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35-year-old Zambian poet, Suwilanji Namusamba, is a lawyer by day, a reader and writer by night. 

Putting words to paper is one of her greatest passions. She emerged as one of winners of Antoa Writing Contest in 2021 under the poetry category with an amazing poem titled “Dusk: Earth Rising”. The poet finds it fortunate that both careers and favourite pastime encompass this love. 

When she isn’t writing, she is a shutterbug and can frequently be found bending at weird angles taking photographs of flowers, friends and food–especially the latter two. 

Suwi is a big foodie who loves to travel. With that, she gets very descriptive in writing and talking about her experiences.

One motto that resonates with the Zambian poet is: 

“Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we diet!”

Exclusive Interview with Suwilanji Namusamba 

Tell us, what inspired your poem “Dusk: Earth Rising”?

I was experiencing some serious cynicism in relation to the increased celebration of melanin and what I viewed as “the age of the dark skinned black woman”. Having experienced varying degrees of racism and colorism in different forms throughout my life, the first version of this poem was actually quite pessimistic.  (I still keep a copy to remind me of, and appreciate, the evolution.) I worried that, like many seemingly fashionable things that are à la mode one moment and cast off as outdated the next, this too was more a fad than real appreciation.  

The poem took a turn later when I decided that I would cast aside my weary scepticism and embrace the love. Around the same time I also made the decision that I would be doing a “big chop”, basically cutting off all my relaxed hair and beginning a natural hair journey with a teeny weeny afro. I wanted to appreciate a part of what it meant to be African that I had never really had an opportunity to experience before. With this change emerged a more optimistic me, which is what the poem is essentially about:

Suwi’s artistic depiction of “relaxed hair” in stanza one and two of Dusk: Earth Rising

Everyone has a story. How did you pick the interest for writing?

I can’t pinpoint when exactly I decided I would be a writer, but I know that there was some influence from Herman Melville and Charles Dickens in primary school.  I always loved English Literature classes. Chinua Achebe and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and other African authors came in later in my life and influenced my escape from “the dangers of the single story”.  My love of reading influenced my desire to write and I remember writing poetry and little short stories which I shared with friends.  

I would be told “you should write more”, but I chose to pursue a law career over a course that would have given me more opportunity to pursue creative writing. What I came to realise during law school, however, is that in helping me to better articulate my thoughts, the course also fuelled my desire to write.  Now I fully understand that my career in law and passion for writing are not mutually exclusive.

Who are your favorite African poets and why?

I admit that I have not yet fully immersed myself into African poetry, definitely not as much as I would like.  I have experienced some exceptional “floetry” in my interaction with artists through working with Avocado Media Zambia.  

However, the name that immediately comes to mind when I think African poetry is a Zambian poet, Esnala Banda and her “Sketches of Paranoia” and “Hot Chocolate and Deep Freezers” which were two books gifted to me by a close friend. 

There is something so raw about the emotions that are evoked when she puts ink to paper, I almost wish that I could hear her narrate the poems with my eyes closed so that I could focus on painting the scenes in my mind. I feel that there is something so beautiful and intimate created when a poet bares their soul in such a selfless manner. I will also mention Warsan Shire, who is of African descent. I felt the same ease of candour in her “Teaching My Mother How to Give Birth”.  I know that in time I will find more African poetry that I enjoy and I cannot wait to see the influence it will have on my own work.  

Suwi, do you have favorite places where you write?

My first thought is: wherever I’m sitting where I feel relaxed while on holiday, because that is generally when I would write, as I would usually carry my MacBook with me.  

Lately, though, I travel with it less because it reminds me too much of work and the idea is to free my mind of it. I will usually jot down notes, inspiration and ideas on my phone or in my notebook wherever I am, on the plane, by a poolside, on safari, on the beach, anywhere really. 

However, I will just as easily enjoy using my lunch break at work seated on the couch in my office to get more lines into a chapter or poem. So I guess my favourite place to write is wherever I happen to be when inspiration hits and the words flow from my mind, taking form on paper. 

As a legal practitioner and a writer, where do you see yourself in the future?

I definitely see myself continuing to be a writer and lawyer simultaneously for a long while.  I love the balance of it, and the fact that the two can currently co-exist without disruption.  I am working on some writing that I would love to see in print one day, some fiction, some non-fiction and a lot of poetry.  I do, however, hope that the writing will also extend to the legal side and I can publish some work which will be useful for my profession as well.

Dusk: Earth Rising By Suwilanji Namusamba 

I believed that the longer I could keep my hair straight, the better. I never chose my first relaxer, not because the curls were offensive, my mane was luxurious, but a breaker of combs.

I experienced many comments about my skin from light-skinned men. Some stated bluntly that its richness might only make me good enough to sleep with, caramel-coloured ones would eventually get a ring.

 My tongue stumbled, on numerous occasions, trying to learn languages that matched my complexion.

Anxious to fit it and not be asked the inevitable question:

Where are you from originally? Where were you raised, then?

Simple enough answers, really. Zambia. Africa. Earth, maybe?

Lupita for Lancôme. Fenty’s glorious foundation range. Viola’s Oscar. Beyoncé’s “Brown Skinned Girl”. Crown placed on Zozibini’s shock of hair.

#melanin #blackqueen #blackgirlmagic Cameras able to capture our glow.

As if our beauty wasn’t always on display with us putting on a grand show.

I refuse to succumb to suggestions that I should bleach my skin,

I tell people, almost daily, that my straight hair remains natural still,

I have a memento of my beautiful ancestors etched on my back in ink,

I remind myself it’s okay that English is the language I’m most fluent in.

We have always lived in the age of the dark skinned black African woman.

We don’t have to bend when our kinky intimidates the world like we did then.

Just when the sun was setting on my optimism, in the quiet dusk, I see hope.

I would be told “you should write more”, but I chose to pursue a law career over a course that would have given me more opportunity to pursue creative writing. What I came to realise during law school, however, is that in helping me to better articulate my thoughts, the course also fuelled my desire to write.  Now I fully understand that my career in law and passion for writing are not mutually exclusive.

– Suwilanji Namusamba 

By Elijah Christopher 

 

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Elijah Christopher is a lifelong creative artist and a journalist for “A New Touch Of Africa”, an American news media and magazine focusing on Africa-related issues, fashion, new technologies and innovations. He has contributed to several published works, most notably a collaborative poem celebrating Scottish poet Edwin Morgan and in 2021 was the winner of the DIAJ Award for his photo-artistry.

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