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Centre for Creative Arts

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In the Muti Mix, and Rooting for Diversity at the Time of the Writer

Schools short story winners & Njabulo Ndebele

Special to the CCA blog by Sarah Frost

To begin the Friday evening at the Time of the Writer, Professor Njabulo Ndebele congratulated the four TOW schools short story winners, by welcoming them into the fold of those who write, saying he hoped that it would become a way of life for them.

#tow2011 Winners are now being announced in the schools short story competition. It’s rather overwhelming being on stage w/ prof Ndebele!less than a minute ago via Twitter for iPad

#tow2011 Ndebele to the winners – you are among your peers and mentors, don’t ever forget the magic of words that brings us togetherless than a minute ago via Twitter for iPad

~ ~ ~

Diale Thlolwe, Karabo Kgoleng & Sifiso Mzobe @ Time of the Writer

Ancient RitesYoung BloodFrom here, chair Karabo Kgoleng introduced SA authors Diale Thlolwe and Sifiso Mzobe, inviting them to talk about their books in relation to “Muti Noir”, or black magic. Both Thlolwe and Mzobe revealed a desire to uncover hidden taboos in their culture, while also remaining respectful of the need to keep certain practices secret and sacred. Mzobe read from his novel Young Blood, about a young man who becomes involved with a hijacking syndicate, while Kgoleng read from the lucidly written crime novel Ancient Rites on Thlolwe’s behalf.

#tow2011 @KaraboKgoleng calls out the word ‘noir’ in the panel’s name. Is it right to call the arts of muti ‘black arts’.less than a minute ago via Twitter for iPad

#tow2011 No, Mzobe & Thlolwe agree – the arts are sacred – perhaps meant to be unseen or unknown, but are practiced for goodless than a minute ago via Twitter for iPad

Jokingly, Kgoleng compared sangomas and others who heal with muti to “professional hackers”, being quite quite protective of their knowledge, even from one another. She asked the writers to elaborate on how they negotiate their way between respecting taboos and revealing sacred thing. Thlolwe said that urbanised African people particularly were torn between their scepticism of ancient forms of knowledge, and their desire to believe in it.

#tow2011 @KaraboKgoleng ‘Noir’ also means ‘night’. There’s so much mystery in the night: violence, ritual, sex all happen in the nightless than a minute ago via Twitter for iPad

A self-proclaimed “umlungu” from the floor asked the three why none of them had mentioned Credo Mutwa, a writer who has brought African traditional healing to light in many ways. No direct answer was forthcoming. Mzobe said that he wrote to enlighten those who do not know about his culture. Thlolwe said he was trying to open up new channels, and that his writing was driven by the stories he wanted to make known.

#tow2011 …and that’s a wrap for this panel. @KaraboKgoleng mentions that Thlolwe’s mother passed this week – but he still made the TOW.less than a minute ago via Twitter for iPad

~ ~ ~

Caryl Phillips, Biyi Bandele, Michael Chapman @ TOW

The StreetBurma BoyIn the Falling SnowFinal PassageAfter interval, Biyi Bandele, an ex-pat Nigerian now living in the UK, and Caryl Phillips, from the West Indies, who shuttles between the US and the UK, talked about their views of writing with chair Professor Michael Chapman. Phillips said he “wrote himself into visibility”, almost as an overt political act – but he believes the real challenge for writers is to deal with “form and language” over content. “That’s the territory where writers are born.” Bandele said he set out to write his book Burma Boy as a tale about his father, so that his daughter could learn about her grandfather, but that the book twisted into a new shape once he happened upon the character, Ali Banana, who finally supplies the book with its story.

#tow2011 Phillips quotes Morrison: I knew I was a writer when I went to the library to get a book and it wasn’t on the shelf.less than a minute ago via Twitter for iPad

#tow2011 Bandele speaks about the novel he wrote about his father’s life, the 1st draft of which was ‘grim, unreadable’less than a minute ago via Twitter for iPad

Phillips spoke about the difficulties of living in a country whose Prime Minister, David Cameron, has denied the reality of multiculturalism. He said: “We need counter-narrative. We don’t want to sign off on this”. Although he has written about the US too, where he has lived, he said he does not care as much about the US as he does about the UK, and besides, quoting V S Naipaul, “the US is a society you don’t look at casually”.

#tow2011 Phillips calls the UK ‘stubbornly post-colonial’ but also ‘pre-European’. Great call!less than a minute ago via Twitter for iPad

On the subject of writing about Africa, Bandele said he cannot “revel in the pornography of African misery” as so many writers do. He mentioned that he will be directing his first feature film later this year, based on a screenplay he wrote of Chimamanda Angozi Adichie’s Half of a Yellow Sun, in which he will explore “the broad spectrum of African experience, rooted in the everyday”.

Asked about what political changes are happening in the UK, Bandele said that because of the austerity measures being put into place, it will be increasingly difficult for working class people to be able to afford to go to university – which has led to clashes like the country saw last year.

Chapman ended the formal discussion on a humourous note, bringing out the old saw about the relationship between critic and artist: similar to that between a dog and a lamp post. Phillips said the last time he had read a critic “was in 1987″. He said “it’s hard enough writing a book without worrying about what people are going to call you after you have written it.”

The Q&A was dominated, curiously enough, by Bob Marley:

#tow2011 Question time. From the audience, a question on the importance of Bob Marley to African/diaspora writingless than a minute ago via Twitter for iPad

#tow2011 Phillips mentions that Derek Walcott once said that he’d take Marley’s Redemption Song to a desert island with himless than a minute ago via Twitter for iPad

#tow2011 Phillips himself found Buffalo Soldier a useful interpretation device (& terrific song) when transiting from the UK to the USAless than a minute ago via Twitter for iPad

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