Shailja Patel. patterned sari border
 About/Press KitWorkMigritudeBlogNews/AwardsCalendar ShopContact Shailja
decorative pattern

Be a part of Migritude's journey.
No contribution is too small - or too large. $2 buys coffee for a volunteer. $15 rents a rehearsal studio for an hour. $100 covers 2 hours of lighting / tech / set design. $500 helps fly Shailja to international festivals!!

You can also make a tax-deductible donation by check. Please email for details.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

the constant gardener

I have an attraction - repulsion thing going with films set in Africa made by Western studios and directors. They almost always tell the stories of white western tourists, settlers, mercenaries, adventurers, and treat the continent and its people as a picturesque backdrop to their own personal drama.

A few years ago, I borrowed a set of rules from brilliant cartoonist, Alison Bechdel In one of her Dykes To Watch Out For strips, she has a character say:

"I don't go to a movie unless:

1) It has at least two women in it, who
2) Talk to each other, about
3) Something other than the man in the movie."

I tweaked that for my Africa-films filter. Any film set in, and ostensibly about, Africa has to:

1) Have at least 2 African characters in it. That's CHARACTERS - not servants, waiters, extras.
2) The two African CHARACTERS have to talk to each other, about
3) Something other than the white protagonist(s) in the film

So I've avoided going to The Constant Gardener because none of my friends who've seen it could vouch that it met my 3 rules. Yet, I hunger just for images of Kenya, wherever and however I can get them. So today, I finally succumbed, and made plans to see it - only to get stuck in Bay Bridge traffic and miss the showing. The God of Films is chortling over the irony.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Support war resisters

Empires need armies to pursue their invasions. Armies need human beings. One of the most powerful things we can do to oppose empire is to support soldiers who refuse to serve. Check out Courage To Resist

demand something of words

A couple of months ago, I performed at a benefit for the National Lawyers Guild in San Francisco. Another poet there, Haleh Hatami, read a piece she'd translated from Farsi by Iranian poet, Yaddlah Royai. One line from it has stayed with me:

"In your downfall, demand something of words.”

It echoes in my head, as I assess the quality of what I write. I've been asking myself, what do I demand of words? What I've found is that what I demand of words is what I demand of relationships:

Clarity of intention.
Courage of heart.
Celebration of connection.
Commitment to communication.

All the c-words – because c-words rock. Especially the one you’re thinking of – the most beautiful, powerful, carnal, cerebral and holy of them all.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Poet speaks to Geek

From Against Love Poetry by Eavan Boland,

Let there be language –
even if we use it differently:
I never made it timeless as you have.
I never made it numerate as you did.

from Code, An Ode to Grace Murray Hopper, 1906 – 88, maker of a computer compiler and verifier of COBOL


The opening piece of Migritude, the poem about the path, has come in for more criticism than any other part of the show. From "I just didn't get it," to "slow and unfocussed" to "new agey", the comments tell me it just didn't speak to people as it spoke to me.

"Footpath" is a poem I studied in school, for my O-level literature curriculum. I remember the heated debate we had in class about who the narrator was - a child? a new bride who's just left her mother's home? I forgot all about it after O-levels, but a few months ago, it suddenly began to chant itself to me as I walked the hills of Rockridge thinking about Migritude. It became a hypnotic invocation, and I was surprised at how much of it I remembered. I had to wait until I went back to Kenya in June to check the text - I couldn't find it anywhere online or published in the Western world.

When I read it, it seemed to capture every stage of the migrant journey, driven by the displacement of whole peoples by colonialism. It starts with the longing for the mother (security, warmth, the restoration of things as they were) and the realization that survival is threatened (there is no more food and the water has run out). Then the realization that she has to go in search of the mother, negotiate difficult, unfamiliar, different terrains (the way migrants do, believing that if they just pass each test, surmount each obstacle, their will be triumph, restoration at the end of it). The recognition that the mother will not return no matter how far she travels (the way we accept that the motherland, mother-tongue, who we were, is forever gone). And then the choice to reclaim and redefine what is hers, to find the mother in herself, to see her choices (path of the crossways, path of the bridge). The final taking on of responsibility for the world she inhabits, for where she is, for the battles she must engage in. To find her own light, her own fuel, her own power (there is no firewood. And I have not found the lantern).

I've searched for information on Stella Ngatho, the poet. Other work by her. Nothing. Her anonymity is part of the message the poem carries for me - she symbolizes a whole generation of post-colonial African women whose voices have been lost, whose stories are invisible. I see her as a young woman, in the 1970s, writing her poems, submitting them to journals and collections, reaching for community and resources to put her work out into the world. What happened to her?


Just heard from my friend Sandra Chatterjee, of Post-Natyam, that she got her dissertation in and has been awarded her PhD from the Dept of World Arts and Culture at UCLA.

Sandra is one of the artists who reminds me that I don't need to choose between making art and rigorous intellectual inquiry. She takes books into the studio with her and reads theory as a warmup to dancing. Her life work is about challenging domesticated, colonized representations of the South Asian female body - as dancer, academic, and joyfully fierce activist.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

execution of Tookie Williams

No words. Read the eyewitness account:

Ok, I do have some words: for the way the debate was framed. He didn't "deserve" to die, because he had "redeemed" himself. The language of redemption and deservingness has no place in the battle against the death penalty. It reinforces the idea that execution should be decided on a case-by-case basis, by a racist and fundamentally flawed mockery of a judiciary system.

trivial gratifications

(1) The satisfying "cronk" crunch sound my Mac makes when I slide something off the desktop into the trash can. And the pleasure of the clear space it leaves on the desktop.

My hair is finally long enough to sweep up in one band at the back of my head.

But WHY hasn't anyone yet invented hairpins that STAY in your hair longer than an hour? If I'm ever on the run, they'll be able to track me down just by following the hairpins I scatter in my wake.......

Sunday, December 11, 2005


I've cooked more in the last 48 hours than I have in weeks. Vegetable soup, channa-courgette-spinach curry, carrot cake, pineapple muffins. It's a part of the new-parent support package, but something about snow outside and darkness at 4pm, and a baby dozing on my shoulder, makes me want to fill the house with the fragrance of things bubbling on the stove and browning in the oven.

protest at sub-zero

Pablo and I performed yesterday at an outdoor rally / antiwar protest for International Human Rights Day. We both flubbed our words - and we both blamed the cold :-) It was a little below zero. From the moment we got out of the car to the moment we got back in, I danced around like a hyperactive 6 year old; I had to keep moving to keep warm. It was also weird to perform with 10 extra pounds of clothing on, but the audience was very appreciaative.

I was followed in the lineup by a company of dancers,Danza Mexica Cuauhtemoc, who did their thing bare-chested, bare-armed, bare-legged, in the snow. And they were amazing - I was in awe of them. Dancers do with their bodies what I try to do with my words.

Shailja Patel. patterned sari border
©Shailja Patel