On living, loving and learning

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On Curious Cat, it comes up often for people to ask me either about loving myself or about my productivity. I understand that I am asked a lot about my productivity because I share a lot on social media about my work and its progress. It’s interesting that the perception is that I am so methodical and diligent. You know, every now and then, I actually wanna tweet: “Oh my god, where can I buy some focus because it’s lit!” but I don’t because my social network includes people with whom I have some kind of deadline at any given time. So, there are some things that I don’t share with as much ease as the next person, that’s all.

Another thing is that I do share about my disappointments, although minimally. I allude to being up all night and crying over drafts and things not going my way but I’m never going to sit there and be self-deprecating on social media. I don’t like to give light and energy and oxygen to those parts because I would rather use as much as I can on the good. When my work isn’t going as well as I would like: I leave it alone. I rest, I go to my favourite restaurants, I pick up a book to read or my colouring book, I build a puzzle or I watch television. I stop and process that I need to get battle-ready for this next thing and maybe I’m not in the mood today or the next two days but eventually, I will get back to it and give it my all. So, that is the ebb and flow of my self-love. I am always giving myself room to feel and do what feels necessary in that moment. If today isn’t the day to get it right then perhaps tomorrow will be.

I also think it’s interesting that self-love and productivity are the things I get asked about often because for me, they are the same thing. It’s important for me to always put my humanity to its best use and my work in Anthropology and with children is exactly that. My work is a testament to loving myself. Doing my work, all the work, is how I love myself. Me being productive, me being creative – it’s all the source giving back to the source. I suppose I am fortunate that my work happens to be exactly what I came to do on this planet. Some people have also asked me: “when or how did you learn to love yourself?” and my answer is usually the same about how all I have in this world is myself and so it follows that I should treat myself with an abundance of goodness. But the question kept tugging at me. I kept thinking: “Is my answer incomplete? Is there something that even I’m missing?” Eventually, I got up and went to my bookshelf, thinking.

I stood there thinking and then it came to me. When I was in Grade 8, an incredible human being and also my English teacher, Byron Sherman would play us these VHS tapes of lectures by Dr Leo Buscaglia. He was in the field of education for special needs children and eventually began lecturing and teaching more widely about how to give love and be love in the classroom as a teacher and obviously as a human being. I used to watch those tapes and cry because I was always so moved by this man with his immense love for people and his determination to give the best of himself to the world. That really resonated with me because I think I wanted that for myself as well. The next year, Mr Sherman gave me Living, Loving & Learning (1982), a book of his lectures. I read that book and then the next year, Mr Sherman gave me Personhood (1978) by him as well but that’s always been the more difficult one so I actually need to return to it soon. Due to the off chance of being on Curious Cat and receiving all sorts of wild and wonderful questions, I’m now reading the first one again. So, thank you. Here is a passage that resonated with me today because I realise that I have carried this teaching with me since I was 14 years old – this is how I see myself and the world.

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Back then, this planted the seed because I was always in search, in pursuit of how to love myself better. I knew that it was important but I was not able to discern what exactly the best and healthiest way of doing that was for me. I was a teenager so that makes sense. I suppose that’s one of the things that pushed me to write because with writing, you’re externalising. So, what you’re looking for but can’t quite find may end up on the page right in front of you. Through this entire creative journey of constantly putting myself on paper and reading myself back to myself as well as listening and reading all of the creative people that I love, I’ve been able to be in constant critical conversation with myself about who I am and who I want to be. I’ve grown to realise that I am all at once that person, developing and growing along my spectrum of possibility. Over the years, I have developed a kind of repertoire for loving myself and it is simply doing the work: eating well, writing the thing, responding to the email, jogging and most importantly, putting myself out of the reach of certain people – even people that I actually want very much to be within reach of. Discipline, right? It’s always been front of mind for most of my life but in terms of feeling like I am actually getting it right, it feels quite recent.

This is as recent as my book coming out. I’ve realised that its important for me to be critically reflective about what I put into the world so that I feel good about it being representative of who I am. This extends to all aspects of my life and especially to how I treat myself. The only thing I have control over is myself, how I react, how I move and what I create. So, I am vehemently committed to trying my damnedest every day. That is a loving act. I will wake up every morning and I will try. In that day, I will get distracted and lose sight of the mission and that’s fine because the next day, I will wake up again and I will try. That is the rhythm in my head.

I believe wholeheartedly that I am always starting again and so I don’t believe in failure. There are goals that I want to accomplish but not having attained those things is not failure – that is me resting, or getting distracted but the very next day, I wake up and I try again. This is why I am finding so much joy in life and why I am always willing to celebrate everything I do – because I know how much of me it takes to do it and I am proud of it all the same. I am affirming of myself and so, so generous because I know the exact kind of softness that I need. I never count myself out, even when life is painful. I feel and rest through the difficult parts until I am ready. This breath, these lungs, this brain – as long as I am here, so is my ability to try and be glad in it, no matter how long it takes. I am not any kind of self-love expert but I am an expert on loving myself, in this body, in this life. That’s all I have. I am determined to be damn good at it and even when I become distracted, I will wake up the next day and start again. So, I am sharing with you, these books by a brilliant teacher from the brilliant teacher who shared them with me. Through writing this, I realise how blessed I was to be placed in that English class all those years ago. Thank you. I hope these books help.

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Thank you, Mr Sherman for being generous with your time and heart in helping me to truly become visible to myself.

I love my work.

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Sandton, South Africa – February 1, 2019: Nal’ibali, a South African reading initiative attempts to break their previously set World Record, by reaching 1.5 Million children on World Read Aloud Day. Children from across South Africa took part in various events in schools and libraries. The main event, saw hundreds of children reading with author and activist, Lebohang Masango, who gave a multilingual reading at the Sandton Library in Johannesburg, South Africa. Picture: DANIEL BORN for NAL’IBALI

This past Friday, 1 February 2019, I had the honour of performing the best part of my duty as Nali’Bali’s World Read Aloud Day ambassador. I read to 200 children at the Sandton Library – I think that’s my biggest group yet! It was also my first time reading in isiZulu in public and I let the audience know. I shared with them that even though this is my first time, I am going to try my very best and that is how we all get better at reading and learning – it is always important to try. And so I tried and I did well and we were all in the moment together, reading and playing and clapping and laughing. Honestly, I am grateful for each and every opportunity to do this work. I love that even when I am nervous, it all melts away as I get into the telling of the story and together with the children, we all reflect and imagine and dream and learn something new. Here is an eNCA interview I had about the importance of reading aloud:

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Photographed by Daniel Born

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Thank you to the Nali’Bali team, what an honour and pleasure to work with you all!

New Book Alert: The Great Cake Contest

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The Great Cake Contest is a sweet little story about a little boy who loves cake and tries to bake the best cake for the contest, but he and all his friends have the same ideas! You can read more about it and download it for free: here.

Last year on 27 October 2018, I had the honour of being invited by Book Dash to contribute to the amazing work that they do for children’s literacy by volunteering my time to create a brand new storybook. It’s one of the coolest things I have ever done!

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Book Dash organised us into 9 teams, each with a writer (me), illustrator (Nompumelelo Mduli), designer (Amanda van der Walt) and an editor (Anna Stroud). We spent a good 12 hours creating this lovely piece of work. It was so much fun. I really admire the efficiency of the organisers – they knew exactly how long each page and illustration should take in order for us to all be on time.

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Photographed by Aisha O’Reilly

I got to meet new people who are all passionate about children’s literacy, like Aisha and we had a conversation about the importance of books and representation for little readers.

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I’m grateful that I continue to be able to live a life in which I use my mind, body and spirit in collaboration with others and contribute good things to the world. I hope you enjoy our story! And just like that, I am the author of two children’s books! My first one is this piece of my heart: Mpumi’s Magic Beads.

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Thank you, Book Dash for inviting me to be part of your brilliant work!

UNICEF South Africa appointment

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It is my immense honour and privilege to accept the appointment as UNICEF South Africa’s Volunteers Advocate. This means that I’ll be working with the organisation to establish some volunteer programmes in service of the children in our communities; to come together and do what we can to make their childhoods safer, healthier and more joyful. I’m really excited to make my contribution to this amazing cause. You can read more about it here.

#ComeSeeMe: Book Circle Capital

November is my birthday month! So, you’re welcome to gift me with your presence at Book Circle Capital in Melville, Johannesburg on Saturday, 24 November 2018. We will even be doing arts and crafts at the end of the session, which is fun for everyone!

#ComeSeeMe: South African Book Fair 2018

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Happy National Book Week everybody! The South African Book Fair will be held on 7 – 9 September 2018 in Newtown. I will be facilitating and participating in some sessions. I look forward to seeing you!

Friday, 7 September 2018

The Magic of Storytelling

A reading of Mpumi’s Magic Beads

Venue: Market Theatre Precinct, Auditorium

Time: 08:45 – 09:30

Free for children in the school’s programme.

 

Kids Write All the Time

Facilitating a panel of child authors featuring Michelle Nkamankeng, Lelo Mofokeng, Amr Sallie and Karabo Nkoli.

Venue: Market Theatre Precinct, Auditorium

Time: 11:15 – 12:00

Free for children in the school’s programme.

 

Keorapetse Kgositsile Poetry Café – Session Two

Poetry featuring Mthunzikazi Mbungwana, Xabiso Vili, Roché Kester and Katleho Kano
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Venue: Ramolao Makhene Theatre

Time : 16:00-16:45

Price: R40. Buy tickets: here.

 

Sunday, 9 September 2018

She Speaks

Panelist in conversation with Elinor Sisulu, Dr Sindiwe Magona and Lauri Kubuitsile

Venue: Sarafina

Time : 10:00 – 11:00

Price: R40. Buy tickets: here.

The Syllabus: An Introduction to Essential Hip Hop Scholarship

Quiet as it’s kept, Hip Hop has had an immeasurable impact on my personhood. I’ve always been fascinated with the powerful self-affirmations that constitute rapper’s braggadocio bars. From Notorious BIG to The Score era’s Lauryn Hill and Rah Digga, my queen Lil Kim and even Jay Z, growing up while hearing how “I’m the best/ baddest/ hottest/ freshest/ dopest/ illest” on repeat has done some amazing things for my confidence and my insistence that I can make my dream life an everyday possibility. Through Hip Hop, this masterful tradition of weaving words, I continue to build and believe in the best ideas about myself.

As a baby Anthropologist, my life involves the deepest appreciation for knowledge production, particularly the scholars who respectfully theorise Black people’s vernaculars and art into the archive. Through the fruits of their intellectual labour in writing our herstories and stories, it is our collective hope that future generations will not have to endure the racist and existential drama that claims that we “didn’t have texts or science or complex political structures or knowledge”. For women and queer people especially, we hope to counter the lies of erasure that claim that “women made little contribution to Hip Hop” or that “there are no queer people in Hip Hop”.

Over the next few weeks, I will explore what Hip Hop means to me and, of course, I will use my words. To start, I’ve compiled some critical texts in Hip Hop scholarship to highlight women as producers, consumers, scholars, political agents and critical thinkers of the culture. I hope you read and engage with this work as we all open our minds and learn more about how difference has played such an important role in making the culture what it is.

1. Hip Hop Feminism

Read this because it is a discussion of the political sensibility that emerges from a generation that grew up with Hip Hop, an art form that has been simultaneously affirming yet marginalising, especially for women and queer people. Hip Hop Feminism aims to go beyond the gains of feminism’s second wave by doing the additional work of interrogating norms and the intersecting ways that representations and images are constructed in order to empower women to participate, critique, counter, enjoy and claim full ownership of the culture.

Peoples, Whitney A. (2008) “Under construction’: Identifying foundations of hip-hop feminism and exploring bridges between Black second-wave and hip-hop feminisms.” Meridians 8:1, 19-52. Read it here.

2. The Role of South Africa in the Origin of Hip Hop.

Read this because the work and life of South Africa’s Poet Laureate, the late Professor Keorapetse Kgositsile is examined to illuminate the golden, diasporic thread that runs between Hip Hop’s founding, through The Last Poets engagement with Prof. Kgositsile’s poetry as a freedom fighter exiled to the United States. Of course, Prof. Kgositsile was not just a brilliant intellectual and writer, he is also the father of Earl Sweatshirt. I have had the pleasure of reading and listening to Dr Phalafala, who is also his biographer. I love that she has taken it upon herself to document his immense contributions to scholarship and Hip Hop music.
Uhuru Portia Phalafala (2017)Black music and pan-African solidarity in Keorapetse Kgositsile’s poetry“, The Journal of South African and American Studies, 18:4, pp. 307-326. Read it here.

3. The Aesthetics of Black Women’s Sexuality

Read this because one of the most contentious debates is whether the misogyny inherent within Hip Hop is responsible for the hyper-sexualisation of women and the extents to which women’s agency in our own sexualised representations contribute to aspects ranging from the full ownership of our bodies, commercial viability and further marginalisation.

White, Theresa Renee. (2013) “Missy “Misdemeanor” Elliott and Nicki Minaj: Fashionistin ’Black Female Sexuality in Hip-Hop Culture—Girl Power or Overpowered?.” Journal of Black Studies 44.6, pp. 607-626.

Read it here.

4. Queering Hip Hop

Read it because in the same way that supposedly straight women have an equal stake in Hip Hop, it is necessary to know that queer people have contributed to this culture too. We know that Hip Hop is dynamic and multidimensional, so it cannot only emerge from black heteromasculinity with straight women as its relational figures. Hip Hop is comprised of many fluid and intersecting sexualities. According to Rinaldo Walcott (2013),

…a case could be made plausibly that hip hop is queer, always has been, and always will be... I would argue that it is precisely in the context of a straightened out hip hop that a queer sociality and definitely a homosociality animates some of hip hop’s most excited moments as the soundtrack of contemporary urban life and beyond.

Walcott, Rinaldo. (2013) “Boyfriends with Clits and Girlfriends with Dicks: Hip Hop’s Queer Future.” Palimpsest: A Journal on Women, Gender, and the Black International, 2:2, vol. 2 pp. 168 – 173. Read it here.

5. Representations of Women in South African Hip Hop Videos

Read this because it is a comparative analysis of how women are represented in a selection of music videos by Hip Hop Pantsula, Slikour and Zuluboy – artists who have been recognised as making music that acknowledges the disparities in society and would therefore be assumed to portray women in a progressive manner.

Nyirenda, Zgagula (2014) “Analysis of gender construction in South African hip-hop music and videos”. MA Thesis. Read it here.

Please note that some of these articles may be difficult to access. Please try to log in to your institution of higher education or consider signing up to the sites to read the work.

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#ComeSeeMe: Youth Day Roundtable

Technically, you won’t be “coming” to see me because you’ll be viewing me from your couch. I’ll be on 1Magic (DStv channel 103) on Friday, 15 June at 19.00. I’ll be in conversation with Sho Madjozi, Sjava and Frypan/Mpumelelo about the state of youth in our country. Tune in!

‘Mpumi’s Magic Beads’ has a new publisher.

Do you see this image? Mpumi’s Magic Beads is being translated into all of our South African languages and it will become widely available from August, September and October. You’re welcome to pre-order: here.

Even this moment starts with a story and I have to tell it because I have been smiling to myself when I think about how all of this came to be. It was a hot Saturday in December. My friend Lisa had invited me to her other friend’s house in Morningside for a day party. It was fabulous. Our hosts, some lovely Ghanaian men, prepared West African food in the kitchen while we women sipped on bubbles and shared good conversation. Later that evening, Shaka, whose acquaintance I had made before, arrived and we got to talking about my children’s book. He told me that his family owned a publishing house and that he’d put me in contact with them. I was still quite set in my desire to continue to self-publish but I also believe in the importance of allowing opportunity in, so I thanked him.

Thank goodness for that. Self-publishing has been an interesting journey. Would you believe me if I told you that producing the book is the easy part? The challenge comes when other people become involved and your expectation for common decency to be common is sorely disappointed. (When the legal proceedings are done, remind me to tell you about how unethical your fave is.)

I love everything I do as a baby Anthropologist and poet and a student and I would never want my literary and imaginative work to suffer because business admin in this particular path is sucking the joy out of me. So, after a good run with Thank You Books that had me taking the steps to conquer my doubts and do what truly makes me happy, I am ready to hand my baby off to David Philip Publishers/ New Africa Books! I’m excited to see how this dream will be nurtured by capable hands who have been giving worlds to children for much longer than I have.

I appreciate all of the support you have given me throughout this time. I hope you all go over to www.newafricabooks.com to place your orders and keep this dream growing and glowing for me but, most importantly, for little readers everywhere.

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Thank you, Lisa. Thank you, Shaka. Thank you, Dusanka.