Interview with 2016 Caine Prize Shortlisted Writer, Lidudumalingani

Photo: Lidudumalingani

Photo: Lidudumalingani

Brief Biography:

Lidudumalingani (South Africa) is a writer, filmmaker and photographer. He was born in the Eastern Cape province of South Africa, in a village called Zikhovane. Lidudumalingani has published short stories, non-fiction and criticism in various publications. His films have been screened at various film festivals.

Geosi Gyasi: You are a writer, filmmaker and photographer. Which of these can we most identify you with?

 Lidudumalingani: Writing. Photography too is a form of writing; writing with light, both in its technical understanding of how the light enters the camera and exposes the film and my own obsession with where the light is sitting on an image and what it illuminates and hides in that image.

Geosi Gyasi: How does being a photographer affect your work as a writer?

Lidudumalingani: I am not sure if it does. My approach to both is similar and it is that of a pensive eye, attempting to capture every detail in the frame in a photograph and two, when I am working with words, I write sentences that give the reader enough to evoke images.

Geosi Gyasi: You come from the village of Zikhovane in the Transkei and grew up herding cattle. I am keenly interested in this story. How did you end up as a writer?

Lidudumalingani: Growing up I never had any ambitions to be a writer, largely because I did not know that one can be, even as I read books in school, it never occurred to me that I could be one. I continued to read as the stories were interesting and every now and then I would come across a book that I could relate to. It was much later, leaving high school and going to varsity, when my reading became serious that I began to come to the understanding that the text I was reading was written by a writer. And so I came not to know but to adore writers like Chinua Achebe, Bessie Head, Mariama Bâ, Ngugi Wa Thiongo, Lewis Nkosi, M. Lamati, JJ Jolobe etc. It is a strange thing but I knew nothing about writers and did not care for them, much like it is the case with film directors or music producers, people love the films and music but they rarely know the people behind it, only the celebrities. In the case of the novel, the story was the thing I obsessed about and I think for some people that is still the case, people remember the story and this, in retrospect, is not a bad thing. It was via reading that I took to writing like whales took to water when they evolved from two legged forest creatures 55 million years ago, gradually, and began to slowly become a writer, like they did, shedding legs to become sea creatures. Poetry was my first love, to a large extent, even after everything we have been through, the contempt, the infidelity, the disconnect, poetry is still my love, and the way it seeps into my writing, the feeling is mutual. And now we are here.

Geosi Gyasi: What specifically took you to Cape Town?

Lidudumalingani: The birth of Ubuntu, my son, and nothing about the city itself. This is how people often move around the world, out of necessity, and the lucky, out of pleasure.

Geosi Gyasi: Did you know that you would be on the shortlist of the 2016 Caine Prize for African Writing?

Lidudumalingani: Not at all. I do not think about such things when I am writing, the writing itself is already too much to think about.

Geosi Gyasi: Seeing your story, “Memories We Lost” on this year’s shortlist, do you feel satisfied for the purpose for which you wrote the story?

Lidudumalingani: I only wrote the story because I had carried it for a long while and during this time, it had haunted me. Anything that has happened to it since releasing it to the world, relinquishing control over it, has been out of my control and I am not bothered by it, this is the path art takes and has always taken, it travels, charms hearts or makes enemies. I was satisfied, even relieved, when I stopped writing, everything that has happened since has left me in perpetual bliss.

Geosi Gyasi: Is it true that your story was written out of your own family experiences?

Lidudumalingani: Ah, the infamous autobiographical bandit strikes again. Not true, not even close to being true. There are certainly familiar stories about mental health that I know and were on the back of my head when writing the short story but none of the details in it are from family experiences, only vaguely drawn from familiar cases. This is the case with every fiction work, I would argue, the writer creates much of it but most of it has always existed in people we know.

Geosi Gyasi: Did you have to research anything about “Schizophrenia” before you set out to write the story?

Lidudumalingani: When I was in film school, many years ago now, I began working on a script about Schizophrenia, in which the two characters, the only ones in the film, were in consultation, one the doctor and the other the patient, and the trick was that it was not clear who was schizophrenic. Anyhow, I remembered the research I did for that but not all of it and the details I could not remember were good enough to offer the writing space in which to create.

Geosi Gyasi: How do you arrive by character names like Smellyfoot, Nkunzi, and so forth?

Lidudumalingani: I think the narrative names the characters in the story. I do not ever insist on the names and it has never been a difficult process. Even if I personally think the names are not great, the names always stay because they fit the narrative.

Geosi Gyasi: In this 21st century, I would be shocked to know that things like “baking” as a form of healing exist as portrayed in your story. Does it?

Lidudumalingani: I remember reading about it in a newspaper some years ago and I remember the shock at the images of burnt bodies that accompanied the reporting but also I remember, once the shock subsided, understanding the parents’ decision to put their kids through it, it is the need to heal them, not hurt them. I cannot say with certainty that it is happening now but if it is, this is not shocking, for me at least, this world is capable of worst things, we are not as civilised as we think we are. It is also worth considering that it is someone else’s way of living and easily dismiss it as a barbaric act.

Geosi Gyasi: Did you intend to end the story the way you did: I am actually wondering what must have happened to the narrator and her sister after they woke up from their sleep and after the sun was up and what actually happened to her sister?

Lidudumalingani: Two things happened, submission deadline was nearing and the story, on multiple times, had tried to take, not only sleep from me, but my happiness, and so first I had to finish it to get sufficient editing time and to return to some form of sanity, so the story, like Famished Road, did not end, I stopped writing. I have since thought about where it could have gone if I had not stopped writing and the possibilities are endless but I am not sure if I want to continue writing.



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