Bongani Kona (Zimbabwe) is a freelance writer and contributing editor of Chimurenga. His writing has appeared in Mail & Guardian, Rolling Stone (South Africa), Sunday Times and other publications and websites. He is also enrolled as a Masters student in the Creative Writing department at the University of Cape Town.
Geosi Gyasi: Do you have any past experience with writing contests?
Bongani Kona: Firstly, thank you so much the interview. I wrote ‘At your Requiem’ for a South African short story competition and when I was working on it the most important thing in my head was just to finish the story. I didn’t care so much for the outcome. It was really a learning experience for me because I had done some journalism in the past but I had never written fiction. And that’s been my only experience with writing competitions.
Geosi Gyasi: Tell me the kind of work you do as a freelance writer?
Bongani Kona: All sorts of things. I’ve written profiles, reviews, essays, interviews and some long form journalism.
Geosi Gyasi: Where were you when the news reached you that you’ve been shortlisted for the 2016 Caine Prize for African Writing?
Bongani Kona: It was late afternoon on a Friday and I was on my way to a book shop in Cape Town which I go to quite regularly. The news really took me by surprise because I had no idea the publishers had entered the story and even if they had let me know, I wouldn’t have bet on making the shortlist.
Geosi Gyasi: What do you make of the other writers on the shortlist?
Bongani Kona: I think it’s an incredible shortlist and I really feel honoured that my story was chosen as one of the five.
Geosi Gyasi: What were the technical details you considered in writing “At your Requiem”?
Bongani Kona: The most important thing for me was just to finish the story. I say that because like a lot of beginning writers, I don’t have a lot of confidence, and it’s quite easy to abandon things midway. Sometimes even after a couple of paragraphs. So getting to the end was important for me. It was important to me not to give up on myself and just keep going. The other thing I had to consider was how to move forward because the story begins at the end.
Geosi Gyasi: What was the most challenging aspect in writing “At your Requiem”?
Bongani Kona: The sexual scene that’s in the story was really difficult to be honest. Although the story began as a purely intellectual exercise I started to feel really deeply about the characters – Abraham and Christopher – and that scene was really hard emotionally.
Geosi Gyasi: Did you intentionally set out to write about a brother’s death in “At your Requiem”? In other sense, why ‘death’?
Bongani Kona: The spark for the story was a poem I read with the same title. I don’t remember the poet’s name but like the story it begins at a requiem and it’s actually a conversation between a woman and her late father. So I wanted to do something similar and I had these two brothers in mind.
Geosi Gyasi: What do you personally think of your chances of winning the 2016 Caine Prize for African Writing?
Bongani Kona: To be honest, none of that stuff really matters. The thing I’m thankful for is that it’s given me the encouragement to keep trying. I think the thing most aspiring writers need is encouragement and criticism that will build you.
Geosi Gyasi: What inspired you to study creative writing at the University of Cape Town (UCT)? How has studying creative writing helped you to become a better writer?
Bongani Kona: It was something I really wanted to do. I’ve always admired the work that’s come out of the creative writing department at UCT and thing I’m grateful for is that it’s given me a space to experiment and a community of like-minded individuals.