Vuyelwa Maluleke is a Joburg-born writer and poet who grew up in a township. She describes herself as a storyteller: “It is when I am most honest. It is also the hardest thing to do for me, to hand my work over so publicly to audiences. But the sharing between the audience and myself generates an immediacy that is like church. There is so much magic there.”
Vuyelwa began competitive poetry in 2012 winning the TEWOP Poetry Slam and the DFL Lover and another 2012 Johannesburg Regionals. She has performed on various stages in Johannesburg. She graduated in 2013 with a BADA at the University of Witwatersrand, and was awarded the Leon Gluckman Prize 2013, for the student with the most creative piece of work.
Geosi Gyasi: When did you become a storyteller?
Vuyelwa Maluleke: I don’t know if I can say there was a moment when I decided, or when I was a storyteller. I think it kind of happened I’m an actor too, that I studied for, that was a choice as much as a passion of mine. I feel like I’ve always been drawn to other ways of making people listen especially being a twin sister to someone as exuberant as my sister, you had to be creative about how you ask people to listen to you I guess.
Geosi Gyasi: What sort of books do you read?
Vuyelwa Maluleke: I read a lot of fiction, novels mostly. I love Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie right now.
Geosi Gyasi: Do you enjoy public reading of your work?
Vuyelwa Maluleke: Yes, a lot. My work lives and lifts in performance.
Geosi Gyasi: Having lived and schooled in Johannesburg, what impact has this city had on your writing?
Vuyelwa Maluleke: Joburg is great in how you have many people represented in various spaces at any given time, so we can have conversations, arguments.
Geosi Gyasi: Which kind of writer would you like to be classified as?
Vuyelwa Maluleke: I don’t know, people will do that when I’m dead. I guess I’m not interested in classifications.
Geosi Gyasi: Has your work as a poet brought you enough recognition?
Vuyelwa Maluleke: Recognition? No, I think most people would recognize me for acting and not the writing. But my writing is very young. Recognition also means expectations, I like writing without a reader in mind.
Geosi Gyasi: Which writer/poet has influenced you most?
Vuyelwa Maluleke: That’s a heavy task to put on one single person; I know that there are a lot of writers who make me want to keep writing, make me want to be brave in how I put my words out and tell stories.
Geosi Gyasi: You graduated with BADA at the University of Witwatersrand. Could you tell us how Dramatic Arts helped shape your writing?
Vuyelwa Maluleke: I don’t know that it’s shaped the writing; I mean to be honest I almost failed a writing class because I hated it so much. I value that training more when I’m performing. How you relate to audiences, the methods you use to share your work. It really excites me to put my work on its feet, my degree has taught me how to think about doing that.
Geosi Gyasi: From whose point of view did you write the poem, My mother says? Do you write from your own personal experience?
Vuyelwa Maluleke: A lot of my work is personal before it is public, but that does not mean it is always my story. ‘my mother says’ is not about me alone, its about a conversation, its about the things we do sometimes when we are not good to other people. And sometimes those people are people we love. So I listen a lot for my work, I watch for my work and sometimes I’m the work- but so rarely.
Geosi Gyasi: When do you often write?
Vuyelwa Maluleke: At night, on my floor. But I’m trying to not fix conditions to my writing just so I don’t feel like that is the only time I can write. So the other day, I sat in a coffee shop, and wrote there, early in the morning and something came of it which was surprising and fruitful.
Geosi Gyasi: Do you have an imaginary reader when you write?
Vuyelwa Maluleke: No, no, no. I have the story. That’s all I have in mind, and the words and what they feel like. Thinking of readers is restrictive. But I know that I don’t like to use words whose meanings I have to look up because if I’m doing that the person listening to my work will feel alienated. I don’t want people getting lost in my work. I want it to be accessible without compromising the quality. I’ve seen writers do the most beautiful work with language, in a way that if my old aunts read it, they’d get it, feel it, find themselves in those stories. I want that.