Moses Kilolo is the Managing Editor of Jalada, a Pan-African Writers’ collective that is a fast rising African fiction publishing stop. He spoke to us about literary happenings on the continent.
Tiah: You are the editor of Jalada. Could you tell us more about what inspired this project and what it hopes to achieve (other than provide the world with cool shorts)?
Moses: Before June 2013, I existed in my safe corner as a writer, visiting the library almost every day to read exciting African, American, Indian and British historical fiction. I also wrote my self-assumed ground breaking pieces of literature, in reality struggling imitations of those enviable masterpieces.
Then one day I got an email from Kwani Trust, inviting me to a workshop at the British council in Nairobi during the Nairobi Literary week. It was the first workshop I ever attended, so I was excited about going to meet Ellah Allfrey and two of the best of Young British authors, Nadifa Mohammed and Adam Foulds. Safe to say I was armed with the masterpieces from my closeted writing. But what struck me the most during that workshop was the group I met, of young writers from Kenya, Zimbambwe, South Africa, Nigeria and Uganda. Each so brilliant and passionate about the written word I began to wonder what cocoon I’d been living in. From each one of them I learnt different ways of reading, of writing, of living, and of thinking about all the above. And it was an almost immediate attachment to these free spirited creatives who would soon become a very special Collective. But the workshop was three days only, and there was a collective feeling that we should stay in touch beyond the workshop days. The name Jalada was quickly suggested.
The beginnings of Jalada were much like that, not fully formed, but beginnings with promise and passion. Okwiri Oduor formed a Google Group so that we could all talk about stuff of interest to ourselves. And conversations centred on supporting each other’s work, by encouraging, editing, and giving each other feedback. The first anthology was privately curated, with the call only sent to these members, but after it was out, friends and writers from all over the continent wanted to participate in the project. And something new, or existing but shaped anew happened to African literature, the power of the Collective.
In the future we hope to have print editions, host writers in a Jalada House for short term Jalada fellowship, run a festival and mentor younger writers. We also recently started the Jalada conversations, which will give an in-depth view into the lives and writing processes of the greatest writers we have on the continent.
Tiah: Billy Kahora, editor of Kwani?, has spoken about his frustration with "the dearth of honest voice"? Is that an issue in African speculative fiction?
Moses: African speculative fiction still has a long way to go. I hope for a time when we have people dedicating themselves primarily to the exploration of the possibilities in this genre. People who live or have lived here long enough and understand Africa from their lived experiences, and can therefore create works that are grounded on our realities. The impact of that kind of speculative fiction in shaping our perception of possible worlds can be truly great. We also need more spaces that allow these voices to be heard, and in that encourage them to go deeper in the form.
Tiah: As an editor, what is the most common shortcoming found in submissions?
Moses: It’s annoying when people don’t read instructions. Basic things like including a brief biography, attaching your submission in the requested form, and proof reading what you have written. We also have people email in a submission into which they have copied other magazines, like shooting in the dark hoping to catch something whose shape or purpose they have no clue. It helps to read the guidelines, at least.
Second, when one is preoccupied with theme they forget what story they want to tell, or end up writing things that clearly struggle to be what they aren’t. And editors want to read stories that present a unique interpretation, something that challenges their reading of stories and shows the writers’ in depth appreciation of their prompt.
Tiah: Do you find your work at Jalada eats into your ability to create your own words? Or have you found a balance between editor and writer?
Moses: Achieving objectivity when I am already emotionally invested in the process as an editor is not easy. And the kind of emotional investment involved might be more burdensome than the actual work itself. It calls for long moments of thinking, of strategizing, of figuring out how and when things are to be done, of dealing with so many other creatives of varying temperaments. Time that would have been spend on writing a story is lost. Sometimes it’s hard to invest enough energy in developing a story in your head, when that head is already occupied by questions of whether the Collective is functioning as it should or not.
However, the beauty of the collective process is that I do not do all the work by myself. Our very supportive editorial team is eager to know what we have received, and they will read and provide feedback quickly enough. Overseeing the process, discussing with fellow editors about the submissions and talking to writers may eat into my time and leave little for my own creative work, but if I feel anything is getting beyond what I can handle, I always delegate. And the amazing Novuyo Rosa Tshuma, our Deputy Editor, has been very supportive as we oversee the project and provide a sense of direction to fellow editors.
So if I am not writing, it is more because of my own laziness.
Tiah: What is going right in the African literary landscape?
Moses: I attended this year’s Writivism festival, and one of the things I picked up is the energy with which writers from across the continent are promoting and encouraging writing that is home grown.
What we are doing in Jalada is to offer a warm and welcoming space for all writers anywhere in Africa, though we do not lockout those in the diaspora. We not only publish these writers, but through the editorial process they form connections with members of our Collective, and beneficial relationships that go beyond the anthologies we do are formed.
Writivism and Short story Day Africa are doing amazing work in organising workshops and competitions, and there is an upsurge of creative energy. And this is happening in so many other spaces, Saraba has been publishing amazing issues, and we have bloggers like Jalada’s Nyana Kakoma who have established a niche of their own.
Perhaps what is most exciting for me is the consistent effort to bridge the gap between the Anglophone and Francophone and perhaps the Lusophone African literary spaces. For a long while we have barely known what is happening in countries like the Congo or Côte d'Ivoire. Except for the prominent voices who have been translated into English. Now we have a generation of writers saying that we can do collaborative projects and unite in so many ways, bringing everyone together to celebrate and nurture the rich literary resources we have as a continent, regardless of region or language.
On Moses' Bedside Table
Dust – I go back to this book all the time, feeling that there is far too much depth and riches in it that a single reading would never suffice. It is the most important Kenyan work of fiction, and will become one of our classic works for many decades to come.
Clinical Blues – Helps to get some inspiration, and when work is becoming too much, I turn to this wonderful book of poetry by my friend Dami Ajayi. He has love poems and bedroom reflections, which I like, but there is the hospital poems that remind me of the dream I had as a child, of being a doctor. And how that dream changed, and all I want to do is lazy around at the balcony in a reclining chair and read all day, then write a little late into the night.
Moses Kilolo is the Managing Editor of Jalada, a Pan-African Writers’ collective that is a fast rising African fiction publishing stop. In 2013 he attended the Kwani?-Granta Fiction Workshop held at the British council in Nairobi from where Jalada was born, and has since been a part of other fiction writing residencies. He is also a freelance journalist working from Nairobi, Kenya. His fiction and poetry has appeared in Kwani?, Storymoja and Poetry Portion among others. Moses is currently working on a collection of short stories.