A word from mentoring ed, Helen Moffett. And a gift from SSDA!

It’s the shortest day of the year in the southern hemisphere, and that makes us think of Short Story Day Africa’s roots, and how it’s bloomed and transmuted since its beginnings. It was prompted by a UK magazine editor’s request that writer and SSDA founder Rachel Zadok set up a national short story event in South Africa. At first, the efforts of a small handful of volunteers were restricted to South, then Southern Africa – but within two years, SSDA was getting requests – and offers – from a variety of voices across the continent. Our needs for a short story platform – one that offered publishing, editing, news, debate, training – were very different to those of writers in the northern hemisphere.

Yet there are traces of our beginnings not only in the name of the organisation, a registered non-profit, but in the number of stories chosen each year for our annual SSDA anthology – in case you ever wondered why we publish a longlist of twenty-one stories.

There are several things that make us different in the often tenuous but always exciting and febrile world of African indie publishing, but to celebrate this shortest day, our winter solstice, I’m going to write about something warming. One of the rare things we’ve always been able to offer our authors and contributors is in-depth editing. And this has gone from being something implicit to something we’re focusing on more overtly and formally, with our Editing Mentorship programme now in its third year.

Here we use the anthology editing process to train and mentor young up-and-coming editors working in and for anglophone African publishing outfits. I’ve been the Editing Mentor for the last three years, this year with the stalwart support of experienced and award-winning author Karen Jennings, and it’s been enormously satisfying to see Editing Fellows Bongani Kona (Zimbabwe/South Africa), Efemia Chela (Zambia/South Africa), Otieno Owino (Kenya), Nebila Abdulmelik (Ethiopia), Anne Moraa (Kenya), Ope Adedeji (Nigeria) and Agazit Abate (Ethiopia) develop their editing skills and go on, in many cases, to take these to indie publishing houses and platforms across the continent, as well as other creative and academic projects (some of which are deliciously subversive). We’re so proud of them. But working with gifted young editors is only part of what makes this such a rewarding process. The long-lasting joy, for me anyway, comes from working with the writers.

Editing, it must be said, is not for the faint-hearted. It involves erasing one’s own voice to honour the voice of the story (which itself is not always quite the same thing as the author’s voice). Yet it also involves the courage to stand one’s ground, the diplomacy to negotiate that ground, an ability to see the broader picture, to envisage all the potential ripples spreading out – and in many African countries, this means considering not just literary merits but the political and moral implications of a piece of writing.

In an interaction that by default is hierarchical and “critical”, the editor (especially if she’s a white South African, like me) constantly has to reach for the touchstone of decolonial thinking and practice. Working across the continent means holding my own (often embarrassing) ignorance of the context and history shaping an author’s story in balance with the specific and specialist editing experience and information I can offer. How do we both honour this process? This can only be done by building a relationship, no matter how fleeting. I have to earn the author’s trust, and if I had to boil it down to one principle, it’s taking the author’s words absolutely seriously. No indifferent editor is a good editor. You have to care about the story almost as much as its creator does.

This sounds all very serious. I’m writing this today, as icy winds tug at my doors and the sky darkens, to tell you that editing – and especially editing the SSDA anthologies – is also fun. Huge fun. So much fun, you can’t imagine. That fleeting relationship with your author might be brief, but it’s often deep and intense. It becomes playful and serious. There is pushback and feelings get hurt. It involves coaxing and laughter and amazing trust and mutual respect. The magic is that these interactions are with people you have never met, and may never meet. When that mutual energy crackles across the vastness and multiplicity of the African continent, it’s truly special.

The first time Bongani Kona and I ever worked on a story by the dazzlingly talented Tochukwu Okafor (for the Migrations SSDA anthology), he wrote of the “pleasant horror” with which he opened the file to see a sea of red cyber-ink. (The following year, he was the winner for his story in the ID anthology, and now he’s shortlisted for the Caine Prize, and we are so thrilled for him, we’re floating like balloons.) So sometimes these short and intense relationships stretch ahead into the future, and our paths recross in interesting and constructive ways. We write references for fellowships and Creative Writing MA programmes, for writer’s residencies, jobs in publishing – and celebrate when writers get these. We’re asked for advice, and we’re given advice. We see authors we’ve published, sometimes for the first time, go on to light up the sky.

And sometimes, our authors reflect on the editing process, and sometimes the relationships are honest and durable enough – even after only a few weeks – for them to tease us. As we’ve wound up the editing for our current anthology, Hotel Africa, Cameroon author Nkiacha Atemnkeng grew a little restive when we asked him to rework to tight deadlines – and I was then a day late in returning final edits I’d promised him. He made my day when he penned me this ode as a result:

Helen the charmer

A chiseller. A butcher!

Vulture picking at meat

Killing my darlings

Story’s a torrid red mess

Beautiful horror. Pain.

Pleasure. Lessons. Finesse.

Morphs into solace mood

Such a lovely charmer!

Where’s the story?

I don’t have it yet

Hectic, but the story...

My Helen the charmer

I'm the African king cobra

Swaying, left, right, left,

To the tune of the flute

Of my snake charmer.

This is an emblem of the many wonderful interactions I’ve had with a range of fascinating and talented writers from dozens of different African countries in the last few years. So this mid-winter day, I have a warm glow: thank you to every author who’s ever entrusted me with their work, and especially those of you whose only connection with me is through a modem, most especially the SSDA authors. You keep me humble and you give me joy. And in Nkiacha’s case, a great big belly-laugh.

Helen Moffett


A Gift from SSDA

For the next five days (from 22 June – 26 June) ID: New Short Fiction from Africa will be available for free* from Amazon!

Click here to go Amazon and get your copy!

Or, if Amazon is giving you a hard time, click here.

*Gift is available as an ebook from Amazon in African territories only.

If you enjoy the gift, please return to Amazon and leave us a review or rating.

Short Story Day Africa is a non-profit organisation that relies on donations from readers, writers and businesses. If you’d like to help, click here.

Hotel Africa: The 2018 Short Story day Africa Prize Longlist


[Originally announced exclusively on The Johannesburg Review of Books]

The longlist for the Short Story Day Africa Prize for Short Fiction has been announced.

The prize was founded in 2013, and is open to any African citizen or African person living in the diaspora.

SSDA awards prize money of US$800 (about R11,000) for first place, $200 for second place, and $100 for third place. The previous winners of the prize are Tochukwu Emmanuel Okafor, Sibongile Fisher, Cat Hellisen, Diane Awerbuck and Okwiri Oduor.

This year’s prize theme is ‘Hotel Africa’ .

The resulting anthology from the longlisted entries, Hotel Africa: New Short Fiction from Africa, will be edited by Helen Moffett, who will select three editing fellows to work alongside her as part of the SSDA/Worldreader Editing Mentorship, now in its third year.

‘This year’s longlist was particularly difficult to decide’, SSDA Executive Editor Rachel Zadok says. ‘Like last year, the slushpile was read by a team of professional editors with an eye on development, so that no talent, no matter how raw, was overlooked. Instead of looking simply to the most polished stories to make up the list, we looked at the originality of the story. We looked for that sparkle in a writer’s voice that’s almost impossible to define, but when you see it, it creates a buzz in your brain. Of course, this doesn’t mean that there are no polished writers on the list, just that the playing field was more equal. The stories on the longlist each explore the theme in unique and fascinating ways.

‘We’re pleased to see that quite a few stories come from writers who attended the Flow Workshops, and that writers who have previously been longlisted and have participated in Flow Workshops and the Development Editing Process, like Harriet Anena and Lester Walbrugh, have come so far in their storytelling. They’ve gone from “good” to ‘”wow, fantastic!”

‘We’re also seeing a greater number of stories from previously under-represented countries. It’s wonderful to be publishing writers like Adam El Shalakany from Egypt, who has entered the SSDA Prize in the past but has never been placed. His story “Happy City Hotel” was one of the unanimous decisions, of which there were only six out of the twenty-one. After months of reading, which culminated in three and a half hours of deliberation, arguing and tears, each of us walked away a little heartbroken for the favourites we had to sacrifice. So to the writers who didn’t make the list this year: don’t give up. We’ve got our eyes on you.

‘We want to extend express thanks to our sponsors, the Goethe-Institut, the Miles Morland Foundation, Worldreader and the Beit Trust, and our publishing partner New Internationalist.’

Congratulations to the twenty-one long listed writers!

The 2018 Short Story Day Africa longlist

  • ‘The Satans Inside My Jimmy’ by Harriet Anena (Uganda)

  • ‘The Jollof Cook-off’ by Nkiacha Atemnkeng (Cameroon)

  • ‘The Last Resident’ by Jayne Bauling (South Africa)

  • ‘Mr Thompson’ by Noel Cheruto (Kenya)

  • ‘The Layover’ by Anna Degenaar (South Africa)

  • ‘A Miracle In Valhalla’ by Nnamdi Fred (Nigeria)

  • ‘Of Birds and Bees’ by Davina Kawuma (Uganda)

  • ‘Maintenance Check’ by Alinafe Malonje (Malawi)

  • ‘Why Don’t You Live in the North?’ by Wamuwi Mbao (South Africa)

  • ‘Slow Road to the Winburg Hotel’ by Paul Morris (South Africa)

  • ‘The Snore Monitor’ by Chido Muchemwa (Zimbabwe)

  • ‘Outside Riad Dahab’ by Chourouq Nasri (Morocco)

  • ‘Broken English’ by Adorah Nworah (Nigeria)

  • ‘Queens’ Children’s Little Feet’ by Godwin Oghenero Estella (Nigeria)

  • ‘Door of No Return’ by Natasha Omokhodion-Banda (Zambia)

  • ‘An Abundance of Lies’ by Faith Oneya (Kenya)

  • ‘The Match’ by Troy Onyango (Kenya)

  • ‘Supping at the Fountain of Lethe’ by Bryony Rheam (Zimbabwe)

  • ‘Happy City Hotel’ by Adam El Shalakany (Egypt)

  • ‘The Space(s) Between Us’ by Lester Walbrugh (South Africa)

  • ‘Shithole’ by Michael Yee (South Africa)