Friday, July 13, 2012

A Book Gets a Name

So, today consensus has been reached.

The title of my new book which won the Letras Latinas/Red Hen Poetry Prize will be:

Speaking Wiri Wiri

(Interestingly enough, the voice recognition software I am using this morning first recorded the new title as "Speaking weeee weeee" thus proving that Google does not understand my father's neologisms.  Quelle surprise.)

This morning, as is so not my practice, I woke early and found myself walking along the waterfront in Georgetown with my dog.  It gave me the opportunity to think about the new title and how it connects to some of the themes in the book and how it connects the book to my father, to his voice and his story.  Coming up for a book after working with its contents for so long is daunting.  You want a title that's true and direct and thought provoking.  Certainly Speaking Wiri Wiri is that.

So what does the title mean?

In the house I grew up in "wiri wiri" was my father's term for English.  He never defined it.  We just knew what it meant.  It meant his kids were sitting around speaking English and he felt left out and he was having none of it.  I figured "wiri wiri" must be what English sounded like to him. That's what "wiri wiri" means.  In the context of the book, it speaks to the ways in which I've struggled with language and how that's part of my own exploration of identity and belonging -- certainly one theme in the book.

I originally started this blog last November (while at a residency at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts). This morning, after hearing about the final book title, I tried changing the blog's name to but found that name was amazingly already taken (by a long defunct blog by a high schooler).  How could this be?  Who else would use "wiri wiri" I thought to myself.  This of course led me to a very educational, Google search which revealed a few things.

First I discovered that "wiri wiri" is the name of a type of Guyanese hot pepper. Small round and "South American" was how one website described it.

But most pleasing I find that that "wiri wiri" may be the Spanish equivalent in some parts of "yadda yadda."  And this is what leads me to the video for Los Canarios de Michoacan's song "El Wiri Wiri."  To call this video an epiphany is an understatement.  Given the playful nature of parts of the book, this title fits in ways I could never have imagined.

I also found the following song by the amazing Senegalese artist Youssou N'Dour titled "Wiri-Wiri."  I include it because it's achingly beautiful.

I hope to use this blog to talk about the book but also as a repository for what I discover along the way.  Like most journeys, I love having good music along for the ride.  So this is an auspicious way to begin.