NEA Literature Fellowships

Hope Wabuke

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(2017 - Poetry)


Once she saw him
Idi Amin, my  mother.  He would have
pushed  the  elevator  door open, stood close

and said  she was beautiful.
He would  have  said  I want you. He would  have  said  I have been watching

you. He would  have  said
You will be coming with me. He would  have  pushed  himself around

her and  said
You like it don’t she? You will be lucky
to be had by me anytime
I want you.

What is your answer? He would have
said then, and she would have pressed
body into  corner, pressed

down the sounding
of the words that would have
meant  her  death, waiting

for that still silent bell to sound
her chance  to escape.
her chance  at life

Hope Wabuke is the author of the chapbooks The Leaving (Akashic Press, 2016) and Movement No.1: Trains (dancing girl press, 2015). Her work has also been published in The Guardian, Guernica, The North American Review, Salamander Literary Journal, Ruminate Literary Journal, and others. She is a contributing editor for The Root and an Assistant Professor of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. She has received awards and fellowships from the New York Times Foundation, the Barbara Deming Memorial Fund for Women Writers, the Awesome Foundation, and the Voices of Our Nations (VONA) Arts Foundation.

Photo courtesy of Hope Wabuke

Author's Statement

When the NEA called me to tell me I had been selected as one of their literature fellows for 2017, I was in my office on campus, having just finished up some grading and about to go pick up my son from preschool. “Wow,” I said, and sat back down in my chair. I believe that was the only word I said during the phone call. I promised myself that when I sat down to write something for the Writer’s Corner, I would think of something more eloquent than that. But still, all I can say is “wow.” It is such a wonderful gift the NEA gives—this grant which means time and money that can be devoted to researching and writing my next poetry collection. Almost more important than the grant money though, is the intangible support that being recognized by the organization brings. It is always a strange thing to embark upon writing; you are buoyed up by your belief in the project—that this is something that must be said. In my case, my poetry collection The Body Family is an exploration of my family’s escape from Idi Amin’s Ugandan genocide and the aftermath of healing in America. In it, I reclaim my culture, womanhood, and spirituality from a legacy of violence, creating an organic, feminist revising of the Christian Bible. It is strange to be writing this and realize that this is something that I haven’t seen anyone try to do before. With that uncharted territory, at times, one wonders, “Can this work?” In the silence of creation, it is lovely to have the support from NEA—that they too, believe what you are doing is good, important work that must be said as well.