#100AfricanWomenWriters: 19. Neshani Andreas

by - 14:29

Image Source: Sister Namibia

"For most of my life I just wrote for myself ... I never told anybody." said
Namibian writer, Neshani Andreas in a 2005 interview with Erika von Wietersheim.

Said to be the first Namibian (and only Namibian writer) to be included in Heinemann African Writers Series with debut novel, The Purple Violet of Oshaantu (published in 2001), Andreas 'always wanted to write ... I wrote as a child, in high school, as long as I can remember.'

Andreas (the second of eight children) was born in 1964 in Walvis Bay, Namibia. Her parents worked in a fish factory and writing as an occupation 'was not recognised' or 'encouraged as a serious activity' in her community. As Andreas goes on to explain about being 'shy and almost embarrassed about a passion that was completely strange to the society in which she grew up':
I lived in a world that did not make sense to anybody else. On the other hand I had to fit into a world around me that did not make much sense to me.
As Erika von Wietersheim writes, this difference was further exacerbated by Andreas' friends reaction to telling them about her passion:

Andreas was in her early twenties when she made the first attempt to mention to friends that she liked writing. The reaction was devastating; nobody gave her wish to write any serious thought, and the young woman felt even more discouraged than before. Undeterred, Andreas continued her lonely writing for the following ten years, filling pages and pages with notes. "My writings became part of my luggage whenever I moved from one place to the next. They were my most treasured things," she says.
In the meantime, Andreas trained as a teacher at Ongwediva Teachers' College, and taught English, history and business economics from 1988 to 1992 in a school in rural northern Namibia. Living there and being immersed in the rural culture led to Andreas developing a profound respect for the women she encountered - an experience that inspired The Purple Violet of Oshaantu.

Andreas then went on to complete a Bachelor of Arts and Post Graduate Diploma in Education at the newly established University of Namibia in Windhoek. She then became Associate Peace Corps Director for the US Peace Corps in Namibia, a position she held for four years. Thereafter she worked for the Forum of African Women Educationalists in Namibia (FAWENA) - an organisation promoting women's and girls' education - as Programme Officer.

Illustrations by Zing Tsjeng for the book series Forgotten Women 

A turning point in Andreas' writing career came when she finally met someone who shared her literary passion:
One day she was speaking to a young Peace Corps Volunteer, Reed Dickson, and mentioned in passing that she had tried her hand at writing. Dickson's reaction was different from any Andreas had experienced so far. Dickson immediately asked his shy colleague to show him some of her notes. Andreas gave him a few pages to read and, to her surprise, he was impressed. "This was one of the most treasured moments in my life," she remembers. "I had met the first person in my life who showed interest and understanding in my writing."  
The exhilaration of being acknowledged as a writer prompted Andreas to buy a laptop computer, and she started writing with a purpose. All the stories stored in her mind for years, particularly about village life in northern Namibia, surfaced in an outburst of creativity. "Now I was doing it!" she recalls. "There were papers lying all over in my room, I was writing all day."

Neshani completed the manuscript for her novel in 1999 and presented it to Namibian publisher, Jane Katjavivi, who presented it to the Heinemann African Writers Series. Katjavivi is said to consider this as 'one of the most memorable moments in her publishing career, realising as soon as she had read the manuscript that it would be a success'.

Set in the fictional rural village of Oshaantu, The Purple Violet of Oshaantu is the story of the friendship between two women, Mee Ali and Kauna, narrated through the voice of Mee Ali. While Mee Ali is happily married to Michael, Kauna is trapped in an abusive marriage to Shange. While her neighbours and family are aware that Kauna is being treated brutally by her husband, social custom dictates that they should not intervene.

Talking about the novel, and finding the right balance when writing it, in an interview Andreas
... did not want to be insensitive to my culture, I did not want to be insulting, but I wanted to be as honest and realistic as possible. ... I have to write honestly, otherwise I would feel uncomfortable. Being dishonest to please others goes against your own creativity.
Andreas also did not want to focus on the South African military occupation, return from exile and political events in post-independent Namibia:
I had to write about other things; travelling in overcrowded minibuses, selling and buying at markets, about sickness, witchcraft and church, about ordinary things.
While the novel was a success, Andreas wrote at a time where the literary culture in Namibia was still in its infancy. As explained in the 2005 interview with Erika von Wietersheim
"Writing is a lonely business … You write alone, and you never know if anybody will ever read what you write." But Andreas remains passionate about the written word. "I could never stop writing. It is with me every day, I never forget it. I edit in my mind whatever I hear or read. I pick up what people say, how they say it, I pick up words, expressions ..."

It must have been particularly lonely, as Andreas noted that
Writing is still not encouraged by Namibian society, it is not regarded as a respectable job, as something that has any benefit. It is my dream to write full-time, to wake up every morning and to know that this is my job, my life, just to write.
Yet, Andreas continued to write, and had finished her second novel at the time of her interview: "It is quite different from the first one".  Andreas was diagnosed with lung cancer in early 2010 and passed away in 2011.

Interview: Neshani Andreas by Erika von Wietersheim. Source: Sister Namibia

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