Biography: Abigail George is a South African writer from Port Elizabeth. She studied film and television production for a short while in Johannesburg, followed by brief stints as a trainee at a production house. Abigail has been published widely in print and online – Litnet, Sun Belly Press, africanwriter.com, Upbeat, Tribune and so on. She is a recipient of two grants from the National Arts Council in Johannesburg; in 2005 for a poetry anthology entitled ”Africa, where art thou?” and in 2008 for her collection of stories entitled ”The Origins of Smoke and Mirrors”.
Geosi Reads: The first time I googled your name, I was shocked of the search results. How much value do you place on the internet?
Abigail George: I think the internet is where a writer and a poet can reveal the most vulnerable part of themselves on a world stage without revealing at the same time everything of themselves (privacy is still important to me, it is still an issue for me and that is why I prefer being interviewed via email than face-to-face by a journalist with a book scratching, scribbling notes down). I think the internet is where poets can become better people in their personal space, work through the trauma that is weaved into their stories and poetry, acknowledge their human strength, their consciousness, believe most of all in courage and the sacred cycle of pilgrimage. The internet schools you, it gives you a crash course in everything. There’s a naivety to it as well. You just have to trust your gut instinct, that symmetry, and feel wired up. Be realistic. I’ve had books published too but I know I’m reaching a greater audience when published on the internet. I can’t see them but I know I am connecting with them on some level. It’s a bit like being in high school and memorizing the Periodic Table.
The value of the internet is always in flux to me but don’t get me wrong it is also a dark place for me. You have to as a writer and poet wear both hats at the same time.
It fluctuates on a daily basis. Some days it is good for the self-worth, the self-esteem and to know that perhaps, just perhaps you are nurturing an invisible other’s gift, their talent, that you’re inspiring them. I can address injustice effortlessly. I have often felt displaced, the Outsider and as if I don’t quite belong in this world. I find the internet profound in the relationships it can build, forge, and motivate. It gives me hope networking on social media with invisible others like myself. I have realized that the human soul is magnificent, it has a purpose even with the sometimes anonymous monsters in the closet, under the bed, the voices in our head but coming back to the value that I place on the internet. The future seems ever brighter with all the gadgets and technological advancements being made around us. I have often felt despair, is this it, I have insecurities and doubts like any other writer and poet about being a storyteller. Will I ever be able to write anything again that is worthy of being of value and published. So many questions, too few answers but the belief must always be there. I can do this. I hope that other storytellers and poets find this helpful. Courage comes from so many places not just from the spirit, the human soul or within. I wanted to talk about this at length because there are advantages and disadvantaged on being published on the internet. Technology has become so advanced in the past five years but we have had to give up our privacy and not on our terms. Social media is a vortex.
Geosi Reads: Can I quiz you on the difference between a writer and a poet?
Abigail George: The best poets are the ones who are unfortunately or fortunately the most difficult to read. They’re usually the ones whose insight and intelligence will make you think, smile, laugh or cry. Their journey on the page often feels incomplete because you have to do the rest of the work. Figuring out their inhibitory sensory perception and intuition. Poetry can sometimes be more work than books, than stories. The good ones work will make you flinch. Unfortunately we have to work at understanding their sensitivity, the relevance of their work and opinion and their work at times are unfathomable like a sonnet, Milton or Wilfred Owen. I have enjoyed reading African poets but for me Amatoritsero Ede’s poetry is beautiful, has striking imagery, is touching and is moving and emotional. The best character traits for poetry. For the beginner it is easier to start with reading work by poets you admire, and who aren’t ashamed of telling the truth and talking about the world around them as they see it.
The best writers want us to share their vision of the planet, and it’s either a palace or a ruined castle (beauty in both it seems to me). The truly great ones (the storytellers) are not in the habit of wanting to be superior to everyone else in the room. It’s just that they are in that league. It’s just that they are a force of nature. Humility plays a key role in their lives, a significant one that they acknowledge every day. This is important because arrogance isn’t worth anything in the end. It’s sad and stupid to think that way because you lose yourself in that place and what becomes of you in the end. So I tell everyone that I write to to read Austria’s Rilke’s ‘Letters to a Young Poet’. It changed my life. So many books did on this road but especially that book. And read difficult books. They may not be easy but they will help your progress in the writing world and most importantly you will learn from them. You will develop a divide between the ego and the intellect. Smart people read and they read a lot, especially a lot of everything. Everybody really should but they don’t.
Geosi Reads: This may sound silly, but how does it feel to carry the placard of a writer on your forehead?
Abigail George: It’s difficult. Very, very difficult for me to understand and to wrap my head around it. When people ask me what do I do for a living I’m still like do I tell them, do I tell them that I’m a writer. I think that people tend to imagine you as this guru-type person and that you were born with all the harmonic answers that they’re looking for, knowledge that reads like literature, poetic justice, higher learning, cool memoir or a romance. I wanted to be involved in media when I was younger, in my twenties. I went to film school and then I became religious fervently and thought I had to fill my time with that. Prayer is important to me though, don’t get me wrong. Meditation is important to me. It’s where I find peace. Never thinking I would grow up writing poetry, writing books, writing short stories, hopefully novellas and fiction. I’ve written creative non-fiction. I really wanted to be a documentary filmmaker. You have dreams. You have goals. You grow up and they change. My journey, my world is continually changing (all the time even when I’m not aware of it).
So when I saw the word ‘placard’ it brings a sense of home to me. I have been writing since I was a young child. I’ve been in the theatre world since I was a young child (that was my first love) but some things have shifted around me without me even realizing it and now I am a writer and this is my career. It has taught me self-reliance and not to be so caught in the past like I once was but that was not so long ago. I do not miss television production anymore. I’d rather be surrounded by my books and that quiet voice that comes to me when I am writing.
Every creative writing project that I embark on I view as an assignment on anticipatory nostalgia. I want to believe that I am making the world a better place with my writing, communicating to the world at large that is so filled with materialism that you can make a difference, be the difference in the world. There’s goodness but there’s evil too and as a writer, as a poet, as a storyteller you have to acknowledge both even if you don’t want too.
Geosi Reads: You studied film and television production for short while. I am wondering the impact it has on your poetry or short stories?
Abigail George: I love films. Always have. Going to film school when I look back in retrospect it was such a privilege for me, the people I met. I can’t ever, ever take that period of my life away, spirit it away but I do write about it sometimes. It does come out when I least expect it and it makes me happy when it does because it is lovely to remember those days carrying a tripod or a camera or doing research, or being part of a production crew. I am not in contact with any of them anymore or Johannesburg in any way but those were happy memories. I carried a lot of deep pain and anger within me when I was in my late adolescence and early twenties and of course depression (and a lot of it dealt with my family and my childhood, resentment, bitterness, not being the chosen one, the favorite daughter in the house, family issues). Depression was hereditary. I won’t say it gets easier but you learn how to deal with these things. With negativity and the silver lining.
And of course what I studied, it has impacted my poetry, my short stories. It has had a major influence on inspiring me. In Johannesburg everything was a lesson and sometimes I miss that. Some mornings it felt just after I woke up like I was waking up in a dream. I miss that sensation sometimes. And of course I will never forget the friendships I made.
Geosi Reads: The first time I visited Port Elizabeth, I quickly fell in love with nature. Do you bother to factor nature into your works?
Abigail George: As much as I possibly can. You can see it, hear it, and feel it in my poetry. The change of the seasons, the green grass, autumn leaves, a Petrified Forest. When I lived for a year in Swaziland with my aunt everything around me was green and I loved it. I loved the house we lived in. How everything was so clean and the air was fresh and new. I loved the people, the energy and I kept my first diary there for a year while I attended school. The essence of the people inspired me when I felt discouraged or pressure. I always had this pressure within me to succeed, this competitive nature but now that I’m older, wiser, more mature I’ve surrendered it. I’ve learned to let go of it and that feeling isn’t as strong. It used to have its own brand of optimism and I swear I don’t know where that came from.
Nature is important to me. I love walking. I have two dogs. Spending time outside with them is important to me. When I think about nature I think about the animal world too. And I have a garden (a meditation garden filled with roses and lavender and herbs and tomatoes, basil is a favorite of mine) and a vegetable patch.
Geosi Reads: Do you think poetry should be performed?
Abigail George: Yes, poetry should be performed. I love that medium. I think it’s important for protest poetry to be performed on a stage, especially African poets who are so different, so unique. The world should see them I think.
Geosi Reads: Yet another silly question – Do you have any secret flaw as a writer?
Abigail George: I try and edit my work as much as I possibly can and then sometimes I don’t. Sometimes I just send the first draft of it out (even though I know I shouldn’t). I don’t think writers should censor their work. Get everything out of your head, out of your system like a mad dance in the rain. Just go ahead and get it over and done with.
Geosi Reads: It’s a long time I read a book with a questioning title. I am thinking of your book, ‘Africa where art thou?’
Abigail George: Titles come to me all the time. I am always writing them down, scribbling them down and use all of them. Some for stories, some for poems, some for books. Some people who I regarded as mentors did not like the title but I went with it anyway and I am still glad that I did. I followed my instinct and I hoped that other people also enjoyed the title and the book as much as I did writing it. It took me a few years before it was done though. Writing poetry is one of the most difficult art forms. But you have to believe more in what your heart is telling you and not your head.
Geosi Reads: Do you mind what people say about your writing?
Abigail George: No, not really. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion. But sometimes yes, yes, yes because in a strange way I feel as I am being personally attacked especially after I’ve received a rejection letter. Honestly I feel hurt. When someone likes my work it makes me very happy, ecstatic, enthusiastic even, many, many things but I become intensely negative and emotional when I receive a rejection letter. I know I shouldn’t take it to heart but I do. I want to make people happy but I want to do this all the time and you just can’t. I have to realize my own limitations and understand when enough is enough and try not to think, conceptualize and analyze that I’ve just illuminated my personal space for the world to see and speak about.
Geosi Reads: One last jejune question – I have never thought George a surname until I saw your name?
Abigail George: Here I could answer a question with a question but I won’t. George is also a boy’s name but it is also a surname in South Africa. It is my real name in case you were wondering. My paternal grandfather originally came from St. Helena Island. He was a soldier in Kenya during the war.