In the second half of our interview with Sese Yane gives us a peek into his double life as well as some of the themes that run through his fiction - communication, outsiders and poetics.
In finding out that Sese Yane was a pseudonym, I read somewhere that Sese, in Swahili, means stringed. You’ve said that your Grandmother used to call you this as an insult, perhaps. Why would she call you stringed, Mr. Yane?
SESE: I didn’t know that Sese means stringed, in Swahili that is. But that name in my native tongue means Dog. Yane means mine. Now my grandmother used to call me e’sese yane, meaning my dog. I thought she was insulting me because back then to insult someone at school I simply had to call them dog!
Actually funny story, so we used to pass by my paternal grandmother’s before going to see my maternal grandparents. We get there and she calls me this name, I was maybe seven or eight. I tell my mother I can’t sleep here because I hate grandma. I throw a proper tantrum. Mother says okay we’ll go to your other grandparents, and so at sunset we’re on our way. We get there and the first thing my other grandmother says to me is “Come here my doggie”.
You practice law in Nairobi. Which branch of law did you go into and why?
SESE: I tried sitting behind a desk in some office as some kind of legal advisor on constitutional and devolution matters (it was laughable really) and it was okay until my contract ran out; I feel like I am pretending to be a lawyer most of the time, just like I feel I am pretending to be a writer, and everything else. Anyway this year I will be wearing some costume and will be prosecuting and defending commercial law. Why? What can you do?
That’s true, gotta do what you’ve gotta do. I can imagine, though, that a career in law affords the opportunity to meet some, shall we say, interesting people. I draw a lot of inspiration for my own writing through people I meet. Have any of these people influenced your writing?
SESE: Actually no, but who knows maybe someone will one day. As for now, the stories I have written are usually recollections of my distant past. I am more interested with my childhood. And then I am interested in the outcast, the renegade; you will be shocked to learn that many people I meet are very normal and quite banal.
You’ve had most of your work published in The Kalahari Review, namely a few short stories and some poetry. Your prose does have a bit of a poetic feel to it. Are you more partial to poetry, and is this something you feel the need to reign in when writing prose?
SESE: I absolutely love poetry. Sometimes when I am writing I simply have to control myself so as not to overdo it. Any paragraph that is not poetic is actually a success. I have had to discard stories because they were too poetic. I wish I was born earlier when this did not matter, when realism hadn’t reared its ugly head and God was still alive. For me the story has always been in the language and not in the plot. But more and more I am learning to stay awake when writing and not just drift away … I wish I could find a better way of writing, I think about it a lot.
And then I think all language is poetry, and the illusion that we can understand each other is perhaps the most beautiful of all. But when you set down to write a story most people expect everything they read to make sense, and you cannot change that; and maybe you just wanted them to allow themselves to be carried away by the flow, not to try to understand anything, just enjoy the ride, and you put things here and there for them that make sense so that they can latch on as they are getting carried away.
But what if they cannot enjoy? It’s some kind of nihilism in literature. And that’s why you hear people saying “Poetry is Dead!” because they can no longer believe. But read just a line from Clarice Lispector’s The Passion According To G.H, and you want to shout your lungs out! Such beauty! You can’t even bring yourself to read the next line because you clearly see she’s about to destroy you!
You’ve mentioned a specific poem to me – "Binary Fiction Escape" – and how it’s the only work you’re comfortable defending. For those unfamiliar with it:
what will we do when we have
so much life that it cannot fit inside
one body? Will we hire another body,
perhaps a Lover or Fiction?
Tell me why this poem is important to you.
SESE: I love this poem for the very reasons I have tried to espouse above; allowing yourself to get carried away. When I sat behind my computer that day I did not know I was writing this poem; I just wrote it. And then I looked at it and it made sense to me. I did not write it because it made sense; it made sense after I had written it. I know many people will dispute the truthfulness of that statement but what can you do? And then when I read that poem I see every line as an independent statement. What will we do when we have? And then there’s so much life that it cannot fit inside! And so on and so on. I didn’t say I can defend it because it is properly written (and perhaps it’s not), but only because it means something to me.
Your short story, We Will Be Safe, made the 2016 Writivism Short Story Prize long list. In closing, tell us a little about this story and any other tales you may have in the works.
If my memory is not failing me I believe the story will be published under the title The Dreamers Will Be Safe. I find myself going back to the question of communication over and over; it’s something that has always been with me perhaps because I struggled with a kind of speech impairment when I was growing up. Again hence my love for Bergman. It was therefore a pleasant surprise when recently, actually only yesterday, I came across this wonderful writer, Amie Barrodale, who also concerns herself with this very issue in her writing.
In The Dreamers Will Be Safe we are introduced to a character who decides to use communication toward one end only to notice that he’s gone past what he intended to achieve by talking and has actually passed on the wrong message and now tries to undo this message rather crudely, again using words; in the end can we believe anything that is said?
Well, as for other works, and whether there is something coming or not, who knows?
In case you missed it Part One of this interview can be found here.
Jason’s note: “Sese Yane provided me with an adequate bio. The standard run-of-the-mill “I am from, I’ve done this, here I am” sort of bio I know must have pained him to write. I’ve chosen to forget that bio existed, and instead, in the spirit of this interview, I’ve chosen to go with his explanation behind the bio – which I feel is far more entertaining and far more befitting his character. I don’t think he’d mind, too much. Enjoy.”
“… I had to avoid saying "Sese Yane is a writer etc etc" and had to settle for things like "He is from Kenya" simply to avoid saying "I am a writer", and so to say "his other works have appeared", which is pretty much an admission that "He is a writer" even though he disagrees with this... it's all confusing really. So, forgive me…”
Interview by Jason Mykl Snyman