Acclaimed South African author Zakes Mda is a novelist, poet and playwright.
His last novel, ‘The Zulus of New York’ tells the story of a band of Zulus sent to England and later the United States in the 1880s to perform in a circus as “human curiosities”.
Mda talks to Phemelo on Weekend Breakfast about subverting the traditional historical narrative.
“History itself is really about the grand narrative, the big events… it’s always told from the perspective of the dominant classes, the ruling elite. For me it’s important to subvert that and tell history from the perspective of the ordinary people who were touched by grand events,” says Mda.
One of the characters in ‘The Zulus of New York’ falls in loved with a caged Dinka woman.
Mda tells Phemelo more about how he tries to humanise the ordinary people caught up in the circumstances of their moment in history.
“It was important for me to dig further than just the name and bring back that humanity, because these were human beings who had a life before they were caged, who had families, who had children, who loved and hated… and even in captivity continued to be human and struggled and strived to maintain their dignity.”
The author says the stories he tells find him.
“Each novel is sparked by something different. But the primary reason, is that this is a great story to tell. In most cases, stories find me.”
Will historical novels still flow from Mda’s pen in the future? Well, his focus may be shifting to a different, but still important audience.
He says: “I’m not stopping writing… because there are other more important people to write for – namely, children.”
For more of this fascinating discussion, listen below:
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