Time of the Writer introductory talk

opening talk

photo courtesy B. Coppin

Sanbonani nonke. Good evening everyone. Language is everything. What we say. How we say it. What we don’t say. What we understand. It is a great honour to be here for this week amongst these esteemed writers from South Africa and Africa. Great thanks to Tiny Mungwe, and much gratitude to the Centre for Creative Arts.

Trying to write, the act of writing, and then the process of getting published is much like shooting basketball hoops with a blindfold wrapped around your face. You know the general direction of the wire hoop, and the best you can do is face that way. Otherwise, you have no idea if the ball will miss the hoop completely, if it will teeter around the wire edge endlessly and eventually just miss the mark, or if it will fall perfectly in place, and you can convince yourself for a short period of time that it was always meant to be. Despite the lack of guarantees, and often missing the mark, writing is the thing that I do for my life.

And to anyone in the audience tonight who is looking for the answer to happiness, or at least some kind of contentment, I would pose this question: what would you do always, and anyway, no matter the consequences, the outcome? What is the one thing that you would choose to do, even if it felt like shooting those hoops blindfolded?

I choose to write, for my life, because I love words. I love the sound of them, and put together, there’s a certain musicality, a rhythm to words, that my ear is attuned to.

I write because in that musicality lies the essence of our most basic communication: the drum beat, the dance, the rhythms that first told us if our neighbours and friends were happy, or sad, or deeply afraid.

I write for my life because in a world beset with all types of hunger, and greed, and domination, and blame, on individual, national and international levels, I still want to see hope, and tell about it. I still want to believe that there is no truth, only experience, and discourse, and that we frame our worlds accordingly, and so we all, collectively, create the terrible tragedy, the unbearable beauty, that is the human experience.

I write for my life because I want to make friends with Death, while I still have time. Because I want to live my truth, I want to see love and beauty while I’m on the earth, and not mind how, or when, or by whose hands I die. I write because I need a way to say that I am sorry for the violence my ancestors inflicted on Africa, on her soul, and her people. Ngi xolisa. I write because I am both the victim and the perpetrator in any act of human violence.

There are those who want to speak, but they have no voice. There are those who have a voice, but have forgotten how to speak. All around me I see the unjust: in homes, in organisations, in politics, in religion. I write because in my stories I can say what I want to say, I can explore the voice of the unsaid, I can challenge those who wouldn’t hear me anyway, even if I used the voice I was born with.

The world and its beauty is so much bigger than I am, and my heart rages. I write for my life, because I want to pay homage to what I am grateful for, and the many gifts, the beauty and courage, that all of us have.

So if you take away or remember anything at all about what I have said tonight, I hope it is only this: that thought that earlier flashed into your mind about what it is that you would do no matter the consequences or the outcome, what those basketballs are that you would still shoot, even if you were blindfolded. I would suggest that you do that one thing as much as you can, and as often as you can, because therein might lie your answer to some kind of peace.

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