The writer and poet has released her debut short story anthology, “69 Jerusalem Street”, which gives an insider’s insight into the day-to-day life in the township.
Compiled by: Blacklight writer
Lindiwe Nkutha is a South African author whose work has been published in reputable publications such as Chimurenga and Itch. The Soweto-born writer has had a fascinating childhood, full of wonder, having lived in Dube, Phiri and Protea North in certain moments in her life. Living in different places helped to cultivate her imagination and propelled her to the wondrous world of storytelling.
With her debut book, 69 Jerusalem Street, the author wishes to recast black voices in literature and give them more authority over their narrative. The short story collection shares a unique encounter of life in the township through the eyes of the people who still call it home.
Blacklight: Who is Lindiwe Nkutha?
Lindiwe Nkutha: I was born in Soweto, Dube, in the 70s. We moved around a lot, but I primarily grew up in Soweto. I was raised to become an accountant, and that’s what I became. Storytelling found me along the way; my father is an avid storyteller. When he had a chance to tell stories, he would go on almost all day. My mother would also come back from work with so many stories about life in her workplace. So, the storytelling comes from being influenced by parents who were great storytellers. I also went to Anchor High School, one of the few schools – that had a library in the township. Me and my friend worked in the library, and we got to read a lot of books. That opened up a vista to the world of storytelling for me. Later on, in my teenage years, I discovered the Heinemann African Writers Series, which exposed me to literature from the African diaspora. The Chinua Achebe, and the Ngugi wa Thiong’o etc. That brought storytelling slightly closer to me.
BL: How did living in different places influence your writing?
LN: Most of my stories are set in the township. When I was reading stories written about the township, it was mostly about people who left the township or had aspirations to leave the township. I wanted to recapture the essence of the township: the day-to-day life in the township. And to present the day-to-day stories spectacularly. I draw a lot from my memory because I grew up there, even though I am one of the people who eventually moved. As a writer, I always look beyond the mundane and uncover the spectacular things within the space. The township is, embedded in me, and I want to represent it in a way that it has not been in a long time.
BL: Was that the Inspiration behind your short story collection?
LN: Yes. I wanted to give someone who has never stepped foot in the township a different view of it, through the eyes of the people who live there. I wanted to move away from all the preconceived notions that people have about the township, especially in the media. Like any other community, the township has people filled with hopes and dreams, fears, losses, triumphs etc. They transcend all of that and continue to live their lives to the fullest.
BL: Which characters in the book do you believe will resonate deeply with people?
LN: The first story in the collection is a story about a young girl who is wheelchair-bound called Rock. She lives in her mother’s house, which is an informal casino/shebeen. Due to her condition, she is limited to the parameters of her mother’s house. That forces her to rely on her imagination. Her interior is a world that she paints for herself using her imagination. She is a person, who despite her inhibitions, can step into other people’s worlds. I believe that she represents many people who have been circumscribed by their surroundings and create alternate worlds using their imagination. Also, the stories in the book ‘purposely’ center on women. I find that in literature, women are mostly relegated to supporting roles. This book gives a first-hand experience of black women’s struggles, challenges and triumphs as they navigate their day-to-day life.
BL: What do you think is the future of storytelling in South Africa?
LN: We all know that the publishing world has always been a white-dominated industry. As a result, most black stories are told from the perspective of white people. Now there is a hunger to hear post-1994 (post-democracy) stories about black life and experiences. However, because publishing remains predominantly “white” there is pressure to tell black stories in a particular way. Most authors tell black stories in a way that fits into the ‘overcoming’ and ‘rainbow nation’ narrative. That narrative is not necessarily bad; however, it advantaged those stories to the detriment of the regular black stories. This makes it difficult for people who don’t have the triumphant or overcoming stories to get the recognition they deserve.
But there has been a noticeable growth of publishers that are focused on telling black stories. There is Blackbird Books (Jacana media) and my publisher, Modjadji Books; who made it their mission to publish black women writers from Southern Africa. Many other publishers are magnifying black writers and tell black stories that have not been told before. But that is just a drop in the ocean compared to what is possible in pushing more black storytellers into the forefront.
BL: What kind of legacy do you want to have as an author?
LN: I would like to be remembered as a writer who told stories that have been overlooked. I want to be the writer who shines a light on the people who do not necessarily get represented in the media. The media is infamous for just using people’s stories or voices to confirm/affirm pre-existing ideas on black lives. Seldom, are “those people” allowed to tell their stories from their perspective – to be in control of their narrative. I want to be a writer who creates a platform for those people’s stories to be heard, whether it’s women, children, or the LGBTQ+ community.
69 Jerusalem Street is available at selected leading bookstores and online (Exclusive Books & Takealot).