Sometimes, just before I fully sink into the deliciousness of sleep, as I hover on the moistened lip of unconsciousness, I see myself creating the world’s next literary masterpiece. In this vision, I am in a well-lit room, and strewn all over the room are myriad supplies: books, pens, notepads, figuratively epicentred by my confident vision and literally by a standing desk. The world’s next literary masterpiece will be a novel, as much a coming-of-age story as it is a coming-of-art.
Rooted in the soil of truth yet nurtured by the fertile fields of my imagination, the novel will begin with the confident curiosity of a historian, an exploration into the archives of my family and my people's history, and end as a work of ‘art’, transcending mere documentation. It will be a praxis towards that reckoning. Once it debuts, the literary world will run around like headless chickens, each critic desperate to best explain how in the book, I balance my family’s voices with my own, misinterpret mundanity for tragedy, and exclaim at the top of their collective consciousness that it’s a bona fide masterpiece, destined to be studied throughout the ages.
But the truth, the real kicker, is that I’ve paid none of it any mind. Not because of any personal failing, but because I believe it’s not always clear how exactly our family’s voices arrive—or fail to arrive—in our work. It's a question I'm poised to explore throughout the entirety of my creative life. I often ponder whether achieving balance is even possible, but I believe that in striving for it, we begin to parse out who we are, what made us, where we are going—all of which are means toward self-discovery. I think that’s what writing is, at its core, a person trying to know themselves so thoroughly that they realise, in the end, it was the days they lived through, the people they touched and learned from, that made them real, sculpted their authenticity. My novel commences with the voices of those I cherish most—my friends and loved ones—and lends voice to those who gave me life, my parents. I'll follow these voices until they naturally fade away, until I must recreate them in order to hear them. My writing, therefore, an echo. And it is for this exact reason, I chose to write. To create voices for my loved ones, especially my family and have their stories exist for no reason other than curiosity. Not to perform ethnography through my art, not to drive the tour bus through our lives and put on the microphone to entertain onlookers pointing at ‘sights’ through the window and say, "Behold, on your left, these are those brown bodies that suffered so that you could read these words on a page."
As the novel soars to debut as a New York Times bestseller, I can't help but notice that even esteemed publications and magazines persistently label it as 'auto-fiction' in their glistening reviews, despite my repeated efforts to clarify that it isn't solely based on my own life. In an interview with The New Yorker, I bring this up and with utmost care, talk about this presumption how underserved bodies of colour can’t write in the abstract, that they are confined to writing from their own life all in order to elicit empathy in a ‘liberal white writer.’ To be constantly transparent and legible. To often be coded as bodies of service, an instrument for the ‘real’ euro-centric masterpieces. And if refused, be rendered obscure or pretentious because of it. When thinking about Greek statues, one often conjures images of pristine marble forms. But we now know, the Renaissance notion of purity arose from a misconception that these statues were always marble-white. In truth, the ancient Greeks embellished their sculptures with vibrant colours for a striking and garish display. This historical reality, misunderstood, led us down a different path—one marked by a destructive fixation on fairness and lightness, a pursuit driven by a desire to align with a Biblical narrative of angelic purity and luminosity. What do we do now? How far from the truth have we arrived? Where do we go from here?
This is also why I write: to step into the world of fine arts with an acute awareness that here, my face is among the very few. To boldly carve out a unique creative path, challenging the established norms. Have it signify that the instrument, once subservient to ‘their’ artistic agenda, has now discovered its voice, summoning the courage to serenade with its own melodies, even if it seems inconceivable to those who once held it captive. To have underrepresented bodies join me in a plea, in an anthem, to sing with me. I hear what they sound like when it’s just us. They sound so much like themselves, and I recognise them, even in the dimmest chambers, even when I recognise nothing else. And it brings forth a smile. And as I acquiesce to the dark, I smile.
In the dark, I smile.
Thank you so much for taking the time to read this piece—I appreciate you (really)! This marks the start of a series where I'll be sharing more about my thoughts on writing. Up next, I plan to delve into 'my approach towards the act of writing' and 'the power and validity of art', especially poetry as its the medium I am most intimate with.
I'd genuinely love to hear your thoughts on what you've read so far, and if you have any specific questions or topics in mind that you'd like me to explore in the upcoming parts of this series, please share them in the comments below. Let's talk soon.
About the Creator
A wannabe storyteller from London. Sometimes words spill out of me and the only way to mop the spillage is to write them down.
"If you arrive here, remember, it wasn't you - it was me, in my longing, who found you."