Nadia Owusu, Nonfiction


Whiting Awards 2019

Nadia Owusu. Photo: Camarena Photo.

Nadia Owusu is a Brooklyn-based writer and urban planner. Simon & Schuster will publish her first book, Aftershocks, in 2020. Her lyric essay chapbook, So Devilish a Fire, is a winner of the The Atlas Review chapbook series and was published in 2018. Her writing has appeared or is forthcoming in the New York Times, The Literary Review, Catapult, and others. Nadia grew up in Rome, Addis Ababa, Kampala, Dar es Salaam, Kumasi, and London. She is an associate director at Living Cities, an economic racial justice organization.


An excerpt from Aftershocks:

I was fascinated by place because no place had ever belonged to me, nor had I ever belonged to any place. That was also why, as a child, I was fascinated by the body. Perhaps, I thought, I could just belong inside my own body. Perhaps I could know the streams of the veins in my wrists the way other people knew the streams in which they swam as children. Perhaps I could know the names of all the bones in the back of my hand the way other people knew the names of the backroads that were shortcuts home. I could know the rhythm of my pulse like my friend Dan knew the rhythm of the approaching train in his hometown, the rhythm he woke up to and went to sleep to and hoped would lead him somewhere else someday. Instead, I moved further and further outside of my body. Most of us do. But I moved so far outside that I got lost and couldn’t find my way back in.

What will happen, I wonder now, if I cut myself open? I once dissected a fetal pig. I laughed at its cold rubbery corpse. I laughed as I made the first incision. I don’t know why I laughed.

I snatch small sharp scissors from my desk and press the point of them into my thigh. I cannot bring myself to go deep. I do not laugh.

The earth is reduced to this blue chair island. I rub the soil of my cheek against the soil of the blue upholstery.

Once, I was in an airport somewhere in Africa, waiting for my father to arrive. It could have been Uganda, Ethiopia, or Tanzania. The memory is not a clear one. I so often waited for my father at airports. This airport had big windows that looked out on the landing strip, so you could watch people get off the plane with their suitcases and their cardboard boxes and plastic bags. Nobody travels light to anywhere in Africa. Tourists carry giant backpacks full of tents and mosquito repellent and khaki outfits. Africans carry gifts for everyone they know, and some for strangers. There were no arrival gates. People walked down a ladder and onto the tarmac. They paused and set their luggage down. They took off their sweaters or wiped their glasses. I scanned the crowd for my father, but my eyes landed on a woman with brown skin like mine. She had long cornrows down her back. I noticed her because her pause was longer than everyone else’s. I wondered what she was doing. She got down on her knees and placed her cheek against the tarmac and then kissed it. She stayed there, with her lips pressed to the ground, for a good long time.

“What’s she doing?” I asked Anabel, who was waiting beside me, examining her lipstick in the little mirror on its case.

“Greeting the earth,” Anabel said, as though it was the most obvious thing in the world. “She’s probably been away from home for a long time.”

With my cheek against the blue chair, I press my lips against the place in my wrist where my heartbeat whispers. “Hello,” I say. Up close, blue veins look like rivers trapped underground. Borders not yet burst.