(This review of short story #3, is my fourth post on African Roar 2011. I will be blogging about all the fourteen short stories in the anthology. My introductory post is here. Please click on the “African Roar 2011″ tag at the top of the article to see all related posts on this anthology.)
The narrator of A Writer’s Lot is an young writer from Johannesburg who is in a spot of trouble. His first publication was well-received:
When I set out to write Township Stories, I was a township boy, a Wits dropout, who never imagined the book would get as big as it has… I thought it might be read in Cape Town. Never thought it would go international let alone be translated in all major UN languages.
Some Western journalists, based on just this book, refer to him as “one of the literary torchbearer in post-apartheid South Africa”. (One must not pass up an opportunity to author labels to any new trend in Africa). He receives lots of attention from those international journos “trying to show me and the rest of their readers in the Global North just how liberal they are”. He complains of exploitation . The sexual kind, he doesn’t mind. In fact, a pretty big side benefit is the “amacherrie who suddenly want to know me”.
Particularly, the reading Model C Types who would never have looked at me twice when I passed them before… Because of the literary groupies and the number of women I have shagged since my book came out, I have begun to think of myself as the thinking groupies’ kwaito star or house DJ….I’m actually getting intelligent women not video groupies.
But he can’t abide what he describes as intellectual exploitation:
They would do interviews and earn megabucks selling the story of who they think I am. They would ask me for a short story, and I, bloody excitable fool that I was, excited that I was getting an international platform, would write it and never ask for payment or when I got payment, it would be measly while they got rich off the sweat of my brow – or mind.
To top it off, his peeps think he is loaded. He IS the big international writer. But he can’t confess that he is yet to received a royalty cheque five months after the book has been published. And when the cheque arrived, “he cried..publishers really have a talent for screwing first time writers in the arse.”
The requests for interviews keep coming and he keeps granting them against his better judgment. After all, he is “already well-known all over the country by the people who matter”. A Scandinavian journalist emails him asking for an interview and a free tour of Soweto. He obliges but declares “pay me, motherfucker, pay me!”. And that marks the beginning of his troubles. He vows to write through his misfortune, using his new situation as fodder for his stories.
A Writer’s Lot was fun to read. Clearly this young writer is in over his head, over-taken as he is with international and local expectations – to speak for Africa, to write Africa, to play the part of the big man. He admits that he should have “pulled a JM Coetzee and (said) ‘I don’t do interviews’”. But how many can walk away from a soapbox?
These days there is so much talk about what African writers should write about and how they should represent Africa. Some writers are trying very hard to slay the old masters while others are accused of writing “poverty porn”. Some are sick of the weight of the label “African writer”. Writers who live on the continent versus writers in the Diaspora. Nationalist, post-nationalist, post-global, post-world…and on and on it goes. The labels, the agendas… It seems we’ve entered a new phase of African writing and folks are falling over themselves to say it is such and such. Have we really?
Sitting here in Accra , I’m slightly amused by all the talk. The situation is this: Africa does not produce enough writers and Africans don’t read enough books. We need a whole lot more writers to tell all our stories that need telling and in as many ways and genres. Hopefully, we will develop more writers and the terms “African writing” and “African writers” will be as commonplace as dust on a Harmattan morning. In the meantime, as the narrator of A Writer’s Lot suggests, writers should be wary of all the attention, wanted or not, deserved or not.
This story is my first introduction to the work of Zukiswa Wanner though I’ve known about her for a while now. I quite like the attitude and speak of the narrator, and the relaxed flow of the narration. An enjoyable read. I would like to read her novels sooner rather than later!
(African Roar 2011 is currently available at Amazon.com as a kindle e-book.)