Q&A with new PEN SA Research Associate Rowan Morar

24 Feb 2019
Q&A with new PEN SA Research Associate Rowan Morar

PEN SA welcomes Rowan Morar, who recently assumed the role of Research Associate  In his introductory Q&A, Morar  shares what attracted  him to PEN SA, and his aspirations for his tenure. 

You’ve worked with the PEN SA team for three weeks: what are your first impressions of the organisation?

Nokukhanya Mncwabe and Nadia Krige’s energy is that of curious, active and engaged people, which is exciting and refreshing because  the  dialogue between our respective literary curiosities and broader socio-cultural concerns is key for the insights into art and society that we strive to engage our membership in. I’m very excited to join the team and engage with PEN SA’s mandate.

What made you want to join PEN SA?

I am an MA (English) graduate and have followed PEN SA’s free expression advocacy with interest, particularly the most recent engagement on artistic expression in South Africa. One of my primary goals in tutoring English literature and writing, more generally, is to make  literary and cultural studies as broadly accessible as possible. This is particularly true of issues surrounding civil liberties  and the enjoyment of the right to free expression. This is my priority while at PEN: to reach a wide audience with updates on the state of freedom of expression in South Africa and Africa. .


What contribution do you wish to make to PEN SA during your tenure ?

I   intend using my academic research skills  to contribute to the curation  of the PEN SA archive, bringing together the  institutional, UCT and Wits archival collections  to foreground the creative work and artists PEN SA engaged over the years.

I also wish to expand PEN SA’s membership base to include younger writers, activists and artists. Our upcoming Writers in Prison Series can exhibit the continuities and novel concerns across generations of South African writers committed to free expression in the face of state and institutional suppression. I want to  facilitate dialogue between established and emerging voices across generations of South African writers.

What is your own literary interest and how will it inform your work at PEN?

Some of the foundational thinking for my MA dissertation emerged from reading I See You by Ishtiyaq Shukri during #FEESMUSTFALL. In one scene, an academic is kidnapped by private security forces while giving an address on state capture and private security in South Africa, with resonances for global security trends. My reading of this scene was in relation to the private security presence on campus during the #FEESMUSTFALL protests in recent years. I’m both fascinated and concerned with the public discourse surrounding the protests, from all sides of the political spectrum, especially when it comes to representation and misrepresentation of students, the University, the State and civil society. There is much that recent South Africa fiction has to say about our current moment.

What are you currently reading?

I’m re-making my way through several texts for tutoring purposes, including The Black Jacobins by C.L.R James and a short story, ‘The Nose’, by Nikolai Gogol. For myself, I’m trying, but failing, to work through Back to Black: Retelling Black Radicalism for the 21st Century by Kehinde Andrews. Instead, I’m mostly trawling the internet for podcasts and contemporary long-form essays on political, scientific, philosophical and literary topics.

Image by: Alix Hodge