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XCP, African Cities Reader, & other journals

By Mark Nowak

I've been seeking to find—or print myself—the perfectly structured literary magazine  since I began editing and publishing XCP: Cross Cultural Poetics in the mid-1990s. Those early issues of XCP sought to be a space where social utterance met social inscription, transitioning in the late 1990s into a more directed focus on social documentation and ethnographic praxis. In response to the perceived retreat of social movements in post-9/11 USA, XCP expanded its concerns to include more creative and scholarly work addressing the articulation literature and social movements (Bruce Campbell’s essay “Assembly Poetics in the Global Economy: Nicaragua” (XCP no 10, early 2002), would serve as an example of that work). In the past decade, perhaps the closest I've come to the exact magazine I want to read was XCP 21/22 (2009): South Africa: Literature and Social Movements. And I'm hoping that the series of issues we've currently got calls out for—on China: Literature and Social Movements, on Adrienne Rich, and a special guest-edited issue (by fellow Harriet blogger Craig Santos Perez and Brandy Nalani McDougall) on Guåhan & Hawai’i: Literature and Social Movements—will reach that impossible summit, too.

When I look to other journals and editors for inspiration, there's a small handful that I seem to continually turn to: I love reading Marxist geography in Antipode; I love reading the always enlightening and expertly designed Transition; I love the discoveries I always make reading Radical History Review; and I love the somewhat parallel interests of the editors and constant innovation of Vancouver's West Coast Line.

In recent years, I've added the African Cities Reader to my list of long-time journal loves. About six years ago, I was fortunate to spend an evening in Cape Town, South Africa, discussing editorial praxis with Ntone Edjabe, editor of perhaps my favorite journal out there, Chimurenga, which I first wrote about for Harriet four years ago. The African Studies Reader is the more recent project of Edjabe and crew. To date, it has published two stunning issues of new work around this editorial position:

"For us it is self-evident that one has to take the youthful demographic, informality and a non-conventional insertion in global circuits by African urbanites as a starting point for a sustained engagement and retelling of the city in contemporary Africa. The cultural, livelihood, religious, stylistic, commercial, familial, knowledge producing and navigational capacities of African urbanites are typically overlooked, unappreciated and undervalued. We want to bring their stories and practices to the fore in the African Cities Reader. In other words, the African Cities Reader seeks to become a forum where Africans will tell their own stories, draw their own maps and represent their own spatial topographies as it continues to evolve and adapt at the interstice of difference, complexity, opportunism, and irony."

Issue one contains work like Chris Abani's "Lagos: A Pilgrimage of Notations," Nuruddin Farah's "Of Tamarind and Cosmopolitanism," a series of prose and poems from Allan Kolski Horwitz (from the Botsotso Jesters), and much more.  African Studies Reader II: Mobilities and Fixtures is an even more ambitious project—and a project that even more closely lives up to the editors' mission, as quoted above. Rather than try to summarize the issue in this blog space, I invite readers to click on this link where you can find the complete first two issues available for free download (or to read online). You'll find work like Khulile Nxumal's mid-length poem "Africa in Two Monuments," which reads, in part...

The section where our white little coffins buried our little, our babies, is a parched gravel elevation, a look like a life lived without a fire, a necklace made of trash moment, after moment, full circle without attaining any goals. No footprints, no crunches of the feet of visitors.

Reminds how much, this is such a mad city, that I have seen a girl, white girl, I am told grew up chasing goats in the eastern cape. 

In the end, journals like African Studies Reader, Transition, Antipode, Radical History Review, Chimurenga, and West Coast Line inspire me as a poet, engage me as a scholar, and challenge me as an editor. It's that combination that I'm looking for in my journal reads. And this series of publications most certainly have gotten my attention.


Originally Published: April 19th, 2012

Mark Nowak is the author of Revenants, Shut Up Shut Down (afterword by Amiri Baraka), and Coal Mountain Elementary (2009), all from Coffee House Press. His writings on new labor poetics have recently appeared in The Progressive, Virginia Quarterly Review, American Poets in the 21st Century: The New Poetics (Wesleyan...