Reading enables me to escape the confusing and confining circumstances of my own world through gaining a deeper understanding of others.
Literature has always been my escape from everyday life, and when I do face real people, it is also the reason that I resist judging a book by its cover, so to speak.
When life becomes hard for me, such as in 2020 when the covid-19 pandemic trapped me within the walls of my house and I experienced grief for loved ones and family members, I turned to books to escape. Sometimes the characters I used to escape were heroes who looked at the world and tried to make it better. Other times, the characters I read were villains. However, when I read a story, even one whose main character was someone who did bad things, I still grew to understand them, sometimes even root for them. In escaping from the confusing and confining world of my own, I entered the world of others.
A 2012 study by researchers from Dalton State College and Converse College in the US, explains the phenomenon of ‘rooting for the bad guy’. Richard Keen, Monica Powell McCoy and Elizabeth Powell examined how narratives make readers feel empathy. The study used psychological concepts and linked them to literature to conclude that literature makes us feel so deeply for characters because we are given a first-person perspective into their lives and so we avoid blaming actions on the characters themselves but rather blame their circumstances. This is similar to the perspective we take on when examining our own actions. We judge our actions by blaming things outside of our control and rarely blame our own internal thoughts and values for wrongdoings.
Getting lost in these characters has shown me how stories have the potential to make us understand the most incomprehensible situations. Later in life, when covid-19 released its deadlock on our lives, I came across people I couldn’t see eye to eye with, people who hurt me or made me feel inferior but, I had learnt that behind every one of these people who seemed incomprehensible to me, there was a whole story that had led them to where they were. I could not judge them for how they treated me without keeping in mind the villains that I grew to know and love through books. Stories made me feel mercy and empathy in the judgement of the most despicable characters, in books and in life. As there will always be people who hurt me in some way or other, this is something that I like to think I carry with me through life.
As a journalism student and an avid news reader, I notice how often the world and the press in particular refer to people who have done bad things, as bad people. There is little room to explain how factors beyond their control lead people to where they find themselves in the latest gossip or news article. I believe literature is such a valuable art form because through it, while escaping from my own life, I have entered the lives of others and lived how they have lived. It is so important to keep in mind that we judge the actions of others differently to how we judge ourselves, unless we know their whole story. But there is always a whole story. I hope to carry this idea into my own practice of journalism and avoid creating two dimensional characters out of multi-dimensional people.
The Centre for African Studies (CAS) at the University of Cape Town (UCT) has called for the submission of papers, presentations and performances in African languages by poets, writers and other artists for the Mendi Centenary Conference.
April 23rd, marks both World Book Day and this year marks 400 years since William Shakespeare’s death.
The day is used to commemorate and celebrate his literary contributions to language, poetry, prose and drama. 400 years later, it is evident that his work still lives on, as scholars are still educated on his work.
Some of Shakespeare’s notable and most popular works include, Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth, Hamlet and King Lear, among these are a selection of poems and prose that he worked on.
Johannesburg has often been a place of conundrums; apartheid acts as a beginning and an end. And literature which is often an art that connects the unsaid with the truth, acts like a mirror which reveals a society to itself. We look at 15 Black authors who have left their imprint on the city.
Many authors in South Africa often express the things people are afraid to say, taking to writing books, poetry and plays in the midst of the political confusion and social instability. Some of these authors have given way to the hip, misunderstood, radical and frustrated authors of today.
As a microcosm of South African society, Johannesburg is a city which typifies the contradictions of the country; on one hand we have the Houghtons and the Gautrains, and on the other, Soweto and Alexandra.
We even have streets named after Miriam Makeba and Louis Botha. Sometimes Justin Bieber comes to visit, on other days Jill Scott.
We take a look at 15 important black writers to influence the city of Johannesburg.
Some are alive and some long gone, some are newly controversial and some are long standing celebrities, but each one has left an imprint on the metropolitan hub of social transformation and the beating heart of South Africa, 20 years still in transition.
1. Bessie Head
BOTSWANA COME TO JHB: Bessie Head as young woman. Photo: Katleho Sekhotho
Bessie Amelia Head was born on the 6th of July 1937 in Pietermaritzburg, although she is is usually considered Botswana’s most influential writer.
According to Remembered, Head’s mother was white and her father was black. She was raised by foster parents after her mother gave birth to her in an asylum, and then taken in by the Anglican mission orphanage.
In later years she trained as a primary school teacher, but in 1959 Head decided to pursue a career in journalism.
She wrote short stories for the Johannesburg Golden City Post, which was a weekly supplement and sister publication to the then famous Drum magazine.
When she moved to Johannesburg to write from Drum, her work began to precede her as reputable writer.
2. Miriam Tlali
TLALI ON MY WALL: Miriam Tlali is the first black woman in South Africa to publish a novel. Photo: Katleho Sekhotho
The first black woman in South Africa to publish a novel was Miriam Tlali.
She was also one of the first authors to write about Soweto. Tlali studied at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg until it was subsequently closed to Black people during apartheid.
Tlali then left to study in Lesotho but was unable to continue with her studies because of a lack of funds.
She then became an office clerk and wrote her first novel Muriel at Metropolitan in 1979. Her subsequent books include Amandla(1980), Mihloti (1984), and Footprints in the Quag (1989).
She was honoured in this year’s 21 Icons. Here is her story: Miriam Tlali
3. Njabulo S Ndebele
Prof Njabulo Ndebele reflects on his achievements during his inauguration as the new Chancellor – Sanlam Auditorium on Kingsway Campus on Friday, 16 November 2012.
Ndebele is currently the Chancellor of the University of Johannesburg (UJ) and a member of the English Academy of South Africa.
Author of The Cry of Winnie Mandela, in 2004 it received critical acclaim, and his earlier publication Fools and Other Stories won Ndebele the Noma Award, which is Africa’s highest literary award for the best book published in Africa in 1984.
Ndebele has also written a number of highly influential essays on South African literature and culture, these were published in the collection Rediscovery of the Ordinary.
IMAGE: Taken during his inauguration at the University of Johannesburg.
4. Steve Biko
THE CONSCIOUS MAN: Steve Biko on the cover of Drum magazine.
This man writes what he likes. Very little introduction is necessary when discussing the father of the Black Consciousness Movement.
The movement was an instrument pivotal to the empowerment and mobilization of much of the urban black population in South Africa during in apartheid.
Much of his letters, essays and teachings have stood the test of time and newly formed parties such as the Economic Freedom Front have aligned themselves quite obviously with Biko’s words.
In Johannesburg CBD, the Steve Biko Foundation can be located at the Braamfontein Centre on Jorrisen Street. The Foundation aims to “…strengthen democracy by championing dialogue, scholarship and programmes on the relationship between identity, agency, citizenship and social action.”
The renowned larger-than-life poet says, “Contrition is not bless me Father for I have sinned, contrition is I have taken from thee therefore I give thee back.”
These are Mattera’s words on addressing the issues surrounding the collective responsibility that white people have but have ignored in the new and democratic South Africa.
He says, “They suffer from forgetfulness.”
Mattera was born in the Western Native Township, now known as Westbury in Johannesburg. He grew up in Sophiatown, and according to an interview with Lucille Davie Don Mattera: poet of compassion,Mattera was during his high school years a gangster, the leader of the Vultures which was one of the most powerful gangs in Sophiatown.
He has worked as a journalist at the Sunday Times, The Weekly Mail (now the Mail & Guardian) and The Sowetan. He has trained over 260 journalists. Mattera also has a doctorate in literature.
CHIMAMANDA: The Thing Around Your Neck Photo: Katleho Sekhotho
6. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Although reading this list one might find Adichie irrelevant to the theme, she has become by far an African novelist who has transformed the way in which young black readers in Africa have become attuned to literature.
A Nigerian author, one might argue she has entered into the sacred realms of Achebe and Okri.
Her books include Half of a Yellow Sun, Purple Hibiscus and The Thing Around Your Neck, the latter being a collection of short stories.
7. Gcina Mhlophe
Gcina Mhlophe: Never fails to entertain and never fails to get her message across. Photo: Katleho Sekhotho
Easily one of the most celebrated poets in South Africa, Mhlophe has easily become synonymous with the music of liberation and the songs of freedom.
She is known as a South African freedom fighter, activist, actor, storyteller, poet, playwright, director and author.
Well-travelled and globally celebrated, she continues to hold African idiomatic expressions and metaphors at the helm of her artistry.
Her play, Have you seen Zandile? Was first performed at the Market Theatre in Johannesburg in 1986, with Mhlophe as Zandile.
Here is Mhlophe talking about the importance of knowing you ancestral connections.
KOPANO MATLWA Photo: Provided
8. Dr Kopano Matlwa Mabaso
Perhaps one of the youngest writers to emerge in the literary sphere as a force to be reckoned with Matlwa’s Coconut, opened the lid on the realities of being a 21stcentury black girl living in South Africa.
Her debut Coconut was succeeded by her novel Spilt Milk, the former winning her the Wole Soyinka Prize for Literary in Africa in 2008, sharing the prize with “I Do Not Come To You By Chance” by Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani and “Tenants of The House” by Wale Okediran.
Matlwa matriculated from St. Peters College in Johannesburg with distinctions in 2003.
9. Peter Abrahams
Once a sailor Abrahams was born to an Ethopian father and a Coloured mother, under the apartheid regime his mother was in South Africa considered a ‘Kleurling’. He was born in Vrededorp, a suburb in Johannesburg but later left South Africa in 1939.
His novel Mine Boy, published in 1946, remains relevant and timeless. Mine Boy was one of Abraham’s first works to bring him critical attention.
The novel was turned into a musical in 2014, in celebration of 20 years of democracy. The musical was showcased at the Wushwini Arts and heritage centre in the KwaZulu-Natal province.
Es’kia Mphahlele Photo: Katleho Sekhotho
10. Es’kia Mphahlele
Mphahlele was a South African writer, teacher, artist and activist. He was born Ezekiel Mphahlele but would later change his name to Es’kia in 1977.
He died at the age of 88 from natural causes. He was the first black professor at Wits and founded its African Literature Department.
This year Wits University will hold The Es’kia Mphahlele Postgraduate Colloquium and Arts Forum. It is a bi-annual event initiated in tribute to renowned writer and intellectual, Es’kia Mphahlele, who had a life-long interest in the training and mentoring of emerging artists and scholars.
A LONG WALK: Mandela’s legacy will undoubtedly live for generations to come. Photo: Katleho Sekhotho
11. Nelson Mandela
Perhaps Africa’s biggest icon, Mandela name is synonymous with the liberation themes that vibrate
MANDELA BRIDGE: The Nelson Mandela bridge in the night time. This photo was taken by renowned cinematographer Ofentse Mwase
throughout South Africa then and now.
While his many accolades precede him, he was also sometimes an author. One of his biggest autobiographies (also literally in the sense!) was his Long Walk to Freedom . The book profiles his early life, coming of age and 27 years in prison.
Here we see the Mandela Bridge in Johannesburg. The bridge is one of the many architectural structures throughout the country that honour Madiba’s legacy.
12. Lebo Mashile
FIERCE POETRY: Poet Lebo Mashile spoke out against Israeli apartheid at the IAW concert on this year during Israeli Apartheid Week. Photo: Michelle Gumede
She has no doubt become one of the most popular poets to date in contemporary South Africa.
A former Wits Law student, she was the daughter of exiled parents in the United States of America and returned in the mid 1990’s after the end of apartheid.
She has been actively involved in the plight against apartheid in Israel. She has performed numerously throughout the country, and recently partook in the Ruth First Memorial Lecture at Wits University, which was ablaze with political and social agenda that aimed to criticise racial dynamics within this democratic nation.
13. Panashe Chigumadzi
“Thank you Tseliso Monaheng for your amazing photographer’s eye.” – Panashe Chigumadzi
One of the newest voices to arise in recent years, she is a self proclaimed ‘Coconut’ and hers is the plight to transform the meaning of what it is to be a young black female in a democratic South Africa. She also spoke at the Ruth First Memorial Lecture to a crowd inspired by her words.
A Wits student, she will be releasing her debut novel Sweet Medicinelater this year. She is the founder and editor for the Vanguard Magazine, a platform for young black women coming of age in post apartheid South Africa.
She is currently completing a postgraduate degree in Development Studies at Wits.
14. Mamphele Ramphele
Although Ramphele has become in recent years a controversial figure, she is also a novelist.
Ramphele is a former anti-apartheid activist against, a medical doctor, an academic and a businesswoman.
She was one of several romantically involved partners linked to Steve Biko. Her latest book Passion for Freedom was published in 2013.
She was also leader of the Agang party; she has since withdrawn from politics from July 2014.
15. Zakes Mda
Zakes Mda was born in 1948 and has become a national signatory in the world of arts and literature.
He has written countless novels, poems and plays, many have been performed throughout the country on many stages, including the Market Theatre in Johannesburg, Newtown. He has won major South African and British literary awards for his novels and plays, and is currently a Patron of the Etisalat Prize for Literature.
He has also been awarded the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work.
Acclaimed South African author and Wits English professor, Ivan Vladislavić, launched his new book at Wits University last week.
DETECTIVE: Acclaimed South African author, Ivan Vladislavić launched his new book 101 Detectives at Wits on Thursday, as part of Africa Week. Photo: Samantha Camara
101 Detectives is a collection of fictional short stories that follow the adventures of different detectives across Johannesburg, Mauritius, the American West and Germany. The book is the latest offering from Wits English professor and celebrated author Ivan Vladislavić, and was launched at Wits University last Thursday.
Speaking at the launch hosted by the Wits School of Language, Literature and Media (SLLM), Vladislavić said the collection is an extension of his previous work The Loss Library.
Kirby Mania, who completed her doctorate on Vladislavićs’ works, described the collection as an “act of detection” as the reader is invited to not only journey with the characters but also decipher clues and patterns which are hidden in the stories themselves.
Mania suggested that the collection is an “anti-detective” story which follows “no grand system that can be relied on to restore order”.
The book was published by Umuzi, a local branch of Penguin Random House and is on sale at leading bookstores.
Listen to Vladislavić read from the title story of the collection (click below):
Today we’re taking a look at the #WitsShutdown protests which are over historical debt and unaffordable accommodation, which have seen several students suspended, physical clashes between protestors and security and disruptions to the academic programme for many. In this bonus episode of We Should Be Writing, we let students unpack their views on what has […]