2021 Sanlam Prize for Youth Literature shortlist: an interview with Lwazi Msimango

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Lwazi Msimango (photo provided)

Lwazi Msimango talks to Naomi Meyer about The firstborn, shortlisted for the Sanlam Prize for Youth Literature 2021.

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Well, HIV/AIDS has plagued South Africans for decades now and claimed many lives, but every time people speak about the virus, they always talk about the promiscuous/irresponsible adult and never about the kid who was born with it; I had a burning desire to tell a tale of a kid who maternally contracts the virus and has no say in the matter.

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Hi, Lwazi! Congratulations on being shortlisted for the Sanlam Prize for Youth Literature. Please would you tell me how your story was born?

Well, HIV/AIDS has plagued South Africans for decades now and claimed many lives, but every time people speak about the virus, they always talk about the promiscuous/irresponsible adult and never about the kid who was born with it; I had a burning desire to tell a tale of a kid who maternally contracts the virus and has no say in the matter. Mpilisi (the protagonist) is a precocious boy whose reality morphs into something else when he finds out that his mom gave him the virus; then he meets a girl by the name of Nokukhanya, who is equally precocious, and as the tale unravels, the reader discovers how their lives intertwine. LJ, on the other hand, is Mpilisi’s friend/classmate; he’s a typical pretty-boy Casanova with atypical intelligence. And last but not least is Njabulo, Mpilisi’s fraternal twin brother, who’s a gifted soccer player who feels he’s in his brother’s shadow; he has latent animosity towards his brother, a result of their mother always comparing them.

For which age group did you intend your story? Why did you specifically write a book for people of this age group? Which part of writing this story for these people did you enjoy most?

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It got me reminiscing about my high school days (which weren’t too great).

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I wrote this book for young adults (16–30). I’m a young adult myself; I belong to this age group, so I know the inclinations and temperaments of this age group more than older folks. I enjoyed writing every part of this book. It got me reminiscing about my high school days (which weren’t too great).

There are plenty of young adult fiction books written in English. What distinguishes a South African English language book from the rest?

I’m telling a South African young adult story that’s written in English, not a European/Western young adult story written in English; I guess that’s the difference – the geography, the characters and the writing, of course. The tale might be written in English, but it’s laced with South African culture.

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I’m telling a South African young adult story that’s written in English, not a European/Western young adult story written in English; I guess that’s the difference – the geography, the characters and the writing, of course. The tale might be written in English, but it’s laced with South African culture.

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How did the pandemic influence your writing and themes of writing, if at all?

Well, for the submitted manuscript, COVID-19 didn’t affect my writing, because I submitted it at the cusp of the virus outbreak. However, I am working on a new novel; I’m trying to master my craft, and I’ve written a few poems.

How did COVID-19 influence your own life personally?

COVID-19 has forced me to spend a lot of time with myself, and I tend to suffocate in a whirlpool of my own emotions and thoughts. In short, COVID-19 has influenced my life personally; whether it’s in a good or bad way, I’m not sure yet.

Also read:

2021 Sanlam Prize for Youth Literature shortlist: an interview with Musa Baloyi

Sanlamprys vir Jeuglektuur-kortlys 2021: ’n onderhoud met Ihette Senekal

Sanlamprys vir Jeuglektuur-kortlys 2021: ’n onderhoud met Faeed Amardien

 

Sanlamprys vir Jeuglektuur-kortlys 2021: ’n onderhoud met Elanie Boshoff

 

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