I met Nkateko through my Facebook timeline. She was being tagged in pictures, mentioned in statuses and being called my best by poet, Busisiwe Mahlangu. We finally made it to the coveted stage, being Facebook friends. And I witnessed the poet’s magic on my own time line, not through some passive magic transmitter or whatever.
Nkateko wears many hats, recently wearing the hat of actress and I thought it necessary to chat to her about her third poetry chapbook and navigating different spaces amongst many things.
Here we go,
1. You and Busisiwe Mahlangu are very close and open about your friendship and support for each other’s career, how important it is to have someone in your corner, both as a poet and as human being?
When Busi and I met for the first time, she had read my first book and I had watched some of her performances online, so it was a case of mutually screaming ‘Oh my word! I love you so much!’ and we have been inseparable since then. With her I can truly be myself – she sees me beyond the stage, sees the things I try to hide. As poets we try to be authentic in the stories we tell but there are things we unwittingly shy away from and it spills over into our work because we only write and perform up to the point where we feel comfortable, never beyond that. With Busi I have all these difficult painful conversations and it helps me to heal and I believe it has made me a better writer. Having her in my life has taught me that it is okay to be vulnerable.
The poetry space can be very harmful – especially slam poetry because it is so competitive and often unforgiving. In such spaces, it is important to have people in your corner when the applause dies down. Busi has won several poetry slams but she is still gentle and compassionate, which shows me that slam poetry doesn’t have to be this dog-eat-dog industry where we don’t care for each others’ hearts.
2. Self-publishing has taken a rise during the past few years, how important it is for this to be happening?
So important! Self-publishing allows us to tell stories that would otherwise never see the light of day. I believe that traditional publishing has its place, but if your story doesn’t fit their narrative then your manuscript will get rejected and lot of writers lose confidence in their stories because of this. It is wonderful and exciting that we have alternatives. Going the route of self-publishing gave me the opportunity to tell my story on my own terms and it warmed my heart to see how well ‘The Sin In My Blackness’ was received in 2015. That book truly gave me the confidence to keep writing. When I started my company, NSUKU Publishing Consultancy, I had gathered a lot of information from my successes and challenges as an independent author and I am honoured to be assisting other authors to bring their own stories to life.
3. Medicine ranks high in the career chain, whereas being an artist is looked down on. How do you navigate both spaces?
Anton Chekhov said it best: ‘Medicine is my lawful wife and literature my mistress; when I get tired of one, I spend the night with the other.’
Haha! Jokes aside, medicine and art are very closely intertwined in my life because I was in medical school when I started taking my poetry career seriously. I realised then that I couldn’t allow the pursuit of the ‘Dr’ title to take over my entire life when I was given so many other talents. For years I did not have to separate the two from each other because I had fewer responsibilities as a student and could write whenever I had free time. Now I am at a point in my life where I feel the need to choose one over the other and it is very difficult because they co-existed so peacefully before whereas now, in order to be successful in one I need to dedicate most of my time to it.
4. I can safely say we’re experiencing some level of political turmoil in South Africa, would you fit the words from Betrayal “In Africa it is better to say goodbye (even if you choke) than to stay and watch your flesh burn? as a means of moving forward?
For a long time, I have grappled with the idea of leaving home in order to ‘save’ myself. I have seen how Africans living in the diaspora can write about the continent with such optimism while those of us who are here are simply living on hope. I wanted to have that ‘diasporic homecoming love for Africa’ that I wrote about in my poem ‘The Visitors.’ Now that opportunities to go overseas have opened up, I see how much turmoil the entire world is in and that life in another country might look better in light of our current situation here at home but that might not be the case. Also, for whom does life get better after we leave? What happens to those we leave behind?
5. What are some of the lesson your first and second book taught to you that you implemented in your third, While the World was Burning?
‘The Sin In My Blackness’ and ‘A War Within The Blood’ both taught me to be brave and to always write from a place of honesty because there is always someone who can relate, even to our ugliest truths. While The World Was Burning’ is also the closing of a chapter for me. I wanted to write three books in three years and it is done. At the same time, it is the beginning of a new chapter because I am not going to stop writing anytime soon.
FIVE Current Things
1. What are you reading?
I am reading short stories that have previously won the Commonwealth Short Story Prize. Right now I am reading ‘The Sweet Sop’ by Ingrid Persaud.
2. What are you eating?
I am knee-deep in a pasta phase. So whenever I go out these days, I order pasta. Right now I am far away from pasta places so I am eating a bacon-and-avo sandwich, another current obsession of mine actually.
3. What are you learning?
I am learning to say no. To choose my health over the obligation to constantly give of myself at the expense of my wellbeing.
4. What are you doing?
I am proofreading a book called ‘The Will To Live – A Way To Survive’ by Nolundi Luthuli. It is due to be published later this year.
5. What are you listening to?
So many things! Poetry podcasts on Badilisha Poetry X-Change, music (I am in a J. Cole phase), voicenotes from my loves.
Follow Nkateko on SOCIAL Media on the following handles.
IG: @nkateko_masingaFacebook: Enkay Masinga