Q&A with PEN SA Student Prize Shortlistee Puleng Lange-Stewart

15 Jun 2016
Q&A with PEN SA Student Prize Shortlistee Puleng Lange-Stewart

Puleng Lange-Stewart came third in the PEN SA Student Writing Prize for her piece “A love poem to the ‘Problematic’ Black Womxn”.

Lange-Stewart is a young poet, performer, illustrator and playwright from Johannesburg. Matriculating at Sacred Heart College in 2010, she went on to travel and teach in East Asia, before landing in Cape Town, South Africa to begin her degree in theatre at the University of Cape Town. Lange-Stewart is currently completing her Honours in Theatre Making at UCT. She is a queer black feminist, a mother, and a proud iconoclast who was involved in both protests and multiple performative interventions surrounding the removal of the Rhodes statue in 2015, and remains committed to the fight for decolonization in South Africa and further afield. Currently she is co-writing a theatre production (Figs) which will be showing at this years National Arts Festival, presented by the UCT Drama Department. She has performed in a number of short films and theatre productions and is currently working on her first independent short film. She is based in Cape Town, with her son and partner, and works towards creating innovative and critical artwork, that actively challenges notions of patriarchy, heteronormativity, and the violence of racialised class structures that underpin much of our existence as South Africans.

What are your thoughts on the role of writing in South Africa today, particularly with regards to its ability to effect change?

I think in a climate where such a multiplicity of voices are starting to find their place and power in public discourse, writing is a space that can make those many identities and narratives available. This is important, as being able to see yourself represented in pieces of art has a way of validating the power and importance of one’s own narrative, and allows people a greater freedom to take charge of their story. Womxn’s voices, Queer voices, Black voices, are all carving out a new space for themselves in the South African landscape, which gives me great hope for the vitality of this craft.

Can you talk a bit about your piece “A love poem to the ‘Problematic’ Black Womxn”, which you entered into the PEN SA Student Writing Prize?

I was on the train back from a march that was being held in the Marikana squatter camp in Phillipi, Cape Town, and on the train I met this womxn. Totally enigmatic. Entirely captivating. With this electricity in how she vocalised her pain and presence in a city that actively seeks to erase her. I had to write about her (she later became the godmother of my son). But then, when the Rhodes Must Fall movement was at its apex, I looked around and felt surrounded by a wave of those same womxn. The ferocity with which they demand to be seen and acknowledged in spaces that have been previously built on their negation… And it is to those black womxn, who bear the brunt of the violence of this world, that I will continue writing love poems.

What can we expect from you next and where can we find your work?

I will be taking up a theatre production named FIGS to this year’s Grahamstown National Arts Festival, which I co-wrote with Namisa Mdlalose, created by the extremely talented womxn who make up the FEAST Collective Theatre Company. I am also in the pre-production phase of my first independent short film, in collaboration with Jannous Aukema, which I hope to start principle photography on in early September of this year. You can find out more about all these things at pulengstewart.wix.com/artist

Writers that have had an impact on you?

Off the top of my head, C.S. Lewis gave me an imagination. De Beauvoir made me a romantic. Tolkien gave me fantasy. Elena Ferrante recently reminded me that being a woman is also worth writing about. Chinua Achebe, Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche and Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o gave me the tastes and flavours of a continent I want to know and love.

Writers that you’re enjoying at the moment?

I’m currently on a mission to expand my exposure to African writers so I just picked up NoViolet Bulawayo’s We Need New Names, which I am finding completely magnetic and heartbreaking. It reminds me of how courageous having a voice can be. I also recently read Lauren Beukes’ Maverick which I just loved! To reunderstand our history, to me, means populating that narrative with the forgotten characters, the quirky outliers that do not fit into populist rhetorics of how things have been.