Sunday Times Books LIVE Community Sign up

Login to Sunday Times Books LIVE

Forgotten password?

Forgotten your password?

Enter your username or email address and we'll send you reset instructions

Sunday Times Books LIVE

Centre for Creative Arts

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

Archive for the ‘Zambia’ Category

Writers on Racism and Sexism at the 2011 Time of the Writer

Andrew Oken, Anthony Ojowe, Mike Mwale, Petina Gappah and Ethel Chingu

Special to the CCA blog by Sarah Frost

An Elegy for EasterlyThe first half of Wednesday night’s Time of the Writer Evening Session was ably chaired by Sarah Nuttall, who asked probing questions that got Petina Gappah (Zimbabwe) and Ellen Banda-Aaku (Zambia) talking in constructive ways. When asked about how she foregrounds character in her short stories, Gappah responded that her collection An Elegy for an Easterly is currently being translated into Tswana, Venda and Shona and that the stories have been given characters’ names as titles. She said for her focusing on character is a way of writing ‘big’ short stories.

Responding to Nuttall’s question of how she writes about ‘the ordinary’, while bringing in the element of the ‘spectacular,’ Gappah explained that she had tried to write ‘the Great Zim novel’ but that it didn’t work. She prefers to tell ordinary stories as a way into the extraordinary. She noted how useful ‘eavesdropping’ is for her, in order to gather new material.

Ellen Banda-Aaku spoke of growing up in Lusaka in Zambia, and of how when Zimbabwean military squads came in and bombed freedom fighters’ houses there, she and her siblings still had to dress and go to school – she reminded the audience that in the midst of political turmoil, ordinary life must go on, emphasising that literature must reflect this.

Nuttall noted that both writers’ texts evince an “ascerbic, even caustic, wit”. Gappah recognises that “the world is a very strange place,” and tries to capture that in her writing. In contrast, Banda-Aaku said she was not even aware that she wrote in such a way.

Gappah is at present unable to write about Zimbabwe. She wrote An Elegy for an Easterly while working as a trade lawyer in Switzerland. She noted that distance gives perspective. She is currently writing a book that she says has “nothing to do with Zimbabwe”. Banda-Aaku said the literary culture in Zambia is quite stagnant. She said a fresh mindset was needed at all education levels. She called for a stronger feminist approach towards writing in order to change patriarchal attitudes.

On the topic of Feminism, Nuttall asked Gappah why she so admires Michelle Obama. Her response was that “she’s a brilliant, stylish woman”. More soberingly, and possibly more substantially, Ellen Banda-Aaku reminded us that Michelle Obama has the benefit of a platform that many equally capable black women do not have. The two writers embraced before Nuttall thanked them for their contributions to what was a fruitful discussion.

Sally Howes, Kerry Cullinan and Sarah Nuttall

Fine Lines from the BoxJohannesburgThe tone was somewhat more elevated after the interval as Karabo Kgoleng invited esteemed academics Professors Njabulo Ndebele and Achille Mbembe to talk about “literature as a country’s conscience”. Ndebele make the solid point that he is “tired of racism”, referring, more specifically, to the furore at the University of the Orange Free State. He argued that the OFS occurrence was not an issue of racism, but one of “how to raise kids to behave properly”.

Kgoleng then asked Ndebele and Mbembe their opinions on a quote from Che Guevara that states “Revolution is inspired by love”. Ndebele said that, for him, love was “a dangerous word, in that it can be both trite, and profound”. He said one should care first for the citizens of one’s country, rather than the political party one belongs to. He called for a system of electoral representation, rather than party representation “so that we can choose excellent leaders”.

Mbembe said he believed the role of the arts is “to testify to that which is emerging, pointing to possibilities of what might be, premised on love and an ethics of care – the belief that each life counts and must be protected against premature unjustified death”. He said we have to learn to close the gap between life and text, and that listening was an important tool for doing this.

Questions from audience members followed the discussion, responding to Kgoleng’s plea to “tweet it, but on the mike”.

Book details


» read article