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Short Sharp Stories

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Interview with 2016 Caine Prize Nominee: Bongani Kona


BONGANI KONA - picSHORT.SHARP.STORIES AWARDS catches up with Bongani Kona, whose story ‘At Your Requiem’ was shortlisted for the 2016 Caine Prize for African Writing.

Bongani Kona is a freelance writer and contributing editor at Chimurenga Chronic, a pan-African quarterly gazette. His work has appeared in a number of publications and websites and most recently in Safe House: Explorations in Creative Nonfiction (Dundurn/Cassava republic). He was shortlisted for the 2016 Caine Prize and he is currently studying for an MA in Creative Writing at the University of Cape Town.


Firstly, go back to that moment you got the call to say your INCREDIBLE JOURNEY story, ‘At Your Requiem’, was one of five shortlisted for the Caine Prize. What did that feel like?

It was an amazing experience. It was a Friday afternoon and I’d had pretty a rough day when I received the email. It was a complete surprise because I had no idea the story had been entered for the prize but it was an amazing feeling.


Have you come down from the high of being in London?

It took a couple of weeks to adjust but yeah, I’ve definitely come down from the high. Life and work fall back into place.


Sticking with the actual experience of being in London, what were the highlights for you?

The highlights were many. To begin with, I had never been to London and I got to go on the trip with Lidudumalingani, a close friend who has supported me in my writing journey in all sorts of ways. And of course getting to meet the other writers on the shortlist was also really special and another highlight was connecting with readers at all the events we attended. Overall, it was really great time.


What did you learn? In broad brushstrokes or specifically.

As a beginner fiction writer, I tend to torment myself with unrealistic expectations. So I guess the whole experience taught me to be a lot kinder with myself. If it was up to me for instance, I wouldn’t have picked ‘At your Requiem’ to make the shortlist but that’s how harsh I can be with myself. I see only faults, never strengths. And it was very encouraging to meet readers who were moved by the story, and that allowed me to let go of some of those judgements about myself. It was very humbling.


I know Lidudumalingani has attracted a great deal of attention. Is the experience similar for other writers who were shortlisted?

In the lead up to the prize the media interest is intense for everyone on the shortlist but afterwards, if you’re not the winner, you’re kind of allowed to go back to your own life. Which in some respects is a relief.


Has being shortlisted for the Caine Prize been a life-changer in any way?

Yes but not in very obvious ways. I transitioned into fiction writing from being a critic and a journalist and I’m still finding my feet. So for me the great thing about the shortlist is that it gave me courage to just keep trying and to keep failing.


Getting to your story, ‘At Your Requiem’ unravels a complicated relationship between cousins Christopher and Abraham, and the ‘mother’ they live with. This is an emotionally intense story. Was it difficult to write?

The story that revolves around sexual abuse, drug addiction and suicide and it was incredibly difficult to write, but then writing is not something that comes easily to me. Emotionally though, this was very challenging. The hardest part was writing some of the troubling scenes with the mother-figure, Aunt Julia, and I nearly gave up at that point and I’m glad I persisted.


Whereas Lidudumalingani’s story ‘Memories We Lost’ is about a rural experience, yours is a contemporary. Is there any particular focus for writers from Africa?

Even if you were to start with the stories of the shortlist, from Lesley Nneka Arimah’s ‘What It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky’ to Abdul Adan’s ‘The Lifebloom Gift’; they are all very different stories. This is not to say that there aren’t any stereotypes about ‘African fiction,’ a uniformity of themes and approach, but as a reader and a writer, I certainly don’t see it that way. Anyone who says otherwise is not reading widely enough. There are publishers like Cassava Republic who are doing incredible work and there are also a number of literary journals which have sprung up over the last few years and are doing amazing work. In short, there’s a lot to be excited about.


‘At your Requiem’ is your first published fiction story. Do you have plans to write more fiction?

Yes, I’ll keep sending my work out, and hopefully not collect too many rejection slips! as is the way with writers actively seeking publication.

incredible journey cover copy

Book details:

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