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Zakes Mda Delivered Talk Titled “Write What You Don’t Know” at Gustavus Adolphus College

Looking back on the many novels and plays he has written, Zakes Mda told the audience at a lecture he gave at Gustavus Adolphus College that “I’ve always written what I do not know”. Mda refuted the adage that writers should “write what they know”, by saying that he chooses topics that are foreign to him, but learns more about it while writing. “When you get the final period of the novel, that topic will have transformed into something ‘you know’,” he said.

Sometimes there is a VoidThe Whale CallerCion

Mda used his novel The Whale Caller, which is soon to be made into a film, as an example, saying that, when he first started writing it, he knew nothing about whale calling other than seeing a snippet about it on a television programme. Cion is another example – Mda writes about the little hamlet of Kilvert near Athens, Ohio, which fascinated him. He ended up sewing quilts with the women of Kilvert to learn more about the place.

Our Lady of BenoniDance of LifeBlack DiamondThe Madonna of ExcelsiorWays of DyingThe Heart of Redness

Julia Tindell reports on Mda’s talk:

This Monday, South African playwright, author, and poet Zakes Mda flew into Minneapolis from the University of Ohio on the heels of the flurries.

Mda arrived at Gustavus on Tuesday morning and spent a large portion of the day answering students’ questions in English Professor Elizabeth Baer’s Senior Seminar and African Literature & Film courses. Both classes recently finished reading Mda’s Ways of Dying (1995) about a Professional Mourner named Toloki who finds himself reunited with an old friend (Noria) on the day of her son’s funeral. In these classes, Mda talked about everything from his writing process to the materials he uses to paint; from his inspiration for various characters to his opinions regarding the political climate in South Africa.

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Image courtesy The New Age


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