Edited by Saint George Vis
A Review by Paul Lothane
Indaba with Free State Writers (2009) is its own way an exciting book, and should be praised. It is an important work that St George Vis has put together. However looking at literature generally, and reading between the lines, one can not but harbour some forebodings.
The perceptive critic or analyst finds himself wondering: What is the relevance of literature to us as black people? Do we appreciate the efforts of our writers? Do we even remember them? What have we done to preserve their legacy? These and other questions come to mind after going through this book. Firstly, one must concede that there are some excellent interviews in the work, none more so than that of the breath-taking Kgosietsile Dinthloane. I was impressed with Mr. Lechesa’s comments too, and others had important things to say every now and then.
But what saddens me is that even among virtually all the writers there is scant praise or even acknowledgement of other writers. Out of these interviews hardly anybody mentions or discusses the literary works of poets like Job Mzamo and Lebohang Thaisi (apart from Lechesa briefly). Can it really be that their books published almost ten years ago, have inspired none of the writers? Why is it that even among the young writers their main inspiration seems to come from overseas writers?
Even much worse is the fact that none of the writers interviewed mention Gilbert Modise or Pule Lebuso, writers who were so much in love with literature when they were alive and (Modise in particular) who published many works. Both these writers are dead now and if nobody pays them tributes in the Province they hailed from, what is the future of our literature in particular? Did Modise and Lebuso inspire none of the writers over the years? White scholars and academics try to keep the legacy of such writers alive in their works; so why can’t we black people do so?
Why is it that in the European, western world, the people there continue to celebrate the achievements and varied evaluation of their own writers decades and centuries after they have passed on? (eg Emily Bronte, Shakespeare, Christie, Ellery Queen, and Smollet) . Why is it so difficult for us to follow suit? Is enough being done to promote the writings of our key black writers here?
Or – as many suspect – is it a terrible legacy of the “phd” (pull him/her down) syndrome that continues to drag we black Africans backwards? In the literary world it is clear enough to see that a double handicap afflicts most of us: we often undermine the efforts of other writers, yet we hate to have our own works criticized! Do we not realize that if we are not criticized it means we are not being read by the proper people and we are headed into oblivion? That all we have published becomes a waste of time?
All this of course is not the fault of Mr. Vis who can not be blamed for the misgivings of others (and I love the way he reproduces a quote from Gilbert Modise in the “preface”). I look at a writer like Mr Bolaji – and it is clear that his legacy will be there for a long time. We should all learn from him. He is never afraid for his books to be dissected, evaluated, criticized and he is now one of Africa’s celebrated writers internationally. What is the point of publishing books if people are not aware of them, or they are not discussed? Indaba with Free State Writers is indeed an important work, and one hopes it will spur writers on to appreciate what literature is all about.
* Originally published in 2009