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Victor Dlamini

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

Podcast with Virtuoso African Storyteller Mbulelo Mzamane

Mbulelo MzamaneMbulelo Vizikhungo Mzamane is at heart a storyteller: he has the ability to plunge straight into the belly of a narrative and bring forth its gentle resonances. It so happens that Mbulelo is also one of the finest literary historians of our time, and even though he often warns against what he calls the “abuse of theory” he clearly knows his way around this increasingly arcane terrain.

Join me on The Victor Dlamini Literary Podcast as Mbulelo shares some of his most riveting messages regarding the “state of the arts and society” – for his interests spill over from literary history to the wider contemporary issues that contain it. He has made his mark in fiction, theory, academic writing, teaching and literary activism, and is well-known, among other things, for being one of the brave souls who dared challenge the literary “canon” in the mid-seventies and insist on a new study called African Literature. He delivers unforgettable speeches at conferences, insisting on the primacy of storytelling even within the context of the most advanced literary considerations.

Mbulelo MzamaneIn my conversation with him, Mbulelo reveals that when he arrived at Oxford in the early seventies, armed with a full scholarship, he was taken aback by the ease with which his professors dismissed his wish to register for graduate studies in “African Literature”. They suggested that he should register in the Anthropology department, and it was then that he packed his bags for Sheffield where there was a greater willingness to explore Africa’s literatures.

This was the heyday of Heinemann’s African Writers Series, when many of the most important voices of 20th century African literature were at the height of their powers, and Mbulelo moved freely in their world. He reveals that the frustration of sometimes not having the material they wanted to teach drove him and many of his contemporaries to straddle the worlds of theory and fiction.

Mbulelo has made his home in many countries, including Swaziland, England, Wales, Nigeria, the United States, Botswana and of course South Africa, and he has taught at some of the leading universities, including Sheffield and Yale. He was persuaded to return to South Africa from his teaching post in the United States to become the first post-apartheid Vice Chancellor at the University of Fort Hare.

Mbulelo Mzamane and Lewis NkosiMbulelo’s voice has been captured as much by his theory as it has by his fiction. His books include Mzala (1980; reissued 1995), Children of Soweto (1982), Children of the Diaspora (1996), and a children’s book, Race between the Turtles and the Cheetahs (2004). He is editor of Selected Poems: Mongane Wally Serote (1982), Selected Poems: Sipho Sydney Sepamla (1983), Hungry Flames and Other Black South African Stories (1986), and Words Gone Two Soon: Tribute to Phaswane Mpe and K. Sello Duiker (2006); and co-editor of Global Voices: Contemporary Literature from the Non-Western World (1995). His academic publications include Images of the Voiceless: Essays on Popular Culture and the Media (1988 – with J. Haynes and A. Bamikunle) and Multicultural Education in Colleges and Universities: A Trans-disciplinary Approach (1998 – with H. Ball and S. Berkowitz). He was commissioned by the Southern African Democracy Education Trust to edit Road to Democracy in South Africa, Volume 2, 1970-1980 (2006).

Mbulelo is currently Director of Centre for African Literary Studies at the University of KwaZulu-Natal – a position that allows him to contribute to the chronicling of the lives of African literature’s leading men and women. If Mbulelo’s early narratives are concerned with tracing the links between exile, culture and freedom, his later writings explore more deeply the interplay between freedom and history.

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