|Writers Speak Out|
|Monday, 02 April 2012 15:27|
Article by Rasvanth Chunylall
Pictures by Sarah Dawson
The Centre for Creative Arts played host to a Q&A seminar as part of the 15th Time of the Writer International Writers festival. Held in the English department at Howard College, this interactive session provided a wonderful opportunity for the writers to discuss their writing experiences and share tidbits on the inspiration behind their novels.
Emcee, Professor Judith Coullie, introduced the panel which consisted of a 3 women writing team from diverse racial, cultural and national backgrounds comprising:
Cynthia Jele (South Africa), authoress of Happiness is a Four-Letter Word which won the Best First Book category (Africa region) in the 2011 Commonwealth Writers' Prize.
Shubnum Khan (South Africa), a Durban-born writer known for her debut novel, Onion Tears, which was short-listed for the 2009 Citizen Book Prize and for the Penguin Prize for African Writing in 2010.
Leïla Marouane (Algeria/France), celebrated authoress and women’s rights advocate. She has won a number of literary accolades including the prestigious Prix Jean-Claude Izzo for La jeune fille et la mere (“The Young Girl and the Mother”).
Jele affirmed that South Africa was a wonderful place for up-and-coming writers. She noted “we’re in a place where agents are not needed” and praised the diversity of genres and voices in South African literature.
Khan on community and the paradox of the kitchen as a feminine refuge:
Khan was asked about the sense of community inherent in her novel. She discussed the manner in which Indian women used the kitchen as a refuge. She expressed disapproval at the patriarchal nature of this domestic entrapment but concluded that the women established a sense of identity and happiness within the kitchen. It offers a place for women to enjoy serving their family through their culinary abilities and she noted that for a lot of Indian women cooking and observing their families’ enjoyment of their cooking was something from which they derived pleasure.
On being published:
Khan described the process of sending manuscripts to publishers as “boomeranging”. She urged aspiring writers to send out as many of their works as they could with the hope of increasing their publishing potential. She noted that no topics were off-limits and joked about her fellow colleague’s (Marouane) racy novel which dealt with the theme of sex.
Marouane described the process as “sending a bottle into the sea” but noted that the “sea” in question was very small. Her own contentions were not with the publishing process but her own fears of her work’s merit. She noted that the quality of texts is subjective and her fear of producing a poorly written text remains despite her experience as a writer.
Jele highlighted the contributions of past writers in making it easier for new writers to rise up and have their voices heard and recognized.
On second novel syndrome:
Jele shared her fears with writing her second novel. She found that with her debut novel there were no expectations which allowed a sense of freedom with her writing. Now she finds that she has to be “guarded” with what she writes and each word has to be chosen responsibly. She expressed her hopes that after her second novel this fear will disappear.
On the inspiration behind characters:
Building on Jele’s concerns with her responsibility as a writer, Marouane discussed the manner in which her fictional characters often insult their inspired counterparts. She joked that a friend had approached her after reading a novel and asked indignantly: “Is this how you see me?” Despite this she praised the literary experience as being a “beautiful place” which allows the freedom to express oneself.
Jele affirmed that she too often had difficulties in separating reality and the fictional worlds created within her texts.
On the reception of Onion Tears:
Khan shared how her novel was received following the release of her debut novel. She noted that she was approached by members of the community who believed that certain characters and events had been written about them. Khan noted the irony of the contentions; all the supposedly inspired parts that were pointed out were drawn from her imagination. She compared the writing process to “weaving a carpet” and expressed that while some strands were drawn from real life, the finished product was her own fictional creation. As a “shy person” she described the accusations of her imaginative creations “traumatic”.
Adding to Khan’s experiences, Marouane highlighted her own experiences with her character’s reception. She discussed how a sister had criticized what she believed was a representation of herself in Marouane’s writing. When Marouane had pointed out that her sister had inspired another character (and not the one in question), her sister’s concerns disappeared since she found that her inspired character was more flattering. Finally, Marouane joked that none of her brothers ever recognized themselves in her writing.
This invaluable literary dialogue concluded with thanks by Coullie who praised the writers for offering their insights and experiences within the literary sphere.
More pictures available on our Facebook fanpage.