What are your 5 favourite novels?
- Matigari by Ngugi wa Thiong’o
- Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut
- 1984 by George Orwell
- Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor.
- In a Free State by V. S. Naipaul
Which 3 authors do you consider to have influenced you the most? How did each influence your work?
- I was influenced by Ngugi wa Thiongo. His style of soul probing, showing you the inside of a character more than the outside, of showing you the inner life of things, even of things like grass, trees, the sky and the like, made me feel at one with his narrative and appreciate the fact that everything in life is connected.
The late Whyngtone Kamthunzi, an author from Malawi was instrumental in birthing me as a writer. He personally gave me lessons on writing and introduced me to all the wonderful things about literature.
Kurt Vonnegut, especially his novel Slaughterhouse-Five, for showing me, in a greater way, the invincibility of a novel. His novel refuses to be defined by genre or point of view or style; it is, to me, the novel with the same power as an atomic bomb. Reading him made me feel I can do things with literature far much above the thinkable.
What plans do you have for your literary career over the next 3-5 years? What are you working on? What do you hope to publish? Which artists/authors/publishers/editors do you hope to work with?
Next year I will be enrolling for a Creative Writing course which will probably take me through the next two years.
I will take advantage of those two years also, to write a novel, an idea of which I already have.
Also, I am currently working on a fantasy novel, set at a wildlife reserve in Malawi, involving shape-shifters, a fusion of western and African mythology. And I am also working on a memoir of my involvement with a project that serves more than 400 orphans in Malawi which I founded in 2005 as part of my social responsibility.
Are you involved with any literary organisations in Africa or outside of Africa? How do you see the work of these organisation as contributing to your vision and career, as well as to broader cultural production in Africa?
In 2013 I founded a space for literary enthusiasts in Malawi called the Story Club. It is a gathering of individuals that are interested in stories and in art; writers, readers, journalists, editors, teachers, and all the people that are concerned and have an interest in literature. We meet to discuss, critique and engage in talks about stories, books, movies and works of art that tell stories.
Through the club we have interacted with writers such as Tsitsi Dangarembga, (Zimbabwe), Billy Kahora, (Kenya), Beatrice Lamwaka, (Uganda), Trine Andersen (Denmark), Shafinaaz Hassim, (South Africa) and many others.
We have featured live music, poetry, film screening, literary critiques, book launches and many other activities.
I also founded a publishing house called Pan African Publishers Ltd with a friend from Denmark, Trine Andersen, herself a renowned Danish writer.
Please could you tell readers about your most recent artistic project, what it involved, and what you learned from it?
In November of 2014 we had a writers’ workshop run by the Story Club in partnership with Pan African Publishers Ltd. The workshop gathered 10 writers from Malawi and put them under the coaching of international writers. Each writer was asked to write a story about Africa, set 500 years from now. We christened the initiative IMAGINE AFRICA 500. Later, we also put a call for writers across Africa to submit stories along the same line. We received stories from the continent and currently, we are working on producing an anthology titled IMAGINE AFRICA 500 which is being edited by Billy Kahora.
Africa just has so much to deal with right now, that it is very difficult to start imagining the future. But as Abraham Lincoln said, “The best way to predict your future is to create it.”
I feel obligated as an artist to follow the footsteps of those who went before us, Leonard da Vinci in particular, who envisioned the future long before it was a reality.
How do you hope/anticipate that the Hay Festival and the Africa39 project will help advance your career? What impact has it had thus far? What specific things would you like to see Hay Festival do for writers?
The recognition to be amongst the 39 most promising writers under the age of 40 South of the Sahara is in itself an excellent tag on a package. I have been to places where that tag has made people smile at me and extend a handshake. What’s more important to me though is production, and enhancing that process of producing quality works. It boils down to the imparting and sharing of the knowledge of the craft. That’s what Hay should continue to work on.
What are the main challenges you see facing artists, writers, and literary culture in your country and region? How are you ameliorating these difficulties? What specific things would you like to see done in order to address these challenges?
The Malawian art scene fits that Christian notion that says, “Africa is like a river that is long and wide but shallow.” The number of talented individuals is uncountable, yet we do not possess enough knowledge to allow us dine at the same table with counterparts. What we need are more openings to interact and learn from others, more workshops and forums where we can learn about the craft. We need others from the region to hold our hands and walk together with us. We are grateful for people like Jack Mapanje, Stanlely Kenani, Walije Gondwe, Lupenga Mphande and a few others who have been instrumental in uplifting the literary scene in Malawi.
Have you read the work of any of the other Africa39? Which works have you enjoyed (Please write a few words on the aspects of the works you enjoyed)? Which Africa39 authors would you like to work with (and on what kinds of projects)?
I have read all the stories in the anthology and have gone ahead to read more works from the Africa 39 authors. I am currently reading Zukiswa’s novel, London, Cape Town, Joburg I have read Glaydah Namukasa’s, Voice of a Dream, Stanley Gazemba’s Callused Hands, Chibundu’s The Spider King’s Daughter, Ukamaka’s Eyes of a Goddess, and have in my possession more works from these awesome and incredible writers. They all have unique abilities which strike you at different levels of enjoyment as you savor them. Through the Story Club and Pan African Publishers Ltd, I would love to engage some of them, if not all, in mentorship programs for writers in Malawi. Jackee Batanda was in Malawi in November last year, and there will be more 39ners coming to celebrate art and literature with us in our landlocked country whose lake; Lake Malawi, is the second largest in Africa, with the clearest of waters that is home to more species of fish than any lake has in the whole wild wide world.
What festivals/workshops/residencies have you attended recently? What was your role? What did you take away from the experiences you had there?
Immediately after the festival in Nigeria I attended a literary session at the Goethe Institute in Johannesburg where I got to meet Niq Mhlongo, Karren Jennings, and reconnected with Zukiswa Wanner.
I also attended a gathering of artists in Amsterdam under the Prince Claus Fund’s Annual Celebration of the impact of art.
I attended a workshop organized by the African Writers Trust in Uganda in March this year where I was invited to talk about the Story Club.
I also attended the recent ALA conference in Bayreuth, Germany where I read from my works with Nnedi Okorafor and got reconnect with 39ner Nii Parkes and other notables in the name of Wole Soyinka, Binyavanga Wainaina, my mentor Stephanie Bosch Santana, Teju Cole, Ama Ata Aidoo and many others.
I will be presenting a papers at the Harare Litfest organized by Chirikule in November. The other festivals I am scheduled to attend include the Zambian Arts Festival, and I just returned recently from Malawi’s biggest festival of arts, Lake of Stars where I taught a class on “Basic Writing Principals for Every Day Life.”
Are there any authors whom you mentor, whose work you’d like to mention or talk about?
I recently worked with the Huza Press in Rwanda to mentor writers who were shortlisted in their short story competition which I was privileged to be judge alongside Beverly Nambozo of Uganda and Richard Ali.
I have also been working with several writers in Malawi but one to mention is Tiseke Chilima, an upcoming fantasy and sci-fi writer whose writing has always made a good read to me. She is anthologized in IMAGINE AFRICA 500 and I will not be surprised to see her break some barriers in the not-so-distant future. I am also proud of upcoming authors like Muthi Nhlema, Hagai Magai, Ekari Mbvundula, Tuntufwe Simwimba, Andrew Dakalira and many others who have made me sit on the edge as to wait for what they will offer the world.
But I am constantly in touch with writers from across the globe because you know; there is nothing more valuable to a writer than learning from others in the business, be them young or old (in their career I mean).