Web Editor’s Note
In “Black Beyond Africa,” our 2016 Fall Fiction prize winning story, Andiswa Maqutu writes about the emotional impact leaving ones home has on the body, both physically and mentally. Zimasa’s (the main character), transition from Africa to Turkey is rife with struggle, with Zimasa facing—for the first time—the radical racism and prejudice that exists outside the boundaries of her homeland.
In “Scaredy Horse,” our online fiction featured piece by author Dana Swift, the transition from home to home takes a different, less political form. In Swift’s story, Kara, is forced to reckon with her new home while simultaneously growing within it. The crux of Swift’s story takes place at the seeming end of her home life: last year of High School, changing relationships, and college looming in the distance. Whereas Maqutu’s Zimasa has been through this stage of her life and moved onto the next, more frightening one, Swift’s Kara is still in the idealistic stage: looking off into the distance and contemplating the simultaneous sorrow and joy that can exist in this transition state.
Both stories are different, dealing with the political and personal respectively, but touch on a similar theme: what, and where, is home? As we crafted issue two of Feminine Inquiry, we found ourselves asking this same question. We wanted to know what form home takes both physically and emotionally. Feminine Inquiry is transitioning too: we’ve had staff members leave to do some amazing stuff (seriously we’re so proud of all of them), some get married, others go to grad school, some get engaged, some start jobs, lose jobs, change jobs, and move states. Throughout it all we’ve tried to give Feminine Inquiry a physical form worth returning to: a safe home worth staying at for a little while.
Truthfully this is what we hope Feminine Inquiry is: a home worth returning to. As we move forward with Issue 2, we’re hoping to explore the finer, more personal, parts of a home. Beyond the Spine’s second issue takes this a step further, giving an individual room to each of our featured writers, in which their stories of growth and change can be shared with everyone. We’ve got a fiction piece by Dana Swift, a poetry piece by David Edwards, and an interview, re-printed, with our contest winner, Andiswa Maqutu. We invite you in, wherever you are, whoever you are: welcome home.
Scaredy Horse Fiction by Dana Swift
I always wanted to know what my last thought on this world would be. I haven’t tried to come up with anything in particular of course, but every now and then I wonder if the whole “life flashes before your eyes” thing actually happens. It would have to be a sudden death to trigger the eye flash thing, right? I mean slow drawn out things like my neighbor, Mr. Vealson’s cancer has time to drain and occupy a man’s thoughts for quite some time. I mean Mr. Vealson got to write all his grandchildren letters and stuff.
Like I said, I haven’t tried to plan anything out. I am in the stupid invincible mindset years of my life or that’s what my dad calls it. But moments before I was flung off of Trudy’s back, I cursed to myself because I didn’t think of my mother or my father or little Sara. I didn’t even produce fumbling mind vomit such as crap I might just die from this. I thought of Daniel Blake.
I can’t say if it was dad or mom in particular that wanted to move out to Montana.I swear they must have just looked at each other and realized they were both thinking the same thing. I guarantee that’s how the two got engaged and eventually married, because dad sure wasn’t going to get down on one knee and mom would have said no if he did anything foolishly stereotypical like that. The pony desire never seemed to have shimmered off me like all the other girls after experiencing long horseback riding summers as a kid, so I was actually fine with the decision. I bargained for a potential horse of my own and the resounding, “we’ll see” felt more tangible than any “where would we put a horse Kara?” It was practically a done deal.
Thus, we were headed to the hills like long lost birds fleeing not the temperature, but the pollution and steamy traffic-filled streets of urban life. My little sister Sara didn’t pitch much of a fit. Her five-year-old fists clenched knowing she might have a problem with this in the long run, but for now her sense of the long term was warped. She put more energy in crying about the hours of driving to the new house than the actual fact of moving.
I wanted a horse something desperate. I helped wash the endless windows of our new home, hoping my sudden transformation to “perfect child” was seen as something more than the scam it really was. I didn’t even vocally upset mom with my opinion of how the new house was just plain weird. Only construction I had ever seen with stone stilts and wooden crossbeams.
I continued my horseback riding lessons from a place down the road called Blake Ranch within the first month of arrival. It wasn’t so much a ranch as constructed stables and pastures with carved mountain trails slinking up the mountains. Behind the building a broad wisp-clouded sky hugged the jagged peaks and stiff grass, all reaching to return the open embrace. The smell of hay, the sound of neighs and the grasp of freedom settled my explosive passion. At last I was near horses. I was near Trudy.
The first time I met Trudy was the first time I met Daniel Blake, so the instant love slashed with the instant contempt marks itself in my memories as too emotionally exhausting to remember completely. I believe Trudy was in the third stall to the right when I walked in and saw her blotchy grey body. We didn’t really share a connection at first; there was no nuzzling or sugar cube bonding. Daniel was grooming her, a summer job he had bartered from his Uncle, as I would come to find out.
The boy, with billions of tiny freckles caught me staring at Trudy’s beautiful grey mane and became startled. He had the whole hand to your heart, wide-eyed expression done pat. “Whoa, how did you get in here?”
“How old is she?” I asked. I could care less if the freckled boy was going to have a heart attack. My mom was naturally more thoughtful, “Sorry, to have startled you. Mr. Blake let us in the front and said to just come on back.”
“Sounds like my Uncle,” he said trying to rub off his fear.
“How old is she?” I asked again.
“Seven.” His voice still quivered.
“Does she jump?”
The ranch became my second home. So much so that Mr. Blake, a kindly gentle man, offered me a summer position. Naturally, I started as soon as possible, but I took the offer to mean his nephew wasn’t doing such a great job. As a 15 year old I couldn’t imagine getting paid and being able to ride on my free days having any drawbacks. But I hadn’t gotten to know Daniel. Daniel Blake was the drawback.
My first encounter with the boy had been a bad first impression that I would not come to reconsider for quite some time (three years to be exact). Although at first, I allowed myself to be wrong. I allowed for Daniel to be a normal, laid back teenager that I thought populated these beautiful mountains. I was wrong. Daniel was skittish and fidgety. And he was pretty terrible with the horses, especially nervous Nellie. Daniel would tread lightly, a soft reaching touch here and there and then literally jump out of his skin when the horses shifted unexpectedly. Imagine putting two scaredy-cats together. Taking care of a horse isn’t like counseling sessions where both individuals can talk out their concerns. A horse responds to your demeanor. I convinced him pretty quickly to let me do all the grooming. It would have been one thing if Daniel were nervous and quiet. I can understand introverts; I mean I was one. But Daniel was some hybrid being, both shy and talkative. He would find me replacing hay and ask all sorts of questions about city life, my family, the move, when I started liking horses. The list went on and on. That summer dragged on in awkward half answers and partial smiles. All I wanted was to work and ride, none of the talking nonsense.
As he became more comfortable with the fact that he could avoid close contact with the large animals he would stand a good ten feet away from Nellie and me, of course still chatting away.
“Are you sure you are doing that right, Kara?”
Nellie rocked her head up, a friendly playful movement. I laughed.
“See, I don’t think she likes it.”
“Nellie is fine,” I said.
“Where did you learn how to do all this stuff again?”
I sighed and like most days ignored his questions. “Blake, one day you will realize horses are not scary at all.”
“Who said I am afraid of horses? Maybe heights just get to me. You could fall and break your neck, you know?”
Suddenly, school was upon us like a bad cold. I tried to fight the back to school shopping so I could ride Trudy for one more day. I think Trudy could sense summer withering away as well. Her black eyes, which seemed extra mournful in late August, could liquefy my heart. Time rolled past me without any respect.
My life revolved around the chance to work at the ranch each summer. I somehow became a different being every June. Unshackling myself from Algebra and World History, I joined the other smiling humans of the world like I had been elected into some secret society.
I became comfortable with Daniel’s pesky conversations. I secretly enjoyed them after a while. He would ask about a certain teacher and after I said a few words noting my distaste he would join in on the crusade against teaching styles and protocol. Ok, so the guy grew on me.
I felt like Daniel would never change until one day without me noticing he did. Which annoyed the heck out of me because I like to think of myself as observant. He ventured off to Florida the summer between our junior and senior year and he came back five inches taller and three feet more confident. He started to date a cheerleader and bring her around the stables. Trudy was her favorite horse, which for no other reason than pure jealousy pissed me off. Slowly, Daniel had transformed from someone afraid of horses, to the horse whisperer, helping Amy (the bimbo cheerleader) saddle Trudy like some kind of expert. Actually, he worked with Trudy just like me. He was not just stealing my favorite horse – he was stealing my moves, my kisses and pats on her strong neck.
I had to confront him. An unusual occurrence because normally at school our language of acknowledgment had been reduced to head nods. I decided to corner him at his locker.
“What gives, Blake?”
“Hey, Kara. What up?”
What up? Who was this person?
“Your girlfriend always going to be at the stables, monopolizing… everything?”
“Everything? Come on Kara. She is just another customer. You just sound jealous.”
“I am not jealous of that… girl.” Gosh, I was really bad at this.
“Amy is not going to hurt Trudy if that is what you are worried about. We are just doing the tourist routes. You are the one who makes her jump all over the place.”
I scoffed. He was trying to spin this off on me. “Trudy loves to jump.”
“Just saying. Amy is fine taking her out. I can help with anything that comes up on the trail.”
“Ok, fine. Glad we got that cleared up then.” He did one of his little lopsided smiles.
Obviously, I was a complete failure at any expression of true feeling because suddenly from what felt like out of nowhere I started to be not just jealous that Amy was using my horse, but using my Daniel Blake. He was supposed to annoy the heck of me, to criticize my grooming tactics ten feet away from any hooves or teeth, to let me unload about Mrs. Perkins’ unbelievably difficult English assignment. Sounds truly unbelievable, but I liked him. I really liked him.
I only had to grapple with my emotional turmoil for three weeks before Amy broke it off with Daniel. Then it was “she didn’t even put the brushes back properly” rant after rant. I hid any of my vulnerable emotional stuff amongst our venting. I was now labeled as the “saw the breakup coming” friend who could understand her true craziness. Truth was I hardly knew the girl when I really thought about it. But it was only right for me to join him in the campaign against her. I mean he had done that for me countless times.
He and all his freckles were available, yet I couldn’t get the courage to say or do anything. Graduation approached and the prospect of college looming in the future stalled any thought of pursuing him. Even the phrase, pursuing him, made me cringe. I had friend zoned myself four years ago and now I was supposed to just bulldoze the wall I had built? I needed a bouncer like at those nightclubs to give me a solid accepted nod and say “this way in”. We had only one last summer at the stables together. I was headed off to Montana State University to hopefully become a vet and he still hadn’t decided. My innards were twisted up like a rope. To distract myself I did what I always did. I rode out on the trails, nothing but the sun, the sky and the mountains to hear my racing anxious heart. I was literally galloping away from the panic inducing sensation of stumbling over my words after running into him at the stables. I started to ride Trudy more than ever and taught her more jumps. I would nudge her into a trot then enter a fast gallop. I was flying, flying, flying.
I think it was a snake or something on the ground that startled her. Something scared her that I couldn’t even see. Then I was literally flying and falling. And I thought of Daniel Blake. I thought in my last second that I hadn’t even told Daniel that I loved him.
I awoke to florescent lights blinding my pupils and whiteness blanketing the walls and sheets.Dad was the first one I saw. A tear ran down his check and he hurried to wake Mom and Sara, who lay asleep in the hallways outside. After many loving “thank goodness you are awake” came the berating “what were you thinking?”
Then Daniel Blake came into view. My whole body became stiff, and I don’t think it was from the prolonged bed rest.
“Hey.” I sat up an inch taller.
“Hey,” he replied. He paused and then broke down, “Thank God you are alright. I was so scared.” He looked at me with such concern. All his freckled were gazing at me. And all I could do was smile.
Dana Swift is a senior at the University of Texas at Austin, where she
majors in English and Advertising. She belongs to the UT Fencing Club
and Gamma Beta Phi, an honor society. Her loves include reading,
creative writing and traveling. Recently, she has enjoyed creating
fictional short stories and is honored to have her work presented in
Find her on Twitter @swift_dana.
Interview with Andiswa Onke Maqutu Our 2016 Fiction Prize Winner
I’ve been so proud to continue curating and editing material for Feminine Inquiry. Last issue we had a lot of talent local to us in Austin, but this issue, opening our Fall 2015 Fiction Contest, we had a wave of submissions from all over the country and beyond, with the winner of our Fall 2015 Fiction Contest hailing from South Africa.
Andiswa’s story “Black Beyond Africa” was a unanimous “yes” from all of Feminine Inquiry’s readers and editors. I can’t wait for our readers to take in her poignant story–but until then, I want to formally introduce Andiswa (as she’s pretty damn awesome/impressive/inspiring).
Note: in respect to the fact that the English language is diverse and exists beyond the United States, we’ve edited this article with the regional spelling of South Africa in mind.
FI: How long have you been writing and why do you write?
AOM: I have been writing since I was in grade one. My mother would tell us (my brother and I) Xhosa bedtime stories and other fairytales like Little Red Riding Hood, and the next day I would write out those stories and re-tell them to my parents.
My mother would adapt the European fairytales to our Xhosa environment; Little Red Riding Hood would be Andiswa or another Xhosa girl like me, the Big Bad Wolf was the Zim-Zim she said would come out at night after curfew, and grandma was my Makhulu.
At a young age, my mother taught me the art of telling my own stories about people who looked like me. I sometimes ask her to tell me those stories again even now that I am older.
I am twenty-six, but each time my grade two teacher sees me, she reminds me of a story I wrote for her then; I must have been about eight years old. It really warms my heart that she still remembers my story and has kept it for so long.
In high school, I discovered poetry through a friend of mine who was a performance poet. And I started to write my own poetry and fell in love with the form because I felt I could express my new deepest adolescent feelings through poetry.
I still feel that way about poetry; I think it is powerful for releasing feelings but also for prophesying and commenting on the times we are in or to come, especially in a country like South Africa with a vibrant and active youth.
In university I re-discovered the short story through the offering in the libraries we had and I began writing more short stories, and mixing them with my poetry. Right now, I am in a phase where I am in love with the short story.
FI: I saw you have an anthology of short stories titled, Black Women Be Like. Can you tell us a little more about that?
AOM: I love the short story form. I specifically enjoy reading and writing stories about black African women.
However, I felt and still feel that black women are often written about and presented in ways that follow certain stereotypes.
And feminist psychologist and researcher Dr Carolyne West in her paper Mammy, Jezebel, Sapphire and Their Homegirls lays out the various ways black women are stereotyped in American media and branding, and those stereotypes are similar to those of African women in our own media and creative literature.
In African literature there is the struggling grandmother (Mammy) raising her many grandchildren and dishing out pearls of wisdom or curses to strangers, there is the Jezebel who sleeps with army generals and government officials for money, and there is the educated black woman who has no regard or respect for her relatives because of her wealth and education.
It all reads as though no matter what the case, the black woman is cursed or a curse.
While a lot of those stories may depict the lived reality of many black women on our continent, nuance is necessary. Because, when there is no nuance, it becomes a publishing trope, and people begin to question or judge any other depiction of a black African woman that moves away from the trope as being “not realistic,” as if black women can only fit a few moulds.
I wrote the anthology after I had done a bit of traveling last year and became aware of how I was perceived and accepted or rejected in different countries as a black African woman.
I wanted to present all the different black women I had come to see over my life and to be one of the writers that add that nuance to the African women story.
The anthology has various short stories that explore the experience of being a wealthy black woman in South Africa and how that is perceived; raising children as a middle class woman and what we lose as black people to Western culture. It looks at black women as role models and the beauty and struggles faced by lesbian love in the country.
I chose to self-publish because I wanted to feel free and uncensored the first time I published a body of work that was true to my vision for myself and African literary works about African women.
Racism is still rife in South Africa contrary to popular belief and mainstream media reporting, and the fight against this is being lead largely by young black women. And we refuse to separate the fight against racism from that against patriarchy and homophobia.
FI: You’ve said you’re passionate about the stories of black African women living in Africa; what can you tell us about African feminism and how you’re participating in the movement?
AOM: African feminism is not a new concept. We have many examples of African feminists dating centuries back and even in the development of our own modern and advanced civilisation systems as Africans.
Often, the black feminist movement has been lead, at least in the mainstream, by black American feminists. However, we are realising now some of the ways our experiences (as African feminists and black American feminists) are familiar and different because of our lived environments, cultures and belief systems that we subscribe to or are fighting against.
So there is opportunity for collaborated effort but African feminists are also addressing African women, men and society.
It is important for us to tell our own stories and to lead our own changes. And so, what I think is happening is that young African feminists are taking up platforms and in some cases building and starting their own to contribute to the movement.
Racism is still rife in South Africa contrary to popular belief and mainstream media reporting, and the fight against this is being lead largely by young black women. And we refuse to separate the fight against racism from that against patriarchy and homophobia.
So my contribution is to build my own platforms that address these issues. And I am one of many.
I started a podcast, Black Women Be Like Podcast, which is a weekly show where different black African women from across the continent discuss feminism, colourism, our careers, music and all thing black African women on a platform that allows us to be ourselves and tell the nuanced story about black African women.
I also curate a chain story every two weeks called #FinishTheStoryFriday, which is a partnership between Black Women Be Like and Kenyan publisher Storymoja. Every second Friday, a different woman from a different country in a region of the African continent that we are celebrating, contributes to the continuing chain story.
We have concluded the Southern Africa and East Africa series of #FinishTheStoryAfrica. We are currently publishing the West Africa series which will be concluded at the end of October, and then in November, I will be getting stories for a chain story from women in Central Africa.
I also believe I am a feminist in my writing and I try to present nuanced images of black African women in my short stories.
FI: What female or non-binary African writers or artists have inspired you, or are currently inspiring you? Who should we be reading?
AOM: Rayda Jacobs, a South African writer and filmmaker, is my favourite writer because she was the first writer I read who showed me how a woman of colour and protagonist’s story can be told. I discovered her in university and I spent hours sitting on the library floor reading her books because I could not wait to go home to read her stories.
Her characters had human and internal conflicts. They were not perfect; the worlds they lived in were not perfect and they often lived secret lives but they could be strong and demanding as well. I found myself both uncomfortable and seeing the women I had seen around me when I read Eyes of the Sky, Confessions of a Gambler, Sachs Street and Postcards from South Africa. There were these human women in love and fighting for their conflicted imperfect selves, in worlds that sometimes confined them or released them or they fought against.
I love Nigerian author and playwright, Sefi Atta, because she has taught me how to write effortless feminism-although I am still learning and am also wondering if that was her intention.
At times I feel she writes black African women as they should have been had there been no patriarchy and racism even though they are placed in that system.
A friend and I were talking about Sefi Atta and her works Swallow, A Bit of Difference and Everything Good Will Come and we said her woman characters just do what they want to do, even sexually and in contexts where culture normally culture would prevail. I think they are the kind of women, who with the little they have, brought cultural evolution.
I also enjoy Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Bessie Head, Tsitsi Dangarembga.
I love reading Caine Prize winners Namwali Serpell and Okwiri Oduor because they are able to write in so much detail in their writing without trying too hard to the point of making every sentence bring familiar images and feelings. When I read them my brain is alive and all my senses are awakened to when they might be called upon by a sentence to feel something or be somewhere in the story.
I believe a lot of that self-hate we as black women have for our darker skin tones and features comes from white beauty standards, where women who show beauty that is closer to whiteness: whiter or lighter skin, sharper or longer noses, smaller lips, are viewed as being more beautiful.
FI: Tell us about your story, Black Beyond Africa, and how you came to write it.
AOM: Black Beyond Africa is one of a number of stories I wrote when I did some travelling last year. I had been to Nigeria , Mozambique , China and Turkey and experienced the various ways I was received as a black woman.
In Nigeria I experienced what we call black-on-black racism and colourism, where I was viewed more favourably or as being more beautiful than other African women because I am South African. I did not feel comfortable with that, not only because it is not true, but also because I felt the compliments came from a place of self-hate.
I believe a lot of that self-hate we as black women have for our darker skin tones and features comes from white beauty standards, where women who show beauty that is closer to whiteness: whiter or lighter skin, sharper or longer noses, smaller lips, are viewed as being more beautiful. To the point that images of women like Serena Williams, Beyonce, Kerry Washington and in South Africa, Pearl Thusi, are photo-shopped to meet those standards.
In China people were curious about my hair and my skin colour. I was stared at quite a bit and people would either ask to take pictures with me or steal pictures of me when I was not looking. And I had mixed feeling about that experience.
In Turkey I experienced racism, the stares were antagonistic–I was followed to the beach by a man who made monkey gestures behind me and a group of men made sexual comments about my being black.
At the airport I was treated quite badly because I am a black African woman and how I looked. I wrote the story to process the sadness and loneliness I was feeling at the time. And I think it’s a feeling many women experience until it just turns to anger at yourself and then you realise nothing is wrong with you, and then the anger turns to the perpetrators. Until you really just don’t care what racist people are reasoning, all that matters is that they are wrong. And that is what the story communicates.
FI: What are your current projects and what’s next for you?
AOM: I am working on the Black Women Be Like Podcasts to make it a truly Pan-African podcast for women on the continent and in the Diaspora.
I am curating the last part of the West African series for #FinishTheStoryFriday and in November we will begin with the Central Africa series. An e-book of all the stories will be released at the end of the year by Storymoja and Black Women Be Like.
My story, The Demon on His Back, has just been published in the Killens Review of Arts and Letters of the Centre for Black Studies at the City University of New York.
I have just finished another anthology of 12 short stories that I have submitted for review with publishers.
I am working on my first novel which I hope to finish next year while doing my Honours in Creative Writing at Wits University in South Africa.
And I continue to write all the stories in my head.
Follow Andiswa and all her rad podcasts, social medias and creations:
Founder and Author: Black Women Be Like
Οytic Poetry by David Edwards
To inhabit the middle space between bodies;
To interchange between being one
Or the other.
To feel one’s other body
Being doesn’t lend itself
Which body is your body.
One simply is.
One simply knows.
David Edwards is a senior at the University of Texas at Austin studying English and History. He was born in Wytheville, VA, but has lived in most of the Deep South states at some point in his life. He grew up in a very conservative, fundamentalist Christian family of three sisters and a single mother. The difficult living and family situation led to his developing an independent and inquisitive mind and a fondness for reading. He is deeply indebted to the love and support of his friends and (more recently) family members.