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Serpell, Namwali

Entry updated 27 February 2023. Tagged: Author.

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(1980-    ) Zambian-born author, in USA from the age of nine. She is of initial interest for the nonfiction Seven Modes of Uncertainty (2014), which explicitly draws some of its strategies from William Empson's Seven Types of Ambiguity (1930), arguing for the vital importance of "structures of conflicting information" in the work of authors like Thomas Pynchon; in this encyclopedia, the term Fantastika is used frequently to point to texts whose use of conflicting generic elements or topoi is of strategic importance in grasping the churn and scree of the contemporary world.

Serpell's first novel, The Old Drift (2019), unsurprisingly and fruitfully clashes together various modes in its tracing the complex lives of a range of characters in Zambia from around 1900 (when it was still called Northern Rhodesia [see Imperialism]) into the Near Future. A somewhat metaphorically conceived advanced Technology spurs the exploration of the Solar System; various characters are afflicted with mythic stigmata (the protagonist's body is covered with hair that grows faster than it can be cut); Zambia itself is centrally conceived as addressable – perhaps only addressable – in the terms of a tale as clangorous with versions as Serpell's. The Old Drift received the Arthur C Clarke Award. The narrator of her second novel, The Furrows: An Elegy (2022), experiences the loss (by drowning?) of her brother through episodes or visions of his reappearance, deeply recognizable or in the guise of some Mysterious Stranger, for he is seen as engraved like "a gap in the weave" of the epistemological maze of the world. [JC]

Carla Namwali Serpell

born Lusaka, Zambia: 1980


collections and stories

  • Will Williams (no place given: Amazon Kindle, 2019) [story: ebook: na/]

nonfiction (selected)


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