Paul Morris went to Angola in 1987 as a reluctantly conscripted soldier, and two years ago he returned to the country to replace the war map of the country in his head with one of peace, writing about these two experiences in Back to Angola.
In this video, shared by Random House Struik, Morris speaks about the intense emotions that rose to the surface while cycling through Angola: “It was like some energy was trapped, which I needed to do something with and this very physical journey, which had this very strong parallel inner journey running alongside it, that really seems to have finished it for me.”
Watch the video:
Okwiri Oduor won The Caine Prize with “My Father’s Head” the winning story in Short Story Day Africa’s 2013 competition. It’s the lead story in Feast, Famine & Potluck, our first foray into the world of publishing. Karen Jennings, the collection’s editor, will back me up when I tell you that Okwiri is a writer of sheer determination and calm poise, an African writer who is not going to let the standards of Western publishing dictate how she portrays her world. For example, she put her foot down when Karen wanted to italicize African language words, as is standard practice. And, when Karen came to me for guidance, I told her Okwiri was right. I didn’t do it in Sister-sister, so I wasn’t about to impose italics on someone else. Africa, in all its multiple glories, is not a foreigner in an anthology of African fiction.
Okwiri Oduor is a perfect example of the African writer Short Story Day Africa was born to create a platform for. A voice that will not make itself smaller or paler or more palatable to a tongue that has never tasted the flavours served up at her Kenyan table. And so are the other five shortlisted authors. All five author are uncompromising voices with exceptional talent. Diane Awerbuck is astute in her understanding of human nature. Her writing gets under your skin, and sometimes it flays you. Read her story, Duiweltjie, published in The Root Cellar and Other Stories if you don’t know what I mean. Billy Kahora makes you weep for things you didn’t know you’d lost, and he’s a man of great social conscience when it comes to the landscape of African writing and writers, as his editorial leadership at Kwani? is testament to. Efemia Chela: well there’s a hotbed of talent and emotion rolled up in that young writer. She’s a complex, lateral thinker weaving plot with prose you want to eat. Brave, experimental, post-post-modern.Last of the five, and certainly not the least, is Tendai Huchu, a man who has mastered the art of comic tragedy.
I want all of these five writers to be squabbled over at book fairs. And I want everyone to read them.
South African writers Niq Mhlongo, Margie Orford, Michiel Heyns, Ken Barris, Gabeba Baderoon, Victor Dlamini, Mandla Langa, Ari Sitas, Nthikeng Mohlele and Diane Awerbuck spoke to Books LIVE about what Nadine Gordimer meant to them.
Gordimer passed away at her home in Johannesburg on Sunday, leaving behind a wealth of writing for future generations.
Nadine Gordimer has lived her 90 years fully and usefully, and that is why the world will continue to celebrate her life long after she has gone. Through her stories she has helped many of us to start our journeys inwards. She has aroused certain emotions within us on our quests for the source of our beings.
Like many South Africans, I suppose, I felt a certain ambivalence to a writer so unsparing of us, even or especially those of us ineffectually critical of the previous regime. She herself was a powerful voice, not ineffectual at all, and her fierce integrity inspired and intimidated in about equal measure. At her best, she was a formidable writer, combining her unwavering commitment to social justice with an unflinching eye for human weakness and strength alike. Her oeuvre embodies, in a consummately fictionalised form, a critique of a complex chapter of our history. South Africa has lost a much-needed, if not always appreciated, voice.
Nadine Gordimer used her writing as an instrument of conscience, of social justice. But it was a nuanced instrument, marked by her comprehensive observation and a willingness to engage with moral complexity. I think her legacy of engaged realism became both a standard and an obstacle for younger writers, which is exactly what one should hope for in a great writer.
Nadine Gordimer has been in my consciousness since I started studying literature and learned about the craft of the sentence as well as the vertiginous moral content of her prose. She wrote scenes in which a sharply drawn-in breath was felt as a physical shock not only by the character but the reader. That breath, and the poignant upturned hand in The Pickup, will live with me forever.
Even as she wrote alongside history that was only few years old, however, it was her ability to leave moments of silence in her fiction that spoke most eloquently, daringly and damningly. It is her unflinching focus on how individuals wrestle with personal responsibility, even as they face political, social and family pressure, that has been the source of her literary strength across the vivid decades of South Africa’s recent past.
For me she was a true embodiment of an instinct against excess. Small and fragile, she however exuded strength, quick-witted and generous, she embodied the wisdom that has carried humankind from antiquity to these modern times. Her battle against buffoonery and official bluster reminds me of another writer she admired, James Baldwin, who said that power without morality leads to tyranny. South Africa will only realise after she is long gone just how much it has lost.
Nadine was quite human. I met her in the late 70s at the Kentridges in Joburg. She was very interested in our Junction Avenue theatre company. My baby daughter Nadia acted in her series of filmed short stories on Nomsa Nene’s back. She (Nadine) played the stiff upper lip madam in Howl at the Moon, an award winning video that her son Hugo Cassirer filmed with Junction Avenue. She also became the crew’s chef. All this was happening as her international fame was escalating exponentially. Then in he heady 80s, of course, she was a leading associate in forming the Congress of SA writers, Cosaw. Most of the people who could write loving portraits have preceded her in the land of the high winds!
A Shining Light
I learnt, with conflicted emotions and thoughts, of the passing of Nadine Gordimer, (South) Africa’s other literature Nobel Laureate, the others being Oluwole Soyinka and John Maxwell Coetzee. Such a state, of conflicted thoughts and feelings, is in part the realisation that this loss is (South) African because she was and is one of our own, but that would be a great injustice to her memory, as a writer, critic, activist, teacher, mentor – and to many a friend of conscience – whose work and lifetime dedication to literature confronted difficult but important themes including, in very astute ways, explorations and reflections on socio-political justice.
Her fiction was of course cognisant and resistant to the perils of apartheid, but again, Ms Gordimer wrote human stories, engaged with the totality of what it means to be human – an achievement that cannot and should not be reduced to a convenient and uncritical ‘boxing’ of her as one of the high profile and respected anti-apartheid voices. It is rare for writers to achieve universality – and such an achievement, a global footprint, results from a lifetime of discipline and conviction to take a stand, something Ms Gordimer has done remarkably well. I did not know Ms Gordimer in person, but know without doubt that she was a special human being. Her passing is discreetly instructive, follows and signals a shift in consciousness, thus placing greater responsibility and challenge to our younger generation of writers and thinkers not from the Gabriel García Márquez and Maya Angelou generation. RIP, Ms Gordimer, ‘There are Many to Accompany You Now.’
Nadine Gordimer was a contrarian in the tradition of fine women thinkers who concerned themselves with southern Africa. Olive Schreiner, Doris Lessing, Pauline Smith, Helen Suzman: one by one their lights have gone out. Their legacy is the combination of talent and determination, and the will to stand up for what is right, against systems that are at best, ignorant, and at worst, brutal. They are people who did not have to speak out – but they chose to, both in their lives and in their work. We can pay tribute to them by trying to do the same.
Margie Orford (speaking to Talk Radio 702)
She was tiny, but you noticed her. She radiated this moral strength. Which I think perhaps is the thing that is most important about her. She wrote with this moral compass about the prickliest, most unpleasant things. She documented apartheid and then post-apartheid. She had the ability to balance what was impossible for a democracy to do in a short period of time, but was implacably opposed to corruption and particularly, as she saw, the Secrecy Bill.
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Image courtesy of Victor Dlamini
Nigerian playwright, novelist and poet Wole Soyinka, the first African to be awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, turned 80 on Sunday.
Being the first black Nobel laureate, and the first African, the African world considered me personal property. I lost the remaining shreds of my anonymity, even to walk a few yards in London, Paris or Frankfurt without being stopped.
In an interview with Deutsche Welle, Soyinka explained where his love for literature came from:
“I suspect that I probably come from a long family of ‘word spinners’. I mean that in the sense of an extended family, because ‘family’ as we use it is a very large one. I was constantly surrounded by aunts, uncles, my father’s intellectual companions. All of them were raconteurs of some sort or the other,” he said.
As part of his birthday celebrations, Soyinka personally presented this year’s Wole Soyinka Prize for Literature in Africa to fellow Nigerian author Akin Bello recently.
The winner of this years Wole Soyinka Prize for Literature in Africa was announced at a grand ceremony at The Civic Centre, Victoria Island, Lagos this past Friday night. His name is Akin Bello and the work that won him the award is the play The Egbon of Lagos beating the two contenders Toyin Abiodun and Othuke Ominibohs. He went home with the prize money of $20,000.
Soyinka, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1986, has always been vocal about political and social injustice, and has been outspoken on Nigeria’s Boko Haram kidnapping crisis this year. However, in an interview with The Guardian in 2011, Soyinka appeared to announce his retirement from political life. In an article for Nigeria’s Premium Times, Tolu Ogunlesi offers his sympathies to the man for the “random act of pre-existential allocation” that twinned him with Nigeria, a country that “delights, more than most, in numbing its people with unoriginal frustration”.
Ogunlesi quotes Soyinka’s interview with The Guardian:
“I’m getting a little bit bored with this Sisyphean struggle. I’m not exhausted; I can drop down dead tomorrow, that’s irrelevant, I want be around to witness the event. At the moment I do not feel I’m devoid of energy; [or that] my energy is diminished, whether mentally or physically. No. But something in me is getting very weary. And that is the burden of repetition; that it is possible in my own state for someone to sit down and try and turn a town house meeting into his own thuggish platform. It’s over fifty years now, I’ve been marching, I know the number of times I’ve been tear-gassed and of course gone through trials, a prisoner without trials, and so on and so forth. I don’t mind any of that. Mandela spent one entire generation of his life in jail; so I don’t grudge any of that. But if I feel inside me that I’m getting bored on a subject or theme or endeavour I become less creative and I don’t want that to happen to me.”
Tributes to the great man flooded in on Twitter:
Image courtesy of Victor Dlamini