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I Will Probably Wrestle with the Notion of Being an African for the Rest of My Life – Ivan Vladislavic

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Ivan Vladislavić recently travelled to the US to launch the North American edition of The Folly and celebrate his 2015 Windham Campbell Prize for Fiction during the Windham Campbell Prize Festival at Yale University.

The esteemed South African writer stopped by Bard College for a special event where he read from his works and discussed his literature and all that it entails with novelist Nuruddin Farah and poet Robert Kelly. Literary Hub transcribed the conversation and have published it on their site.

Farah and Kelly asked a myriad questions, and led the conversation in many incredibly interesting directions. Read the edited transcript to see what Vladislavić said when asked by Farah, “When did you start to think of yourself as an African?”:

I grew up thinking of myself as a South African, with no real sense that this was an exclusionary category. Bear in mind that I was a child in the harshest period of apartheid. I was born in the late 1950s, so I was a child in the particularly repressive period of the 60s, when the opposition had been more or less shattered or forced underground, and people had been driven into exile. I grew up in Pretoria, which was the seat of government, in a very conservative, racist white environment. As I say, my family gave me a rather proud sense of being a South African. I guess the question is whether the “African” in that “South African” had a content that extended beyond the borders of the country, or beyond a narrowly conceived white identity. I certainly didn’t think I was a “European,” although the term was applied to white South Africans. I became conscientized about South Africa and its politics when I went to university in the mid-70s, where questions of identity were being discussed very intensely. There were programs of what we called “Africanization” among white students on some campuses and there were campaigns that drew attention to the fact that as white South Africans, we were not fully rooted in our own space, in our own country. Then I began to think about the idea of being an African —of actually being in Africa—in a different way. Living in a democratic society has given me a different, fuller sense of being an African, partly because our country is more open to seeing itself as part of Africa. Still, it’s not a simple notion for me, and I will probably wrestle with it for the rest of my life.

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Image courtesy of Windham Campbell Prize

 

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