Loud Poets, Edinburgh, April 2014
Anne Moraa is an editor at Jalada, a Pan African Collective producing quality work on the continent. She is a poet and spoken word performer, and creates comic books for ZanaAfrica for a living. She spoke to us about her working processes and what she sees happening in Lit Africa.
Tiah: You are a poet. There are written poems and spoken word performances, some of which are described to use 'audio and visual elements.' When creating a poem, does the method of writing and composing alter with the intended presentation? What I mean is, do some forms of your work have you reaching for paper and pen, others the computer and so on?
ANNE: Reading “You are a poet” is so strange to me because I am still finding out what kind of writer, artist I am. In general, whatever form a piece takes, I tend to type first drafts because I type faster than I write, and my handwriting looks like the claw marks of a cat being dragged forcefully through sand. When editing however, writing by hand forces me to slow down and consider each work more carefully. Even with longer pieces, physical paper and pen makes it easier to see my mistakes. The only exception is when I’m free writing, just sitting in a corner observing, taking note. Most of that is handwritten and may never see the light of day. It’s exercise, like stretching before a run.
What matters most is content. Whether written by hand or typed, the words must be good. I began with spoken word, explored using video/ music as part of (as opposed to in aid to) the performance, and I’m (attempting) to create pieces that read as well on paper as on stage. Reading works from poets here like Clifton Gachagua, Michael Onsando and Abigail Arunga, I just keep my fingers crossed. Maybe one day, I too will declare myself a poet.
Tiah: Tell us about Kike Tele. I see it has recently staged a play, "They Say / I am" written by yourself.
ANNE: We did, last year. I worked with an amazing filmmaker and writer, Mwende Ngao, on the play over the course of the year. KikeTele was created as a platform for women to speak to each other, a safe creative space if you will, to counter mass media misogyny. Our first major project was the play which I worked on while studying, and Mwende directed and cast the play with a set of talented actresses. The play explored the standard tropes of womanhood (housewife, victim and so on) and characterised them, giving them personality beyond their expected limits. It was well received and we may stage it again after some re-working. Playwriting is so challenging, I mean it was insane, but it was definitely worth the effort.
Tiah: You are an editor at Jalada, you've worked with Kwani? and are currently developing comics at ZanaAfrica. As such, you have a unique perspective into the African writing scene. What do you see going right on the scene.
ANNE: I personally get overwhelmed with the sheer number of voices begging to be heard. I was at Kwani? during the launch of the Manuscript prize and there were over 200 submissions. Yes, not all were great, and some were even bad, but there it was, 200+ works. 200+ novels had been sitting, waiting to be submitted somewhere. 200+ writers worked for months creating full length novels. Some submitters said they had 3 or 4 other novels already written! Now, publishers are taking notice and new publishers/publishing spaces are coming up. I am incredibly proud of the work we do with Jalada, really pushing the boundaries of content. Moses Kilolo, our managing editor works with the entire team to push new and edgy editorial perspectives (and brief plug – check out the Jalada Conversations!). Festivals abound from Writivism and Storymoja, to the work of SSDA and Chimurenga, (and we haven’t even mentioned the work happening in Francophone Africa or the Diaspora), and there are increasing collaborations between publications (Saraba’s special issue with StoryMoja just came out for example). There is enough writing to have writing about writing (Soomanystories and James Murua’s blog). It’s so easy to get lost in literary debates on the meaning or even existence of African literature, and these are important conversations to have, but it is worth taking the time to celebrate the sheer enormity, diversity and volume of quality writing coming off the continent.
Tiah: You are a very google-able writer. People always tell me the negatives about social media. There is some truth to some of the complaints. But I'm not sure it is all bad. Does social media have a positive roll in your work?
ANNE: I spent the last year being pretty much off social media, so I may be the wrong person to ask. I mean, it is ultimately a useful tool. I have been tapped for work and projects because of social media, so I cannot complain. The most positive aspect for me is how much I read; my facebook/twitter feed is filled with great content posted by people I love and respect. I am constantly fed. I became a little gun-shy and rarely post or interact myself, because I needed time to recharge, and the sheer amount of daily interaction between various social media sites, work, family, friends…as in, I just needed a good book. It’s all about balance perhaps, and everyone who complains, including me, may not have struck the balance just yet.
Tiah: Tell us about your work with younger writers.
ANNE: In another life, and if I’m lucky, in this one, I’ll also be a teacher. I love working with young people, and that moment of realisation when something you are teaching expands a mind is euphoric. For example, we, some friends and I, spent about two years working with an amazing set of young women from Kibera Girls Soccer Academy. It was loose, very informal but the girls were so talented. We hosted a couple of plays (written and performed by the girls) at the Alliance Francaise, as well as performing in a festival. The raw talent they possessed and the stories they wanted to tell were so full, I feel like all I did was smile and say a word or two. It was far more rewarding for me than it was for them. I had to leave Nairobi for further study and there was a terrible crying session goodbye. We’ve not been able to re-start the program since my return, but this is something I have to go. For me, writing is expunging, absolutely necessary, inevitable and enjoyable in an almost filthy way while teaching is nourishing and deeply fulfilling.
On Anne's Bedside Table
Always halfway through a few books so currently:
Shantaram – Gregory David Roberts
Clinical Blues – Dami Ajayi
Emergency Sex and other Desperate Measures – Kenneth Cain, Heidi Postlewait, Andrew Thomson.
Also, finally finished Bom Boy – Yewande Omotso after 3 years of wanting a copy. Worth the wait.
Anne Moraa is a founding member and associate editor of Jalada. Her work can be found in Bakwa Magazine, Brainstorm among others, and her performances have been featured in Nairobi, Edinburgh and (soon) Seoul. Currently working on a set of comics, she is terribly uncomfortable writing in 3rd person and will binge watch House of Cards to combat that sinking feeling.