I didn’t know that so many poetry lovers would find their way to us. With it being the 5th of January, I expected the city to still be in holiday, ghost-mode for at least another week and yet, we had a full house. We held the BornFree poetry reading last Friday evening at African Flavour Books in Braamfontein with the organiser, Belinda Zhawi, Katleho Kano Shoro and I on the line-up. We first performed together at the Institute of Contemporary Art in London in May so it was really special to have another gathering in our home country and to watch how beautifully Shoro incorporated her nieces into her set.
This was my first reading in the country in a long while. I’ve been immensely busy with my other projects and I have wanted to just take a break from the spectacle of it all. I had become weary of being seen. Many of my poems are about sadness and romantic relationships gone horribly wrong. It had become harrowing to be on social media and have people tag me in quotes of their favourite lines because it could easily alter my mood negatively, because of the memories. I was trying to breathe through my life and just become well in my mind and heart and the biggest deterrent to that were my own words. Funny how that works. I had sat in that exact same spot a few weeks ago and had an interview in which I spoke about how I’m starting to be at odds with reading work that I wrote a few years ago, it’s themes and the effect it has on me to constantly reach back and reiterate the dark moments. At a time, this poetry saved my life. I just think my spirit is starting to move beyond, in this time.
The audience was kind, attentive and affirming. We shared a few laughs and it was immensely enjoyable yet it was a somewhat difficult reading because the words hurt leaving my body. It was strange. I was seated throughout. I appreciated each moment and how the words would travel around the room, reaching people in particular places and yet I was visibly uncomfortable. I told the audience a few times how tiring it was because it felt like a space in which I could be honest in that way. I was fascinated by the physical exertion it took for those words to make it out of my mouth. I felt like my body, mind & spirit had fortified themselves in service of my wellbeing or, it was just a signal that ya boy should write new poems. Either way, I’m listening.
The Q&A section was interesting. I’ll expand on the responses that I gave, here. The one question that was addressed to me was about my devices; how music is one of them, how lyrical my work is and whether I’ll ever use any other devices. My work reflects music because that’s what I use to survive this life. My poetry has always been a way for me to get over, primarily. I write because I need to; often no more and no less. Music is a device in my work because it is a device in my life. Will I ever find anything more powerful? I’m open to discover that. I also think that writing for children is a way of writing differently. In my world, all of my writing comes from the same place so the children’s book is the next frontier within the same vein of poetry. Lately I have been thinking on this great desire I have to be productive: to go beyond my work being a space of shared pain and healing, and to manifest other more joyous and celebratory ways of gathering. That’s exactly what Mpumi’s Magic Beadsis.The entire project is my way of being more imaginative, daring and expansive than I have ever been. This is how I ascend.
Another question was about language and whether I do not feel “mentally colonised” by choosing to work in English. It’s a question that irritates me (I have been doing poetry Q&As for a long time, trust me) but I answer it any way. Colonisation has done many, irreversible things to Africa including changing the dynamics around what credence particular languages are given in the public. I write, dream and work in English – this is a fact of my upbringing. This is a fact of my primary school that hired a white woman to teach us Sepedi and refused our corrections because she was raised on a farm with African workers. I speak my home languages easily but having the proficiency to write in a language to the extent of being a poet is another matter altogether. I’m not willing to short-change myself or my work with those deficiencies. Am I embarrassed in any way? Absolutely not. I’m proud of my work and my abilities. I am exactly where I am supposed to be, doing exactly what I need to be doing.
Funny thing, after the reading, someone stopped me and spoke in a tone that heavily conveyed his disappointment at my lack of shame in not working in an indigenous language. The truth is, I don’t care. I don’t lose sleep at night. We all have our purpose and our paths. There are those who have an unyielding passion for preserving our languages through their work and just as they have their place in this vast creative landscape, so do I. I am very intentional about my work reflecting my reality. It’s necessary that I always remain authentic instead of being a parody of an essentialised version of other identities. There is no one way to be an African poet. There are many and this is mine.
I concluded by reading from Professor Keorapetse Kgositsile‘s This Way I Salute You, a book of poetic odes to creative peers such as Hugh Masekela, Nina Simone and John Coltrane. The great, intellectual left us on 3 January 2018. He was a bridge between the generations of creative thinkers in this country. He was always supportive while also remaining critical of bad work. He was an important force in Hip Hop, in the struggle for liberation and in South Africa as a whole. May our National Poet Laureate rest in paradise.
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Thank you, Belinda for your warm invitation to share stages with you.
Year in and year out I would look at the big, white sheet of A2 paper collecting dust on my shelf waiting to be made useful. I had bought it three years prior with the aim of making a vision board and had not found the time and discipline to craft one. It’s only after I finished reading Shonda Rhimes’ Year of Yes at the end of 2016, a book that undoubtedly ignited a flame in me, that I took the opportunity to set some intentions for the year and to remind myself of them every day.
In the middle of my vision board, I placed SAY YES as a reminder to be open to opportunity, discipline and focus. In each other corner of the paper, I placed my four areas of intention: career, body love, personal space and travel. I also had other motivational phrases such as “success”, “inspiration is everywhere”, “claim your space” and “go for gold”.
For career, I placed the words “write + publish” and it’s funny because I would roll my eyes or chuckle every time I looked it like: Girl, what even? What could you possibly publish? For body love, I placed “clear skin ahead”, “work out”, and a picture of a woman on a scale. For travel, I placed a picture of an aeroplane. How absolutely magical then to look back at this year in which I travelled to London for work, managed to clear my skin, reached my goal weight, started on an exercise routine that I actually look forward to (skipping!) and self-published a beautiful storybook for children called Mpumi’s Magic Beads!
The book has honestly been one of my favourite blessings this year. I’m so happy that I was in such a great, healthy state of mind that when I approached some publishers and got rejected, it didn’t hinder me in any way because this lovely story was going to exist. So, I immediately said to myself: “I have always had creative and editorial control of every bit of work I have put into the world, so why should this be any different?” With no real knowledge of what I was undertaking, I rolled up my sleeves, grabbed an empty notebook, made notes and Googled my way through months of every single detail of planning, writing and executing that was essential to establishing the Mpumis Magic Beads project and my own company, Thank You Books. I am proud to say that I own every bit of my work and that I am compensated as such. It wouldn’t have been the case had I reached a publishing deal and received some percentages for my project so, it all worked out for the best!
This project was made possible by a community of talented individuals whose love, dedication and hard work ensured that the book looks, feels and reads as beautifully as it does.
A big, big thank you to:
Kay Bapela & the Book of Swag team – for the call to participate in the #Today campaign.
Masego Morulane- for the gorgeous illustrations and book design. I’m still so impressed at our synergy and we haven’t even met yet!
Nokulinda Mkhize – for being mom goals with the refreshments setup back in April, for all your advice and belief through this journey and to the Sibling Trio of My Heart for being my audience.
Alexandra Flusk & Montwedi Mosala for being my best friends and always being there for me when I need you.
Mama – for the startup capital for Thank You Books, for your love and nurturing my gifts with a fiery dedication over the years.
Sibusiso Mkhwanazi – for the Thank You Books logo.
Dane Bowman – for your expertise and friendly disposition in helping me navigate self-publishing.
Cindy-Lee van Wyk – for being a great editor.
Masego Maponyane – for believing in me and helping me to see its possibility very early in the game.
You – for your support, positive energy, likes, retweets, affirmations and for buying my book.
There are still some things that I would have loved to achieve this year that I have not yet (hello, Masters thesis and secret thing) but I am excited about how I am responding to these as only slight changes of direction. I actually feel really good about my unfinished thesis and about my disappointments this year because all of them prepared me for the glory that was 2017. They are also just more opportunities for me to make myself proud and to prove to myself, once more, that I am always possible.
I’m currently on holiday in Coffee Bay and I’m so excited to get back home: start the year, make my vision board, buy myself a new year planner and to work daily to make all of my dreams real, again.
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Thank you for reading my blog. Happy New Year to you and an amazing, purposeful 2018!
And what begins as an ordinary school day in Joburg
Is suddenly full of adventure everywhere!
Mpumi’s Magic Beads is a delightful story about friendship, self-esteem, discovery and beautiful hair in the big city of Joburg. It follows the sudden adventures of Mpumi, Asante and Tshiamo as they see the world around them from new heights and realise all of the fun waiting to be discovered outside of their classroom. This story is a great read for the whole family, especially children aged between 5 – 10 years old.
Bridge Books, Johannesburg Central (online & physical purchase)
Mpumi’s Magic Beads is one of my favourite labours of love and this past Tuesday afternoon, I had the wonderful opportunity to share it with some lovely little people and some big people too. I chose Bridge Books on Commissioner Street as the venue because it’s the perfect setting for the story about Mpumi, Tshiamo and Asante – three little girls with amazing hair, a great friendship and some really cool adventures in the big city.
From making my pledge to “Make One Day, Today!” and beginning this journey of finding inspiration to write a unique story set in this Joburg city that I adore – I feel so happy that WE DID IT and it has been received so warmly. I’m grateful that so many people enjoyed it and would love to own it because that’s the bigger dream – to have it exist in hard copy so we can all read it to our future/children. So now that I have come to the end of the journey with Standard Bank (an awesome 4 months that could not have possibly been enough time to publish-publish) the new journey that I am about to embark on and one that I have to give some serious thought to is: how? I am contemplating whether I will go with an established publisher or whether I will be the established publisher and self-publish. It is quite the big decision to make but either way, I’ve gathered some email addresses of interested future buyers (feel free to mail me yours if you’re interested) and I will keep everyone in the loop of how I will proceed from here – this means that the story is inaccessible at this time and all I ask for is some patience in the meanwhile. After that is accomplished, I would definitely love to consider taking the book and visiting schools and community centres for storytelling sessions because I enjoy them so much.
I’m grateful to everyone who came to the storytelling and allowed me to live my dream and also to those who spread the word and have expressed interest in owning the book. Thank you to Standard Bank, Book of Swag and Native for the opportunity and immense support, Kay Bapela for keeping me on track, Selina Morulane for bringing the girls to life and being a talented illustrator, Nokulinda for being both mom and kiddie snack-maker goals and for being awesome, Monti and Alexandra for being my best friends and coming through for me on the day and on all days, and to my parents for giving my siblings names that I could make a story with and to my siblings for being loving and helpful people.
One more thing on the subject of publishing: I would appreciate any advice in this regard so please feel free to comment and let me know which route you think I should go with and why? Thanks!
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Thank you to my mother and Thabani for being my first listeners, believing in the story and giving me the confidence to share it.
I can finally reveal that my pledge for #TODAY is children’s storytelling! I have always wanted to venture into this part of writing because I hold such a deep reverence for it. I was just always too anxious about it but then Standard Bank came along and pretty much dared me to choose just ONE thing that I have always yearned for yet always put off until another day. So, in true “why not make one day today?” fashion, I decided to try my best to make my dream happen. So, I’ve been hard at work putting together a story and I am very excited to present it to its intended audience – your gorgeous children!
As I have mentioned, children’s stories hold a very special place in my heart because they were my entry into the world of reading and my love for books. My children’s story collection as an adult has been growing since I feel especially giddy that we live in a time when books have become more diverse and representative of the little boys and girls all around us. I grew up on The Adventures of Poldy by Felicia Law, an incredible box set that my mom bought for me when we lived in Sweden, about a scarecrow and his friends: a crow, a seagull and a wagtail. It exposed me to childhood learning concepts and different cultures around the world and perhaps it’s also responsible for my love for Anthropology?
One of my biggest inspirations for this particular project, however, is Atinuke. I love that woman so much (and I will meet her one day)! The feeling I get when I read Anna Hibiscus is a feeling I would love for others to experience through my work and I am prepared to work at this craft in order to ensure that I get as close as possible to that kind of magic.
So, please join me on Tuesday afternoon at Bridge Books for a storytime session in which I’ll be presenting my debut children’s story, Mpumi’s Magic Beads and sharing another one of my favourite children’s stories. Please bring your little ones? The story is aimed at children from 4 – 10 years old but really, you’re all welcome. The event is free and public schools are on holiday so see you then! Here’s the Facebook invitation.
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Thank you to Standard Bank and the various creative agencies that gave me the best dare I’ve ever had the pleasure to complete. I’m so happy that it is taking shape!