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South African writer shares stories

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Zakes Mda as he read a passage from his book to the audience. Photo from Felix Cordova
CSU-Pueblo hosted the final Southern Colorado Reading Series with an award winning South African writer.

Zakes Mda, a novelist, playwright and painter, was invited to CSU-Pueblo to read some of his books and to share some experiences that helped shape his career. Mda read from two of his books, one based in South Africa and the other was based in the U.S.

Someone in the crowd asked Mda why he chose to write these books.

“I like to write about things that fascinate me,” Mda said.

Mda explained that his books were personal and included actual events that happened in his life. One of his books, “Sometimes There is a Void: Memoirs of an Outsider,” was a memoir that laid out the stages of events in his life. This book was more about his struggles.

“I was in school and couldn‘t afford to live on my own,” Mda said. “I even had to sell my blood just to get a few dollars.”

Mda also read a passage from his memoir that explained his experience of living with two female roommates. It was a bad experience, even though they were very beautiful, said Mda. The two roommates would wash their hair in the kitchen sink, have clothes scattered throughout the apartment and leave food sitting out for days.

Mda said that he knew if he worked hard for what he wanted, that it wouldn’t be a long stay with these roommates. At this point in the book, he decided to call a friend and it happened to be perfect timing for Mda. His friend was actually going to shoot a movie in South Africa and she asked him to help write the script. He told the crowd that this event was a lucky break.

The book would later lead what lead to Mda writing books, plays, music compositions and poetry. Mda received many British and African awards for his literature.

Mda transitioned to the second reading and it was a few pages from his book, “Cion.” The portion that Mda read was about how the fleeing slaves used quilts to find trails to escape. The people who were quilting had put secret messages in the quilts for the other slaves.

“I used the quilts as a portal to the past,” Mda said. “These quilts carried memories from a century before.”

The last minutes of the reading series closed with the audience asking questions. Mda spoke of the research he had to do for his books and he explained how he didn’t like to do much research..

Some of Mda’s answers got laughter in response and some of the things he said made people think. He shed light on how one of his books mentioned white slaves and people in the crowd looked stunned. He told the crowd that he doesn’t know things that they couldn’t know. “It’s in the archives,” Mda said.