Zukiswa Wanner

Inkuru Series Interview: The African Story- with Zukiswa Wanner

Zukiswa Wanner is a South African journalist, novelist and editor born in Zambia and now based in Kenya. Since 2006, when she published her first book, her novels have been shortlisted for awards including the South African Literary Awards and the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize.

Victoria: Tea or Coffee? 

Zukiswa Wanner: Wine.

Victoria: A peek into your writing journey (how did you discover you wanted to be a writer?

Zukiswa Wanner: I didn’t. An older writer friend (now deceased) challenged me to do so because he thought I was one after reading a few pieces I used to email him. I like challenges so I wrote.

Victoria: What do you think makes a good story?

Zukiswa Wanner: Sincerity from the writer. You can always tell when a writer is emotionally invested in the story they have written and their characters that makes a hell of a difference.

Victoria: What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?

Zukiswa Wanner: I don’t think I have any. I am very normal and boring that way.

Victoria: What is worth writing about?

Zukiswa Wanner: Whatever the writer deems as important.

Victoria: Where & how did you get information & ideas for your book?

Zukiswa Wanner: I get ideas from humanity. I get the information from research.

Victoria: What kind of research do you do? And how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?

Zukiswa Wanner: My biggest research tool is eavesdropping. That great library called Google and of course places like museums and traditional libraries (which one cannot visit now except virtually) But I am also a big reader (I complete two books a week on average). Sometimes I will see an idea that a writer throws in but doesn’t pursue to its definite finish and I will be curious to research more on it.

Victoria: How did you publish your first book? (Share your process).

Zukiswa Wanner: I wrote. I sent to five publishers. Three accepted it. I selected one who seemed most enthusiastic. Did some edits and then the book was published.

Victoria: What was your favorite part, and your least favorite part, of your publishing journey?

Zukiswa Wanner: Holding the book in my hand was fantastic. The least favourite part was when my friend’s father (also a writer) said to me “congratulations but… everyone has a book in them. You only become an author(ity) when you have three books.”

Victoria: What was your dream job when you were younger?

Zukiswa Wanner: I wanted to be a lawyer because a family friend of ours who used to talk to me like I mattered and not like I was a child was a lawyer.

Zukiswa Wanner
Zukiswa Wanner via Johannesburg Institute for Advanced Study

Victoria: Share 3 things we probably don’t know about you! 

Zukiswa Wanner: I’m a fantastic cook. I’m a village girl with city pretensions (I spent a fair share of my childhood in my mother’s village staying with my grandparents). I am generally a good judge of character and as such, am still friends with my friends from primary, high school and college (and when I say friends, I mean I can go to their homes and stay there to this day and I talk to them constantly).

Victoria: What is the first book that made you cry?

Zukiswa Wanner: Maan! I cry all the time when I read I can’t even remember that. I am pretty sensitive to art. I cry when I watch movies and go to the theatre too. The first book to make me laugh though was Shimmer Chinodya’s Harvest of Thorns.

Victoria: Do you believe in writer’s block?

Zukiswa Wanner: Not at all. I think what people call Writer’s Block is really a work not yet ready to be written. Because when the work is ready, a writer has a compulsion almost as though they are possessed, to let out the story. At least that what happens to many of my friends and I.

Victoria: Do you have suggestions to help us become better writers? If so, what are they?

Zukiswa Wanner: Nothing more than read and read widely. Reading will teach any writer how to be experimental with their own craft. I’m often taken aback by younger writers who have not bothered to engage with works from anywhere else on the continent other than their own country. Like how?

Victoria: Share a character Inspiration. (Example; Men of the South)

Zukiswa Wanner: Although my books read have being very character-driven, my characters are actually inspired by events. The idea of Men of the South was born in 2008 during the Afrophobic attacks. I was keen to build a character who was middle class, aspirational but didn’t have South African citizenship and would do anything to have papers. That man became Tinaye. Mfundo and Mzilikazi were supposed to play a supporting role but they wrote themselves into being key characters.

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