Q&A with New PEN SA Executive Vice-President Yewande Omotoso

29 Nov 2017
Q&A with New PEN SA Executive Vice-President Yewande Omotoso

PEN SA bids a fond farewell to Mandla Langa, who for three years ably served as PEN SA Executive Vice-President, and warmly welcomes his successor Yewande Omotoso. Omotoso was asked to provide us with a few insights into her motivation for joining PEN SA and heeding the call to serve on the Board.

PEN SA: How long have you been a member of PEN SA?

Yewande Omotoso: I’ve been a member of PEN SA for about 5 years, since about the time that my first book was published.

PEN SA: What motivated you to become a member?

Yewande Omotoso: I’d heard of PEN International. I recall meeting poet Tade Ipadeola who was President of PEN Nigeria at the time, he was very encouraging.

PEN SA: What motivated you to join the board of PEN and what do you hope to contribute/accomplish during your tenure?

Yewande Omotoso: I was motivated about being part of a team and having a vehicle (such as PEN SA) to navigate a way through the times, to forge change and foster robust debate as well as fellowship within a heterogeneous community.

PEN SA: South Africa is proving to be a remarkably resilient constitutional democracy, notwithstanding the multiple political, social, economic, governance-related challenges (most notably from government itself): what concerns, if any, do you have regarding the role of the writer in this time? What hopes/words of encouragement do you have for writers during this time?

Yewande Omotoso: It might be naïve (it probably is) but I don’t have concerns for the role of the writer. I really trust this dynamic notion (of the role of writers) to assert in whatever myriad ways, ways I might not even be able to imagine, should not.

Whenever asked to speak generally, words of encouragement for instance, I always hesitate, perhaps for fear of sounding trite. It’s easier for me to speak specifically. How, for instance, do I encourage myself? Often writing is its own encouragement. The real demon is the voice that says “you can’t”, “you shouldn’t”, “you don’t know how”, “no one will listen” and on and on and whatever versions other people have. Writing then is always a triumph over hopelessness and cynicism no matter how sober the subject matter. For this reason alone – persevere.