In conversation with: Lebohang Masango

Welcome to another installment of In Conversation With – an ongoing series on this blog, featuring women and femmes from around the world.

If you’re an avid follower of South African creative work and creatives, you’ve probably heard of Lebohang “Nova” Masango. A poet, shortlisted author and a gal with an MA in Anthropology – Lebohang is booked and busy. And she has aspirations to add a PhD to her already growing list of degrees (but don’t ask her how it’s going). I found Lebohang’s work through Tumblr, like most of her followers/fans and thanks to social media – we’re friends.

She’s had an incredible year so far, with her debut book, Mpumi’s Magic Beads being shortlisted for the 2019 South African Literary Awards (category: Children’s Literature Award). And there’s plenty more in the pipeline – here’s what Lebohang had to share with me.

You’re a woman (“creative”) with a very varied CV – how did you get started?

I attended the National School of the Arts (NSA) so my entire teenage life was consumed by the visual and performing arts. Although I was a dance major, I began to write poetry to express my thoughts and feelings when I was about 15. I always did well academically and that continued in high school. My English, Afrikaans and History marks were always the highest in the class or grade so that passion for languages and narrative developed into a love for story. I have always been an avid reader as well. As I continued with my BA undergraduate studies which have become my PhD studies in Social Anthropology, I realise and am immensely grateful for being able to make a life and venture into new terrains through the simple acts of thinking, writing and reading.

What inspired the name Nova? 

While I was at NSA, which is in Braamfontein (Braam), I was a boarder and would use some afternoons and weekends to explore Johannesburg. My walks would often lead me to Newtown, which was home to such an eclectic creative community. There was the Market Theatre, Bassline, the Worker’s Library and Museum, the Songwriters Club and the Market Photo Workshop all within short walks of each other and these places were frequented by poets, actors, photographers, rappers, painters, thinkers and all kinds of creative and insightful people.

The Market Theatre precinct had vendors selling accessories and clothes so that was a good spot to hang out, buy a Steve Biko or Haile Selassie I T-shirt and listen to the philosophy of the Rastafari brothers. Across from the theatre, there was a gallery called the Afronova and I had an afro. So, I called myself Nova and the name has been with me since. I’m sad about what has happened to that whole area since then. They paved paradise and put up a shopping mall. 

How have things shifted for you over the last 5 years?

The last five years have been blessing after blessing in high definition! It’s been remarkable to see all of the forced alone-time in my life paying off. I live a very solitary life because of the nature of reading and writing so to see my poetry, children’s literature, Master’s research report and other kinds of writing having a life outside of the room that I create them in has been amazing.

There is a saying about always making a good impression because you never know who could be in the room and it really has been true for my life.

Lebohang Masango

The more I say yes to life (shout out Shonda Rhimes), the more life also says yes to me. The last five years have brought in so many interesting opportunities for collaborations and ways for me to sustain myself doing what I love.

It becomes stressful trying to balance being a student and a poet and a person who gives public opinions on things and a person who actively promotes children’s literacy (and and) and all the other wild and wonderful things I get to do but I am having the time of my life and I feel incredibly fortunate. 

What’s been a tough lesson (or lessons) to learn over the last while?

Firstly, that my life only works when I do. No matter the fluctuations of enthusiasm I often experience, this is the exact life that I have asked and prayed for. I sacrifice a lot of social time and friend time because of deadlines (that I have usually long missed and urgently have to still meet, anyway). I often yearn to be outside being young and free but that just isn’t the nature of what I do.

To read and write for a living is to be alone (a lot) for a living. It’s just something I have had to make peace with. It’s hard but we are here.

Lebohang Masango

Secondly, letting go of friendships has been interesting. I see my life as a great body of water with its own flows. I respect the currents and let them do as they will. This means that when it is time for someone to exit my life, I rarely question it. I have also found so much joy in making my small works that I am able to meet the impermanence of people in my life with much more ease. As long as I have me and my blood, I’m good.

Who inspires you and where do you go to get some inspiration when life gets a bit too overwhelming?

I am inspired by my parents and my grandparents and every single one of my kin, from time immemorial, who exists in my blood. Knowing that I am here today because of a lineage of people and their choices is humbling. I think of the very beginning of time and all of the people who lived, thrived, survived and eventually died in order for me to be the me that I am here today: a small marvel of generations and genetics. How wonderful. I know my parents’ life stories more intimately. For them to have made it through and still be here – how can I not keep going? I strive to show up and be my best for my entire family.

And finally, what are your plans for the next couple of months?  

I would like to present a bomb paper at the Consuming Gender Symposium coming up at the end of October, complete my PhD proposal, finish a new children’s storybook and have a meal with you.

Check out Lebohang’s work on her official website, buy her book or just follow her on Twitter.

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