Yesterday, March 22 marked the fourth day of the Time of the Writer Festival in Durban, South Africa. The evening programme started with a book launch – Clarence van Buuren: Die man agter die donkerbril: Chris Marnewick – followed by Music by the UKZN African Music and Dance Programme. Afterwards, the talk programme began where Benjamin Kwakye (Ghana) was paired with Thando Mgqolozana (South Africa). The topic for discussion was ‘Transforming Old Contexts into New’.
The facilitator was Noxolo Malimba. She started by introducing the two writers. For Thando, she said that two years ago he was at the Time of the Writers Festival talking about his debut book A Man Who is Not A Man. Thando dramatically replied that he has always been here.
She spoke briefly about Benjamin Kwakye and gave brief background to their books. She started with Thando’s book and then moved on to Kwakye’s book The Other Crucifix. The questioning then began.
The first question thrown to the two writers was that why is it important to take old stories and have them transformed into new contexts?
Thando answered first. He said if you are a reader, you feel there is a kind of literature you will want to read. According to him, he visited the Bible first before writing. He gave an example of the story of Mary in the Bible.
Benjamin Kwakye on the other hand spoke about the fact that his book is about protest, migration and alienation. He said the book was set in the 60’s when he was not even born.
The next question was thrown at Thando. ‘Did you think you will offend somebody in dealing with religion?’ Thando answered jokingly that it made him feel naughty. He said he feels better to say what is not said.
To Benjamin Kwakye the facilitator asked, ‘You did write about black Americans and black race issues? Did you feel offending people?’ Kwakye answered, ‘No, I did not feel offending people. If it is my truth, it is my truth.’ He went on to say that you have to allow a story to flow without fear. Thando came in and then jokingly said that then Kwakye is naughty and the crowd laughs. Kwakye also jokingly said that he is indeed naughty and there was more laughs.
The facilitator went ahead to read portions from their books. In the course of reading Kwakye’s The Other Crucifix she consults Kwakye for a word she says she has always find difficulty pronouncing. I can testify to this that if you’ve ever read Kwakye’s books and say – it is in a court room – you will understand why the facilitator had to consult Kwakye.
The next question was on the issue of language. The facilitator asked about the challenge of language?
Benjamin Kwakye answered by saying that there was not a problem because there are stories you tell and you tell it in a different way today. He went on to give an example that we don’t say ‘Negro’ again but rather ‘Afro-American’.
Thando also gave an example that donkeys were referred to as asses and so he finds it fascinating replacing donkeys for asses. (Laughs) To add to the issue of language, he said authenticity is the key.
The facilitator asked the two writers that their stories are set in old times when they were not born. She wanted to find out how much research goes into their stories.
In answering first, Kwakye jokingly says he was born in the eighties. Thando said that a lot of research goes into the craft. He said he begins with fiction and facts comes later. Kwakye replies by saying that he does a lot of research but does not let the research write the story. The facilitator asked Kwakye if his book can be described as non-fiction? Kwakye replies that it is hard to accept as non-fiction.
The main character in Kwakye’s The Other Crucifix is a young man named Jojo Badu. Kwakye is asked if there is any resemblance with Jojo Badu? First, Kwakye creates a jovial mood that he denies all forms of sexual resemblance. Then he went on to say that the only similarity between him and Jojo Badu is that they are all Ghanaians and they both travelled to the states for school. Thando jokingly responds that then it is him in the end. (Laughs)
After other few questions and answers, the facilitator opened the floor for questions from the audience. I remember the Jamaican writer Colin Channer asking the first question. After several questions and responses, there was a fifteen minutes break and then the second talk programme began. This time it was between Chris Marnewick and Jassy Mackenzie all from South Africa. The facilitator between the two was Karabo Kgoleng.
I enjoyed every bit of the evening. I went round to talk to some more writers and interviewed them there and then. I can’t wait for Friday night.