On rejecting religion and writing it: An interview with Carey Baraka

Carey Baraka’s The Elizabethans We Lost revolves around a boyhood friendship forged in conflict negotiating their school lives through mischief and licentious behaviour at a time when to be young seems innocent, for Baraka’s characters the business of being “funny” not only draws on humour but also exploits eccentricity and personal politics to enlivening ends. The Elizabethans We Lost has been longlisted for The Short Story is Dead, Long Live the Short Story! (2018)

What was the germination of your story? 

I read Petina Gappah’s Zaka the Zulu and I started thinking that I wanted to do something like that. So, my story is a lot like hers in structure, but also, a friend of mine pointed out that it looks a lot like Tobias Wolff’s Old School, so I think that story must have seeped into my subconscious too.

In what way would you say your writing is political?

Is it? I don’t know. All art is political, it has been said. I don’t know. I don’t think I had any overt political motive with this story, but maybe I’m just too close to see it.

Carey Baraka

What are your opinions on religion, especially regarding how it is talked about in African literature?

This assumes I have opinions about how religion is talked about in African literature. There’s a joke that is made sometimes, that every African writer’s first novel is about religion. But also, I’m thinking about Joyce, and when his character said that religion is one of the things that must be rejected before one becomes a writer (the other being one’s nation).

… religion is one of the things that must be rejected before one becomes a writer (the other being one’s nation)

Carey Baraka (quoting from James Joyce)

What lesson are you hoping readers will take from your story?

None. I didn’t think about that when I was writing it. Enjoying it is enough. 

What advice would you give to beginning writers?

I would tell myself to read, and read a lot.

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