Upile Chisala’s version of a powerful woman is one who has flaws. She may fall short and cry at the kitchen sink from time to time, but she is dynamic and complex, strong and soft. Her strength lies in the fact that she is many things all at once. The Malawian storyteller’s work is an expression of these multilayered women (she prefers the use of “womxn”) in their many forms, particularly African women. Chisala, 23, hails from Blantyre, Malawi, but currently lives in Oxford, England where she is working towards an MSc in Medical Anthropology at the University of Oxford. (She already received a B.A. in Sociology with minors in Women's Studies and Law & Society from New Mexico State University and an MSc in African Studies from Oxford.) Her ultimate goal is to continue telling black women’s stories for the rest of her life. She is currently writing a collection of poems tentatively called Homeward, and launched Khaya Means Home, a craft making company specializing in the gifting experience. In addition to her storytelling, she hopes to start an organization that addresses women's health issues—particularly women of color—a topic she is extremely passionate about.
A creative student of Toni Morrison, Ntozake Shange, Pablo Neruda, Frida Kahlo and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Chisala uses both prose and poetry to explore matters of the heart, experiences of the diaspora, identity, growth, spirituality, survival and self in her own writing. She has already done so much in soft magic and Nectar, two books she released in 2015 and 2017, respectively. More immediately, however, she is inspired by the men and women within her own circles. She has found wisdom and mentorship in her older sister and human rights lawyer, Sarai, and consistent encouragement in her partner, Sakhe. For a long time, Chisala thought the best way she could repay her parents’ sacrifices and contributions to her education was by becoming a lawyer or a doctor. However, as she veered further away from those career paths, her parents supported her decision, explaining that they worked so hard her whole life so that she could have the freedom to pursue her creative goals. That is a freedom Chisala is evidently not taking for granted.