Friday, January 29, 2016

Imagine Africa 500: Speculative Fiction from Africa edited by Billy Kahora

I was so excited to receive my copies of this anthology yesterday because I have my first every published sci-fi story included in its pages! My story is called, When We Had Faith. The anthology is published by Pan African Publishers in Lilongwe Malawi and the project was instigated by Shadreck Chikoti, well known Malawian writer and social activist.  He has a clear vision about the role of fiction, in particular speculative fiction, in discussions about Africa's future. He speaks about this at the front of the book.

"It was this realisation that art can actually contribute to the discourse on Africa's future that birthed the initiative Imagine Africa 500," writes Chikoti .

The stories in the collection started from a workshop held in Malawi facilitated by Billy Kahora, Beatrice Lamwaka, Jackee Batanda and Chikoti. The last assignment for the particpants was to write a story on the subject of what Africa would be like 500 years from now. Those stories were the seed for the anthology. After that, they sent out a call for stories on the same theme from writers across Africa.

"The stories in this anthology show some exciting prospects about Africa's future but some also show us our darkest nightmares and make us aware of roads not taken," says Chikoti.

Writers included in the anthology are: Muthi Nhlema, Dilman Dila, Chinelo Onwualu, Hagai Magai , Frances Naiga Muwonge, Aubrey Chinguwo, Wole Talabi, Tuntufye Simwimba, Musinguzi Ray Robert, Derek Lubangakene, Hannah Onoguwe, Stephen Embleton, Catherine Shepherd, and Tiseke Chilima.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Watch Videos of Me Talking About The Second Worst Thing!!

My book The Second Worst Thing, a book about divorce- with a happy ending- is read in classrooms in South Africa, in grade 7. As I mentioned a few posts ago, when I was in Cape Town in December, I went to Oxford University Press, the publisher of this book and also my newest book, Thato Lekoko: Superhero (See videos HERE), and we made some marketing videos.

The first video is me explaining why I decided to write The Second Worst Thing. You can find out more HERE!

Perhaps you want to get a taste of the story? Here is me reading an excerpt at the beginning of the book. Despite what you might think- trying to read your own book without a single mistake is quite difficult.

Hope you enjoy them!!

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Cultural Appropriation and Writers

A recent social media storm brought to the fore the discussion of writers and film-makers and cultural appropriation of certain people’s stories. It was started by the rumour (which later was shown to be false) that Beyoncé was planning to write and star in a film about Saartje (Sarah)  Bartmann, the “Hottentot Venus”. Bartmann was a Khoi woman who was taken from South Africa in the early 1800s to be shown in circus acts and other such places and eventually died in France. Her remains were put on show in a museum there until Nelson Mandela demanded they be returned. Eventually they were, and she was given a proper burial in South Africa.

Many people were angry that Beyoncé would think of “stealing” this story, they feared she would not give it the proper research and respect. They labelled it another instance of cultural appropriation. A Khoikhoi chief, Jean Burgess, said that Beyoncé lacked “the basic human dignity to be worthy of writing Sarah’s story let alone playing the part”.  This view was countered by South African Guild of Actors member, Jack Devnarian on the BBC website who said film-makers had the “right to tell stories of people you find fascinating and that’s what we must be careful not to object to”.

What is cultural appropriation? It is the adoption or use of elements of one culture by a different culture often in an exploitive manner with little understanding of the history, experience, or traditions of the first culture.

I accept that cultural appropriation in various sectors of the arts has been and still is a problem. But I think people were jumping the gun with Beyoncé. Who can say she was not going to take the time to do her research and understand the politics, emotions and nuances of Saartje’s story? I thought that having a high profile person such as Beyoncé take up this story would bring a horrible part of the past to light, to let everyone see the crimes that took place. I would think that would be something South Africa and the Khoi people would want.

But then what about writers and cultural appropriation? Who do stories belong to? Should writers feel free to write about anything under the sun? Or are some stories off limits because of the tribe you belong to or the colour of your skin, your religion, your sex? Is it okay for a man to write as a woman? A black person to write as a Chinese person? Can a person in Australia write a novel about President Masire? Can a Motswana write a story about Queen Elizabeth?

I have asked myself these questions. I’m always interested in how other writers approach the answers to these problems. One of my favourite writers, Aminatta Forna’s most recent novel, The Hired Man is set in Croatia and is about the effects of the war there. Some questioned if it was okay for a writer from Sierra Leone to be writing about Croatia, that it was not her story to tell. She thought otherwise.

I’ve never accepted the adage: write what you know. I think it is write what you can imagine. Write about places you’ve researched that have caught your imagination. I have never limited my stories to my one small and quite boring life. I would have stopped writing long ago if I had been forced to do that. What is the fun in writing fiction if you cannot imagine another person’s life? If you cannot walk in those shoes, feel those pains, and that happiness?

I am of the opinion that all stories belong to everyone. The story will be judged on its own merit. Does it hold human truth? Was it told well? That's all for me. The categories society slots me in for their social experiment is irrelevant. All that matters is: was I honest to the story and the people in it, and did I tell the story well. Full stop.

As Forna says in her excellent piece in The Guardian (“Don’t Judge a Book By Its Author”, 13 February, 2015) : “The writer of fiction says to the reader only this: come with me on a journey of the imagination and I will try to show you something you have not seen before. This is the gift of the writer to the reader.”  And this is what she tells her writing students: “write what you want” and then adds “write it well”. I agree completely. 

(This first appeared in my column It's All Write in Mmegi newspaper,  15 January 2016)

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

The Bessie Head Short Story Awards

For those in Gaborone on Saturday, 23 January, you might think of attending the Bessie Head Short Story Competition awards ceremony. It will be at 2 pm at the National Museum. It is free and everyone is welcome.

The winners this time are:

First place:  Mr. Donald Molosi
“The Biggest Continent”

Second place:  Ms. Siyanda Mohutsiwa
“And Then We Disappeared into Some Guy’s Car”

Third place:  Ms. Vamika Sinha
“Love and Other Almosts”

I will be giving the keynote speech and a representative from Diamond Educational Publishers, the sponsors of this year's award, will be speaking too.

CONGRATULATIONS to the winners! I hope to see everyone on Saturday.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Videos about Thato Lekoko: Superhero!!

In December when I was in Cape Town, I went to the Oxford University Press offices to meet people there- but mostly to make marketing videos for my two books with them.

The first videos are about Thato Lekoko: Superhero.

Here is me reading an excerpt of the book.

And this is me talking about why I wrote the book.

Let me know what you think!

Friday, January 15, 2016

Book Covers

We all know the adage that a book is judged by its cover and,for me at least, initially that is true. When I'm browsing in a bookstore, if I am not in search of a particular book, often I'll pick up a book with a cover I like. I prefer simple covers. But just because I'm an author doesn't mean I know anything about book covers, at least in a marketing and sales sense.

My book that came out last month with Oxford University Press SA, Thato Lekoko: Superhero has a cover I didn't like at all at first, it was too busy for my liking.  Now that it is out I've grown to like it. It's quite colourful and I hope it will attract kids, the folks I hope will be reading it. We'll have to see how it goes in the long run.

This article at Huffington Post gives great advice to authors about how to look at their book covers. In most cases, publishers will give authors a chance to have a look at the proposed covers and it's good for the author to have a bit of knowledge beforehand to limit the emotion-factor. For example, in the article they make a good point about not undermining your reader by being too literal.

One of my favourite book covers from my own books is this one:

It violated one of the points in the article since it uses a photo taken by a blogging friend, but still I think it's a lovely cover. 

I think the most important point from the article is this: "...what matters most is not that it (the book cover) tell the story of your whole book, but that it evoke an emotion that's pure and on point with your message or story."