AiW note: Outriders Africa, a project announced at the Edinburgh International Book Festival in 2019, builds on the existing ambitious Outriders concept, exploring “the idea that in shifting, disorienting times, a writer can make a unique contribution to our understanding of the world, giving voice to untold stories and providing new insights on contemporary geopolitical contexts”.
Ten writers paired up – Kayus Bankole & Kei Miller, Nadine Aisha Jassat & Tsitsi Dangarembga, Donna Obaseki-Ogunnaike & Wanjiru Koinange, Amanda Thomson & Sabrina Mahfouz, and Eliza Anyangwe & Emmanuel Iduma – to together conceive of and embark on “an international journey through Africa, meeting writers and communities along their way and engaging in discussions around migration, colonial legacies, inequalities and the impact of globalisation and environmental change.”
Each of the writers were to create a new work in response to their journey for an Outriders Africa anthology, published by Cassava Republic Press, for the Book Festival this year. Intro vids to their pairings, meetings and plannings ahead, showing both excitement and the creative freedom of the project, were filmed at the Festival in 2019 before their journeys began.
But then came the year that was 2020…
With the restrictions and interruptions imposed at the onset of the pandemic – to both travel and being together, let alone being either “out” or “riding” internationally – the writers presented their journeys in the virtual edition of the Edinburgh International Book Festival 2020. The Outriders Africa anthology is forthcoming in 2021, to be presented at next year’s festival.
Bridging then and now, with thanks to the Book Festival and the writers, we have been able to catch some of the Outriders for their Words on the Times, an AiW Q&A set initiated to connect up in the wake of the early lockdown measures and resulting #COVOID for books, continuing on now to share our experiences and ways of working in the changing times of our nows.
And we are delighted to be able to share the first of these today, from Nadine Aisha Jassat – poet, writer, and creative practitioner, whose work explores storytelling and social justice – who has also shared an excerpt from her work, the poem ‘Auntie’.
Nadine’s Outriders journey was launched and made with Zimbabwe based writer, filmmaker and activist Tsitsi Dangarembga, called “Following in their Footsteps”:
Fascinated by the rich tradition of storytelling in their shared Zimbabwean ancestry and the voices erased within it, they set out to retrace the funereal route of David Livingstone, whose body was carried from modern day Zambia to the coast of Tanzania by his two attendants, Susi and Chuma.
Their adventure took an unexpected turn when Jassat was forced to return to the UK at short notice during the height of the pandemic, leaving Dangarembga to complete the journey solo. They share their unforgettable experience, and some of the writing it inspired, with researcher Kate Simpson, whose own work seeks to bring the stories of the women of Livingstone’s expeditions out from the shadows.
Words on the Times, Outriders Africa – Nadine Aisha Jassat.
AiW: Could you tell us a bit about your own work and involvement with the Outriders Africa project?
Nadine Aisha Jassat: I’m a poet and writer of short stories and narrative non-fiction, everything I write tends to be drawn from my life and expressed in ways that feel poetic or meaningful to me. For Outriders Africa, I wanted to trace two of the ‘mixed matriarchs’ in my family history in South Africa and Zimbabwe – my grandfather’s mother, and my grandmother’s mother – as part of understanding or exploring my own journey. I wanted to see what I could find out about them in terms of records on paper or in photographs, but also what stories I could hear about them too, and build a picture of who they were from the stories told about them. In some instances, I found myself unexpectedly mirroring their footsteps, or realising that places I had long loved had a significant connection with one of my ancestors gone before. You can read about my search for one of these matriarchs in my piece for the Outriders Africa anthology, due to be published with Cassava Republic Press in 2021.
How has the pandemic affected your Outriders journey and plans?
My journey was planned from the beginning to the end of March, and after this time I was meant to return to South Africa to see family for a month before returning to the UK. Unfortunately, the pandemic cut my journey with my Outriders partner Tsitsi Dangarembga in half, with the second half dominated by a ‘race against time’ to return to the UK. While this was a challenging experience, it was also very memorable, and I’m hugely grateful to both the Edinburgh International Book Festival, and the wonderful Raymond and Erick from Patriot tours, for helping us navigate this, and really saving the day!
Has the pandemic affected your thinking about travel?
As a result of the pandemic, I found myself unexpectedly back in Scotland, isolating alone, when I was meant to be still be away, spending time first finishing my journey, and then spending time in South Africa and Zimbabwe with my family – in particular my beloved Aunt, who often features in my writing. In this time of isolation away from people and place, grounded alone in my flat in Scotland, I discovered that travel could still be found through writing and memory. I sat with my pen and my paper and used my words to conjure my Aunt at my side, to remember Cape Town or Harare around me. I used my writing to bring one home to another, a travel of the imagination, and that helped me feel less alone.
What have you found most supportive and/or heart lifting in this time?
I think this has been a time of both re-learning, as I have often done at different points in my life, of the strength of my own resources, and digging deep within them, while at the same time learning – and perhaps here, for the first time – to open myself up to the generosity, wonder, kindness and friendship of others, and how both these things are equally sustaining: the strength that can be found within ourselves, and the strength that can be found in community and love from others.
Nadine Aisha Jassat is a poet, writer, and creative practitioner, whose work explores storytelling and social justice. She is the author of poetry collection Let Me Tell You This (404 Ink), and has performed her work across the UK and Internationally. Her poetry and prose feature in It’s Not About the Burqa (Picador), Nasty Women (404 Ink), Islands Are But Mountains (Platypus Press) and more. Her work has drawn acclaim, including winning a Scottish Book Trust New Writers’ Award, being shortlisted for the Edwin Morgan Poetry Award, and winning the British Council’s UK Open Call for their ‘Discover’ Project. She was recently named by Scotland’s Makar Jackie Kay as one of 10 compelling ‘BAME’ writers working in the UK, as part of Kay’s International Literature Showcase selection.
‘Hers is a powerful, unforgettable new voice.’ – Jackie Kay
‘A joy both live and on the page.’ – Hollie McNish
‘Beautifully written, immense, and full of passion.’ – Nikita Gill on Let Me Tell You This
You can still catch Nadine and Tsitsi Dangarembga’s reflection on their Outriders Africa journey from Mon 21st Aug, available for free on the Book Festival website: “Nadine Aisha Jassat & Tsitsi Dangarembga: Outriders Africa Following in their Footsteps”
And browse the event’s Edinburgh International Book Festival online Bookshop page for Let Me Tell You This and This Mournable Body, as well as sign up to register interest and keep informed about the forthcoming Outriders publication from Cassava Republic.
And where it all began… In this short video filmed at the Book Festival in 2019, Nadine and Tsitsi discuss the genesis of their Outriders plan – Tsitsi’s idea to retrace Susi’s and Chuma’s route, David Livingstone’s attendants, who carried his body from modern day Zambia, where he died in 1873, to the coast of Tanzania, from where his body was sent to the UK via Zanzibar – and the “goosebumps” of excitement and possibility looking ahead…
With thanks to Edinburgh International Book Festival – to Siobhan Clark and Frances Sutton – and to the Outriders for sharing their experiences and work.
Watch this space for more Outriders Africa Words on Times in the coming weeks…
Read AiW’s review of the Graywolf Press 2018 release of Dangarembga’s Booker shortlisted This Mournable Body (Jacana Media; Faber, UK) – ‘“You” are Unmournable Bodies’, by Rodney Likaku: “This hypnotic, second person tone is what the reader can expect to find in … this new installment [as] Dangarembga returns to the main character of her first novel, Nervous Conditions (1989), where Tambudzai is a thirteen year old girl who is about to enter the world of being a young woman in a patriarchal Zimbabwe.”
And for more Words on the Times – to hear from other makers, thinkers, producers, agitators & activists, platforms & supporters and their experiences of working as we move through the pandemic – see the blog category here.