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Trevor Noah is known as a comedian. Those of us living in the US know him as the host of the popular comedy show The Daily Show. But he has since become a literary figure—ever since his memoirs, titled Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood, hit the stands earlier this month.

Noah was recently featured on The New York Times “By the Book,” a high-profile interview column that allows authors explore their relationship to reading, writing, and books in general. Noah’s responses give us a rare insight into his life as a reader.

In the course of the interview, he revealed that some of this favorite South African writers included Sol Plaatje, J. M. Coetzee, and Zakes Mda—all wonderful choices that proves Noah is a solid literary man. Among the literary figures that made it to his list of favorite South African books, the mention of Plaatje is particularly noteworthy. Plaatje is a novelist, diarist and essay writer who played a major role in the early decades of modern African literature. He was born in the late 19th century and falls within that group of unsung African literary icons who, for some strange reason, do not get half the amount of recognition that they deserve. So kudos to Noah for giving Plaatje a shout out.

Here are some Noah’s response that we thought you’d find interesting:

On the Best Books He’s Read about South Africa

I don’t know if I could pick the best; the territory is too rich. J. M. Coetzee and Zakes Mda are probably the best-known South African novelists in the West, and deservedly so. Nelson Mandela was as great a writer as he was an activist and leader. Sol Plaatje was a founder and first general secretary of the organization that became the A.N.C.; his writings were largely ignored during his lifetime, but they’ve survived to become some of the most compelling and celebrated accounts of the early days of apartheid. Rian Malan’s “My Traitor’s Heart” is a brutal excavation of a white South African’s conscience at apartheid’s end. Among contemporary South African writers, Khaya Dlanga is a personal favorite. His memoir, “To Quote Myself,” is as good an account as you’ll find about life in the country today.

On His Favorite Genre

I’m a sucker for fantasy. Write anything in a magical world with creatures and spells and you have me hooked. I also cannot resist autobiographies; it’s like learning about a person from inside their own mind. As for genres to avoid, I don’t avoid much. I’ll try anything once.

On His Childhood Reading

I was a voracious reader as a kid. Being the mixed child of a black Xhosa mom and a white Swiss dad, my existence was illegal in South Africa at the time. When I was little I spent a lot of time indoors so my parents could avoid going to jail, which would not have been fun for any of us. Books were my escape. I loved getting lost in fantasy worlds. I’d read anything by Roald Dahl: “James and the Giant Peach,” “The BFG,” “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.” I also loved “The Chronicles of Narnia,” but I only got to read them after convincing my very Christian mother that Aslan was a Christ figure and not a false idol.

Read the full interview HERE.

Buy the book here.

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I hold a doctorate in English from Duke University and recently joined the Marquette University English faculty as an Assistant Professor. I love teaching African fiction and contemporary British novels. Brittle Paper is the virtual space/station where I play and experiment with ideas on how to reinvent African fiction and literary culture.

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