Short.Sharp.Stories anthology Fluid: interview with Keith Oliver Lewis, author of “Blue Boy Lagoon"

  • 0

Keith Oliver Lewis is a poet from Smartie Town, Paarl. His work speaks to the lived experiences of coloured/brown people in South Africa. He uses words to investigate and reveal the root of the social ills plaguing his community. Keith’s creations focus on reimagining the forgotten histories of his people and humanising their current surreal existence. He sees memory as an archive to bring healing from trauma and loss, and says of his Short.Sharp.Stories-winning entry, “Blue Boy Lagoon”: “The inspiration for my story comes from the 1980s movie The Blue Lagoon. I aimed to illustrate how so many coloured boys have to fend for themselves from an early age without any guidance. In an anti-black, queerphobic and hyper-masculine society, these boys, like the characters in The Blue Lagoon, find themselves stranded, struggling to survive without any resources.”

Below is a mini-interview between Karina Magdalena Szczurek and Keith Oliver Lewis, author of the short story “Blue Boy Lagoon", featured in the 2023 Short.Sharp.Stories anthology, Fluid.

KMS: One of the Short.Sharp.Stories judges, Niq Mhlongo, said that your writing style is “fresh” and “vibrant”, and that your characters “are as lovable, witty, believable and fallible as the people I know in real life”. In your biographical note, you mention that you see memory as a tool for healing trauma and loss. Do you think that storytelling, and the kind of connection that Niq Mhlongo found in your characters, can also fulfil a healing function in society?

KOL: Yes, I believe that storytelling can offer healing. I started sharing my writing in 2019 when I was asked to pay tribute to my 18-year-old cousin. He was murdered on school grounds. Nolan was the first of six young family members and friends for whom I would have to make a eulogy. The most recent one was my little brother, Donavon, who was murdered in March. When I think about memory, it is the remembrance that interests me. I found it tough to memorialise a life that had barely begun. I kept on wanting to fill in the gaps. “Blue Boy Lagoon”, like most of my work, is me reimagining those blank spaces. And I have seen how poetry and storytelling has brought me and my family some comfort. This story is in remembrance of my broers. I mention their names and their favourite songs and movies. I am so grateful that Niq Mhlongo used the words “believable” and “fallible”. These characters are fictional, but they are also a quilt of real memories. With this story, I tried my best not to create archetypal characters or fall into the stereotypes that burden coloured characters in the media. I wanted to show these boys with all of their complexities, faults and facets. I believe that these are the things that make us human.

KMS: I am deeply sorry for your loss, Keith. Considering all the pain and challenges, which resources do you think are most vital for young boys like your characters, to allow them to thrive?

KOL: This is a difficult question – difficult in the sense that I think this question asks for a practical answer, but I’m struggling with feasible suggestions. To be honest, this system that we live under does not and has never favoured people who look like me. And it’s not a debate. Our lack of resources, our un-thriving, is the direct result of the violence done by and still being done by the Resourced and Thrivers. The way this world is set up depends on our pain, and I don’t think any resources given to us under this system would benefit us in any way. How do we remedy this? Begin with what and whom this society sees as resources or tools, and who gets to have ownership of these resources.

KMS: Why do you think that instead of being curious about difference, we so often feel threatened by it?

KOL: Because it threatens the rigid rules and truths that we have made our gods. When there is an alternative, an “other”, we are forced to see the cracks in the foundation of these false truths about gender, sexuality, religion, etc. The people who refuse to embrace differences are usually profiting from the monotonous.

KMS: You are also a poet. How do you think poetry influences your prose?

KOL: I usually write narrative poems and prose poems. “Blue Boy Lagoon”, to me, feels like a massive poem. In poetry, I exploit the mundane, and I think that while writing this short story, that practice allowed me to further the story/plot in simple and undetectable ways.

KMS: When did you know that you wanted to be a writer?

KOL: I actually don’t know whether I want to be a writer. I do know that I am passionate about creating characters and new worlds. I want to keep on creating a space on the page, or wherever, that feels like home to someone like me.

KMS: What do you do when you are not writing?

KOL: I’m obsessed with RuPaul’s drag race and the Marvel Cinematic Universe. So, when I’m not writing, I’m watching men in dresses or men with superpowers. Sometimes, I can’t tell the difference.

KMS: What does it mean to you to have won the Short.Sharp.Stories competition?

KOL: It honestly feels validating. I’m still very green when it comes to writing. “Blue Boy Lagoon” is the second short story I’ve ever written, so you can imagine how I felt when the story was chosen to be published. Winning was just the cherry on the cake. It made me once again realise that I have something here, that we have something here to offer to the world.

KMS: Will we be reading more short stories from you?

KOL: Yes, definitely!

KMS: Do you think that a writer can become a role model for young people?

KOL: I think writers already are role models. I know that I already am a role model to the boys and girls and elders in Smartie Town. But, at the same time, writers are not obliged to be role models. You don’t have to be. I don’t go into a project wanting to be a symbol or a representative, but I don’t have the luxury of distancing myself from the weight that my body carries and the perseverance or hope that my existence displays.

Also read:

Short.Sharp.Stories anthology Fluid: interview with Lerato Moletsane, author of “Pink baloon trousers"

Short.Sharp.Stories anthology Fluid: interview with Vuyokazi Ngemntu, author of “Mirror, Mirror"

  • 0


Jou e-posadres sal nie gepubliseer word nie. Kommentaar is onderhewig aan moderering.