Emily Dickinson refers to two legacies in one of her poems; one of love and one of pain, the latter ‘capacious as the sea’. Love and pain, love and loss: the two are twinned. To know love is to know (or to imagine) the loss of love.
In some cultures, of course, the risk of love is much greater than the potential loss of that love. In Nigeria, and in many other countries around the world, homosexuality is criminalised. Pwaangulongii Dauod’s essay in this issue, ‘Africa’s Future Has No Space for Stupid Black Men’, is about C. Boy, a student activist who formed a gay club to support LGBT people, some of whom were shunned by their families, and vulnerable to state persecution. Running such a club is a crime in Nigeria, punishable by up to ten years in prison. Homosexual cohabitation can lead to jail terms of up to fourteen years, and worse in the northern areas which have adopted sharia law.
Dauod’s essay, sent to me by Binyavanga Wainaina, founding editor of Kenyan literary magazine Kwani?, shows the dangers of state-sponsored homophobia: fear, concealment, suicide. It also shows resistance. This essay is not only about homophobia – it is also about the relationship between individuals and the state, and a movement of hope and regeneration.
Each story in this issue is about love. Patrick Flanery writes about adoption: ‘I find him in front of the painting. Though you can’t tell much about the boy in the picture, he must be about the same age as the boy standing there on the carpet in the living room, the boy who is now, I remind myself, my son.’ The boy is six, previously neglected and somewhat feral; he creates disorder in the aesthetic space and the well-ordered life. The painting Flanery refers to is by South African artist Kate Gottgens. It depicts a boy with a tied-on tail and an enigmatic smile, his pose watchful and energetic – you can see it on page 68. Flanery’s story evokes the question of how love emerges when you adopt a child of that age, in the context of damage and transition between families, between cultures, and between neighbourhoods.
Like Erica Jong, the Danish writer Suzanne Brøgger wrote freely about sexuality and women’s liberation. This extract from her diaries, translated by the author, is a time piece of the 1980s.
Brøgger is in love, but she is also stalked; the stalker does not accept her new relationship, and may love her, or perhaps he hates her. It’s hard to know: the narrative of stalking hasn’t settled yet.
Claire Hajaj tells the story of one of Syria’s refugees in Lebanon. It’s a true story, and one in which Claire and her husband were closely involved. Thanks to them, it ended well, but Hajaj’s narrative is haunted by all the other stories, the refugees we walk away from without helping: ‘They turn us into moral cowards; the more reasons they give us to stop, the faster we walk, and the tighter we cling to the belief that we have some useful, urgent destination.’
Love is haunted by loss; generosity is haunted by guilt.
Kathleen Collins was an African-American film-maker, artist, educator and writer. We lead with the title story of her hitherto unpublished collection of stories,‘Whatever Happened to Interracial Love?’. The narrator is a young black woman, relatively privileged – she has been to college, the only black woman of her cohort at Sarah Lawrence; she is in love with a white civil rights activist, she lives on the Upper West Side, she hangs out with poets and community organisers.
‘It’s the year of “the human being” ’, Collins writes, ‘ The year of race-creed-color blindness. It’s 1963.’ She ironically identifies the race of each character in brackets and quotation marks: (‘white’), or (‘negro’) – an oblique comment on the reality of that ‘race-creed-color blindness’.
The author ends her story: ‘It’s 1963. Whatever happened to interracial love?’
It’s 2016. Whatever did happen to interracial love, and to ‘race-creed-color blindness’?