Today we have the pleasure of sharing our final post in the Words on the Times, Outriders Africa series with Nigerian writer Emmanuel Iduma, with an excerpt from his travelogue A Stranger’s Pose. Iduma was born in Akure, Nigeria and is the co-founder of Saraba Magazine and the author of the novel The Sound of Things to Come.
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.
Iduma’s Outriders journey was launched and made with Eliza Anyangwe – journalist and founder of the Nzinga Effect, a media project focused on telling the stories of African and Afro-descendant women.
Outriders Africa – Deconstructing the Travelogue
Originally from Cameroon and raised in several countries around the continent before settling in Europe, celebrated journalist Eliza Anyangwe travels regularly across Africa, yet often finds herself confronted by that infamous question: ‘where are you from?’. Meanwhile, the language barriers faced by Lagos-born travel writer Emmanuel Iduma, author of the 2019 Ondaatje Prize longlisted A Stranger’s Pose, have seen him viewed suspiciously by fellow Africans as a ‘mute observer’.
Interrogating what travel writing represents for Africans on the margins, [Iduma and Anyangwe] set off on an island-hopping journey from Madagascar to Comoros, finally ending up in Uganda before their trip was cut short as a result of COVID-19. Today, they share some of their stories from the journey.
Catch up with when we talked to the ‘queen of spoken word poetry in Nigeria’, Donna Obaseki-Ogunnaike, and watch videos of her poetry in performance from her YouTube channel, shared as part of our Outriders Africa series.
And see the first in the series from Nadine Aisha Jassat – poet, writer, and creative practitioner – with an excerpt from her work, a poem, ‘Auntie’ (a figure who features in her Outriders journeying and her Words on the Times) here.
Words on the Times, Outriders Africa – Emmanuel Iduma
AiW: Could you tell us a bit about your own work and involvement with the Outriders Africa project?
Emmanuel Iduma: I became involved with travel writing unwittingly, when I began to travel with artists across the African continent. That experience resulted in A Stranger’s Pose, and I suspect the book led to my participation in the Outriders project. In the time between when my book was released and when I was invited by the Edinburgh Book Festival, I had become increasingly committed to figuring out how I could work within the constraints and promise of the travel writing genre. I can say now that art criticism (the kind informed by narrative) led me to travel writing, which has, in turn, led me to narrative nonfiction.
AiW: How has the pandemic affected your Outriders journey and plans?
On March 19, I returned to Lagos. We had spent the previous week in Kampala, and after a brief layover in Lagos, I was to board a flight for Sal Island in Cape Verde, the final country on the trip. The flight to Cape Verde was canceled, and I had to remain in Lagos, where I’ve been since. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to travel through Madagascar, Comoros, and Uganda, three of four countries on our itinerary.
I quarantined once I returned. I began to work on my travel essay for the Outriders book, as I had planned to do in Cape Verde. In this sense my initial response to the pandemic was a frenzied mix of anxiety and productivity. I could only sit still by turning to the page, keeping from the pre-apocalyptic news.
AiW: It’s struck us at AiW how much autonomy and creative and critical freedom there’s been in-built to the project. How did you experience this initially, before the world turned on the COVID-19 pin, and has the pandemic caused you to reconceptualise it or think about it anew?
At the outset, it seemed too good to be true. We were asked to determine not just our route but the nature of the work we were to do in those countries. By the time I got the invitation in April of 2019, I had become enthused by the idea of traveling in the wake of older travels by Europeans, to see how my presence in those places problematized their assumptions. I proposed we travel to Angola, in the footsteps of Ryzard Kapuscinki’s Another Day of Life, to Liberia and Sierra Leonne, following Graham Greene’s Journey without Maps, and Algeria, in the shadow of Isabelle Eberhadt’s In the Shadow of Islam. Yet, Eliza Anyangwe, listening to my proposal at the 2019 edition of the festival, offered a powerful critique of that conceit, which was that, regardless of my attempts, I could be further inscribing the privilege of those earlier, sometimes racist travelers.
We decided not to travel to countries either of us had visited, and once we settled on an itinerary, we turned to logistical matters. It turned out that visas would be difficult to obtain for some of those countries, and so we settled again on a practical solution: to travel to places where we could get visas on arrival. When things turned for the worse globally in the latter half of March, most of our travels had been completed.
In retrospect, it seemed not as freeing when we had to turn our autonomy into real work. We had to ask ourselves why we were in those places, what could be achieved in little time, and the scaffolds with which we could write our essays. I believe we came to reasonable summations at the end of the travels—particularly because much of the logistical support had been provided by the Festival, freeing us to make deep artistic dives into those cities and towns.
AiW: How has the pandemic affected your thinking about travel?
I find that I am now more inclined to think of travel—especially in relation to essays, reportage, or narrative nonfiction—as a secondary component of my research. Or to put it more squarely, I feel that the most cogent forms of travel should be local. The key raw material of travel writing is estrangement, and I think I can feel that without having my international passport stamped.
Emmanuel Iduma is the author of A Stranger’s Pose, a travel book, and The Sound of Things to Come, a novel.
His stories and essays have been published widely, including in Best American Travel Writing 2020, Aperture, The Millions, Art in America, the New York Review of Books, and Artforum.
In 2017 he was awarded an arts writing grant from the Creative Capital/Andy Warhol Foundation for his essays on Nigerian artists. A Stranger’s Pose was long-listed for the Ondaatje Prize in 2019. In 2020, he received the inaugural Irving Sandler Award for New Voices in Art Criticism from Association Internationale des Critiques d’Art’s, USA chapter.
I Am Still with You, his memoir on the aftermath of the Nigerian Civil War, is forthcoming from Algonquin Books in the U.S., and William Collins in the U.K.
He divides his time between Lagos and New York City.
You can still catch Emmanuel and Eliza’s reflection on their Outriders Africa journey, available for free on the Book Festival website: “Eliza Anyangwe & Emmanuel Iduma: Outriders Africa – Deconstructing the Travelogue”
With a special introduction by Kenyan feminist and writer and performer Anne Moraa, who reads from Black Woman, Everybody’s Healer by Hawa Y Mire. In partnership with pan-African writers collective Jalada Africa, the place to discover specially curated new writers and voices.
Browse the event’s Edinburgh International Book Festival online Bookshop page to purchase Emmanuel’s book, A Stranger’s Pose, and to sign up to register interest and keep informed about the forthcoming Outriders publication from Cassava Republic.
And where it all began…see this short introduction video filmed at the Book Festival in 2019 for the genesis of the journey at the start of the project.
With thanks to Edinburgh International Book Festival – to Siobhan Clark and Frances Sutton – and to the Outriders for sharing their experiences and work.
Check out this link for Outriders Africa Words on Times…and watch this space for more to come.
– the previous in the series and another perspective on their journey is from Kenyan writer Wanjiru Koinange and her Outriders partner, performance poet Donna Ogunaike;
and the first in the series is from Nadine Aisha Jassat – poet, writer, and creative practitioner – with her poem, ‘Auntie’, a figure who features in her Q&A responses and across Jassat’s work.
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.