Tiah caught up with South African writer, Futhi Ntshingila, author of Shameless and, more recently, Do Not Go Gentle.
Tiah: Did you always know you were going to become a writer?
Futhi: No, I have always been interested in reading and I was surrounded by women who loved telling stories of the madams they work for as maids. When one of my grans died I knew I would write to remember her. Bits of her story is in "Shameless".
Tiah: How do you view your role as a storyteller?
Futhi: I see my work as converting oral stories into a written narrative, it is like a project of preserving what I view as memories that are in danger of being lost because they are in the margins.
Tiah: In Changing My Mind, Zadie Smith said there are two kinds of writers: Macro Planners and Micro Manager. Macro Planners love post-its, construct their plot and often have stacks of notes already written about each character. Micro Managers are more concerned with tone, rewriting the start of the piece numerous times, before moving on, often uncertain to where they are going. Where does your writing methodology fall into these categories?
Futhi: I would say more macro. I am not anal about it as long as the idea keeps me going. It allows for twists to happen without me tightening up the control of where the story wants to go.
Tiah: You have attended Open Book, Time of the Writer and Franschhoek Literary Festival. What did you take away from these experiences?
Futhi: There is something about festivals lately that gives me the sense that writers can end up writing with writers and reviewers in mind which is anxiety inducing and unfortunate. There is something that is not quite authentic about some of them. Almost like a stage to display sharpness of mind or lack of. Themes that are emerging are becoming restrictive and prescriptive which can have an impact in the actual production of the narratives - this micro local setting vs transnational obsession. I am sure the main aim of festival is to showcase books and encourage reading. The symptoms emerging can be because of the way in which they are structured in terms of representation. I hope that the critiques coming out will lead to constructive way of conducting them in future.
Tiah: Have noticed any intriguing trends in either subject matter or form in African writing recently?
Futhi: I see what I call a conversation between black men and white women. The men are lamenting politics of racial representation in the festivals and the majority of responses are white women saying how this needs to change, how important it is that people should listen. A few white men are grunting "bullshit" but mostly remaining silent. Black women - well - they are a few pieces by white women asking where are black women in the writing scene which means that before we can even enter the fray, it should be clear that as far as they are concerned we don't exist.
On Futhi's Bedside Table
Futhi Ntshingila is an author of Shameless (2008, UKZN Press) and Do Not Go Gentle (2014, Modjaji Books). Her work deals with women who are in the peripheries of societies. She is passionate about preservation of memory for women whose stories have been historically ignored. She is a former journalist with a Postgraduate Diploma in Journalism at Rhodes University and Master’s Degree in Conflict Resolution at the University of KwaZulu Natal.