Proust Questionnaire: 17 questions with Sabata-mpho Mokae
By Yeow Kai Chai
Author and journalist Sabata-mpho Mokae is among a new generation of literary stars to come out of South Africa.
In 2012, his debut novel, Ga Ke Modisa [I'm Not My Brother's Keeper] (2012) accomplished a feat, receiving two M-Net Awards. The first was for best novel in the native language of Setswana and the second was a film award. The film accolade was for a book with the potential to be adapted into a film.
He is the author of a youth novella Dikeledi [Tears] (2014); a poetry collection Escaping Trauma (2012); and The Story of Sol T. Plaatje (2010), a biography of South African writer-journalist-activist-politican Sol Plaatje.
Born in the Free State province of South Africa in 1976, he holds a master's degree in creative writing. He is the editor of The Kimberley Journal, the first and only literary journal in Kimberley which is due to be launched in March 2015. He is also a columnist and a journalist at a daily newspaper, and a co-founder of the annual Sol Plaatje Literary Festival. He won the South African Literary Award in the literary journalism category in 2011.
An honorary fellow of the Fall Residency of The University of Iowa's International Writing Program in 2014, he is working with Paul Schneeberger on the English translation of his debut novel.
1. What are you reading right now?
I have just been introduced to the novels of Naguib Mahfouz. I'm reading Respected Sir.
2. If you were a famous. literary character in a novel, play, or poem, who would you be, and why?
I would be Mhudi, a female character in Sol Plaatje's epic novel Mhudi. I was brought up by women, and strong and wise women continue to inspire me. I wish I was as brave and wise as Mhudi. My wildest dream is to write a novel in which the protagonist is a dignified, beautiful, wise and strong woman.
3. What is the greatest misconception about you?
When you write in mainly an African language and your work is to some extent based on Africa's painful history and legacies, it's easy for people to conclude that you dislike European languages or you're anti-West. Actually, I'm at peace with the world and I also write in English too.
4. Name one living author and one dead author you identify with most, and tell us why.
A dead author would be Charles Bukowski because he creates the so-called lowlives the characters I like writing about. They are what I call unknown citizens and they don't matter to the high class. They carry the heaviest burdens and still manage to laugh, make love, dance and be central to drama. A living author I identify with is US-based Kenyan author, Ngugi wa Thiong'o, for his insistence that African stories can and ought to be written in African languages. With the history that Africa has of deprivation, slavery, colonialism, apartheid quality writing that asserts Africa's place in the world or introduces Africa to the world is appealing.
5. Do you believe in writer's block? If so, how do you overcome it?
I don't believe in writer's block. When I stare at a computer screen it's usually because I'm tired or I'm plotting my characters' next move.
6. What qualities do you admire most in a writer?
The courage to be honest.
7. What is one trait you deplore most in writing or writers?
In the days we're living in it's the inflated sense of self-importance.
8. Can you recite your favourite line from a literary work or a piece of advice from a writer?
From Cry, the Beloved Country by Alan Paton: "Cry, the beloved country, for the unborn child that is the inheritor of our fear. Let him not love the earth too deeply, by one who had been moved when the birds of his land were singing. Let him not laugh too gladly when the water runs through his fingers, nor stand too silent when the setting sun makes red the veld with fire. Let him not be too moved when the birds of his land are singing , nor give too much of his heart to a mountain or a valley. For fear will rob him of all if he gives too much."
9. Complete this sentence: Few people know this, but
I can write about anything and anyone on earth except bats. I fear bats and cannot write about them because I'm even afraid of imagining them.
10. At the movies, if you have to pick a comedy, a tragedy, or an action thriller to watch, which will you go for, and why?
Most films by Tyler Perry because laughter is the best medicine.
11. What is your favourite word, and what is your least favourite one?
I don't have a favourite word. However, there are words that I discover from time to time. I have just discovered a short word "winnow" and I try to find ways of putting it to use. My least favourite word is "selfie". I think it's lazy attempt at creating a new word. So far I have only used it once or twice.
12. Write a rhyming couplet that includes the following three items: prairie, Waterloo, birthday.
Maybe I there is a thing called writer's block after all.
13. What object is indispensable to you when you write?
A mind free of all the stressors of daily life. That's why I write at ungodly hours.
14. What is the best time of the day for writing?
I write in the early hours of the day, between two o'clock and five o'clock. It's quiet because everybody at home is usually asleep at that time.
15. If you had a last supper, which three literary figures, real or fictional, would you invite to the soiree, and why?
Naguib Mahfouz who is regarded as the "Father of Arabic novel" by many writers and literary scholars. The second one would be Sol Plaatje, whose work inspires me greatly and then Langston Hughes.
16. In a recent interview, you were adamant that you would never write a book about yourself. Why is that so?
Africa is still unknown to the world. I have many stories about this continent and her people that I need to tell. These stories keep me sleepless at night. One lifetime is hardly a drop in the ocean. There won't be enough time to write about myself. I also don't think I'm interesting enough. But others can write about me if they so wish.
17. What would you write on your own tombstone?
QLRS Vol. 14 No. 2 Apr 2015
"He was a writer and he called every man his brother."