On a bench in Nairobi’s CBD, Frankline Sunday talked about his motivations for starting a literary journal. He said, “Some people use their savings to buy land, a house, a car. I used mine to start a lit mag.”
Here, we present to you the second issue of said lit mag. It would be imprudent not to note that we would not be here today had Frank and Clifton Gachagua not thought it a good idea to use their time and resources, both financial and otherwise, in bringing this venture to fruition. The temptation at this point is to say something about them pouring their blood into drr, but we’ll shy away from the cliche. Instead, we think back, fondly and otherwise, to December when the first issue of drr was launched. It moved through the city, hand-delivered by Frank and Clif, sold at bookshops and festivals, copies passed from friend to friend to friend of friend. It was an experiment in publishing, in trust and friendship, in distribution and reading cultures, and in further experimentation. And somehow, less than a year later, we’ve managed to make the second issue, Ritual, possible.
But wah. What a less-than-a-year it has been.
As with other crises, it becomes commonplace, in thinking about the role of writing and of journals in the middle of a pandemic as widespread as COVID-19, for some cultural commentators to make overarching comments about the role of storytelling and storytellers within the crisis, even as the crisis unsettles the myths and meanings of role-work. Although this crisis within a crisis has, perhaps, been a long time coming, its intensity has magnified our vulnerabilities and made hyper-urgent the demands for new ways of being. So, from some corners that we occasionally, sometimes accidentally, frequent, proclamations have been made in the genre of now-more-than-ever — now more than ever, we need this kind of writing, now more than ever, we need that kind of language, now more than ever, we need some kind of words that document, explain, shape and reimagine the latest terms of our existence, which are at once historical and familiar.
Why now more than ever? We don’t know, but we prefer to lean towards Audre Lorde’s observation that there are no new ideas, only new ways of making them felt. As we wandered through these works that were submitted just before the lockdowns, quarantines and curfews, it was a trippy editing experience to be reminded of how recent and familiar some rituals are, even if they may never have been ours. Ophelia’s, Diwe’s and Sheena’s meal-prep narratives forced us to consider the nostalgic alongside the grotesque alongside the everyday. Listening to Kwasi and Fataba, Petero and Yabework changed the cadence of our own rituals, if only for a little while, but perhaps even forever. So much of the poetry re/called attention to the ways of bodywork — of drinking, sleeping, praying, remembering, lighting a match and then lighting a match again — when it felt like we were suspended in a bizarre timeline. Lebohang and Caroline resurrect that which we might call the forgotten ways of our school days, even though some of them may linger still. There’s also so much of going outside and being with other people, my goodness!
So buy the issue. In Ritual, Dalle shares the experience of growing up a Christian in Muslim-dominated Northern Kenya. While Lutivini and Ernest reckon with the grieving rituals that mark the practice of living in the wake of death. Elsewhere, Ndinda and Makena invite us into the contours of their writing, in a wonderful conversation where they share with each other this period of their lives, while Greenman wonders about the ethical rituals across different members of the animal kingdom. These are familiar things, but under these conditions, they stoke new feelings, ones that we would love for you to explore and share.
Buy the issue. Buy it for your friends and your families and your secret lovers and your shamans and your priests, and let’s all figure out what it means to sell a journal from this heart of a pandemic. What Frank and Clif are trying with drr is the sort of self-sustaining model rarely seen on the continental literary scene, and the more copies of Issue 2 sold, the further down River Road we go. In the evergreen words of Nduta, saa zingine life ni nare.