Meet the Winner of our Fall 2015 Fiction Contest: Andiswa Onke Maqutu!

I’ve been so proud to continue curating and editing material for Feminine Inquiry. Last issue we had a lot of talent local to us in Austin, but this issue, opening our Fall 2015 Fiction Contest, we had a wave of submissions from all over the country and beyond, with the winner of our Fall 2015 Fiction Contest hailing from South Africa.

Andiswa’s story “Black Beyond Africa” was a unanimous “yes” from all of Feminine Inquiry’s readers and editors. I can’t wait for our readers to take in her poignant story–but until then, I want to formally introduce Andiswa (as she’s pretty damn awesome/impressive/inspiring).

Note: in respect to the fact that the English language is diverse and exists beyond the United States, we’ve edited this article with the regional spelling of South Africa in mind.

FI: How long have you been writing and why do you write?

AOM: I have been writing since I was in grade one. My mother would tell us (my brother and I) Xhosa bedtime stories and other fairytales like Little Red Riding Hood, and the next day I would write out those stories and re-tell them to my parents.

My mother would adapt the European fairytales to our Xhosa environment; Little Red Riding Hood would be Andiswa or another Xhosa girl like me,Andiswa Maqutu Pic 1 the Big Bad Wolf was the Zim-Zim she said would come out at night after curfew, and grandma was my Makhulu.

At a young age, my mother taught me the art of telling my own stories about people who looked like me. I sometimes ask her to tell me those stories again even now that I am older.

I am twenty-six, but each time my grade two teacher sees me, she reminds me of a story I wrote for her then; I must have been about eight years old. It really warms my heart that she still remembers my story and has kept it for so long.

In high school, I discovered poetry through a friend of mine who was a performance poet. And I started to write my own poetry and fell in love with the form because I felt I could express my new deepest adolescent feelings through poetry.

I still feel that way about poetry; I think it is powerful for releasing feelings but also for prophesying and commenting on the times we are in or to come, especially in a country like South Africa with a vibrant and active youth.

In university I re-discovered the short story through the offering in the libraries we had and I began writing more short stories, and mixing them with my poetry. Right now, I am in a phase where I am in love with the short story.

FI: I saw you have an anthology of short stories titled, Black Women Be Like. Can you tell us a little more about that?

AOM: I love the short story form. I specifically enjoy reading and writing stories about black African women.

However, I felt and still feel that black women are often written about and presented in ways that follow certain stereotypes.

And feminist psychologist and researcher Dr Carolyne West in her paper Mammy, Jezebel, Sapphire and Their Homegirls lays out the various ways black women are stereotyped in American media and branding, and those stereotypes are similar to those of African women in our own media and creative literature.

In African literature there is the struggling grandmother (Mammy) raising her many grandchildren and dishing out pearls of wisdom or curses to strangers, there is the Jezebel who sleeps with army generals and government officials for money, and there is the educated black woman who has no regard or respect for her relatives because of her wealth and education.

It all reads as though no matter what the case, the black woman is cursed or a curse.

While a lot of those stories may depict the lived reality of many black women on our continent, nuance is necessary. Because, when there is no nuance, it becomes a publishing trope, and people begin to question or judge any other depiction of a black African woman that moves away from the trope as being “not realistic,” as if black women can only fit a few moulds.

I wrote the anthology after I had done a bit of traveling last year and became aware of how I was perceived and accepted or rejected in different countries as a black African woman.

I wanted to present all the different black women I had come to see over my life and to be one of the writers that add that nuance to the African women story.

The anthology has various short stories that explore the experience of being a wealthy black woman in South Africa and how that is perceived; raising children as a middle class woman and what we lose as black people to Western culture. It looks at black women as role models and the beauty and struggles faced by lesbian love in the country.
I chose to self-publish because I wanted to feel free and uncensored the first time I published a body of work that was true to my vision for myself and African literary works about African women.

Racism is still rife in South Africa contrary to popular belief and mainstream media reporting, and the fight against this is being lead largely by young black women. And we refuse to separate the fight against racism from that against patriarchy and homophobia.

FI: You’ve said you’re passionate about the stories of black African women living in Africa; what can you tell us about African feminism and how you’re participating in the movement?

AOM: African feminism is not a new concept. We have many examples of African feminists dating centuries back and even in the development of our own modern and advanced civilisation systems as Africans.

Often, the black feminist movement has been lead, at least in the mainstream, by black American feminists. However, we are realising now some of the ways our experiences (as African feminists and black American feminists) are familiar and different because of our lived environments, cultures and belief systems that we subscribe to or are fighting against.

So there is opportunity for collaborated effort but African feminists are also addressing African women, men and society.

It is important for us to tell our own stories and to lead our own changes. And so, what I think is happening is that young African feminists are taking up platforms and in some cases building and starting their own to contribute to the movement.

Racism is still rife in South Africa contrary to popular belief and mainstream media reporting, and the fight against this is being lead largely by young black women. And we refuse to separate the fight against racism from that against patriarchy and homophobia.

So my contribution is to build my own platforms that address these issues. And I am one of many.

I started a podcast, Black Women Be Like Podcast, which is a weekly show where different black African women from across the continent discuss feminism, colourism, our careers, music and all thing black African women on a platform that allows us to be ourselves and tell the nuanced story about black African women.

I also curate a chain story every two weeks called #FinishTheStoryFriday, which is a partnership between Black Women Be Like and Kenyan publisher Storymoja. Every second Friday, a different woman from a different country in a region of the African continent that we are celebrating, contributes to the continuing chain story.

We have concluded the Southern Africa and East Africa series of #FinishTheStoryAfrica. We are currently publishing the West Africa series which will be concluded at the end of October, and then in November, I will be getting stories for a chain story from women in Central Africa.

I also believe I am a feminist in my writing and I try to present nuanced images of black African women in my short stories.

FI: What female or non-binary African writers or artists have inspired you, or are currently inspiring you? Who should we be reading?

AOM: Rayda Jacobs, a South African writer and filmmaker, is my favourite writer because she was the first writer I read who showed me how a woman of colour and protagonist’s story can be told. I discovered her in university and I spent hours sitting on the library floor reading her books because I could not wait to go home to read her stories.

Her characters had human and internal conflicts. They were not perfect; the worlds they lived in were not perfect and they often lived secret lives but they could be strong and demanding as well. I found myself both uncomfortable and seeing the women I had seen around me when I read Eyes of the Sky, Confessions of a Gambler, Sachs Street and Postcards from South Africa. There were these human women in love and fighting for their conflicted imperfect selves, in worlds that sometimes confined them or released them or they fought against.

I love Nigerian author and playwright, Sefi Atta, because she has taught me how to write effortless feminism-although I am still learning and am also wondering if that was her intention.

At times I feel she writes black African women as they should have been had there been no patriarchy and racism even though they are placed in that system.

A friend and I were talking about Sefi Atta and her works Swallow, A Bit of Difference and Everything Good Will Come and we said her woman characters just do what they want to do, even sexually and in contexts where culture normally culture would prevail. I think they are the kind of women, who with the little they have, brought cultural evolution.

I also enjoy Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Bessie Head, Tsitsi Dangarembga.

I love reading Caine Prize winners Namwali Serpell and Okwiri Oduor because they are able to write in so much detail in their writing without trying too hard to the point of making every sentence bring familiar images and feelings. When I read them my brain is alive and all my senses are awakened to when they might be called upon by a sentence to feel something or be somewhere in the story.

I believe a lot of that self-hate we as black women have for our darker skin tones and features comes from white beauty standards, where women who show beauty that is closer to whiteness: whiter or lighter skin, sharper or longer noses, smaller lips, are viewed as being more beautiful.

FI: Tell us about your story, Black Beyond Africa, and how you came to write it.

AOM: Black Beyond Africa is one of a number of stories I wrote when I did some travelling last year. I had been to Nigeria , Mozambique , China and Turkey and experienced the various ways I was received as a black woman.

In Nigeria I experienced what we call black-on-black racism and colourism, where I was viewed more favourably or as being more beautiful than other African women because I am South African. I did not feel comfortable with that, not only because it is not true, but also because I felt the compliments came from a place of self-hate.

I believe a lot of that self-hate we as black women have for our darker skin tones and features comes from white beauty standards, where women who show beauty that is closer to whiteness: whiter or lighter skin, sharper or longer noses, smaller lips, are viewed as being more beautiful. To the point that images of women like Serena Williams, Beyonce, Kerry Washington and in South Africa, Pearl Thusi, are photo-shopped to meet those standards.

In China people were curious about my hair and my skin colour. I was stared at quite a bit and people would either ask to take pictures with me or steal pictures of me when I was not looking. And I had mixed feeling about that experience.

In Turkey I experienced racism, the stares were antagonistic–I was followed to the beach by a man who made monkey gestures behind me and a group of men made sexual comments about my being black.

At the airport I was treated quite badly because I am a black African woman and how I looked. I wrote the story to process the sadness and loneliness I was feeling at the time. And I think it’s a feeling many women experience until it just turns to anger at yourself and then you realise nothing is wrong with you, and then the anger turns to the perpetrators. Until you really just don’t care what racist people are reasoning, all that matters is that they are wrong. And that is what the story communicates.

FI: What are your current projects and what’s next for you?

AOM: I am working on the Black Women Be Like Podcasts to make it a truly Pan-African podcast for women on the continent and in the Diaspora.Andiswa Maqutu Pic 2

I am curating the last part of the West African series for #FinishTheStoryFriday and in November we will begin with the Central Africa series. An e-book of all the stories will be released at the end of the year by Storymoja and Black Women Be Like.

My story, The Demon on His Back, has just been published in the Killens Review of Arts and Letters of the Centre for Black Studies at the City University of New York.

I have just finished another anthology of 12 short stories that I have submitted for review with publishers.

I am working on my first novel which I hope to finish next year while doing my Honours in Creative Writing at Wits University in South Africa.

And I continue to write all the stories in my head.

Follow Andiswa and all her rad podcasts, social medias and creations:

Founder and Author: Black Women Be Like
Twitter: @BlackWomenBLike


The author

Jourden Sander is the EIC of Feminine Inquiry. She is a writer, editor, tennis player, cosplayer, and anime geek who walks her stubborn corgi. She is a feminist and a fan of hot tea. She vaguely dislikes people who won't use the Oxford comma and finds it difficult to not repetitively use pronouns in a bio. She challenges you to a street race in her Mazda 3. She says hello.

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