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Archive for the ‘Africa’ Category

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! :)

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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

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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
****
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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Tsitsi Dangarembga to deliver Mapungbubwe Annual Lecture at UJ (20 March)


 

Nervous Conditions

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The Book of Not


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Headlining authors for the 21st Time of the Writer International Festival announced!

Compiled by TOW

Fifteen authors from across Africa and the world are coming to Durban during this year’s 21st Time of the Writer International Festival that is set to take place from 12 – 17 March 2018. The writers convene under this year’s theme of “Changing the Narrative” and will engage with this notion as it relates to their work and the direction in which literature is moving towards in this context.

Announcing this year’s line-up, the Acting-Director of the CCA, Ms. Chipo Zhou said:

We are very excited to be hosting Time of the Writer yet again and celebrating the diverse voices that make up our African literary continent. The CCA is grateful for the support from our various stakeholders, without which this festival would not be possible. In an ever changing global village, the backing of the literary giants in attendance this year, is most humbling, 21 years on. We look forward to an intellectually engaging event that will entertain and challenge our creativity.

Program and Ticket Sales

This 21st edition of Time of the Writer will consist of a day program that is hosted in four community libraries (Austerville, Westville, Chesterville Extension and Tongaat), art centres and schools around eThekwini where workshops and panel discussions will take place. In the evening panel discussions will be hosted at the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre at University of KwaZulu Natal, Howard College. The full program will be released on the social media channels of the festival. Tickets for the evening program are available on Computicket, however the day program is free of charge.

Theme: Changing the Narrative

Ms. Chipo Zhou, Acting-Director of festival organiser CCA, said: “Nelson Mandela once said: “The education I received was a British education, in which British ideas, British culture, British institutions, were automatically assumed to be superior. There was no such thing as African culture.” A very sad statement which to a great extent, even now, speaks the reality that is our education system in Africa. A new generation of scholars is on the rise, demanding recognition of the African intellect and its contribution to literature, an “African Renaissance” if you will. We cannot rewrite history, but we can question and maybe alter it. And most definitely, we will write the future. In the words of Kakwe Kasoma, it is time to correct this colonial hangover. As we celebrate Mandela’s centenary year, it is our hope that we can reflect fairly on this history and begin a new chapter as we own our stories and change the narrative.”

Meeting established and upcoming writers

Fifteen writers will participate during Time of the Writer 2018:

  • Award winning creative author, Ayọ̀bámi Adébáyọ̀, from Nigeria;
  • Experimental author, Jennipher M. Zulu, from Zambia;
  • Dynamic author, Kafula Mwila, from Zambia;
  • Poet, performance master and author of 12 books, Lesego Rampolokeng, from Johannesburg, South Africa;
  • Gritty and intense author, Luka Mwango, from Zambia;
  • Author, award-winning filmmaker, recording artist, and distinguished professor, MK Asante, from the USA;
  • Best-selling author, Refiloe Moahloli, from Mthatha, South Africa;
  • Outspoken political commentator, scholar and musician, Sizwe Mpofu-Walsh, from Johannesburg, South Africa;
  • isiZulu, short story and children’s author, Themba Qwabe from Durban, South Africa;
  • Unathi Slasha who reimagines and subverts Nguni folklore to write the unlanguaged world that is South Africa today, from Port Elizabeth, South Africa;
  • Award winning novelist and short story writer, Yewande Omotoso, born in Barbados, raised in Nigeria and based Cape Town, South Africa;
  • Novelist, journalist, poet and academic, Alain Mabanckou, born in Congo, based in France;
  • Professor of political economy, Patrick Bond, from Johannesburg, South Africa, born in Belfast, Northern Ireland;
  • Author, politician, diplomat, poet, academic, journalist, and cultural activist Lindiwe Mabuza from Newcastle, South Africa
  • Author of the University of Johannesburg Debut Fiction Prize winning novel The Yearning, Mohale Mashigo, from Soweto, Johannesburg, South Africa.

Six days of literature, books, panel discussions and workshops

Time of the Writer starts on Monday evening 12 March at the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre with an opening night that introduces all participating writers of the festival.

Key elements of the festival are the other evenings at the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre that highlight some of the participants and engages them in a panel discussion.

As part of the day programs the writers will be visiting various art centres and community libraries, which include The George Campbell Museum, Mangosuthu University of Technology in Umlazi and Luthuli Museum in Groutville for various panel discussions and workshops.

This year’s festival offers a special focus on children’s literature, which will see a storytelling session on Saturday 17 March and panel discussions around that during the week facilitated by Dr Gcina Mhlophe. On Saturday 17 March Dr Lindiwe Mabuza will be launching two children’s books.

Young Talent

High school learners are encouraged to submit their short stories for the annual short story competition held in conjunction with Time of the Writer Festival. The competition aims to encourage creative expression in young people while functioning as a springboard for the future writers of South Africa. With the festival’s long standing commitment toward nurturing a culture of reading and writing, this competition has received a wide appeal that continues to grow with each edition of the festival. Winners will be awarded with cash prices, book vouchers and festival tickets.

Meet the writers and get your books signed

Adams Book Shop will host a pop-up bookshop at the foyer of the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre with new and older work of the participating authors. Many of the participating writers will be available to sign books.

Various book launches will take place during the festival, details will be announced closer to the festival.

Time of the Writer is presented by the Centre for Creative Arts (University of KwaZulu-Natal), the 21st Time of the Writer is made possible by support from eThekwini Municipality, National Department of Arts and Culture, National Arts Council and Alliance Française Durban. The Centre for Creative Arts is housed in the School of Arts, College of Humanities at the University of KwaZulu-Natal.


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“I think a child without anyone to tell them stories is an abandoned child” – a Q&A with author and JRB City Editor, Niq Mhlongo

Nal’ibali Column 6, published in the Sunday World (18/02/2018), Daily Dispatch (19/02/2018), Herald (22/02/2018)

By Carla Lever

Niq Mhlongo, author and City Editor of the Johannesburg Review of Books

 
How do you think storytelling helps us understand place – can it make sense of where we are from?

It’s really fundamental. If Joseph Conrad didn’t write Heart of Darkness I don’t think people like Donald Trump would have had the audacity to call African countries ‘sh*tholes’. Perhaps is he had been forced to read Emecheta, Laye, Mphahlele, Ngugi and others he would have had a clear understanding of Africa.

So much of our cultural geography is imported – TV shows and novels glamorise places like New York or Paris. At the same time, African cities tend to be written about, often in negative terms, by outsiders. Why is it important that we write about African places and cities and create our own literary maps?

Someone once told me that the biggest commodity that America was able to sell to Africa was its culture. I agree. Cultural geography, as you call it, is a very powerful tool that powerful countries have used to dominate other countries. When South Africans today talk about ‘decolonization’ I think it is a legitimate appeal to break away from, among other things, the shackles of cultural dominance. So when authors write about African places and cities they contribute a lot in creating our own literary maps that have been disregarded by the imposed colonial narratives of places and spaces that we live in.

Your upcoming book Soweto, Under the Apricot Tree, takes us into the places you were born and raised in. Can you tell us a little about why you wrote the book and how it felt to be making a place meaningful to people through your writing?

I wrote Soweto, Under the Apricot Tree because I could not find a good written story about Soweto that I could read and actually identify with. I was tired of the meaning of Soweto always being confined to Vilakazi Street and the Twin Towers. I decided to write that story I was searching for myself – in fact, as an insider, it made perfect sense that I do it!

You have weaved African oral traditions, cultural practices and storytelling traditions into your previous novels, too – I’m thinking here particularly of your novel Way Back Home. What does it mean to you to be called an African author? Is that a useful description or one you find unnecessary?

There is no problem being called an African author. It all depends on the context in the context in which the name is used. If it means that my writing is inferior compared to the so-called ‘European author’ or ‘American author’, then such a name is already loaded with negativity.

I know you write adult fiction, but you have written for children too! Can you tell us a little about writing for the TV series Magic Cellar and why projects that get young people excited about stories are so important?

Ah, let me not exaggerate my involvement with Magic Cellar. In fact, I only wrote one script for them. But the project trained me as a children’s story writer. During the same period I actually wrote a script for children based on African folktales. It was animated for a children’s program on SABC 2…so I suppose I learned something!

I think a child without anyone to tell them stories is an abandoned child. Stories make all of us happy, and give us a sense of belonging in society. They guide us and give us hope in the world. Any project that give young people that kind of wholeness deserves full support from everyone.

What changes would you like to see in the South African literary scene? Are there things (maybe organisations, new spaces for writers or publishing initiatives) that you find exciting?

I would like to see a full government involvement in the South African literary scene by supporting any literary project, especially projects that make children read. I would like to see government officials and schools reading and prescribing more South African literature. I would like to see more political leaders at the ABANTU Book Festival this year and years to come. The JRB, ABANTU, Nal’ibali, Longstory Short are some of the most important literary projects in South Africa today which give me a right to write.

How can we get more children excited about reading, particularly proud of our own, rich African literary heritage?

We need to prescribe more South African books and make things like Shakespeare optional in our school curriculum. In that way we can show them our rich African literary heritage.

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.

Book details
Soweto, Under the Apricot Tree

 
 
 

Way Back Home


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Asymptote’s Winter 2018 issue celebrates the journal’s seventh year and 100th language!

Via Asymptote

Asymptote’s Winter 2018 issue celebrates the journal’s 7th year and 100th language! This edition includes a Microfiction Special Feature full of glittering allegory, along with uncompromising fiction confronting today’s grim realities.

Winner of the 2015 London Book Fair’s International Literary Translation Initiative Award, Asymptote is the premier site for world literature in translation. We take our name from the dotted line on a graph that a mathematical function may tend toward, but never reach. Similarly, a translated text may never fully replicate the effect of the original; it is its own creative act.

Our mission is simple: to unlock the literary treasures of the world. (Watch a video introduction of Asymptote here.) To date, our magazine has featured work from 105 countries and 84 languages, all never-before-published poetry, fiction, nonfiction, drama, and interviews by writers and translators such as J. M. Coetzee, Patrick Modiano, Herta Müller, Can Xue, Junot Díaz, Ismail Kadare, David Mitchell, Anne Carson, Haruki Murakami, Lydia Davis, Ann Goldstein, and Deborah Smith.

In our five years, we have expanded our offerings to include a daily-updated blog, a fortnightly newsletter, a monthly podcast, and educational guides accompanying each quarterly issue; we’ve also organized more than thirty events on five continents. In 2015, Asymptote became a founding member of The Guardian’s Books Network with “Translation Tuesdays”, a weekly showcase of new literary translations that can be read by the newspaper’s 5 million followers. This means that Asymptote is the only translation-centered journal that can boast of a genuinely international readership – reaching beyond niche communities of literary translators and world literature enthusiasts.

Always interested in facilitating encounters between languages, Asymptote presents work in translation alongside the original texts, as well as audio recordings of those original texts whenever possible. Each issue is illustrated by a guest artist and includes Writers on Writers essays introducing overlooked voices that deserve to be better-known in the English speaking world, as well as a wildcard Special Feature that spotlights literature from certain regions or cutting-edge genres such as Multilingual Writing and Experimental Translation. To catalyze the transmission of literature even further, Asymptote also commissions translations of texts into languages other than English, thereby engaging other linguistic communities and disrupting the English-centered flow of information. All the work we publish is then disseminated for free via eight social media platforms in three languages, through a dedicated social media team as well as our ever-expanding network of editors-at-large in six continents.

George Bernard Shaw famously said, “If you have an apple and I have an apple and we exchange apples then you and I will still each have one apple. But if you have an idea and I have an idea and we exchange those ideas, then each of us will have two ideas.” It is in this spirit of sharing ideas that Asymptote invites readers to explore work from across the globe.

Incorporated neither in America nor in Europe, unaffiliated with any university or government body, Asymptote does not qualify for many grants that other like institutions receive. If you enjoy our magazine, help us continue our mission by becoming a sustaining member at just $10 a month. In return for pledging at least a year’s support, you’ll receive an Asymptote Moleskine notebook!


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“We think it’s important that the world becomes more aware of what readers in Africa are thinking” – a Q&A with the Johannesburg Review of Books editor, Jennifer Malec

By Carla Lever

Originally published in the Sunday World: 28 January, 2018; Daily Dispatch: 29 January, 2018; Herald: 1 February, 2018. (Nal’ibali Column 3: Term 1).

Jennifer Malec, editor of the Johannesburg Review of Books

 
The Johannesburg Review of Books was introduced to local (and international!) bibliophiles in May 2017. Carla Lever recently conducted an interview with editor, Jennifer Malec, discussing the impact of an African critical voice, why they don’t italicise South African languages in their stories, and how we can get more South Africans to start reading for pleasure:

What is The Johnnesburg Review of Books and how did it come about?

JRB is an independent monthly literary review based in Johannesburg. We publish reviews, essays, poetry, photographs and short fiction from South Africa, Africa and beyond. You can subscribe for free at http://bit.ly/thejrbsubscribe.

There are many hugely respected reviews of books globally – the Paris or New York reviews spring to mind – but this is the first African city to claim a space. What kind of impact does the presence of an African critical voice have?

When a new ‘big’ international book is published, we know very quickly what the ‘big’ literary centres of the world think of it. But there is no city-based literary review in Africa, so we don’t hear the opinions of Lagos, Cairo, Kinshasa and so on. We think it’s important that the world becomes more aware of what readers in Africa are thinking.

What role do you see The JRB playing in global and African cultural debates?

In a global context we like to think we are writing back to centres of power as well as demonstrating the value of African voices.

You have an interesting editorial policy about not italicising South African languages in stories. Can you tell us a little about the thinking behind that?

In South Africa most people understand two if not three or four languages, so the question becomes, to whom are these words ‘foreign’? In South Africa, non-English words are not adding ‘flavour’, they are simply a demonstration of how we speak.

We want to give our writers and readers the opportunity to inhabit the story. And our philosophy is, if you don’t understand something, you can always ask. We’re readily available on Facebook and Twitter, and on our website comment section.

What has reader response been like?

Very positive! It’s great to see people responding to longer writing online, when the dominant view seems to be that people want their reading shorter and simpler.

Tell us a little about the kind of work you’ve been able to feature.

We have a number of established literary voices as regular contributors. Soweto-based author Niq Mhlongo is our City Editor. In our June issue he wrote about how he was the one to name Joburg’s famous Maboneng district, inspired by a line in one of his novels. Bongani Madondois a Contributing Editor, and we’re very proud of his explosive review of Koleka Putuma’s debut poetry collection Collective Amnesia, which we featured in our first issue. Other regular contributors are Percy Zvomuya, who is our literary detective, finding fascinating and obscure African books to highlight, and Efemia Chela, who writes a regular series called the Temporary Sojourner where she ‘travels’ throughout Africa by reading the best fiction from around the continent. We also regularly feature Wamuwi Mbao, who we count as one of South Africa’s top reviewers, and have published some wonderful poetry, curated by our Poetry Editor Rustum Kozain.

What have been some of the most exciting moments or stories for you personally?

Some of our biggest thrills have come from publishing new and emerging voices. We were delighted to be the first to publish Love Back – a short story by East London-born writer Julie Nxadi in our July issue. It’s truly remarkable, and was extremely popular with our readers. We since featured Julie again in our December Fiction Issue, and she’s currently working on an anthology. One of the stand-out moments was publishing our first piece entirely in a language other than English, namely Fred Khumalo’s first-ever published story in isiZulu, which we featured in our January Conversation Issue. We hope to be able to do more of this in future.

How do we get more South Africans reading for pleasure?

We’re starting to see if that if stories are good, people will read them. Now it just remains for us to establish what ‘good’ is for a current South African reader, because it may not be what has been considered ‘good’ in the past.

Also, the importance of reading aloud to children and introducing children to books they enjoy cannot be overstated. A common thread in many of the interviews we do with African authors is that they fell in love with reading as a child, usually through reading ‘popular’ books like Enid Blyton, Roald Dahl or Sweet Valley High, and then solidified that love when they were teenagers through books they could relate to in some way. What that says to me is that if we create children’s books that children can relate to, we can get them hooked on reading.

Help Nal’ibali read aloud to one million children this World Read Aloud Day, Thursday 01 February! Visit the Nal’ibali webpage at www.nalibail.org to sign up and download the brand-new story by acclaimed South African author, Zukiswa Wanner, in any official South African language. You’ll be joining a wave of adults across the country reading to children and raising awareness of the importance of this simple yet effective activity.


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