I attended a night of poetry and literary goodness in a jazzy place earlier this month. Finally got down to editing and packaging this short(ish) video of what transpired that night, enjoy.
Imbawula: Modern storytelling
We laughed, we cried, we were enlightened and we were simply enthralled when four vastly different people told us stories in a basement at Bean Republic, over wine last week Thursday.
It was the first Imbawula event jointly hosted by Random Window and Quarphix Foundation, under the stewardship of Siphiwe Mpye. He got the ball rolling by telling us a tale of how the idea for what will now become a monthly event came about. He remembered always being curious about the time shift that happened as the sun set and he had to run home to when the dark settled leading to older boys taking over street corners to talk sex and politics next to informal fireplaces.
I imagined that people would read something short that they had written – but it was really just four people telling us stories about themselves, which was really something. First we had Lee Molefi, who told a very moving story about being a kid on the cusps of teenage drama, who had to navigate not black enough, too smart and and an untimely death. He has the kind of voice you can listen to for hours and so it was nice to hear him speaking in such a personal way as opposed to the very serious MC’ing I’ve only ever heard. His story had us gasping, laughing in one moment and then suddenly crying.
The second storyteller was, the sultry voiced, Vutomi Mushwana. She spoke about love and used the example of what was one of her most important relationships to illustrate how love can smother, hurt, heal and ultimately make you grow. As a lover of love, her story was my favourite. Not because of the topic but because of the reality of what a toxic relationship can do to you without you realizing. She definitely hit us with some wisdom. I have read some stuff on her blog and I have become a fast fan.
The third speaker was one of my favourite commentators slash bloggers, Milisuthando Bongela (better known as Miss Milli B). First of all her outfit was fierce and fittingly so because her tale was about where her journey with fashion began. But the bigger story she told was how she met her intuition while on the job, when it seemed that the world was coming crashing down around her. We so often second guess our intuition and if she had that day things would not have worked out as intended.
The night ended of an a light note when Anele Mdoda’s storytelling time turned into a bit of a comedy set. She regaled us with a tale from her early childhood, one I had read before in her book, It Feels Wrong to Laugh, But (part of The Youngsters series) but because of how animated she is in person I loved seeing that story come alive. I cried but not because there was any sad part in the story but because I was laughing so hard.
I loved the intimacy of the evening because it let those who told stories do it so freely and made those of us who listened privy to some the four storyteller’s most telling tales. I am keen for the next event, to hear more stories over wine in a basement.
PS – In between the storytelling, Melo B. Jones serenaded us, here’s a little taste of that:
Literary Postmortem: Ain’t I a Woman by bell hooks
This very short read is filled with pearls of wisdom and earth shattering truths that need to be shared. In keeping with the fashion of alternative book reviews, I’m going to share some of my favourite quotes and lessons learned from the book. Initially I wanted to write an essay but there’s no insight I could give that she didn’t articulate perfectly.
But for a bit of background, Hooks traces the roots of the woman’s rights struggle all the way from American slavery to the present day America (which was the 80s). Her research unearths harrowing facts about the black female experience. I would put the whole book on here if I could because it is that necessary. For example:
“Racist, sexist socialization had conditioned us to devalue our femaleness and to regard race as the only relevant label of identification… We were afraid to acknowledge that sexism could be just as oppressive as racism. We clung to the hope that liberation from racial oppression would be all that was necessary for us to be free” (page 5).
That is the precursor to a passage on how black men were given the vote before black women and white woman in the late 1800s, a show of the utter disdain for all woman – racism was put aside for sexism to soar.
Chapter 1: Sexism and the Black Female Slave Experience
- On the slave experience aboard slave ships: “After branding all slaves were stripped of any clothing. The nakedness of the African female served as a constant reminder of her sexual vulnerability. Rape was a common method of torture slavers used to subdue recalcitrant black women” (page 18).
- Things didn’t get better on plantations: “Those black women who resisted sexual exploitation directly challenged the system; their refusal to submit passively to rape was a denouncement of the slave-owner’s right to their persons. They were brutally punished. The political aim of this categorical rape of black women by white males was to obtain absolute allegiance and obedience to the white imperialist order” (page 27).
- “White male religious teachers taught that woman was an inherently sinful creature of the flesh whose wickedness could only be purged by the intercession of a more powerful being. Appointing themselves as the personal agents of God, they became the judges and overseers of woman’s virtue” (page 29). Damn, just damn.
- Sadly: “Most black male slaves stood quietly by as white masters sexually assaulted and brutalised black women and were not compelled to act as protectors. Their first instincts were toward self-preservation” (page 35).
I’ve had fights with my brother about this one. I suppose women were all alone when they were sold to go on those ships and no one stopped it. He argues they weren’t in a position to fight back, they weren’t – but fucking try, If enough men had I like to believe things may have turned out differently.
- True story: “While racism was clearly the evil that had decreed black people would be enslaved, it was sexism that determined that the lot of the black female would be harsher, more brutal than that of the black male slave” (page 43).
Chapter 2: Continued Devaluation of Black Womanhood
- “Systematic devaluation of black womanhood was not simply a direct consequence of race hatred, it was a calculated method of social control” (page 59-60).
This is a referral to the structural support garnered by the myths that had been circulated around black women’s sexuality. This myth being that black women were loose, had insatiable sexual appetites and were masters of seduction. Which is why raping them was not seen as a violent offense, society had come to believe that black woman basically asked for it. Along with this black men were said to be violent rapists who wanted to harm white women, another myth to keep the races separate through fear.
- “White Americans have legally relinquished the apartheid structure that once characterised race relations but they have not given up white rule. Given that power in capitalist patriarchal America is in the hands of white men, the present obvious threat to white solidarity is inter-marriage between white men and non-white women, and in particular black women” (page 64).
This is something I don’t think I can agree with. Given that “the power” is in the hands of white men, they don’t need the solidarity of their white women to keep it – they need them to make that grip tighter possibly. I don’t think that inter-marriage is a threat at all, in fact it’s an advantage, that shows just how all-encompassing that power is.
- “The term matriarch implies the existence or a social order in which women exercise social and political power, a state which in no way resembles the condition of black women or all women in American society. The decisions that determine the way in which black women must live their lives are made by others, usually white men” (page 72).
Chapter 3: The Imperialism of Patriarchy
- “… Emphasis on the impact of racism on black men has evoked an image of the black male as effete, emasculated, crippled. And so intensely does this image dominate American thinking that people are absolutely unwilling to admit that the damaging effects of racism on black men neither prevents them from being sexist oppressors nor excuses or justifies their sexist oppression of black women” (page 88).
- “At a very young ages, black male children learn that they have a privileged status in the world based on their having being born male; they learn that this status is superior to that of a woman. A consequence of their early sexist socialisation, they mature accepting the same sexist sentiments…” (page 102).
I have seen this among my own friends – they expect women to be and act a certain way – standards they definitely hold for themselves. Or the women they have “fun” with, only the ones “worthy” of taking their names one day. Le sigh.
- “While insecure feelings about their selfhood may motivate black men to commit violent acts, in a culture that condones violence in men as a positive expression of masculinity, the ability to use force against another person – i.e., oppress them – may be less an expression of self-hatred than a rewarding, fulfilling act” (page 104). Wowzer.
- “Since the black woman has been stereotyped by both white and black men as the “bad” woman, she has not been able to ally herself with men from either group to get protection from the other” (page 108).
Steve Biko once said of black people that we are on our own, black women especially so, I feel.
- “While I believe it is perfectly normal for people of different races to be sexually attracted to one another, I do not think that black men who confess to loving white women and hating black women or vice versa are simply expressing personal preferences free of culturally socialized biases” (page 112). Word to big bird.
Chapter 4: Racism and Feminism: The Issue of Accountability
- “To black women the issue is not whether white women are more or less racist than white men, but that they are racist” (page 124).
- “Animosity between black and white women’s liberationists was not due to disagreement over racism within the women’s movement; it was the end result of years of jealousy, envy, competition and anger between the two groups” (page 153).
A conflict that Hooks says was driven by white males to make sure the two would not be able to find solidarity at any point. She adds that the only way to try and achieve any kind of “sisterhood” begins with actively rejecting and all stereotypes about one another.
Chapter 5: Black Women and Feminism
- On the Civil Rights Movement: “Those black women who believed in social equality of the sexes learned to suppress their opinions for fear attention might be shifted from racial issues” (page 176).
- “The fear of being alone, or of being unloved, had cause women of all races to passively accept sexism and sexist oppression” (page 184).
- “We, black women who advocate feminist ideology, are pioneers. We are clearing a path for ourselves and our sisters. We hope that as they see us reach our goal – no longer victimized, no longer unrecognized, no longer afraid – they will take courage and follow” (page 196).
Was uncomfortable to read the criticisms of Malcolm X and Amiri Baraka, had one eye closed and everything, but ya. It’s astounding that a book written in 1982 could resonate so well with me in 2014 – that we still face many of the same challenges.
Therefore we must take courage as she said. Aluta Continua.
Literary Postmortem: The Secret Life of Bees
I finished reading the novel (The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd) last week and have been having a bit on an internal debate about whether I should write about it or not. A gap in my schedule presented itself so here I am.
Recently started a book club with some friends and this was the book I got in our first swap. I chose it as soon as I saw it on the table because I vaguely remember liking the movie when it came out a few years back.
Sometimes I do enjoy reading the book after the movie because I don’t have to create characters in my own head that I will probably be disappointed in when I see the movie after the fact. But only sometimes – this time for sure. I could see the action in the book more clearly because of it this time.
It was a good read, short and engaging – one of those page turners we always yearn for. It was full of colour and emotion. There were quite a few things I had forgotten from the movie that caught me by surprise, which was fun.
The only thing I found unpalatable was the main character – Lily Owens. I understand that she was young and my impatience with her was probably unwarranted. I also understand that the book is set in a certain time and political climate in America, but I still couldn’t reconcile with some of her racism and selfish behaviours.
I enjoyed the Boatwright sisters and Rosaleen the most because I could relate to all of them in different ways. Through them I got to feel a kind of hope for change that I didn’t get from Lily – even though she “dated” a black guy. But her love story was also another highlight for me – the way she spoke about Zachary Taylor was the only times I felt a bit of connection with her.
I would recommend it but I don’t rate it as something you must read before you die.
Literary Post-mortem: Intimate Enemy
Intimate Enemy: Images and Voices of the Rwandan Genocide
It has taken me a few weeks to get through this book. Not becaause I was bored or at all disinterested but because it was difficult to read what had actually happened.
The Rwandan Genocide is something I learnt about from Hollywood and a worksheet or two back in high school. I’ve known for a while now that I needed to school myself further on the subject. To broaden the narratives I’m privy to on this tragic moment in African history.
Before I started this I had read To See You Again: The Betty Schimmel Story, a remarkable and heartbreaking account of living through the Holocaust. I imagined that reading that had readied me for another tragic and positively horrifying read, I was sorely mistaken.
An Intimate Enemy is a joined effort by Scott Straus and photographer Robert Lyons.
“Combined then testimony and images offer a largely unmitigated and intimate view of the Rwandan genocide.” ~ Scott Sraus
Straus explains his mission and objectives in an emotive and rather educational introduction. In short, he wanted to start to figure out who and what had led to the genocide. His interviews in the book are with men who were both perpetrators and victims during that time. He stressed that his aim was not to other anyone but to begin to understand ordinary human beings were turned into killers literally overnight.
The images and testimony present in the book are from prisoners in a number of prisons in Rwanda, mostly male because women only made up 3% of the prison population at the time.
Before the advent of colonialism in Rwanda, Hutus and Tutsis lived side by side in relative harmony. Colonialists exploited the slight differences between the two groups to sow divisions of which they would reap the benefits. The usual thuggery of making one group feel superior and another inferior, affording opportunities, jobs et cetera to the superior group of people.
Straus does a good job of making the historical context of the genocide very clear. As a South African the genocide in Rwanda is particularly harrowing because of the stark change that was happening at home, while others were being hacked to death.
The interviews he conducts with the prisoners and the testimonies they give are worse than any movie or any one thing I’ve ever read. About three interviews in I had been shocked to the core, heartbroken and utterly defeated. In most cases people literally became killers overnight, some killing their own family members for their own survival. The speed at which things happened is what struck me the most, it always has even where the Holocaust is concerned. People can turn on one another in a heartbeat and that more than anything scares me about my species.
As I said I went through the testimonies very slowly, as a way of reading them as historical documents and committing them to my meomory.
Robert Lyons work starts to come up more often towards the end of the interviews. All black and white photographs, mostly portraits. His aim was to capture a side of the genocide that wasn’t sensationalised and didn’t frame a particular narrative. The exclusion of captions is an extention of that aim.
“I felt that somehow there must be a way to show the horror of genocide without making sensationalistic imagery. I wanted to explore the space between the victims and perpetrators.” ~ Robert Lyons
Looking through his photographs brought home Straus’ point. I tried but there wasn’t a person I could point out as a killer, I saw mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters. Old and young, male and female. Having the knowledge of those testimonies made it all the more trying.
Hands down the toughest thing I’ve read this year.
I’m going to be a writer
“I know I’m going to be a writer one day. I don’t think it in my brain but I know it in my heart,” I have not been able to look back since I read this Chris Van Wyk quote three years ago. It provided me with the resolve to do exactly what I’m doing in my life right now.
This past weekend a colleague and I went to the 2013 Mail & Guardian Literary Festival, to bask in the presence of some of South Africa’s literary giants.
The Market Theatre was the historically apt venue picked to host the festival. Couches in the middle of a black stage in the main theatre providing the speakers with their literal platform.
We sat in one session after another, furiously typing out tweets, scribbling notes and snapping photos. Between all of this we had to process what was being discussed on the various panels. All of which were interesting and engaging in their own ways.
One recurring statement made by writers like Nadine Gordimer and Craig Higginson, was that writing is a calling of sorts. One doesn’t write because they want to but because they have to. Craig went on to say that it simply isn’t worth the pain and effort otherwise.
I want to be like them
I was lucky to sit in on a panel discussion with a theme of ‘fact and fiction’ luckier still to listen to the first panel of women only, all of whom are first time published authors.
I have ambitions of being in their shoes one day. I’m doing journalism in a mission to be on the right side of history and because I really do enjoy writing. I want to be a journalist because I imagined at some point when I am too old or too tired of being on the field, I would magically turn into a writer. Well not magically but all that training will come in handy.
Anyway long story short, becoming a writer is the end goal.
So this panel discussion provided enough information for me to be inspired to keep on keeping on where this dream is concerned.
Journalism and writing
Claire Robertson provided some insight on how she managed to use her experience as a journalist to help her write her book, The Spiral House.
She said that she tried to avoid writing about her personal life, because in journalism reporting on oneself just isn’t done. “I’m not brave enough to write too intimately about my life,” confessed Claire. Clearly I have no such inhibitions, one browse on my tumblr blog is evidence of this.
However, she did insert herself in the places were she deemed it necessary because it was unavoidable. Her background helped her to write much faster than some of the other women on the panel, in this moment she was thankful for the demanding deadlines.
Fact versus fiction
A little fact, mixed with some fiction or do you have to one or the other. Author, Dominique Botha said the truth is incredibly hard and can never really be 100% in that regard. This makes for a problematic relationship between memoir and fiction she added.
“To retrieve memory is the first act of fiction,” she said. Botha added that memory relies on the act of imagination, in an effort to illustrate that memory is compromised and can’t be considered as 100% accurate.
Carol-Ann Davids, author of The Blacks of Cape Town said that one needs a little bit of both (fact and fiction) to tell a story.
The women on the panel emphasised that what they were doing was telling stories. Claire went as far as to say being a good writer is not enough, one has to be a good storyteller to write something of substance.
Maren Bodenstein , said that by way of storytelling and using details you can get a little closer to the ‘truth’ Dominique said was illusory. She said that this was the magic of, “dealing with the theory of literature”.
When asked by chair, Craig how they all managed to write such mature and deep books on their first try, the women unanimously agreed that they got to that point through enduring a lot of rejection and humiliation. “After chipping away at yourself you have no option but to write from your gut,” added Dominique.
The discussion then opened up to the floor in which time questions about getting published and being mothers were asked. Basically it difficult, it’s difficult to get published – to get someone to believe in your story. On being a mother while writing her first book, Carol-Ann said it was challenging but not impossible.
I learnt a thing or two about the journey I am yet to travel and was encouraged to press on.
- Johannesburg: The migrant city that is anti-migrants (thejourneytoadream.wordpress.com)
- Nadine Gordimer helped me see how fiction writing can illuminate reality | Aminatta Forna (theguardian.com)
Johannesburg: The migrant city that is anti-migrants
Gallery by Mfuneko Toyana
The Market Theatre’s main stage was the platform where six diverse minds gathered to discuss migration, a topic central to all of their individual work.
The last day and the last panel discussion of the Mail & Guardian Literary Festival helped to make audience members and authors alike reflect on the movement of people in and out of cities and countries.
The poor accommodating the poor
Wandile Zwane from the City of Johannesburg’s Migrant Helpdesk, used an interesting anecdote from a conversation he had had with a woman, illustrating a point made earlier about migration being a situation where the poor are accommodating the poor.
The woman talked about the hierarchy that existed when it came to where one slept in her house. As a young child one was in the main bedroom, the older one got you would move to the dining room and the kitchen to make space for the younger ones. Eventually one would land up in the outside room and from there move on to their own house with a spouse.
Unfortunately her marriage had not worked out so she had to move back to the outside room with her kids, but because there was an immigrant living in that room she had to go back to the kitchen. The story points to one explanation of the animosity that exists around migration in South Africa.
Chinua Achebe’s book ‘There was a Country’ was the theme around which the conversation around which migration had to bend itself.
The panel consisted of writers who had threaded together stories and books, all zooming in on migration and themes central to resettlement. The panel discussion was largely based on the different writers’ works and their experiences of bridging political and personal narratives in their storytelling.
A young writer making waves in the literary world, NoViolet Bulawayo, said emergent personal narratives are based on political events, and that it was not possible to separate the two in one’s writing.
While the works of the six on stage were central to the discussion, engagement with audience members opened up the dialogue and brought up issues that were left out in the initial conversation.
Photographer and self-proclaimed book lover, Victor Dlamini (@victordlamini) made a poignant point from the floor, which steered the conversation to a meaningful point. He commented on people who are migrants themselves taking issue with people who migrate. He used Johannesburg as an example, saying most people who are in this city are not even from this city. “Johannesburg is a migrant city,” he added.
Panelist and writer, Achmat Dangor responded by saying that he agreed with Dlamini and pinned negative attitudes around migration on mechanisms of ‘othering’. He added that people migrate to places with a gravitational pull because of new ideas in that specific place. This is always the case with ‘big cities’, the activity and promise of economic emancipation lure people in, be it across borders or provincial lines.
Caroline Wanjiku Kihato, author of The Bookseller of Kibera, added to Dangor’s response, saying that human beings had a tendency of finding one another’s differences and using them to oppress one another.
Another audience member asked why was it that only Africans were considered immigrants. He did not understand why the Chinese and Europeans who come to this country were not treated with the same hostility that “our brothers” were.
In response Kwanele Sosibo (@KwaneleSosibo), journalist at the Mail & Guardian, simply said “we do it to ourselves”. He went on to narrate an anecdote about how people in an Eastern Cape community believe in measuring people according to certain pedigrees. Mining house recruiters divided them up according to body size, using pedigree determine who’d make best workers, exemplary of systematic ‘othering’.
The Writing Invisibility e-book was launched. Some of the writers on the panel were contributors in the book which was a project done in collaboration with the Wits African Centre for Migration & Society.
The book is available for free download here.
- Wits Vuvuzela. The great South African novel? Septemeber 1, 2013
- Migrants decry South African police brutality (worldbulletin.net)
Literary Post-Mortem: A Bantu In My Bathroom
Disclaimer: I wouldn’t really call this a book review – just don’t dig the term. Also don’t feel like I’m qualified to write such yet. I’m just telling you that I read this book, how it made me feel and why or why not one should give it a read. That’s all. Let’s rather call it a ‘Literary Post-Mortem’ (I like that)
Onwards with A Bantu in My Bathroom by Eusebius McKaiser then. Been wanting to read this book for some time, but being the broke student I am it just never happened. Umtil I got this as a gift, yays.
Before I tell you how awesome a read it was, I must mention that I am a fan of the man. At some point in my second year at Wits I considered taking up Philosophy in the hopes of being lectured by him at some point. However, reason and a passion for what I was already doing steeled me. Anyway back to why I’m a fan – I love his insights and the way he chooses to deal with difficult topics that many are reluctant to. Along with this I find him quite relatable – not all the time but I mostly get him/what he’s saying.
The book is basically a collection of essays based on a variety of topics. Namely race, culture and sexuality. Under each section there are about four to five essays, which aim at tackling various aspects of the ‘big issue’ at hand. Unsurprisingly, my favourite essays were in the race section. I think that it is still important to look at and understand why race is still an important contributing factor to the lived South African experience. He mentioned that we can’t pretend we don’t see race just to avoid being labelled ‘racist’.
McKaiser highlights some of the most important race related challenges South Africans face. He explains why Affirmative Action is necessary, discusses white privilege, tackles the issue of whether or not black people can be racist and much more. Even though one might disagree in places, I did find myself agreeing with him 80% of the time – not just in this section but throughout the rest of the book.
In the sexuality section he spoke about ‘coming out’, love and even rape. This part of the book was the most personal for me and as such riveting to read. When it came to culture he looked at ploygamy, divisions present in our society and the advantages and disadvantages of being a so-called coconut. The range of issues raised in his essays is quite big. I was not left wanting when I was done reading – I legit felt like he discussed everything one could in 209 pages.
We should instead accept that we are deeply divided – spatially, linguistically, culturally, ideologically – and reflect on how we might live in each other’s space while disagreeing deeply with each other. The alternative, fake national unity, is simply childish. (excerpt from the book)
What I enjoyed the most were the little anecdotes that coloured his essays. For me it helped to bring home his points and also offered an unique peep into his personal life. I have often seen McKaiser on tv, attended seminar’s that he spoke at and listened to his show on radio. This book felt like the literary incarnation of those experiences. Not the content but with regards to style. It was easy read and understand because he was just being himself (or so I assume). He did stress how important authenticity is to him so I imagine he wrote in a way that would reflect that.
I also liked and admired the fact that he didn’t ‘other’ people. He didn’t speak about racists, homophobes and misogynists in a distanced manner. He made it clear that we are these people, that we are our biggest problem in many cases. Also highlighting that change can only begin with us.
If I had the money I would go out of my way to buy a few people a copy. The idea’s put forward are of great import and I feel that the more people they reach the better.
Flowers in the Attic by Virginia Andrews
[*disclaimer: my book reviews are not really book reviews, just my thoughts after I have read something particularly moving]
This novel has been one of the most interesting and riveting I have ever read. I know I have said the same about other novels – excuse me for having great taste 😛 I even feel bad that I bought it for a mere R3. Well that’s what hospice bookshops are for right?
Shucks I don’t even know were to start. I finished reading about an hour ago and I’m still reeling. The novel did come full circle but I still can’t get over the things that happened to us (the characters and I). I really did feel like I went through the things they did, goodness knows I cried just as much as they did.
From page one I was hooked. Andrews wrote a prologue that told me that her and I were on the same wavelength. It’s one of the most honest and earnest one I’ve read. My favourite part reads “…in this work of ‘fiction’ I will hide myself away behind a false name, and live in fake places, and I will pray to God that those who should will hurt when they read what I have to say.” She said fiction like that because this book is based on a true story, which made me all the more sad.
I don’t know how to talk about what lay between the covers of this novel without giving the story away. It really is what the front cover said it would be: “the compelling story of a family’s betrayal and heartbreak, love and revenge.” That is quite literally what happens from chapter to chapter.
What I can say that isn’t a spoiler is that the novel is magnificently written. It transported me to the attic, made me feel every blow that these children were dealt, made me fall in love with yet another man and made me see the lengths that we as a species will go to to ‘survive’.
To touch on the latter – there is a theme in the story that focuses on avarice and the love of money. It is disgusting to see how money and the pursuit thereof can change a person, even a loving mother. I don’t think it’s fair to pin all the blame on her, but it is a huge catalyst that leads to the unraveling of a family.
I suppose I can’t ignore the ‘big’, overarching theme in the novel – incest. I don’t want to dwell on it because then people form their opinion on the matter immediately and it could affect how you receive the rest of the novel. I didn’t let my so called morals colour my thinking – I gave myself to the love story that was presented to me.?
I was actually left traumatised by this read, to think that this actually did happen will make me shudder for some time to come.