For a long time, I have felt uncomfortable about the way we discuss South African writers. Bookstores and reviewers are championed for their 'support' of our authors and readers are asked to buy more South African books. I love many South African books and authors, but I feel that in our persistent cheerleading of African writers, we remove the power from the conversation and miss the point entirely. We shouldn't be reading local authors as a favour to them or the industry, we should be reading them because they are good.
Reading local fiction is not a compromise, or a selfless endeavour to be awarded for. Our biggest problem we face in South Africa is the illusion that our work is somehow not good enough, and needs international acknowledgement before it is taken seriously. Vocabulary that includes words like 'support' and 'help' reinforces the complex that our writers are different somehow, and that they need help.
The conversation needs to change from one of lack to one of abundance. We live in a beautiful, diverse society, a society thrumming with untold stories. These stories need readers from all walks of life. These stories are not the property of the privileged who can afford to buy books and attend literary festivals. Like any society from the beginning of time, our stories are spread through word of mouth, through the excited whisper, 'you have to read this.'
So what can you do? Read widely and voraciously. Read novels and short stories in genres you wouldn't have touched before. Be critical. If you don't like a South African book, that's OK. Interrogate why and move on. If you love a book, push it into the hands of someone who you know will love it too. Don't know what to read next? Engage with authors and bloggers or visit an independent bookstore. Hell, even go to Exclusive Books and go through their Pan African catalogue. Read total fluff to rid your mind of the idea that all South African works are serious and literary. Some are just plain fun.
We're different here, on this lonely tip of the African continent. We're dark and funny and wistful and often a bit inappropriate. Sometimes it takes a writer from our own country to get us. South African stories have continued to make me laugh, cry and think. The authors who write them are the ones doing us a favour by writing them, not the other way around.