TJ Dema is one of the best poets writing today.
Not one of the best poets writing in Botswana.
One of the best poets writing today, full stop.
And finally she has a book out so we can take our time and ruminate with her words the way good poetry should be savoured, not just let it flash by us at one of her performances.
I, for one, am-over-the-moon happy.
Her new collection has been included in an annual series, this being the inaugural set, being done by the Africa Poetry Book Fund (APBF) called Seven New Generation African Poets which is not an anthology but rather a collection of chapbooks (small volumes of poetry) by leading poets from around the continent.
They are sold as a set and can currently be pre-ordered on Amazon and, hopefully, will be available soon in local bookstores.
TJ Dema’s book is titled Mandible. The other books in the collection include:
The Cartographer of Water by Clifton Gachagua (Kenya)
Carnaval by Tsitsi Jaji (Zimbabwe)
The Second Republic by Nick Makoha (Uganda)
Ordinary Heaven by Ladan Osman (Somalia)
Our Men Do Not Belong to Us by Warsan Shire (Somalia)
Otherwise Everything Goes On by Len Verwey (South Africa)
The collection of chapbooks also includes an introduction from APBF editor Kwame Dawes and poet and novelist Chris Abani.
TJ travelled to Seattle, Washington USA to be part of the APBF Writers and Writing Programme Conference where the chapbooks were launched.
At the Conference, Ghanaian poet Kofi Awoonor’s book The Promise of Hope was launched which is also published by APBF.
Awoonor died last year at the Westgate bombings in Nairobi while attending the Storymoja Hay Festival.
TJ was one of the poets chosen to read Awooner’s poems at the Conference during a panel to launch his book.
Besides the new book and the trip to the United States, TJ has been busy with quite a few other things she told me in a recent interview.
Straight from Washington she headed for Scotland to attend StAnza: Scotland’s International Poetry Festival.
While there, she worked with a group of teenagers talking about their writing and their process and sharing their poetry.
She also had the honour of sharing the stage with Britain’s Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy during the Saturday night performance.
TJ read her poetry to the full house crowd (with an overflow room fitted with a big screen) for 40 minutes and Duffy took the stage after a break for 50 minutes.
“I was very chuffed to be on stage with her,” TJ said.
“Carol Ann Duffy’s poetry is accessible and speaks to everyday experiences.
…I wish I knew about her when I was in school.”
And if that wasn’t enough, The Danish Arts Counsel has invited TJ to be part the DIVA Residency Programme (Danish International Visiting Artists).
She will be in Denmark for two months starting from 7th April.
The programme has the artists fully engaged in arts project in the community.
Some of the events included will be public readings, collaborations with local artists, judging slam contests and working with young writers.
If that seems like a whirlwind few months, there is a local cherry to drop on TJ’s quite big cake- she was chosen as one of KBL’s St Louis Export’s Top 40 Under 40 at an awards ceremony at the new Masa Centre on 31st March to receive her pin to recognise the honour.
According to KBL, the awards are meant to bring “together different individuals under the age of 40 who have a shown a commitment to positive change in their environments in order to better Botswana as a whole”.
Another poet, Andreattah Chuma also made the list of the top under 40 year olds.
Congrats to both of you!