Barbara Boswell’s new book inscribes Black womxn into the academy

Local Newest News QnA

On Africa day, 25 May 2020, we had a wonderful surprise for our followers. On Instagram live, Letlhogonolo Mokgoroane sat in conversation with award-winning author Barbara Boswell to discuss her first novel ‘Grace’ and to reveal the big surprise – Boswell’s new title.

Boswell will be releasing her new title with Wits Press. The new book is an academic offering titled And Wrote My Story Anyway: Black South African Women’s Novels. This book will be available in September 2020.

CN: What is the book about?

BB: And Wrote My Story Anyway’: Black South African Women’s Novels  critically examines foundational novels in English by Black South African women writers during the late 20th and early 21st centuries, placing them firmly within the South African literary canon. Part literary history, part feminist historiography, this book examines Black women writers’ key engagements with nationalism, race and gender during apartheid and the transition to democracy. It traces the ways in which Black women’s fiction critically interrogates narrow ideas of nationalism, calling to account who is included and excluded in prevailing ideologies of nationalism, while producing alternative visions for a more just South African society. I analyses the fiction of ten writers: Miriam Tlali, Lauretta Ngcobo, Farida Karodia, Agnes Sam, Sindiwe Magona, Zoë Wicomb, Rayda Jacobs, Yvette Christiansë, Kagiso Lesego Molope, and Zukiswa Wanner. Their lives and literature are located within the changing socio-political context of South Africa. I argue that Black women’s fiction could and should be read as a site of theory production. Fiction becomes a subversive site of knowledge production in a setting which, for centuries, disavowed black women’s voices and intellects. Reading their fiction as theory, this book produces a feminist theoretical discourse  that shapes the South African nation in profound ways. For the first time, these writers’ works of fiction are placed in sustained conversation with each other, producing an arc of feminist criticism that speaks forcefully back to the abuse of power. 

CN: Why did you think it was important to write this book?

BB: As a PhD student, this is the book I wanted to read. I wanted to have an idea about the history of Black South African women’s writing, and because that book did not exist, I decided to write it myself. This is a history that risks being lost if it isn’t documented, and I wanted to record the contribution of Black women to South Africa’s literary canon before their works were completely erased.

CN: What do you hope the book achieves?

BB: I would like the book to be read widely so that people may familiarise themselves with Black women’s contribution to South African letters. Many people do not know writers like Miriam Tlali or Lauretta Ngcobo, who was foundational in establishing a feminist literary theory of liberation for Black South African women. I would like people to get to know the names of these foundational writers, value their contribution to political and literary discourse, and of course, read their work. If this book can be one small step in the direction of having these writers’ novels taught in tertiary and secondary education curricula, I would be very happy.

CN: What was the best part about writing this book?

BB: I loved writing this book. It was based on my dissertation and I honestly felt at many times that writing this work saved me when I was at low points in my career and personal life. Even when I didn’t believe in myself, I believed in this book and that it needed to be published, and that would keep me going on to the next chapter, paragraph and even sentence. I loved the sense of discipline doing this work instilled in me — even though it took a long time to write, I kept at it and developed a rhythm in working with it. I loved that I got to meet Miriam Tlali and Lauretta Ngcobo through writing this work.

CN: What was the challenge in writing this book?

CN: What was challenging is that I sometimes had adverse life events happen — unemployment, underemployment, and moving cities, countries, and continents. When I was close to completing the manuscript, two important people in my life died. My difficulties with writing were really my difficulties with life. But somehow this book kept me anchored, and kept me going on even when there was a lot of despair and anxiety in my life. It was one constant that kept me engaged in my own life.

Follow @WitsPress and @BobbiBoswell on social media to get more information.

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