Johannesburg-based spoken word artist, scriptwriter and actor Vuyelwa Maluleke describes herself explicitly as a storyteller, archiving through her writing a personal experience of being a black woman in present-day South Africa. The slam champion of the Word and Sound 2015 Poetry league competition is one of the many guests at the Dhaka Lit Fest 2016, and will also be performing at the festival. Dhaka Tribune caught up with Maluleke to get a glimpse into her work and what drives it.
When did you realise you were meant to be a storyteller? Do you have a favourite medium of your work?
I don't know that I feel, regularly enough, that I’m meant to be a storyteller, by this I mean that I question often if I’m doing the right thing, if I still know how to write, if I ever knew how to write. Storytelling feels more public a thing than writing, since it needs an audience, a viewer, an external reaction. I love performance, it's thrilling, you have to adapt, it's not predictable. However when I’m doing the writing, by myself (without an audience in mind), I often feel like I’m exactly where I should be, even when it's tough, my sentences are mine, the good and the bad. It's really peaceful to have your bad sentences belong to you without judgment. Performance affirms the work for me, makes it alive, because people receive or deny the work and it lives differently for them. Audiences place value on the work, just by being there, by relating to it, by challenging phrases or repeating them elsewhere. Then the poems are not yours anymore - those moments make me feel like I’m doing what I should be.
I think each medium has its place in my life, comes as and when it should. The poetry doesn't go, though, because I can do that anywhere. I can be broke and still write and perform my poems anywhere.
Which literary figures have influenced you the most?
I really love Ntozake shange, Lucille Clifton, Sonia Sanchez, Warsan Shire, Safia Elhilo and Audre’s essays.
How has living in post-apartheid South Africa shaped your work?
I’m a black woman and aspirational middle class with a private school education and a varsity education. I’m all the ‘learning’ my parents were not allowed to do so in a way I think I exist as resistance, sometimes as collaborator in the system that exists. And those contradictions of identity and language, come through in the poems. I write only in English though it is a second language to me - I have more control over it than I do my mother tongue. This is a result of the colonising nature of the English language in South African schools, it was the only language you were permitted to speak, you were to perfect it or be shamed and if you spoke well you were rewarded. We all tried to receive a reward and so we wiped ourselves off our tongues. So I use this borrowed language as a tongue to write my blackness for myself on my terms. I think my poems right now are selfish, I think that it's important for women of colour to write selfishly, to put themselves in places they would not be imagined in. I’m occupied with the idea of self, and the ways in which the English language can describe the black woman (me).
What message are you trying to convey to your audience?
I’m really angry, but I’m a lot of other things in between and performance is the only place where you can be angry and not have to say sorry. I’m interested in moments and feelings that you (the audience) can't actually fulfill in real life, during a poem; I’m interested in what it looks like when we cry openly, and loudly.
What are you reading right now?
We need new names
by Noviolet Bulawayo.
What are your expectations from the Dhaka Lit Fest?
I’ve never been to Bangladesh, so I’m excited and wondering how the poems will sit, if they will be well received. I’m hoping to learn things, about reading and writing, and talking. I really want to learn how to talk.