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Masande Ntshanga: I Find the Category “South African Writer” More Fitting than “African Writer”

The ReactiveMasande Ntshanga chatted to Africa in Words recently about “The Space”, his short story that won the Pen International/New Voices Award, what it was like to be shortlisted for the Caine Prize, and his future plans.

Ntshanga’s debut novel The Reactive was released in October last year, was shortlisted for the Sunday Times Barry Ronge Fiction Prize and has earned two international publishing deals.

When asked what position he see himself in as an African writer, Ntshanga says he finds the label “South African writer” more useful.

Read the interview:

This story also won the Pen International/New Voices Award a few years ago. Based on that experience, and your recent experience of the Caine Prize, do you share some of the anxieties that characterise debate about literary prizes for African fiction?

I don’t. I identify as a South African writer, and for the International New Voices Award the story was nominated under PEN South Africa, which made the experience quite different in orientation from the Caine Prize, which works under the umbrella of African Writing. My fellow nominees, then, were from Canada and Mexico, all of us selected from a global pool, and each with stories that were rooted in our respective communities. In the time preceding that, my work had only gained exposure in South Africa, and as such, had only been read as South African fiction. Even though both terms are abstractions, for a writer pre-occupied with place at the moment, I find the South African label more fitting for my work – in the same way, to return to James Joyce, I prefer to think of him as an Irish author as opposed to a European one. I say this because most of the debates that I’ve encountered are hinged on unpacking the meaning of African Writing in the West’s cultural imagination. That said, I don’t share in on many of the anxieties because I don’t often share a context with this view of African Writing – having lived in South Africa all my life – and as such, am more likely to leave it to the West to take it as a prompt to reflect on whether or not it’s still an accurate and efficient system of categorization. I can only say that it’s probably a prompt worth having.

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