Subscribe to Newsletter
Monthly Newsletter: Join more than 5,000 African literature enthusiasts!
Subscribe for African literature news, and receive a free copy of our "Guide to African Novels."

Zoe Wicomb. Image from stias.ac.za via Google.

In a new interview in The Johannesburg Review of Books, South African novelist Zoe Wicomb revealed an error by Heinemann in their 1971 publication of Bessie Head’s novel Maru. The interview, excerpted from Wicomb’s new book Race, Nation, Translation: South African Essays, 1990-2013, is conducted by the collection’s editor Andrew van der Vlies and centres on intersectionality and her reading of other writers, including essays on works by J.M. Coetzee, Ivan Vladislavic, Sol Plaatje, Miriam Tlali, Njabulo Ndebele, and Bessie Head.

Here is an excerpt.

_________________________________________________________________________

Andrew van der Vlies:

Indeed. It seems to me, in fact, that we need the modes of reading and rereading you prescribe (and model) now more than ever. Allow me to turn (back) to the literary as space for reading. Your essays frequently deploy examples of cultural production from many media and genres, but you frequently turn back to the literary, including in these essays that we’ve chosen to group together as public-political interventions (or performances). Writers who feature here in particular include Sol Plaatje, Miriam Tlali, Njabulo Ndebele, and—preeminently—Bessie Head. Could you say something about where you first read each of these writers, and what it was about them that interested you? What in particular has Bessie Head meant to you, and why?

Zoë Wicomb:

Yes, I was particularly interested in Bessie Head as the only coloured woman who, at the time that I tried to write, was a published author. Not surprisingly, I had not heard of Head until the early seventies when I came across Maru in the UK; but to my surprise I found that the Heinemann edition had a picture of me on its cover.

Andrew van der Vlies:

Do you have any idea how that came to pass?

Zoë Wicomb:

I later worked out that I had briefly met the photographer in a social situation at the time of publication, but I had no idea that he had taken the (unflattering) picture. Uncannily, and much as I hated the unauthorised use of the picture, I felt an affinity with her; Head’s novel gave me the courage or perhaps permission to write. While I find the homophobia in A Question of Power repulsive, her examination of race and exposure of African discrimination against the Masarwa is extraordinary for being explored within her commitment to Africa. She shows that it is not only possible but essential to be critical of that which you love and are part of. I am also moved by the ways in which she reworked her own tragic life story into fiction, so much more creative than the label of autobiography that critics invariably attach to black women’s writing.

Sol Plaatje’s Mhudi was not only the first African novel written in English, its publication history itself is significant. Edward Said’s injunction about the worldliness of texts as well as the importance of geography in the relationship between politics and culture take on a practical cast in relation to one of the more serendipitous effects of the 1976 Soweto rebellion. The Lovedale Missionary Press, fearful of student vandalism and believing that the rebellion would be confined to the North, moved their archives to Rhodes University in the Eastern Cape. In the process, the original typescript of Mhudi that Lovedale had earlier claimed to have lost, fell into the hands of Witwatersrand scholars Stephen Gray and Tim Couzens, who were at the time working on a reissue of the novel for the Heinemann African Writers Series. Previously dismissed by critics as a dull co-opted colonial offering, Mhudi turned out to have been severely bowdlerised, Lovedale Press having pressed the novel into a European realist mode. Thus Plaatje’s attempts at translation of traditional African forms into a Western novel by introducing a storyteller who passes on the history to a narrator, or by incorporating various elements of orality, including folktales, had been compromised. For me it was wonderful to be able to teach South African students about the translation of traditional forms and its contribution to theories of postcolonial hybridity.

_________________________________________________________________________

Read the full interview on The JRB.

Tags: , , , , ,

About Otosirieze Obi-Young

View all posts by Otosirieze Obi-Young
Otosirieze Obi-Young is a writer, journalist, & Deputy Editor of Brittle Paper. The recipient of the inaugural The Future Awards Prize for Literature in 2019, he is a judge for The Gerald Kraak Prize and was a judge for The Morland Writing Scholarship in 2019. He is Nonfiction Editor at 14, Nigeria’s first queer art collective, which has published volumes including We Are Flowers (2017) and The Inward Gaze (2018). He is Curator at The Art Naija Series, a sequence of e-anthologies of writing and visual art focusing on different aspects of Nigerianness, including Enter Naija: The Book of Places (2016), which explores cities, and Work Naija: The Book of Vocations (2017), which explores professions. His work in queer equality advocacy in literature has been profiled in Literary Hub. His fiction has appeared in The Threepenny Review and Transition. He has completed a collection of short stories, You Sing of a Longing, is working on a novel, and is represented by David Godwin Associates literary agency. He has an M.A. in African Studies and a combined honours B.A. in History & International Studies/English & Literary Studies, both from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. He taught English in a private Nigerian university. Find him at otosirieze.com, where he accepts writing and editing offers, or on Instagram or Twitter: @otosirieze. When bored, he Googles Rihanna.

No comments yet.

Leave a Reply

Welcome to Brittle Paper, your go-to site for African writing and literary culture. We bring you all the latest news and juicy updates on publications, authors, events, prizes, and lifestyle. Follow us on Twitter and Instagram (@brittlepaper) and sign up for our "I love African Literature" newsletter.

Monthly Newsletter!

Subscribe for African literature news, and receive a free copy of our
"Guide to African Novels."

Archives

Down River Road, a New Print & Online Magazine Exploring the Alternative in Literature, Music, & Visual Art, Calls for Submissions to Second Issue

down river road journal

A new Nairobi-based print and online magazine, down river road, is exploring the margins, the shifting centers, and the new […]

Dr Stella Nyanzi Wins Appeal at Ugandan Court, Regains Freedom, But Is Possibly Re-arrested

stella nyanzi - graph - kampala dispatch

Dr Stella Nyanzi is free. The academic, feminist and queer rights advocate has been in prison for criticising Uganda’s long-serving […]

Apply for This Fully-funded Creative Writing Scholarship at the University of East Anglia, Sponsored by the Miles Morland Foundation

UEA - Literature@UEA Twitter

The Miles Morland Foundation African Writers’ Scholarship is currently accepting accepting applications for its 2020 program. It is an initiative […]

Chinelo Okparanta Recalls Her First Teenage Crush

chinelo okparanta - bucknell university

“I was 16 years old, nearly 17, when a boy first expressed interest in me. Or, maybe it was that […]

Namwali Serpell, Maaza Mengiste & Marlon James Are Finalists for Los Angeles Times Book Prizes

Namwali Serpell

Finalists for the Los Angeles Times Book Prizes have been announced. The Ethiopian novelist Maaza Mengiste is nominated in the […]

Romeo Oriogun Shares Heartfelt, Powerful Personal Story as Anticipation Peaks for His Debut Poetry Collection, Sacrament of Bodies

Romeo Oriogun - main

Romeo Oriogun’s debut poetry collection Sacrament of Bodies is still some 12 days away from its March 1 publication date […]

Thanks for signing up!

Never miss out on new posts. Subscribe to a digest, too:

No thanks, I only want the monthly newsletter.