The following conversation took place via email. Between Novuyo and myself, we exchanged about 35 emails, in which I was greatly moved by her dedication (as you would see) to her writing, her understanding of her craft, and her willingness to engage. I have never met Novuyo in person, but it feels as though I have known her for a long time. Indeed, there are few of the writers scheduled in this series that I can recognize from a distance. I am yet to fully come to terms with what this means, suggests.
GASPP: A Gay Anthology of Singapore Poetry and Prose (2010) comes with a breath of the sensational, from its title to its cheeky cover, exploiting the contradiction of a celebration of homosexual culture in staid Singapore. It’s both warranted and unnecessary at once—while homosexual sex acts (specifically man to man) continue to be criminalized by Singapore law, homosexuality seems to be condoned or tolerated by law enforcement and much of the citizenry, though not by more conservative and traditional segments of society.
To start with, I do not disagree that there is so much writing coming out of Africa. But I make the claim that we only see this abundance in terms of creative expression, because there has never been a time, like now, where we have had this amount of visibility. Of course, visibility is an important consideration – just as it is important to have an ear if the radio is to become useful, it is important to have the capability to be seen if African literature is to be considered meaningful.
What is a book? Once we could proffer answers with the clearest certainty. Today, it is difficult to do so. In this vein, I am keen to explore what can be termed the “fragility of meaning,” under which heading I can rightly argue that a book is now without precise definition, and has formed the subject of a contested terrain. It is a fashionable contest, which in this decade will probably remain unending. Already there are numerous examples of how interesting this ongoing dialogue is, but as I am keenly interested in what definition the book has assumed for today’s Africa, I will shelve the less urgent appeal of what the global book is, and ask pointed questions.
After his panel on the Arab Spring, I asked Libyan writer Hisham Matar about the Libyan revolution, Libya's complex relationship with NATO countries, and the role of the writer in times of conflict.
Recently a news item in the Times of India announced that a literary festival would be held in Kashmir. I find something deeply unsettling about the way this piece has been written (or how the news has been evolving ever since). Not to mention, the audacity of the idea of a literary festival in a place where deep constraints on freedom of speech and life exist.
John Williams’ Stoner is the story of the academic’s worst nightmare. One should suspect as much, though, for on the very first page the author sketches the life of one William Stoner, a professor of literature at the University of Missouri in the first half of the twentieth century. Despite 38 years of teaching, Stoner never rose above the rank of assistant professor. He was, apparently, an unremarkable man—few students could recall him, even after they had just taken his class: