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Lauren Beukes on Writing a New South Africa and Science Fiction in Africa: Telling the Stories We Want to Tell

Lauren Beukes and Richard de Nooy

After being featured on BBC Radio Four’s “Writing a New South Africa” podcast series, Lauren Beukes took part in a Twitter Q&A with Catherine Labiran about what it means to be writing in a new South Africa, and the rise of science fiction in Africa.

Highlights from Beukes and Labiran’s hour-long conversation include:

  • South African writers are more free to play across genre and style, to tell different kinds of stories
  • International readers are slowly starting to realise that there is more to South African fiction than Story of an African Farm and JM Coetzee
  • The SA fiction scene is dominated by English and Afrikaans, Beukes would like to see more publishing in the other nine national languages
  • Books are expensive, something to consider in a country where a day’s salary amounts to the same price of a paperback
  • South Africa has a firm LGBTQI writing scene, with openly gay writers like Michiel Heyns and Damon Galgut, and people like Makhosazana Xaba “writing fearlessly about women’s issues and sexuality” and Richard de Nooy’s The Big Stick shining a light on South African gay scene
  • South African fiction kicks ass, and deserves to be read for its compelling stories
  • Local fiction “examines who we are in the world right now” in a variety of genres, from funny to realist, science fiction to non-fiction
  • Genre fiction helps us to look at the world more clearly, to bear the unbearable. Beukes uses it as a tool to “get at the weirdness that is South Africa”.
Broken MonstersThe Shining GirlsMoxylandZoo City (SA edition)
The Story of an African FarmThree StoriesRunning Yes, I Am!The Big StickArctic SummerA Sportful Malice

We collected the tweets from Beukes’ #WritingNewZA session in a timeline:



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Listen to the podcasts on BBC:


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Beukes also took part in another discussion on the BBC, titled “Is Science Fiction Coming to Africa?” She spoke to internationally renowned filmmakers Neill Blomkamp (District 9) and Kenyan Wanuri Kahiu, Ghanaian blogger Jonathan Dotse, and Nigerian author Nnedi Okorafor (Kabu Kabu) to find an answer.

The result is a fascinating, enlightening discussion which comes to the conclusion that science fiction coming out of our continent defies expectations and is equally as exciting as it international competitors.

“Science fiction I’m seeing coming out of the continent defies easy stereotypes and subverts expectations. It’s exploring wild, futuristic science fictional ideas in exciting ways that reflect our viewpoint, the stories we want to tell,” Beukes says.

“It’s about what it means to be human, here, and in the context of the world.”

Science fiction often explores the interaction between people and technology. In Africa that theme plays out in surprising ways, from making an appointment with a traditional healer over email, to women in remote villages collecting water while chatting on their mobiles.

It’s this mix of magic and technology, challenge and innovation that shapes the science fiction coming out of the continent.

Leaving behind the traditional visions of a high-tech Tokyo, futuristic LA or dystopian New York, and challenging clichéd views of the entire African continent, this is a science fiction being told by the people who live there.


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