Speaking In Tongues: A Conversation between Mapule Mohulatsi (South Africa) and TJ Benson (Nigeria) on Selves.
(AFS decided to leave the following conversation as they are, unfiltered, as part of our quest to push the boundaries of literary conversations, to embrace and normalize the cultural revolution of having conversations in the age of social media. AFS also wants to make literary interviews less traditional than they currently are, devoid of heavy and conventional make-up. AFS wants naturally flowing, fun driven conversations that still retain their quality content. The aim is to bring conversations that are not pretentiously intellectual to the world, and show how profitable even banter on social media can be. The idea came to us after we examined our daily conversations and realized that so much was being lost, even when there was so much in them to be archived by way of publishing. It is also a way of preserving humanity in time, so that the future knows what we were and how we were and the things we talked about at certain times.)
This conversation was conducted on Whatsapp from 11th to 16th February, 2018.
TJ Benson: Hello Mapule. It is TJ Benson —
Mapule: Hey — 🦋🐥🐛
TJ Benson: Haha, I appreciate the gifts. Apologies for coming empty handed but I will treat these animals as pets. I hope all is well with you —
Mapule: Lol, it’s okay, I am a bit of an emoji freak 🐍, I love them. I am okay, thanks. How are you?
TJ Benson: I am good. Basit says we’re having this conversation based on our work featured in the explosive ‘Selves Anthology.’ Somehow, I feel we’ve already started the conversation right here, I like this natural flow although I don’t know about you–
Mapule: Yeah, I think so too 🐌👒, which is amazing. I think it’s a great idea because you seem to have some experience and I am a self-proclaimed neophyte so there is a lot to speak about. I am all about fucking around with form, so I am excited — 👠🧚🏽♂🧚🏾♀🧞♀
TJ Benson: 👏🏽😂😂same, same. I guess we’ll just throw questions around each other’s work in the anthology. I can give you time if necessary to read up on mine–
Mapule: I have already read– 🤓
TJ Benson: 🙊Haha, okay. You talk about being a neophyte but have you read your opening paragraph? I mean! It resonated with me even though I didn’t *love* the experience. In Nigeria you have no idea how our tongues are treated and not just in school. The larger part of my generation grew up in urban areas without their mother tongue. Even now. My resentment for English language is conflicted though, yet even though it is my first language I hate that for you to understand me I have to speak in it–
TJ Benson: *live not love haha–
Mapule: Lol, neophytes stay confusing the masses 😎 (jokes). How did English become your first language? It’s really funny because Nigeria is the hub (birth place) of this conversation, namely the Makerere conference. I guess with us, our generation, English is a first language – in thought, speaking, and writing. It is really sad that we would not understand each other without it, never really thought of that. But then again, it’s also a blessing —
TJ Benson: O my father was from the Tiv tribe while my mother from Idoma and Igbo, so English was all they had between them and when I came into the world it was what I met. I spent time learning Tiv and when years later I attempted fiction in Tiv… well there were ghastly results. Hahaha. Do you write in your native tongue?
Mapule: No. I can’t. I can write in Zulu but I really don’t aspire to write a short story in Zulu 😞 —
TJ Benson: Haha, I see! —
Mapule: Okay, work is actually quiet, I reread your beautiful piece and jotted down the similarities I think we both share in our pieces. Firstly, writing about writing. Second, genitalia. Third, mourning, death, and rebirth, my mother passed away in 2015 and that’s when I really started, or rather, wanted to write. I have always been a reader. Fourth, escape. Fifth, loneliness. And the sixth, the mother’s womb —
TJ Benson: Precisely. I have wondered if all writers are writers as a means of escape —
Mapule: I don’t know. I used to think that but I don’t anymore. I think they are all mostly dwellers and over thinkers who won’t let things go. That’s not escape —
TJ Benson: Dwellers and overthinkers who won’t let things go. That’s familiar. Like you returning to a time before your birth in your piece! Having read some of Lebo Mashile and Koleka Putuma and now you, it seems a lot of SA writing is tied to the memory of the country and how individuals navigate it —
Mapule: Yeah, it’s almost like the country never dealt with anything and it’s the individual who has to navigate where they actually stand with everything. The country is a mine of memory, and we all have to deal with that, but most definitely it’s a question of who has the responsibility to remember and who has the right to forget —
Mapule: Lol, I want to share a tweet with you I found funny —
TJ Benson: Haha, okay —
Mapule: “someone kindly disclose what kind of water nigerians drink and bathe in at birth because their writers and their depth 🙌🏿” —
TJ Benson: Abeg jare 😂😂😂😂 —
Mapule: 😂😂😂 it’s true. So much witchcraft with you Nigerian/writers! Share please —
TJ Benson: We are desperate and hungry and plenty —
TJ Benson: You guys keep your awesomeness for yourselves —
Mapule: South African writers? Can I be honest with you?
TJ Benson: Yes —
Mapule: I don’t think the SA writing landscape is rich —
TJ Benson: My point exactly. Until recently you guys stayed hidden —
Mapule: Yeah, it’s only sprouting now. Slowly, but promising. Compare us to Nigeria and Zimbabwe and we are defunct, in terms of both cultural production as well as the quality of that production —
TJ Benson: I doubt quality is the issue. Look at Megan Ross. Koleka Putuma, Sibongile Fisher. Even you —
Mapule: No those are the really good and amazing sprouting people, I am talking about an older and more established generation of writers —
TJ Benson: O I wonder about that. You guys have a rich history —
Mapule: Lol, okay I have to figure out a proper way to explain what I mean 🙂 —
Mapule: Do you listen to music when you write?
TJ Benson: A lot –
TJ Benson: Controls my mood —
Mapule: Me too 🐥🤓 —
Mapule: What do you usually listen to?
Mapule: I am always amazing at the inseparability of music and writing and I am never sure which is the better of the two. This is also considering the relationship some musicians have with writing and vice versa —
TJ Benson: Lots of writers I know see music as a distraction. However, I listen to all kinds of it, my tastes vary depending on what I am working on —
Mapule: Really ? Complete opposite on my side —
TJ Benson: Although last December I decided to fuck all that literary bullshit and act my age and have fun so my South African friends introduced me to Babes et al —
Mapule: 😎😎🦋😂😂😂 dude!!! Bless up! Fuck this idea of what being literary looks and sounds like! What do you think of babes? Can I also say that the Nigerian music is making waves to us South Africans, literally there is no groove without it —
TJ Benson: Which is crazy because your choirs are the soul of Africa. Our artists always run down south for collaborations —
Mapule: 😎😎😎😍😍😍 I know. Our choirs are always doing the most. It’s not a choir but look at what Black Ladysmith Mambazo has been doing —
TJ Benson: I resent the supremacy Nigerian music has in Africa because there is a lot to offer from other parts of it —
Mapule: Really? To us it’s not them dominating, we see it as a sort of representation, as them infiltrating and even influencing America pop culture —
TJ Benson: What we have now is artists replicating sounds and trash. I can say the same for literature —
Mapule: Agree with the replication. Lol, a friend of mine said I was resentful when I said this —
TJ Benson: Lool —
TJ Benson: Nigerian friend?
Mapule: No, Zimbabwean 😀 —
TJ Benson: It is what it is. How much literature has come from Zimbabwe?
Mapule: Not much lately considering Mugabe, but I am sure a lot should be making its way. You get Zim writers writing outside their countries. The late Chenjerai Hove was one of them, and others like Petina Gappah. Percy Zvomuya writes from in and out the country, and Bongani Kona as well. I think it has a richer literary landscape than South Africa —
TJ Benson: Well Noviolet?
Mapule: Yes! Her too. Novuyo Tshuma also has a book coming —
TJ Benson: Yes, I read about it —
Mapule: Speaking of books coming out, congrats on your short story collection!!!!!!
TJ Benson: Arrgh yes lol. A couple of shorts set in afrofutures —
Mapule: Wow 🧚🏽♂😀 tell me more! Did you curate the stories or wrote with the intention of a short story —
Mapule: Short story collection —
TJ Benson: To be very honest I thought I was writing isolated stories then when I wrote what would be the last one in the collection I was like ‘shit okay, this is definitely a collection. And why not?’
Mapule: That’s amazing 😃😀 —
TJ Benson: And are we expecting a novel from you anytime soon? 🤷🏽♂
Mapule: 😂 never! I already can’t read a short story I wrote without cringing.
TJ Benson: Same. At least sometimes. But I have learnt that your work is shit to you doesn’t mean it can’t save another life —
Mapule: True 🤸🏾♀🤸🏾♂🥋🥊🙅🏾♂🧚🏾♀🧚🏽♂🧞♀🧞♂🧛♀Even ‘Waterborne’? It’s really moving and not over written, something I always fall into the trap of. Please also tell me about your writing process when writing it, did you write it at the residency?
TJ Benson: It was supposed to be a memoir of my residency. After reading it months later I cringed. I still cringe lmao. People have been picking quotes out of it and I am like ‘wait not me I didn’t write that’ —
Mapule: What are you reading now?
TJ Benson: Night Sky With Exit Wounds by Ocean Vuong —
Mapule: Tell me about your photography —
TJ Benson: Geez you’re the interviewer now 😱🙆🏾♂😅 —
Mapule: 😂😂😂😂 without shame!
TJ Benson: Looool —
TJ Benson: I am interested in bodies, in solitude & also portraiture.
Mapule: Ohhhh —
Mapule: Sorry for taking so long to reply —
Mapule: My life is a mess —
TJ Benson: You are 20something living in Africa it is expected —
Mapule: True lol so fucking true!
MAPULE MOHULATSI is a reader and writer. Her work has been published in the Enkare Review, Itch Magazine, and This Is Africa, amongst others.
TJ BENSON is a Nigerian short story writer and creative photographer whose work has appeared in online journals like Jalada Africa, Munyori Journal, Brittle Paper, Praxis Magazine, Sentinel Literary Magazine, Bakwa Magazine, and in print magazines and anthologies like Paragram UK, ANA Annual Review, Contemporary Literary Review India, and Transition Magazine. His chapbook of photography, Rituals, was published digitally by Sankofa Magazine in 2015 and his collection of Afro-Sci-Fi short stories, We Won’t Fade into Darkness, was shortlisted for the Saraba Manuscript Prize. He won the Amab-HBF prize with his short story, “An Abundance of Yellow Paper,” and his short story, “Tea,” was the first runner up for the 2016 Short Story Day Africa Prize and finalist for the 2017 Brittle Paper Award for Fiction. He was a Writer-In-Residence at the Ebedi Residency Iseyin, Nigeria from January to February 2017 and he currently lives in Abuja.