What Happened to South Africa's Fiction Writers?

2016-09-13 11:28

A few weeks ago, while awating a 4:55pm flight from Durban's King Shaka International Airport to Johannesburg, I walked into one of the airport's books store, an exercise I often do to window shop new book releases. This helps me decide on which book to buy the next time I visit a book shop. I normally glance around the 'non-fiction' section for current affairs, bio and autobiographies (especially that of political figures) and also the fiction section. Upon checking the non-fiction section, I realised just how there's is never much change (if at all). You have books published a decade and more ago. You have ‘new release’ section staying for more than two months. You go to African writers, you are still bound to come across on of Ngugi’s oldies. You glance on SA’s current affairs, you still have Eusebius and Songezo Zibi’s books occupying the recent books section of the shelves. Both these book were published more than a year ago. The real problem is with fiction books, a genre that was once the greatest in sales, hype and popularity and the scarcity of this genre which has actually led to me writing this article. If you are eve lucky enough to stumble upon a new book of fiction in a bookstore, chances are the author died two decades ago or if alive, is in his 80s, an old man or a woman, great writers by the way, occupying the better part of the store and this is the same for every single book store, regardless of the name or franchise. This has become a mundane task of no surprises. Same names, same books and if by some chance there's any new names, they are either American, or British or if I'm lucky, it is an old black man or woman (mostly from east and west Africa). I am unconsciously coming to accept that chances of me running into a new fiction book by a young South African person are slimmer than that of me seeing a shooting star across Durban’s misty, humid summer skies. This made me ask myself a question, what happened to SA’s generation of young fiction writers? I grew up on Reader's digest, those days, there was more fiction books than cars in my rural town. There were more Jules Verne copies of Journey to the Centre of the earth than there were computers in our school library. One could stay transfixed into this literary masterpiece, escape reality and go down the secrete passage through a volcano to the centre of Mother Earth. There were choices. You could stay on Zakes Mda's world of imagination or just fly away with Chris Van Wyk's pen into Coronationville or Riverlea. A has always had a fresh generation n of young writers in every decade but lately you less likely to know of any new work of fiction out there let alone find one in a book store shelf.

One must admit that books in general are fast becoming a telegram in the years of internet. Dwindling sales are proof to this claim but the reality is that, e-books are also a way our telegram in the form of hardcopies moved with times into emails of literature. Kindle editions are a way of reading a book without necessarily grabbing a paperback editions. The question then begs, why are our young people not publishing work of fiction?


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