Spring/Summer 1994, Volume 11.2
Neila C. Seshachari
We feature in this issue an interview with Lewis Nkosi, South Africa-born journalist and writer, who had to sign away his right to ever return to his native land, when he accepted a Nieman Fellowship to study journalism at Harvard in 1960. "[T]he years that followed shaped themselves into a rich Odyssey as he studied, taught, and wrote his way from Harvard to London to Sussex to Zambia to California to Poland to Wyoming," writes Janice Harris, who interviewed him for Weber Studies.
Lewis Nkosi's life and writings draw our attention to the felt trauma and suffering that stalk those who find themselves in a horrendous double diaspora—both psychic and geographic—for Nkosi was not permitted even to visit his native land for the next thirty years. The realities of "orientalism" and post-colonialism, and the hegemony of "western imperialism" as elucidated by Edward Said can be more complicated and their repercussions farther reaching than a pedagogic critical study of them might suggest.
"The Black Psychiatrist," Nkosi's one-act play featured in our pages, bristles with subtexts. Beneath the psychiatrist's relationship with the woman lurk larger questions of African identity: 1) a "cultural" identity, the one shared with ancestral kin who share the same history; 2) a "political" identity that binds all people who are players in the post-colonial struggles of developing nations; and 3) a shared "social" identity of all marginalized peoples. How is a black psychiatrist to hold on to his personal identity—which is more than the sum total or combination of other identities—with dignity and sanity? The play thus becomes also a fascinating glimpse into the continuing "production of identity" which is "not an identity grounded in the archaeology, but in the re-telling of the past" as Jamaican writer Stuart Hall explores it in "Cultural Identity and Diaspora." In the case of the black psychiatrist, it is a re-collection of personal and political past.
This issue features more writers than we have ever done before in one single number: Critical essays by Frances Hernández, Alfred Cismaru, Ann Ronald, Fred Erisman, Carol A. Martin, and Walter Cummins; fictions by Alan Cheuse, Lance Olsen, John Hendrickson, and Kristen Rogers; and poems by Joseph M. Ditta, Scott Cairns, Jeanette C. Bagley, Allan Johnston, Stephen C. Behrendt, Joseph Bathanti, Richard Wiman, Paul Swenson, and Stuart Friebert. Of the five books reviewed, three deal in one way or another with diasporas, exiles, and marginalization-of sensibilities, cultures, art. Two others, autobiographical in nature, "unveil" the painful and slow empowerment of feminine/feminist individuation.
Frances Hernández's critical essay deals with erstwhile diasporas or, properly speaking, exiles of two European writers, Stefan Zweig and Ramón Sender, who fled the atrocities of Hitler and Franco respectively. Hernández argues that similarities in their backgrounds notwithstanding, their marital or spousal relationships account for the different directions that their lives and writings took. Alfred Cismaru's essay reflects on how Alain Robbe-Grillet's dictum that "things just are, period" and his attendant literary activities earned him the title of chef d'Zcole of the anti-novel. Ann Ronald's essay follows the career of the little-known Idah Meacham Strobridge, three of whose works were reprinted in 1990 by the University of Nevada Press in a single volume titled Sagebrush Trilogy. Carol A. Martin, on a literary pilgrimage to Lyme Regis, muses on it as a place that Jane Austen "immortalized" rather than as "The Cobb, Lyme Regis's long stone breakwater, on which Meryl Streep stood precariously…" in the movie version of John Fowles's The French Lieutenant's Woman. Fred Erisman shows how the social ideas of the Norwegian-American economist Thorstein Veblen resonate in the novels of England's Nevil Shute, for both essentially worked "within the long-standing tradition of the technological utopia." Walter Cummins traces the myth and tradition of "exploration and individualism" in the United States since Christopher Columbus's mythic journey.
The fictions and poems in this issue touch upon a variety of fascinating topics—from Alan Cheuse's depictions of irreverent, funny and far-out experiences of young boys growing up in Jewish working class neighborhoods of New York, to Lance Olsen's "Final," a postmodern fiction about grisly choices in an overextended, overcommitted world of study and business, to Scott Cairns's "Farming the Salt Flats" and Stuart Friebert's "Annie-Over."
There's plenty here for a good read. Even as we are taking this issue to the printers, we are getting ready for our next one, the much awaited "Wilderness" special issue co-edited by Scott Slovic and me. Scott is teaching in Japan on a Fulbright Fellowship this year, but distance has not slowed down his enthusiasm or efforts. This special issue should turn out to make as much splash as our tenth anniversary issue on "Tradition and the Individual Talent in Contemporary Mormon Letters," which had to go into a second printing.
A necessary update for our readers: Our tenth anniversary issue brought this editor, the editorial crew, and Weber State University an award for "service" in the legitimization of Mormon belles lettres from the Association for Mormon Letters. I offer my heartfelt thanks to the splendid writers who literally brought the award home to us.