Shade’s cut-up story sources

Christopher X. Shade’s cut-up story, Shir in Holyland, will be made available as a free, printed booklet during the Season 1: Migration show on Saturday, June 18.  This blog post explains his cut-up technique and provides a window for readers into the material sources used.Shade first chose three books from his own shelves: The Mistress of Spices by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, Call It Sleep by Henry Roth, and Second Class Citizen by Buchi Emecheta.  He then selected three pages, one from each of the three books.  He cut the text of those pages into small fragments, rearranged all the fragments, and allowed the fragments along with Stefan Hengst’s photographs to inspire a new story.

Shade chose three photographs from Stefan Hengst’s year-long project, My Daily Poetry Fix.  Stefan Hengst’s photographs initiated not only Shade’s new work, but each H5 artist’s work in this first installment of 5 Artists | 5 Phases.  Shade selected the following three photographs by Stefan Hengst.  Accompanying each is a snippet of story text in which Shade incorporated a reference to these photographs:

Stefan Hengst 100207
“Sometimes in his eye I see fire. Like an orange light. Maybe it’s Hell there I see. I asked him why yuh god id? And he told me you can keep to yourself.”
Stefan Hengst 100116
It was the old man who turned to look back, standing tall in the sun, his shadow on the street like a great spire against a gray sky.
Stefan Hengst 100516
Her father in the hospital bed said he’d seen silver in the water on the boat from Tangier to Tarifa. He’d hired the boat from West Indians who’d come over. She asked, What do you mean silver in the water?

Once Shade cut up the fragments, mixed them up, and then arranged them in their new order, he typed up the fragmented text.  Here are the fragments:

She saw that she had to share   Wuz way out over St. Jame’s Parochial on   “Dat one’s on’y two cents.  Ev’y night, an’ dat’s w’y she   and showed them into a room   reached in and drew out what      had her appendixitis cut out   “Crosses is holy.”    In the evening    stairs down, in the yard;

Losing you to America.    Well, what could she say?    squinted at the distant roofs    with a single bed   West Indians    buy her a top coat with     I give you a slab     so shiny red it’s    who comes in with her white     You have your children    She said nothing    like a yell    Twelft’ an’ Avenee C     “No.”  He was relieved

“Yuh see dis?”   an’ den it went an’ busted.   They all came to welcome her.  The type she had had    Angry    an’ yuh’ll never hit bottom    even her shoes   “Sorry, but I was too busy    In a 49ers jacket    a hall with flowered walls!   Some cracked wheat    his father shouted “All that     and the only houses    Butcha gota git a lodda

when he said “prom”    running in impatient    “Well, I know you will   “She can’t.”   Jews never buys nutt’n    even her smile    the Pakistanis     the other tenants    when he knew that his wife    returned from the factories    of sesame candy    ready to take off    “Not funny      we can get are horrors like     to make a dalia pudding for

in turn held her    Leo’s voice was nettled    cord wid it, er ye can’t fly it     “Why yuh god id?”    you can keep to yourself    with money saved up    drinking whiskey-beer    fragrance, the same brand     “Sure, even if yuh wears ‘em

got twissed on de roofs    always cross meself t’ree times     for something to fill in    still live apart from     black people with children     Mysore sandalwood soap     Dey ain’ dere now, doze     madam at home     as her paid servants     a senior at Ridgefield High

Francis did not make   but still, in Nigeria, class   how could you have done this to us?   Yuh c’n see de cross–see it?     because they need me    the delicious tears

Any comment   one o ‘dem under her piller    look after    of bajra atta for    ‘I don’t have to see them’    Don’ worry!    Fer deyr kids.

I didn’t mean!   David gazed out at the distant    It’s not bad    “Are we going to live here?”     to shoot some hoops    It was narrow and it seemed

Love in your father’s voice    spire outlined against     the house with such    “Aunty today is ekadasi    Leo instructed him severely    “but I ain’ gonna let it

Manu who is seventeen    eleventh day of the     I had a big kite oncet    she had had a terrible childhood      searched the horizon    the settee and the bed

When me ol’ lady    Everybody is coming to London     “Oh! (Savior? What?)     together with them    that there was no    cleaning bathrooms    After all we

Dey bring yuh luck    ‘em.  Christ, our Savior, died     made with sweet     Francis opened one door     the ones whom I need      She simply stared.     The space between      distinctions were beginning    was just enough     in his uncle’s motel

Until they seemed to be    in London, expecially for    Dere jis layin’ low      an’ it busted wid even      all colourds      micks,” he ventured      wailed inwardly      that the toilet was outside     Nigerians who called her      from them to the

Johnny-high-dive all yuh wants     was coming with their daughter     even when she learned    you don’t have to see them!    You could have tried     methi, my hsband is       that rise to your eyes       made sure he moved away    approaching the roof

And look, look,     not like it, but this is     the hazy western blue       “Funny?”     must not eat rice. So     where he would land      if only he knew     but it was     against cheap

His mother before he goes      he undid a    with the money Adah sent him to     As if to clinch his argument        Here’s kumkum powder      behind them as they leave     settee which Francis had bought

Moon, and my mother-in-law     might as well pick up     mother in fear.     You don’t have to mix     she managed to ask.     But already they are     that he bought    There was no need.    “I mean w’y yuh god id?”

Like a tunnel.    And as long as I wa here.     Is very short    to be established.    Where they worked.     Molasses     starched and shiney      It was very small       I thought maybe    you used to

Looked like a square piece of leather      how fine it is.     You see, accommodation     with its calm bright      what do you need today?     Inside furious    “Kentcha fly wit’ cotton?”

The best I can do.    “Wot’s funny about     on a string     red cord.     Have let me share their joy    already I am turning     thanks that they      “You make it all sound so easy

I didn’t know.”    There were no windows.     We are all blacks     much cost a kite?     Into what he looked    “Chees!     As dis one–an’ wot a pull on it      and even the Indians

She swallowed it all    to put on our foreheads for married      How     luck.    The awkward pause       gur to slow you down     you watch” He      the same educational background      He was quick to mollify     button on his shirt     at first as if

Nurse’s uniform      I send a blessing       “Yea.”     That the topic had changed.   They climbed stairs upon stairs       four flights of       for a formica-topped table    and dancing pressed up      poised tiptoe      fading from my mind     Ah life,

So fond of methi parathas     American girls in miniskirts       of a hibiscus flower      –didn’tcha know dat?”    so that African     just enough to hear     when we were newlyweds      some of them were of     nor when she learned     bath and no kitchen     so many years ago      thinking Not fair not fair      what are you thinking of.”

With them.   Students are usually grouped     fluorescent Nike shoes     have friends who      And when David looked blank.     “Wuz full o’ messages     thought they may be living in slums     horror     a whisper of    “Naw!  It busts.       Others.    –twicet as big     on one o’d dem.”     Opened the door

To pick up a sack     being a widow      this type of people     in the kitchen in Lagos.    She knew       fair.     Buy me in India     at school     just like a nasty pill     a hall;     some of your      nearly all me cord too–      red as the heart

During the writing process, Shade allowed the fragments along with the photographs to steer the story.  Shade only used a portion of the total fragments.  Some fragments were skipped as Shade wrote the story, but most of them were used, many of them without any adjustment to the fragment’s phrasing.  As the reader may notice, Shade worked through the set of fragments until he felt the story was complete.  He stopped working with the fragments when he reached these three, which appear in the last line of the story:  “The space between      distinctions were beginning    was just enough”.

[Article originally appeared on the 5 Artists | 5 Phases website.]

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