*Illustration by Shyama Golden
I have recently found two short stories that brought back some hard memories. They were both cathartic, gifting me with the ability to remember and, with a renewed conviction, reject the stories that I was told about about my femaleness.
Self-love is an ongoing process, especially if you’re a black woman.
This is why I love literature so much.
It allows the reader to see herself in the characters.
And to imagine a different way of being in the world; a way that supports a liberated life.
A most basic synopsis of “Mother of Invention” is that a young mother-to-be in future Nigeria finds herself caught in what would, for her, be a deadly pollen storm. Abandoned by her child’s father, her smart home is her only companion as she goes into labor while the storm kicks up outside.
I learned about the story from LeVar Burton Reads when he spent a couple of weeks reading the story and the third week in an hour-long interview with Okorafor.*
I highly recommend it.
Okorafor is a master storyteller, prolific and gifted in her attention to the details that make all the difference in storytelling. “Mother of Invention” is no exception, vividly depicting not only the natural environment of the Delta region in which the protagonist, Anwuli, lives, but also the environment created by the smart home and the A.I., Obi 3, the only one on whom she can depend. Okorafor also does a wonderful job of creating an emotional environment that holds on to the listener/reader with Burton’s interpretation of the story adding several important dimensions.
The story is riveting and rendered in such a way that the reader/listener is left at one point in the narrative believing that there is no way Anwuli is going to come out of the storm and the birth alive.
Yet Okorafor imagines a way out; a lesson for those of us who at certain points in our lives, feel like there is no way we will escape our circumstances. There is always a way.
But what struck me most about the story and the telling of it is the way that Okorafor brings into stark relief the fact that no matter how much humans try to separate ourselves from nature, we are nature and nature will reclaim us.
In the midst of the sterility that we associate with A.I. technology: flat, smooth, shiny surfaces, the absence of the human, there is Woman at the center, bringing new life into the world in the most organic way possible. There’s no sterilized hospital room, no masked, suited, and gloved doctors and nurses, no hot water, no epidurals, no bright lights, or brand new blankets in which to wrap the newborn, no sterilized scissors with which to cut the umbilical cord. There is a lone woman in pain, laboring to bring life to another as she fights to save her own life. There’s blood and gore and Earth smells, and Anwuli’s body’s violent reaction to allergens as it tries to keep her alive.
And in the end there is a brand new human being and his mother who will be able to nourish him for months with only the milk of her body.
Burton asks about the graphic rawness of Okorafor’s depiction of childbirth in his interview with her.
Her response reinforces her gift as a writer: that she has given birth and even in the midst of the travail she was mentally noting the experience so that she would be able to write about it!!!
How incredible is that???!!!
Okorafor is a true artist, always collecting fodder for her fertile imagination.
I absolutely love that she uses her experience as a woman and an inventor of worlds to bring certain facts to light: again, that humans are the Earth, that women are freaking amazing with our ability to not only nurture life within our bodies for nine months, but continue to do so once that life is out in the world.
And that out of the mud grows the lotus.
This is what all the pain is about and what a gift it has always been.
If only our society would celebrate the gift of the Feminine, rather than try to dominate it, humiliate it, suppress it, objectify it, abandon it.
If only we could stop hating ourselves for our power.
“Mother of Invention”,** A Locus Award Finalist, was originally published in Slate as part of Future Tense, a partnership of Slate, New America, and Arizona State University that examines emerging technologies, public policy, and society. It’s also available in Future Tense Fiction: Stories of Tomorrow (2019).
I’ll leave it there for now and will continue with the second most recent short story to change my life in the new year!
* Another short story that Burton read on his podcast, “The Winds of Harmattan,” so haunted me that I did a painting about it!
Check out my “Winds of Harmattan“!
**The story is available for free on Slate