C.W. Gusewelle

Photographs teeming with memories keep a writer company


Writing, by its nature, tends to be a solitary occupation.

The first 40 years I spent mostly in The Star’s newsroom — a crowded, clamorous and energetic environment where loneliness was never an issue.

But 20 years ago I relocated to a small home office in a room on the side of the house. I have been comfortable here and more consistently productive. And that has been the chief benefit.

The downside has been the nearness of the refrigerator but also the absence of rowdy collaboration that went with the telling of the day’s news.

My wife is, of course, a wonderful collaborator, with a gifted critical eye. She has a full life and many commitments of her own, however. So there are days when I must rely for company on photographs that cover the walls above my desk and the people, the places and the memories those images contain.

I’m looking, as I write this, at a photo I took in January 1964, in what then was Leopoldville (now Kinshasa) in the former Belgian Congo. It is of a group of 50-some Congolese schoolboys, ages perhaps 10 or 12 years, on a school outing.

Behind and above them, arm upraised in a heroic gesture, is a statue of the Welsh-American journalist and explorer Henry Morton Stanley situated on a prominence overlooking the Stanley Pool (named for him) of the Congo River.

The lads’ faces are alight with youthful hope for the future — a tomorrow that would be stolen from them by the ascendence of the brutal tyrant Joseph Mobutu.

Below that is a photo of a Berber tribesman heating tea water over a charcoal burner — encouragement he offered to help speed my recovery from an ailment I experienced in that oasis in the Moroccan Sahara.

Behind me on another wall are two others.

One is of Lamidi Fakeye, considered then — also in 1964 — to be the foremost traditional sculptor not just in his home city, Ibadan, but in all of Nigeria.

And next to him, with a face displaying clearly the wounds of his life’s struggle, is Livinus Okoro, whose fate it was not just to sweep the floors of the Lagos airport terminal but also to sleep on those cement floors, with only a straw mat to cushion the hardness.

I was traveling in Africa for seven months that spring and summer on a Kansas City Star expense account. The Star bought Okoro a real bed with a mattress to somewhat improve the comfort of his nights.

It seemed a minor extravagance about which The Star’s editors had no need to know.

The ones in those photographs make good company in this room where I write alone.