Ayòbámi Adébáyò’s foreword to UEA’s 2021 Prose Fiction MA anthology, published by Egg Box and available HERE.
Suzanne Ushie was supposed to be my classmate, but she preceded me to Norwich by a year. Though we both lived in Nigeria, we had never met in person, only becoming acquainted when we learnt that we were to start UEA’s MA in Prose Fiction at the same time. We stayed in touch as September approached, looking forward to our time together at UEA as the only Nigerians in that year’s cohort. Then we applied for our visas. Suzanne got hers but my application was denied, forcing me to defer my admission for another year.
We continued to check in via email, sharing links to opportunities, chatting about her unfolding year and my preparations to resume later. Through her I arrived on the programme before I enrolled, living vicariously through our correspondence, her words a window into the life that could soon be mine. At some point we began to share our writing. First, links to what we had published, then early drafts we had not pitched to any publications yet.
Suzanne had already flown back to Lagos when I eventually landed in Norwich. However, she had left gifts for me in the care of someone in her cohort, who had stayed on to pursue a doctorate. Within days of my arrival, the items – an iron, a water filter, an electric kettle, bed sheets, sweaters, winter jackets, coursework materials – had been delivered to me. And though I had never met Suzanne in person, her generosity would cushion my first few months at UEA. The lack of an opportunity for a physical meeting did not make our kinship less vital. Instead, it seemed to clarify how all we already shared – a love for books, an almost compulsive desire to write, gratitude for the great gift of a year spent thinking, reading, and writing – could transcend distance.
From the beginning of their MA year, the cohort published here has had to devise ways to replicate for themselves a simulacrum of community as the world went in and out of lockdowns. Where some alumni will fondly remember the ritual of fraternising in the grad bar after workshops, this class studied while at a remove from each other for lengths of time. What they have lost or gained because of these unusual circumstances cannot yet be measured and may well be beyond quantification.
The stories and excerpts here display the thrilling promise that earned these writers their place on the programme. They also herald the ascent of future literary stars. A man mourns his beloved as he works his way through a checklist. An immigration lawyer tries to help a client who is in trouble. In London, a waiter watches ghosts mill around the changed city. While in Lagos, a mother can no longer wait for her son to die like her previous children have. Loss rips through the anthology in various forms, echoing the grief-laced year the Covid-19 pandemic has brought upon many countries.
Perhaps this through-line is indicative of how, like Suzanne and me, these writers have happened upon the gift of intellectual companionship that flourishes even when there is no opportunity to spend hours together in the same seminar rooms. It is possible to speculate then, that while they may not have put in hours at the grad bar, this cohort is leaving Norwich with something else alumnae often speak of with gratitude about the MA year – the discovery of writers whose opinions they will continue to value and treasure for years to come.