BY KEAROMA MOSATA
This conversation took place between Botswana and the South Africa via email.
Kearoma: Congratulations on being shortlisted for the Writivism Short Story Prize, what does this mean to you as a writer?
Vuyelwa: As a writer, I think prizes are spaces where one can share work with people who would not otherwise read you, or know your writing. I feel that a prize on the continent allows us to read each other. It’s really a gift. And I’m surprised everyday since I was shortlisted. That I received an opportunity to go through the work with a mentor and see what stays, and being asked to be clearer, to mark the movements intentionally.
Kearoma: That is true. It really does take your work to a much wider audience. Tale is a truly lyrical story, I am interested to know what inspired it?
Vuyelwa: This question has been odd for me to answer because I have felt that sometimes people expect it to be my story. I read a review that implied that the story’s telling is my courage. Which is a leap that doesn’t allow the story its space. Tale is an amalgamation of observations and is built on various curiosities
1) What does mothering look like when it’s full of bitterness and loss and hurt?
2) What makes people turn to an extreme God/gods/church for safety?
3) What would a Black Girl voice sound like in English, knowing full well that she lives in the township but English is her transport for communication etc?
4) What happens to a child’s body and self under that kind of lovelessness?
Kearoma: Oh, I love how you phrased it as ‘curiosities’ because that is what I think writing is for me. Exploring curiosity.
The point on how mothering looks reminds me of something I heard earlier this week at a book launch, that ‘motherhood is a box, and the expectation is that once you are handed the baby, angels should float about and your eyes must be filled with hearts and adoration for your child.’ But this isn’t always the case.
I enjoy that you explored the child’s angel, and the experience of being unloved by a mother. Was Tale‘s birthmark a symbol of some sort?
Vuyelwa: Oh yes! What was the book launch?
I also think people feel like once you have a baby, the softness overwhelms you and all of a sudden you can mother.
The birthmark has many possibilities but I love the idea that the birthmark can be a way to mark loss, or lineage. So, maybe, mother is trying to scrub out the loss out of her, maybe mother is trying to scrub father out of her.
“I read a review that implied that the story’s telling is my courage. Which is a leap that doesn’t allow the story its space. Tale is an amalgamation of observations and is built on various curiosities.“
Kearoma: It was the launch of Lauri Kubuitsile’s But Deliver Us From Evil. She also explores motherhood and a mother who doesn’t love her child.
When you said it could be a mark of loss, I immediately had the thought that maybe Tale’s mother had lost a piece of herself when she became a mother, which is something that is not said enough. What other themes do you hope to explore in your writing?
Vuyelwa: Is it fiction? Have you read it? How do you feel about it?
Oh, that’s such an interesting thought, and I wonder about the ways my mother has lost her life to raising me. I wonder about other mothers too, and how my friends who have become mothers have had to make difficult choices. To think about themselves last. Yeah, that’s interesting.
I really don’t know, I’m not theme driven. I know that I’m obsessed with the Black Girl voice, and it’s many ways of speaking. A story where she can be various, go places, do things, speak for herself. Laugh. Be dark. I like that idea. I think Tale gets dark at the end.
A friend of mine read the story and she was like…wait…did Tale kill her mother or did her mother slip. I love that that gap is possible. So that’s an impulse I follow, what is the gap. Do I need to fill it? How do I fill it?
kearoma: Yes it’s fiction, I am currently reading it at the moment and I love that it has a really strong women characters. That’s how most of Lauri’s characters are.
I am a mother too and it took me a while to realize that I need to care for me too because once the baby is here you focus on nurturing the baby.
That’s an interesting way to put your writing style, as a way to fill gaps. I first knew you through your spoken word and poetry, have you always been writing fiction too? Are your writing processes for fiction and poetry the same?
Vuyelwa: Fantastic! I really want to read her.
Yes, caring for yourself is vital. And how is mothering for you? Also how is it to watch someone bloom?
I haven’t always written fiction, but I think I read it longer than I read poetry actually. I started with fiction so I have always loved it. And my mother was amazing at encouraging me to keep reading because she would return with books as a present and we’d talk about characters and offer spoilers.
About process, I think I go into both with a curiosity. Whenever I go in with a plan it shifts and I follow. I like that. I think poetry thinks differently. I am often very very very critical in poetry. I stare down the lines, make lines fight for space. To build a body in a short space is very difficult, so the fact that I have a bigger space to build in with fiction is so freeing and scary. The longer I write poetry, the more interested I am in it being a place where I can make questions and be strange, and still make feeling legible. I worry a lot about feeling. Right now, I don’t have patience for text that leave it out. With Tale, I feel like I was practicing to name, to move a body across spaces, to make a language for a Black Girl. I kept asking myself if this was the right voice, the right word for this particular girl. And why was it. I am very much still practicing the ‘how to’ of it. Fiction also needs a longer focus. And I don’t know how people do that. It’s difficult to keep the voice consistent. You keep returning and changing things. So, that’s what I want to learn, how to keep the voice in mind always.
Kearoma: I am enjoying motherhood more now since I quickly realized I am still a separate being outside being my daughter’s mother. I used to shy away from opportunities because I put my daughter first, which is fine but I quickly learnt that I don’t have to sacrifice myself or my dreams to be a perfect mom. It’s a learning experience I am enjoying very much.
That is very true, fiction requires that you take more care and more time with your characters, learning their voices and making them heard.
I quite enjoyed the clear voice of Tale, when she explained how her name is pronounced and what it means. It reminded me of that Upile Chisala line from her book Soft Magic ‘”There is danger in letting people misname you. If you are a fire, do not answer when they call you a spark.”
How important is it for you as an African woman to know your name and to not be ‘misnamed’? To know your place in this world?
Vuyelwa: That’s sounds lovely! There has to be a love that does not need sacrifice to be whole and ‘real’. Sometimes, I feel like mothers are told to sacrifice the most. It sounds like you’ve found your balance. I think the times I saw my mother do her dreams, or speak about her dreams, I am more inspired to make mine too. Knowing how much mothers sacrifice, I always wonder what else she wanted. I ask sometimes.
Upile is so right!
Naming for me is bound up with Identity and language. My name is Xhosa, my surname Tsonga, I speak Setswana largely, but English is my feeling, writing, learning language. I’m a coming together of many things, I love that. I have not always felt like I fit my name but I know it’s the goodness given to me. I remember asking a friend, am I a happy person, am I? Looool! My name is the dare my parents have given to me, also a bold pronouncement for a future and a present. In some ways, I am the work of their future. Wherever I walk, I must know I’m the good thing, plural in many ways and I’m a wanted Black Girl. Hence, I try to make my presence intentional. Make something of it that I can celebrate. And some of that is resisting being misnamed. Making people say all of my name.
Kearoma: That is a wonderful way to put it ‘it is a dare from your parents’. I also believe that names are powerful beyond measure. Lastly, what are you currently working on? Will we read more fiction from you soon?
Vuyelwa: Right now, I’m working on my thesis. On my way to the library, and more fiction yes, I definitely want to keep practicing.
Kearoma: Thank you, Vuyelwa, for this conversation. I enjoyed it very much. I wish you all the best.
Vuyelwa: Thank you for these thoughtful questions.
Kearoma Mido Mosata is a Motswana writer and blogger. She was shortlisted for the inaugural BSHD Tourism Fiction Award in 2016. Her work appears in print in 36 Kisses and Other Short Stories & Poems and as part of It’s The Devil You Know- Collection of Works on Gender Based Violence. More of her works are online on Brittle Paper, Kalahari Review and Arts & Africa. Kearoma writes about a lot of things but lately, her writing has been inspired by the idea of displacement, the self and home. Her first Non-fictional short story “This Is How We Grieve” is part of the recently published 3rd Journal of The Single Story Foundation.