Eleanor Stanford is the author of the memoir História, História: Two Years in the Cape Verde Islands, and of a poetry collection, The Book of Sleep. Stanford’s essay “Geology Primer (Fogo, Cape Verde)” was published in Issue No. 06 of The Common. Fellow Philadelphian Zinzi Clemmons chatted with Stanford about poetic form, the importance of language, and ways to feel at home in the world.
Language as the Homeland: An Interview with Eleanor Stanford
Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor is the recipient of the 2003 Caine Prize for African Writing for her story “Weight of Whispers.” She is the author of the forthcoming novel, Dust (Knopf, January 2014), an excerpt of which was published in Issue No. 06 of The Common. While in South Africa Zinzi Clemmons talked with Kenyan-based Owuor about “deadlines as flexible soul mates,” lessons in artistic humility, consulting “the passing herdsmen” on the art of reading the landscape, and the up-and-coming literary world of Kenya.
Explosive Possibilities: Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor on Writing and Kenya
I moved back to my parents’ house in Philadelphia just over a year ago, when I found out my mother was dying from cancer. The day I found out was my first day of a part-time job at Columbia University in New York City, where I was a master’s degree candidate. My father called me at the tail end of my lunch break, while I was browsing discounted greeting cards at a gift shop that was going out of business.
Terese Svoboda is the author of several books of poetry and prose, most recently the novel Bohemian Girl, which Booklist named one of the ten best Westerns of 2012. Her fourth novel, Tin God, was re-issued this year. Zinzi Clemmons caught up with her during a mild August to discuss Sudan, life in foreign cultures, and multi-genre writing.
Zinzi Clemmons (ZC): Your story “High Heels,” in Issue 05 of The Common, is set on an unnamed island in the Indian Ocean where Swahili is spoken. Which country is this? Did you intend for the reader to gain a sense of a specific location through the story?
Terese Svoboda (TS): It’s Lamu, off the coast of Kenya. It should evoke the disorientation of an extreme change of location for the characters — and, of course, of an island in the Indian Ocean.
The Writer as Foreigner: An Interview with Terese Svoboda
Marie-Helene Bertino published her debut collection of short stories, Safe As Houses, in 2012. It won the Iowa Short Fiction Award, and was long listed for the Story Prize, and for The Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award. She hails from Philadelphia (where Zinzi Clemmons is also from and currently lives) and resides in Brooklyn. Bertino served for six years as the Associate Editor of One Story. Bertino and Clemmons corresponded via email about their hometown and the writing process.
Zinzi Clemmons (ZC): In nearly everything I’ve read about you, you mention that you’re from Philadelphia. I counted two stories in your book, Safe As Houses, explicitly set in the city: “North Of” and “Great, Wondrous.” Most people’s relationships to their hometowns are complicated. How would you describe your feelings toward your home city?
Marie-Helene Bertino (MHB): Philadelphia is a difficult city to explain. There is some seriously dark beauty there, and some serious dysfunction. I think the Philadelphia Mural Arts Program is an example of Philly at its best, taking what it is specifically good at — its tenacious, stubborn spirit, and the courage to take risks — to stamp the city with gorgeous murals. These murals have become the city’s complexion. You can’t go far without seeing one, and I mean from Center City to West Philly to where I grew up, in the Northeast. No other city I’ve visited looks like that. It is specific to the spirit of Philly.
On Mixtapes, Philly, and a Papillon: An Interview with Marie-Helene Bertino