After their January 2013 High Impact Tour of the UK, all the participating writers were invited to give their personal impressions of their 6 days performing in 6 different venues and touring 6 cities… and it wasn’t just the cold and snow which inspired their reports! We’ll be publishing one a day all week, written exclusively for High Impact. Today read Chika Unigwe.
A few days ago I read Richard Blanco’s poem ‘One Today’ which he composed for President Obama’s inauguration, and this poem resonated with me. The High Impact Tour was a profoundly moving one for me. It was my ‘One Today’ moment.
I had already performed in the UK before this tour. But never as a Belgian writer. And certainly not as a writer from Flanders. My Belgian identity had hitherto been limited to the red passport which makes international travel easy for me; a lot easier than with my Nigerian passport. My Belgian identity was hyphenated. When I began my writing career in Belgium, I was identified as Afro-Belgian, an identity I accepted more readily than being called an Afro-Flemish writer. Flemishness is a cultural concept that is for me burdened with too many issues and I had chosen to take a conscious distance from it… And yet here I was travelling on the High Impact Tour as a Belgian writer, a writer from Flanders; a Nigerian writer from Belgium. It reminded me of the many spaces that literature makes it possible for us to inhabit.
After our finale event at the Tabernacle in London, when a member of the audience came up to me and said,
“It’s amazing how you can be both at the same time, and by being both, how you are able to influence the face of literature from the Low Countries, so that it is no longer just the ‘one voice’ but a voice like yours too”,
I was able to share in her sense of wonder.
This too is literature from the lowlands: the story of Sisi, Ama, Efe and Joyce; of Godwin marrying his Tine so he can be a legal resident of Belgium.
I am grateful to the Tour for giving me the opportunity to share their stories, these stories that make up contemporary literature from Flanders.
Above all, in addition to all, the High Impact Tour was a chance to get “up close and personal” with some of the best contemporary writers in the Netherlands and Belgium. For this, my enduring gratitude.