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In an interview with Wasafiri, a British magazine for contemporary international writing, Shailja Patel explores social justice issues through her distinct perspective as an activist and poet. She traces her trajectory to activism from her first career in finance and contemplates the complexity of labels.

Activist’ as it’s used in Kenya is inadequate for me because it’s come to be associated only with spectacle bodies on the streets pitting themselves against the violence of the militarised neoliberal state. Activism defined in this way erases reproductive labour, life-nurturing labour, intellectual labour. In this space, I write to enlarge and complicate that macho narrative. I amplify and valorise the care economies that sustain and repair the bodies on the street, suture the wounds and regenerate the worlds destroyed by warfare.”

Later, she discusses the impact of words and their meaning, citing recent social trends including the hashtag “Blacklivesmatter.”

“‘Before you claim a word … you have to earn its meaning’ has to do with the materialism of words. Words as matter. The concept of personal and communal honour that lies in keeping your word; your word being ‘good’ — meaning solid, trustworthy, a promise that can be counted on. Walking your talk. As a writer, I believe fiercely in the integrity of words — I dont use words like ‘love’ or ‘truth’ or ‘justice’ lightly.”

To read more, check out the full interview on Wasafiri‘s site: http://bit.ly/1LhzM2B

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— Junot Díaz