Moses Mtileni recently published his debut novel Mpimavayeni, which is written in Xitsonga. We just published an excerpt in English and Xitsonga. He is the author of two collections of poetry, U ya va Rungula. His short stories and poems have appeared in a number of local and international journals, magazines and anthologies. He has recently curated a Xitsonga anthology of poems, Ntsena Loko Mpfula A Yo Sewula, and translated Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o’s short story, The Upright Revolution: Or Why Humans Walk Upright, into Xitsonga (published in Jalada Translation Issue 01). Mpimavayeni is his first novel.
What are you reading now?
I am rereading The Famished Road by Ben Okri
Can you quote a favourite line from The Famished Road?
“We feared the heartlessness of human beings, all of whom are born blind, few of whom ever learn to see1)page 3, The Famished Road. Ben Okri”. OR “A dream can be the highest point of a life2)page 574, The Famished Road. Ben Okri”
Is there a book that you started and just could not finish?
I am trying to remember…
As a published author and poet who works in both English and XiTsonga do you think people are reading any of your works in Xitsonga?
A poet said to me once, that writings always meet their readers, no matter how few and far between those readers are. And so our role is simply to write, and to write as best we can, to cultivate and nurture the art, to very simply tell stories. And so I think that my Xitsonga writings, a language I predominantly and deliberately write in, have and continue to meet their readers. I have had from time to time, correspondence from readers reflecting on my work, and appreciating that I write the language, and in the language. And so the work travels, even if slowly. It stays, wherever it does arrive. I think English is a rich language, an ocean, with a trillion streams feeding into it, taking its shape, reshaping its content. These streams include those of us who, although nurtured and cultured by languages we call mother tongue outside English, chose still to write in that language. Who expands the horizons of our own languages – IsiZulu, SiSwati, Shona, Chewa, Yoruba, Luganda, Xitsonga – if those of us born of these languages do not read and write them. If we do not liberate them from the confines of schools into global languages of literature, of art, of commerce even. And so as the poet said, all good writing, in any language, will find its readers.
What would you say to people who say reading Xitsonga is too hard?
I would say that it is as difficult as any other language you care to master. For language, any language, if approached with humility, is an intricate scaffold – of morphologies – upon which is layered cultures, histories, memories, identities of a people. Treated with care, and patience, and respect, and love – language unfolds before one entering it a world other than one they are hitherto familiar with. And so Xitsonga is as difficult and as easy to read as Siswati, IsiZulu, IsiXhosa, as any other language can be. It is as lyrical, as musical, as malleable, and as beautiful. I would say the reader must go in search of it, and in search of the rich memories, histories, and practices it carries in its rhythms – they will walk away richer.
What is the one book that you believe changed your life, in any way? (you can list more than one book and tells us how it affected you)
I would not say changed my life, I would say expanded my horizon. Just a few titles, very narrowed here – and the lessons:
- The Eye of the Story by Eudora Welty and Art in the Light of Conscience by Marina Tsvetaeva – write to reflect on the art of writing
- The Gospel According to Jesus Christ by José Saramago and Open Closed Open: Poems by Yehuda Amichai – Inversion is a source of creation, and culture/religion an archive for a writer
- Mihloti (Tears) and Xikolokolo Nguvu Ya Pitori (A Must) by M.J. Magaisa, and Xisomisana by F.A. Thuketana – the writer is not only a chronicler, but a conscience to her people
List five favourite books you think we should all read.
- Blindness by José Saramago
- Doctor Zhivhago by Boris Pasternak
- The Picador book of African short stories edited by Stephen Gray
- The Vintage Book of Contemporary World Poetry, edited by J.D. McClatchy
- Poems of Black Africa edited by Wole Soyinka
References [ + ]
|1.||↑||page 3, The Famished Road. Ben Okri|
|2.||↑||page 574, The Famished Road. Ben Okri|