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Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Meet ... Sue Nyathi

The 'Meet' Series will be a chance for me to interview authors, publishers, book cover designers (really anyone I would love to meet) that is involved with African literature. I am very fortunate to announce the second person in the 'Meet' Series is Sue Nyathi. I absolutely loved her debut novel, The Polygamist, so I was really happy when she agreed to be interviewed. Enjoy!

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself (where you’re from, what you do, interests and hobbies, any fun details)
           
I became Sue because my 3rd grade teacher couldn’t get her tongue around Sukoluhle, which is a Ndebele name which means “Beautiful Day.” I guess it must have been when I made my debut into the world exactly 34 years ago in a city called Bulawayo in Zimbabwe. Growing up I was the proverbial bookworm. I used to lose myself in books. Even doing my homework lacked lustre as compared to being completely immersed in literature. This passion for reading, soon translated itself into my desire to write which is a hobby I have nursed from a young age. All my classmates figured I would become a bestselling author but as life would have it, I ended up studying finance and investment. Nonetheless I remained a closet writer. However it feels great to have finally come out! When I’m not writing I prefer good food and good wine in the company of good people with good music playing in the background . Cooking relaxes me. I go to gym out of necessity. I love travelling, discovering new things and new places. I also love collecting things from memories to mementos.

What was the first piece you ever wrote?

I was actually a  poet first and received a lot of acclaim for poetry at school. The first piece I ever wrote was called “Crazy Over You” and I was fourteen. It was a teenage love story. You must remember I grew up in an era when the Sweet Valley High series was our staple diet.

What draws you to writing?

I express myself better on paper. Moreover it’s sheer escapism. I can disappear into a world of make believe where I create people and have absolute control over what happens to them!  

What do you do when you are not writing?

I work full time for an economic development and strategic planning firm. The hours are    grueling and the work can be consuming. I do a lot of report writing so my work life is Fact over fiction.
On Publishing, Being an Author, and African Literature
Can you tell us about your challenges in getting your first book published?
I can’t say I had many challenges getting this book published. I got the first rejection letter and then had success with Logogog, a small independent publisher who believed in me and the rest as they say is history.  
As an author, what’s the toughest criticism and best compliment you have received?
The toughest criticism I ever received was in the form of a 2 page letter from Irene Staunton of Weaver Press about 6 years ago after I had submitted a manuscript to them. I was devastated and I wanted to give up writing. However my late cousin said to me “if they can write you a 2 page rejection letter then there is something there.” I used that letter to hone my writing skills. Ironically  it is actually the best thing that ever happened to me. The compliments have been numerous. I don’t think they have been exhausted for me to single out the best one.

bookshy is all about promoting and celebrating African fiction, what is your take on African fiction and where do you hope to see it go?

I think Africa has a wealth of talent which remains largely unknown, never mind celebrated. We need more Book Shys to put African literature on the map. It makes me proud to see more African writers emerging and telling African stories. No one else is better placed to tell our stories.


On The Polygamist

Polygamy is still such a major part of African culture, what drew you to tackle the subject for your first novel?

Polygamy is indeed a major part of African culture but I think its moribund. My maternal grandfather was a polygamist. In those days it was a sign of prestige because he was wealthy enough to take care of his  four wives. My grandmother grew up in an era when women did not work and relied on their husbands for financial support. She never expressed any bitterness to me about  being in a polygamous marriage, rather she simply told me “that there were more hands to do the work.” Although women have evolved and come a long way since the times of  my grandmother and her peers, some still aspire to be in polygamous unions for different motivations which is what my book aimed to explore. My book is not really concerned about cultural polygamy which is practiced openly and transparently. Rather it’s  the prevalence of underground polygamy which is rooted in deceit that concerns me. Moreover we live an era where HIV/AIDS are real threats and there has never been a greater impetus to be in a monogamous relationship.

I was very intrigued by Jonasi Gomora. How did you come up with him as a character?

Jonasi had to be intriguing in order to attract all those women. Women gravitate towards strong, powerful, successful handsome men who can provide. So in formulating his character he had to be  all this and more.  Not only was he charming but he also had to be elusive. Its true what they say, all that glitters is not gold and as you dig deeper into the layers of his character he had a dark side to him.

One thing I loved about the novel was how frank and straight to the point you wrote. I also loved that you portrayed African women as having desires and needs. Was it your intention to be so straight to the point in your writing and to portray African women with needs and desires?
           
 I am very frank and outright person by nature and because I was writing in the first person I had so much liberty with the characters. I could get into their heads and voice their anxieties and frustrations, their joy and pain. Women swear, women get emotional and women have sex and enjoy it and should not be apologetic about it. I am the voice of  a new generation of women who are educated, emancipated and economically independent. That woman is not afraid of   expressing herself and articulating her needs and desires. I am tired of this portrayal of African women as being timid, oppressed creatures. Come now, we have a woman as head of the African Union!

What was your favourite chapter (or part) to write and why?

I enjoyed writing the fight scene when Joyce has a confrontation with her husband’s mistress. Joyce is a real lady but in that scene she throws off her gloves and gets down and dirty. It’s a culmination of all that pent up anger inside her. I am not a proponent of violence but that’s an example of a woman being completely overtaken by her emotion, acting totally out of character with  all the rationality being thrown out of the window.

On Being a Booklover (Questions I’ve always wanted to ask authors)


What are you reading right now?

The last book I read was “The Ascent of Money” by Niall Ferguson and I still haven’t finished it. I’ll be on holiday soon  and I’m hoping to get started on  “the Land of the Painted Caves” by Jean M Auel. I have waited for years for the last instalment in the Earth Children’s series.

Is there any particular author (living or dead) or book that influenced you in any way either growing up or as an adult - and why?

I love Jane Austen. She writes about 19th century English society in a way that I write about 21st century African society. Pride and Prejudice is one of my favourite books and I would love to write an African adaptation of it to make it more accessible. The themes in that book are still relevant today. Marian Keyes because of her wicked sense of humour. Martina Cole because she is forthright and bold in her expression.

What are your favorite books (or book-related items) to give - and get - as gifts?

Strangely enough I don’t buy self help books but I have received some great ones as gifts. “I don’t want Delilah, I need you.” By TD Jakes was hilarious but so true of human nature. “He’s just not that into you” is another book I wish I had received in my early 20s. Would have saved me a lot of anguish and heart break!

Have you ever judged a book by its cover (i.e. bought a book based on its looks)? Which?
            
I don’t judge a book by its cover at all. I read the blurb and if I’m not convinced I read the first page and that is what gets me sold. Covers are deceptive.

Hard copy or e-book?

I am a diehard lover of physical books. I really believe in taking a good book to bed. Nothing compares to the feeling of holding a book in your hands and thumbing through the pages. There is something impersonal about eBooks. I have a bookshelf in my home. I collect books for sentimental reasons.

Physical or Virtual? Bookstore or Amazon?

Physical spaces appeal to me and bookstores are beautiful places that have evolved from dingy enclosed spaces with dusty bookshelves. As a book lover there is nothing that gives me more pleasure than walking into a bookstore and poring through books before you make that final purchase. Not forgetting that steaming hot cup of coffee you can enjoy in the process with a decadent slice of cake.

Final Questions – I promise

How can people in Africa (and the diaspora) get access to your novel?

The Polygamist will be available on Amazon. I’ve had to succumb to technological advancement for the sake of accessibility! However those who still want a hard copy can order it from www.publisher.co.za. Most bookstores in South Africa and Zimbabwe are selling it.

What’s next after The Polygamist?
            
I am currently plotting and planning my next offering which I have titled “The Gold Diggers” and no, it’s not what you think, far from it (chuckles). I normally title my work because it gives me focus as I write.

Thank you very much for taking the time to answer these questions. I really appreciate it.

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