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Victor Dlamini

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

Podcast with the Authentic Kopano Matlwa

CoconutKopano Matlwa in Radiant Mood“We can remain who we are and still be successful in the world,” says Kopano Matlwa, a young writer who brooks no compunction when it comes to exploring some of the sensitive issues, like “authentic identity” , that baffle young and old throughout the world, but especially in a rapidly changing South Africa.

Kopano’s novel, Coconut, takes for its title one of the most common epithets directed at those who are seen to abandon their “blackness”, merely looking “black” on the outside whilst adhering to “white” norms, ideals, politics and ambitions on the inside. The book may portray the lives of teenagers – affluent and otherwise – grappling to make sense of the world, but it is clear that it is the parents who have bequeathed them this wildly confusing environment, in which words like “coconut” operate, and that adults are often absent accomplices in the ensuing confusion.

Join me on the Victor Dlamini Literary Podcast as I chat to Kopano about her book, and her ability to juggle two worlds, writing and medicine, at such a tender age.

Kopano MatlwaKopano says that she knew she had begun a love affair with reading when she started scanning through her father’s accounting books because she had read everything else in the house. It was this burgeoning love that led her to discover the joys of writing; she puts it poignantly when she says, “reading is a very safe place to be” .

She was moved to write her novel because she wanted answers to her own questions about many of the issues that are experienced by her characters. Alienation is one of the major challenges faced by our youths, who find that they cannot take their lives “for granted”, on their own terms, and instead have to deal with the expectations of others. Kopano feels that her generation grapples with especial tenacity with that amorphous concept, “identity”, and in coming to grips with the notion provides plenty tension and drama to fulfill the aims of fiction: “truth by other means”.

Listening to Kopano read from her book or tell a new story, her own identity as a natural-born narrator is clear, and it is fascinating to hear her reveal that she still finds it difficult to see herself as a writer – indeed, that she had no idea that one day she would become one in the first place.

Kopano MatlwaKopano brings her love of medicine to most aspects of her life, and in our conversation she chats to me about her decision to start a not-for-profit organization, Waiting Room Education by Medical Students, which works in the waiting rooms of student-run mobile clinics, educating patients about basic health matters. She is clearly moved to act not just by narrow self interest: it is appropriate that Goldman Sachs should have selected her as one of eight South African Goldman Sachs Global Leaders in 2005.

The author matriculated from St. Peters College, Johannesburg, with full distinctions in 2003, and is studying for Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery degrees at the University of Cape Town. Coconut has found a wide audience, having got its start with a bang as the 2007 European Union Literary Award winner (at the age of twenty one, she was, by far, the youngest winner of the award).

Kopano was named one of 100 Young South Africans You Must Take to Lunch by the Mail & Guardian in 2007, and keeps a blog here on BOOK SA. Please tune into my conversation with this extraordinarily talented – and authentic – woman of medicine and letters:

  • Play now: use the widget links below, or click the link under Latest episodes in the sidebar on the right.
  • Visit feed: You can also play the podcast directly from its source feed; click here, then scroll to the bottom of the page (opens in new window).
  • Listen via iTunes or subscribe through a podcatcher or alternative service: use the buttons and/or feed address in the sidebar.

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