Friday, August 11, 2006

Dearth of African-language fiction: I’m part of the problem

A writer at an online writing community I belong to posted a query asking how many of us forum wrote in English as an acquired language (learnt it in school, for example).

“What language(s) do you read in, and do you find that to influence the language you write in?” she asked.

I found my answer to her question was rather disturbing. 99.9% of the fiction I read is in English. Among others, my favourite authors are Dean Koonz, Jayne Krenz, Jonathan Kellerman, Faye Kellerman….. don’t ask me why I like authors whose surnames start with K:-)

Reading for relaxation/entertainment also means reading one of those trashy romantic novels people scorn as unrealistic and predictable. Yup, I’m one of the millions of “silent” women who buy the books.

I know the books are predictable and unrealistic - that’s why I like them. In that world, love, jobs, family, social problems – everything is resolved satisfactorily in the end and I find it relaxing to enter a world where things are that simple.

Some reasons why I don’t read Setswana fiction

As to why I read mostly English fiction, published internationally instead of supporting local fiction or even Setswana fiction?

Firstly, because there isn’t lot of Setswana fiction being published right now and what is brought out is usually aimed for the educational market, not for entertainment purposes.

There are authors who don’t write for the educational market necessarily – like Zakes Mda for example-and whose work I enjoy. Still, the books feel like I’m catching up on my educational reading. It’s not just pure entertainment.

I also think that much of the SA fiction I have read is self-expressive. It reflects our society and the socio-economic injustices that happen to our men, women and children. The unemployment rate is still high, literacy levels still too low, too much crime, women and child abuse ( hitting and sexual).

For a long time Black South Africans were muzzled by Apartheid and the democracy has brought with it freedom of self-expression.

It’s a good, worthwhile development (long overdue if you ask me) and these stories need to be told. However, while I find the stories educational, even morally uplifting, I don’t find them entertaining. The hurt is too close to the bone, I think.

Consider publishing Setswana fiction too

One of the reasons I started this blog is because I wanted to create another platform where SA children’s literature has a voice. There are a number of institutions which do good work encouraging local literature including children’s literature.

The Centre of the Book is one such institution. But I also think that as a writer, I should give more thought to the language in which I write and publish.

Granted my aim is to read as large an audience as possible with African stories, but I also think I should think about how I can contribute to Setswana fiction and help build the body of work. I might even have fun doing it.

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