History Historical Badasses

Gertrude Stein, the queer feminist at the centre of the art movement

I first encountered Gertrude Stein through her avant-garde poetry in Tender Buttons, an evocative series of short poems that forced writing to its breaking point with sentences like: “Dirty is yellow. A sign of more is not mentioned.” I met her blindly, only through her words, yet I already fell for her eccentricity. I knew there was something wonderful behind the mind that put down on paper the bold tongue-in-cheek yet unbelievably serious statement, “A rose is a rose is a rose is a rose”. I just had to explore her art further. So I began scouring old journals and artist profiles to learn more about her. 

Little did I know that the radical art Stein created could almost be rivaled by the art that she nurtured in the artists around her. I found multiple sources that called her the ‘mother’ of modernism, but after getting to know more about her, I am sure that she would scoff at such a title. After all, she left the United States in 1903 to flee the pressures of gender norms. She was also bored with medical school and seeking an outlet to express her eccentric point of view, she settled down in Paris, where she intended to pursue a life free from heteronormativity. She opened a salon in her home for the world’s creative mind, including some of the world-renowned names such as Picasso, Matisse, Hemingway, and Fitzgerald. She was the voice of this ‘Lost Generation, the group of American expatriates flocking to Paris– and even coined the term.

The way I see it, she brought together these esteemed artists and in many ways, elevated them through her no-nonsense critique of their work. I had always internalized that a woman inspiring other artists (typically male artists) was a muse. That term is loaded, as there were often sexualized or romanticized elements typically tied to a muse. Instead, what I admired about Stein was that she was a mentor to the ‘greats’. I see her as a woman that had an undeniable presence in her time, respected by those around her. 

Nothing about her was conventional and she embraced her own strangeness, something that drew me to her further. Stein deserves the title of a trailblazer of the modernist period and of queer identity at the time. Stein’s essay Miss Furr and Miss Skeene were among the first story to be published about homosexual revelation, containing the first noted use of the word “gay” in published works to refer to same-sex relationships. She also hosted one of the first avant-garde exhibitions in the United States, funding it with the money she collected from her art dealerships. I have no doubt that every piece of art in the period has her fingerprint.

And she didn’t hesitate to acknowledge her accomplishments either. Stein didn’t believe that women must be modest, proudly proclaiming “I have been the creative literary mind of the century.” She never sold herself short, a habit I found myself doing as I presented my own poetry or other writing. I was still working with my own feelings of inferiority, belittling my stories as ‘just’ relevant to female-identifying communities. While she wrote about women and her partner, she didn’t restrict herself to writing women’s stories. I found it so refreshing to see her unabashed pride, as it reminded me to take hold of my own achievements and to be confident. No matter how unconventionally and ‘weirdly’ I experimented with my creativity, I learned that I could (and should) still demand to be taken seriously. 

Regardless of all this, I don’t think she should be idolized. I often like to give powerful women in difficult situations the benefit of the doubt, as do most of the historians and writers that grapple with creating a retrospective of Stein’s life. I witnessed a trend in the way that they wrote about her, that she was ensuring her safety as a Jew in Nazi-occupied France by making these questionable alliances with Nazi figures. As much as I respect her as a feminist and as the backbone of the Lost Generation of artists, I cannot excuse her political affiliations and ironic, confusing pro-Nazi expressions. 

At the end of it all, Stein didn’t strive to be accepted or allow herself to be molded by the society around her. She carved her own place into history and I believe it is important to commemorate it, lest she is lost in the shadows of her male counterparts. As a woman in the art world, looking at Stein as an example liberates me and allows me to embrace subversive expressions of creativity. 

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Love Books Advice

On love, heartbreak and strength: how author Aafiyah Shaikh inspires us to rise again

Who among us hasn’t been in the deepest throes of heartbreak and known exactly what we want to be told, but can’t seem to find anyone to say it? Our own Aafiyah Shaikh, Digital Product Manager here at The Tempest, had enough of that feeling, and did something about it.

Her debut novel, Letters to Youis a love letter to everyone who’s ever had their heart broken and just doesn’t understand why, or how to cope with it.

As someone who’s had their heart broken, I identified with the book, but was particularly drawn to the unique format. Each letter thoughtfully explores a new scenario, starting from “what do I do next? How do I approach the next five days?” to “What happens when my partner has a new girlfriend?” to “How do I deal with seeing them in public?” Something about Shaikh’s advice being written in letter format made it feel all the more personal; in writing the advice she wishes she had received herself, it landed to me as the reader as if she’s gently giving advice directly to me as a friend.

In covering so many different scenarios, Shaikh ends up covering that full lifecycle of heartbreak, from the disappointments in the relationship, the pain of breaking up, to kind of the long slow trudge to moving on. Her book ends on that last celebratory note of finally knowing you’re over someone you thought you’d be attached to for life, but what I appreciated the most was that it still demonstrated how recovery is never truly linear.

[Image description: Book cover of 'Letters To You' by Aafiyah Shaikh] Via Aafiyah
[Image description: Book cover of ‘Letters To You’ by Aafiyah Shaikh] Via Aafiyah
Coming out of any relationship – whether it’s a breakup or just a lost friendship – is a messy, ugly process of alternating between waking up one morning and thinking you’re fully healed, and struggling to find the air to breathe the next. Shaikh’s letters embrace you in a warm hug and remind you that you’re not the only one trying to navigate the rollercoaster, and that there is an end in sight.

Eventually, you realize you love the memories more than you love the person in front of you. As Shaikh describes, you eventually hit a point where you realize you like the person that you knew, but the person you knew doesn’t exist anymore – but neither do you, because you’re continuously changing and growing as a person, too.

Not that that growth process isn’t painful, too. It’s certainly a hard pill to swallow when I occasionally remember that there are moments in life that I can no longer share with people I thought would always be my first phone call when anything happens. There are so many times after I’ve parted ways with someone that I’ve had raw insecurities and fears brought up to the surface – what if I don’t ever find someone else to be that first call? Or worse, what if I do find someone and they drop me out of nowhere, too?

And yet, Letters to You reminded me that there’s strength to be found in leaning into the vulnerability. Strength isn’t being upbeat all the time in the face of all adversity; it can also be diving deep inside yourself and learning how to love and respect yourself when it feels like no one else does.

As Shaikh reminds me, the way self-respect manifests itself looks different for everybody – a point she touches on in the nuanced letter “What to Do When He Cheats.”  But the end of the day, Shaikh firmly believes that self-respect is just fundamentally being able to look at yourself in the mirror and being able to say I respect me at this moment in time – if I do this at the age of 22, I can look back at myself at the age of 32 and think that even if it’s the wrong decision, I made the best decision for me at the time with the information that I had.

It’s a point I’m continuing to mull over long after reading (and re-reading) Letters to You. I know that I’m going to keep making mistakes and getting hung up on the wrong people, because that’s part of life. But I’m no longer going to hate myself every time someone falls out of my circle.

[Image description: a photo of Aafiyah Shaikh smiling] Via Aafiyah
[Image description: a photo of Aafiyah Shaikh smiling] Via Aafiyah
Instead, I’m going to remind myself of Shaikh’s point – that I trusted myself, I took a worthy risk, and that the even if I ignored useful advice, the people who gave me advice who really care about me will stick around, even if it goes horribly wrong. I’m going to be more self-compassionate, and remind myself that knowing my vulnerabilities and actively working on them is what gives me strength. And then, I’m going to curl up with Letters to You, and enjoy the warm hug of a good letter to help me in my recovery journey.

You can buy Letters to You in the Kindle Store or on Gumroad today, and keep up with Aafiyah’s next steps on Twitter, or on her personal site at

Official synopsis:

Letters To You is, undoubtedly, a story of heartbreak. But it’s not the screaming and crying that occurs during or after the fallout. It’s the quiet moments, the ones we don’t see in films. It’s everything that happens in between grieving and learning to be okay again. It’s nurturing your pain, replaying good and bad memories. It’s looking at them through new lenses. It’s learning to rearrange your world as it shifts back onto its axis – yourself, not him. It’s those moments when there is no music playing, no big moment of realization because broken hearts require time and patience to be mended, but they do mend. Letters To You is, above all, a story of strength and triumph, through adversities, against all odds, about finding ourselves again.

Tech Now + Beyond

Becoming a best-selling author isn’t just a dream for me anymore – it’s about to become reality

As an aspiring writer, getting a book published is the dream. A few years ago, the concept seemed pretty much impossible to me – a chance in a million. But with the rise of self-publishing, the industry is changing and it is so much easier to get your work published.

Where previously you would have had the difficult task of finding an agent or a publisher, now all that is necessary is good content and the will to get your work out there.

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I decided to do my research and see which companies would be best to use when self-publishing and how much the process would require from me.

Being a Kindle obsessed-human, Amazon was the first place I looked into. With Kindle Direct Publishing, the process seems relatively easy – create the content, format the document, create an account, enter the relevant information and publish. Surely it can’t be that easy right?

With all Kindle titles priced between $2.99 to $9.99, Amazon pays out a royalty of 70%. They will also advertise your book for you so after creating and publishing the book, not a lot needs to be done. A huge plus is that you don’t pay anything to Amazon for using this service, however, this does not necessarily mean that you won’t be spending any money.

In order to publish the best version of your work, you may want to hire an illustrator, get the piece edited or get help with formatting.

There are drawbacks, obviously, the books will not be in bookstores as Amazon itself is technically an online bookstore. But unless you sign up to KDP Select, there is still the option of publishing in paperback elsewhere.

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Xlibris goes a step further.

You just have to write the actual content, it will then design the interior and the cover, get your books listed and print them on demand. You can pick from a range of packages depending on which services you’d want. They also offer additional services of editing, marketing, formatting, and design.

The pros of this are that you can also have your book in paperback and hardback. You get a lot more help in every department in order to ensure that you come out with a more polished version. However, unlike Amazon, this is not a free service. The fees vary from what type of package and add on services you wish to have.

Another useful self-publishing website is Author House, which also offers a range of packages from e-books to full-color paperbacks. Furthermore, they offer a range of additional services from editorial, marketing, production, and bookselling.

Another helpful website is Writers and Artists, and this is a great resource, especially if you don’t know where to begin and what kind of publishing service you require.  You answer questions based on your manuscript and about the tools that you require such as editing, design etc. This website then lists all the companies that offer the services that you require and also compares them.

You can then request a personalized quote to gain an idea of how much each service will cost. This website also has articles and resources to help you on your journey.

These are just a few websites but there are so many services out there to help you create your own book. Personally, I think the self-publishing industry is incredible, having work published has become more attainable. My favorite aspect of this, however, is how simple the process has been made. I’m not technologically inclined so the fact that some of these websites help you format the manuscript is a game-changer for me.

Becoming a writer is no longer a childish dream of mine. I’m not J.K Rowling, but there is a chance that I can get someone somewhere to read some of my work.

That, for me, is enough.

Tech Now + Beyond

South Africans are using Facebook to publish in isiZulu, so why is the language still seen as “backwards?”

isiZulu is the most widely-spoken language in South Africa, specifically in the provinces of KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng. It is one of 11 official languages in the country. Despite being meaningful to many people in South Africa, not much has recently been published in the language.

Since this is the case, Facebook groups are being used as sites for self-publishing isiZulu short stories. Sites like Izindaba Ezimfishane Nosondiya (Short stories with Sondiya), Ekujuleni Kwenhliziyo With S’phaphalazi (The depths of the heart with S’phaphalazi) and isiZulu Short Stories have been contributing to the growing isiZulu writing community in South Africa, making creative outlets more accessible for writers’ work to be read, commented on and shared.

Many of the stories are serialized. Each story will be uploaded chapter by chapter, and readers will get a chance to critique the story, contribute their thoughts about the plot, and even speculate on what will happen next.

As we know, language is an important tool for communicating the way cultures can change and grow over time. For languages like isiZulu that are seen as less important and even less intelligent than English, having space where they can be appreciated is undeniably important. It gives writers and readers the chance to take control of their own narrative, specifically that of Zulu culture and how it is perceived.

Historically, Zulu culture has been deemed as ‘backward’ and ‘savage’ by first the colonial authorities and then the apartheid system. Zulu people were seen as ‘noble savages’: unrelenting and disciplined warriors. The stereotype still persists to this day. To be able to take control of the way Zulu culture is spoken about is so important for people whose culture has been twisted.

Although these Facebook groups are revolutionary, they also highlight the lack of support that African languages receive from publication companies. Many of these companies claim that there are not enough isiZulu writers and that even if there were, the market for isiZulu literature is small.

Despite this belief, the numbers show a very different picture. Business Tech states that only 600-1,000 copies of a South African English book will be sold in the author’s lifetime. In comparison to international books, this is shockingly low.

But what this illustrates is that there is a lack of understanding from publishers around the demographics that South African society represents. Business Tech also states that English speakers make up around 4.89 million people, whereas isiZulu speakers make up 11.58 million people. The fact that these isiZulu Facebook groups can have upwards of 50, 000 writers and readers attests to the reality that there is a potential for isiZulu literature to flourish and even outperform English titles.

It is clear that publishers are not only neglecting the most widely-spoken language in South Africa, but also refusing the reality that isiZulu speakers want to read in their own language. Since isiZulu is predominantly spoken by black people, this refusal is racist. It shows that African languages have no place in a so-called ‘post-apartheid South African literary scene’; a scene that claims to be progressive.

There are a few books in isiZulu that are published by educational book publishing companies. But what this means is that the only isiZulu books given the opportunity to be published are set works for schools and language guides. Most of the work, therefore, does not cross into mature themes above the level of matric or senior year of high school. What this indicates is that isiZulu is not valued artistically, but just as a somewhat necessary language to learn.

To negate the existence of African languages is to negate the existence of black people in South Africa. It is shocking that we are halfway through 2017 and still have to argue for something so obvious.

The truth is ‘indigenous’ languages across the whole world are being excluded in the same way. But what remains important is that we realize how technology is now so much more accessible and can, therefore, be used to promote writing in our own languages.

The existence of these isiZulu Facebook groups is integral to the reclamation of isiZulu as a language worthy of publication. It shows South Africa and the world that our languages are valid and beautiful and need to be heard. What it also shows is that it is time for companies to step up their game and actively seek out isiZulu writers.

It shows that we need a surge in black-owned publications to publish in African languages. Of course, there are so many factors to consider, such as the persistence of white capital in a definitively white supremacist world.

But it is important to understand that in the place of black-owned African language publishers, we can create our own platforms using social media.

Books Pop Culture

Meet Robyn Smart, groundbreaking children’s book author, mentor, and CEO

Robyn Smart is an incredibly powerful and independent writer living in South London. She is a mother, writer, mentor and CEO for Unlimited You Empowerment Program.

Robyn is currently taking the world by storm with her self-published children’s books, that focus on diversity and the human experience. She is an inspiration for any woman experiencing obstacles in her path and struggling to surpass them.  Her first book was My Magic Scarf published in 2015, and her second is Who Am I? which was published last month. She focuses on children’s books and promoting diversity within the genre. The Tempest spoke with her about her ambitions within the children’s book industry.

The Tempest: Your website mentions that your book was self-published.  Why did you choose to go that route?

I decided to self publish in order to have more control over my books. Quite often books of a diverse nature by diverse authors are not always accepted by the large publishing houses. Having a degree of autonomy enables me to decide when and what to publish, catering for a diverse market.

Your website also mentions that you were planning on attending law school when you decided to become a writer instead. How did you make such a serious decision?

The decision in fact was taken out of my hands by an unknown illness which plagued me during my time at law school. During my third year I completed my dissertation from my hospital bed. Once my degree was completed I continued to be ill, and despite having the offers from top law colleges to complete my [law degree], I had to decline due to continuous admissions to hospital. I asked God to guide me in my next venture and here I am.

What advice would you have for women who also are faced with life-changing decisions, like you went through?

I would say, ask God or whoever you believe in to grant you the serenity to accept the things you cannot change. I would say, have faith in yourself, your capabilities and your fortitude and keep focused on your goals but accept there may be a change in your path, but keep steadfast in the knowledge that you were put on this earth for a reason. To make your imprint, to make your footprint however small.

Why have you decided to write children’s books? What about the genre is important to you?

My decision to write children’s books is to be the voice of children. To help express love, hate, pain, all feelings that children quite often cannot express themselves. The genre of children’s books are profoundly important to raise the profile of our children, future leaders.

Do you have any more books planned yet that you could tell us a bit about?

I do have a number of books planned, however I am giving My Magic Scarf and Who Am I? some time for people to know and understand me and my style of writing.

What would you say to young women looking to get published?

Follow your mind in which avenue you decide to publish through. Whether indie or traditional believe in yourself and your product. Get friends and family to preview your work, although the final decision should be yours based on what your spirit and inner feelings tell you. Be confident in what you do and listen to your inner self.

This interview was edited for length and clarity.