Born in Kenya and recently immigrated to the U.S., author and Brown MFA graduate Shingai Njeri Kagunda believes fiction was never meant to be boxed into neat and tame compartments. Just as the real world is messy, so too should fiction. Well, authentic fiction at least. As a writer, Shingai’s approach has always been an eclectic one, aiming to reconcile the magical with the realist, the past with the present and while simultaneously affirming her own, unique identity in a world that for too long has ignored the presence of those like her. She is the author of & This is How to Stay Alive, her debut novel that tackles grief and healing through the vehicles of fantasy and time-travel, as well as multiple short stories. Join her in this very first episode of the Frivolous Comma Podcast as she dissects Western versus Non-Western storytelling, demonstrates the power of fiction in dismantling the effects of colonization, and shares her insights on how to persevere as an aspiring writer.
Early Writing Inspiration [00:00]: Shingai discusses her early writing gigs and how her culture inspires her speculative writing.
Western vs. Nonwestern Storytelling [5:50]: “Stories are stories”. Shingai illuminates the pitfalls of boxing fiction within rigid categories and the advantages of genre-fluid storytelling.
Memory and Imagination [10:00]: Shingai explains the struggle and the importance of capturing national history—particularly traumatic history—through fiction.
Writing to be Seen [25:00]: Stories have the power to reflect society as much as they have the power to reflect the individual. Shingai discusses the importance of writing stories that affirms your own identity and makes others like you feel seen.
Cultural Representation of Magic [33:40]: Shingai explores how colonization led to the demonization of Non-Western style magic and how telling representative stories can change this stigma.
Cultural Representation of Time [39:00]: Shingai contrasts the way Kenyans view the relationship between time, relationships, and cultural values with the way Western society views these elements.
Living in a Grieving World [43:40]: From transitioning to life in the States to living through the pandemic to watching everyone else’s struggles through the internet, Shingai is no stranger to grief. She discusses how her stories deal with grief in both a real and speculative manner.
Voodoonauts [49:00]: Shingai recalls what inspired the founding of Voodoonauts, a free speculative fiction workshop for black writers, and the impact it has had on her life.
Advice for Aspiring Writers [54:50]: What are some key actions aspiring speculative fiction writers can take to succeed in the journeys? Shingai shares her wisdom.
We speak with speculative fiction writers, new and established, to tease out what inspired them, how they work, what kind of beverage keeps them going, how they think about their work and their relationship to it, and much more.