Zukiswa Wanner is the K. Sello Duiker Award winning author of London Cape Town Joburg, The Madams, and a number of other fiction and non-fiction titles. In this chat with Mainland Book Café, she sheds light on her writing and sundry issues.
First of all, congratulations on winning the K Sello Duiker Award, and we wish you many more laurels. You have two careers, journalism and writing, Being a journalist vs being a writer, which pays more?
They are both demanding in their own different ways, if one is a good journalist, one should research one’s subjects thoroughly before embarking on an interview. I tend to do features and haven’t done breaking news in a long time. Financially though, the journalism pays more, but being a writer is more fulfilling to me.
On your books and winning awards, how does it affect you?
It’s a lovely honor, particularly as the South African Literary Awards are in their tenth year and the person that particular Award is named after (K. Sello Duiker) is a writer whose work we all admired and would have wished he’d lived longer. I don’t deceive myself that mine was the best book to come out of South Africa last year but perhaps it was the best among those that entered.
That said, it’s worth noting that my first book, The Madams, was shortlisted for the same award back in 2007 and I’ve been shortlisted for others including commonwealth best book Africa region in 2011 for Men OF the south, and the Charles Herman Bosman Award. Not getting the awards then did not stop me from doing what I love (writing) and doing it as well as I can to the best of my ability….. And winning this won’t stop me from still trying to be the best I can be.
Okay, can you give us a list of your top 5 favourite books of 2015?
That is a difficult question because I am an Etisalat judge and some of the books on my favorite list are on that list so I don’t want to reveal anything until the winner has been announced.
There is this (mis)conception people have about writers being this set of snobbish people who walk around with their noses in the air and throw big words around with no interest in anything else. So tell us one embarrassing moment you have had, and prove to us that you are human.
Where does this perception come from? Writers are some of the most grounded and fun people I know. Well, academics may e slightly less crazy. As for embarrassing moments, I have certainly had plenty of those. There was this one time that I was facilitating a discussion with Kopano Matlwa, author of Coconut, at a bookstore in Johannesburg. I met the owner of the bookstore three days before so I could collect a copy of the book and read it prior to the discussion. At my meeting with the bookstore owner, I had my hair twisted. On the day of the book discussion, I had my hair in a fro. So the book store’s owner came up to where we were, myself, Kopano’s Mum, and Kopano, and in an agitated voice, said, “Does any one of you here have Zukiswa Wanner’s number?” K, mum and I looked at her and smiled, and then I graciously gave her my number. She whipped out her cellphone and made the call. The look on her face when my phone started ringing and she realized who I was, it was priceless.
Then there was this time, I was in a taxi, taking a trip from Rosebank Mall to Joburg Central Business District, lo and behold, the young woman seated next to me took out a copy of the madams ( my debut novel) and started reading. It was the first time I saw someone who wasn’t a family member or a friend reading the book in public. So I cleared my throat and said to the young lass, “Hi, I wrote that book, would you like me to autograph it for you?” She looked me up and down a couple of times, and resumed her reading.
“No, really”, I said, sounding more forceful, “I wrote that book, I can sign it for you.” She looked at me and this time she decided to answer. “Wena?” Pause. “ Zukiswa Wanner?”. Very pregnant pause. “If you wrote this book, uyenzeni taxi?” Meaning= “You? Zukiswa Wanner? If you wrote this book what are you doing in a taxi? And the taxi driver joined in, shaking his head and laughing one of those Zuma sounding laughs, Ja, abafazi be Jozi bayathanda kuclaimer nje. Yhu. Umbhali. Hehehehe. These women of Jozi love making claims. Yhu, a writer, Hehehehe
I considered taking out my ID to prove I was indeed Zukiswa Wanner. But I thought I’d be trying too hard so I just shut up. Everyone in the taxi had now joined in and I was now this pretentious person claiming to be Zukiswa Wanner. It was the longest fifteen minute taxi ride I’ve ever had. I there and then realized the dangers of writing about a middle class lifestyle one doesn’t have.
Now on writers as social commentators and activists, what are your opinions?
I never tell any writers what to do or what to be; it would be condescending of me to do so. On subjects that move me and which I feel strongly about, I certainly have no problem being a social commentator. And on activism, I am also equally active on issues that are near and dear. But I don’t expect everyone to be like me. It would be a boring literary world if we were all the same.
Can you tell us a bit about the read SA Initiative?
The Read SA initiative is an initiative we started to get South Africans to become more familiar with African literature and African writers. When I was in SA, we managed to tour seven of the nine provinces and visit an average of four schools per province (plus a tertiary institute). We donated books. As I am now staying in Kenya, I am no longer actively involved but I lend support whenever I can.
Do you have a pet like or dislike, a thing that pisses you off?
I do have one pet dislike though: receiving written messages in text language.
That makes you a cool person then, all writers should hate that. Is there any genre you don’t think you will be writing in the near future?
I never say never. I like experimenting with my writing but I’d just need to research well before putting something out so I can do a decent job of it.
So we can not rule out the possibility of seeing something along the lines of speculative and fantasy fiction from you, right?
I am more likely to do crime, but yup, don’t rule it out.
I can’t thank you enough; your time and openness have been invaluable. I’m extremely grateful, for and on behalf of Mainland Book Café
It was lovely chatting. Thank you.
Ikechukwu Nwaogu is a writer, occasional poet, and playwright who lives and hustles in Lagos. An avid lover of books, reading, and poetry. He blogs at www.inkspilla.wordpress.com and tweets via @eyekaywizard.
This interview was originally published on www.mainlandbookcafe.com (Dec 2015)