We’re excited to announce the publication of the latest Ploughshares Solo: “Portrait” by Kathleen Hill. The Ploughshares Solos series allows us to publish long essays and stories in a digital format. Recent Ploughshares Solos include “The Trench Garden” by L.C. Fiore and “Urchin” by Lisa Heiserman Perkins. Visit our website to see all the Ploughshares Solos.
Young and inexperienced, Kathleen Hill moves to newly independent Nigeria with her husband to teach at Igbobi College. It is the early 1960s, and Hill is soon caught in the swirl of the times: the legacy of colonialism, chaos back in America, and violence and racism that reach across the globe, intruding even into the calm little school where she teaches her students literature. As a way of steadying and finding herself in this new place, she begins reading Henry James’ Portrait of a Lady, and there discovers disturbing resonances with her own life. Dedicated to Chinua Achebe, “Portrait” is an essay that pays homage to a vanished world and to the great books of English literature, both old and new, in all of their glorious and complicated diversity.
Available on Amazon.com Kindle Store as a Kindle Single for $0.99.
An excerpt from the Solo:
The head boy spoke, wishing a good holiday not only to Mr. Olatunbosun but also to Mr. Esubiyi, the vice-principal, to all the masters, and last but not least to his fellow students. Then followed more English Christmas songs. For the evening’s conclusion, Mr. Amaichi, the music teacher, had written an Ibo carol, sung now to the accompaniment of Yoruba drums hung with little silver bells that jingled and shook. The drummers, students from the upper forms, bent over their instruments, gathered the strings to tighten the skins or loosen them. These were the talking drums, and the hook of a finger could elicit another tone, some other meaning entirely: as could the flats of the drummers’ palms, the fluttering tips of their fingers. Mr. Amaichi stood in front, directing the singers, his arms chopping the air, opening wide the empty spaces. The voices rose high and shrill, following the beat set for them by the drums, insistent, complicated, but seemed sometimes, by way of counterpoint, to depart from it. When everything was at its most intense—the drumming, the bells, the sure sliding voices—the music abruptly stopped. In the long silence that followed, we could hear the night creatures singing outside, could observe the light thrown by the lanterns across the yellow grass.
About the Author
Kathleen Hill’s novel Still Waters in Niger was nominated for the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award and named a Notable Book of the Year by The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and Chicago Tribune; the French translation, Eaux Tranquilles, was shortlisted for the Prix Femina Étranger. Who Occupies This House, a second novel, was named an Editors’ Choice at The New York Times. Her work has appeared in Best American Short Stories 2000, Pushcart Prize XXV, and The Pushcart Book of Short Stories. A short piece, “Forgiveness,” was recently included in Best Spiritual Writing, 2013.
Interested in submitting a story for the series?
If you have a longer story or essay — roughly 6,000 to 25,000 words — please read our guidelines and submit online. Make sure you select “Pshares Solos: Long Story/Novella” from the drop down box under “genre.”