Bongani Kona just got back from the proceedings for The Caine Prize For African Writing in the UK as his tender, expressive short story, At Your Requiem, was nominated for the 2016 Prize. He is a freelance writer and contributing editor of Chimurenga. His work has appeared in the Mail & Guardian, Rolling Stone (South Africa), Sunday Times and other publications. Bongani is currently enrolled as a Master’s student in the Creative Writing Department at the University of Cape Town. We thought we’d pick his brains about the books that make his world go round.
Book Lover’s Hangout: Can you reveal that last book you read that blew your mind?
Bongani Kona: I have this theory that like people, really good books come into your life at the appointed time and for a specific purpose. I read Alejandro Zambra’s debut novel, Bonsai, for the first time a couple of months ago and it blew me away. It’s a serious book but it’s also very playful and I loved that. I’m still learning about writing fiction and I tend to write with my jaws clenched and the lesson I took away from Zambra is that it’s ok to laugh.
BLH: What are you reading at the moment?
BLH: Are there any authors you think are underrated in
African fiction and do you have any theories why they might be?
That’s a really difficult question to answer because writing is such a peripheral thing. The publishing industry in South Africa – where I’m based – is really small. The books are also expensive and access is limited. It’s also hard to get books published elsewhere on the continent. Cassava Republic, for instance, has an mazing catalogue but it’s hard to get any of those books here.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that in a context were books sell a couple hundred copies – and that’s considered good – it’s hard to speak of writers as being undervalued because, in general most of them are. That said, I read a lot of fantastic books which came out in 2015 and early this year and I really loved Stacy Hardy’s debut collection, Because the Night.
BLH: Which book of hers do you think shows off their talents best?
BK: She’s been writing for years and Because the Night would be a good place to start.
BLH: When you read, do you read as a writer, critically trying to find out what makes the book work or for pleasure as an average reader?
There was a time in my life when I reviewed books quite regularly and I guess I read as a critic. I still do but these days I read more as a writer.
BLH: Are there any books being released this year that you’re really looking forward to?
BK: I’m really looking forward to Yaa Gyasi’s Homegoing. I was completely blown away by a short story of hers I read last year in Guernica and I’ve been looking forward to the novel ever since.
BLH: Here’s a scenario, for you. Most of human life has been wiped out due to nuclear fallout, the surface is now uninhabitable. You’re moving to a subterranean home you’ve built underground. You won’t be able to come back up, ever. Which five books do you take with you?
A disclaimer before I answer this question: this list only comprises of books I’ve read in the last year or two. Of those books I’ve also chosen two fiction titles and two works of non-fiction and a poetry collection.
- Random Family: Love, Drugs, Trouble, and Coming of Age in the Bronx by Adrian Nicole LeBlanc
- Harlem is Nowhere by Sharifa Rhodes-Pitts
Failing Maths and My Other Crimes by Thabo Jijana