City Press Arts Editor Charl Blignaut ran this nice little piece over the weekend. Charl had to chop a few words to make the print page, so I'm also including my initial responses:
On The Shortlist: I'm delighted to be shortlisted for the Caine Prize. The prize has a storied history of supporting writers I admire--like Zimbabwean NoViolet Bulawayo and Nigerian Chimamanda Ngozi-Adichie--long before they became international sensations.
On Criticism Caine Favors Writers in the Diaspora: The question you're essentially asking is, What does it mean to be an African writer? Is it geography and being tethered to the soil, or is it an inherent and inextricable sense of being? I think anyone who believes in and champions Africa has to conclude it's the latter. Tension and contest between fulltime continental residents and the diaspora is at bottom superficial and not unique to Africans. Dubliners, James Joyce's famous ode to Dublin, was written almost entirely outside Ireland, as was much of Joyce's work. Geurnica, Pablo Picasso's lament of the Spanish Civil War, was produced and first received outside Spain. I think it's important to honour and celebrate fine art, regardless where it's produced. The more interesting question to me is why do so many talented young Africans end up abroad to pursue their ambition? What can we do to create opportunities and nurturing programs for young African talent? And especially in the arts, how can we encourage and incentivize emerging artists (not to mention society) to take their artistic craft seriously and to hone it into the powerful, substantive and sustaining force art can be?
On Inspiration: The Virus, was inspired by talk of cyberwarfare. I was listening to a 2012 panel in Washington D.C. considering how the US would react in the case of a cyberwar attack. I was surprisingly stimulated by the conundrum--I'll happily admit I'm a nerd, but not typically the Star Wars/Apocalypse kind. I was also somewhat amused by these American experts' confidence that no matter what a future war brought, the West would ultimately be equal to it. So I looked at the risks through a digitally remote Africa perspective and ran the scenario to its extreme. But sitting down to write, I was quite startled by the verkrampte Afrikaner male voice that belched out to tell the story. I was also intrigued by where this character led me--the South African Border War/Namibian War of Independence. The Virus weaves this ou Oom's open wounds and festering things left unspoken about the Namibian war with a cybersphere world war.
On Writing Projects: I'm currently working on a short story collection about the inner lives and loves of ordinary South Africans. I was born and raised in Soweto at a formative and tender time in the country's history. I'm very interested in how those experiences haunt and inspire us. So much of our national conversation processing what this history is, what it means, is either jackrolled into polically expedient argument or distilled into portraits of key figures. Understanding factual context is important, but I think we stand to lose a fundamental truth about ourselves and our agency if we don't tell our children the stories of our ordinary, doek-wearing grandmothers who woke up everyday and put on a kitchengirl uniform not to serve the mistress, but to subvert her by putting food in the belly of a daughter who threw stones fighting Hippos and a son who took up arms as a footsoldier in Angola. We don't hear enough stories about the street committees in every township and far flung farms that were the building block and back of the struggle. We liberated ourselves and sometimes, it seems we don't even know it. Stories restore power. Fiction celebrating the lives and struggles of ordinary people force those people (and others) to look at themselves differently. That's what I'm working on.
Thanks for the love, City Press!