I love newspapers. What I love most about reading newspapers is my running dialogue with them. I rant and rave and laugh and shout and write letters of protest I never send. I interact with them, and that’s fun. This morning was an exceptional newspaper day. I am behind in my reading thanks to my trip to Gaborone, and the recovery from said trip so I am still reading Friday papers, and oh what papers they were. Let’s start with the happy, jump up and down news.
Friday’s Mail and Guardian has quite a big article about Fourth Child by Megan Hall, a book of poetry that was the first title published by Modjaji Books. The book has won this year’s Ingrid Jonker Prize for English poetry. Yahoo!! All you naysayers out there who have bad mouthed Modjaji’s policy of publishing only women will have to eat your words. A little bird told me that such talk was flying at this year’s Caine workshop. Colleen Higgs is using her vast experience in publishing for good. She is capitalising on all of the advantages of a small publishing house in such an exceptional way; giving voice to those the big houses wouldn’t touch. Taking big risks, and reaping big rewards. Let her success continue.
There was also a nice article by Allan Kolski Horwitz from Botsotso in which he discusses some of the recent issues that have been at the front of my mind; most especially this vile tendency to force writers to be entertainers and TV personalities. He says, “Added to this is the phenomenon of the ‘celebritisation’ of writing, in that writers are now forced to become media personalities to draw attention to their work; those who do not wish to position themselves as a ‘brand’ risk public indifference and marginal critical attention.” He goes on to say “There is also more space given to vacuous interviews with writers than to engagement with the work itself.” Mail and Guardian should pay attention to those words with its formula interview that writers are given with such questions as “Describe yourself in one sentence.” Why? What does it matter? Kudos for Mr. Horwitz for speaking the truth- now is anyone listening?
In the same M & G is a slashing review of Unbridled by Jude Dibia reviewed by Percy Zvomuya. Of course I disagree with most of it. I liked Unbridled and I tend to question comments such as “hackneyed tale”. He goes on at length questioning if Dibia is able to write from a female perspective. He picks out a place in the book where Ngozi’s brother tells her not to question their father’s behaviour and Ngozi realises that men are not going to be her allies. Zvomuya says Dibia approaches Ngozi’s thoughts on this matter lightly and that a woman would not do that. He says that such ‘sparse prose’ would not have been used by a female writer to explain this emotional transition. I’m thinking Percy is a man too. Sometimes women choose to float along the surface of pains that entered too deep might pull one down forever. I find Dibia’s choice there not ‘male’ but rather human. Anyway, in the end, a review is one person’s opinion. Mine and Mr. Zvomuya. I’m surprised he didn’t mention Jacana’s poor editing of the book. I skipped it in my review as I’d already hammered them with Bitches’ Brew, I’d hoped someone else might give them a shot. Guess it didn’t trouble him. Hmmm?
As for opinions, Friday’s Mmegi had a review of The Pursuit of Xhai that I found, frankly, odd. It’s surprising for two reasons. Firstly, it was written by Sheridan Griswold, who almost never bashes a book, even one that thoroughly needs a bashing. Secondly, the author, Gasebalwe Seretse, is a writer for the same paper and I thought perhaps if Griswold didn’t like the book, as a professional courtesy, he might have not reviewed it at all. For me, the review smells of bitterness stemming from where I’m not sure.
Griswold contends that the events in the book which is set in 1965 seem to come from 1885. Why 1885 I don’t know, but his reasoning is that such vicious racism against the Basarwa would not have been allowed in 1965. He speaks from a position of ignorance. Such things are going on even as I write this (the reported torturing of alleged poachers by wildlife officials as one example) and in 1965 it was worse. He mentions that Seretse flawed in his research by not stipulating from which Basarwa tribe Xhai and his family came from. In actual fact he seems to have missed the point entirely. It is irrelevant to a Mongwato of the type described in the book what tribe a Mosarwa comes from. A Mosarwa is a Mosarwa. Griswold mentions how saying Bantu instead of Bangwato is wrong, but he doesn’t seem to get that that is actually the point.
I find it especially annoying when Griswold says, “It is usually difficult for an author to write about another group that he or she does not belong. Bessie Head in ‘Maru’ succeeded, perhaps because she too was an outsider.” Firstly, Seretse is not writing as an outsider; he is a Mongwato. As a writer who writes from many identities myself, I take absolute exception with Griswold’s line of thought. If all writers followed Griswold’s advice how would we have Harry Potter, for example. As far as I know J.K. Rowlings has never been a wizard. Fiction allows us to take on everyone’s skin, that is the beauty of it. Why Head’s outsider-ness would make her more positioned to write about Basarwa I really don’t understand. She was outside of her community for entirely different reasons that had no historical legacy to it. If anything, her mixed race parentage gave her an upper hand in a society where white is better thanks to residual colonialism.
Overall, a very satisfying newspaper morning. Now to work.