Q&A with Newly Co-opted PEN SA Board Member Sisonke Msimang

29 Nov 2017
Q&A with Newly Co-opted PEN SA Board Member Sisonke Msimang

PEN SA extends a warm welcome to Sisonke Msimang, who has been co-opted onto its Board. Msimang was asked to share what motivated her to agree to take on this assignment, what she hopes to accomplish during her tenure as well as to reflect on any concerns, hopes and encouragement for writers expressing themselves in South Africa during this time.

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

Sisonke Msimang: I have been a member for two years.

PEN SA: What motivated you to become a member?

Sisonke Msimang: I admire the work PEN does globally, but I also think as the politics in South Africa becomes more complex, we will see more and more incursions into the space writers occupy – both by the state and by private actors. Critical thought is flourishing in many ways and it is a great time to be a South African writer. It is also, of course, always a dangerous time to be a writer when your ideas challenge the status quo and special interests. PEN is an important place precisely because of this.

PEN SA: What action(s) taken by PEN SA stand out for you?

Sisonke Msimang: I was really impressed with the activism for Stella Nyanzi that PEN SA helped to mobilise. That show of solidarity was important on many levels.

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

Sisonke Msimang: I joined the board because I think representation and leadership are important. I also believe strongly in the values of the board and have the deepest respect for my fellow board members. Plus it is very difficult to say no to Nadia Davids!

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?

Sisonke Msimang: My concerns are related to the fragility of the moment – the fact that so much hangs in the balance. South Africa is on the verge of a leadership transition, but we are also at a stage where our innocence has been lost. We are having far more robust discussions about who we are and where we are going. Writers have never mattered more – not just journalists but playwrights and novelists and poets. The best work often emerges out of times like this and so in some ways I think of myself as being hopeful but vigilant. So for my fellow writers – for those who express themselves with the pen, I am buoyed by the fact that we live in a time of hope and sobriety. They make strange but passionate bedfellows.

(Image courtesy of Victor Dhlamini via The JRB)

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