In conversation with Lebohang ‘Nova’ Masango

Image by Themba Mbuyisa

Whenever one is asked to list talented South African poets and writers, Lebohang ‘Nova’ Masango’s name is likely to be mentioned on that list. Over the years, she has remained a force in the South African literature space through her poetry and recently reintroduced herself to this world as an author, after the release of ‘Mpumi’s Magic Beads’, a children’s book.
The release of ‘Mpumi’s Magic Beads’ marked a significant period in Lebohang’s life and career, joining a list of other awe-aspiring female writers such as Gcina Mhlope, Buhle Mthetwa, Lerato Moloi, Lebo Mashile and Buhle Ngaba to name a few. In between writing her master’s degree and poetry gigs, Lebohang managed to squeeze me into her hectic diary for a chat.

You recently released a children’s book and currently finishing up your Master’s degree in Anthropology, how do these two worlds influence each other?

On a practical level, one of my inspirations for the book was my Honours research which explored the relationship between a primary school’s code of conduct, authority, whiteness and the hair of African girls. Beyond that, I spend most of my life reading or writing for my degree so my academic work is always shaping my view of the world. I also need occasional mental vacations and the world of imagining for children is a great place to go.

Our interests change over time and I would imagine that this applies to the people and things that inspire you to write. What and/or who is currently inspiring your work?

My future children. I imagine that one day I will have children who will be as proud of me as I am of my mother so I am working on impressing them. I want them to feel more than capable of actualising their dreams.

Lebohang Nova Masango reciting poetry.

How has your writing evolved from the time you penned your first poem?

I approach writing with more humility and self-restraint. I am aware that there is an audience and that sometimes affects my approach to the work. It was easier when I was the only person reading my work and super confident in everything I created. My writing now happens out of utmost necessity because I also don’t have time to just free-write in the ways I used to when I was younger. The wonderful thing about my love for reading is that I have encountered so many styles and forms that I am always making notes to try new things. It is an exciting journey of self-discovery in constantly trying to educate myself in the ways of writing.

You have blessed us with incredible poetry over the years and recently released a children’s book. Please walk us through your writing process.

Usually, I have an image or a line pulling at me for weeks or months and eventually I sit with it and write it out until it leaves my mind. Once that first draft exists, I spend years gradually editing it until it feels good to me when I say it out loud. But sometimes the writing process is a deadline I have already missed so I just lock my phone and force something out of myself in a few hours so I don’t have to disappoint whoever is waiting for the submission.

Tell us about the Well Sexuality programme. What is it about, and how did the idea come about?

Well Sexuality is a pilot study undertaken by Drs Anastasia Koch and Nolwazi Mkhwanazi, Victoria Hume, Ed Young and myself in which we seek to explore contemporary notions and perceptions of sexuality among young people in South Africa. The idea came about from applying for a grant from the Wellcome Trust which specialises in funding progressive humanities research work across the globe.

What would you like to see happen in the South African literature space in the next 3 years?

I think it would be great for the South African Department of Education to do more in creating a relationship between learners and South African writers, creatives and so on. I believe learners will take more of an interest in their work if they are exposed to the myriad of ways that literacy can aid them in their studies and their future endeavours.

Are there enough WOC writers? Which stories would you like to see being told?

There can never be enough writers and there certainly can never be enough stories. I would love for there to be more stories of young women who defiantly live according to their own rules.

Do you think Africa, as well as our stories, are being represented well through writing?

Yes. Some of the best writing is coming out of the experiences of people on our continent.

Lebohang Nove Masango at Sandton Library

What is your ultimate dream?

I would love to live in a functional nation-state. I would also really love to see my books in school libraries across the world.

Would you say writing, alone, is a viable profession?

Yes. If you are in charge of your creative labour, it certainly can be.

Which book(s) are you currently reading and loving?

‘Mobile Secrets: Youth, Intimacy and the Politics of Pretense in Mozambique’ by Julie Soleil Archambault (2017) has provided a great example of what I hope my dissertation will be. It has been an invaluable research resource.

Name your 5 favourite black writers.

Jericho Brown, Atinuke Akinyemi, Toni Morrison, Safia Elhillo, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

You are given the opportunity to travel to 3 different countries of your choice, where are you going and who are you taking with?

Geneva in Switzerland, Atlanta in the US and Stockholm in Sweden. I would likely take my friends Monti and Jabu.

You can keep up with Lebohang’s work through her website.
This article was originally published on Afriquette.