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Short Sharp Stories

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Interview with 2016 Caine Prize Winner: Lidudumalingani

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SHORT.SHARP.STORIES AWARDS catches up with Lidudumalingani, writer, filmmaker and photographer. He is the 2016 winner of the Caine Prize for African writing.






Firstly, go back to that moment you got the call letting you know that your INCREDIBLE JOURNEY story, ‘Memories We Lost’, was shortlisted for the Caine Prize for African Writing. What was your reaction?

It felt surreal. My writing has always been and still remains a labour of love that eventually is shared with the public. Though the feedback and conversations that it sparks are always fascinating, my interest is to write what torments me. The shortlisting was unexpected and a huge encouragement and it will take a lifetime to sink in.


Fast forward to the announcement at the Awards dinner: ‘The Winner is…’ Have you come down from that high?

I do not think one ever does. Of course one does not go through every day patting oneself on the back for it, but one is aware that winning the Caine Prize is an incredible honour to be bestowed on a writer.


As for your London experience, what were the highlights for you?

Certainly being in the city was a highlight. My interest in cities is the intersection of the people and physical space, and this is far more interesting to observe in dense and diverse cities, such as London. A restaurant selling food for five pounds is not far from a place at which people queue to make a reservation two years ahead of the planned date. We, Bongani Kona and myself, arrived at a difficult time. It was three days after the Brexit referendum and the city was in mourning.

My other interest is the physical presence of the city and a lot of the buildings in London are under renovation and so the city appeared as if had it had been hit by some disaster and was in the process of mending its wounds, all bandaged up with plastic and being fixed.

I’m also a photographer and found it incredibly conducive to photography in ways that perhaps Cape Town and Johannesburg are not. When it comes to photography, Londoners struck me as nonchalant to my camera’s presence, unlike here. However discreet I am, the  presence of a camera is an annoyance.


How did your time in London influence your thinking about ‘home’?

I thought a lot about Cape Town. From its architecture to its people, the city flirts with identities that are perhaps not authentic. Its architecture is European. In its corner it is hugged by American shops. Its galleries exhibit artists that are not from here. On the street one finds clothes made of American and UK flags. This is why I think Cape Town is popular with tourists, not so much because it offers them anything new, but it is the familiar that appeals to people and the city maximises that familiarity. This of course is the picture Cape Town presents to the world. There is the other Cape Town that is hidden because it does not meet the European standards and familiarity that Cape Town wants to uphold.

Cities are to a great degree similar. I do wish for a better transport system here – public transport in London is far more efficient!


What did you learn regarding writing? In broad brushstrokes or specifically.

I learnt what an agent does, and more about the stages a book takes to move from the author’s head to the book shop. I only had a vague idea of these practical issues. The other things I learnt are far more difficult to put in words, conversations with the other nominees, panel discussions, and I met so many people, in London, Brixton, Soho, Chinatown, Oxford.


Post announcement, you have done a number of interviews, specifically around your story…

I’ve lost count of the number by now. But it has been amazing to be in conversation with so many people and to hear what concerns them and what they are interested in. Nothing beats that.


‘Memories We Lost’, is a compelling and fraught journey of two sisters through a rural landscape. Do you think the international fascination is that a ‘traditional’ Africa is reflected?

I hope it is more than that. The setting of the story was convenient for me. It seemed like the right setting. The issues the story deals with, such as mental illness and sibling loyalty, are by no means an only rural/ traditional African problem and if one can look beyond the obsession with urban spaces — and the obsession that inhabitants of urban spaces are far more civilized — then it is easy to see that.


It seems that everyone wants to republish ‘Memories We Lost’. How did you decide which publishers to grant rights to? Are you interested in reaching a particular audience?

Whoever was paying me more money, hahaha. Who reads the story is very important to me and so the decision had to pass the test of who is publishing, and who is the intended reader.

That said, I do not write with a reader in my mind, at least I’m not preoccupied with ideas of what a specific reader would like to read. The reader that I’m interested in perhaps is the one that is going to read my work for what it is and not be lazy to engage with the writing on its own merits. I want my writing to challenge the way the reader thinks of the world, to challenge ideas on writing and what constitutes a novel. In a nutshell, the ideal reader of my work, is the reader that comes to it unburdened by what they know and hold dear.


How bright is the future of writing coming from Africa?

Black publishers and writers are carving their own paths and telling stories that matter to them and that is powerful beyond words.


Is your current focus on any particular project?

Fiction for me has been, so far, an attempt at emptying my heart and head of stories that have long tormented me and once that is done I move on to the next text. I am making an attempt at a novel, which has always been my intention. I’m also continuing to make images, and I’m finishing a movie script as well. I am launching a ‘thing’ in early 2017 and that’s exciting.


incredible journey cover copy

Book details:

Incredible Journey: Stories that move you edited by Joanne Hichens
Book homepage
EAN: 9781928230182
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