Mubanga Kalimamukwento (31), the author of The Mourning Bird, chats to Fundiswa Nkwanyana about being a storyteller.
My childhood shaped who I am today. I grew up in a home filled with novels by Chinua Achebe and Alan Paton, and spent most of my time reading books; I didn’t watch TV. My parents were very influential in my upbringing because my mother taught me to be confident while my father made me believe that I can be whatever I choose to be. This is why I won the Dinaane Debut Fiction Award.
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I started writing when I was 10, after my mother died. I used to scribble alternate realities because I didn’t want to deal with that of her death as well as that of my sister a few years earlier. Looking back, I believe that writing chose me because words have always been in my heart. I love that writing gives me the freedom to create different worlds with words.
I’m excited to share my book The Mourning Bird with book lovers. It’s about my caricature of what might have happened had I not been born into a family that placed a high value on formal education and the financial independence of women. It’s also my way of getting Africa to unveil the things that we cloak with cultural sensibilities that silence us such as incest, child abuse, gender-based violence, child homelessness and our own poor choices of leaders that have led to deplorable health and education systems.
Getting agents to believe in my story was a huge challenge. I accumulated about 91 rejection letters when I was trying to get it published. This was a difficult time, and I cried a lot about it. But, I remained optimistic; I kept revising my work and improving my craft. It was not an easy journey, and I’m glad that I didn’t give up.
My advice to aspirant authors is to stop procrastinating and write. I believe that if you want something bad enough, you have to start, and then commit to it until the end.