Interview by Sbongiseni Dladla
SD: Hi Xolani, thank you for agreeing to this interview:
SD: Tell us a little about yourself and your background and briefly explain the title of your book.
XS: I am a South African writer and poet. I grew up in Inanda, in a mind-blowing rural environment with long grass, wild cats and grazing cattle. My father, a Mathematician, taught Mathematics and Physics at INanda Seminary while mother taught at a High School before working at Barclays bank and later at Westville University. My mother is a Sotho woman from kwaMashu while my father is a Zulu man from Lamontville. Ironically these residential areas came to be two of the most politically involved and also feared townships in Durban with regard to gangsters and the anti-apartheid revolution. As a teenager, I came across my father's copy of The Pedagogy of the Oppressed and would page through it from time to time, trying to make sense of all the black ink. In truth, I was unconsciously mimicking the actions of my mother who had a monthly subscription of Readers Digest magazines. Meanwhile, my father spent a great deal of time immersed in a pile of Physical Science, Chemistry and Mathematics books or reading a newspaper. That is how I was drawn into the culture of reading and writing.
The title of the book is Anthology of the Perplexed, volume 1: African Slave Science. The book's title is a description of the contents and subject of the book. The book is composed of a collection or an anthology of literary pieces called dialogical extracts and socio-political poetry pieces. "The Perplexed" describes the state of the people that the book seeks to concientise about their appalling state of existence which is abused by perpetual ignorance and historical miseducation. The book seeks to liberate the mind of the African from being a passive participant in his own demise – an unwilling slave.
SD: Tell us about the cover and how it came about.
The cover is taken from two main images i.e. Profile picture of the author and a figure of a man with a fist raised into the air. The image of the man with a raised fist derives itself from the idea of revolution. On the cover, however, the figure appears in repetition to depict a group in mid-revolt. The group represents solidarity and hints at the popular African American slogan: “Together we stand, divided we fall” and the African Nguni phrase, “Siyonqoba Simunye.
SD: Who designed your book cover?
XS: I designed it myself.
SD: Do you think that the cover plays an important part in the buying process?
XS: Yes is does. However, the title is equally important. The cover is the primary visual element that invites an uninformed client at a book shop or library. It must be captivating and work in harmony with the Title of the book to raise interest in the reader.
SD: How are you publishing this book and why?
XS: I will be self-publishing the book, via a self-owned publishing entity –IwriteWhatILike Publishers.
SD: What would you say are the main advantages and disadvantages of self-publishing against being published or the other way around?
XS: The advantages of self-publishing are the 100% ownership of all your work. The issue of copyright is clear-cut as there is no third-party or intermediary such as a publishing company. Financially, you also save some money as you will only pay for printing and the process of acquiring the ISBN numbers. Finally, when it comes to the sales profit, you will receive 100% gains. On the other extreme, if a professional publishing company takes care of the book origination process, the distribution, sales and marketing –your book stands a better chance of making greater sales nationally and beyond. A publisher would have superior marketing and distribution strategies due to professional business relationships that serve a purpose of creating a quality product that will do well in the retail market. Financial success is a primary modus operandi in profit-making companies, therefore they approach their products with an aim of making great sales in order to ensure continuity in the business world. Therefore, one would imagine that such entities would have strong network of business partners to ensure success in the business of book production and sales. Such partners would form part of a formidable structure that will independently research the best ways to operate in order to ensure that a book is able to generate income after a long period of time. As result, this would be a life-long reward for an author who will be receiving royalties. Also, the relationship that exists with the national and international book retail outlets, allows the book to be accessible to the public without having to trace the author who may be long deceased. Should the book reach another market high, I believe certain professional structures will allow the royalties to be paid to the beneficiaries of the author.
SD: When did you decide to become a writer and why do you write?
XS: I suspect, the decision to become a writer was slow and a subconscious process that solidified into maturity after an orientation day encounter at the Westville University, in 1999. On that particular day, all the students were grouped together into a lecture room and asked to explain why they had chosen to pursue a Bachelor of Arts degree in Humanities. People came with interesting and mundanely innocent explanations of seeking to become psychologists, anthropologists, social workers and so on. After each statement by the students, the Head of Department would then give a word of advice. You would walk back to you seat feeling giddy and hopeful. When my turn came, I was still not sure what to say as I had moved into Humanities as an alternative for the Fine Art degree that I had left unfinished after a 2-year study. I wanted something more besides using the Visual Arts as a form of communication. I did not want to be a zombie, I despised technical or limiting subjects that did not allow for creative insight or subjective input of the human. I did not want to spend my life regurgitating already existing concepts and stuffing sausages in a glorified factory of academic graduates. I could not picture myself as an employee of some sort. My mind raced….as the psychology professor signaled towards me, “Mr Sithole….and what would you like to be. What brings you here?”
My heart raced. I dived into the inner well of my senses, past my intellectual mind, shattering my inner core –my soul, my voice box retorted...“I want to be a writer!”
That was the life-changing sentence that escaped my soul as I mumbled something about Stephen King – in my attempt to explain myself to a room of about five hundred students and lecturers. The blood continued to rush to my head, I went deaf for a second… The Prof. cleared his throat and hesitated. He took a short breath… and still no ideas of advice could emanate from his mind. I had taken him by surprise. He gave a warm smile, grabbed my shoulder in encouragement and nodded as he said: “good luck to you, young man!” I would later learn that there was no curriculum that was specifically designed to groom creative thinkers, authors and masters of the literary arts.
SD: Do you write full-time or part-time?
XS: I fail to understand the meaning of full-time versus part-time. Maybe the question should be: do I earn a living from writing. The answer would be, I am in the process of establishing my career as writer or author who is able to have financial sustenance through writing.
SD: Do you have a special time to write or how is your day structured?
XS: I do not have a special time to write. The struggle is for bread and butter. Currently, as in early 2014, my main focus is on establishing an independent publisher for the native citizens who cannot help but pour their souls onto paper.
SD: Where do your ideas come from? What are your sources of inspiration?
XS: My ideas come from my daily interactions with members of the South African republic, and the way they impact on my spirit. The ideas come from daily occurrences whereas my inspiration comes from a wealth of places related to human strength in overcoming all forms of oppression.
SD: What is the most difficult thing about writing?
XS: The challenge is in finding a conducive space for generating thoughts or listening to your creative being so that you can scribble the inner reality into a coherent piece of literature. Spiritualists go to a Buddhist retreat, while readers go to the Library. Similarly, writers require to be in a quiet space such as a writers' retreat.
SD: What was the most difficult thing about writing your latest book?
XS: The hardest thing was trying to omit certain literary pieces and poems from the first edition in order to make the book more 'politically friendly'. As an African writer and cultural activist, I have a responsibility to empower those that I wish to empower while being careful not to corrupt their souls. In other words, the second book titled African Slave Science has been ‘watered down’ to be reader-friendly while remaining honest to its essence of encouraging self-emancipation. The book achieves this by helping the reader gain an honest understanding of what-came-to-be, ie. The demise of the native South African.
SD: What is the easiest thing about writing?
XS: Good writing is a natural process. It is free-flowing and honest as if one is downloading from the universal energy. As a result, you do not have to lie or complicate your thoughts through fabrication. The truth always comes out.
SD: On average, how long does it take you to write a book?
XS: It is not a conscious or preplanned process but rather a natural, self-serving process that may take from a single day, to a single month, to 10 years. I choose not to treat the process of creative writing like a mechanical process. When the process is forced, then a certain amount of authenticity is lost and an arterial quality is attained making the product less genuine.
SD: Do you ever get writer’s Block?
SD: Any tips on how to get through the dreaded writer’s block?
XS: Establish a writing environment where you can spend time undisturbed.
SD: Do you read much and if so who are your favorite authors.
XS: I don’t read much; I no longer have the luxury to do so. I mainly read for the purposed of researching a specific topic. However, when I do get a chance to read a novel, newspaper or magazine, it is never more than 10 pages at time.
SD: For your own reading, do you prefer e-books or traditional paper?
XS: Traditional paper, it more friendly on the eyes.
SD: Do you proofread/edit all your own books or do you get someone to do that for you?
XS: I get someone to do it. A second opinion is always good.
SD: What book/s are you reading at present?
XS: How Europe Underdeveloped Africa by Walter Rodney
SD: If you could have been the author of any existing book, what would it have been and why?
XS: Capitalist Nigger. I would thrived to offer solutions or suggestions to prevent the African from appearing naïve, lazy and foolish as portrayed by the writer. The book, however, remains very interesting in giving a partly factual account of the behavior of the native African, and it ends being a tool for the author’s self-enrichment and intellectual maturation. It is not a revolutionary text at all but rather a book that leads the African to seek to be like the Caucasian westerner: a carbon-copy of the slave master. A good example of this is the author of the book. I could have done better.
SD: What advice would you give to aspiring writers?
XS: If you write, never betray yourself for self-enrichment. Remember that it is our responsibility as cultural activists to shape the mind of society through the gift of words. You may end up wealthy and popular but your work would remain artificial. In the long run, it would end up like a nasty scar across the face of your children. In short, you would have ruined your own reputation. The best advice is: never write out of scorn. If you write, take time edit and re-edit your work, while you are still alive until it serves a greater purpose than churn money for you at the cost of your own people.
SD: Where do you see publishing going in the future?
XS: I see the publishing industry opening its doors to the aspiring native African writer. Soon, becoming a novelist, script-writer, published poet or a celebrated author shall no longer be a privilege reserved for the minority. Gone are the days where jokes about a whole race of people echo the words: "Where do you hide something from an African?” Independent Black publishers such as IWriteWhatILike Publishers will remain literary activists and unerringly instrumental in leading the native writer's revolution through providing publishing opportunities to the passionate writer.
SD: Is there anything else you would like to add that I haven’t included?
XS: Why do I write: I write to emancipate myself and, in the process, lead others in my situation to finds solutions to their own demise. Blatant ignorance, miseducation and misdirection are the common enemies of any native civilization that has been colonised. My favourite Quote: "Freedom shall not be delivered by any servant or whosoever. Instead it will come with the psychological process of realisation that is born from the appreciation of the historical ideas that gave way to the repressive methods responsible for taking away the freedom of the people"
SD: How can readers learn more about you and you work?
(1) The blog is: theanthologyoftheperplexed.blogspot.com
(2) The FB account is: Jobe KaMatshane
SD: Thank You Mr. Sithole for your time. I wish you all the best with your work.
XS: MY pleasure. Thank you too, Sbo.