Maxine Case and Zuki Wanner Live Discussion

The Writing University website hosted an online chat with South African writer and International Writing Program alum Maxine Case at 3:00 p.m. (CST). Maxine was joined by Zuki Wanner. They discussed the international writing community, as well as other literary topics. To peruse Maxine's work and read more about her literary career, visit the IWP Website.

Maxine Case participated in the 2009 IWP Fall Residency courtesy of the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs at the U.S. Department of State.

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Cody, Iowa City: Maxine, you were part of the International Writing program in Iowa. How was your time here? Could you tell us about the people you met? And anything that was noteworthy?

Maxine Case: Everything was memorable ... in a word "awesome", which came to typify the Iowa City experience for all of us. As I mentioned before, I have begun packing for my return to South Africa and came across notes I had made after meeting Marilynne Robinson, although meeting is an overstatement, I attended one of her lectures. I ended up writing about this experience yesterday, months after meeting her. It is always wonderful to meet one of your idols, and she was definitely one of mine! On a lighter note, I acquired serious poker skills while in Iowa City and had a drink named after me at the Foxhead.


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Pascal, London, U.K.: Where do you draw your ideas from? When and how do you usually write?

Zukiswa Wanner: I draw my ideas from society. I could be walking around and I will see something that gets me and I will think 'hey, good idea.' Some of my best ideas have also come from discussions I have overheard on public transport or among my family members (please don't tell them, they might sue me for my measly royalties:-0) I write whenever inspiration hits. I make it a point to walk around with a pen and a notebook and if something gets me I will write about it later.


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Manju Kanchuli, Napal: What is the taste, interest and demand of the readers of fiction writing in South Africa regarding subject matter and the way of writing styled. Would you like to say a few words about it?

Zukiswa Wanner: If you judge from the sales, one would assume there is not much interest in fiction reading in South Africa but I think the problem is more of limited marketing. many a time I have encountered people who have read my work after finding it from somewhere else and they can always identify. Most readers want stories they can identify with. I believe maxine and I (and a whole range of other South African writers who have cropped up in the last five years) feel that need. Tjis has led to an increase in book sales and the creation of book clubs - higher than at any other time in South African fiction I believe.


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Maggie, Iowa City: Maxine, I wonder if you got to watch the Orange Bowl football game? And how about those Hawkeyes?!

Maxine Case: Hi Maggie, I didn't watch the Orange Bowl, but heard about the win immediately after the game and felt very proud. I was thinking about you and the Hawkeyes today as I came across the memento ribbon you gave me as I was packing today. As my second residency ends, I've begun to become very nostalgic about Iowa City.


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Ashur Etwebi, Tripoli, Libya: Because the tongue of narrative in short story is richer with silence than the tongue of narrative in novel: do you agree that the skills of fiction writer are more challenged in writing short stories than in writing novels?

Zukiswa Wanner: There is some truth to that. You can only use a minimal amount of characters and in doing that, you need to ensure that you make your story tighter and more appealing.

 


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Pascal, London, U.K.: Where do you draw your ideas from? When and how do you usually write?

Maxine Case: My ideas come from various sources, from the stories I grew up with - I was lucky to have a strong oral tradition in my family, things I read about; hear. If something stays with you, it almost begs to be written.

I am currently a writer in residence at the City of Asylum/Pittsburgh, so I write throughout the day in fits and starts.


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Bonface, Kakamega, Kenya: I have read the swahili literature play book titled 'Masahibu ya ndugu Jero" english translation (The Trials of Brother Jero). Did you authorize this translation, and if yes:
1. why did you let it be a swahili version?
2. Do you know the impact the swahili version had to it's readers(what was the readers feedback?)
3. How much did you earn monetary speaking from this Swahili translated version?

Maxine Case: Erm, as far as I know, The Trials of Brother Jero was written by Wole Soyinka. He would be a better person to answer this question.


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Manju Kanchuli, Napal: What is the taste, interest and demand of the readers of fiction writing in South Africa regarding subject matter and the way of writing styled. Would you like to say a few words about it?

Maxine Case: I don't think that there is one thread of interest or demand regarding subject matter. Many South Africans have expressed fatigue at the the so-called struggle novel, but I think that there remains a place to explore the undocumented stories, not only of this time, but earlier too. Generally, South Africans are no different to the rest of the world in terms of the kinds of books they buy. As South African authors, we have to compete with books written by international authors more so than amongst each other. As I'm sure Zuki will mention, the South African book-buying audience is far too small, which I hope will change during my lifetime at least.


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Ashur Etwebi, Tripoli, Libya: Because the tongue of narrative in short story is richer with silence than the tongue of narrative in novel: do you agree that the skills of fiction writer are more challenged in writing short stories than in writing novels?

Maxine Case: I can't answer for all fiction writers, but I find writing short stories and novels to be very different experiences. I wouldn't say that one is more challenging than the other. I also think that novels too can be "rich with silence", and which I explored in All We Have Left Unsaid.


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Kecia, Iowa City: Hi Maxine! Simple question: How are you liking Pittsburgh?

Maxine Case: [Ask Joe show you what I wrote, which sums up my thoughts on Pittsburgh.] Generally, I do like it, but this weekend we had to be evacuated to a hotel due to the snow storm, which left us without electricity. I became a Steelers supporter and way too fond of Primanti sandwiches. The best thing about where we are staying is that it meant a lot of time to write without as many distractions as in Iowa City.


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Elizabeth, IC, IA: The World Cup will be in Africa this summer -- has this upcoming event spurred any writing projects? Do you think you can using as inspiration?

Maxine Case: The World Cup will take place during South Africa's winter, which is much milder than the winter I am currently experiencing in Pittsburgh. I think that writing projects spurred by such an event would be pandering, and I try not to pander, or consider a potential market etc before writing a book. That being said, I saw a wonderful installation at the District Six Museum in Cape Town on the history of soccer and thought that it would make a good coffee-table book. I am sure that we can look forward to several children's books with a soccer theme, and I remember hearing about a romance series that has sports stars as the romantic interest. Each to his own, I guess.

Zukiswa Wanner: I have done some writing for a French photographer for it. Whether there will be more stuff in the works will depend on whether my country wins the World Cup though:-)


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Doug, North Liberty, IA , US: How do politics affect your writing?

Maxine Case: Politics had a substantial impact on my writing, but that's probably because I am interested in history and politics overshadowed South Africa's history and continues to loom large today. I was raised on stories and politics formed a large part of those stories. I can never say (as many younger people do today) that I was unaware of what was happening in South Africa then. I was confronted by the realities of growing up under apartheid at a young age, and perhaps that's just because of my own family. Can I condemn people who say that they never knew what was happening? No. Do I agree when they profess total ignorance? No, again.

Zukiswa Wanner: My father always told me everything in life is political so because I deal with contemporary issues, there will always be politics in it, whether it will be class politics or gender politics but ultimately, I try to write work that makes society question ourselves and our values while still keeping it amusing to the reader.


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Shannon, Iowa City: Was becoming a writer hard for you? How did you start your career. Do you have any advice for new writers?

Maxine Case: It was hard for me because I had no confidence in my own writing at first. My mother is a children's book writer in South Africa, and you'd think that that would make it easier for me, but it made it harder. My older sister published her first novel at the age of 20, so I was very embarrassed to admit that I too wanted to write. I began writing while I was working as a book editor. Editing other people's writing was the ideal training ground for me, and I began to see what worked and what didn't. I learned about the flow of a novel, which is also important.

My advice to new writers is to continue writing. There are good writing days and bad ones, but the trick is to carry on regardless. Someone once told me: "Do it badly, but do it." And I still hear these words when I have a bad day and think of starting something new instead of completing the book I'm currently busy with. Try not to judge yourself and your writing.


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