2021 Sanlam Prize for Youth Literature shortlist: an interview with Thulani Simayile

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Thulani Simayile (photo: provided)

Thulani Simayile from Eersterivier, Cape Town, talks to Naomi Meyer about uNolali, shortlisted for the Sanlam Prize for Youth Literature 2021. 

Congratulations on your shortlist nomination for the Sanlam Prize for Youth Literature of 2021. Please would you tell me how your story was born? Where did you get the idea for this story, and would you tell me about your characters?

The story is a fiction about the rural area’s social life, where democracy took several years to develop. People lived with their old ways of socialisation, until the youth became civilised (educated) and tried to bring change in their society. The main character is a boy called Velile, but his name changed to Nolali (“Village Boy”) when he went and stayed with his aunts (first his father’s sister, and later his mother’s sister) in different villages, which were much more civilised than his. He attended school there, and he got the name Nolali from his peers, because he stayed in several places. His life was miserable from his birth, as he was born in a poorest-of-the-poor family, taken by his aunts and brutally mistreated. His brilliance led him to a Catholic boarding school, but he was expelled, misled by his peer (Nkosi, born in Lesotho) into misbehaviour. That led him to be arrested. After his release, he went to Joburg looking for greener pastures, but he was unlucky. He ended up joining his friends who went to KwaZulu-Natal seeking wealth, and that nearly ended his life. Against all those odds, he managed to go back to school and study medicine.

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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I enjoyed when the main character showed his courage to achieve something (prizes and awards from school competitions); his aunt’s abuse caused him to excel in his studies and work hard on a farm and in a mine to earn something, rather than be a street robber.

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The story is based on youth between 12 and 20 years old. The theme and subthemes of the book carry the challenges (obstacles, discouragement, trauma and abuse, among others) that a human being may face, and how to overcome them, as the main character (Nolali) did. I enjoyed when the main character showed his courage to achieve something (prizes and awards from school competitions); his aunt’s abuse caused him to excel in his studies and work hard on a farm and in a mine to earn something, rather than be a street robber.

There are plenty of English books published for young people – why write a book for young people in their home language?

This was to enable every young person to have access to read in his/her mother tongue, and to promote African-language literature for young people, as it seems to be diminishing nowadays, as compared with English literature.

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

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The lockdown brought the whole family together; fortunately, my writing was already submitted to the publishers. But it impacted my library visitations and research as a hobby for getting new ideas before carrying on with writing new manuscripts.

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The lockdown brought the whole family together; fortunately, my writing was already submitted to the publishers. But it impacted my library visitations and research as a hobby for getting new ideas before carrying on with writing new manuscripts.

How did COVID-19 influence your own life personally?

It put my thoughts in jeopardy in terms of mental health, anxiety, negative emotional spirals and panic about something unpredictable.

Also read:

2021 Sanlam Prize for Youth Literature shortlist: an interview with Othusitse Moses Lobelo

Sanlamprys vir Jeuglektuur-kortlys 2021: ’n onderhoud met Annerlé Barnard

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

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

 

 

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