A Literary Mixtape Push play.

In Writing
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If you know, then you know.

That the difference between standard and long play was whether you could afford another cassette tape after filling up the current one. There are certain terms that are demarcations of class more than they are markers of quality. Depending on which side of the tracks you grew up on, sometimes, what you heard was more important than how you heard it.

That TDK, Sony, and Maxell cassette tapes served the same purposes but shared different destinies. Some you could lend to friends, others you kept on the top shelf next to the TEAC or Phillips tape player for flexing purposes, and still there were others that were too private to ever leave the back of the drawer or cupboard because they were mixed and brewed differently.

That the record and play button had to be pushed at the same time—only real Gs know how useful this skill would become later in life.

That a radio’s disc jockey, depending on timing (or mood, or the vicissitudes of advertising) could be both hero and villain. There was no such thing as calling in a request without nurturing a fair amount of hope.

That teamwork made the dream work and, sometimes, to get what you wanted you had to tag-team the call-in lines. One was, is, and forever will be too small a number to make it alone.

That it took time and dedication to create anything worth listening to. Maybe days, perhaps weeks, sometimes months. Why? Because the ears had to be respected. There were mixtapes that merely archived the sounds of the day, but there were others that curated a mood, a vibe, a season, or an era of being. True listeners knew—and still know—the difference.

That imitation was akin to flattery, but copying was not it. It still is not, and, as long as there are true artists of any kind, never will be.

That there were binding covenants between borrowers and lenders, and that sharing was the ultimate form of caring because there were few things more intimate than the compositions and arrangements of the soul.

That the A-side had all the hard-hitters while the B-side contained the home runs.

And, ultimately, that when it came to mixtapes: the whole was the sum of its parts.


Cover design: Danielle Mazzella Di Bosco • Art Director: Lisa Litwick

So it is with short story collections.

They can be short or long. Their chosen length speaks more to the writer’s ambitions (about what they wish to achieve with their writing) and a publishing house’s financial constraints (what they can and cannot afford to publish) than it does to a collection’s quality.

The form and format matter—sometimes these two can be distinguished, but oftentimes they are the same thing.

Completion and submission for consideration go hand-in-hand. Good short stories are like well-prepared dishes in busy and buzzing restaurants: if they are ready, they have to go out, and fast. The quicker they are under consideration, the closer they are to publication.

Editors, everywhere, are overworked and underpaid (if they are lucky). There are no prizes for making their lives harder. Villainy abounds, but so does heroism.

Like any art form that is taken seriously by its practitioner, composing, writing, and editing short stories consumes time in vast quantities. And—and!—short stories are not preparation for writing novels in the same way that the 100-metre sprint is not good practice for running an ultra-marathon. There are short story writers and there are storytellers who use the short story form—serious writers and readers know the difference.

The best stories and collections demand to be shared. Because.

Even when stories in a collection seem disparate, there is some connective creative tissue between them that harmonises their presence in the cosmos created between the covers.

In the end, each collection is always the sum of its arts.

I say all of this because, well, I did a thing.

I did a good thing.

Scratch that. I did a dope thing.

And you should check it out.

Only Stars Know The Meaning Of Space, my collection of short stories, will be published in December, 2024.

POSTSCRIPT: Methinks I will write more on short story writing later. But, for now, I will revel in the completion of the craft.

READ:Meeting At An Airport” by Taha Muhammad Ali (Poetry Foundation) • “Starboys” by Aba Amissah Asibon (Lolwe) • Meditations by Marcus Aurelius • “And The Word For Moonlight Is My Name” by Jai Hamid Bashir (Poetry Foundation) • “To Our Land” by Mahmoud Darwish (Poetry Foundation) • “How To Activate Your Character’s Wants”, “Fundamentals Of Character Creation, Or The Five Invincible Channels”, “On Writing Curved Characters”, “When The Words Become Breath”, “The Truth About Show, Don’t Tell”, “Life As A Crime”, “How The Fantastic Four Will Save Your Novel”, “Notes On Writing Character Relationships”, “Change Is The God Of Fiction” by Junot Diaz (StoryWorlds) • “Interview With Ondjaki” by Stephen Henighan (The White Review) • “Black Momma Math” by Kimberley Jae (Poetry Foundation) • Unmarked Graves by Mubanga Kalimamukwento • “Movement Song” by Audre Lorde (Poetry Foundation) • “Blessed Black” by Shanta Lee (Poetry Foundation) • “The Good Arabs” by Eli Tareq El-Bechelany Lynch (Poetry Foundation) • The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli • “A Short Talk With Rémy Ngamije” (A Long House) • “O God Of Cuba” by Jordan Pérez (Poetry Foundation) • “A Bullshit Genius” by Oscar Schwartz (The Drift) • Intimations by Zadie Smith • “On Being Queer And Happily Single—Except When I’m Not” by Brandon Taylor (them) • “For My People” by Margaret Walker (Poetry Foundation) | WATCH: American Fiction (2023) • But We Must Speak: On Palestine & The Mandates Of Conscience (2023) • The Gentlemen, season 1 (2024) • Invincible, season 2 (2023) • Last Week Tonight: Supreme Court Ethics (2023) • Past Lives (2023) • Ta-Nehisi Coates Speaks Out Against Israel’s “Segregationist Apartheid Regime” After West Bank Visit (2023) | LISTEN:Odugwu Na The Spender” and “High (Mona Lisa)” by The 7th Sound • “Flaws” and “Love” by Les Amazones d’Afrique • “Ka Bohaleng (On The Sharp Side) by Abel Selaocoe • “Waves And Wavs” by Ahmed Spins featuring Lizwi • “Baby” and “Touki” by Andrea Farri featuring Seydou Sarr • “Beautiful Things” by Benson Boone • “Simply The Best” by Billianne • “Be The One” by Bree Runway featuring Khalid • “Meet You At The Graveyard” by Cleffy • “Trendsetter” by Connor Price featuring Haviah Mighty • “To War” by Cormac Begley • “Wait In Vain” by Daniel Caesar • “Canon Event”, “Nueva York Train Chase”, and “Falling Apart” by Daniel Pemberton • “Skin And Bones” and “Hero” by David Kushner • “Giants”, “Kiss Me”, “Lucky”, “Power Over Me” by Dermot Kennedy • “Blood, Sweat, And Tears” by Dreamville, Bas, Black Sherrif, and Kel-P • “Heartbroken” by Diplo featuring Jessie Murphy and Polo G • “Clandestina” by Emma Peters • “Hater’s Anthem” by Infinity Song • “Constellations” by Jade LeMac • “Is This Love” by Jessie Reyez • “Asibe (Happy)” by Kabza De Small, DJ Maphorisa, and Ami Fake • “Three Little Birds” by Kacey Musgraves • “Redemption Song” by Leon Bridges • “Strange Game” by Mick Jagger • “Thinkin’ Bout Me” by Morgan Wallen • “Solo” and “Stargazing” by Myles Smith • “The Hardest Part” by Olivia Dean • “Asibe” by Onset Music Group • “Labour” by Paris Paloma • “Ole” by Qing Madi and BNXN • “Murder On The Dance Floor” by Royel Otis • “Drive” by Steven Yeun • “Let Love Flow On” by Sonya Spence • “Scheming” by You Lost • “Disgusted” by Wé Ani“One Love” by Wizkid | PLAY: Fez (2012) | TRY: backing your shit up—because starting from zero ain’t the motto.