One thing about this country (and continent) is that we have so many options when it comes to enjoying local art, literature and creativity. If you’ve been reading my site for a while, you’ve probably seen Lebohang Masango on it. I interviewed her for my In Conversation series and did a piece on her for All the Pretty Birds’ Our Hair Don’t Care segment. Since then, she’s been booked and busy, cementing herself as a children’s author along with a brand new book release this year, The Soft Life. I wanted to talk to this author, anthropologist and poet about life right now, future plans and what’s inspiring her.
7 Questions with Lebohang Masango
The last two years have been a whirlwind. You’ve won two Pendoring awards and had new books published in your Mpumi series. What has the journey to becoming an author been like so far?
I’m having a great time. The process always takes the same shape: I begin with a small idea or an image. Sometimes, it comes in a dream or while I’m taking my daily walk. It stays with me for days or weeks until I realise that it isn’t going anywhere because I’m supposed to turn it into a story. So, I write it down. I then send it to my publisher who usually loves it and then passes it to my editor who also usually loves it but brings up great points about to improve it or turn it into something else completely; something better than I first imagined. That’s what I love about the women I work with and it always happens like that and it’s thrilling. People, young and old, have received my work with so much warmth and acceptance. I’m grateful to see how my characters have become a part of families’ lives.
Mpumi is such an important character and so loved with the little ones. What have been some of the best moments since the launch of the book series?
My favourite thing is seeing the pictures from character day! When’s it’s National Book Week, International Children’s Book Day or World Book Day and parents and guardians tag me in their pictures of their little readers dressed up as Mpumi, it melts my heart every time. That’s always a highlight. It’s also wonderful to meet the people who’ve supported the book and hear them share stories of the impact that the story has had in the lives of their children. It brings a big smile to my face to hear that children are insisting on reading Mpumi before bedtime.
You recently released your first non-fiction book, The Soft Life – which explores the intersection of romance, dating and the socio-economic context of South Africa and the world. What was that experience like and how does it feel to have it out in the world?
It was mostly difficult with a few sparks of exhilaration when I was in a proper writing groove and everything was flowing as it should. The fact that it’s based on a thesis that I wrote, submitted and used to get a whole degree surprisingly did nothing to ease the anxiety! There’s something so jarring about knowing that you’re creating something that grown ups are going to read, hopefully critically, just as I read other people’s works critically.
I was nervous throughout the entire process but my editor, Mbali Sikakana really held me to my commitment and I’m so grateful to have had her there. She believed in the idea before I even did and I’m so happy to have proved her right. I’m happy that I followed through and put the book into the world. I’m enjoying people’s reactions to it. I love that it’s been a surprising read for many and I appreciate anyone who perhaps doesn’t usually read non-fiction who gave it a chance. It’s been lovely.
Who are you listening to right now?
I just select my ‘Liked’ songs on Spotify and let the music take me where it wants to. I’ll give you my current top five. Sometimes I like some gospel so Ladysmith Black Mambazo’s ‘Ofana Naye (Live)’ and LaShun Pace’s ‘I Know I’ve Been Changed’.
Something that sounds like gospel TO ME is Samthing Soweto’s ‘Amagents’ – he’s preaching for real. The Waiting to Exhale soundtrack hits different now that I’m an adult so Chaka Khan’s ‘My Funny Valentine’ has been on repeat. There’s also NxWorries featuring H.E.R’s ‘Where I Go’.
What a dope song. But I also can’t leave out Luther Vandross (featuring Masters At Work) ‘Are You Using Me?’ It’s up-tempo and simply perfect. I sit at my desk and write all day so when I’m not listening to white noise, I’m listening to all of the above and so much more.
What are you reading right now?
I’m reading so many things. Right now, Bernadine Evaristo’s Girl, Woman, Other for the bookcub I’m in and my book, The Soft Life, as interview preparation. I need to get onto Noni Jabavu: A Stranger at Home by Makhosazana Xaba and Athambile Masola afterwards.
What have you been impressed by recently?
Besides the feral lovebirds that I spot on my daily morning walks – they are so gorgeous! – I have been impressed by my resilience, to be honest. I promised myself that I would bounce back from a hard time, look after my health, get my body strong, eat well, FACE MY FRONT AND DO MY WORK and really commit myself to the attempt to master adulting. I know no one can ever really master adulting or life but I like to commit myself to crafting a routine and repertoire of behaviours that can keep propelling me forward. I’ve finally emerged into daylight and it’s good to be here.
How can people support you and your work. And what are you looking forward to in the new year?
People can buy my books for little readers and grown up readers, alike. It’s also really special to purchase books for your child’s library or to donate some to a library in a marginalised community. Leaving thoughtful reviews is also another great way. This new year, I am looking forward to finishing my PhD. I’m excited to be the woman I will be when I conclude this chapter of my life. I also look forward to more books and creating work that matters deeply to me and hopefully to others as well.