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Archive for the ‘Feature’ Category

A fun and fiery fest featuring local and global authors alike – Kate Sidley gives us a sneak peek into FLF 2018…

Published in the Sunday Times

Across the land, writers are rummaging through their wardrobes, looking for a jacket. Because this time next week they’ll be shedding their coffee-stained hoodies, blinking into the sun, and heading to show their wares — books and brains — at the Franschhoek Literary Festival brought to you by Porcupine Ridge and Sunday Times.

Now in its 12th year, FLF is South Africa’s biggest get-together of writers and readers. There are more than 123 events, featuring over 200 writers. And it takes place in one of the prettiest, winiest, foodiest spots in the country. So what can you expect from this year?

It’s going to be fiery

Festival director Shelagh Foster says the nonfiction panels will push people’s buttons. “We’ll be talking about politics and leadership, climate change and drought, feminism. There’s a sense of urgency and impatience, of strong voices and new ideas.” Some top picks: Jacques Rousseau’s session on the scourge of institutional patriarchy and corruption with Prince Mashele, Pallo Jordan, and Ronnie Kasrils; and Richard Poplak discusses the riotous politics of our nation with General Bantu Holomisa and journalist Eric Naki.

It’s going to be fun

Pops Mohamed and Dave Reynolds will be telling magical stories through their music using steelpans, a 10-string harp guitar and African instruments.

It’s going to be global

Foster says that there are more overseas authors this year than ever. The mega popular Kate Mosse and Kate Furnivall are both in the lineup with new historical novels guaranteed to delight your book club. British spy writer Mick Herron — described as “between John Le Carré and Ian Fleming” — and Gregg Hurwitz, author of the Orphan X series.

Our faves will be there

Homegrown crowd-pleasers Redi Tlhabi, Jacques Pauw, Sisonke Msimang, Glynnis Breytenbach, Mandy Wiener, Niq Mhlongo, Deon Meyer, the list goes on, will all be at FLF.

You can write too!

Writers talk about their process. I’ll be talking to international authors Kate Mosse, Orly Castel-Bloom and Maya Fowler about what it actually takes to write for a living. There are workshops on writing for stage and screen with Vaya director Akin Omotoso and others; poetry-writing with Karin Schimke and Jolyn Phillips; essay writing with Hedley Twidle; writing for social media with Gus Silber; and memoir writing with Dianne Stewart.

There will be hidden gems

Stories of coelacanths and lions. Moving personal stories, like the man who was told he would never walk again, but fulfilled his dream of finishing the Dakar Rally. Stories of adoption, and surviving cancer and abuse and heartache. Stories of overcoming. Stories that stay with you.

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Savagely funny but serious, cynical and sanguine and whippingly plotted – Michele Magwood reviews Mick Herron’s fifth novel featuring the greedy gaseous lunk, Jackson Lamb

Published in the Sunday Times

London Rules
Mick Herron, John Murray, R295

One of the authors I’m most looking forward to meeting at the Franschhoek Literary Festival next week is Mick Herron. The British writer has been quietly turning out a series of spy novels that have built something of a cult following. With London Rules, his fifth, it looks like he’s reached the tipping point onto the mainstream radar.

The plain cover of the book obscures a rare combination of wit, plot, affecting writing and vivid characterisation. It is savagely funny but serious, cynical and sanguine and whippingly plotted, veering from small human vignettes to huge public events.

Jackson Lamb is the axis of the series, a great greedy gaseous lunk who lives on Chinese takeaways and tumblers of Scotch. He’s a washed up Cold War operative who has been shut out of MI5 and put in charge of a band of disgraced spies, the so-called “slow horses”. They are stabled in a decaying building called Slough House where they eke out their days sifting through statistics and drinking weak tea.

There’s Catherine Standish, a recovering alcoholic, who Lamb teases by pouring her drinks; River Cartwright, scion of a legendary MI5 family who screwed up spectacularly; Shirley Dander is a cokehead with anger problems; Louisa Guy is paralysed by grief for her dead partner; and JK Coe is a psychologist with post-traumatic stress disorder, who hides under a hoodie with buds in his ears. And then there is the deliciously awful Roddy Ho, genius hacker and delusional narcissist.

When a terrorist cell erupts into a string of attacks, evidence points to Ho having unwittingly passed information to his girlfriend. And so the slow horses are dragged reluctantly into the action, because the first of the London Rules, as everybody knows, is Cover Your Arse.

Herron presents a sharply contemporary view of the UK that at times borders on libel: the populist Brexiteer politician (and secret cross-dresser) Dennis Gimball and his harpy columnist wife, Dodie; the Muslim politician Zafar Jaffrey, in the running to be mayor of the West Midlands, who has some worrying cohorts, and a vain and weak prime minister concerned only with his image.

As the terrorists strike again and again, the intelligence services get help – almost by accident – from the farcically inept Slough Housers.

Their bickering is blistering but it’s Lamb who gets the best lines. He asks Louisa for an educated guess; when she replies he barks, “I said educated. That guess left school at 15 for a job at Asda.”

Lamb turns to Coe: “You’re the one who gets panic attacks, right? Behind you! Just kidding.” He compares ethical behaviour to “a vajazzle on a nun. Pretty to picture, but who really benefits?”

Padding through the action, and lifting the book to another plane is some arresting description of the hours of the day passing.

“In some parts of the world dawn arrives with rosy fingers, to smooth away the creases left by night. But on Aldersgate Street … it comes wearing safe-cracker’s gloves, so as not to leave prints on windowsills and doorknobs; it squints through keyholes, sizes up locks, and generally cases the joint ahead of approaching day.”

Herron has, of course, been compared to John le Carré and Graham Greene but he is entirely, subversively, unique. @michelemagwood

Book details

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Play it forward: win and donate books!

Via TimesLive

When you read to your children, you invest in their future. Image: Rico

Many stories for children have been adapted over time from stories that were originally created for adults. In fact, translators have often been responsible for crafting and reshaping stories across time and space to suit their different audiences.

Think of Aesop’s fables. Aesop was a slave and storyteller in Ancient Greece in the 5th Century BCE. For centuries his stories moved across continents and were told and heard in many languages. They first appeared in print in 1484 – as stories for children, and in English. Even today, new versions of these stories continue to be created.

Many famous fairy tales have different versions around the world. For example, across Africa and Europe, in Russia, Appalachia, India and Japan, versions of the Grimm’s fairy tale, Hansel and Gretel, are told and read. So, the history of children’s literature is a history of translation. Through translation, stories from Greek, Latin, Hebrew, French, Italian and Asian languages have found their way into English. In South Africa, Pinocchio, originally written in Italian, has become Pinokiyo ngesiXhosa and is now appreciated by children who do not necessarily know that the story came from Italy.

‘Pinnocchio’ can now be enjoyed in isiXhosa, as ‘Pinokiyo’. Image: Rico.

Stories that originated in Africa have been retold in many languages too. All over the world people read the popular trickster tales featuring Hare, Tortoise or Spider. These stories use animals with human qualities to entertain and teach, and to share wisdom and understanding about human nature and human behaviour.

At the moment there are not enough children’s storybooks in African languages, either as original writing or as translations. But the numbers will grow as people get to know, choose, read and talk about storybooks with their children, and request storybooks in their languages of choice.

As citizens of the world, we are curious about each other and learn about each other as we tell and retell our stories.

Nal’ibali is growing a collection of stories in a range of South African languages. You can find them on the Nal’ibali website or mobisite.

Reading aloud to your children:

  • shows them that you value books and reading;
  • gives you things to talk about together;
  • builds a bond with them;
  • allows them to experience reading as a satisfying activity;
  • motivates them to learn to read for themselves and then to keep reading;
  • shows them how we read and how books work;
  • lets them enjoy stories that are beyond their current reading ability; and
  • develops their vocabulary and language abilities.
  • Try reading this story to your children

    Expand your children’s world! Read them the story of Neo’s imaginary adventure in Neo and the big, wide world by Vianne Venter, then do the Get creative! activity at the end of the story with them.

    Get your Nal’ibali supplement

    Sunday Times Express (Western Cape) – English and isiXhosa – Sunday, April 29

    Sunday World (North West Province) – English and Setswana – Sunday 29 April

    Sunday World (KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng) – English and isiZulu – Sunday 29 April

    Sunday World (Free State) – English and Sesotho – Sunday 29 April

    Sunday World (Limpopo) – English and Sepedi– Sunday 29 April

    • English and Xitsonga supplements will be available at selected SA Post Offices and reading clubs in Limpopo

    The Herald (Thursday 3 May) and Daily Dispatch (Tuesday 1 May) (Eastern Cape) – English and isiXhosa.

    Play it forward: WIN and donate books

    Two lucky readers can win 10 books each week and donate them to a school, reading club or library of their choice.

    The third runner-up will win a Nal’ibali reading-at-home starter pack.

    Books are donated by Tiso Blackstar Group and Jacana Media.

    To enter, contact before 5pm on Thursday, May 10 and give one reason why we need to read to children in their mother tongue. Include your name, cellphone number and physical address.

    Winners will be announced on Friday, May 11. Terms and conditions apply.

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“It really should be a no brainer that people should have access to books in their languages.” A Q&A with African language translator and literary activist, Lorato Trok

Published in the Sunday World, Daily Dispatch and Herald

By Carla Lever

Lorato Trok

You have worked for nearly every literacy promotion organisation in South Africa! How did you become a translator?

When I was a student at North West University I majored in Setswana and our class was the only one that barely had access to good reading material. I was determined to do something to change that. When I saw the kind of translated material that children were reading, I was deeply disappointed. The quality was so bad, but no one seemed to care as long as it was in an African language. That’s where my activism started.

Nal’ibali are expanding the number of languages their newspaper supplements are now available in. Can you tell us a little about that?

Nal’ibali has now added Setswana and Xitsonga to their supplements. This is so, so exciting: it means that more children will be accessing good reading material in their home languages.

Did you have access to books and stories in your mother tongue when you were young?

If in 2018 we still talk about there not being enough books in African languages, can you imagine the 80s and 90s? There was absolutely no reading material, except for schoolbooks of course. Luckily, my mom and my aunt were master storytellers and we sat around the fire in our household to hear great African folktales, all in Setswana. My aunt was also an actress in local small town showbiz, so we used to enjoy those shows! The story-telling and township dramatic arts saved the day for us. So even though I had no access to reading material, my experiences in literature were rich and rewarding.

Why is it important for people to have access to books and reading material in all of our South African languages?

It really should be a no brainer that people should have access to books in their languages. It affirms the importance of their identity: for most people here, language is their identity.

Have you ever had anyone tell you what it meant to them to be able to read a story you have translated into their mother tongue?

I get that all the time and it gives me so much pleasure. Whenever I travel back to the Northern Cape I meet teachers I translated and wrote stories for many years ago and they are still grateful. I meet young people who thank me for writing in Setswana and translating stories in their home language. It’s my greatest joy.

Officially, South Africa has eleven national languages, but in reality people’s everyday experience of any form of written language is often only in English and Afrikaans. Why does that need to change?

Official forms are still only available in English and Afrikaans and it gets worse as you travel further from cities to small towns. I was in a shop in a small town called Kuruman and all the shop signs about the listeriosis crisis were in Afrikaans. It’s like the Setswana speaking people – who are the majority in that town – did not exist. We are still bringing up generations of divided children in this country. We can’t just talk about it: the government needs to open their eyes and realise that this is negatively affecting the country’s future development.

Many people say that publishing books and resources in all South African languages is simply too expensive. What would you say to those who argue it is not a practical solution?

How is it not practical? In a country where more than 80% of the population identify African languages as their home languages? Why is it possible for publishers to publish school readers in African languages and not for pleasure reading? For those of us who work in this space, we know what people really want. It’s assumed that only English and Afrikaans speaking people want to buy and read books, but platforms like Abantu Book Festival and book fairs popping up in townships across the country are proving that that was never the case. There’s a level of consciousness in young black people across the country reclaiming and appreciating their identities. Discussions around decolonisation are getting louder – publishers can no longer stick to the same tired narrative. The country has changed, now minds need to change to embrace that.

From Sunday April 15, Nal’ibali will be publishing its supplements in two new languages. An English-Setswana edition will be published in the Sunday World in the North West, and an English-Xitsonga edition will be donated to reading clubs in Limpopo. Clubs in both provinces will collect their copies from select post offices. The post offices (10 in each province) will also have 50 additional editions each to give away to member of the public.

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The Killing of Butterfly Joe is a tale of violence, guns and greed – and the process of storytelling – told from a prison cell, writes Anna Stroud

Published in the Sunday Times

Rhidian Brook’s protagonist sells butterflies in glass cases – a job he once had. Pic: Nikki Gibbs. © Unknown
The Killing of Butterfly Joe
Rhidian Brook, Picador, R285

The Killing of Butterfly Joe is a fast-paced, neo-gothic thriller that starts in the Catskills Mountains of New York and takes the protagonists on a whirlwind adventure across America. The provocative set-up of the title adds to the sense of dread as the story unfolds, while cutaway scenes reveal the narrator is telling the tale from his prison cell. From the start we know that the narrator, Welsh wannabe-writer Llew Jones, is in for a wild ride when he becomes entangled in the Bosco clan and their butterfly business.

Rhidian Brook is like his main character – a Welsh novelist, except he is successful and living in London with his wife and two children. This year readers can look forward to a film based on his 2013 novel The Aftermath, starring Keira Knightley.

Brook explains where this latest novel comes from: “When I was 23 I had a job selling butterflies in glass cases in America. I worked for a guy who, as well as being a butterfly salesman, had ambitions to be America’s first Pope (an ambition he ditched on account of wanting to marry). I drove all over the US and sold in 32 states. It was 1987 and was pre-internet and pre-mobile phone, which increased the sensation of having an adventure in a land far, far away. I was not a novelist at the time but I told myself that I had to write about these butterflying days if I could. And so I did – 30 years later.”

The characters are well-rounded and entertaining. There’s Joe Bosco, the charismatic, dynamic oldest son; Edith, the powerful, terrifying matriarch; Isabelle, the sensible sister; Mary, the sensual sister; and Clay, Elijah and Celeste who, like the narrator, come to the business in unorthodox ways.

Brook says the characters’ interaction is vital to the story: “Llew is coming into an established, albeit eccentric, family in which there are different temperaments and different histories all clashing. Part of Llew’s journey is working out who is true and trustworthy. The characters also bring out the best and the worst in our narrator.”

Llew and Joe’s relationship reminds the reader of Nick Carraway and Jay Gatsby; Llew is enthralled by the sheer magnitude of Joe’s personality and despite his affection for both sisters, it is Joe he loves.

Joe was inspired by two “untameable, creative/destructive mavericks” in literature, The Cat in the Hat and Zorba the Greek. There are echoes of Kerouac and F Scott Fitzgerald in the story, and Brook unpacks the notion of the American Dream in a new and refreshing way.

“The American Dream is a chimera. And yet, the sense of possibility – the idea – of America is so powerful it gives you the feeling that you can do and be anything. And sometimes that happens. Joe actually despises the idea of it – for him it stems from the constitution’s attempt to encode happiness in law. He also thinks it’s a kind of idolatry. In his view America is a religious country but its real religion is money, backed by violence and guns. True religion has been lost.”

Writing is a central theme as elements of storytelling appear throughout the book. Joe tells Llew, “If it’s your story, you can do what you like with it”, Joe makes up his own words and Llew admits he’s an unreliable narrator. Brook says: “I was interested in the tension between experiencing versus imagining, but also how we can sometimes stumble into being writers via the most unexpected roads. Llew gets to write his ‘Great Welsh-American Novel;’ just not in the way he expected.” @annawriter_

Book details

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Nal’ibali adds two more South African languages to their literacy newspaper supplements

Via Nal’ibali

Nal’ibali – South Africa’s national reading-for-enjoyment campaign – is proud to be adding two more South African languages to their literacy newspaper supplements. Setswana and Xitsonga readers can now enjoy the Nal’ibali supplements in their mother languages from mid-April 2018. This latest addition brings the total number of languages to eight, for Nal’ibali’s bilingual supplements. It is a significant milestone for Nal’ibali, who fully promotes reading and writing in mother languages.

The supplements are made possible through a media partnership with Tiso Blackstar (formerly Times Media Group), who produce the bilingual newspaper supplements every two weeks, during term time. The print rich material includes stories, literacy activities, reading and reading club tips and support, to inspire and guide parents, caregivers, teachers, librarians and reading clubs, to make reading and storytelling meaningful, enjoyable and accessible.

“The importance of mother language preservation and promotion is critical and should be addressed as such,” explains Nal’ibali Xitsonga language editor, Mr Gezani Chabalala, who believes language, culture and identity are inseparable and complement each other. Language assists in shaping one’s culture. It is important to preserve and promote mother tongue for the language’s continued existence, and as a minority language in SA, Xitsonga speakers will benefit from this milestone. People learn and understand better when lessons are conducted in a language they know and understand well, concludes Chabalala.

Nal’ibali places value on the power of language and cultural relevance in literacy development. To cultivate a reading culture and a nation that prides itself on high-level literacy, all children and adults need to understand what they are listening to and reading. Real understanding makes it meaningful and enjoyable which is significant for raising readers.

“I would like to commend Nal’ibali for giving the Batswana children, and children of other languages, an opportunity to read interesting stories in their own language! It is a great effort towards ensuring we cultivate a culture of reading in our children, at the same time preserving our language. In my opinion, children who can write and read in their language can easily learn other languages. Through storytelling, with special reference to Setswana, our language and culture will be hugely promoted, as Nal’ibali urges children to interact with others, to use their imagination and to learn from these stories” says Opelo Thole, Nal’ibali Setswana language editor.

Several Tiso Blackstar titles distribute 147,600 reading-for-enjoyment supplements fortnightly in the following language combinations, available during school term time only:

• Sunday World (North West Province) – English and Setswana – Sundays
• English and Xitsonga supplements will be available at selected SA Post Offices and reading clubs in Limpopo
• Sunday Times Express (Western Cape) – English and isiXhosa – Sundays
• Sunday World (KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng) – English and isiZulu – Sundays
• Sunday World (Free State) – English and Sesotho – Sundays
• Sunday World (Limpopo) – English and Sepedi – Sundays
• The Herald (Thursdays) and Daily Dispatch (Tuesdays) (Eastern Cape) – English and isiXhosa.

Each week, 53 000 supplements are also distributed free of charge through Tiso Blackstar Education directly to reading clubs, community organisations, libraries, schools and other partners in the Eastern Cape, Western Cape, Gauteng, Free State, Limpopo, North West and KwaZulu-Natal. A limited number of free supplements will be available at select post offices in Limpopo and North West. Visit Nal’ibali’s website to see a list of these post offices.

To download digital copies of the supplements and more information about the Nal’ibali reading-for-enjoyment campaign, free children’s stories in a range of SA languages, tips on reading and writing with children, details on how to set up a reading club or to request training, visit,, or find them on Facebook and Twitter..

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Almost unknown at home, Musa Ngqungwana has sung in the world’s opera capitals, writes Claire Keeton

Published in the Sunday Times

Musa Ngqungwana’s memoir talks about the man behind the voice. Pic: Simphiwe Nkwali. © Sunday Times

Odyssey of an African Opera Singer
Musa Ngqungwana, Penguin Books, R250

Performing the title role of Porgy in New York last year, PE-born opera star Musa Ngqungwana looked out into the dark behind the conductor and saw rows of people crying. “Then the curtain came down. We got a standing ovation. We came out for four bows,” he says, his eyes misty. “It was a surreal moment.”

From his early days in a church choir bass-baritone Ngqungwana has performed in the US, Canada, UK, Norway and Italy and won critical acclaim internationally.

When he turned 16 he applied for a passport. As a teenager scraping by in Zwide, he told no one about standing in line for a passport. “A classmate once told me I was a dreamer when I said that one day I would travel the world,” he wrote in his new memoir, Odyssey of an African Opera Singer.

This expands on his first self-published memoir with revealing insights about his life, including how hard he found the absence of his father while growing up.

The first black man he saw singing opera in a video, bass-baritone Willard White, inspired him as a schoolboy to follow his voice. Now at age 35, he has never looked back.

In Joburg for an interview, Ngqungwana says: “I know 10 guys who can outsing me or act better but only 5% of opera is about singing. Your brain is 95%.”

Ngqungwana lives in Philadelphia, US, where he moved to study at the acclaimed Academy of Vocal Arts after graduating from UCT magna cum laude. His immersion into the academy was a shock.

French pianist Laurent Philippe was brutal in his first coaching session. “He arrived late on purpose and said hello to me in French. As I started singing he said: ‘I hear this remarkable voice but it does not match what I’m seeing.’ He was very rude about my weight and called me a black rhino.”

But they formed a good relationship and Philippe even accompanied Ngqungwana to South Africa as his pianist when he entered the Standard Bank Young Artists competition at the Grahamstown Arts Festival in 2015.

The night that Ngqungwana triumphed in Grahamstown was one of the highlights of his career. Growing up he couldn’t afford to go to the SA Music Awards (Samas) when they were held in PE.

Ngqungwana said: “This is why performing there was a big deal for me, it was our (classical) version of the Samas.”

He wondered whether people would come from his childhood home 120km away because it was raining that night and opera was seen as Eurocentric. He said: “Philippe said to me: ‘I thought we were coming to Africa but we have done two concerts and hardly seen any black people.’”

Ngqungwana’s first choirmaster, Makhaya Msizi, was in the audience though his mother was not. He has struggled with his absent father and estrangement from most of his family most of his life, yet seems to have made peace with this, and helps his mother. “I do not cling to the past,” he said.

Ngqungwana’s vulnerability and vision shine through in this account of his inspiring life. He is meticulous, even pedantic, about paying tribute to the many people who helped him at every stage of his life. His honesty gives a glimpse of his life offstage, of the man behind the costumes and the face paint.

Book details

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Alexandra Fuller had the choice to speak out in her debut novel, or to remain silent. She decided on the former, writes Michele Magwood

Alexandra Fuller, author of Quiet Until the Thaw. © Wendell Locke Field

Quiet Until the Thaw *****
Alexandra Fuller, Penguin, R280

‘A wise woman said to me after my father died that grief is a dismantling thing, but that you get to choose how you re-mantle. And this novel was really my re-mantling.” Alexandra Fuller doesn’t so much as wear her heart on her sleeve as slice open her chest and pin back the skin to reveal it beating, hotly and bloodily. She is an intensely visceral writer, but immensely skilled, too, always, sometimes just, staying this side of melodrama and solipsism.

She is known for her series of memoirs, beginning with the incendiary Don’t Let’s Go To The Dogs Tonight, about her deranged upbringing in what was then Rhodesia. Through this, and three subsequent books, we got to know her family, whom she refers to in ironic tones as The Fullers Of Central Africa. She’s made us care about them, their singular spirit and flaws, their bad luck and bad choices. And so when her father, Tim, died in 2015 her readers felt that they had known him and mourned with her. Doubtless he would have been appalled.

Fuller was already writing Quiet Until the Thaw when he passed away – in Budapest, of all places, so far from his beloved Zambia – and his death had a distinct effect on the writing of it.

It is the story of two Native American cousins growing up on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota.

This is the Rez, a barren, God-forsaken stretch of land onto which the Lakota Oglala Sioux were herded and dumped. And if that sounds familiar to South African readers, it is. “Anyone who’s been to a former homeland in South Africa or a Tribal Trust Land in Zimbabwe will recognise it,” she says. “You can’t begin to imagine the poverty and social problems. But the beauty, too.”

Fuller, who lives in Wyoming, has been visiting the Rez for years, beginning with a three-month stay in 2011. “I felt this jolt of homecoming.” It was inevitable that she would write about the community, but chose to write it as a novel. “It felt less appropriating to fictionalise it, and I wanted a way to stitch together all the stories I’d heard on the Rez.”

She approached the project with humility, and went to visit an elder called Alex White Plume. “I went up to his farm – he breeds war ponies and grows hemp – and he was happy to talk to me, but said ‘Before I open my mouth the first thing I have to do is forgive you and all the people who look like you.’”

The main character of the novel is Rick Overlooking Horse, a gentle, reticent soul, “a child, and then a man, of shockingly few words” while his cousin You Choose Watson is a treacherous brat who grows up sly and corrupt.

He escapes the draft by feigning diabetes while Rick Overlooking Horse is sent to Vietnam and is burned almost to death by friendly fire. He returns to the Rez, sets up a teepee in a remote meadow and becomes something of a sage, though Fuller points out that the Lakota Oglala don’t have words like chief and medicine man. People start to go to him “with their wounded hearts and curdled souls”, she writes, and he quietly guides them “out of all the noisy unbecoming we do between birth and death”.

“I rewrote a lot of the book after my father died and there was a lot of him in Rick Overlooking Horse, his taciturn sort of stoicism. From being a lesser character he became the generator, the voice of the book.”

There are other vividly named characters such as Le-a (pronounced Le Dasha) Brings Plenty, Mona Respects Nothing and a man nicknamed Small Nosebleed Indian, because “a mild haemorrhage from a single nostril would be all it would take to get rid of every last drop of his native blood”.

The years unfurl as the cousins orbit and crash into each other. Fuller writes in short, punchy chapters dense with allusion, with such wry titles as “Mina Overlooking Horse Drinks Coffee as a Substitute for Having a Feeling” and “Meantime, Names for a Red Man, and Why He Doesn’t Care”. The chapters distil the gutting oppression of the people and the ravages of poverty, but also the idea of circular time and the notion of kinship. Some are mordantly funny – such as when two Rez boys are hired for an act at Disneyland Paris – all are a revelation, a portal into a history that has been kicked aside over and over again.

Quiet Until the Thaw – the title comes from a Swampy Cree narrative poem – bulges with wisdom but has the venom of a rattlesnake. Like so much of Fuller’s work it is blisteringly, resonantly beautiful.

She will undoubtedly be accused of cultural appropriation but she weighed it up very carefully, asking what would be worse – her silence or her speaking out. As painful as it was, she had to tell of the Rez. And we’re the richer for it.

“Writing it erased me, it eroded me,” she says, “the trajectory I was on went over a cliff.” After her father’s death she was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder – “like a bloody war vet” – and is now taking medication. She can’t drink anymore and has been sober for three years.

“My life as it was ended with this book. I began it living in a comfortable condo on the golf course, now I’m living in a yurt! I am so relieved to be living this close to the grounding ground again. It’s not under a tree of forgetfulness, but through the dome at night I can see the stars of the northern hemisphere.” @michelemagwood

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.

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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:

Book details
Soweto, Under the Apricot Tree


Way Back Home

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