South Africa

Shafinaaz Hassim: ‘The plan is to keep doing what I love…’

What are your 5 favourite novels?

I would rather say these are five of my favourite novels…

  • The Museum of Innocence, Orhan Pamuk
  • For the Mercy of Water, Karen Jayes
  • Life of Pi, Yann Martel
  • White Oleander, Janet Fitch
  • The Pearl That Broke Its shell, Nadia Hashemi

Which 3 authors do you consider to have influenced you the most? How did each influence your work?

At the outset, my poetry, my understanding of spiritual life and my writing is deeply influenced by the works of Persian poet, Jelalludin Rumi. I’ve read various English translations of his work, studied biographical accounts and felt the inspiration move my intention to write and produce.

I’ve found that I’m drawn again and again to the works and subjects of Orhan Pamuk. His writing style engages readers, his characters are most compelling and his method of and passion for writing by way of sitting down for hours everyday to create, appeal to me as a writer and artist, and as a social scientist.

While there are many feminist writers and novelists who I am deeply inspired, by, I would be amiss not to mention bell hooks, Moroccan sociologist, Fatima Mernissi, and Simone de Beauvoir as largely influential in my formulations, my theoretical writings. As a trained sociologist, my first work looks at the objectification of women in traditional settings, whereby women are deemed the object of clan or family honour, thus their lives are regulated. My fiction works depict some of these themes, social commentary that then allows readers to reflect and debate these issues. My hope is not to present prescriptive solutions but to challenge through a fluid shift in thinking.

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?

I’m working on a new novel, and once again it closely links with the research I am undertaking. My novel on domestic violence, SoPhia, was well received and was then used by local universities both as instruction text as well as for performance theatre with social work students, and then for public audience at the South Africa State Theatre. I’m confident that future writing will have an audience and engage critical discussions on various social issues that we encounter. So the plan is to keep doing what I love to so, and that is, writing, creating platforms for other writers to present their work and then to generate conversations.

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?

I have the pleasure of having partnered with the African Narratives literary foundation based in Johannesburg. The board has been brainstorming new ways of reaching readers, newer models of publishing and distribution, setting up libraries and also getting more books into libraries not just in SA but throughout Africa.

Please could you tell readers about your most recent artistic project, what it involved, and what you learned from it?

Aside from writing and having great reception for my novel, I’ve been able to set up a platform to publish a new writer. A political journalist for the Mail and Guardian, Qaanitah Hunter, started a fiction blog about two years ago called ‘Diary of a Guji Girl’. The blog went viral and we then edited the content and produced a novel which launched early this year to great success. It taught me that people are willing to read new works as long as the content is relevant and thought provoking, entertaining and accessible.

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?

It would be great to see the Africa39 team presented on more platforms especially here in South Africa. I think that we have a window of opportunity to generate discussions on and around the extensive range of issues that we explore in the collection, from the nature of crafting stories to the actual content, themes and characters therein.

I don’t know that this might enhance our careers as much as allow for more direct engagement with readers who will then purchase and read the stories.

Perhaps the blog can them hold a competition for readers to add commentary on favoured stories or rewrite the ending, etc. I think that we could also target university libraries to hold these conversations and readings. I’ve been invited in the past by some campuses to present my work, students have performed plays based on my work. I believe this is why we write, so that the initial story takes on a life of it’s own, holds new hands in meaning and expression.

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?

Distribution of books remains a challenge, but access and affordability is by far the biggest obstacle to books being bought and read in South Africa. If we must create a reading culture, then the print material must be affordable. We cannot pretend that the art of story is new to our continent. We transfer knowledge and identity through telling our stories, and will continue to. But the governments should remove tax and subsidise local print, and make a concerted effort to ensure that local material is available in every library.

Also, the corporate method of putting new publications into major bookstores cannot be the only sustainable method to distribute books. We need to encourage a thriving informal distribution that gets books in the hands of the greatest number of potential readers. If demand increases, and we can sustain large print runs, costs will be brought down.

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’ve read a number of the stories in the collection, and found they were incredibly provocative, compelling reads. They collectively present our diverse flavors of the continent, but also that we are not a monolithic entity as Africans, distinct and yet not removed from the workings of the world. I’d love to work with and have in the past been on panel with Jackee Batanda, Zukiswa Wanner and Shadreck Chikoti who had invited me to speak to his StoryClub in Malawi. I would be open to the idea of running multiple workshops and hosting and partaking in discussions with fellow Africa39 authors throughout SA. I’ve been to a number of literary festivals this year where the Africa39 would have appealed to audiences and yet was not presented there. Perhaps we could collaborate on this list for next year.

What festivals/workshops/residencies have you attended recently? What was your role? What did you take away from the experiences you had there?

I spoke at the Indie Book Fair arranged by African Narratives in March this year, and found it a fantastic new platform for looking at new models of encouraging reading and storytelling, publishing in SA. I spoke about my work from nonfiction publishing of my feminist courses to poetry and fiction that challenges the status quo and demands debate and new ways of thinking.

I also convened on a panel on women in publishing and what that might mean for the changing narratives of publishing both locally on the continent and globally.

I attended the South Africa Book Fair in Johannesburg this year, having spoken on the platform in previous years in Cape Town. I found that traditional models of making books accessible to readers are faltering, publishers are printing less and less and there is a need for reinvention as per new demands. The indie presses are doing bigger volumes, more keen on trying new approaches.

In partnership with the Jozi Book Fair in Sept 2015, I will be speaking on a few panels concerning gender and work, issues of sexuality and also on the topic of blogging new content for online and print and publishing and writing as a woman.

Are there any authors whom you mentor, whose work you’d like to mention or talk about?

Through my publishing labels, Wordflute Press and Emerald Press, I have had the pleasure of publishing a few new writers to success, including marketing guru Vusi Jiyana and political writer and blogger, Qaanitah Hunter. I hope to be able to collaborate with more inspired and inspiring writers in the future.

Nthikeng Mohlele: ‘I am solitary in mind and outlook’

Africa39 author, Nthikeng Mohlele (South Africa)

Africa39 author, Nthikeng Mohlele (South Africa)

What are your 5 favourite novels?

One discovers new literary loves with the passage of time and maturation of reading sensibilities. At present my favorites include J.M Coetzee’s Life and Times of Michael K, V.S Naipaul’s Half a Life, Phillip Roths’ The Dying Animal, Ake by Wole Soyinka and The African Child by Camara Laye.

Which 3 authors do you consider to have influenced you the most? How did each influence your work?

They are more than three: Dambudzo Marechera for pure literary bravery with language and metaphor, J.M Coetzee for word economy and sanitized prose, Albert Camus for framing of existential questions or preoccupations, Tony Morrison for the emotive and writing Afro American history and identity, Franz Kafka and George Orwell for exploration of themes concerning power, Martin Amis and Vladimir Nabokov for showing off, Ayi Kwei Armah for historicity and memorable characters, Gabriel Garcia Marquez for humour, and musician Miles Davis for note / word precision.

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?

I perceive my writing life as a lifetime vocation. I have just completed my fourth novel called Pleasure and am working on a fifth between reading and my day job. I have great editors in Sean Fraser and Elana Bregin—and don’t wish to part with them for no earth shattering reason. Publishers: Vintage, Secker & Warberg, Penguin—in partnership with my South African publishers.

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?

I am, by nature and not out of choice, not a fan of group think—though I have great respect for people who do; thus contributing greatly to the development of literature and the arts in general. I am solitary in mind and outlook—for the simple reason that I know me and my views better than anyone else. I write books—I think that is enough, for now.

Please could you tell readers about your most recent artistic project, what it involved, and what you learned from it?

I dabble in atrocious poetry—horrid things I post on Facebook for keeping my mind working and for my personal amusement. I plan to be a closet poet one day. I read philosophy whenever I can; and I am slowly learning music through the guitar.

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?

It helps profile writers by giving or affording them a global footprint. It is not up to me to dictate what should or should happen—but I think literature everywhere needs writers that are paid, prizes worth winning, greater cross pollination between world cultures and civilizations through translations and preservation. Why should great books be out of print—yet no drug dealer runs out of cocaine and heroin or whatnot?

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?

I suppose the overarching limitation in South Africa is the fact that people don’t buy fiction like they do non fiction. Second, as a developing country in a devolving region, it is to be expected that there are more pressing things to people’s time and resources than chasing books—an unfortunate tragedy. Writers should be paid as well as well paid DJs—for instance.

What festivals/workshops/residencies have you attended recently? What was your role? What did you take away from the experiences you had there?

I was on discussion panels at ‘The Time of the Writer Festival’ in Durban South Africa, The Franschoek Literary Festival in the Western Cape South Africa and I am attending the Open Book Festival during September. It was confirmed to me that literature continues to be an important instrument in performing societal diagnosis if not autopsies.

Are there any authors whom you mentor, whose work you’d like to mention or talk about?

I would like to assist younger writers—yes, but I simply don’t have the time at the moment and would rather not ruin anyone’s chances of being a writer by offering half baked guidance. I hope to still contribute the little I have learnt to younger writers in the future when time permits.


Speaking on the “White Literary System” Debate, Mohlele said:

Of course there is lack of and a resistance to transformation in some quarters (not all) in our nation – everyone knows or should know that after twenty years. It is not news. It’s a sickness – a sickness of people who resist change and that of those not daring enough to insist on that change. Insistence also means imagining a counter narrative to apartheid savagery and its varied legacies – a narrative that does not insist on mining apartheid ruins for progressive solutions. As much as most festivals in their current form would have been established post 1994 – it does not follow that they would suddenly and miraculously be inclusive and representative! […]

Spotlight on Hawa Jande Golakai

Africa39 author, Hawa Jande Golakai.

Hawa Jande Golakai was born in Liberia and has lived in several African countries. Her debut novel, The Lazarus Effect, was shortlisted for the 2011 Sunday Times Fiction Prize, the University of Johannesburg Debut Prize and longlisted for the Wole Soyinka Prize. She works as a medical immunologist and is currently completing her second novel.



Africa39 authors, Hawa Golakai and Chibundu Onuzo in conversation (New African Women Writers Rising).



Hawa Golakai in conversion with Yewande Omotoso.


I’ve always as a child been obsessed with crime, how things work, due process, death, those were things that I was never squeamish about.  I was never a girl who ran from blood, like animals and all that stuff.  I used to love messing with all sorts of living creatures and I think writing crime is like a bridge between what I do as a scientist and what I do as a writer because I like to tackle things that other people may find fearful; but to present it in a way that they may actually see that it’s not really fearful but it’s actually more like a part of daily life. So crime really is a cross cutting in any society, I don’t care where you live in this world. […] I think with the way the world is now, crime is becoming a fascination for the public. So I think writing crime for me now, it gives me a lot of satisfaction personally and also knowing that there’s a huge readership in the area of crime now because people are getting more and more interested in how the law works, and how people who tackle crime work and how forensic scientists work. The whole process of crime has now gotten to be sort of a sensation globally. And I always read crime, it is my favorite genre, and you know they always say, write what you know. And so, for me, that comes easily.

Hawa Jande Golakai’s debut novel, ‘The Lazarus Effect’.


(source: Interview with Hawa Golakai, Author, The Lazarus Effect , Liberian Observer.)