Book fes­ti­vals and as­sas­sins

CityPress - - Voices -

Nakhane Touré is nat­tily dressed in mostly navy, a trendy jacket in­su­lat­ing him from the win­ter chill. He is weary but full of tales. Fresh from shoot­ing his act­ing de­but in a brave new lo­cal fea­ture film, he headed to the Fran­schhoek Lit­er­ary Fes­ti­val last week. The event was the site of con­flict last year, when ac­claimed nov­el­ist Thando Mgqolozana de­clared that he was boy­cotting lily­white fes­ti­vals such as this. Touré thought deeply about his de­ci­sion to at­tend. His de­but novel, Piggy Boy’s Blues – a sweep­ing ru­ral and ur­ban Xhosa drama with a con­flicted gay nar­ra­tor try­ing to find a place to be­long – was on the long list for the Sun­day Times Barry Ronge Fic­tion Prize.

The short list was an­nounced at Fran­schhoek and Touré was there. So was apartheid-era state as­sas­sin Eu­gene de Kock. How many of th­ese lit­er­ary fes­ti­vals have you at­tended and what have your ex­pe­ri­ences been?

Three. The first one was Open Book, the sec­ond was Time of the Writer and now Fran­schhoek. In­ter­est­ing po­lar­i­ties. I re­ally en­joyed Time of the Writer. It was less about panel dis­cus­sions and more about en­gag­ing with the peo­ple. Just go­ing into spa­ces that black peo­ple live in and talk­ing to them, whereas the other two were more about us writ­ers sit­ting there and be­ing wise. How was black at­ten­dance at Fran­schhoek?

At Fran­schhoek, the only black peo­ple were the writ­ers and labour, and one or two at­tend­ing. You ob­vi­ously al­ways dreamt and imag­ined you would be this writer at­tend­ing fes­ti­vals. How has it lived up?

What I have re­alised is that lit­er­ary fes­ti­vals are more ... how do I phrase this ... bitchy than mu­sic fes­ti­vals. It is an in­ter­est­ing space to be in. It’s lit. When I think about it, it is be­cause it’s peo­ple who con­sider them­selves to be thinkers and they are all there to in­flu­ence peo­ple with their thoughts and philoso­phies. ‘I am the best, my book is the best, you didn’t de­serve to be long-listed ...’ And I’m new and I don’t know most of the peo­ple or the his­tory, but it is very in­ter­est­ing lis­ten­ing and ob­serv­ing, and be­ing dis­ap­pointed by some of the peo­ple and im­pressed by others. Do you feel pres­sure as a new black writer? Do you feel com­mod­i­fied by a white lit­er­ary sys­tem?

Um, I think for the first few months or the first few weeks when the book came out, the lit­er­ary world did not take me se­ri­ously as a writer – and maybe that’s just me in­ter­nal­is­ing my own sh*t. Some peo­ple thought I was dab­bling, but I did it be­cause I had to write the book. It’s some­thing I had al­ways wanted to do. And it was ther­apy as well.

Ex­actly. But now I am taken more se­ri­ously. Even so, there is, like, Masande [Nt­shanga] and Songeziwe [Mahlangu] and Thando [Mgqolozana], and all th­ese bril­liant writ­ers. What I find in­ter­est­ing is that each year there is that one black writer, that hot new writer right now. Some­one said at Fran­schhoek, ‘This is Nakhane, he’s the star of the show at the mo­ment,’ and I was like, ‘Am I? Re­ally? No, I’m not. No one is, be­cause there’s not just one.’ And trans­for­ma­tion ver­sus boy­cott? I mean, Thando was clear where he stood, that he was boy­cotting white fes­ti­vals, but he also went on to help trans­form Time of the Writer and then he’s cre­at­ing new black lit­er­ary events. When you were in­vited to Fran­schhoek, was this a con­sid­er­a­tion?

Of course. I went to my pub­lisher and to friends, and we had the con­ver­sa­tion, which, I guess, at the mo­ment is about boy­cotting ver­sus in­fil­tra­tion of the sys­tem. I think both can co­ex­ist. So you un­der­stand the call to boy­cott, es­pe­cially from a more es­tab­lished writer?

Of course. And that’s part of the thing ... I don’t know how to say this with­out sound­ing glib. Um, now that I have ex­pe­ri­enced it per­son­ally, I re­ally, re­ally un­der­stand what he’s say­ing. I get it. Whereas be­fore, it would have been fol­low­ing a leader for the sake of fol­low­ing a leader. Have you al­ways been on the side of the Fal­lists?

Of course. I still am. And I’m a fan boy of th­ese peo­ple. I saw Wanelisa Xaba the other day and I’m like, ‘Omigod, omigod, she’s amaz­ing!’ But also, what I want is for peo­ple to have their own ex­pe­ri­ences and for them to see it be­fore mak­ing de­ci­sions, in­stead of just fol­low­ing what’s fash­ion­able. You go there and some of your neg­a­tive ex­pec­ta­tions are met and some of them are not, and then de­cide from a place of ex­pe­ri­ence. Did you ex­pe­ri­ence a bond­ing of black writ­ers? And did you ex­pe­ri­ence white supremacy on fleek? You don’t have to men­tion names, but I be­lieve at a din­ner a big player in the in­dus­try was jaw-drop­ping.

There were, like, three black peo­ple at that din­ner. I be­lieve that re­spected African au­thors were re­garded as a nov­elty, that philoso­phers like Frantz Fanon were dis­missed as de­press­ing.

Yep. The word was ‘ac­com­mo­date’: ‘Let’s ac­com­mo­date our black writ­ers.’ I said to Chris [his part­ner], ‘I guess he thinks I’m a good black.’ It was aw­ful. So did Fran­schhoek have spa­ces for de­colonis­ing minds to bond, to plot?

Yes, be­cause black man, you are on your own. I have al­ways felt like the out­sider – in the mu­sic world, in the writ­ing world – and maybe that’s just my sh*t, but be­ing with writ­ers such as Carol [Mo­hale] Mashigo and Nthikeng [Mohlele] was amaz­ing. It was great meet­ing those peo­ple, hav­ing con­ver­sa­tions with them and bond­ing. Sit­ting on the lawn and talk­ing with like-minded peo­ple, or chat­ting to Moeletsi Mbeki and dis­agree­ing with him. Can trans­for­ma­tion hap­pen at Fran­schhoek?

Uh, it’s go­ing to take a while. Or do we need new book events?

Of course. Both. For me ... this is what I’m afraid of, of sound­ing like I have one leg here and the other leg there. I am afraid that in mo­ments like this, peo­ple can eas­ily be, like, ‘Pick a side or else.’ Maybe my pol­i­tics is f*cked up, but al­low me to grow into it.

And the Eu­gene de Kock in­ci­dent? I know so much has been said, but you were there when he was asked to leave the party. For me, I un­der­stand the ar­gu­ment that he has kind of con­fessed, that he has served his time, that it is a ques­tion of how deep your for­give­ness lies ... Very shal­low. But at­tend­ing a panel dis­cus­sion is one thing. I’m told that De Kock went into the green­room.

Ja, and he’s not a writer. We saw him in the green­room, which is a space for writ­ers to go and meet other writ­ers, re­lax, de­com­press, pre­pare for pan­els, dis­cuss things with other pan­el­lists, or sit there alone with a cof­fee or a glass of wine and just breathe. So it’s a safe space. At least, it’s sup­posed to be. And then he was at the short list an­nounce­ment. But it was the per­sonal that touched me more than the pol­i­tics of it. That there were peo­ple in tears, a black pub­lisher in tears. It’s the in­sen­si­tiv­ity – there were peo­ple there whose broth­ers, fa­thers, un­cles he had killed. One per­son says, ‘I’ve for­given him’, but that does not mean, for ar­gu­ment’s sake, that I’ve for­given him. It was re­ally prob­lem­atic, bring­ing some­one like him to a space where they knew there would be peo­ple who would be trig­gered by that. Why do you think it be­came such a big me­dia story?

Be­cause it’s Eu­gene de Kock, A. And B, be­cause he was asked to leave. And he left. Why did he leave? Who asked him to? And that opens up another can of worms. And there were other peo­ple say­ing, ‘Well, you guys went there, you went to Fran­schhoek, what did you ex­pect? Of course you’re go­ing to see Eu­gene f*ck­ing De Kocks.’ Palesa Morudu had quite an in­ter­est­ing take: that if FW de Klerk was at Fran­schhoek, he cer­tainly wouldn’t be asked to leave.

But that’s the story. De Klerk got the No­bel prize; Eu­gene took the flak. That’s not my prob­lem. Get out. You still did those things. I heard another white per­son say, ‘But a for­mer MK [Umkhonto weSizwe] leader was on a panel. Why was that okay?’

It was a war. Peo­ple were get­ting thrown off build­ings, and we were told they were slip­ping on soap and dy­ing. Some­times vi­o­lence is needed in re­tal­i­a­tion. The apartheid regime was madly vi­o­lent. And his­tory has a wrong side and a right side.

Yep. Thando al­ways says some­thing like de­coloni­sa­tion isn’t a hug­ging fes­ti­val.

No, it isn’t. It’s painful, and then some. Fi­nally, are you look­ing to do another book?

Yeah. I ac­tu­ally had an emo­tional melt­down ear­lier just talk­ing to my pub­lisher about it. Be­cause I have the idea. I just don’t know if I have the abil­ity to write it. Why?

Well, I am al­ways scared be­fore I cre­ate any­thing. I was say­ing to her in a voice note this morn­ing that be­fore I write a song I pace around the room for at least two hours, think­ing I can­not pos­si­bly do it, I know I don’t have the abil­ity to sit down at the pi­ano and write another song. Omigod, how did I even write the last one? I know there’s a for­mula, but I don’t want to work within the for­mula, be­cause it’s just go­ing to be pop­corn. How do I com­mu­ni­cate some­thing that’s hon­est and true? And ev­ery­one’s ask­ing me, ‘When is the sec­ond one com­ing?’ I don’t know. In the next year, in the next two years, in the next seven years. I know that when it needs to come out it will come out, and I’ll have no say in it – and it’s the same with songs. The 2016 Barry Ronge Fic­tion Prize short list fi­nal­ists in the Sun­day Times Lit­er­ary Awards: Boy on the Wire by Alas­tair Bruce (Umuzi) The Dream House by Craig Hig­gin­son (Pi­cador Africa) Green Lion by Hen­ri­etta Rose-Innes (Umuzi) Hunger Eats a Man by Nkosi­nathi Sit­hole (Pen­guin) The Mag­is­trate of Gower by Claire Robert­son (Umuzi)


FU­TURE LOOKS BRIGHT Nakhane Touré be­lieves it was right to ask Eu­gene de Kock to leave the Fran­schhoek fes­ti­val

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