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Archive for the ‘Africa’ Category

“Storytelling is a powerful communication tool for social cohesion, recording history and development” – a Q&A with Zimbabwean protest poet and playwright, Bhekumusa Moyo

By Carla Lever

Bhekumusa Moyo, Zimbabwean protest poet and playwright

 

What role do you think storytelling – in communities, families or even individually – can have in creating social change?

Storytelling is a powerful communication tool for social cohesion, recording history and development. It can inspire change or incite a people to act on a social issue. Our personal stories are also a source of energy. Each story told has the potential for inspiring the next person. The experiences we go through can be used as a learning tool by those who haven’t experienced those things. I derive my own personal mojo from stories of key pioneers of pan-Africanism.

Tell us a little about your own experience with writing and performing in Zimbabwe.

Writing and performing in Zimbabwe is a life-changing experience. It certainly has its ugly phases – the darkest corners being draconian laws inherited from colonial Rhodesia. The laws that make the lives of critical and protest artists like me hell are the Public Order Security Act and the censorship board. These have curtailed any work which challenges those in power. Minus these challenges of arrest, persecution and banning, though, Zimbabwean audiences are supportive of art that speaks truth to power.

Which of your works are you most proud of having written?

I am proud of 1983-The Dark Years. This is a politically charged play on the Gukurahundi genocide which swept Matabeleland from 1980 through to 1987, leaving a trail of sorrow and deaths numbering around 20 000. The play was banned in 2010 but, with support from Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, we managed to stage it in various places. This year, after Mugabe, the play had a week of full houses at Theatre in the Park in Harare. I’m also proud of one of my poems called They Shall All Fall. This poem speaks of how people will dethrone dictators no matter how strong they are. Here’s an extract – “All that flies lands sometime / one by one in no particular order / they shall all fall.”

What language(s) do you use to write and perform in? Do you think choice of language is a political act for artists?

I write in Ndebele and English. Ndebele is my mother language. I will not stray far from it, as it carries rich idioms, proverbs and expressions of my people. Even when I perform, I juggle English and Ndebele. Language is a political act. My English must have deep roots to the imagery of my community so that I don’t struggle. Language, like culture, carries the essence of the peoples’ struggles. Language is the heartbeat of a community and yes, it’s a political tool too for engagement or disengagement.

There are many ways of protesting. Using literature – both written and oral – has a long and powerful tradition in Africa. Who are some of the protest writers who have inspired you?

I am greatly inspired by Athol Fugard, Professor Chinua Achebe, Christopher Mlalazi and the general struggles of my people, especially the women and mothers of my village who always show resilience even in the face of travesty.

Have you ever found it difficult to be a politically active writer in Zimbabwe?

Yes, Zimbabwe has very draconian laws, as I alluded to earlier. The censorship board is the biggest culprit – a club of old men who make it difficult to be politically active as a writer.

Of course, the elections are coming up very soon in Zimbabwe. What role do you think writers – whether they are poets, singers or journalists – play in this important time?

Chinua Achebe says that ‘writers give headaches.’ I feel it is important for artists at this time to inspire debate on the elections and comment strongly on institutions and individuals who can make or break the election. Artists must motivate citizens to vote, inspire peace as well as play the watchdog role and whistleblowers in cases of human rights abuses.

What kinds of opportunities would you like to see for African writers and storytellers in the future?

I am hoping that universities will embrace storytelling as a medium of passing on information. This can be done in formal learning spaces or creating festivals within academic years for African writers to bring their wisdom. I’d also love to see more writing residencies and literature festivals for different language activists. Storytellers must be brought to the table as much as other professionals to educate and speak openly on issues of social change.

Reading and telling stories with your children is a powerful gift to them. It builds knowledge, language, imagination and school success! For more information about the Nal’ibali campaign, or to access children’s stories in a range of South African languages, visit: www.nalibali.org.

 

 


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Launch – Short Story Day Africa’s ID: New Short Fiction from Africa edited by Nebila Abdulmelik et al. (5 July)

Join Short Story Day Africa for a celebration of African fiction at the launch of their latest anthology, ID: New Short Fiction from Africa.

Edited by Nebila Abdulmelik, Otiene Owino & Helen Moffett, the theme of this year’s anthology centered around identity and exploring African identity, in all its facets.

Featured writers Michael Yee, Susan Newham-Blake and Lester Walbrugh will be joining co-editor Helen Moffett in conversation at the Book Lounge on Thursday, 5 July.

Event Details

  • Date: Thursday, 05 July 2018
  • Time: 5:30 PM for 6:00 PM
  • Venue: The Book Lounge, 71 Roeland Street, Cape Town | Map
  • Guest Speakers: Michael Yee, Susan Newham-Blake, Lester Walbrugh, Helen Moffett
  • RSVP: booklounge@gmail.com
     

    Book Details


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#cocreatePOETICA – celebrating identity, culture and history through the spoken word

Via Open Book

Words lift off the page to animate the body, as Poetica and #cocreateSA again team up to present a phenomenal programme of readings, performances, discussions and workshops using rap, poetry and the spoken word,at #cocreatePOETICA. The event, now in its third year, runs as part of Open Book Festival, brought to you by the Book Lounge and the Fugard Theatre. This year it will run from 5 to 9 September, in Cape Town.

“This year’s #cocreatePOETICA celebrates three years of partnership between the Dutch Consulate General and the Open Book Festival Poetica programme. Through our national campaign, #cocreateSA, we have established a successful collaboration. Even though our countries differ, there are many parallels in the public and cultural debates on identity, integration and transformation. By cocreating cultural interventions, we have and continue to build mutual understanding and trust between the Netherlands and South Africa,” says Bonnie Horbach, Consul General of the Kingdom of the Netherlands.

Previous years have seen Dutch and South African artists collaborate to create performance pieces on issues pertaining to history, language and culture. Last year #cocreatePOETICA took this further with a three day series of interactions exploring place, language and identity, culminating in an event where results were shared with the public.

The #cocreatePOETICA line up once again includes a world-class selection of established and emerging artists, and partnerships with groups that are fundamental to the Cape Town poetry scene. #cocreatePOETICA is delighted to work with InZync, Lingua Franca, Grounding Sessions, and Rioters Session in 2018.

Artists not to be missed include Babs Gons, a Dutch writer, performer, theatre director and teacher of creative writing. She is part of spoken word collective De Vurige Harten Club (The Fiery Hearts Club) and Club Spoken, an agency of professional performance artists. Gons is also a juror of the J.M.A. Biesheuvel Prize for short stories and hosts various programs, including the musical-literary show Babs’s Word Salon. For many years she was the artistic director of Poetry Circle Nowhere, and before that she organised a monthly platform for young poets and writers in Paradiso, Amsterdam. She joins #cocreatePOETICA thanks to support from the Dutch Foundation for Literature.

Swedish poet and playwright Athena Farrokhzad’s debut collection of poetry Vitsvit (White Blight) has been translated into 12 languages and staged several times as a play. It explores the topics of language, body and family within a context of revolution, war, migration and racism. Her second book, Trado, published in 2016, is a collaboration with the Romanian poet Svetalana Cârstean. Farrokhzad joins #cocreatePOETICA thanks the Embassy of Sweden’s support.

Dean Bowen and Sjaan Flikweert at #coecreatePOETICA 2017. Pic supplied.

 
Ivan Words is a Dutch spoken word artist, musician and songwriter. His work explores what expression as a necessity means. Words is the co-founder of spoken word platform Spoken World and has on several occasions been a house poet for FUNX and a speaker for TEDx. In 2016, he won the House of Poets Poetry Slam in Rotterdam. He also facilitates workshops, is a presenter, and performs in theatre productions.

Canadian poet and anthropologist Roseline Lambert published Clinique, her first collection of poetry, in 2016. The sequel The Uniform was published in the magazine Exit, earning her the Félix-Antoine-Savard Prize for Poetry 2017. Her work has been published in reviews such as Estuaire, Art le Sabord and la Revue de la Compagnie à Numéro. Her approach to writing is built through the integration of ethnographic and theoretical texts in her poems.

British born dancer Ella Mesma is a curator and choreographer who draws from a number of styles and traditions in her work. In 2011 she formed Ella Mesma Company: an Afro-Latin and Hip Hop dance theatre company that undoes limiting beliefs by exploring and celebrating identity. She also enjoys mentoring, teaching and directing roles, and loves art, poetry and books.

Peruvian Jorge Vargas Prado is a poet, narrator, editor and cultural manager. He has published storybooks, poetry anthologies and a novel, and works as a translator. Vargas Prado has been part of the editorial team at Dragostea Publishing House and participated in the musical projects Chintatá and Ishishcha. The most important part of his work is related to Peru’s originary languages, endangered due to Peruvian colonial racism.

Gabeba Baderoon is the recipient of the Daimler Award for South African Poetry and is on the editorial board of the African Poetry Book Fund.She co-directs the African Feminist Initiative at Pennsylvania State University and her collections of poetry include The Dream in the Next Body, The Museum of Ordinary Life and A Hundred Silences. Her new collection, The History of Intimacy, is due later this year.

Sindiswa Busuku-Mathese won the 2018 Ingrid Jonker prize for poetry for her debut collection Loud and Yellow Laughter. Books Live called the collection ‘an uncommon balance between emotional tenderness, creative flexibility and analytical and structural integrity’. The collection was also shortlisted for the 2016 University of Johannesburg Prize in the Debut category. Busuku-Mathese has published poems in local and international poetry journals such as New Coin, New Contrast, Prufrock, OnsKlyntji, Aerodrome, Sol Plaatje European Union Anthology and Dryad Press: Unearthed Anthology.

Award-winning writer and performer Phillippa Yaa de Villiers poetry has been published in numerous magazines and anthologies. Everyday Wife won the Poetry Award at the 2011 South African Literary Awards and she was chosen as Commonwealth poet in 2014, reading her poem Courage, written for the occasion, at Westminster Abbey. Original Skin, her autobiographical one-woman show, has toured to great acclaim in South Africa and abroad. Her latest collection, Ice Cream Headache in my Bone was published in 2017.

Allison-Claire Hoskins is a popular part of the InZync Poetry Sessions Collective, Rioters In Session Collective and the student art collective called Open Forum. Her works include powerful pieces such as Red Tape and Mirror.

Roché Kester’s poetry has been published in the UWC Creates anthology titled This is My Land and her prose has been featured in Powa’s Women’s Writing anthology titled Sisterhood. She currently coordinates the weekly poetry event, Grounding Sessions, and was co-curator of #cocreatePOETICA at Open Book Festival 2016.

Puleng Lange-Stewart is a writer, theatre and film maker. Her primary focus is in interdisciplinary performance and multimedia integration. She was one of three shortlisted writers in the national PEN student writing competition in 2016 and her writing has appeared in the 2017 African Literature curriculum at UCT. Her first independent short film Until the Silence Comes was selected for the Cape Town International Film Festival 2017 and was nominated for an audience award at the Shnit International Short Film Festival 2017.

Mbongeni Nomkonwana’s list of talents includes actor, playwright, theatre director, poet and standup comedian. He won the Cape Town DFL LOVER+ ANOTHER poetry slam 2012, and went on to compete in the national finals. Nomkonwana has since performed at OFF THE WALL poetry sessions, at InZync Poetry, 2012 HEAIDS Conference at UCT, Jam That Session, Brand House Marketing Campaign, and Last Poet’s: Rhythm Poetry1. He is co-founder and resident poet at Lingua Franca, and in 2013 he teamed up with Lwanda Sindaphi to coordinate the poetry for the annual Baxter Zabalaza Theatre Festival.

Poet and Executive Director of InZync Poetry Pieter Odendaal also works with SLiP (the Stellenbosch Literary Project). His PhD at the Queensland University of Technology in Brisbane centres on performance poetry as a way to promote tolerance in socio-ecological systems. Some of his poems appeared in the collection Nuwe Stemme 5 and his debut collection is out this year.

Recently named as one of Forbes Africa’s ’30 under 30’ Koleka Putuma is an internationally acclaimed poet, theatre maker and spoken word artist who has toured extensively abroad and in South Africa. Her debut collection Collective Amnesia is in its seventh print run, and is a fearless, unwavering exploration of blackness, womxnhood and history. Putuma’s numerous accolades include the 2014 National Poetry Slam Championship and the 2016 PEN South Africa Student Writing Prize.

In her debut collection Milk Fever, Megan Ross writes about unexpected motherhood and all its emotional detritus, the angst, joy and self-reckoning that comes with the choices and misadventures of young womanhood. Ross is the 2017 winner of the Brittle Paper Award for Fiction and an Iceland Writers Retreat alumnus. She was a runner-up for the 2016 Short Story Day Africa Prize and the 2017 National Arts Festival Short Sharp Stories Award.

Lwanda Sindaphi has an extensive career as an actor, playwright, theatre director and poet. He won the 2011 DFL + LOVER Another Poetry Slam and went to compete in the National finals. He was included in Badalisha Poetry’s Top 10 poets in Africa and is the co-founder of Lingua Franca Spoken Word Movement. His play Kudu recently enjoyed a successful run at the Baxter Theatre Centre and he won best Director at the 2013 Baxter Zabalaza Theatre Festival for his play Death the Redeemer. Other theatre highlights include touring internationally with The Handspring Puppet Company on Warhorse.

Toni Stuart is a poet, performer and spoken word educator, working between London and Cape Town, across various inter-disciplinary collaborations with a range of artists. She has performed here and in Europe and her work has been published in anthologies, journals and non-fiction books in South Africa and internationally. Stuart was the founding curator of Poetica at Open Book Festival.

Writer and performer Adrian van Wyk became the youngest poet to win the Verses Poetry Slam at the age of 17. He is host and organiser of the InZync Poetry Sessions, events organiser for the Stellenbosch Literary Project, as well as a monthly facilitator for the InZync Poetry workshops which are focused on helping school children between the ages of 16 and 18 to become poets and tell their story.

The eighth Open Book Festival will take place from 5 to 9 September at the Fugard Theatre, D6 Homecoming Centre, The A4 Arts Foundation and The Book Lounge from 10:00 to 21:00 each day. For further information and the full programme, which will be available in early August, visit www.openbookfestival.co.za.

Bookings can be made at Webtickets www.webtickets.co.za

Follow @cocreatePoetica on Twitter

Open Book Festival is organised in partnership with the Fugard Theatre, The District 6 Museum, The A4 Arts Foundation, The Townhouse Hotel, Novus Holdings, The French Institute, The Canada Council for the Arts, The Embassy of Sweden, The Embassy of Argentina, The Dutch Foundation for Literature, UCT Creative Writing Department, University of Stellenbosch English Department, and Central Library, and is sponsored by Leopards Leap, Open Society Foundation, Pan Macmillan, NB Publishers, Jonathan Ball, and Penguin Random House.

White Blight

Book details

 
 
 
The Dream in the Next Body

 
 
 

A hundred silences

 
 
 

Loud and Yellow Laughter

 
 
 

The Everyday Wife

 
 
 

Ice cream headache in my bone

 
 
 

Nuwe Stemme 5

 
 
 

Collective Amnesia

 
 
 

Milk Fever

 
 
 


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The shortlist for the Short Story Day Africa Prize for Short Fiction has been announced!

Via Short Story Day Africa

When planning the 2017 Short Story Day Africa Prize, ID, the abbreviation for “identity” and the psychoanalytic construct of the “Id” – that deep structure that houses our unconscious desires – we called for “innovative short fiction that explores identity, especially (but not limited to) the themes of gender identity and sexuality.”

We were impressed as never before by the multiple ways in which writers from all over the continent responded, the depth, variety and innovation of their interpretations. From Benin to Ethiopia, from Morocco to South Africa, the stories on the long list reveal uncomfortable and fascinating truths about who we are.

Once editing was completed, the twenty-one stories were sent to the judges. The decision to edit the stories and to engage with the authors before judging has proven to be invaluable in enabling young writers and raw talent to compete on an equal footing with their more established and experienced peers. The final stories and indeed the shortlisted stories are more evenly balanced between those already making their mark in terms of publication and awards, and extremely talented writers who are new to the adventure of publishing or only just venturing into the terrain of short fiction.

This year, for the first time, we opted for a broad spread of volunteer judges, ably assisted by The Johannesburg Review of Books, rendering the evaluation process flatter, more consultative and democratic. The combination of the new scoring system and the extremely high standard of the stories meant that for the first time, we’ve produced a short list of nine stories, instead of the usual six.

The shortlist is as follows (in alphabetical order):

1. The Piano Player by Agazit Abate (Ethiopia)
2. Ibinabo by Michael Agugom (Nigeria)
3. The Geography of Sunflowers by Michelle Angwenyi (Kenya)
4. Limbo by Innocent Chizaram Ilo (Nigeria)
5. Sew My Mouth by Cherrie Kandie (Kenya)
6. South of Samora by Farai Mudzingwa (Zimbabwe)
7. All Our Lives by Tochukwu Emmanuel Okafor (Nigeria)
8. The House on the Corner by Lester Walbrugh (South Africa)
9. God Skin by Michael Yee (South Africa)

Seen here are a variety of explorations of queer sexuality – an extremely important and necessary creative intervention, given the grim march of homophobia, including in legislative forms, across the African continent. Michael Agugom charts the challenges of negotiating biracial and sexually complex identities in a small and watchful Nigerian island community in “Ibinabo”; and Cherrie Kandie provides a powerful and painful account of the silencing (literally) of lesbian love in urban Nairobi in “Sew My Mouth”. In “The House on the Corner”, Lester Walbrugh provides a moving interpretation of the perhaps ubiquitous “gay life in Cape Town” narrative; Innocent Chizaram Ilo provides a delightfully unusual and fantastical account of heartbreak as experienced by a lesbian scarecrow in “Limbo”.

Michelle Angwenyi’s lyrical and hallucinatory “The Geography of Sunflowers” presents heteronormative love and loss as experiences that both heighten and blur identity.

Identity is also formed through friendships and family bonds, and in Farai Mudzingwa’s delicate and moving “South of Samora”, a young man whose social standing is dependent on where he lives, forms a friendship with an ailing child that forces him to define himself; while Tochukwu Emmanuel Okafor’s “All Our Lives” is a wry, clear-eyed, humorous and characteristically compassionate account of the identity (multiple identities, in fact) of a much-maligned community – young and disaffected men who drift into Nigerian cities in pursuit of a “better life”.

“The Piano Player” by Agazit Abate is a brilliant inversion of the “African abroad” narrative as it presents snapshots of life in Addis Abada through the eyes and ears of a pianist in a luxury hotel bar, and “God Skin” by Michael Yee weaves together alienation, forbidden love and intimate violence against a subtle backdrop of the scars of Liberia’s civil war.

Congratulations to all the shortlisted authors.

The winners will be announced on 21 June 2018, the shortest day of the year in the southern hemisphere. The grand prize winner is set to win $800. A full list of project sponsors is available on our sponsors page.

The resulting anthology from the longlisted prize entries, ID: New Short Fiction From Africa, is edited by Nebila Abdulmelik, Otieno Owino and Helen Moffett as part of the SSDA/Worldreader Editing Mentorship. ID is due for release on 21 June 2018, the shortest day of the year in the southern hemisphere, in partnership with New Internationalist.

All of SSDA’s previous anthologies have received critical acclaim, with two stories from Feast, Famine & Potluck shortlisted for The Caine Prize for African Writing – with one, “My Father’s Head” by Okwiri Oduor, going on to win the prize. Terra Incognita and Water likewise received wide critical praise, including reviews from the Los Angeles Review of Books, the Sunday Times and the Financial Mail. Stacy Hardy’s story “Involution”, published in Migrations is shortlisted for the 2018 Caine Prize for African Writing.


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SA illustrator wins international literary award

Via Golden Baobab: Accra, Ghana (9 May 2018)

Toby Newsome, a renowned Cape Town based artist has won the internationally coveted Children’s Africana Book Award (CABA) for his illustrations in the children’s book, Grandma’s List. The book was written by Ghanaian author, Portia Dery, who who jointly won the CABA with Toby Newsome.

Toby Newsome, the acclaimed illustrator of Grandma’s List.

 
The Children’s Africana Book Award is an annual prize presented to authors and illustrators of the best children’s and young adult books on Africa published or republished in the U.S.A. The awards were created by Africa Access and the Outreach Council of the African Studies Association (ASA) and its sponsors includes the African Studies departments of universities Harvard, Howard and Yale among others. Past winning illustrators of CABA include South Africa’s Niki Daly.

One of Newsome’s stunning illustrations.

 
Grandma’s List is a brilliant and colorful story about an 8-year old girl, Fatima, who wants to save the day by helping her grandmother complete her list of errands. The problem is, Fatima loses the list and she has to recall from memory what was written on it. The rest of story then takes the reader on a funny and heartwarming adventure with Fatima and her family.

Grandma’s List, published by African Bureau Stories, won the 2018 CABA Young Children’s category along with two other books from international publishers, Candlewick Press and Farrar, Straus and Giroux. This is the second international children’s book award that Grandma’s List has won. It previously won the prestigious Golden Baobab Prize for The Best Picture Book manuscript in Africa in 2014.

The new children’s publishing house, African Bureau Stories, has made an impressive move in publishing a truly Pan-African book like Grandma’s List, which is a powerful literary partnership between Ghana and South Africa. The publishing house’s aim is to produce world class and contemporary African stories for children. In addition to Grandma’s List, African Bureau Stories has produced three other children’s books which according to the publisher, Deborah Ahenkorah, are “super cool books that will delight children all over the world.”

Anastasia Shown, a CABA Reviewer from the University of Pennsylvania says:

Grandma’s List is an excellent read aloud book for school or storytime. The illustrations show a neighborhood in Ghana that is very typical of many African towns with shops, gardens, small livestock, and many people outside working and playing…One of the best features of the book is the characters of many ages. There are kids playing, vendors selling, teens on their phones, grownups working, and elders relaxing. They wear African prints and western styled clothes…The book can generate lots of great open ended questions.”

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

With illustrations like these it’s no wonder Newsome was the recipient of this coveted award!

 
Book details


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Yewande Omotoso shortlisted for the International Dublin Literary Award 2018!

The shortlist for the International Dublin Literary Award 2018 has been announced and it boasts a South African title!

Congratulations to Yewande Omotoso, whose novel The Woman Next Door (Chatto & Windus) was selected as one of the 10 shortlisted titles. This isn’t the first time that Yewande’s literary ingenuity has been recognised – The Woman Next Door was also shortlisted for the Barry Ronge Fiction Prize 2017.

This prestigious award is cited as “the world’s most valuable annual literary prize for a single work of fiction published in English”. Books are nominated for the award by public libraries throughout the world; the South African titles were nominated by Cape Town Library and Information Services. Local authors Mohale Mashigo (The Yearning) and Nthikeng Mohlele (Pleasure) appeared on the longlist.

The winner will be announced on the 13th of June and will receive €100,000.

Good luck, Yewande! :)

Book details


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The Single Story Foundation is calling for submissions!

Via The Single Story Foundation

TSSF Journal seeks well-crafted stories about Africa, Africans, and African issues in all genres from writers of African descents or those associated with Africa. Send your poetry, fiction, and creative non-fiction to journal@singlestory[dot]org. Email title should be: TSSF Journal: [Work Name], [category].

We accept all kinds of stories, whether genre or literary. Send us your speculative, thrillers, romance, comedy, Sci-Fi, magical realism, contemporary, historical, history, mystery, adventure, fantasy, etc. stories and poems.

We do not offer a specific theme to adhere to. Therefore we would like a plethora of stories that deal with different themes. Don’t be afraid to send us stories that deal with chronic illnesses, disability, LGBTQI issues, depression, and anxiety, etc.

We welcome any story or poem, in any category or subject as long as it isn’t racist, sexist, or promoting hatred. We believe that anything, from speculative fiction to romance, to a queer space opera, can be a wonderfully well-written story or poem.

Submission should be sent as a .doc or .rtf attachment, one single document. Failure to adhere to this will result in rejection. Also, entries submitted in the body of the email will not be accepted. Your contact information, such as your name, address, phone, and email, should be in the body of the email. Your bio should also be included in the body of the email.

TSSF Journal is published yearly. We read year-round, so it is not uncommon for a decision to take up to 6 months. If you have not heard from us since the initial confirmation email, please assume your submission is still under consideration. Please, do not send new work until we call for it.

We do not accept simultaneous or previously published works. Do not send us multiple submissions. TSSF Journal will only accept one submission at a time from an author. We will automatically decline any additional submissions. We accept email submissions only. There is no submission fee. At this time, we do not pay our contributors.

Click here for the submission guidelines.


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And our sunshine noir author for March is … Michael Niemann!

A new month calls for a new sunshine noir author sending shivers down the spines of local thriller fans…

This month, the co-author of the popular Detective Kubu series, Michael Sears, had the opportunity to interview Michael Niemann for The Big Thrill – the magazine for international thriller writers.

Michael Niemann, author of Illegal Holdings. ©The Big Thrill.

 
Here’s what the two thriller aficionados chatted about:

For more than 30 years, Michael Niemann has been interested “in the sites where ordinary people’s lives and global processes intersect,” and he has traveled and written widely about Africa and Europe as part of his academic work in international studies. Along the way, he has helped students of all ages and backgrounds to understand their role in constructing the world in which they live and to take this role seriously.

So it may seem strange that Michael turned to writing thrillers, but his experiences – particularly in Africa – inform his work and lend a richness to his characters.

His debut novel, Legitimate Business, first published in 2014 and reissued last year, featured Valentin Vermeulen, an investigator for the UN. It’s set against the sandy hopelessness of Zam Zam camp in Darfur. The sequel, Illicit Trade, also released last year, addressed human trafficking from Kenya. This month the third Vermeulen thriller, Illegal Holdings, comes out. It takes place in Mozambique against the backdrop of the vexed issue of land rights. Vermeulen is auditing a small aid agency, which has apparently misappropriated five million dollars, but the corruption goes much further than the missing money.

You are clearly familiar with Mozambique and understand its complex issues. What made you decide to set one of your novels there?

Mozambique was the second African country I ever visited. I spent time at the Centro de Estudos Africanos in Maputo, the capital, as part of my dissertation research. While there, I also had a chance to roam the city. Despite the poverty and deprivations of the civil war that was still going on, I met some of the most warm and generous people there. It’s also a country with a fascinating history. Before colonization, it was part of a vast Indian Ocean trading world. Colonization by the Portuguese was brutal and began earlier than elsewhere in southern Africa. Their first settlements there predate even the arrival of Jan van Riebeeck in Cape Town. Its struggle for independence was led by Eduardo Mondlane, an assistant professor of anthropology from Syracuse University.

The second reason was the worrisome development of foreign land acquisitions on the African continent after the 2007/08 crash. Mozambique is one of the countries where biofuel companies, hedge funds and others have bought vast stretches of land. I thought that was a suitable topic for a thriller.

Vermeulen seems happiest when he is operating where “ordinary people’s lives and global processes intersect” and much less comfortable in the hierarchical structure of the UN in New York. Once he reaches a country, he tries to understand the people. Do you see a lot of yourself in him? (Hopefully you didn’t spend your career being shot at!)

Of course, his overall concerns are rather similar to mine, we both have a strong interest in justice. But I purposely chose a protagonist that was rather different from me – being shot at is only one of the crucial differences. The closest I ever was to bullets was my mandatory service in the German army. But Vermeulen’s MO is really more common sense. People don’t do things randomly, they do them because, at the time, the choices made sense in their context. So unraveling a mystery really means understanding people. That’s even more crucial when coming to a country and culture different from one’s own. Vermeulen has been in enough strange circumstances to realize that asking questions is the best starting point for an investigation. Any good investigator, police officer or private detective knows that.

Illegal Holdings features three strong female characters, Aisa, who is the director of a small NGO (Nossa Terra) concentrating on resettling people on the land; Isabel, the director of the Maputa branch of a big funder (Global Alternatives); and Tessa, Vermeulen’s on-again, off-again girlfriend. Was it part of the plan to juxtapose these very different women?

I wish I could claim so much plotting, but two of the female characters developed as the novel progressed. Tessa was a given since she’s a recurring character. Aisa Simango is a composite of the many strong women I have met during my work on the continent. For example, in 1999 I visited a number of human rights organizations in four southern African countries for a project documenting regional approaches to advance human rights protections. Every one of these was led by women who were in the forefront of the struggles to make lives better for their compatriots. Nossa Terra was inspired by the Union of Cooperatives, a female run organization that provided much of the food for Maputo during the civil war.

Isabel LaFleur really popped into my head as I began fleshing out the staffing of Global Alternatives. There is a general presumption that people working in development aid are compassionate individuals. So I asked, “What if that person is a blatant careerist?” She is a strong character, but only in the sense of looking out for herself.

Continue reading their conversation here.

Legitimate Business

Book details

 
 

Illicit Trade

 
 
 
 
Illegal Holdings


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Provoking thoughts, great inspirations and heated discussions at the opening night of the 21st Time of the Writer Festival

By Marlyn Ntsele

Attendees at the 21st Time of the Writer Opening Night. ©Charles Dlamini.

 
Literature lovers gathered at the opening night of the 21st Time of the Writer Festival which took place on Monday 12 March 2018 in Elisabeth Sneddon Theatre at the University of KwaZulu Natal. To give all guests a warm Durban welcome maskandi guitarist and vocalist Mphendukelwa Mkhize provided the musical opening.

Prof Stephen M. Mutula, acting DVC & Head of College of Humanities, had the honour of opening the festival with a speech in which he emphasised the importance of the festival in bringing together leading African intellectuals and cultural practitioners and placing them in public events and engagements with local communities. Following this Miss Tebogo Msizi from eThekwini Municipality, one of the partners of the festival, emphasised the important role Time of the Writer has played within acquiring the title of “City of Literature” by UNESCO in 2017.

After the speeches, host Chipo Zhou, acting director of the Centre of Creative Arts that organises the event, opened the stage for the participating writers to present themselves and offer the audience a taste on their perspective on this year’s theme: “changing the narrative”.

The Zambian Jennipher Zulu shared her experience of writing her first book with the audience: “I didn’t really sit down to write a book, I was just putting down my issues.” She will be launching her book It’s Hard to keep a Secret on Saturday morning 17 March at Ike’s book shop.

Lesego Rampolokeng introduced himself the only way he knows how to, with a thought-provoking four minute poem.

Lindiwe Mabuza shared that she was encouraged by Can Themba to write, but she only took his advice years later when in 1977 she went to Lusaka to work with the ANC women authors and they published a book titled Malibongwe.

Lindiwe Mabuza. ©Charles Dlamini

 
Another Zambian author on the program, Luka Mwango, shared that he thinks stories are the metaphor of life: “We live in two worlds, in the material world and the world in our head.”

American MK Asante broke out in rap when he shared: “Take two sets of notes, the one to pass the test and the truth.”

Mohale Mashigo shared with the audience that she never use to recognise herself in the stories she used to read when she was younger: “I did not know how distant my life was to the people in the books, until I read The Colour Purple.”

Patrick Bond mentioned the importance of polital-economical critique.

Children’s author Refilwe Moahloli emphasised the importance of magic, she feels anything is possible in the world of literature.

Rapper and PHD student at Oxford, Sizwe Mpofu-Walsh (author of Democracy & Delusion) also decided to break out in rap, before telling the audience: “Nobody claps when I quote from the book, but they do when I rap….”

Themba Qwabe started writing many years ago around 1994 when he first met his former lecturer Mr. Hlengwa, who forced him to write. He shared his thoughts on language in literature: “I do not know why I am called an African author if I write in English, but an isiZulu author when I write in an African language.”

Unathi Slasha shared his feeling that there is nothing of interest in this country and encouraged the audience to “engage with the text”.

Yewande Omotoso got the audience thinking with the following line: “In order to change the narrative, we need to know what the dominant is.” She also questioned how we can make a gift of something we stole.

Lastly, Durban based Kirsten Miller shared that she feels that we are all humans and the political is always personal.

All in all the audience experienced a great mix of inspiring authors and challenging opening speeches. It gave everyone something to look forward to during this coming week: provoking thoughts, great inspirations and heated discussions.

On Tuesday 13 March, the authors went out on their respective field trips, Themba Qwabe brought a visit to Phambili High School where he met a group of aspiring learners and addressed them about literature.

“The learners were very interested in learning more about writing, I adviced their coordinator to form a reading writing club at the school, so the learners to follow their aspirations,” says Qwabe.

Another group of authors, MK Asante, Lindiwe Mabuza, Refiloe Moahloli and Yewande Omotoso, visited the Tongaat Central Library for a series of workshops and panel discussions. “It was absolutely beautiful, I really enjoyed it. There was a group of high school kids. It was a very interactive sessions, as much as we were sharing with the kids, they were sharing with us, which was really beautiful,” says Refiloe Moahloli about the session.

Additionally Sizwe Mpofu-Walsh and Luka Mwango visited learners at Mangosuthu University of Technology and Patrick Bond addresses learners at Worker’s College.


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Hardly Working will have you wanting to both travel the continent and devour its rich literary wealth, writes Tiah Beautement

Published in the Sunday Times

Hardly WorkingHardly Working: A Travel Memoir of Sorts
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Zukiswa Wanner, Black Letter Media, R160

“If the African school my son studied in would not offer Africa to him, we would give him Africa,” writes Zukiswa Wanner in her travel memoir, Hardly Working. So Wanner, her partner Tchassa and son Kwame leave Kenya to travel to various literary events. They work their way through Tanzania, Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Uganda, Rwanda and Nigeria, using public transport as much as possible. They sleep rough, join a protest, ride on the back of a lorry, and at one point can’t access cash.

Yet the three remained upbeat. “I admit that there were times I thought ‘this adulting is hard’,” Wanner reflects. Her son brings comic relief to the trip, telling his uncle, “These animals would have looked the same on YouTube,” after being treated to a safari.

Even packing for the journey was tricky. Crammed in the family’s luggage were Wanner’s books. “Getting access to literature from a neighbouring African country tends to be tougher than it is to get books from abroad. I always try to take a suitcase of books across African borders. The security at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport no longer asks me what’s in my suitcase when they do a security scan. ‘Ah, it’s you and your books again’,’ she says.

As readers laugh, cringe, and ponder the tales, they may find their stomachs rumbling at the rich descriptions of food. Wanner is unapologetic about this: “Nigerian food is all the wows.” But hunger is the best spice; in one memorable scene, Wanner watches in awe as her son feasts on ulusu (curried tripe), a dish he would never have eaten at home. She writes: “A meal is as delicious as one’s hunger.”

She wanted to write the book for two reasons: “I hoped to highlight that writing is a real profession, and some of the struggles that come with it. I also hoped to highlight the wonder and beauty that is this continent and its people. I know many people who have been to Phuket or New York, for instance, but have never been to Zimbabwe or Malawi.”

Hang on to your wallets, as this book will have you wanting to both travel the continent and devour its rich literary wealth. @ms_tiahmarie

Book details


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