Interview with Her Campus, UCT

Last week I had the pleasure of being interviewed by Fadiyah Rabin of UCT her campus. She asked me some real tough-ones and a few fun ones. Check out the interview here

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Feminism Is launch – Cavendish Exclusive Books 19 April

Feminism Is Cavendish Invite

Feminism Is launches tomorrow!

Very exciting!!

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The launch of Feminism Is – South Africans Speak Their Truth takes place tomorrow at the Book Lounge in Cape Town. I’ll be in conversation with Genna Gardini, Kath Dey, Dela Gwala, and Nwabisa Mda talking all things feminism. CANNOT WAIT.

Things to note:

  • The launch is 5.30 for 6 – Please get there early if you’d like a seat, as it will be a VERY full venue (hooray for all the feminists)
  • Feminism Is will be on sale at the launch – a portion of the proceeds goes to the Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust
  • The launch will be a panel discussion with time for questions at the end

The Cape Town launch is one of four launches this month. You can also attend in:

  • Ballito, 22 March, Exclusive Books Ballito,
  • Joburg, 27 March, Exclusive Books Rosebank, and
  • Pretoria, 28 March, Exclusive Books Menlyn.

All of these launches are 6pm for 6.30 so don’t be late!

This collection blew my mind as an editor, it’s full of humour and joy and anger and pain and celebration and inspiration so just go and buy it already! You won’t regret it.

If you like online shopping, get yours at Takealot here, or on Amazon here.

 

Conversations on International Women’s Day

Exciting news – the Alliance Francaise has very kindly invited me to talk on International Women’s Day this year. I’ll be talking about feminism, threats to women’s rights, and the fine balance required to stay sane as a woman in South Africa. If you’d like to come, check out the Facebook event, here.

Journée de la femme Jen Thorpe

 

Feminism Is to be realeased in February 2018

Hugely exciting news! A collection of feminist essays that I worked on and edited last year will be released this February, published by Kwela Books.

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The collection was an absolute dream to work on, with submissions from 31 feminists living in South Africa. I worked with the incredible all-women team at Kwela to get the book out there, and the lovely Helen Moffett to get the essays into tip-top shape. This is a collection that will blow you away for its clarity of thought and writing and its contemporary relevance. It explores themes as wide-ranging as motherhood, joy, feminist inclusions and inclusions, language, equality, climate change, rage, and feminist inspiration.

I started editing this collection in March 2018 at the Vermont Studio Centre residency, giving me some much-needed space to focus. I must thank everyone who supported my residency in France where I did a huge amount of work on this collection, including all the individual donors in my crowdfunding campaign, and the French Consulate in Cape Town. Without this financial support for my writing, collections like this wouldn’t be possible.

The book will be released late February 2018 and will be launched on 13 March 2018 at the Book Lounge in Cape Town, with launches in KZN and Gauteng to follow later in March. In the meantime, you can contact your favourite good bookstore in South Africa to pre-order. An e-book version will be available too!

 

Short Story 5: Alice Munro – Train

In 2013 my mom’s former London flatmate came to visit her in Ballito. She brought my sister and I each a book. I can’t remember what I got, but somehow my sister’s copy of Alice Munro’s Dear Life ended up in my possession.

Munro is a Canadian short story writer who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2013. She has written a fantastic number of stories and won several awards for them. She has even been featured in Canadian currency since 2014. Yet, the collection Dear Life has sat on my shelf since 2013, unread, mostly because I have a horrific book buying addiction and also because we were read one of her stories in one of my Creative Writing classes, supposed to be wowed by it, and I was like … wait, nothing happened in that story.

Aah, says the internet, that is the point. Her stories are more like the Russian style, where the plot is secondary and the minor shifts in the character(s) are what we’re supposed to be paying attention to. A lot like real life.

So the other day in my quest to be more literary and read more short stories I picked it up again, and randomly selected a story – Train. Some of my favourite memories of travelling are on trains – leaving Venice singing Kings of Leon Sex on Fire at the top of my lungs thinking there was no one else in my carriage only to receive a round of applause from down the carriage when I was done, taking the train from Vermont to New York listening to the incredible S-Town on my first solo trip to America, watching the fields pass by on the trains I took between Paris and Marnay-Sur-Seine last year, and also that time I looked over at my husband before he was my husband on a train in Turkey thinking ‘shit, I’m so in love with that guy. I’m going to have to ask him to marry me.’

Trains are infinitely better than other modes of transport because they give you a clear view of the outside world at eye-level. You’re not underground in the dark like the subway or the tube, you don’t have to concentrate on driving, you’re not too high up to see people walking in fields, preening their gardens, or waiting, hand in hand, on a platform. Trains allow you to watch people and a long train ride allows you to watch yourself.

So I picked up Dear Life and turned to page 175.

First line: This is a slow train anyway, and it has slowed some more for the curve.

The first line of this story could encapsulate the whole story. It tells us of a man, Jackson, who should be staying on his train to head into a station where we assume someone is waiting for him. Instead, Jackson decides to jump off, and after that, his life is changed forever.

He lands safely and makes his way across a field until he’s spotted by Belle, a local landowner. Belle and Jackson strike up a friendship, beginning with him doing some work on her house, and eventually staying there long term. Like before, not much happened in the plot, which covered several years, but a lot changes in Jackson.

Late in the story, when he is no longer living with Belle, he hears the voice of someone he used to love and he doesn’t get up to see her. Instead, he listens to what she’s asking, studying the voice and its impact on him. It’s enough for him to hear it. He doesn’t want to go back into that old life or have to explain the choices he made or the person he is. He just hears it, and in his hearing, the reader realises how much about him has changed.

The subtle story has some perfect lines, for example:

Jumping off the train was supposed to be a cancellation. You roused your body, readied your knees, to enter a different block of air. You looked forward to emptiness. And instead, what did you get? An immediate flock of new surroundings, asking for your attention in a way they never did when you were sitting on the train and just looking out the window. What are you doing here? Where are you going? A sense of being watched by the things you didn’t know about. Of being a disturbance. Life around coming to some conclusions about you from vantage points you couldn’t see.

This section encapsulates the beauty of being in a train. Of having the ability to move through a scene which seems silent and perfect, and not ever knowing what the reality of that is like. It allows you to pour yourself into the scenery, fill it with your own emotional noise and feeling, and to still your mind a little.

This short story was like that too.

Short Story 4: Ken Liu – The Paper Menagerie

In September last year, I saw Ken Liu talk at the Open Book Festival in Cape Town. He was serious, dressed in an overcoat (I might be projecting this), and his responses to the host were always long and detailed, but fascinating.

It was clear that this was a writer who thought a lot about a lot of things. It wasn’t just that he thought, it was that you could feel the emotion connected to the story he was telling, and to his writing. I can’t remember if he read a section from the Paper Menagerie, or just described it, but the imagery was vivid. It seemed like he was a writer who felt deeply, and someone who would definitely be worth reading.

After hearing his talk I went out to buy the collection, but on that day it had been sold out at the Fugard. A month later, I got a book voucher for my favourite bookstore, The Book Lounge, as part of my bachelorette gifts, and I knew exactly what I was going to buy.

The collection of short stories is called The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories. It has a beautiful cover, and the list of accolades that Liu has accrued and achieved is detailed on the back and is extremely impressive, and when I searched for some podcasts featuring him I learned that he also writes Star Wars stories. He is a busy man, and he is extremely talented.

I picked up the collection one evening during the holidays while my husband was ill, and read him The Paper Menagerie. Filled with feeling and depth it is a truly magical story, one that will leave you thinking about it for weeks to come. You can read the whole story here, but I’d really recommend going and buying the collection because the other stories in it are incredible too.

First Line: One of my earliest memories starts with me sobbing.

The story describes a child’s relationship with his parents as he grows up in America in a multiracial family. He struggles to make friends, and so his mom crafts him a menagerie made of origami and breathes life into it. The creatures come alive and are his companions in a world that is not always easy to live in. His father is American, and his mom is Chinese. He describes her being picked by his dad from a catalogue, but the real story is far more complicated.

As he grows older, his relationship with his mother grows fraught, as he longs for a ‘normal’ American mother who speaks with him in English. He wants more than anything to fit in, and this comes at a high cost. His father tries to heal the relationship but is not successful. One day in an argument his mother responds that when she says love in English, she feels it in her mouth, but when she says it in Chinese she feels it in her heart. I think we all know the difference between saying and feeling love, and this just puts it so beautifully.

The story is so beautiful, vivid, and full of emotion. He uses images to connect times and spaces so skillfully. I had to pause at some points in order to be able to carry on because I was overwhelmed by the emotion of the character. It is a story that gets to the heart of love and the way we treat those closest to us, the easiest people to bully and belittle, but also the people who give us the most love, even when it seems we don’t deserve it.

I have been slowly reading through the rest of the collection, not because the stories are dense or difficult, but because the sheer force of feelings of each story means you need to sit a while between them. Sometimes days.

But you will want to pick them up again. Because they are powerful stories, and powerful stories feed you, even when they are sad. Perhaps especially so.