Photo: © Regine Romain
short fiction (paperback)
Winner of the 2012 James Tiptree, Jr. Award Ancient, Ancient collects the short fiction by Kiini Ibura Salaam, of which acclaimed author and critic Nalo Hopkinson writes, “Salaam treats words like the seductive weapons they are. She wields them to weave fierce, gorgeous stories that stroke your sensibilities, challenge your preconceptions, and leave you breathless with their beauty.” Indeed, Ms. Salaam’s… »
Notes from the Trenches
Kiini Ibura Salaam has been writing essays and short stories since 1990. Over the years, she discovered that there’s much more to writing than sitting down and writing. There are a series of complex psychological and logistical demands that artists have to navigate to sustain artmaking on an ongoing basis. Is my work good enough? Does anyone care what I’m writing… »
I am fascinated with all the background machinations required for a person to commit to a creative life. This week’s podcast focuses on the absolute necessity of confidence. The word of the week is: cocksure. What I know to be true, is that if as an artist you don’t walk around with your own confidence in your pocket you can… »
So, I went to an event tonight and I was chatting up the presenter—an accomplished and well-awarded playwright—and I said “I’m a novelist,” and carried on the conversation. It wasn’t until I walked away that I was like, “Wait, I’ve never published a novel.” That’s how deep in I am with my novel. Yeah, I’m still working on it, but… »
Wow, sometimes life just swoops in and steals all your extra brain cells and all you can do is run after tasks so you can get them out into the ether and off your brain! Now that I’ve taken a breath, I can go back to the podcast I recorded about a month ago, but never edited. The word for… »
1 On deep purple-black nights, when the whole house has pushed itself into slumber, WaLiLa’s energy flits around her room like a moth. It leaps up to do jumping jacks & turns cartwheels, then clings to the ceiling. It bounces off the walls & jiggles its knees impatiently. WaLiLa is a jitterbugging ball of need about to pop. Her energy… »
“the most powerful seductions are executed against the silence of few words” Sometimes, I feel shoulder shrug like a motherless child. cheek rub against shoulder Sometimes, I feel like a motherless child. body slump At twilight, when the earth is settling down for rest, MalKai is turning over inside. The colors of dusk pierce him like a rusty pin breaking… »
1. Musicians, practicing an age-old tradition, scatter syncopated rhythms across the night sky. Through rapid hand movements and homemade instruments, they pay homage to fierce gods. The music tattoos the sky’s surface with patterns of prayer, patterns that transform themselves into welcome mats for beings in realms the musicians have no knowledge of. One such welcome mat beckons to WaLiLa’s… »
Race: A discussion in 10 parts plus a few moments of unsubstantiated theory and one inarguable fact…
1. Race is bullshit. A meaningless line drawn in sand by men bent on world domination and oppression. It was introduced as a fixed notion, an unchangeable, undeniable fact of world order. Yet from the moment of race’s conception, the amazing diversity of body types, cultures, and traditions on the African continent alone complicated race’s claim on classification. In New Orleans,… »
It happens in silence. A man—young, tall, hooded—sits in a waiting room. All the chairs are taken except the one diagonally across from him. A woman comes in carrying a child. She sits in the only seat available and busies herself removing the child’s coat and hat. The man’s eyes cut to the corner checking out mother and daughter. The… »
When I first returned home from studying abroad, everyone wanted to know, “How was the Dominican Republic?” I was reluctant to respond. Masking the truth behind “fine’s” and “good’s,” I skirted my real feelings. “Did you like it?” is such a loaded question that it can’t be answered with a simple “yes” or “no.” For a long time, I refused… »
I am fascinated with all the background machinations required for a person to commit to a creative life. This week’s podcast focuses on the absolute necessity of confidence. The word of the week is: cocksure. What I know to be true, is that if as an artist you don’t walk around with your own confidence in your pocket you can get turned around, halted, and annihilated.
Listen to my thoughts on the importance of being cocksure with your artistry.
The blog post about mental reference that I reference in the podcast is here: http://kiiniibura.com/2013/07/13/vol-96-writing-requires-mental-fitness/
So, I went to an event tonight and I was chatting up the presenter—an accomplished and well-awarded playwright—and I said “I’m a novelist,” and carried on the conversation. It wasn’t until I walked away that I was like, “Wait, I’ve never published a novel.”
That’s how deep in I am with my novel. Yeah, I’m still working on it, but it’s already done. I’m confident in its completion and the finish line is clear, which is a very different sensation from previous phases of working on a novel when I was just working interminably, hoping that my efforts led somewhere.
This strong and confident feeling I have of myself as a novelist provides me with another perspective on the “I’m not a writer” conversation. You know the one where people say: I’m not a writer because I’ve never been published. And the opposite conversation is also everyone. The one that says: “do it, be it, see it”; the self-help mandate that stats “act as if you are already there” and it will come true. This new place I’m in has some strange tinge of all of that. The truth is, I can’t be a novelist in the public eye until I am a novelist to myself. This is not really spiritual perspective, this is fact. By the time a reader gets a novel in hand, the author has completed a novel-length work. If no eyes ever rest upon that manuscript, that author is a novelist.
I think I called myself a novelist, not just because I’m writing a novel, but because I am crafting and completing a novel. I can feel the elements of craft rise up, I can feel the span and stretch of the novel, I can feel that I am no longer just writing a parade of words.
This whole conversation about naming myself a novelist reminds me of a metaphysical conversation I was having with myself years ago when I was not writing. I no longer wanted to call myself a writer because I wasn’t producing work. It is the exact opposite of what’s happening to me now. Now I’m producing a work the public has not seen: so I am a novelist to myself and not to the public eye. Back then, I was a writer in the public eye who had produced lots of stories, but I was struggling with calling myself a writer because I had not been writing for a long time.
Back then, when I tried to move through the world like I was not a writer, “It made for very awkward moments when I had to introduce myself. No one within earshot would accept me omitting my writer identity from my introduction, but then when it had been introduced, people wanted to talk about it—the writing that did not exist—and wanted to know what I was currently writing—nothing—and generally wanted to meet her—the writer who no longer existed.”
Thinking about this question of who a writer is when the writer is not writing, led me to make certain distinctions between the various functions a writer has. I wrote:
“The value of art for the reader/viewer/watcher endures over time. However, for me as an artist, I value the work of artmaking. While it is the fruit of the labor that makes an artist in the public eye, it is the labor itself that makes me feel like an artist. Therefore, if I am not laboring as a writer—not in the process of writing and publishing—how could I consider myself a writer?”
From that mental quandary, it struck me that the term writer was multifaceted and it meant different things depending on which side of the manuscript you stood. In other words:
“I realized that there are many ways the term ‘artist’—or writer, in this case—can be defined. A writer is a person who wrote the text the reader reads. That writer is timeless and never has to write another thing to be considered a writer. A writer is a person who commits her or his time to writing. That writer exists only in the present moment, and must recommit daily to writing. A writer is also a character, an image, an idea or a prototype that lives in each individual consciousness.”
I can so easily say I’m a novelist now because my daily work is crafting this novel. It is my laboring and deep engagement with the work that makes me not question my identity as a novelist. Without knowing what will happen on that other level of being a novelist—publishing a public novel-length product for an audience—my commitment to functioning as a novelist (ergo writing a novel) is so solid, that my subconscious has gotten the memo and proclamations of my identity as a novelist are just falling out of my mouth! Don’t you love the multiple levels of reality?
Absolutism serves no one.
Be well. Be love[d].
Kiini Ibura Salaam
Wow, sometimes life just swoops in and steals all your extra brain cells and all you can do is run after tasks so you can get them out into the ether and off your brain!
Now that I’ve taken a breath, I can go back to the podcast I recorded about a month ago, but never edited.
The word for this episode? Diffraction.
Get into it and find out what that word has to do with writing and characters!
Be well. Be love[d].
Kiini Ibura Salaam