Queer Books | Something in the Water


An old African proverb goes: “Until the lions have their own historians, the history of the hunt will always glorify the hunter.” For a long time, this has been the case with queer African narratives in literature, wherein stories have been told for the queer African community by others outside of it.

Often, barriers like censorship and confining queer experiences to make their stories more palatable for others have taken precedence. This has noticeably resulted in preventing an authentic (re)telling of queer African narratives by the people who directly experience them.

Would a more genuine understanding of the ‘jungle and the hunt’ not be better if the lion also got to share their side of the experience, then? Would it not be better for each side of a story to be told from different perspectives, so a holistic understanding of the community is informed by more than just one party outside of it?

That’s exactly what Something in the Water seeks to do: amplify different aspects of the African queer experience and to let a generation of queer artists share their journeys through story. In essence, Something in the Water lets us into what it means to be queer in Africa.

This anthology of short stories focuses on queer Africans narratives from different corners of the continent. It includes stories by writers from Uganda, Burundi, Botswana, Mozambique, Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa.

Anthologies have been key to opening space in the publishing industry for queer African literature. Edited by Anathi Jongilanga and Moso Sematlane, Something in the Water is the second short story anthology in The Blood Beats Series, a project that began in 2019 with the first anthology called, Go the Way Your Blood Beats.

Like its forerunner, Something in the Water continues to centre queer African narrative worlds in global literature, with both anthologies ensuring that new and experienced queer African writers are published on a wide scale via the international platform Brittle Paper.

The new anthology features stories by fifteen African writers with the contributors intentionally ‘roaring their story’ and standing against queer censorship. Each story shares its unique perspective of confronting oppression, navigating identity in spaces that threaten erasure, and boldly telling their side of their reality.

This new generation of self-conscious contributors are expressing their existences and challenging stereotypical narratives that had long defined what it meant to be queer and African. The book explores unique queer experiences through complex, relatable characters and richly layered storytelling that ranges from the mythical, to sci-fi, the ghastly and the heart-breaking to cosy and heart-warming tales.

Water is a central theme, interpreted in myriad ways to tell stories of love, joy, tragedy, revenge, loss and redemption. As co-editor Moso Sematlane writes in the book’s editors’ notes: “But perhaps to talk about water is to talk about freedom. Expansion. Refusing to fit into any specific shape or mould.” The anthology adds to the culture-shifting conversations around the representation of queer life and experiences in African literature.

Something in the Water is a powerful collection of stories that gives an understanding of queer African lives because it shares different perspectives of our own version of African queerness with others rather than having it told for us.

As Darlington Chibueze Anuonye says in the introduction to this fantastic anthology: “Remember this as you celebrate with Jongilanga, Sematlane, and these writers: Something in the Water is not a lamentation of drowned men and women; it is rather the testimonies of drowning people who have refused to let the water have the final say.”

Something in the Water is available as a free eBook download on Brittle Paper’s website here.

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