Growing up in South Africa as a person of colour in the eighties and nineties, meant being surrounded by stories, not literature. It meant being surrounded by art as an extension of the vital act of expression that inevitably takes root under systems of oppression, and not as museum material.
Writing, I learned, had to be an act of subversion, in a society where, as a South African singer once said “Afrikaners is plesierig”, meaning Afrikaners (the then dominant force behind apartheid), are pleasant, polite, this said with a healthy dose of irony of course. That same politeness contrasted with the blood and bone politics of survival.
Writing was about working with the materials you had, in a society intent on telling you that you were less, intent on insisting that you had less. You wrote because you had something to say and it needed to be said. That was the urgency of the time.
Those lessons, along with a healthy serving of magic realism, Tom Robbins, André Brink, Louis de Berniéres, Toni Morrison and Alice Walker made for an incubation that served me well in later years. The times, the circumstances, the challenges have changed but the urgency, the lure of stories (aren’t they as essential as food ?) and the vitality of writing remains a part of who I am and what I produce.