In partnership with Writivism, Syncity NG is publishing conversations with the writers on the Writivism 2019 shortlists. This conversation took place between Syncity NG and Vuyelwa Maluleke via email.
Vuyelwa Maluleke is a Performance Poet, Scriptwriter and Actor, who holds a Bachelor of Arts in Dramatic Arts from the University of Witwatersrand. She was shortlisted for the Brunel University African Poetry Prize in 2014, and is the author of the chapbook Things We Lost in the Fire. A slam champion of the Word and Sound 2015 Poetry League competition with an essay in Selves: An Afro Anthology of Creative Nonfiction, she is currently a Masters in Creative Writing candidate at the University previously known as Rhodes.
Syncity NG: Your story Tale reads like a spoken word piece. As a thriving performance poet, does poetry always make its way into your fiction and non-fiction pieces?
Vuyelwa Maluleke: Really? Perhaps we’d have to talk about what we define as Spoken Word.
I mean, I see why that might be the feeling, because of the addressing voice that is Tale; the fact that her observations are built through a balance of image making and direct address. I know very much that I am interested in ensuring that you can hear the narrator, that you can feel the rhythm of her speech and from that build a familiarity. And perhaps put her in your own voice if you read the story aloud. Also, how do you build a body and the feeling of that vulnerable body off words? I’m interested in the sound of texts, where that sound sits, what it feels like next to another sound. Sometimes that’s how I decide on the sense of a phrase’s position in the story.
And since poetry has been my mediator when I speak to or see my world, I suppose that way of designing thought or voice does not leave you.
Syncity NG: Why was it important to explore the themes prominent in your shortlisted piece?
Vuyelwa Maluleke: To be very honest, I stumbled into this story. I was naming things and finding experiences as I went because I do not know how to plot, and If I try to plot I can never ever seem to follow the plot. Sometimes I do that for poems too, go in with a particular objective and something else comes up and so I have learnt to follow. And, even as I say that, I know that writing is the consequence of a lived experience, by which I mean you’re regularly pulling from real life.
I once worked with a super religious woman in children’s theatre (which I have never again done because I don’t have the kind of happiness, excitement or energy for anything that that job requires). So this woman prayed all the time but was legit the worst kind of human with very little tolerance for difference. And to this day every time I see someone of her height dressed in those white robes I get anxious. So I remembered that while writing this.
Syncity NG: ‘My name is Tale…(it) begins behind the bottom teeth, mouth stretched at the corners like a secret. Breakable.’ Such vivid and powerful words. Want to talk about the construction of this sentence? By the way, what does Vuyelwa mean?
Vuyelwa Maluleke: Will you believe me if I say I actually said the word Tale and tried to figure out how to make its action in the body into words? I work a lot from the body, I’m interested in what happens to and in the body, and so that’s how that came along. [About Vuyelwa] for all my life I have said my name means happiness, but a couple of weeks ago my classmates said no, that is not what your name means; it means ‘one who is celebrated’ (Loool!) and I thought being called happiness was way too much pressure, now I find out I am the ‘one who is celebrated’, I kinda want Happiness back.
Syncity NG: There is a growing concern that writers from Africa are beginning to sound alike in their story delivery and choice of story theme(s). What do you have to say about this?
Vuyelwa Maluleke: Oh? I don’t have anything to say about that. And I have questions because:
1. Who is the ‘growing concern’ and why are they concerned?
2. How do they suggest this problem be resolved?
3. I feel like writers must write about the things that preoccupy them and if you want other themes, maybe write them or read someone else?
4. And I should hope that there would also be a parallel conversation about whether support and mentoring that encourages the various styles/ themes in/of African writers exists. Like, how does the writing industrial complex which sits so close to the publishing industrial complex support/encourage African writers and is there space that rewards one for experimentation? Or has the African voice been decided for us, and what are the consequences of that?
Syncity NG: Who (what) would I catch you reading on a lazy day?
Vuyelwa Maluleke: I’m reading towards a Master in creative writing right now and no one tells you how much reading fatigue you’ll get, just because it’s a one year course and so a lot is happening at once. So when I’m lazy I sleep, or watch The Bold Type or Killing Eve.
Syncity NG: Tale explored, amongst others, the theme of visiting the sins of the father on the child and also, the danger of authoritative parenting. Did any personal experience influence your choice of story?
Vuyelwa Maluleke: I [already] mentioned the woman I worked with. My experience of the township, which I had to fill and stretch to make into a space the reader could believe in. Other than that, no.
Syncity NG: What does the future hold for you after Writivism?
Vuyelwa Maluleke: I’m going to have finished my Thesis; I’m going to graduate even if I cross the finish line in a coffin, lol. I kid, but studying is so difficult and I love it. I want to teach poetry, both its performance and its writing, so if anybody sees this, HIRE ME for 2020.
Mostly, I want to say that I don’t have a template for this life, I’m the only person in my family who decided to follow their creative side into the working world so I’m making my world as I go. I’m making my dreams come true by trying at them and that’s scary and fulfilling, but it’s not glamourous. And for as long as I want it, I will keep at it.