Monday, June 20, 2016

African Writers You Should Know: Niq Mhlongo




South African writer, Niq Mhlongo has been dubbed “the new voice of post-apartheid South Africa” though it’s a description he’s not that comfortable with. His four books: Dog Eat Dog, After Tears, Way Back Home and his short story collection that recently came out, Affluenza, are set in Soweto, where he was born and raised. The books deal with issues facing the people there, issues such as unemployment, xenophobia, HIV/AIDS, corruption, and racism. His books have been well received and widely reviewed,  with his first book Dog Eat Dog being translated into Spanish and going on to win the Mar Des Lettras literary prize in that country. He’s a highly entertaining participant at literary festivals around South Africa, the continent, and overseas.

Mhlongo received a BA in African Literature from the University of Witwatersrand and went on to study law at the University of Cape Town. He never finished his course to become a lawyer and instead took time out to write his first book Dog Eat Dog, which was published by Kwela (as all of his books are) and the rest, as the say, is history.
I interviewed him recently about his writing, his country and his current book tour.

Your books illustrate many of the problems in South Africa, the “rainbow nation”. Do you think your books can help heal your country?

…South Africa is also known as a ‘rainbow nation’. But looking into this concept at face-value, it romanticizes our nation by suggesting that all is well in this beautiful land. But the realities are shocking, as we face serious problems of racial tensions, unemployment, corruption, land redistribution problems, economic inequalities, failing education systems, homophobia, xenophobia, and so on. My books tackle these problems head-on, and my hope is that they contribute in this ongoing debate. I can only wish that after reading my books, people will interrogate themselves and be inspired to live positively.

You have quite an extensive book tour for Affluenza, is that common with Kwela? It seems to be only cities though, do you think SA publishers could do more for the rest of the country? What role should publishers have to develop the market they sell to?
            Some of the events are organized by Kwela, and some I get invited to participate by literary festivals, book clubs, and private organizations. But I must say that Kwela has come to the party with Affluenza, including assigning me an excellent publicist. Indeed this is not common with Kwela, but I think it’s a positive thing going forward and taking literature to new heights. I’m also concerned that these events are only in Joburg, Cape Town and Durban so far, and focus only in the urban communities and not rural. I think it’s also about the question of buying power, and economic inequalities that still need to be addressed in order to level the playing fields. As much as I think SA publishers could do more for the rest of the country, I think it would be unfair to expect publishers alone to change the status quo.

How do you feel South African publishers relate to readers north of your borders?

Well, in my opinion I don’t think there’s any relationship going on at the moment. Or if there is such relationship, I don’t think it’s an active one. South African publishers are more concerned with European and American markets, which is a serious concern. …I guess one of the reasons is that the South African publishing industry is still largely white-owned. Their knowledge and relationship with other African countries is poor.

Do you think an integration of the various book markets in Africa is important? If so how do you think it could be done? Was the old Heinemann series on the right track?
One of the greatest achievements of the Heinemann series was forging strong relationship between Lusophone, Francophone, and Anglophone African communities. I first came into contact with Lusophone and Francophone communities through the work of the likes of Camara Laye, Ferdinand Oyono, Pepetela, Honwana, etc... I’m imagining the time when South Africa publishers would, for example, make sure that my work is accessible to both Lusophone and Francophone African communities. This can only happen when publishers work together around the continent. Not everyone can make inroads into the European market.

What advice would you give an up-and-coming African writer, advice you wish you might have got when you started out?
Be careful not to give away all your rights when you sign a contract with a publisher. Get good advice from other authors because some publishers are hell-bent. Keep reading work by African authors. 

(This column was first published in the 17 June 2016 issue of Mmegi, in my column It's All Write)

Friday, June 10, 2016

Twitter Interview on Monday about The Scattering!

If you are on Twitter, on Monday from 3-4 pm our time in Botswana (I think it's GMT +2), TJ Dema (@TJDema) will be interviewing me about my new novel The Scattering. My Twitter name is @LauriKubu. Please feel free to jump in with any questions.

I'm so loving the poster Penguin SA made (below)  which we have had changed into an invite for both the Maun and Windhoek launches.

Also I got a lovely Friday surprise- a fantastic review in the South African paper, Business Day. You can read it here. I especially love that the reviewer adds a bit of Riette's speech that I nearly considered cutting:

Have a great weekend!

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Whatzap?!?



Okay I am frantically busy at the moment. We (me and Sauti Arts and Performance Management) are trying to sort out all of the little and not so little details of the book launches for The Scattering in Windhoek Namibia and Maun Botswana. The Maun one is at the end of this month. OMG!!!

After the launches I'm off to Calvinia South Africa for a two week writers residency, working on the research for my third historical novel. I'm a bit obsessed with history at the moment.

 After that my publisher, Penguin,  is trying to organise a mini-driving- book tour, with me driving my new (to me) little sexy car. Driving around South Africa, signing books, maybe talking, heading toward Cape Town where I'll attend The Open Book Festival in September. Busy busy.

I've also started painting again after many many years. Just for fun (the gecko above is on example).
 If you'd like to read one of my romance novels FOR FREE- get yourself over to FunDza where they've posted That Kiss in Egypt

Okay, back to work with me....


Monday, May 30, 2016

Words and Stories



People often undermine the role words and stories play in our lives. Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about how the dominant culture, for their own purposes, defines the stories we believe to be absolute and true. We amble along within those narratives and many of us never stop and look around and, more especially, look outside the walls of those stories to see the other possibilities. We don’t scratch the surface a bit, or carefully pick at the word choices that are the ingredients that make those stories.
I’m currently doing research for my third historical novel and one narrative various tribes around Southern Africa like to believe is the story of purity. But one thing you learn as you begin to get under the surface a bit, especially after the wars of the Difaquane and the disruptions of colonialism, individuals, no matter where their original people might have been, often hooked up with who made them safest and they became that. A deeper look makes many of the walls that divide us collapse, the narrative is only useful for the ones that require it; it is, in the end, a story.
These stories are everywhere. One story I’ve been analysing is the story of marriage. This is a story well-established and reinforced with almost dictatorial vigour through songs and films and romance novels. What is a good marriage? We all know the story. It is between a man and a woman. It is monogamous, especially on the woman’s side. It is based on trust and love. It is a partnership where the two become one; they are soul-mates. The story is so entrenched we all know a good marriage when we see one, and just as easily can condemn a bad one without a thought. We know the story. But what about a different marriage story? What is beyond those boundaries of the narrative?  Shouldn’t we question everything? Are we not each unique with unique needs? Then how does this marriage-suit fit everyone the same? I suspect it does not.
Another story fed to us is the story of capitalism and the growing healthy economy. That is how a sound country is quantified. Is that the only way? Is it really a healthy way? Nothing grows forever in this practical world we live in—except the economies of countries, at least that is what they tell us. It seems unbelievable, but we all swallow it. Stories, stories, stories. Were we not taught to question? To look behind the Wizard’s door like our dear Dorothy?
And what about those pesky words. Lately the word of the moment has been defile. I understand it is a legal word of some sort, but even there I will not allow it any refuge. It needs to be pulled out into the light and analysed. It must be questioned. Words are the tools that we use to build stories, the stories that dictate our lives, that push us as a global tribe forward— or backward. Shouldn’t we be clear about the words we choose?
What does this word defile mean?  To place under suspicion or cast doubt upon; spoil, spot, stain, or pollute; to make dirty.
Is that what we mean to say when we speak of a man using his position, or age, or power or money to sexually abuse a young vulnerable girl? When we say this girl has been defiled, what are we really saying?
In these words lie the seeds of misogyny and the bricks and mortar of patriarchy. What are we saying when we use defile, what charge is a man actually facing? He soiled the girl. She is now under suspicion. She is dirty.
Does this word not further victimise the victim? By using it, are we not perpetuating the virgin/whore story that attempts to define and prescribe women’s sexuality? Where is the monster who does these things, where is he in this defile word? He’s nowhere to be seen. Is this a story we believe in? Or is it one that is used to control women, much like that well-worn story of marriage? Is it not time to throw away these stories that hold us back?
Words and stories.
Undermine them at your peril.
#IShallNotForget

(This first appeared in my column It's All Write, the 27th May edition of Mmegi)

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Exclusive Books is Celebrating Africa Day with The Scattering!!



Tomorrow, 25 May, is Africa Day and Exclusive Books have chosen eight books for their promotion to celebrate the day and The Scattering is among them!!

If you buy the book tomorrow at Exclusives, either the store or online, you get a 20% discount!
You can buy the book HERE!

Monday, May 23, 2016

African Writers You Should Know: Jackee Budesta Batanda





The first story I read written by Ugandan writer Jackee Budesta Batanda was her story Dora’s Turn which was highly commended in the old Commonwealth Broadcasting Association Short Story Competition (CBA). It’s about two girls, friends, who are child soldiers. I read it nearly ten years ago and still I think of it often, such a powerful story written in under 600 words.

Jackee has gone on to win many writing awards since then. The most prominent, at least for her fiction, would be winning the 2003 Commonwealth Short Story Competition for African Region. She said winning that award was one of the most exciting things to happen to her as a writer.  I was still an undergrad at the time of winning. That was the affirmation I needed to keep on writing at a young age. I believe all young writers need that kind of validation, if only to tell them, that they are doing fine and they need to keep on.”

Jackee is a journalist, author, speaker and senior managing partner with SuccessSpark Brand Limited, a communications and educational company specialising in media relations, content creation, digital communications and educational programmes.  They are best known for their writing workshops and mentoring programmes.

Jackee has had her writing published around the world in publications such as The New York Times, Boston Globe, Latitude News, The Global Post, The Star- Africa Edition, The Mail & Guardian, The Sunday Times, The Sunday Independent, The Guardian, The Sunday Vision and The Sunday Monitor, as well as in numerous anthologies. She’s a recipient of the Ugandan 2010 Young Achievers Awards and was among 39 writers under 40 chosen as most likely to shape the future of literature on the continent. Her story is included in Africa39 an anthology with short fiction from those 39 writers.

In 2012 she was featured in The London Times alongside nineteen women shaping the future of Africa. That same year she was a finalist in The 2012 Trust Women Journalism Awards hosted by Thomson Reuters Foundation and International Herald Tribune. She holds an MA in Forced Migration Studies from the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa, a BA in Communication Studies from Makerere University, and a Diploma in Education from Kyambogo University.

I asked her about her novel, A Lesson of Forgetting, that I’d heard she was working on.  She said, “It follows the life of a former spy chief in a dictatorial regime who is released after 25 years in life imprisonment. His return reawakens a country’s amnesia of the past and explores how nations and their people helplessly deal with the mechanisms set up to handle past atrocities and heal wrongs. It also sees how he tries to reconcile with his family. It is still a work in progress and has been on the back burner as I focus on revising, Our Time of Sorrow, about an apocalyptic cult murder based on a true incident in Uganda March 2000, where members of cult were burnt to death as they waited for the end of the world.”

Writers living, writing, and publishing in Africa face many challenges. I asked Jackee what she thinks the single biggest problem facing writers in Uganda and on the continent is. “A vibrant publishing industry. Most of the companies are small and lack funds to adequately market the works and produce good quality works. Of course there are so few opportunities for new writers, and the established outlets, suffer from cronyism, where only a small circle of writers benefit.”

For us in Southern Africa, you find that South Africa acts like a mecca to writers, as a place with more publishing opportunities. I asked Jackee what the climate was like in East Africa, if they had a mecca too.  “In East Africa, Kenya would be the mecca, with more publishing opportunities for writers. However, there is a shift with more young writers opening up publishing houses. They are in their nascent stages so we are yet to see their impact,” she said.

And what about integration and cooperation between writers in East Africa?  “There are a numbers of festivals and initiatives coming up which offer an opportunity for writers to interact. Examples are The StoryMoja Festival, Writivism Festival, Kahini Writers Festival, Babishai Niwe Poetry Festival, FEMRITE writers’ annual residency and the African Writers’ Trust Conference. ”

Jackee has accomplished so much, but I asked her in a perfect world where would she want to be as a writer and she said, “I would be published, preferably, by a group of African publishers, and have my books read all over the continent.   I would be running more writing workshops around the continent. The two things I am passionate about are writing and teaching about writing.”








Friday, May 13, 2016

Two Book Launches for The Scattering!!



I'm so excited to announce that there are two book launches planned for The Scattering, one in Botswana and one in Namibia!

BOTSWANA LAUNCH

The Botswana launch will be in Maun on the 29th of June at the Maun Library from 6:30 pm. It is being organised in conjunction with the poetry group Poetavango.

There will be two poets who will perform poetry in Otjiherero: Mr Charles Kakomee and Mr James Mutenge. Music will be provided by Katini. I will be reading an excerpt of the novel and will be interviewed by Poetavango member and avid literature lover, Uaisako Marenge.

Books will be on sale and I will be available for signing. Hope you can make it!

NAMIBIAN LAUNCH

The launch will be in Windhoek at the National Assembly, in the restaurant there. It will be on the 20th of July starting at 6 pm. Again it will be a celebration and will include music and poetry, a reading and an interview. Books will also be on sale.

I am so honoured to announce that Professor Peter Katjavivi, historian and Speaker of the National Assembly, will be introducing me at the launch. 

Poet Charles Kakomee will perform poetry in Otjiherero and I will be in conversation with award-winning writer Wame Molefhe. Motswana singer Katini will be providing music.

Mark your calendars and tell your friends!I hope to see you there.



From the cover of The Scattering: 
"Kubuitsile has crafted an ambitious, powerful and poignant historical novel that brings to live a very important period.'"– Tendai Huchu, author of THE HAIRDRESSER OF HARARE