Interviewed by Kariuki wa Nyamu, 
an exclusive for TWM

Zukiswa Wanner, a prolific South African journalist, editor and the K. Sello Duiker Award winning author is presently living in Nairobi, Kenya. 
Born in Zambia to a South African father and a Zimbabwean mother, Zukiswa was raised and educated in Zimbabwe before proceeding to Hawaii Pacific University for her Bachelors in Journalism. Her novels include The Madams, Behind Every Successful Man, Men of the South and London Cape Town Joburg. She also writes essays, Children’s books, feature films, radio plays and has also contributed extensively to newspapers, journals and magazines. In 2014, she was named among 39 Sub-Saharan African writers under 40 with potential and talent to define trends in African Literature.


Nyamu:
Zukiswa Wanner, it’s my pleasure to welcome you to this interview. I’m delighted you have finally found time.Well,let’s get down to business, whom do you think should aptly tell the African story?
Zukiswa:
Anyone who wants to and can do so while ensuring that the place and the people are not written about in a one-dimensional manner.


Nyamu:
Africa is renowned for its rich tradition of oral transmission of stories; do you think this tradition is still alive?
Zukiswa:
If the tradition of storytelling through oral transmission were not alive and well, then we would not have the Gcina Mhlopes, the Mshai Mwangolas and more recently, the Maimouna Jallows. So yes. The tradition is alive and well.
Nyamu:
As a writer who has expansively travelled across Africa and even lived in England, what do you think is the reception of African Literature within and outside Africa?
Zukiswa:
I think, as with many former colonies, there is a certain narrative of Africa that the colonial masters would prefer about Africa and sometimes there are writers who write it. What I am more interested in now though is the new energy I see on the continent where writers write so that a writer from Uganda gets more excited that they are read in Zimbabwe, Kenya or Ghana than in England. The reception on the African continent is therefore very much growing and, having been in the business for ten years; it’s a joy to behold. I was in the Indian subcontinent earlier in 2016 for Lahore Literary Festival and it was also delightful to purchase and read books by writers and, in reading and in conversation, I found some similarities between our struggles.

Nyamu:
Thank you for expounding on that. Zukiswa, I’m glad to live in a time when Africa is blessed with a writer who fights for significant emancipation of society in the economic, political and social spheres. Basically, what I am trying to say is that you are a very vocal writer who engages characters intellectually regarding human concerns that affect modern African societies. In fact, I must commend you for living a liberated life as well as writing candidly about sensitive issues without compromise. Would you like to sum up realization of this emancipation through your works? 
Zukiswa:
I like to think the works speak for themselves. I would have failed as a writer if I started interpreting for my readers present and future what it is I am purporting to say in my work.
Nyamu:
I read ‘Men of the South’ last year in one of my MA classes, to be specific in a unit called ‘Modern African Literature.’ By the way, are you aware that your books are being studied in universities? All right, my point is, in Men of the South you boldly explore very sensitive societal issues such as gender identity crisis and African queer experience, something that many conservative Africans as well as writers, even queer ones, shy away from writing. What motivated you to delve deeply into such implicit issues?
Zukiswa:
When asked why I write, I often respond that I write to entertain and to get my readers to question. In Men of the South, I was particularly interested in the idea of manhood in patriarchal societies that most of this world is. What does being ‘a real man’ mean? I liked how Mfundo expresses his relief that he is having a son instead of a daughter and the challenges he faces with contemporary manhood-s as imposed on by patriarchal societies. Incidentally, after I wrote it, I thought Men of the South as a talk-back to my debut novel, The Madams. And yes, I am aware of the use of my work in a few universities in some countries on the African continent, in the US, UK and Brazil.

Nyamu:
Thanks for the elaborate response. I have for the longest time interacted with writers who never want to discuss their works. In fact, most would rather insist on leaving it to the readers to make meaning out of their creations. Zukiswa, I must say you are unique in that you speak about your subject, thematic concerns, style, motives and even intuition with a lot of enthusiasm, and you also seem to resonate very well with the characters in your novels. Kindly illuminate this experience.
Zukiswa:
Well in broad terms, I suppose I do but as those who have been in my workshops are aware, my way is not the only way to do it and I also really try to steer clear of interpreting my work for my audience.
Nyamu:
You consciously set out to entertain readers in your works; do you also strive to teach?
Zukiswa:
Less to teach and more to make my readers question themselves and their prejudices.
Nyamu:
Okay. One of your remarkable accomplishments as a writer is being featured as one of South Africa’s most phenomenal women having been acclaimed for your enormous contribution in the literary world. You also facilitated Femrite workshop in Kampala, Uganda in 2013 and the Caine Prize Workshop in Accra, Ghana in 2015. Please tell us what these projects brought forth. Having achieved all this literary reputation within a decade of writing and publishing, I suppose it is not an easy task maintaining the high standards of writing and taking up challenging responsibilities that come with it, have you ever wished you were not charged with such a responsibility?
Zukiswa:
I’m pleased you’ve mentioned that the Femrite workshop and the Caine Prize workshop were two different projects. The former resulted in the publication of Nothing to See while the latter resulted in most of the short stories in Lusaka Punk. Do I wish I were not charged with such responsibility? I have turned down literary responsibilities when it clashes with my own writing, so no. What I have undertaken, I have done with the awareness that I can work on it. I am currently the African juror for the Commonwealth Short Story Prize for instance, and before I agreed to do so, I had to check my schedule and see whether I was available to do so.

Nyamu:
Alright. You judged Etisalat Prize for Literature in 2015, in which Fiston Mwanza’s novel Tram 83 won. That novel is translated from French to English, what’s your view about translations in the continent? 
Zukiswa:
We definitely need more. I am always saddened that I am unable to access a lot of literature from all over the continent because I am barred from access by language.
Nyamu:
Having said that, has any of your novels been considered for translation to let’s say French or Portuguese? 
Zukiswa:
I am actually in discussion with a publisher in Cote d’Ivoire for a French translation of some of my works.
Nyamu:
Please tell us what you think about the literary festivals and prizes which are currently coming up all over Africa.
Zukiswa:
I think they are exciting.
Nyamu:
Why is it difficult for majority of writers living in Africa to solely depend on writing for their livelihood? I mean, most of them have full time jobs especially in the Media, universities and other institutions.
Zukiswa:
I too have a part-time job in the media. But I think this is true of writers worldwide.
Nyamu:
Is it of essential that a writer regardless of academic or professional background to attend Creative Writing classes or possibly master classes for writing and editing?
Zukiswa:
While I have facilitated the said Master classes, I have personally not taken part in any, so the answer would be no.
Nyamu:
Zukiswa, almost all your novels have either won literary awards or been shortlisted. And I must congratulate you for that! Now, if I may ask, when you are writing, do you set out to write a great work of art that will either be shortlisted and/ or win literary awards? What does it really take to be a great prose writer?
Zukiswa:
No I don’t. I write what sounds sincere to my characters and their settings.
Nyamu:
Must a Creative writer strive to win literary awards in order to be recognised?
Zukiswa:
I’ve answered this many times. No.
Nyamu:
To what extent have the earlier generation of writers offered mentor-ship to the new generation of writers in the continent?
Zukiswa:
I don’t think it’s the job of any writer to offer mentor-ship to up and coming writers. The only mentor-ship a writer needs is from reading the works of as many different writers as possible. People become better writers by reading widely and writing and not by having conversations with established writers.
Nyamu:
That’s right. You must be ecstatic about having widely contributed material to newspapers, journals and magazines on an international scale. And closer to your new home in Kenya, you run a literary column on Saturday Nation newspaper named “Outsider Looking in.” In that column, you significantly share material about the writing experience and matters to do with publishing and other emerging literary issues… and as one of your ardent readers, I must honestly admit that I admire the fact that your articles are exhilarating, educative and thought-provoking. Gauging from the feedback you get, is this the experience from majority of the readers?
Zukiswa:
Thank you. I however have no idea what the majority of readers think. They only communicate with me when they are not happy about something I have said.
Nyamu:
Your latest novel London Cape Town Joburg is set in two continents, Europe and Africa, do you think immigration is still a ‘hot’ topic among the new crop of African writers, now that it has so far been explored considerably? 
Zukiswa:
I believe that there is no story that has not been written before. So writers can still continue exploring storylines. It all depends on how freshly one does it.
Nyamu:
Now that you are living in Nairobi, should we expect your forthcoming novel to be set here in Nairobi or Kenya in general?
Zukiswa:
Don’t expect anything. I will write what speaks to me most. If Kenya manages to do that, I just may. If she does not, I won’t.
Nyamu:
Alright. Moving on, of all your four published novels (so far), which is your favourite? Do you ever read your novels? 
Zukiswa:
(Laughter) That’s like asking a parent who their favourite child is! I like them all. London Cape Town Joburg is the most painful to read though.
Nyamu:
Pick one statement that you love most from any of your novels. 
Zukiswa:
‘Better to cry in a limousine than laugh in a taxi,’ from my second novel Behind Every Successful Man. It particularly resonates because I can’t afford a limo. (Smiling)
Nyamu:
That’s interesting. You also describe yourself as a feminist and activist; do you have any intentions of vying for a parliamentary seat in future?
Zukiswa:
(Laughter) No! Why would someone demote themselves from being a writer to a politician? Why?
Nyamu:
Well, some do, but anyway, let’s leave it at that. Zukiswa, if you were offered a well paying job in a popular worldwide radio station to host a show about African writing every evening, let’s say from eight to midnight, what would you do? 
Zukiswa:
I would prefer to have the slot at an earlier hour. Possibly drive-time and of course I would take it. May be not every day though but certainly once a week or even once a month as I did with BBC Africa for a while…
Nyamu:
All right, please pose a question that you would think your readers, particularly the ones who have never met you, ask themselves after reading your works?
Zukiswa:
Why did you write about me?
Nyamu:
Wow! You’re very brilliant! Of course there must be one thing the world doesn’t know about you… What is it?
Zukiswa:
I prefer the world continues not knowing.
Nyamu:
What is the future of African Literature in this modern era of ICT?
Zukiswa:
I suspect it will become more popular as readers share their favourite reads globally.
Nyamu:
You earlier hinted that this interview will be your last literary engagement this year as you are about to take one month’s vacation in order to spend valuable time with your family. Is it necessary for a writer to take up such a break and even switch off from social media for a while? Like you are intending to do…
Zukiswa:
I can’t speak for other writers but I know it’s necessary for me. 2016 has been a really busy year!
Nyamu:
Okay. Do you love poetry?
Zukiswa:
I like poetry a lot and appreciate it immensely. However, I dislike what some non-readers who write rhymes and never read poetry claim is poetry.
Nyamu:
(Smiling) I’m pleased to know that you appreciate poetry. Now, as we wrap up, what would you wish posterity to remember you for?
Zukiswa:
I don’t care to be remembered when I am gone. I want my heaven now.
Nyamu:
(Laughing) That sounds very poetic! Zukiswa Wanner, I am dearly grateful for giving this interview full attention despite your busy schedule. You are such a great inspiration to African writers and a very firm pillar in contemporary African Prose! The Wagon Magazine wishes you all the best in your writing. Thanks a lot for your sincerity and lively interaction! 
Zukiswa:
Thank you very much for the lovely discussion.