The write stuff

2013-10-16 11:00

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Masande Ntshanga is making the literary world sit up and take note.

He’s one of South Africa’s most promising up-and-coming writers – a fact that was cemented recently when he was awarded the annual PEN International New Voices Award for his short story Space.

Masande (27), who is doing his MA in Creative Writing at UCT, travelled to Iceland to receive his prize – a cool cash injection of $1 000 (nearly R10 000). The PEN Award is open to new writers aged between 18 and 30 in over 100 countries.

East London-born Masanda’s fiction has appeared in the South African youth culture annual Laugh It Off, as well as in online creative magazines ITCH and Habitat.

What was the inspiration behind Space?

I’ve always wanted to write a story about Bisho in 1992. I spent some of my childhood years there and have always been struck by how, even though we were largely oblivious of the political situation at the time, we were no less animated by what we saw as its heroism and violence.

In a strange way, it filtered into our play – we’d fill water bottles and call them petrol bombs. On the other hand, there was also this pristine suburban atmosphere that surrounded us.

I began by wanting to write about that contrast, but the story kept failing – as soon as I’d start, the idea I had would get in the way.

In the end I realised it wasn’t about what I thought; it’s only when I became aware of having to remove myself from the story’s centre that something started to show.

Why did you enter your story?

I was nominated to participate in the competition by Imraan Coovadia, a fellow writer and mentor, as well as a member of SA PEN.

What are you working on at the moment?

A novel called The Autobiographies of Presidents. It’s set in Cape Town and features people who wear masks and sniff a lot of glue.

It also contains performance art, freeganism, tik, molecular biology, stem cell research and artificial intelligence. I don’t want to give too much away, but I think that ultimately it’s a story about friendship and home.

Where can we read more of your work?

Try I’m releasing a pocket book of stories there soon.

Which writers do you admire and do any have direct bearing on your work?

You get different things from writers you like, and also from those you don’t. Then there’s the process of growing to disagree with others who used to inspire you. My friends wouldn’t let me rest if I didn’t mention Victor LaValle – I used to push him on everyone.

3 Books I recommend

1. Penumbra by Songeziwe Mahlangu because the writing is honest, lucid and urgent.

2. A Personal Matter by Kenzaburõ Õe manages both an intricate psychology and brutal physicality.

3. The Business of Fancydancing by Sherman Alexie, which I opened just last week.

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