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Archive for the ‘Interviews’ Category

A Q&A with author and musician, Mohale Mashigo

By Carla Lever
Via Nal’ibali: Column 24, term

Author and musician, Mohale Mashigo

 
People can tell stories in many ways. You’ve told them through writing with your novel and short stories, through images with your comic and film work and through music as the artist Black Porcelain. Why is storytelling important for you and what kind of stories do you think it’s important to tell?

Storytelling is a way for me to make sense of the world. It keeps me sane. I feel like people should tell the kinds of stories that matter to them. All stories matter!

You’ve previously said that it wasn’t until you read The Color Purple that you finally found a book with back characters. Can you tell us a little about why we owe our children and ourselves more women, more people of colour in films, books, television, advertising?

It’s so important to see yourself in the world. It’s easy to take for granted that people who look like you have always been heroes, villains, stars or models. I want little girls (like me) to know that they are worth imagining and writing stories about. It’s affirming – especially a in a world that is quite happy to make us secondary characters or people.

You first became a recognised author all the way back in school, writing fan fiction for your classmates. Do you think our communities, families and friends can play a powerful role in creating a reading culture in South Africa, by helping children to learn to love reading and writing for pleasure, not just for schoolwork?

There’s a huge storytelling culture in homes, we just need to translate that into a reading culture. Let’s take the kids to libraries, buy second hand books, give our friends books once our children have outgrown them. The quality of the stories matter as well. Let’s write stories that our kids will be excited about.

You write for the comic Kwezi, which provides South Africa with its own Jozi-based superhero. Can you tell us a little about Kwezi and where people can get their hands on copies?

Kwezi is a regular teen who suddenly discovers he has powers. Instead of becoming a “super good guy”, he uses his powers to gain popularity. It’s a story about learning how to use your powers for good. The comic books are in all book shops.

Writing for a comic seems like it would be a much more collaborative experience than writing a novel. What is the process like?

Comic books are definitely more collaborative. I’ve had to learn to be a team player and accept that stories can change at any given time. Writing a novel is lonely, but I get to be the boss!

Sure, we need South African heroes represented in books, but we also need heroes caring about books. You’ve done some heroic work to make sure that people have access to libraries. What inspires you to bring books to people?

Books changed my life and helped get through many lonely years as a weird kid. I just want kids to know that the world is bigger than their current circumstances.

How can people join in with you to help?

People can contact me on Twitter and Facebook if they have gently loved books they would like to give away. I’ll send them to a school in need of books. I also accept new books, but second-hand ones work just as well.

You’re speaking in six panel discussions at the Cape Town Open Book Festival from 5-9 September. That has to be some kind of record! What role do you think Book Festivals can and should play in South Africa right now?

Book Festivals are a place for book readers and writers to meet. Ideally we should all walk away knowing more local authors than we did before.

What kind of South African heroes would you like to see and celebrate?

I want regular people to be celebrated. There are so many regular people who do a lot to save those around them. I’d like to know their names so we can celebrate (and support) them together.

Nal’ibali’s annual multilingual storytelling competition is running this September for Literacy and Heritage Month. Aimed at reviving a love of storytelling amongst adults and children, and connecting South Africans to their rich and vibrant heritage, the theme of this year’s contest is South African Heroes. Enter by telling the story of your favourite SA icon, your personal hero, or a fictional hero in your language, and you could be crowned this year’s Story Bosso! To find out more about Nal’ibali and Story Bosso, visit www.nalibali.org, www.nalibli.mobi, or find find them on Facebook and Twitter.


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“Fierce, sad, inspired” – Anna Stroud reviews Craig Higginson’s soul-stirring The White Room

Published in the Sunday Times

A man and a woman give each other fictionalised stories about themselves, revealing much more than they ever hoped to in Craig Higginson’s The White Room. Author picture: Christof van der Walt.

 

The White Room
*****
Craig Higginson, Picador Africa, R265

In Craig Higginson’s fourth novel, The White Room, he reimagines and expands the story he started to tell in his 2010 play The Girl in the Yellow Dress. The novel opens when playwright Hannah Meade arrives in London for the opening night of her play about a brief period in Paris when she taught English to a young French-Congolese man named Pierre.

To complicate matters, she’s invited him to the premiere; but when she spots him with his gorgeous wife, she retreats into the wings and frets over how he will receive it.

“This book is so much about fiction and representation,” Higginson says in an interview.

“In the first half of the play before the interval, Pierre is pissed off with her because of the way she represented him, and stuck quite closely to the facts. But then in the second half of the play, he comes away feeling that something in him has been reached, even though the second half of the play wasn’t literally true.”

The play within the novel is structured around five grammar lessons. It opens when Pierre spots Hannah at the Sorbonne and, seeing her as a quintessential English girl, stalks her and convinces her to teach him. But the stories they tell each other about themselves are steeped in fiction, and beg the question whether we can ever truly know each other – or ourselves.

Yet sometimes the lies we tell are most revealing. Hannah’s self-representation leaves Pierre perplexed.

Higginson’s impressive use of language is demonstrated. On the surface it is spare but beneath the simplicity it cajoles the reader into playing a game of words. He writes: “There is an anarchic spirit in her, a kind of reckless impulsiveness that he will ponder over the weeks afterwards. Though she comes across as so perfect, so in control, a shadow seems to lie under everything she says and does.”

Hannah is a complex and moody character who hides from the world in books. The only time she’s truly alive is inside the grammar lessons, while outside everything is drab and dreary. Meanwhile Pierre (like Echo in the myth of Echo and Narcissus) loses himself in her and becomes a rock that reflects her voice.

Unlike the original female character in The Girl in the Yellow Dress, Hannah is not wealthy, or from the UK.

“By making her South African I was able to tap into my own memories of growing up in SA,” Higginson says. “There’s quite a lot of my own life in there … there’s a lot of me in there and yet the characters are very different from me.”

Like Hannah, Higginson was born in Zimbabwe and moved to SA at the height of the Soweto uprising. He also went to boarding school in KwaZulu-Natal, worked in the theatre, lived in England, did a TEFL course in Stoke, and taught English in Paris.

“A recurring theme in my work is the past and traumatic events or secrets from the past,” Higginson says. Hannah and Pierre attempt a relationship, but secrets and baggage from their past seep into the white room, causing them to hurt one another.

“Growing up in SA, one felt a kind of shame all the time. I mean, it’s that thing in The White Room where you’re in this abusive relationship but you don’t know if you’re the abuser or abused.”

The white room represents the room on stage where the action unfolds but it’s also the blank page, a clean slate. On another level, it’s about whiteness and the centrality it demands for itself.

Higginson explains that the novel touches on “the space that whiteness takes up in the world, the room that whiteness asks for itself, and how characters like Pierre have to negotiate that space”.

Yet, it’s a story that affirms the power of poetry, literature and theatre to reimagine and transform ourselves.

“I think we need to absorb fictions in order to heal and find a better vision.”

Fierce, sad, inspired The White Room stirs the soul. @annawriter_

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“Anger and desperation inspire me to help be one of the few voices for our Khoe issues because we are seldom, if ever, spoken about” – a Q&A with Denver Breda, Khoe language and cultural activist

Via Nal’ibali: Column 23, Term 3

By Carla Lever

Language and cultural activist, Denver Breda. Pic: supplied.


 
As a language and cultural activist, what issues do you feel most passionately about in South Africa today?

I’m most passionate about ending the Kakapasa or denial that pervades the South African consciousness, about the people who were found here in the 1600s.

You have campaigned for Khoekhoegowab to be taught in South African schools. Why do you think this is an important move?

It’s important to remind people that this land was not empty, that it indeed had many people who spoke the oldest languages and cultures that sadly were forced to adopt other names, create and speak other languages. Most of all, to show that we are still here and that the country as a whole has a responsibility to restore what was so violently taken.

Language is identity, it roots you, instils in you a set of values. This has but all been lost, especially with Coloured people who are often majority Khoe people. Language loss is actually found among First Nation communities all over the world, yet in South Africa it’s not researched enough.

Every language has its own ‘flavour’ or beauty. What are some of your favourite sayings or expressions in Khoekhoegowab?

Some of my favourite words are ‘Kawakawas’ which in Khoekhoe means restoration, ‘Kakapusa’ which means to forget, ‘Munanai’ (which is what I called my company), means to imagine. Some of my favourite sayings are ‘Ada Hoatsama gon’ which means ‘together we move’. Also ‘Toa tama !khams ge’ which is ‘the struggle continues’. But also to tell people the original name of Cape town ||Hui !Gaeb which means ‘where the clouds gather’.

How can we make sure that indigenous languages – and the cultures related to them – don’t die out?

By first acknowledging that we indeed all have a responsibility towards South Africa’s First Nations people and to learn at least one of the Khoe languages that remain, such as Khoekhoe. We can also put pressure on government and society to support the cause. People can also become what I call Xambassadors – a combination of the word Xam which means lion in the Khoekhoe language and ambassadors.

You have written short story collections, produced a play, self-published a story inspired by your mother’s journey from Graaff-Reinet to the Cape, and you have a podcast, Draadloos virrie Raadloos. That’s a lot of creative words! What inspires you to be so prolific?

Anger and desperation inspire me to help be one of the few voices for our Khoe issues because we are seldom, if ever, spoken about – not on TV, not in newspapers. We can wait to be written about, or we can write about ourselves and that is what I do.

Why is it important for people to share their stories, whether written or spoken?

I believe as Khoe – as Africans – when our stories die, we die. For me, writing stories has been hugely therapeutic. Writing about the Cape Flats, about my mother who had to leave her home in Graaff-Reinet at the age of 16 to work as a domestic worker, about a very dear trans friend of mine who I have known for almost two decades and who now lives on the street, it has allowed me to cope, to understand, to not be as angry, to look at solutions. I believe as a country our stories of pain, of hope can actually bring us together. The truth is that we are more of a family than we wish to consider.

The idea of mothering is something we have extended to language – mother tongue – and even space – motherland, mother city. Do you think there is a good time and place for all South Africans to reconnect – have a family reunion – with their land and their languages? Is it possible?

There is always a good time to connect. Not a specific time, but anytime. At the bus, at work, at schools, at your place of worship to reconnect first with self, which I believe to be more important than with others and with nature. In a way we have to become mothers to our hearts and our souls which carry so much hurt and pain. Learning one of South Africa’s First Nation languages has certainly helped me to connect with myself, others and South Africa. I’m still learning, but something happens when you either connect – or khoennect – with your ancestors or to the first languages of this land. That is truly the start of the decolonisation process.

How can people who are interested learn more about indigenous languages like Khoekhoegowa?

There are a lot of resources on the internet – YouTube particularly – though not as much as I would like to have available. For those in Cape Town, come to our public talks on 9 September at Open Book Festival and hear what one of SA’s oldest languages sound like.

Nal’ibali’s annual multilingual storytelling competition is running this September or Literacy and Heritage Month. Aimed a reviving a love of storytelling amongst adults and children, and connecting South Africans to their rich and vibrant heritage, the theme of this year’s contest is South African Heroes. Enter by telling the story of your favourite SA icon, your personal hero, or a fictional hero in your language, and you could be crowned this year’s Story Bosso! To find out more about Nal’ibali and Story Bosso, visit www.nalibali.org, www.nalibli.mobi, or find them on Facebook and Twitter.


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“I wanted to interrogate the legacy that belonged to me” – Panashe Chigumadzi on These Bones Will Rise Again

Published in the Sunday Times

By Rea Khoabane

Panashe Chigumadzi looks beyond the ‘big men and guns’. Picture: KB Mpofu.

 

These Bones Will Rise Again
****
Panashe Chigumadzi, Jacana, R185

In search of mothers of the nation, Panashe Chigumadzi discovered that black women need to be seen in all their complexity. Her latest book, These Bones Will Rise Again, is an interrogation of the liberation movement that was created through the spirit of a woman but led by men and guns.

How did the book come about?

Essentially the book was a commission by Ellah Wakatama Allfrey, the publishing director of Indigo Press. I happened to tell her about the research I’ve been doing independently at Wits University, about the figure of Mbuya Nehanda, an anticolonial heroine, amongst, if not the most famous person in Zimbabwe’s liberation history. She was a spirit medium who was also one of the first leaders of the Zimbabwe liberation movement Chimurenga. At the same time I had been thinking about my grandmother, who’d just passed away, and thought of a photograph of her that I’d lost.

Why did you choose to present this through the structure of a woman?

I was inspired by Alice Walker’s essay “In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens”, which speaks to the way that, even as black people, we learn to take on the eyes of the world in the ways that we look at ourselves and in the ways that we look at other black women.

It was difficult for me to see beyond my grandmother as a person, so it was really saying, how do I take on new eyes? It’s seeing her and others; I see our humanity, our fullness. I see the complexity of our humanity and that means crafting an image of a strong black woman. It’s an image of a rock but also an image of someone who loves, who cries, dreams, prays and can be nasty and nice. Complexities that black women are denied.

The title is from the words that Mbuya Nehanda spoke before she was executed…

The image of her when she was about to be executed is one we continually use within Zimbabwe … Grace Mugabe last year said she sees herself as Mbuya Nehanda. She’s always present, but it was also important for me to interrogate what this spirit has meant to us as the people. What does it mean that an ancestor who really is an ancestor spirit initially belonging to the Zulu people has now come be an ancestor of the Zimbabwean nation, and what does it mean if she is the ancestor that is spoken of to other ancestors? To question if there is maybe one primary ancestor…

You see Robert Mugabe’s ousting as a way for Zimbabweans to refer back to history…

Zimbabwe’s national history and its versions of history, and this moment of history, are created by a clash of big men and guns. I was interested to speak about this moment that is outside the figure of Mugabe and outside of our usual understanding of Mugabe’s Zimbabwe. I wanted to understand this moment through Zimbabwean people and particularly women, using the figure of Mbuya Nehanda, and I thought it was my way of inventing history through her history.

I also wanted to interrogate what is the liberation struggle to me and what does it mean to the Zimbabwean people outside of what we’ve been taught? I wanted to interrogate the legacy that belonged to me, to my mother and to my grandmother, and that would one day belong to my grandchildren.

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“We are seeing that there is more to poetry than the dead white men of high school textbooks” – a Q&A with poet and cultural activist, Vangile Gantsho

By Carla Lever

Nal’ibali column 21: term 3 2018

Published in the Sunday World (26/08/2018), Daily Dispatch (27/08/2018), Herald (30/08/2018)

Poet and cultural activist, Vangile Gantsho. Pic: supplied.

 

How would you describe your own work?

Honest. Uncomfortable. Deeply mine. I don’t think it’s for everyone, mostly because not everyone wants to know how deeply we – as people/womxn/black womxn – feel. There is a responsibility that comes with knowledge.

You are participating in several of the exciting panels at the Open Book Festival in Cape Town this September. What role do you think SA arts festivals should have in bringing all kinds of people together around storytelling and culture(s)?

I guess I think festivals should be well-crafted mazes, where people are inspired to be so curious that they arrive expecting one thing, and leave having experienced something they wouldn’t have bumped into otherwise. I would hope that this adventure would spark conversation, because at the heart of storytelling is conversation – between writers and readers and society.

A lot of people see poetry as something you learn in school or intimidating to understand. Can poetry be a relevant and accessible form of expression for everyone?

I think that’s how poetry used to be taught. Now, poetry is an evolving language. We are seeing that there is more to poetry than the dead white men of high school text books. That before Lebo Mashile, there was Jayne Cortez and June Jordan. That poetry can have agency, and that emotional complexity does not always have to be trapped in complicated language.

What language/s do you write and perform in and what motivates that choice?

English. Because the way in which this freedom was/is structured meant that my parents felt it was best for me to prioritise English so my brothers and I could be successful in life. Even if it was at the expense of our home language.

You have said that people can use poetry as a healing tool – a way of feeling safe inside our own bodies. How can writing be a form of self-care?

From a young age I learned that journaling was a way of making what I was feeling and experiencing real. I think, when you are silenced, writing especially can be an important way of existing. I have seen that free writing exercises often leads people to unexpected places: “Wow! I didn’t even realise I was feeling like this.” In existing, in “saying out loud” what you are living through, you can heal from it, or discard it. You can claim some power over it.

It’s hard to break into South Africa’s very small publishing industry. You’ve proven that going it alone can be a great solution, by self-publishing your own very successful book of poetry. Can you tell us a little about what that involves?

My debut poetry collection, Undressing in front of the window (2015), taught me that no one will willingly open doors for you. You have to knock, or break the doors down yourself. And in order to do that, you must always be willing to learn. Self-publishing requires more than just raising funds. You still need a good team. And it’s not an easy process. It’s difficult, expensive work…but fortunately also deeply rewarding!

Your publishing company, Impepho Press, is a self-described “Pan-African” publishing house. Are you currently accepting submissions from authors?

We just announced our first open call, open throughout September. We are accepting submissions from people born in Africa and people of colour from the diaspora. This includes gender non-conforming people.

For those not able to afford books, are there other ways to access writing from poets working across our continent?

I think the biggest tragedy is that everything costs money. So even if I say the internet is a way of accessing the work of international writers of colour, data is expensive. And access to technology is a luxury. I think more and more second-hand books shops and the bigger libraries are getting better at stocking some contemporary writers at a steal. But the internet is probably the best bet, for now, because access to literature is seen as a luxury.

How can parents, friends and teachers encourage young people to tell their stories creatively?

By encouraging young people to express themselves honestly and without fear of intimidation or prejudice. Exposing ourselves to art also encourages us to be inspired by art!

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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“I decided to give my stories a bigger meaning than just LOLs and likes” – Melusi Tshabalala on writing Melusi’s Everyday Zulu

Nal’ibali column 21: term 3 (2018)

By Carla Lever

Melusi Tshabalala, author of Melusi’s Everyday Zulu. Photo provided.

 

What inspired you to write Melusi’s Everyday Zulu?

I’ve worked in advertising for the past 20 years and it broke my heart how the industry treats indigenous, (South) African languages with disrespect. I wanted to showcase the beauty and, because I am um’Zulu, I did it with isiZulu.

You have a background in advertising. How are different languages used in this industry? What do you think needs to change?

You can’t talk about how advertising uses languages without bringing marketing into it. African languages and the people who speak them are not given much respect. This is starkly evident in radio advertising, where the quality of African-language radio ads is often not the same as the English and Afrikaans because they are not given the same quality control. We need more marketers and advertising professionals who actually care to deliver a quality product to this majority audience.

Your book concept started with a Facebook page! Tell us about discovering the power of social media as a tool for activism.

A little while ago, I realised that people on Facebook enjoy my writing, so I decided to give my stories a bigger meaning than just LOLs and likes. We all have the responsibility to help build the country, using whatever skills we have. Mine is writing.

How did the momentum shift your idea from a social media platform to regular media, like your book deal and a radio slot?

I was approached by publishers and radio producers – I honestly didn’t see that coming. I now have features on Kaya FM and East Coast Radio, as well as a column in Finweek.

What was the public feedback to your Facebook posts?

The feedback has been very positive even though we’ve had some very tough conversations. The people on the page don’t always agree with me or each other, but we learn from each other. Well, most of us!

Has there been a learning curve in writing for such a huge public audience?

Yes, I’ve had to adjust to writing for a broader audience, with people from different walks of life. I’ve also learnt not to react to everything people say to me. I sometimes still react, though.

You literally tackle one of SA’s big problems one word at a time. Do you think we can chip away at our ingrained prejudices?

I’ve realised that we can! We just need to talk to each other. We exist in silos and make assumptions about “the other”. That said, some people really are just terrible.

I love your catchphrase – “There’s Um’Zulu in all of us!” What do you think SA would be like if we all made an effort to learn and use each others’ languages?

I believe we all have little bits of each other in us. We need to tap into them and become an unstoppable force in the world. That’s our nation’s uniqueness.

Children’s brains are incredibly good at picking up language – they learn through play and aren’t afraid to get words wrong. How can we keep this sense of play and fun in learning language as adults?

We need to interact with each other, make friends who are different from us. We need to laugh together and at ourselves, while always being aware of our colonial and apartheid history.

***

Melusi’s Everyday Zulu is published by Jonathan Ball and their giving away THREE copies! To enter, simply tell us what Melusi’s catchphrase is. Email your answer to Tiso Blackstar’s education consultant, Patti McDonald: Patti.McDonald@tisoblackstar.co.za before Monday, 27 August.

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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“The MeToo movement has allowed people to speak in a heightened, sharpened way that they couldn’t do before.” Meg Wolitzer on her new novel, feminism, and meaning-making

Published in the Sunday Times

Meg Wolitzer, author of The Female Persuasion. Illustration by Kate Gavino.

 
The Female Persuasion
*****
Meg Wolitzer, Chatto & Windus, R290

Meg Wolitzer is finally getting the recognition she deserves as a powerful author who has big things to say. It’s her moment. She has two major things happening. The film The Wife will hit the screens this month and it’s based on Wolitzer’s 2003 novel of the same name. Starring Glenn Close, everyone is pitching it as an important film that will at last net the star her Oscar.

Close plays the angry wife of a famous author who is going to receive the Nobel literature prize. In the film, her character tells her husband, “everyone needs approval”. This is also the theme that runs through Wolitzer’s new book The Female Persuasion, the other major thing to happen to Wolitzer this year.

The Female Persuasion, her 12th book, is receiving rave reviews for its keen perception of being a woman in today’s MeToo world. It centres on two women: Faith Frank, an older second-wave feminist who encourages Greer Kadetsky, a younger fourth-wave feminist. It is about female empowerment, women mentoring women and the dangers of placing our mentors on pedestals.

In a phone interview from New York, Wolitzer explains why she chose to write about this.

“I’m somebody who has been helped and encouraged by older women and that feeling of being heard, being respected, perhaps for the first time, is very powerful. It’s important to be seen. To believe in yourself and an outside person giving you this permission. I have a friend who calls these people permissionaries.”

Her character, Faith, is a permissionary. In the early ’70s, Faith was one of the founders of Bloomer magazine – filled with acerbic columns and sharp articles about women’s rights. Faith is described as “a couple of steps down from Gloria Steinem in fame”.

Faith gives Greer permission to own her own story. Greer is innocent and green when she goes to college with no guidance from her stoner, uninterested parents. On her first night at Ryland she goes to a frat party where Darren Tinzler sexually assaults her. Greer wants to see him punished. Other young women too, as “other Ryland students had their own Darren Tinzler moments”. Unfortunately, the story follows a familiar narrative – he apologises for his inability to read signals from the opposite sex and gets off with a stint of therapy. It is 2006.

Greer’s need for justice grows. She and her friend Zee buy cheap T-shirts and print Darren’s face on it with the word Unwanted beneath it. They are wearing them the night they meet Faith, who comes to the college for a talk. Greer uses what she calls her “outside voice” to ask Faith a question. Faith is impressed. Greer finishes college and starts to work for Faith and her female-empowerment organisation called Loci. We see a clash of different types of feminism.

Wolitzer says the only way we can navigate this difference is for women to talk and listen and understand where we all come from.

“Women of second-wave and third-wave feminism grew up in a different world and their experiences of when they were young were different and this shaped how they have come to perceive being a feminist in the world. All we can do is inhabit our own lives, know about the past, learn about our mothers and their lives.

“There’s been valid criticism about inclusiveness as an important need for feminism. There are angry voices. I think we are in a moment right now; so much has happened, so much has been set into release. The MeToo movement has allowed people to speak in a heightened, sharpened way that they couldn’t do before. The idea of being believed and heard; these are fairly new things. We are in the middle of a change. I don’t know how it will shake down, nobody knows.”

Even though the book delves into all these issues it’s not a feminist manifesto, rather it’s telling a bigger story with many different layers. This is where Wolitzer excels – her novels are big in scope – in themes as well as in the time frame. The Female Persuasion is epic; Greer and Faith’s entire lives are on display.

Wolitzer explains: “I don’t think I can say for definite that this is only a bildungsroman. Without a doubt it’s a coming-of-age story but it’s not only about that. It’s also about how we make meaning and find our way and that’s not only about young people. For instance, Faith has to decide what legacy she wants to leave the world. I do want to say something about how we live and how we do good in our lives. I think in this way it is a big story.”

She didn’t try to write the quintessential MeToo novel.

“When I wrote this book (except for the last chapter), I assumed that we would have our first woman president. Assumed that it would be meaningful and lead to other things. Then my notion of feminism shifted. The notion that maybe sometimes in feminism things are a little bit worse or a little bit better and you keep on working. It got pulled away like a tablecloth in the magic trick. I then added the next chapter of the ‘big terribleness’ – after the Trump election. Now the need for the fight is stronger than ever.” @jenniferdplatt

Wolitzer’s Best Books

Mrs Bridge by Evan S. Connell
This is a 1959 American novel about a Kansas City housewife’s life right before WW2, and it’s brilliant, hilarious, tragic. A perfect, compact masterpiece.
 
 
 
 
 
Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
What a shattering exploration of voice, among all its other gifts.
 
 
 
 
 
 

What it Means When a Man Falls from the Sky by Lesley Nneka Arimah
This recent collection of stories by a gifted writer moves from vivid depictions of Nigerian life into the fabulisitic.
 
 
 
 
 

To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf
As a writer and reader, I return to this book again and again for its language.
 
 
 
 
 
 
On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan
This slender, devastating book about a long-ago wedding night is economical and deeply emotional.
 
 
 
 
 

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“I was thrilled to get a chance to finally write something in isiZulu – my love for storytelling came from the language.” A Q&A with novelist Zandile Khumalo

Nal’ibali Column 19 Term 3, 2018

By Carla Lever

Zandile Khumalo

 
Congratulations on your upcoming novel, published by Kwasukela Books! What does it mean to you to be published in isiZulu?

I was thrilled to get a chance to finally write something in isiZulu – my love for storytelling came from the language.

What has the reaction to your upcoming novel been from your family and friends?

I honestly don’t think it came as a shock to them to realize that I’ve published something, even though writing is not really something I talk much about. My family and my few friends already know me as a bookworm – they’ve become very supportive!

Can you tell us a little about what your upcoming novel is about? What does the title mean?

uNtsika Ezweni Lesethembiso is about the story of two siblings who find their way back to each other after they’ve fallen victim to an unfortunate incident that threatens wipe out their whole family, which the whole story is centered around. The title basically means ‘Ntsika In The Promised Land’.

uNtsika eZweni leseThembiso is a young adult novel, but it’s also historical fiction – set in 1500-1600 South Africa. Did you do any historical research to write the story?

I’m currently using every opportunity I have to research more and more, so I’ve come across some interesting facts. One thing always leads to the other as far as information gathering goes and that’s what making this process more fun for me. It’s research in progress!

You actually adapted this story from a short story that you published in the 2017 isiZulu anthology Izinkanyezi Ezintsha. Was it hard to adapt the plot from the original short story?

No, it was more natural because I always felt the story was meant to be longer. I’m enjoying writing it in more detail.

What kinds of books did you grow up with? How did you fall in love with reading?

There were some isiZulu titles that I used to borrow from our small community library back home in Mariannhill, which I enjoyed thoroughly. I read Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Oliver Twist when my grasp of the English language was still shaky but I really had fun doing it. It was my teenage years that led me to the Harry Potter books after a toxic relationship with the Sweet Valley series.

How did you discover you could also be a writer, not just a reader?

As a teenager I kept a journal for personal thoughts – I also kept a different one for cheesy poems and song lyrics! There were times when I would read my journal to myself when I was bored and find my views entertaining. With doing all that writing I slowly began to feel comfortable expressing myself and, with practice, better.

Was it hard finding the time to write?

No, time to write is never much of a problem because it’s something we love as writers. I feel like perhaps the most frustrating thing is having time to write but no inspiration. Feeling stuck is the worst, but luckily I don’t find it lasts long.

How can we get more isiZulu literature published, read and appreciated?

Now is not a good time to be social media shy! It’s time we made use of those platforms in order for isiZulu literature to be more accessible, just like we are not shy to show off the latest movies that we like. Let’s create viral isiZulu #hashtags! Also, if packaging makes a product stand out from the rest, why not have exciting and creative book designs like the beautiful Izinkanyezi Ezintsha cover?

What advice would you give to people who want to find more published stories in African languages?

They should ask for it! The law of demand and supply will apply to everything we consume so why are books different? We can start by creating book clubs so we can have a stronger voice as a collective when trying to get the attention of distributors and bookshops about what we would like to read.

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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“This book comes out of [my feelings about the fallist movement] but also out of the desire to escape from it.” Imraan Coovadia on his new novel, A Spy in Time

Published in the Sunday Times


For Imraan Coovadia, the science-fiction genre provides an opportunity to think about race differently. Picture: Alon Skuy.

A Spy in Time
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Imraan Coovadia, Umuzi, R260

Over the last four years since the publication of his previous novel, Tales of the Metric System, Imraan Coovadia has been watching, with scepticism and dismay, the events playing out on the campus of the University of Cape Town, where he heads the creative writing programme.

In Johannesburg last week he admitted that perhaps the disruptions and racial anger that spilt from the Rhodes Must Fall protests into the Fees Must Fall protests provided the impetus for his new novel, a time-travelling, spy-thriller science fiction tale with an Afrofuturist infusion.

He says the book – a departure for a novelist whose previous work employed a more social realist approach to issues of history, race and identity over the course of South Africa’s journey from the indignities of apartheid to the tensions of the democratic era – “comes out of [my feelings about the fallist movement] but also out of the desire to escape from it. Most things South Africans do are simultaneously super-South African and also part of a desire to escape from South Africa and its narrow problems completely.”

In Coovadia’s version of the future the world has been destroyed by a supernova, leaving only Johannesburg, with its deep mining tunnels as the sole surviving city where an agency run by robots sends members of the predominantly black surviving human race back in time to ensure that the end of the world will never be repeated.

The hero is novice agent Enver Eleven, whose journey takes him backwards and forwards in time from Marrakesh in 1955 to Brazil in 1967 and the surface of Jupiter many thousands of years in the future. In this world white people, while not part of the present, are firmly part of the past and so agents such as Enver must learn how to interact with and protect himself in a world once predominantly controlled by whites.

Coovadia sees the science-fiction genre as a useful means to “maybe think about race differently or take other more imaginative angles towards it”.

Enver’s journey provides him with an opportunity to explore the idea that, as Coovadia puts it, “beneath race we’re controlled by quite elemental qualities of who’s familiar, who’s strange to us, who’s a friend, who’s an enemy, who’s superior, who’s subordinate. I think part of this [book] is an attempt to look at those feelings and say irrespective of where you stand in the system, how do those feelings work on you and how do they propel you to do certain things?”

Unlike many time-travelling tales which focus on how small changes to the past can have drastic consequences for the future, here even the smallest of changes to the narrative of the past are frowned upon because, as Coovadia says, “the agency in this book hates the idea that there could be multiple universes because that would create extra human suffering … and so their entire philosophy and culture is devoted to suppressing butterfly effects”.

Acknowledging the influence of the classic adventure stories of Robert Louis Stevenson, Coovadia sees this book, ironically in the light of its time-travel narrative, as his best attempt at telling a “story that unfolded naturally without being overladen with sense impressions and the things I’m usually interested in. It’s a book written almost entirely without flashbacks, in which the story goes from A to B to C to D.”

Enver Eleven’s adventure is a solid, well-told science-fiction story that, like the best examples of the genre, offers imaginative and intelligent contemplation of where we might end up, while also providing a space for the contemplation of where we are now and how we got here. It’s perhaps best understood as Coovadia’s response to the idea of eternal recurrence posited by Friedrich Nietzsche, which asks if you could imagine reliving your life, would you do so in exactly the same way.

For Coovadia: “That’s one thing when you say it for an individual person but what about for history and for African history, which is full of disasters and catastrophes?”

Book details


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“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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