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Archive for the ‘Non-fiction’ Category

The Hardest Thing Lauren Beukes Has Ever Written, and Why She Wants to Eat Jennifer Egan’s Brain

MaverickBroken MonstersThe Shining Girls

Lauren Beukes was recently interviewed by Alex Segura for Pen America about her “enthralling and immersive fiction”.

Segura asks Beukes about how she came to write for a living, and where she writes. The author admits that she would like to “absorb” Jennifer Egan’s powers, by means of eating her brain if necessary.

Beukes says that she would like to have been a anti-apartheid activist because the enemy was simple – she wishes that “current social issues were as easily defined and that there was a clear path of resistance.” This leads into a discussion of the hardest thing she has ever had to write:

What’s the most daring thing you’ve ever put into words? Why does it stand out for you?

The most daring thing I’ve wanted to put into words was vetoed by my editor. I wanted to describe my terrified heroine’s heart thumping “like an avalanche of ponies.” I still like the metaphor. Can’t you just see it? The ponies tumbling down the scree, all clattering hooves and dust? But the hardest thing to write, which still upsets me and makes me sick and angry, was the essay I wrote, “All The Pretty Corpses,” about the murder of my cleaning lady’s daughter in 2010 and how I believed in the fairytale of justice until the moment in the prosecutor’s office when he told us he was going to have to throw the case out. It was devastating, and it has fed into how I write about violence—what it is, what it does to us, how we talk about it, what it means when we lose someone, how violence is shocking and contemptible, how we shouldn’t let this shit go.

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“Stay Well with All Our Secrets” – Ingrid Jonker’s Last Letter to Andre Brink in Flame in the Snow

Flame in the SnowVlam in die sneeuKarin Schimke recently wrote an article for Marie Claire about Flame in the Snow: The Love Letters of André Brink and Ingrid Jonker.

Schimke en Leon de Kock were responsible for the translation of the collection of letters, which is also available in Afrikaans as Vlam in die sneeu: Die liefdesbriewe van André P Brink en Ingrid Jonker.

In the article, Schimke writes tenderly about Jonker’s suicide and how Brink responded to the public scrutiny and gossip. She also shares a line from the last letter Jonker ever wrote to Brink.

Schimke spoke to the people who were involved in helping these precious love letters see the light: Umuzi publisher Fourie Botha and Brink’s widow Karina Magdalena Szczurek, as well as to Willie Burger, professor of Afrikaans at the University of Pretoria, who said:

“The letters are a knock-out blow to the idea that she was a bubble-headed blonde with a few good verses. She displays clear political thinking, good literary discernment and sharp insight. She had a particularly difficult life. Towards the end of the correspondence it becomes clear that her loneliness has become more desperate, while he slowly withdraws. It’s the stuff good novels are made of.”

Read the article for more about Jonker’s last days and her final letter to Brink:

In the weeks before her suicide, friends noticed a change in Ingrid. Where once she had taken enormous pride in her looks, she had become sloppy. Her cheerfulness had receded into an almost constant bleakness. An extremely difficult childhood and adult life, and a possibly genetic predisposition towards depression and anxiety, had caught up with her. She was poor, had worked in soul-destroying bureaucratic jobs and could not find safety and succour from the maddening world with any of the men who loved her. It is clear, from all the literature available – and now these letters – that the talented poet Ingrid Jonker had run out of the emotional resources required to go on with life.

Her last letter to André ends: ‘Stay well with all our secrets…’

For extracts in English and Afrikaans, quotes from the contributors, articles and more news about Flame in the Snow, visit the website



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Minister of Health or Mass Murderer? Excerpt from Lauren Beukes and Nechama Brodie’s Maverick

MaverickIn Maverick: Extraordinary women from South Africa’s past Lauren Beukes and Nechama Brodie tell the story of some of our most famous and infamous women.

Killers, singers, strippers and revolutionaries populate the pages of Maverick; the only thing these real historical characters have in common is that they were – for better or worse – far from ordinary.

News24 has shared an edited excerpt from the book that deals with the much-maligned late Manto Tshabalala-Msimang.

Read the excerpt:

In December 2009, in Johannesburg’s exclusive Donald Gordon Medical Centre, a woman lay dying. There may well have been the backbeat of life-support machines – she was in the ICU after all – and there was certainly a heavy media presence, enough that security guards were posted at the door to her room. But this was no Brenda Fassie. While the bed’s occupant was undoubtedly one of the most notorious women in South Africa, there were no legions of fans praying for her recovery.

In fact, if people were praying at all, it might have been for things to go the other way. Which sounds like a perfectly horrible thing to say, but then again, no one really expects polite condolences for a mass murderer.

Between June 1999 and September 2008, the woman in the hospital bed had been responsible for an estimated 330 000 preventable deaths.

What made the incomprehensible figure worse was that she was no arbitrary murderess, not even a Daisy de Melker. She had been the minister of health.

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Jabu Masina, One of Two Surviving of the Delmas Four, Contributes His Story to Oral History (Podcast)

In a Different TimeIn In a Different Time: The inside story of the Delmas Four, lawyer Peter Harris relates the real events of the trial of four ANC foot soldiers

Frans “Ting Ting” Masango, Jabu Masina, Neo Potsane and Joseph Makhura became well known for their refusal to participate in their trial, even though they could be sentenced to death. They disputed the legitimacy of the court, on the basis of being soldiers in the just war against the apartheid state.

Masina, who is one of the two surviving members of the group, was recently interviewed Masechaba Lekalake for Power FM about his experiences as a soldier for the ANC, and being involved in “one of the longest trials of the apartheid era”.

Lekalake calls the story of the Delmas Four “one laced with bravery and unshakable resolve”, and regards Masina’s story as an important element of South Africa’s oral history.

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

101 DetectivesThe FollyDouble NegativeThe Loss Library The Restless SupermarketPortrait with Keys

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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Lauren Beukes and Nechama Brodie’s #FeesMustFall-Flavoured Launch of Maverick and The Cape Town Book

Lauren Beukes and Nechama Brodie

Readers should expect the unexpected when approaching the fiction of Lauren Beukes. But the same applies to her non-fiction and, it would seem, to her book launches! Collaborating with the firebrand Nechama Brodie only escalates things.

The Cape Town BookMaverickThe Book Lounge was the venue for the recent double launch of Maverick: Extraordinary women from South Africa’s past by Beukes and Brodie and The Cape Town Book by Brodie. It is just a few hundred metres from Parliament, where the recent Fees Must Fall protests took place, and reflecting this important moment in South African history Beukes and Brodie treated those who attended the event to a different kind of book launch.

Lauren Beukes, Nechama Brodie, Pam Dhlamini and Thabo TshelaneBeukes and Brodie included some of the people involved in the Cape Town student protests in the discussion, and two authors and four activists made it an evening to remember. The six powerful personalities linked arms to raise awareness of how history is being written about even as it is being made on the streets outside. The activists described the tensions at UCT, where workers and management continued negotiations to end outsourcing. The seriousness of the situation was brought home when UWC erupted on the day following the launch, with the police reportedly dragging students out of their residences.

The night was remarkable in many ways. The launch of two terrific books, each one worthy of a solo launch, in combination with a bigger vision made for an event that afforded those present a rich opportunity to understand and engage with some of the issues currently dominating the country’s consciousness.

Earlier this year, Beukes teamed up with Brodie, insisting that she was the best person to co-author the expanded and updated edition of Maverick. The book, which features a number of the great and interesting women that populate South Africa’s past, was Beukes’ debut, first published in 2004. Brodie, who is the editor and co-author of the best-selling The Joburg Book and Inside Joburg, is the head of training, research and information at Africa Check, an independent fact-checking agency.

The gifted writer’s latest work is The Cape Town Book, which was also the raison d’etre for the unusual activities at the book launch. It was described by Louanne van Riet of The Book Lounge as “a beautifully rendered portrait of our strange and weird city that makes for essential reading for inhabitants and visitors to Cape Town”.

Readers will certainly find in the pages of these two books much to keep them thinking deeply about Cape Town and about South Africa’s powerful, feisty and courageous women.

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Liesl Jobson (@LieslJobson) tweeted live from the event using the hashtag #livebooks:


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Karin Schimke Talks About Translating Ingrid Jonker’s Love Letters for Flame in the Snow

Flame in the SnowVlam in die sneeuNovember sees the publication of what is said to be one of the most important pieces of South African literary history to see the light in recent years.

Flame in the Snow: The Love Letters of André Brink and Ingrid Jonker is translated by Leon de Kock and Karin Schimke, and edited by Francis Galloway. Naturally it will also be available in Afrikaans, the language the letters were originally written in, as Vlam in die sneeu: Die liefdesbriewe van André P Brink en Ingrid Jonker.

Schimke met up with LitNet’s Naomi Meyer to talk about the massive project that was the translation of Jonker’s words to English. De Kock took care of Brink’s words to ensure that the English document had two distinctly different voices. She shares more about the project as a whole, how she approached the intimate love letters and the decisions she made during the translation process.

“Translation is an imperfect art. If perfection is the aim, you have failed before you have begun,” Schimke says. She goes on: “There are two things that were important to me: I wanted the English text to read as smoothly as possible, but without making Ingrid sound as though she had written in English. I wanted to retain some of the texture of Afrikaans.”

Schimke also reveals what she learnt about Jonker through this close reading of her letters and says that the infamous poet “was, first and foremost, a struggling single mother working in soul-destroying jobs”. On her writing, and the difference between Jonker and Brink’s writing, Schimke says: “Ingrid’s poetry was deeply and unashamedly personal. She didn’t, like André, try to grapple great ideas into long novels. Her work feels grounded and embodied. There is a presence and immediacy in both her poetry and her letters and they seem, to me at least, inseparably, undividedly hers.”

Read the article for insight to what is sure to be a fascinating book:

You translated the love letters of arguably the most well-known Afrikaans Romeo and Juliet of the Afrikaans literary world. Did you ever think about this while translating Ingrid’s letters?

Oh, I thought about it all the time!

Because of the time constraints on the project we had no time to read the full manuscript before starting the work. The longer I translated, the less sense I had of what was going to happen next and each day’s work was like watching a new petal unfold on a closed bud. It was – and I apologise for the cliché – gripping. When I closed my computer at night, I would wonder what happens next and I’d approach my computer with a sense of anticipation every morning. No, it was not drone work. It held me entirely. It wasn’t mere engagement with words.

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Flashback Friday: Highlights from a Decade of Lauren Beukes’ Writing

MaverickBroken MonstersThe Shining Girls

LitNet has rounded up eight pieces by Lauren Beukes, whom they call “one of South Africa’s greatest exports”. The article “Writer of the Week: A decade of Lauren Beukes” features highlights of a decade of her interviews, articles and stories.

The earliest article in the list is “My Place: ‘The Accident of Home’”. In the article, Beukes writes about a bad romance in New York, and how being in a different country really taught her how to be South African.

In the bio section, she is introduced as “an intrepid girl reporter”. At the time of the article’s publication, she was working on her MA in Creative Writing and a manuscript called “Branded”, which became her stellar debut Moxyland.

Read the article:

It takes a context to define something, a control to establish a norm. I learned how to be South African in New York.

“Do you recognise the language?” My lover (who was an inveterate liar, but then I’ve always been attracted to the idea of unreliable narrators) was lying in a hospital bed in a Brooklyn emergency room, his collarbone leaping obscenely, insistently, under his skin. Partially obscured by the disinfectant-green curtains, a black family next to us was murmuring in a foreign language over their loved one against a backbeat of respirators and mournfully bleating machines.

Did I recognise it? As if the borders across the continent were so smudged that there was no difference discernible between Swahili and Sesotho. As if I could be so intimately familiar with the play of vowels and consonants as to be able to identify one tongue out of eleven, let alone a hundred languages, a thousand dialects, because one surely should be the mother of all?

“No,” I said.

I think, actually, they were Caribbean.

Fast forward 10 years, and Lauren was being interviewed about her third wonderfully successful novel The Shining Girls:

What inspired your book?

Violence and the 20th century. I wanted to subvert the serial killer genre, to talk about what violence is and what it does to us – femicide in particular. I wanted to portray what real serial killers are like, as the loathsome vile losers they are, and make the victims real, to make the reader feel their loss and what it means to the world. And I was interested in how the past 100 years have shaped us, from the evolution of the skyscraper and highways to civil rights and abortion, and explore how much things have changed, especially for women. Chicago was a useful stand-in for Johannesburg, with the same issues of segregation, corruption and crime, but it allowed me to play on a broader canvas.

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Ingrid Jonker – die mite, die mens: Elkarien Fourie besin oor die bekende digter

Vlam in die sneeuFlame in the Snow“Ingrid Jonker se lewe, en veral haar dood, oorskadu soms haar werk en kom telkens in die kollig in Suid-Afrika en in Nederland. As die belangrikheid van ’n digter aan die hand van haar invloed gepeil word, neem sy dalk ’n meer prominente plek in die Afrikaanse poësie in as wat haar oeuvre regverdig.”

Só voer Elkarien Fourie aan in ‘n akademiese artikel vir LitNet waarin sy besin oor die aansien wat Ingrid Jonker, een van die bekendste Suid-Afrikaanse digters, in die literêre samelewing beklee.

Fourie, wat oor ‘n meestersgraad beskik in Afrikaans oor die literêre feministiese biografie soos toegepas op Ingrid Jonker, stel in haar artikel ondersoek in na die problematiese aard van die biografie en kyk dan na die subtekste wat Jonker se lewensgeskiedenis kan belig, met spesifieke verwysing na Hans Christian Andersen se aangrypende sprokie van die rooi skoene.

Lees die insiggewende artikel wat poog om die mite en mens van Ingrid Jonker uit te pak:

’n Moontlike verklaring vir die feit dat verhale soos Jonker s’n lesers en toehoorders eindeloos fassineer, kan te vinde wees in verklarings soos dié van Van der Merwe en Viljoen (1998:177) dat die leser sy persoonlike begeertes deur fantasieë op die werk projekteer en deur transformasie word die individuele lesing tot algemeen aanvaarde temas omvorm. Alcorn en Bracher (1985:345) meen dat deurdat lesers traumatiese en ontstellende situasies in ’n onbedreigende konteks beleef, hulle gedesensiteer word en sodoende sterker teen die vrees uit die leeservaring kom. Hulle noem as voorbeeld Wordsworth se waarneming dat lees hom op ’n romantiese wyse vertroud gemaak het met die dood en daarom was dit vir hom nie so vreesaanjaend om as seun te sien hoe ’n lyk uit ’n rivier gehaal word nie. Hulle sê: “As Wordsworth’s experience indicates, a treacherous terrain is much less difficult to negotiate if one’s cognitive map has prepared one for the region’s existence and topography.”

As dit so is, kan die eie dood vir lesers minder bedreigend word wanneer hulle Ingrid Jonker se skynbaar vreeslose obsessie met die dood vanuit die veiligheid van ’n leunstoel beleef.

Die persona van Ingrid Jonker word verder onthul in die pasgepubliseerde Vlam in die sneeu: Die liefdesbriewe van André P Brink & Ingrid Jonker, saamgestel deur Francis Galloway, ook beskikbaar in Engels as Flame in the Snow: The Love Letters of André Brink & Ingrid Jonker vertaal deur Leon de Kock en Karin Schimke.

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Watch: Lauren Beukes and Joey Hi-Fi Talk Survivor’s Club at New York Comic Con

Lauren Beukes and Joey Hi-Fi

MaverickBroken MonstersThe Shining GirlsGreat news for Lauren Beukes fans:

As of today, the first two titles of her new comic series Survivor’s Club, created with Dale Halvorsen (Joey Hi-Fi) and Ryan Kelly and published by Vertigo, are available for purchase.

The Survivor’s Club series picks up where various 1980s horror films ended. It’s the story of six people who survived terrible things as children – from being possessed by a poltergeist to having a killer doll – who meet on the internet, drawn together by the horrors they experienced in 1987 when a rash of occult events occurred around the world – with fatal results. Now, there are indications that it may be happening all over again. Is it possible that these six aren’t just survivors – but were chosen for their fates?

Beukes was in the US last month where she attended New York Comic Con with Joey Hi-Fi. caught up with them there to find out more about their project.

“What we wanted to do is we wanted to pull the rug out from under your feet, and you look down and you realise that the rug is made of human hair and flesh and those aren’t your feet … ” Beukes says.

Both Beukes and Joey Hi-Fi, who designs all her incredible book covers, are avid horror fans and kids of the ’80s. He says: “Horror hit some kind of peak in the 80s, so it’s really fun source material to draw on. Everyone thinks they know those stories, it’s almost like our generation’s fairy tales, so it’s really fun to play with what people expect to happen vs what happens in Survivor’s Club.”

Watch the interview for more on this exciting project:

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Survivor’s Club #1 and Survivor’s Club #2 are available now, digital and hard copy, with the next comic due at the start of each month.


This is not the first time this dynamic duo created a comic book together. Find out more about their first project:


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