Q&A with PEN SA Student Prize-Winner Koleka Putuma

15 Jun 2016
Q&A with PEN SA Student Prize-Winner Koleka Putuma

Koleka Putuma is the winner of the PEN SA Student Writing Prize for her piece “Water“.

Putuma graduated with a BA in Theatre & Performance at the University of Cape Town. She has headlined at TEDx, SliPnet’s Inzync Poetry Sessions, and Word N Sound. Her work has been showcased in Scotland, Germany and around the US. Her plays include UHM (2014), Mbuzeni (2015/2016). In 2015, under the Magnet theatre directing residency, she created two original plays for young audiences which include Ekhaya for 2-7 year olds and SCOOP, the first South African play for 2 weeks-12 month old babies. She was crowned South Africa’s first national slam champion (2014). Nominated for the Rosalie van der Gucht Prize for Best New Directors at the annual Fleur Du Cap Theatre Awards (2015). She has been named One of Africa’s top 10 poets by Badilisha, and named one of the young pioneers who took South Africa by storm in 2015 by The Sunday Times. She is a resident poet and creative director of the collective Lingua Franca and Co-Founder of a theatre company called The Papercut Collective.

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

Writing nowadays is in many ways serving as an agent of agitation and disruption. The writing I encounter on my social media timeline and in some print media/blogs is initiating truthful and transparent dialogue around the skeletons we have as a country, which is healthy and vital to our process of healing. And then there is my favourite kind of writing, the kind that is creating a space for the rehabilitation and resurrection of black life. This is the kind of writing/thinking, where black people can see themselves wholly, and manifest radical expressions of self-love and love for their communities in limitless ways and languages, this is the most important and necessary (for me at least), so that while unapologetic and radical work is being done to decolonise and rebuild and claim back black inheritance, there is a writing and talking that is happening, that allows us to purge all of the toxins we have consumed since colonisation up until these days of a so-called post-apartheid, post-colonial era.

Can you tell us about your piece “Water”, which you entered into the PEN SA Student Writing Prize?

The piece was written as a response to conversations I was having with friends about student movements, the meaning of water for black people and what it means to be black in South Africa as a general life thing. It was written around the time of #RhodesMustFall and #LUISTER. It was then performed at the TEDxStellenbosch event around the time of #LUISTER, and it wasn’t received too well at TEDx because of its content. This poem has radicalised the way I think about the role and power of the spoken word. It has taught me a great deal about holding onto to your conviction/truth even when it scares you, and others for that matter.

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

I’ll be performing at the Grahamstown National Arts Festival in a production about the Nama-Herero Genocide titled ‘SOLD‘ which is created by a dance company called Unmute, the production is directed/choreographed by the Standard Bank Young Artist Award Recipient for Dance – Themba Mbuli. And then after that, I’ll be performing at the Free State Literary Festival in Bloem.

I am quite active (or maybe overly active) on my social media pages so people can find me on the social media streets as follows:

Twitter: @KPutuma
Facebook: Koleka-Putuma-Artist
Instagram: kolekaputuma
Blog: www.cocoputuma.wordpress.com

Writers that have had an impact on you?

Suzan-Lori Parks
Vuyelwa Maluleke
Zora Howard
Staceyann Chin
Toni Morrison
Buddy Wakefield
Wole Soyika
Kia Corthron
Chimamanda Adichie
Audre Lorde
Sunni Patterson
Thomas Sayers Ellis
Nikky Finney

Writers that you’re enjoying at the moment?

Vuyelwa Maluleke
Milisuthando Bongela
Sisonke Msimang
Safia Elhillo
Shailja Patel
Keguro Macharia
Yrsa Daley-Ward
Fezi Mthonti
Tev Smith
Panashe Chigumadzi
Pontsho Pilane
Alysia Harris