She Called Me Woman is a collection of 25 short stories edited by Chitra Nagarajan. Each story is about life in Africa as a queer woman. When We Speak of Nothing is the new novel by London based, Nigerian/German writer Olumide Popoola. This book looks at race and sexuality in London and the Niger Delta. Both Chitra Nagarajan and Olumide Popoola are present at the Edinburgh International Book Festival to discuss their books, and the topics they cover, during an event entitled Queer Africa.
The event is chaired by blogger and activist Tomiwa Folorunso and is part of the Revolting Women strand at the festival. These special series of events were curated by Adele Patrick who is the Lifelong Learning and Creative Development Manager at Glasgow Women’s Library.
Chitra highlights “When we think of queer people in Nigeria, we tend to think of hopelessness” and that the common queer narrative in Africa is one of despair. She gives a reading from a short story in her collection that subverts this. Humour and slice of life is used to present a positive story and the wide range of topics and perspectives within She Called Me Women is stressed by the editor. She does also note that “Queer people are constantly in a position of resistance” and also wanted to highlight the strong and important stories of activism within the collection.
Olumide Popoola has written a work of fiction and Tomiwa notes that the two books being presented this afternoon make great companion pieces. With When We Speak of Nothing Olumide wanted to “Explore the idea of tenderness between two black men” and that observing the way men interacted with each other in a community centre was one of the inspirations for the story. This tenderness and vulnerability is obvious in the short extract that Olumide reads. Her backgroud is in performance and this gives the words an extra drama and intrigue and the eager audience at the Book Festival is gripped. There is a rhythm to her writing and this completely comes over in the reading and underlines the distinct passion within her work.
The lively and informative event ends with questions from the audience and both authors stress the importance of their publisher Cassava Republic Press. This publisher is pushing the boundaries of African writing and giving a voice to a wide range of authors who are all interested in telling important and brilliant stories. Both She Called Me Woman and When We Speak of Nothing are perfect examples of brilliant storytelling and vital words from vital writers.