Our assistant editor, Uchenna Emelife, posed five questions to all the authors shortlisted for the 2023 edition of the Isele Prizes. The questions stretch from their writing processes, to the themes they are most drawn to, their inspirations, and more.
See Yvonne Kusiima’s responses below. Also, read her short story, “Weaving”.
Uchenna Emelife: Could you talk about your shortlisted short story, its writing process, and what informed it?
Yvonne Kusiima: Thank you, Uchenna. When you weave, you form things by lacing together strands of material of various kinds. The materials used give you some insight into the social and economic position of the Weaver. In my story, they are using plastic straws, fighting to provide for themselves. Also, there is the aspect of weaving as story telling. Since way back, some people have been weaving their stories into textiles. In my story, Thomasina’s mat says a lot. The colors she uses, the hard work put into it, her relationship with her grandmother and her sister and her experience with Samson. I also like that in the end, she remembers who she is, a human being intricately woven by the highest power. She is not less beautiful or less pure. She is an overcomer. I have read a lot about defilement. So with Weaving, I’m championing children’s rights.
UE: How do you tell a work is ready to meet the world?
YK: I tell a work is ready to meet the world when I have put all I can put into it.
UE: What does writing mean to you?
YK: Writing allows my personality to shine. What I have written is mine. You could express yourself through your style and someone copies your exact outfit. Someone can’t use my exact words to tell their story. Writing allows me to say what I want to say freely. Also, writing let’s me dream big and believe big. As a girl, I read so many novels and I admired that people like Charles Dickens could you know, write stories and be so great at it and be so successful and I decided I wanted to write stories and be so successful doing it and I have held on to that. After “Weaving” was published, I found a German proverb: Begin weaving and God will give you the thread. I love that.
UE: If you could only write about one thing, what would you write about and why?
YK: I’m currently writing about social issues, but what I love about writing is that I can write about so many things.
UE: Whose works speak to you? Why? And how do they do that?
YK: There are many but I have to talk about these ones: Charles Dickens, because of the sociological dimension of his work. His empathy. Jamaica Kincaid; I love that her style is unique. I think her short story, “Girl”, is the best thing I’ve ever read. Franz Kafka because he wrote freely. Gabriel Garcia Marquez said when he read the “Metamorphosis” by Kafka, he began writing immediately. When I read “Girl” by Jamaica Kincaid, I felt so happy that I’m writing how I want to write. I don’t think there are many stories that have been narrated in the same manner as “Weaving”.
About the Authors:
Uchenna Emelife: Uchenna Emelife is a literary curator, an arts administrator, a bookseller, and a human rights advocate. He is the co-founder and creative director of Book O’clock — a literary platform in Sokoto that hosts a literary blog, book clubs, and a bookstore. In 2021, he co-curated the first Book and Arts Festival in Sokoto and was nominated as Mediapreneur of the Year in the Founder of the Year Awards. Uchenna Emelife is as well an advocate for Child Rights, Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights, and anti-Sexual and Gender-based Violence. As a fellow of the African Youth Adolescent Network (AfriYAN), he has been contracted for various virtual campaigns to support the cause by Education as a Vaccine and United Nations Population Fund (UNPA).
Yvonne Kusiima is a writer from Kampala, Uganda whose work appears in African Writer Magazine, Isele, Kalahari Review, Brittle Paper and elsewhere. She is currently at work on a short story collection.