In partnership with Writivism, Syncity NG is publishing Conversations with the shortlisted writers of the Writivism and Koffi Addo Creative Prizes. This conversation took place on Twitter (@SyncityNG) with Resoketswe Manenzhe (@avatar_reso).
Resoketswe is shortlisted for her short fiction Maserumo. She is a PhD candidate at the Chemical Engineering department at the University of Cape Town. Starting in 2015, her poems and short stories have appeared in several online magazines and journals, and in 2017, two of her poems were shortlisted for the Sol Plaatje EU Poetry Anthology and subsequently published in the anthology of selected poems. She currently lives in Cape Town, South Africa.
Syncity NG: What is a PhD candidate with the department of chemical engineering doing on the Writivism shortlist? How did that happen?
Resoketswe Manenzhe: Even I don’t know. I started writing poetry to cope with hard times. Never thought anything of mine would be read by anyone other than chosen family members. Pursued a career in engineering, but realised I was deeply in love with writing. So kept both
Syncity NG: Ah. So writing poetry was an escape mechanism for you? What were (are?) you running from?
Resoketswe Manenzhe: It’s rather cliché. I was a teenager (12-13) who felt that she didn’t fit in. I was in boarding school, I missed my family, hormones were kicking in. My life didn’t make sense anymore and I felt like I was suffocating. Didn’t talk to anyone. Just wrote.
Syncity NG: We sure are glad that you just wrote! I read Maserumo and I went, ‘I need to know this writer!’ When you were submitting for the prize, what did you think your chances of being selected were?
Resoketswe Manenzhe: I honestly didn’t think I had any shot. At all. I was getting a lot of rejections then. But I had just finished writing this piece, and I kept reading Chisanga’s winning piece from 2018. I knew her in undergrad; she inspired me. So I just entered and…
Syncity NG: So you agree that one needs to do a lot of reading to be a good writer (and perhaps stand a higher chance of being shortlisted)?
Resoketswe Manenzhe: Definitely. When I transitioned from poetry to longer pieces, I struggled with basic things like form and pacing. Since I didn’t study literature, I realised libraries could be my teachers. Reading really helps. It really works.
Syncity NG: Maserumo reads like a healthy conversation. What was the inspiration behind the story? Did you have a feeling in your gut that you finally had the winning story?
Resoketswe Manenzhe: Thank you! I’m a villager. African villages have the best stories. It’s not just how the story unfolds that makes them so interesting, it’s also how they’re remembered. It amazes me how the details change with each telling. I took that & added a murder mystery.
Syncity NG: Wow. I guess I’ll be going back to my village. Haven’t written something in a while, haha! Take us through the fires the story went through before submission. Editing? Any chop chop?
Resoketswe Manenzhe: I started it in 2011 and submitted to maybe 3 places. All rejected and I was then focused on other projects. Last year I looked at it again; I hated 70% of it. So I rewrote nearly all of it, keeping only the murder mystery. Writivism was my 1st submission.
Syncity NG: What? You began in 2011 and chopped until you ‘re-cooked’ it for @Writivism last year? Girl, I throw my story away after 10 minutes of frustration. (I guess that’s why you are on the list and not me.) Why Writivism? What drew you to the prize?
Resoketswe Manenzhe: I’ve been more focused on engineering for a while. But my friend, Keletso Mopai, made the longlist and she’s a geologist. I knew Chisanga as an architecture student. I realised that I didn’t have an excuse anymore. I needed to at least try. But Writivism because I always like their entries. They publish stories I like reading.
Syncity NG: Why was the theme(s) of Maserumo so important that you had to tell this story?
Resoketswe Manenzhe: What I really I wanted to display was the narrator’s voice. It could have been a story about burnt toast, but I wanted the narrator to control the events just with her voice. Of course it works better as a murder mystery, but the narrator was more important.
“Luck is useless if there’s no talent.” Read our conversation with Chika Unigwe
@mystiquesynn: How did you handle all those rejections you had? How did you protect your sanity and mental health?
Resoketswe Manenzhe: I honestly started taking it personally at some point. But like I said, I started writing from myself when I was 12, 13. Writing itself still made me happy, and creating all these worlds and people made me sane. Also, I’m stupidly optimistic. In short, writing is the one thing that protected my mental health.
Syncity NG: Before we wrap up the conversation, I would like her to say a few words of encouragement to writers who never make shortlists no matter how hard they try.
Resoketswe Manenzhe: In 2018 alone, I had 22 short story rejections, but I keep submitting because writing has saved me so many times that I owe this to myself, and to this thing that has saved me.
Syncity NG: It has been an amazing in-look into your writing life, Resoketswe. Thank you for sharing with us. We wish you all the best.
Resoketswe Manenzhe: Thank you so much for this. I had a lot of fun and so many mentions. I’m suddenly popular on Twitter. I’d like to thank my mom…(haha!)
Click HERE to read our conversation with fellow 2019 Writivism Short Story prize shortlistee Frances Ogamba.