100 World Class South Africans: Zakes Mda

2013-08-30 12:00

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Literary giant

In Zakes Mda’s 2007 novel Cion, the hero from his first book – Ways of Dying (1995) – finds himself in America.

It mirrors the author’s life: he’s now a professor of creative writing at Ohio University, or what he calls a ‘migrant worker’, having to make a living far from home because ‘doors closed to him’ in the new SA due to his outspokenness.

The son of PAC founder AP Mda, he grew up largely in exile in Lesotho and started writing protest plays and poetry while still in high school.

It was only once SA became a democracy that Mda felt he could write novels – he sat down at his first computer one day, intending to learn how to use it, and tapped out the opening sentence of his first novel.

He’s written nine novels since then, translated into 21languages (plus 10 other books, including poetry and a memoir) and has won many awards, including the Commonwealth Writers Prize.

Mda founded the African Writers Trust and has been a guest professor at Yale.

But back to Cion: it inspired the Cion Festival in Ohio, with lectures and readings by Mda and film screenings around issues in the book.

Not many South Africans can say they’ve inspired an annual festival overseas.

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