walking to and from the market centre, crossing the open field in front of the shop.

What did you score by the way? Najma grabbed the girl’s report card. Let’s see what we have here. Wow you came number two in the whole class?

This is why she’s been grinning like a camel in a plush forest, said Ayaan.

Give it back, the girl said. It’s nothing.

It’s not nothing. It says here you are “a self-driven girl with lots of promise,” Najma said.

Masha Allah, said Ayaan. I don’t know about you but I need to be driven to do anything. I failed so miserably my report card just shrivelled up.

The girls laughed and ate their candy. They talked about the things they would do during the holiday and agreed to meet the following morning at the computer centre of the library. They then went home. When the girl reached home before she dropped her bag her parents asked her to sit down and told her.

But dad, mum I can’t do that.

You are a grown woman, stop behaving like a child!

But I’m not ready for that.

At fourteen you should be a grandmother.

Please.

Do you want blessings or a curse?

Blessings.

Allah says in the Qur’an fear your God and obey your parents if you want to go to heaven. You want to go to heaven don’t you?

Of course.

Then you’ll do as we ask.

She had never known all her life what it means to be torn or helpless until that moment. But what had she known anyway, other than to go to school, play with her friends and help her mother with household chores? What anguish had she known other than worry why some of her friends had nicer dira dress than she did? For this she was not prepared. She could not bring herself to doing what they wanted her to do. Yet she loved her parents and she did not want to disobey them. Could she even? Wouldn’t she go to hell if she did?

III

She wandered through the streets, covering her face with the edge of her hijab to keep off the dust raised by rickshaws and motorbikes. Once a man with a hennaed beard came into her field of vision. She bolted down the road. She only stopped when she could no longer run. When she looked back no one was running after her.

She sat in front of a building to rest.

She considered another possible instance when she might have forgotten her name. It was exactly a month after her parents told her about it. A camel was slain. People flocked to their compound. They ate to their full. Najma and Ayaan walked by on their way home from school. They stood on the edge of the fence and watched. The women dressed her in new clothes, sprayed her with perfume, tattooed her arms and feet and wrapped her head in a black scarf. It was her wedding day, and she was terrified. At the new house on the edge of town the old man waited. The bridal party marched towards the house, the path lit by a glorious moonlight. They beat drums and blew horns and ululated. When they arrived the women circled the men and sang burambur. The men danced saar, clapping, leaping, grunting with ecstasy. They placed glittering corsages on her neck, and sang her praises. As they left, she clung to her sister and mother.

Don’t leave me.

You’ll be fine. Just do as we told you.

I’m afraid.

Just do as he asks.

Perhaps it was when she looked at herself in the mirror and failed to recognise the person looking back at her that she forgot her name. Or it could be the moment he shed her clothes off and she stood naked for the first time in the presence of a man, overcome with the urge to cover herself, though unsure whether it was because she lost her clothes or her name. Perhaps it was when he pushed himself inside her, his hennaed beard shining in the low light, her fragile form body crushed under his weight, her hands pinned down, unable to move, the insides of her thighs burning with pain, the bed sheet clenched between her teeth unable to muffle her gasps and cries, the water from her eyes filling her ears, watching the flickering lamp, the shadows on the mud wall, the lone lizard running along a wooden plank, listening to the sound of men grunting and women singing in the distance.

Or maybe it was when, soon after, all she did was chores all day and got beat at night, even after her stomach started swelling like the bruises on her face and a darkness overcame her and she had to drag herself get out of bed and she would forget what she was doing, half-present, her movements slowed, holding a spoon in mid motion while mixing a soup, forgetting wiping the table, staring into nothing, dry-crying, at night biting the bed sheet, so hard it had more holes than the veil she wore to her wedding, watching the shadows dancing, the lizard gaping, thinking of running.

IV

She came upon a big fork on the road. On the right side was a tarmacked road and on the left a dusty footpath full of holes. She stood there thinking which road to take, even though she didn’t know where neither led to. She felt a strange sensation she had never felt before. A thrill. For the first time in her life, she could choose to do something on her own. She could for instance choose to turn right or left, and no one would tell her otherwise. She could decide to take neither and turn back. All her life she had never done anything she wanted to do. Yet she felt guilty, naughty even, though she did not know why. It was the way she felt when she stole money from her mother or when she allowed her friend to copy an answer from her sheet during an exam.

Looking at both roads her first instinct was to take the dusty footpath because the tarmac road looked like something too clean, too big, something men and boys should take, something she was not worthy of. She felt the same guilt at the thought of picking a new name for herself, and her head still spun at her plan of finding some sort of work to do in this town. At home girls always ate from the bottom of the pot and slept on the older mattresses. They sacrificed their comfort for others and were forbidden to do many things. Having to choose for herself made her feel like she was doing something wrong because she did not know there was a difference between ‘forbidden’ and ‘wrong.’

V

After sunset—lost and tired—she emerged into a busy highway. It was so dark but you could see the dust on her feet, white as flour. On this side where she was were lines of shops and outdoor cafes where men chewed khat. In the distance where trees drooped were the silhouettes of mechanics repairing trucks. She found a makeshift shack that looked like a daytime tea shop made of used blankets and curtains. She was glad to stop walking, and she was glad to find a mat on the ground, though tattered and prickly. The water the woman had given her earlier was still untouched.

Fear filled every crevice of her being like the night filled everything. She had never found herself out at night, alone. Even in Balambala safety was synonymous with ‘home’ and ‘company’ ‘daylight.’ Mother would never let her walk to the edge of the village any time past six in the evening to fetch milk from their camels, even though her six-year-old brother could.

Mother, commenting on the delicate nature of women and predatory nature of men, had explained, A female is cooked meat, don’t you know?

She peeped outside to read all the names she could see written around her on the buildings and the shops. She could recall all the names of the people she knew. Like her baby’s name, Udgoon. She missed it, the baby they took from her the last time she ran away, and could hardly think of anything else since she had left home. At only seven months old she worried whether they might give him the wrong food or ants might enter her cot. She almost died giving birth to it and had passed out from the pain several times, or maybe it was the bleeding that wouldn’t stop. Or perhaps both. As she lay down and used her arms as a pillow she missed how it smiled and cooed—her baby—unaware of all the darkness that engulfed her mother. She felt dejected for bringing another little girl into a world cruel to little girls, another cooked meat into one supremely gifted at devouring, another little light at one that extinguishes so well.

She could not remember her name.

Yet she had not forgotten the names of her mother, father, brothers, sisters, cousins, friends, teachers, villagers. She could remember people from when she was a toddler. She could even remember the names of people she met only once. Gedi, for instance, a man who once sold charcoal to her mother when she was three. Haibo, a distant relative who spent one night at their house when she was five. Yet she could not remember her own name. She tried recalling all the female names she knew, certain she would recognise hers once she heard it. Fatuma. Naima. Khadija. Hawa. Malyun. Zainab. Ambiya. Batula. Rukiya. Ifrah. Quresha… None sounded like the name she would know to be hers. Sometimes she would get this flash across her mind and she knew she had finally remembered her name, but it would turn out to be an incomplete thought, gone faster than the mind could process it, and all that would remain would be a memory of the memory, like an aftertaste whose origin one can’t recall.

She gave up trying to remember it.

VI

The night grew calm. The only sounds she could hear were the faint music coming from the khat shacks, her groaning stomach and her drumming heart when a lone walker shuffled by. She missed her old friends. She missed Najma’s stubbornness and Ayaan’s humour, and wondered what they were doing, whether they would suffer the same fate she did. Then it came to her: the exact moment she had forgotten her name. It was four days ago. She had run again, her baby strapped onto her back. She crossed the river into Hasaaqo on a boat.

Early next morning as she tried to board a car to Garissa, someone pulled her back down. The hennaed beard was the first thing she saw. On the way back, when they crossed the river, he grabbed her by the neck and took her back into the river. He dipped her head into the water. He held her steady, her arms flailing in the air, as the water drowned her lungs and her brain was starved of oxygen. She thought she was going to die. Perhaps she did. Because when he let her back up she could not remember her name.


mohamed aress is a writer, photographer and lawyer from Garissa, Northeastern Kenya. In his free time, he enjoys doing nothing, but when feeling particularly productive, he likes imagining the pleasures of watching camels make out. He binges on Key and Peele with the hope of bringing comic relief to his worryingly morbid fiction, though this has never worked. He currently works as a defender of the rights of refugees and asylum seekers at the Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya.

Vinifera

The vines grew. Leaves tangled. Fruit burst. The earth cracked in its effort to thrust up more life.

In the spring, people called Maggie lucky. In the summer, they said she was blessed. With autumn, her harvest came in large and radiant, straining the other growers’ smiles with envy. Winter stilled the country, and yet the vines shone a healthy green through a thin dusting of snow, pulsing with life like veins under pale skin. And neighborly eyes grew cold.

Fruit ripened and oozed on the vine. The juice beaded and froze, transforming grapes to glittering diamonds. Maggie wondered if she should harvest them. She worried everything would shrivel and die come spring.

“It’s alright, Auntie,” her niece said, slicing onions with thin precision.

Maggie stood at the kitchen window, frowning at the dark spots where fallen grapes stained the snow.

Her niece and nephew had come to spend their winter holidays. They always did. Becca seemed much older, as if she had done all her growing in one year. She watched the vines rioting in the winter field with practiced nonchalance. While Benjy shied from them, darting down the dirt lane every morning, skates and stick slung over his shoulder.

He came back with the early sundown, sluggish and reeking from a day of pond hockey. Sometimes he came home with bruises, once with a black eye. Maggie never asked if it was the game’s natural play, or if the other boys said things that her nephew had to answer. He had grown distant in the last year, as if concentration could keep him a willow limbed boy with spring colored eyes forever.

“It’s alright, Auntie,” Becca said, again.

“Mhhmm,” Maggie’s low voice hummed off the glass.

“Benjy’s late today. The sun’s almost down.”

“They’ll be at the back porch soon.”

Becca scraped the onions into a pan, they hissed and spat as she stirred them through hot oil. Maggie left the frost-edged window and began piling dishes in the sink. Becca helped herself to what remained of her aunt’s red wine. Maggie raised an eyebrow. Becca raised a shoulder.

“Mom will never know,” she said. “Besides, red wine’s good for your heart.”

“You’re too young for heart trouble.”

“You should grow Syrah.”

“Syrah’s surly. We don’t have the right climate for it.”

“December’s not the right climate for anything.”

And yet the vines grew.

In the year past, Becca had gotten notions of Paris and culinary school and romance under European skies. But Maggie’s sister believed illusions were best shattered early. She told Maggie to take the kids to town, stuff them with burgers and fries, anything salted and greased, rather than let Becca near a stove. But Maggie never had much defiance in her and found it too easy to bow to her niece’s efficiency.

And watching the tall girl at the stove, Maggie knew Becca would run to the Old World. She’d run from her mother’s petty tempers and her own unfinished dreams.

Maggie had made the journey herself, once. But she hadn’t sought oil painted sunsets or velvet accents. She’d gone to Germany, learned about soil, mineral deposits, and microclimates. The only thing that caught her eye with longing was a cottage on an abandoned bit of vineyard, choked by wild hops, untamed vines mingling for as far as she could see under a sky leaded with rain.

When Benjy came home at last, there was a bloody gap where his left eyetooth used to be. He insisted it was a baby tooth, not a big deal. Wasn’t he too big to still have baby teeth? Maggie fretted, thought about warming up the beastly old pick-up and taking him to a doctor? A dentist? She wasn’t sure. And eventually she gave into his thirteen-year-old obstinacy and settled for giving him some ice wrapped in a dishtowel.

“You won’t tell Mom?” he mumbled, through the towel.

“She’ll notice.”

Benjy shrugged his doubt.

“They trapped a bird,” he said.

“The other boys?” Maggie frowned.

“The vines.”

Maggie peered out the window, but in the dusk, she saw no feeble flap of wings.

“It’s probably caught in the wire,” Maggie said. “They’re pests, you know.”

“It’s the vines,” the boy insisted. “They’re mad it tried to eat the grapes.”

Becca clucked her tongue from the stove, but she didn’t tell her little brother he was being stupid. Maggie shrugged on her heavy coat, swamping her in flannel and old- snow musk.

She tramped along the nearest row of vines, listening for any cries from further afield. But the bird must have freed itself. All Maggie found were a few gray feathers twisted in a trellis wire.

Later, ice melting in the sink, bloody towel crumpled by the draining board, Maggie watched the vines in the bluish moonlight. She wondered what had filled them with such unsleeping life, and if they meant to strangle the house. Maybe she could find the answers in their wind raked pattern. Flakes whisked down, catching on the still green leaves, lacing the trellises. The vines seemed to shiver. Maggie blinked, feeling foolish.

She decided Benjy’s jaw needed to recover, so she took the kids to town the next day. On the main street, a gaggle of boys sprayed slush over her shoes, as they chortled past on their fat-tired bikes. Maggie sunk her fingers into Benjy’s puffy coat sleeve when his body jackknifed toward the retreating riders.

“Who wants ice cream?” Maggie asked.

Benjy swore and sucked at the red gap in his teeth.

“Don’t talk like that,” Maggie said. She turned an appealing gaze to Becca, who watched two women lean over strollers and wag pointed chins at Maggie. Becca’s eyes turned to flint.

Maggie repeated the offer of ice cream.

“It’s winter,” Becca said.

Their cheeks were apple bright and stinging, the sun too pale and distant to do more than wring water from last night’s icicles.

“Since when do kids turn down sweets?” Maggie asked. But she thought of Becca sipping the tannin dried wine without a pucker to her lips.

Benjy had slipped three doors ahead, close to the corner where the boys lingered with their bikes.

“It’ll be good for his tooth,” Maggie said.

“It won’t grow back.”

But she caught up with her brother and hustled him across the street. The shop was empty, as Maggie had known it would be. The bell above the door muffled by a wilting sprig of mistletoe. A poison and a bane against witches, her sister had whispered on a far-gone winter eve.

The air was sweet and warm, but the ribbons around the proud chocolate nutcrackers looked defeated. A teddy bear cradled a sign in his coco paws declaring the holidays were now for sale, half-off.

Mr. Peters, white haired and weathered, stood behind the counter in his neat pinstriped apron. He looked like a gnarled tree but he bustled about their order without a creak of arthritis. He gave the children extra scoops and Maggie a wink doubled by his round, wire rimmed glasses.

“Trouble with your vines, I hear,” he said.

“Yes,” Maggie smiled tightly. No one talked to her about the vines anymore.

“They’re getting all grown-up,” Mr. Peters nodded at Benjy and Becca, their faces sticky with black cherry and pistachio. They didn’t look grown-up just then, elbowing giggles out of each other.

“You can’t do much about it,” Mr. Peters adjusted his glasses with a fluorescent twinkle. “Except stay on your toes. Vinifera’s tricky.”

“Yes,” Maggie agreed.

“Hard to manage on your own.”

“I manage.”

“And no one ought to say otherwise. You been there six years now, haven’t you?”

“Seven.”

“I ought to be minding my own business.”

A sound like ice cracking on a warm winter day silenced Maggie’s next question. Benjy stood amidst glass shards and rolling gumballs.

“I’m sorry,” Maggie said. “I’ll pay for it.”

Mr. Peters waved a papery hand. “Don’t worry. These things happen.”

Still, Maggie tucked some bills under the memo pad beside the register while the old man went for a broom. Benjy apologized and did his best to help with the mess, but his well-intentioned feet sent the rainbow-colored candy spinning into corners. Maggie felt Mr. Peters was better left on his own. She ushered the children back toward the faded mistletoe.

“I’m sorry, again,” she said, over her shoulder.

“It’s nothing. Don’t let it discourage you,” Mr. Peters chuckled. “Not too late to have one of your own.”

He meant it mildly, so Maggie only shook her head and left.

Later, Maggie stood in her kitchen, twirling a long-stemmed wineglass like a flower she meant to pluck the petals from, while the sun flared away in the west. She could hear the children bickering in the next room. Mixed with the hum of the television, their voices sounded scripted and hollow.

The awful truth was they wore on her. She would be relieved when they returned to their mother and Maggie was left alone with the reaching vines. It wasn’t what she should want. She knew that.

The syrup sweet liquid in her glass smelt of strong sun and ripe flowers. It was the first she had pressed from the unlikely grapes and it made her head light.

She wondered again if she should harvest before winter was through. By spring, the crop might be lost. By summer, the town might find an impassable wall of greenery around the house. But Maggie had shears out in the shed, the metal darkened with age still held its edge, and the next autumn might bring grapes bursting with a finer vintage.

The children had subsided. Maggie would call her sister in the morning, tell her to let Becca go to Paris. The girl would have to see things for herself sooner or later. And if she came home with her dreams scattered, well maybe by then Maggie would be ready for an extra hand about the place.

A coyote darted, russet and ragged at the tree line. The sun stained the sky like spilled wine. And the vines grew.


B. B. GARIN is a writer living in Buffalo, NY. She holds a B.F.A. in Writing, Literature, and Publishing from Emerson College. Her work has appeared in the online journal Embark. Her chapbook New Songs for Old Radios is available from Wordrunner eChapbooks and she has been nominated for a 2020 Pushcart Prize. She is a current member of the Grub Street Writing Center, where she has developed a series of short fiction pieces, as well as a novel.

What We Love(d) and Want(ed) More of as Young Writers

The young writers’ community is an ever-growing one and while great resources, networks and programs for young writers do exist, they are not always accessible to everyone. As a magazine run primarily by young writers, we decided to ask Inklette’s staff members what they love(d) and want(ed) more of as young writers and for young writers. 


What We Love(d) As Young Writers

For me, my experience at Iowa was the best experience I had as a young writer. I felt that the schedule of our workshop was conducive to exploring the city and culture of Iowa City. We had some writing jam sessions in the morning and workshops or seminars that would end in the afternoon, leaving us a great deal of time to write, eat and explore or attend readings in Iowa City bookstores and the University of Iowa campus. But apart from that, the readings were very different from the ones I have encountered in other workshops. There were more translated works, more works by writers and writing published by small, independent publishers.

-Devanshi Khetarpal, Editor-in-Chief

I also attended the Iowa Young Writers Workshop, and was captivated by the space and the feeling that there were real people who did what I wanted to do in real life, as opposed to on the side of whatever they did to make real money. I also loved the professors, family members, friends, and occasional random strangers who validated what I was doing with my free time. I find writing as a full-time profession is often looked down upon by others, so having folks around who constantly said “Yes, you are absolutely allowed to spend all your free time creating these wonderful imaginary worlds” did wonders for my passion for creative spaces. Additionally, spaces like PANK magazine that welcomes submissions from folks no matter their age range or backgrounds helped me understand that I didn’t have to have the credentials I saw so many others with — I just had to have my passion for writing!

-Naomi Day, Blog Editor 

I completely agree with Devanshi’s and Naomi’s description of Iowa, so I won’t add much more to that, but I was lucky enough to also participate in the Adroit Journal Summer Mentorship Program in the same summer. In Adroit, I loved the close one-on-one relationship I had with my mentor, the support of all my fellow mentees, and the flexibility of the program. Between traveling and attending other conventions, I was relieved to know the community at Adroit was never more than a text or email away. Throughout the entire month of the program, I thoroughly enjoyed the specially curated reading list and writing prompts my mentor had organized, but I also distinctly remember loving the final project: creating a final portfolio of your work and sharing with another mentee! In reading the collection of another’s work, I felt I had truly understood not only his work, but who he, as a person, stood for. Now, more than anything, I am so so grateful for this little writing community that still keeps in touch.

-Sarah Lao, Social Media Manager 

When I was around 12-13 and had just developed an interest in creative writing, I spent a lot of time reading and posting on Cicada Magazine’s The Slam, an online forum where readers could post their own work. Not only did I have an outlet for my developing prose and poetry, but I was also able to make several long-distance creative friendships. While I never met any of these fellow young writers in person, I still think of them often and am immensely grateful for the love and trust we had when sharing work with each other. 

-Joanna Cleary, Blog Editor

I loved attending writing programs when I was in high school. The summer before my junior year I was accepted into the Missouri Scholars Academy, and while its not strictly writing centered, the classes that I took were. Being around people who were writing and creating because they loved it and not because it was assigned in a classroom was so refreshing and wonderful, and I was so inspired while I was there. I also rediscovered my love of poetry as an added bonus! 

The following summer I attended the Young Women’s Writers Workshop at Smith College and had an incredible time. I made so many friends and discovered so many incredible female writers that I would never have some across in one of my classes in high school, even in the creative writing and advanced placement english classes I had been taking since my freshman year. I very much doubt that I would have gone on to create my own arts centered major in college if I hadn’t had the privilege of surrounding myself with other creative spirits so early on. 

-Savannah Summerlin, Blog Editor

What We Want(ed) More Of As Young Writers

I wish there were more workshops, programs, avenues for literary translations and learning of regional languages and local dialects, and literatures written in those languages and dialects. My education was a product of colonialism and encouraged a more colonial attitude towards regional languages, dialects and even Hindi. I wish we could break apart and disintegrate the hegemony and glorification of the kind of literacy and literature that privileges colonialism and the process of colonizing today.

-Devanshi Khetarpal , Editor-in-Chief 

I wish there had been more community around the genres I was interested in writing: I did a lot of fantasy writing (think farms with talking wolves and cities with magic stones) but never shared them because I didn’t think young people wrote fantasy like that. Having a greater sense of community and space to share and receive feedback would have helped my sense of belonging.

-Naomi Day, Blog Editor 

Having always suffered from a drastic drop in creative productivity once the school year hit, I think I would want something that could hold me more accountable. I’m not exactly sure what that would look like, but certainly, I think a long-term program during the school year would help. In other words, I’m hoping the stress of a series of deadlines would encourage me to break through any writer’s block.

-Sarah Lao, Social Media Manager 

I wish there were more online workshops. It’s expensive and not practical to travel. Most people can’t take large chunks of time off from school or work, and others (like me who is 40 years old) have children who depend on us for care. Even when a retreat or workshop offers daycare options, that only works if one’s child(ren) are not school-age. When I was in high school, I would have loved to have taken a creative writing course or belonged to a creative writing club. Some high schools offer such courses, but mine did not, even years later when I returned to teach at the school. 

-Lisa Stice, Poetry Editor

To learn more about our staff and read their bios, visit our Masthead page by clicking here.

Best Books We Ever Received As Gifts

Regardless of which winter holiday you celebrate (if any), November and December are often filled with gift-shopping trip after gift-shopping trip. While we all like that special feeling we get when we give someone a gift they adore, it’s no secret that spending hours at the mall is exhausting, time-consuming, and, quite frankly, expensive. However, the Inklette team has compiled a list of the best books we’ve ever received as gifts to remind everybody what the holiday shopping season is about (and, if you’re unsure what gift to get your book-loving friend/family member/significant other, look no further).


The Hat-Stand Union by Caroline Bird

 

51xPRiL2IeL._SX307_BO1,204,203,200_Those who know me know that I like obscure contemporary poetry (how much people are willing to let me ramble on about it is a different story). My parents gave me this volume of poetry by British poet and playwright Caroline Bird for Christmas when I was about thirteen or fourteen and just starting to become seriously interested in creative writing. Reading poems that covered a bizarre range of topics — from King Arthur to Chekov to suburban life — helped me understand that I had the agency to write about what I found inspiring, rather than what people told me to write about. Even now, in my final year of my undergraduate, I still have The Hat-Stand Union on my shelf and pull it out from time to time when I need inspiration. 

— Joanna Cleary, Blog Editor

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

 

9780345804327_lI received this novel as a gift from one of my aunts in college, and it’s travelled with me as I’ve moved from one coast to the other, and back again. It was my first introduction to the author, Colson Whitehead, who is a brilliant Black writer living in NYC, and who is also one of my earliest inspirations for the style of writing life I want to achieve. The novel itself won the Pulitzer Prize in 2017. It’s a fascinating depiction that turns the real-life Underground Railroad into a collection of underground trains, safe houses, and secret routes. It’s one of those books that I’ll always have on my bookshelf, and which consistently reminds me to return to Whitehead’s other works to see what other challenges he has in store.

— Naomi Day, Blog Editor

The Professor and The Housekeeper by Yoko Ogawa, translated from the Japanese by Stephen Snyder

 

9780099521341.jpgThis book was gifted to me by Trivarna Hariharan, the former editor-in-chief of Inklette Magazine. I had never heard of Ogawa’s work before and hadn’t read prose that felt so light, so porous. I think Ogawa’s work best reminds me of the kind of cinematic language of Ritesh Batra’s films such as The Lunchbox (2013) and Photograph (2019). But this book, in particular, read like that thin line between myth and realism even though the materiality of its story felt like a weight, even a burden at times I had to accept, learn how to carry. Since then, I have read Ogawa’s other works but somehow The Housekeeper and The Professor is one I keep coming back to, because it also incorporates and disguises behind the porosity and poetics of literary language a stunning mathematical language as well as logic, and if you read the book you’ll perfectly understand the role these two levels and anatomies of language play. 

-Devanshi Khetarpal, Editor-in-Chief

Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor

 

9780316133999_l (1).jpgI believe my sister gave me this book a few years ago (for Christmas or my birthday I can’t remember, they both fall in December so they tend to blur together. Both my sister and I are avid readers, so we often gift each other books, but this particular book was definitely one of my favorites.Though it took a while for me to actually open the book, once I began reading it I devoured it. The book is magical, poetic, and wonderfully poetic (I have several notes on my phone filled with pulled quotes from the novels that I use to inspire me, and I used an excerpt from the first book for an erasure assignment I was given in college). The author’s gift for world-building made me eager to get the next books in the trilogy and finish them just as quickly, and I can’t wait until I’ve forgotten enough of the series to reread it—Taylor truly knows how to wield a plot twist, and I can’t wait to experience the shock and delight of piecing the tale together all over again. 

— Savannah Summerlin, Blog Editor

The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle by Hugh Lofting

 

9780486834368_l.jpgAlthough I’ve given lots of books as gifts, I’ve never been gifted a book (other than the ones I personally requested from my parents when I was a kid). Maybe people just don’t know what to gift me because they don’t know what’s already in my collection; I don’t know. My brother, though, frequently gifts books to my 6-year-old daughter. So far, one of her favorites has been The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle. I avoided reading it when I was a kid because I hated the movie. I read it to my daughter, and we both loved it. My brother is a research scientist, so he often sends her science-y books. Another fun one he gifted her was The Number Devil: A Mathematical Adventure (Hans Magnus Enzensberger, trans. By Michael Henry Heim). Although I think my daughter needs to age a bit before she can truly appreciate it, I loved The Number Devil.

— Lisa Stice, Poetry Editor

A Necklace of Skulls: Collected Poems by Eunice de Souza

 

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Until the third year of my undergraduate degree, a lot of my poetry reading was either limited to canon, or to snippets and fragments I had read online. Reading Eunice de Souza’s work was formative for me as a poet and as a literature student not only because of the cultural similarities or her engagements with feminism, but because she spoke of the everyday with an almost unfounded sense of ease. There was this comfort in her navigation of language I hadn’t read before, which is what made her work all the more appealing – that poetry could be soft, simple, and yet impactful. 

 

— Smriti Verma, Poetry Editor

To learn more about our staff, please visit the Masthead page here.

NaNoWriMo: Planning and Execution

November is National Novel Writing Month, affectionately known as NaNoWriMo. It’s a time of year when writers following the conventional rules challenge themselves to write 50,000 words in 30 days, or at least 1,666 words per day. Others use this month to set time-based intentions (e.g. write 1 hour a day for 30 days). Two members of the Inklette team are doing NaNoWriMo this year. Here we’ve shared a little bit about our preparation processes, and what the month looks like for us.


Naomi Day, Blog Editor

This year I’m doing NaNoWriMo with a friend based on the West Coast. Since we are both relatively susceptible to burnout and didn’t spend enough time preparing our projects, we’ve decided to do a time-based (rather than word-based) month. Every day we both spend at least one full hour writing, and then text the other person a summary of how we spent that time. Since I didn’t have the time to properly prep what I was going to be working on, I spent the first day planning out what projects I’ll be working on. I will be spending the rest of the month alternating between planning the outline of a novel I’ve spent the last four years writing and rewriting, and working on a series of short stories set in a shared world. The buddy system helps keep me accountable and gets me excited to share my work with someone who cares about me independent of my productivity, and the hour system allows me enough time to get immersed in a project but isn’t so long it feels unattainable to do daily. I figure I can always take that time away from scrolling Instagram if it starts to feel like I can’t find it elsewhere!

Thus far the challenge has been in finding inspiration when I am between projects. I tend to write when a line pops into my head, or I overhear a bit of dialog that I decide to put in a short story. I have never challenged myself to write regularly when I am not working on a project. So I’ve been pushing myself to find alternate ways to get to the inspiration that keeps me writing for hours at a time. For example, when I have a vague idea what I want to write about but I’m not sure where to start, I pick up a notepad and hand write a conversation between myself and the character I am interested in. Writing by hand is important because the slower pace helps me think through my words more freely, and the conversational style helps me uncover interesting details about my characters that may give me a clue as to where to begin their stories.


Savannah Summerlin, Blog Editor

I’ve always wanted to do Nanowrimo, but balancing the act of writing over 1,500 words a day along with an already heavy load of creative writing homework mandated by my classes always proved to be too much. Having graduated in May, I have a lot less motivation to write, so I figured this might be a good year to give Nanowrimo a go. 

The first thing I did was make a bevy of different folders and document so that I could keep my ideas organized. My story idea involves several different groups of people all from the same family, so it’s vital that I keep them separate. After that I divided the characters I know I’ll need into main, secondary and tertiary characters so I know how much detail I need to go into for them (in an ideal world my tertiary characters would be as detailed as my main characters mais c’est la vie).

Strangely enough, I didn’t have a beginning, middle or end plotted out when I started writing. That aligns with my general writing strategy, if you can call it that: I’ll get an idea for a character or plot point, usually in the middle of the night, and the story starts from there. Because this story has a lot of different main characters who won’t necessarily interact with each other (think “This is Us” but everything is happening on the same timeline), I could have started anywhere. And in theory, at least in these early stages, I can change the ordering of the story components so long as I don’t, for example, put a major holiday in one, rendering the ordering stationary.


To learn more about our staff and read their bios, visit our Masthead page here

In Honor of Black Speculative Fiction & In Response to Naomi Day

BY SAVANNAH SUMMERLIN

In honor of October being Black Speculative Fiction Month and in response to the lovely and informative piece written by Naomi, another Inklette Blog Editor, I’ve decided to try my hand at writing black speculative fiction. Naomi’s piece featured a writing prompt, steps one and two being to write down something that is interesting about the world around me and consider the rules that govern it and the way that exists. The next step is to write an alternate history for whatever I’ve chosen that gives the same end result regarding its use and purpose, but in a different way. I consider myself to be a bit technologically inept, so I decided to reimagine how cell phones and texting came to be:

It’s easy to understand why adults constantly complain about millenials and the cell phones we seem to be unable to live without, but only if you know the history of how their lives were before. It’s not just cell phones that they hate; they despise the very idea of technology made for communication, because they know of a time when it didn’t exist, and didn’t need to. Though they may not have been there to experience it themselves, the stories that have been passed down in their DNA for generations, along with a loathing for the technology today’s age cannot function without.  

Long before the invention of the telephone, humans needed only their minds to communicate, even across long distances. Survival of the fittest truly was the law of the land, and it didn’t take long for humanity as a whole to realize they’d be much better off if they had better communication methods. Humans first discovered they had the gift of telepathy in a small town in South America. Two sisters, Jana and Lucia, swore up and down that they could hear each other’s thoughts at night when they slept, but no one believed them. The pair quickly tired of being ridiculed, so they took it upon themselves to prove their talent. 

For weeks neither Jana or Lucia spoke a word aloud. They spent countless hours each day in silent meditation until finally their father Daniel had had enough of their behavior. He took Lucia by the shoulders and shook her fiercely, demanding she stop her foolishness and speak to him. Lucia chose to communicate in a different manner, and sent her response straight into her father’s mind. It only took a few seconds for Daniel to go from shocked to curious and proud of his daughter’s feat, eager to learn himself. By the next afternoon, the news had spread all over the town, and because Jana and Lucia were excellent teachers, it didn’t take long for many to master the art of telepathy. 

Urged by their desire to spread their gift, Jana and Lucia left their home as soon as their expertise was no longer necessary. They travelled all over South and North America to help anyone who would listen. Lucky for them—and humanity as a whole—they encountered more people eager to learn than not, and in only a few years time, telepathy became the norm. As new generations were born and were taught the craft, humans learned how to send their thoughts further and further than ever before. 

Then along came the Industrial Revolution, and with it trouble for humanity. 

Men and women found themselves bogged down by the stresses of the day, unable to easily communicate with one another across dinner tables and office spaces, let alone send their thoughts to far away relatives. They began to panic; was this the end to life as they knew it? What would society become? They still had their oral language of course—the first humans to learn telepathy had been sure to caution that they mustn’t lose their ability to speak should something happen to their mental gift, and oh, how right they had been—but what of quick long distance communication? How would they survive in a snail-mail run world?

Enter Alexander Graham Bell. Graham Bell invented a middle man to ease the stress telepathy was putting on the humans: instead of sending their thoughts directly to one another, they would use a device to help transmit the signal of their thoughts. Once he’d completed his invention, Graham Bell gave the honor of testing it to a descendant of Jana and Lucia, Deeana. Deeana was already located far from her husband Thomas because of work, and the strain of keeping in touch with him was draining on both their relationship and her mental health. When Deeana picked up a telephone for the first time and heard Thomas on the other end, as clear is if he had sent his thoughts to her from the other side of their shared bed, she nearly wept with relief. Deeana’s seal of approval of the telephone all but guaranteed its success, and soon telepathy was a thing of the past.


SAVANNAH SUMMERLIN is a recent graduate of NYU Gallatin where she made her own major entitled “The Intersection of Arts and Activism.” Yes, it’s as cool as it sounds; no, she doesn’t have any idea what she wants to do with it. In her free time, Savannah enjoys traveling, reading, writing, and binge-watching Netflix original series.

Black Speculative Fiction Month

By Naomi Day


I recently realized we are coming to the end of October without having acknowledged the time of year that celebrates my favorite group of writers! So, here we are: happy Black Speculative Fiction Month!


What is Black Speculative Fiction Month?

Black Speculative Fiction Month, celebrated every October, is a month to commemorate speculative fiction written by and about Black folks. Individuals, libraries, authors, and organizations will often host events centered on Black speculative fiction authors and their work, post book lists highlighting authors writing in this genre, and write extensive articles calling attention to the genre and the wealth of diversity within it for folks who wouldn’t necessarily come across this work otherwise.

 

Why October?

The origin story I know of comes from author, Afroretroism expert, and gamewriter Balogun Ojetade. According to this post, he and author Milton Davis came up with the idea together one June; they chose October because the annual Alien Encounters celebration (formerly a conference for Black speculative and imaginative fiction, film and music and presently a celebration of speculative and imaginative arts) took place in October already, and it just made sense to overlap the two.

I like it because it means there are two distinct times of year to celebrate Black history in different ways: February brings us Black History Month and seven months later, October gives us Black Speculative Fiction Month.

 

Ok, so what actually is Black Speculative Fiction?

The most useful resource for this question, in my opinion, is an article from Marcus Haynes that goes through an extensive set of definitions of Black Speculative Fiction terms. To excerpt from the part that talks specifically about the umbrella term, Black Speculative Fiction refers to texts that force readers to imagine possibilities that do not fit with their present understanding of the world, with a focus on the people and cultures of the African diaspora.

 

Why is it important?

Speculative fiction is important as a genre on its own; it is one that asks us to question why our world is the way it is, and gives us the tools to think differently about changing the parts we don’t like. It helps us understand and refigure our history while we consider the multitude of courses the future could take.

Black speculative fiction does this through the lens of those who are part of the African diaspora (which is why the term “Black” is used—it makes it clear this envisioning includes Africans, African-Americans, Afro-Latin people, and so on). This is critically important because this is a group of people who are often pushed out of the present reality, not to mention excluded from visions of the future. The mere existence of Black people, particularly in America but all across the world, is too often seen as a physical and cultural threat and depicted as being against the norm. Writing Black folks into the future is an act of resistance as well as a call of hope.

And, critically, it isn’t saying that only Black people exist in the future—rather, it speaks to the wondrous and powerful events that can take place when there is a radical diversity of people stretching from now to eternity.

 

I’m in! Who can I check out?

Wonderful questions! You’ll find a short list of authors and their books at the end of this article. It’s a mixture of presently-trending folks with those who may be slightly less well known, with links (via Alibris, a marketplace for independent vendors that is a wonderful alternative to Amazon) to where you can find their books.


Additionally, to get you started on your own speculative fiction project, here’s a prompt I’ve partially adapted from an article about Margaret Atwood’s tips on writing speculative fiction:

Write down something that is interesting about the world presently around you: the dog lying on the sofa; the wooden table whose wood came from central America; the fact that you type with ten fingers (or two, or none). Consider how it came to be—what are the forces that have shaped its life such that it exists as it does? Write an alternate history that would give the same end result, but in a very different manner. For example, the wood of the wooden table was not harvested from trees: rather, the table comes from the second-most-populous species on land, an organism that shapes itself according to what is lacking in a space and will hold that shape for as long as the need is present. Have fun!


Reading list:

 



NAOMI DAY is a queer Black woman who enjoys interrogating the strange ways her mixed-race experience has shaped the way she moves through the world. Nowadays she primarily writes short stories focused on a future that actively and intentionally has Black people in it (a genre otherwise known as Afrofuturism). When she turns her life upside down and shakes hard, interesting things fall out for her to write about. She considers herself a lifetime student and much prefers the nomadic life, finding home in cities from Atlanta to London.