National boundaries do disturb my need for unity with peoples. This need often has to contend with witchdoctor paraphernalia that States employ to filter human encounters, cast spells upon citizens, and invite masses into trumpet blaring, self-adulation and jingoism. The invariable result is a deterioration of listening and hearing as a Babel of tongues howl into the shy spaces that should in fact be gently broached so one human being may gaze upon another, and touch (weapon-free) hands, so that together they can move to inhabit the essential, mysterious, awesome, beautiful, delicate and truthful place of hospitable and shared ‘humanity.’*
My work is partly about distinct characters struggling to make peace with the desire for a profound connection, motivated, not by deliberate intent as much as by a visceral reaction to the surprise of encounter and presence, which reaction demands a resolution. Some of these characters find that they must strip themselves of all sorts of (precious) gunk in order to retrieve essential beingness, others pile on more crap–cultural, ideological, national—as armour against vulnerability, which simple being demands. I need both character types for my work. The tensions they emit activate a ‘timbre of voice’ for the text I am exploring. Whether they (the characters) find the happy place of figurative oneness, I don’t know yet. I hope they do. Who do I write for? Family and friends—those who have gone, those who are here, those still to come. I address the stories to a composite presence made out of these and bits of me.
*Ubinadamu in Kiswahili—the relational essence of being human together
–Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor was born in Nairobi, Kenya, and educated at Jomo Kenyatta University and the University of Reading. She received the 2003 Caine Prize for African Writing for her short story, “Weight of Whispers.” Her first novel, Dust, will be published by Knopf in 2014.
2paragraphs gives special thanks to Anderson Tepper for curating our International Writers Interviews. Mr. Tepper is on the staff of Vanity Fair and is a Contributing Editor at Words Without Borders.