Two Saturdays ago in Lagos, South Africa’s Sifiso Mzobe walked away with the coveted US$20,000 of the Wole Soyinka Prize for Literature in Africa. A journalist, Mzobe is the second South African to have won the prize after Dr. Kopano Matlwa (Coconut) jointly won with Nigeria’s Dr. Wale Okediran (Tenants of the House) two years ago. In this online interview with ANOTE AJELUOROU, the newly crowned literary laureate, Mzobe, expresses his delight at winning the prize and being able to shake hands with the iconic Prof. Wole Soyinka, the man for whom the pan-African prize is named. Excerpts:
What special feelings does winning the Wole Soyinka Prize for Literature in Africa engender in you?
I am deeply honoured, humbled and grateful. It gave me a deeper appreciation for the written word as to how far and wide it can travel.
What has changed in your life and work since winning the prize?
Getting known in the continent has been the major change. I mean I am answering questions in a Nigerian publication, for example.
What is changing in your life since? Do you have new friends, relations, etc?
Yes, I have made new friends. Quite a lot of friends in the few days I was in Lagos.
What is likely to change in your life and work?
I hope my work can reach a wider audience. I’d like to travel and see more countries in our beautiful continent.
The success of your story typifies the ascendancy African writing has witnessed in recent years. How would you describe what is happening to African fiction?
There has been a welcomed boom in African literature. This is to be expected as a younger generation grew up reading masters like Soyinka, Achebe and Mda.They carved the path, made us realise it is alright to have stories to tell. Our cities are growing and rapidly changing making for favourable writing conditions.
What is the nature of fiction publishing in South Africa? How are writers treated in terms of royalties, promotion, etc? Was it hard finding a publisher for your book?
Fiction does not outsell non-fiction but it is surviving. It is out there; our writers are breaking into the international scene, and naturally more will follow. With democracy barriers are broken hence these stories, country finding our feet on the social mingling aspect. The promotion aspect could be better, of course. It was hard finding a publisher, it took a while but I just persevered and kept rewriting.
How would you describe the writing environment in you country?
Our book market is small so it is hard. It has to be supplemented. I hope this can change because writing is time consuming yet time is the chief maker of good prose. If writers were given the time to just write, we’d have a clearer reflection of ourselves.
What reception did you get back home in South Africa?
The win has been well received. The media supports literature so interviews have come in thick and fast. And, all the congratulations from friends, family, the works.
What was your impression of the award event in Lagos?
It was a lovely event. Top class in all regards. I got to shake Wole Soyinka’s hand, and shared a joke with the great man. It was a wonderful evening!
How would you describe the work of the organisers of the prize, The Lumina Foundation in promoting literature on the continent?
The Lumina Foundation is a beacon in the continent. They provide a platform for the exchange of culture, among many things. We need more of their ilk.
What specific issue (s) does Young Blood address? What relevance to modern African societies?
Young Blood addresses crime from inside a car theft syndicate. The tale of a lost black male, showing how and why he gets lost. Navigating a world bent on adding barriers. It a story that happens everywhere in the cities of Africa.
What's next, then, for you as a writer? Any work coming soon?
I’m working on the second book. It’s a detective story of the rare kind begging to be finished.