Namwali Serpell

Posted in Past Guests

Namwali Serpell headshotNamwali Serpell is the 2015 Caine Prize winner for her short story, “The Sack,” and an associate professor of English at University of California, Berkeley, where she researches the relationship between aesthetic reception, affect, and ethics in contemporary fiction and film. Her creative writing has been published in Callaloo, McSweeney’s, and The Guardian, among others. In 2011, she received a Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers’ Award for women writers. She is currently at work on a book of essays, Faceless Books, and a novel, The Old Drift.

From The Sack

There’s a sack.

A sack?

A sack.

Hmm. A sack. Big?

Yes. Grey. Like old kwacha. Marks on the outside. No. Shadows.

That’s how I know it is moving.

Something is moving inside it?

The whole sack is moving. Down a dirt road with a ditch on the side, with grass and yellow fl owers. There are trees above.

Is it dark?

Yes, but light is coming. It is morning. There are some small birds talking, moving. The sack is dragging on the ground. There is a man pulling it behind him.

Who is this man?

I can’t see his face. He is tallish. His shirt has stains on the back. No socks. Businessman shoes. His hands are wet.

Does he see you?

I don’t know. I’m tired now. Close the curtains.

Yes, bwana.

J. left the bedroom and went to the kitchen. The wooden door was open but the metal security gate was closed. The sky looked bruised. The insects would be coming soon. They had already begun their electric clicking in the garden. He thought of the man in the bedroom, hating him in that tender way he had cultivated over the years. J. washed the plates from lunch. He swept. A chicken outside made a popping sound. J. sucked his teeth and went to see what was wrong.

The isabi boy was standing outside the security gate. The boy held the bucket handle with both hands, the insides of his elbows splayed taut. His legs were streaked white and grey.

How do you expect me to know you are here if you are quiet?

J. asked as he opened the gate. The boy shrugged, a smile dancing upwards and then receding into the settled indifference of his face. J. told the boy to take off his patapatas and reached for the bucket. Groaning with its weight, J. heaved the unwieldy thing into the sink. He could just make out the shape of the bream, flush against the inside of the bucket, its fi n protruding. J. felt the water shift as the fish turned uneasily.

A big one today, eh? J. turned and smiled.

The boy still stood by the door, his hands clasped in front of him.

His legs were reflected in the parquet floor, making him seem taller.

Do you want something to eat?

The boy assented with a diagonal nod.

You should eat the fish you catch. It is the only way to survive, J. said.

Continue reading “The Sack” on the Caine Prize’s website.



Seminar | March 15, 2016

Reading | March 15, 2016