The award-winning author, famous for his novels ‘The Reactive (2014) and ‘Triangulum’ (2019), has released his first anthology of short stories and poems, ‘Native Life in the Third Millennium’ (MDL SEE, 2020), conceived during the covid-19 lockdown.
Compiled by: Thanduxolo “Thandz” Buti
Main image: Giorgia Fanelli
Since releasing his acclaimed debut novel, The Reactive, Masande has been hailed as a young and exciting voice in the literary scene. His works have earned him the prestigious Betty Trask Award and the inaugural PEN International New Voices Award.
The prolific author has now released his first anthology, Native Life in the Third Millennium’ born during the turbulent time of the global pandemic, covid-19. The book sees the genre-bending author intertwining poetry and prose and telling stories centered on “a poet, philosopher and programmer wrestl[ing] with systemic oppression and themselves, navigating anomie, alienation, and flashes of abundance in millennial Africa.”
The book is Masande’s first to be published by MODEL SEE MEDIA, also known as MDL SEE, “the world’s first pop-up publisher of experimental literature, art and code,” established by the author this year.
Talking to Blacklight, Masande says, even though the lockdown limited him in one way or another, it also resulted in a creative overflow.
“The lockdown meant not travelling as much, meaning more time to work, but it’s also meant being close to death. Even though the process has been made more efficient; it’s been weighted,” he says.
Blacklight: Can you tell more about your latest book, Native Life in the Third Millennium?
Masande Ntshanga: It’s an experimental chapbook, a hybrid collection of interlinking poetry and prose. It features a poet, a philosopher, and a programmer living and working under systemic oppression in South Africa. It aspires to be a portrait of native life in the third millennium – or at least as I see it. In terms of style, it’s an elaboration on or an extension of what I’ve done in my previous work.
BL: You are famous as a novelist, and your latest book comprises of short story collections and poetry; what inspired the shift?
MN: I got my first book deal off the strength of a story I published in 2013, so stories have always been there for me. In terms of poetry, I’ve always treasured it, but this is the first book that called for it.
BL: Your previous books were very well received, what do you think makes your work so important and relatable?
MN: Thank you, but as the author, I don’t get to determine that. It’s the role of those who read it.
BL: What is it about this book that makes it a worthy follow up to your other works?
MN: They’re all in conversation. Native Life in the Third Millennium speaks to both The Reactive and Triangulum. For me, writing, or art, is less about linear progression – going from bad to good to excellent; or from small to medium to large – than it is about revealing a body of work that already exists, fixed in place, almost like a constellation, inside the artist. For the rest of their life, their mission is to bring more and more of this already existing work into focus. This book is a worthy follow up because it’s the latest star to be unveiled in my constellation.
BL: You mentioned that the book is a collection of everything you’ve learned so far; what are some of the most valuable lessons you have learned as a black writer?
MN: To trust intuition, but also to know that intuition needs to be prepared for. That means learning the medium and experimenting with it. Learning how it fits on you. The more acquainted you are with how it works; the easier it is to give in to instinct, which is where the strongest writing resides.
BL: The Publishing industry has been affected by the transition to the digital era – how did you adapt?
MN: I like to think I’ve adapted. Digital helps when managing the constraints that come with a small budget. For example, focusing on online orders and microblogging can eliminate the need to hire a book distributor and press agent.
BL: How do you think writers/authors can adapt or survive in this era to ensure that their work finds an audience?
MN: Through being honest and engaged with the communities that support them. And through seeking out human beings instead of markets, and [also] writing.
BL: Do you survive solely on your writing, or have you diversified your income streams?
MN: I teach at Rhodes University’s MA Creative Writing Program, and I’m an editor at New Contrast.
BL: What is your writing process like – do you require a specific setting, ambiance, or solitary or social environment?
MN: I’m becoming more flexible when it comes to the environment. I listen to music, which means I don’t have to control what’s around me that much. I still require solitude, though.
BL: What do you do when real-life interferes with your process (especially when you have a deadline); how do you overcome such hurdles and maintain your focus on writing?
MN: I don’t always succeed, but most of the time, writing or editing is something I’m used to doing every day, even when on the go. I once logged into my Dropbox account from an airport terminal.
BL: How much planning do you do when you are writing a book – by the time you start writing, do you already know how the book will turn out?
MN: I’ll usually have a few ideas, which then turn into preoccupations, which I then take to a first draft. That’s all I’ll know at that point. The rest is determined by where the book wants to go. I follow.
BL: Lastly, what do you admire most about your latest work, and do you think people will be able to connect to the message or the questions you raise in this anthology?
MN: That it’s about us, and it’s from me to them. I can’t predict each response, but I hope readers connect with that.
Native Life in the Third Millennium is available at selected independent bookstores nationwide and online.
A Limited edition, numbered and signed by the author, is available on request. All proceeds go to organisations advocating for racial justice and the conservation of planet earth.
Here is an excerpt from ‘Native Life in the Third Millennium’:
I drove to meet Luvo at one of the two bottle stores we had in town, next to the butcher’s, and parked across a forecourt that was thinning to dust. From behind the wheel, all the buildings looked half-built. The disrepair wasn’t pronounced as much as it was a feature of the region, connecting the buildings on campus to hospitals and schools. It was a town of several thousand, built against the bank of an endangered river, with a single road marking the CBD.
During apartheid, the province had been divided into two homelands, both of which had formed part of a larger mass, spread across the republic, meant to accommodate native men, women and children – cramming seventy-five percent of the population into thirteen percent of the land. Underindustrialised and overpopulated, the homelands were quick to give in to poverty and environmental degradation, both of which would persist far into their future. I got out of the car and looked for Luvo.
Factories stood abandoned on the horizon, their windows shattered. Men lined the street corners, shaded under trees, waiting for work as women hawked wares on cardboard tables, seated on plastic beer crates, taking cover under awnings and faded parasols.
In between them, children returned from school holding hands, dressed in sunwashed uniforms, relieved to be released from the confines of crammed and collapsing classrooms.