I think the idea of working together is such a beautiful thing happening to our literature. Tell me, what is Jalada, what is about, how, when, and why did you start it? Of course, who are you working with? Who are the founder members?
Yes, I think the beauty of working together as writers is that we bring together different strengths, to benefit one another. This is why Jalada Africa was formed by a group of young writers who met at a writers’ workshop, during the Kenya Literary Week in June 2013. As a Pan African Collective, Jalada has 22 members from five different African countries, Zimbabwe, Uganda, South Africa, Kenya and Nigeria. We continue to seek the most exciting voices from across the continent to join the collective. Our founder members have been listed on our website jalada.org, and it is our hope that that number will grow in the coming year as we get new members. We started this collective because we felt the need to nurture each other’s work, and publish African writers on a regular basis. We have worked with Kwani Trust from the beginning. In fact, we were brought together under the auspices of British Council, Kwani Trust and Granta magazine. But over the last year we have established working relationship with Writivism CACE Africa. We are planning to engage other literary platforms over the next year even as we establish the Jalada House.
Do you specifically identify as African writers producing African Literature or are you just writers producing Literature? Does Jalada have a stand on the existence of African Literature and what is that stand if there is? If there is not, is it a political decision not to identify which camp Jalada belongs to?
We identify as African writers, that’s for sure. But we do not necessarily want to be defined by maps because there are so many ways of being African without necessarily living within its borders. We simply want people to write truths of the human experience in the best way that they can do so and in turn, we shall help them publish these stories. In terms of African literature, Jalada has not come up with an official stand on what to identify with. We are many writers with different views. What we say in individual capacity is not to be taken as official position from Jalada.
In that vein, I would say that I do not like the tag ‘African Literature.’ I would like to think that Jalada simply produces literature, for which we would like to try new things and redefine how the old has been done. As you must have noted with our sex anthology, we do not concern ourselves with censorship of materials, and our work has been very provocative, but the editorial process is keen not to allow anything that would be an insult or a willful distortion.
The younger writers within Jalada nolonger feel disconnected from the world and live in realities influenced by forces from outside Africa which in turn influences their imagination and their creativity churning out stories that transcend boundaries. This can be considered as political, because politics is all about influencing change and change comes by influencing thoughts and emotions. We intend to serve as pipeline for all the new thoughts and emotions from our writers, to provide the right kind of structures to allow their creativity to be a shared reality to the outside world.
Lately, Jalada gets mentioned in very many circles as the future of African Literature. Almost every ‘important’ (whatever that means) personality in African literary circles wants to mention how they are associated with Jalada. How does this make you feel, as a collective? Is it something you are excited about, or something that makes you suspicious of appropriation by all those who are claiming to have helped and to be fathers and mothers of Jalada?
We are happy that people want to identify with Jalada, and we welcome support from those who have gone before us. But we are cautious. As a Collective we put in a lot of effort to ensure that the work we publish is of the highest possible quality. We have come a long way, that is true with two anthologies already out and two more on their way. We want to live in the moment and appreciate each small blessing as it comes because we have not yet fully defined the possibilities of Jalada and we want to be surprised. We would like for that work to speak for us. We do not want to hear someone say that Jalada owes them anything, or that they made us. Though obviously it keeps blowing our minds that we get these mentions and it is a sign of how far we have come because we started this journey with no clue whatsoever of where we were going. That said, we do appreciate some press. However, we do not want to be deeply involved with any one that is outside of Jalada for reasons other than literary work.
Do you not consider potential censorship from the state when addressing such themes as sex and insanity in your anthologies?
As earlier mentioned, Jalada welcomes, and intentionally seeks, the provocative. But we have an intense editorial process that allows us to examine everything before it goes online. We are not worried about state censorship; we have received no complaints yet, not that we are looking forward to any. But we remain careful not to publish things that are offensive to our readers. As a managing editor I am only interested in passing literature that will provoke people and make them think. Sex, yes is policed by the state, so is drugs, but novels about drugs are always being written. It is not about disobeying the law but it is about writing about experiences to the fullest, and sex is an important part of our humanity. It is more than just itself. It is how we love ourselves and how we allow ourselves to be used. It is how power and gender roles are emphasised. The sex porn anthology is one of our proudest moments because we were able to explore all these possibilities.
Connected to the choice of themes, what is the process of deciding on the theme for an anthology like? Who decides and what factors are considered in deciding?
We have an active online conversation at all times. This means that there is a collective decision-making process when it comes to theme. A member needs only point out what they feel we should do and discussions are held. If members agree, we then schedule the anthology and publish a call out on the website. We do not consider too many factors when choosing a theme because we do not want to end up being too academic. Most of us concede to a theme that sparks our curiosity because we want to maximise our imagination, and to pour out our hearts and minds into the stories that we write. So the process is actually quite spontaneous and much, much easier than what I have just said.
So far, you have been publishing anthologies, will Jalada start publishing individual collections of poetry, short stories, or even novels, plays, memoirs by individual authors any time soon?
Jalada is slightly over a year old and has not yet considered publishing anything other than anthologies. As part of our partnership with Kwani?, we will be printing the anthologies once formal negotiations are complete. We are also in discussion with Writivism CACE Africa to publish a Writivism/Jalada anthology in April 2015. In the future, and as we grow, we will consider other possibilities.
Would you define Jalada as a pan-African writers collective more than you would say it is a Kenyan writers collective with some non-Kenyan members? How Kenyan is Jalada just as how pan-African is it? Does this matter at all?
Most of the members of Jalada are Kenyans, but more than half of our contributors in the forthcoming Afrofuture anthology are non-Kenyans. We have more members as Kenyans because the workshop that brought us together at the beginning was held in Kenya, and comprised of more Kenyans. We will soon set up the Jalada House and offices in Nairobi, but that is hardly to mean that Jalada is basically Kenyan. Members from the different African countries have been very active, and I want to believe that when we are within the space of Jalada, we are all simply Africans. We are even more than just Africans, we are human beings with stories to tell the world.
How can one join the collective? Is the addition of members open-ended or there is an ideal size beyond which the collective can’t expand?
Jaladans are involved in the everyday decision-making process and discussions of matters that concern the collective. We can have a thousand contributors, but for effectiveness members can only be few and well scrutinized before they join. We want to be sure that whoever joins us will have a positive impact on the work we are doing as a collective. And we hope that with time we shall have more members from different African countries. To join, one has to be recommended by an existing member. A brief introductory email is sent to the collective, and then the other Jaladans decide whether or not to take the new person in as a new member.
Of course doing what you guys are doing is an expensive venture. You are a full-time managing editor, there are other people playing full-time roles, aren’t there? Publishing, even if digital, costs resources. How is Jalada sustained in terms of resources?
There is a lot of work that goes with being a managing editor for Jalada, and in the recent past this has meant putting a lot of time each day into the affairs of the collective. There is the daily hustle to balance this with my other life. But at the end of the day we all work together and my role is made easier by the involvement of others, as I coordinate. As earlier mentioned, there is usually a lot of discussion before we publish or do anything that is related to the collective. This often takes a lot of unpaid time. Jalada does not have a cent to its name, but we will be raising funding to help cater for the daily running of affairs. At the moment, it is all volunteer work, but we rarely notice because of how much we love Jalada.
Is there a time when we will be asked to pay before we can read the beautiful Jalada anthologies?
There are many ways in which we hope to raise funds for the collective, and to ensure that our writers get paid, and subscriber fee is one of them. But in answer, this is a decision that will have to be made by Jaladans. We aren’t there yet.