When Laura and I first found Idza Luhumyo’s “How to Swim” in the submissions queue, it didn’t take long to know we were in the hands of a skilled writer. Idza has a way of creating fully formed person in space of a single paragraph. In a page or two, under her control, a marriage can form and fall apart. Even minor characters who appear only briefly, like the Maasai woman who haunts the Spot, seem as though they could just step off the page and into your life.
When working on “How to Swim” for the editorial mentorship, I found myself not so much offering suggestions for improvement so much as praising Idza’s writing and her ability to find insights that immediately ring true: “Sidi thought she saw embarrassment in the eyes of his mother, who was looking at her the way you look at something that is nice, yes, but not necessarily nice for you.” I particularly liked the way Idza describes being trapped in a failed marriage as “like a breath held in for far too long.”
When we did work on edits, such as building towards the ending or making Sidi’s husband’s child a larger part of the narrative, Idza would send back a sentence like this: “It is during this period that Sidi understood that there was nothing truly impossible—nothing that one could not do, or withstand.” Receiving that revision, I remember feeling as stunned as Lewa, who sees Sidi’s husband throw himself off a bridge.
Stories can transport us across borders and place us in the lives of people halfway around the world. But this magic doesn’t happen by accident. As Idza said, “it [is] one thing to have a story in your head and another thing—entirely—to have it on the page.” Revision is painful and difficult and mysterious and transcendent.
George Saunders once wrote, “there is something wonderful in watching a figure emerge from the stone unsummoned, feeling the presence of something within you, the writer, and also beyond you—something consistent, willful, and benevolent, that seems to have a plan, which seems to be: to lead you to your own higher ground.” In revising this story Idza found higher ground. I’m grateful she brought me along for the journey.
Matt Weinkam is a writer, editor, and college instructor with published work in Denver Quarterly, Sonora Review, New South, Quarter After Eight, Split Lip, DIAGRAM, and Electric Literature. He is founding editor of Threadcount Magazine and a former Managing Editor of Passages North literary journal. He holds an MA in creative writing from Miami University, an MFA in fiction from Northern Michigan University, and he has taught creative writing as far away as Sun Yat-sen University in Zhuhai, China. Originally from Cincinnati, Matt moved to Cleveland the same month LeBron broke the curse.