Recently, I had the good fortune to speak with Chris Mlalazi, a prolific playwright and writer whose short stories I find very entertaining and captivating. Some of his stories (you can Google them) which I have had the opportunity of reading are seemingly dark yet spiced with humour, of a wry kind though.
I first heard of Chris Mlalazi through Niq Mhlongo, a South African novelist and my flatmate at the International Writing Program (IWP), USA, 2008. Ever since then I have been inspired by this amiable Zimbabwean writer, whose notable novel and short story collections include Many Rivers and Dancing with Life: tales from the Township, which earned him an honourable mention in the last NOMA Award for Publishing in Africa.
Last year Chris was the 2010 Feuchtwanger Fellow at the Villa Aurora artists’ residency in Los Angeles, but at present, he is Guest Writer at the Nordic-Africa Institute, Uppsala, Sweden. I asked him what he thought about writing residencies since he has participated in a few. Here is Chris’s reply reprinted below, in his own words:
“It is very important now and then in the writing career of a writer to get a writing residency where one can go and hone a writing project. Most of us, if not all, come from backgrounds or homes where sometimes it is challenging to concentrate on our art because of family commitments, which are also important on their own as they are the soul of our lives.
“So if a residency opportunity comes along, especially when we have a writing concept that has reached a critical stage, it is always a blessing to go there to engage in close combat with the stressful atmosphere of your story universe in total isolation without that infringing on family life. You know how testy we can become sometimes when we think we have a story about to be born. I have been lucky to get two such residencies in succession in 2010 and 2011, the first one at Villa Aurora in Los Angeles last year, and the current one at the Nordic Africa Institute in Uppsala, Sweden, as their 2011 Guest writer, where I am happily writing this note from.
“In Los Angeles I worked on a novel manuscript I had started in Kenya at the 2007 Kwani LitFest, and I managed to complete it, I think I completed it, and I am now trying to find a publisher for it. I also started another manuscript during the last three months of my stay at the beautiful Villa Aurora in Los Angeles. The story was just begging to be written, and in those last three months I managed to write 38 000 words of it. I laid the story to rest awhile between December 2010 and April 2011 as I was waiting to get to Sweden and start cracking on it again. I am happy I laid the story to rest too, for as I am working on it now, it feels too fresh and exciting. I do not know when I will finish this one, but what I know is that I am working on it is so hard. I will be in Sweden for three months till the end of June, when I return back to Zimbabwe.
“How does it feel like to be in a residency? Well, for starters, having your writing time funded so that you don’t have to worry about any financial matters as you indulge in the creative act is uplifting to the soul, and there is no excuse whatsoever for you to say at the end of the stay that I did not write anything.
“Of course it is not all work and play; there is time to watch the beautiful girls riding their bicycles in the streets of Uppsala. Actually I have fallen in love with Upssala, the people here have such beautiful minds and I wish I could take them all with me to Zimbabwe when I return.”
Time to watch...