To Belong Is to Never Have to Justify Oneself—Donald Molosi, A Conversation

Donald Molosi is a multi-award-winning classically trained Motswana actor and became the first Motswana actor on Broadway in 2010. He has directed three Broadway shows, “Today It’s Me”; “Motswana: Africa, Dream”; and “Blue, Black and White 2.” His short story Back to Love, was published in GAMBIT: Newer African Writing, an anthology by The Mantle Books. He is currently a columnist for The Telegraph, a weekly Botswana newspaper. We had a conversation with Molosi about Back to Love and the role of African writers today.

Donald MolosiABR: What inspires your writing?

MOLOSI: Human stories inspire my writing. My plays and my fiction always emanate from my being haunted by a story in me that needs to break out onto paper and be told. Stylistically, my work is–to a great extent–informed by the structure of traditional Botswana folktales. So I don’t follow the Aristotelian model of “good writing” as much as I keep faith with how the story or the play would be structured if my 93-year old grandmother were narrating it to me as a folktale.

 

ABR: You mention in a previous interview that the African’s omission from western narratives is a denial of reality. Do modern African writers have a duty to fill in the spaces omitted, under-written or misrepresented by western media? Or is the African writer’s duty solely to represent his/her work as a manifestation of his/herself and not society?

MOLOSI: The West has an unhealthy obsession with stories that strip Africans of their humanity. I think that most Western literature denies the reality that we are all human and possess diverse stories to be told in celebration of our shared humanity. African writers and artists do not owe anyone anything but to share their stories with whomever they choose. Naturally, without the burden to rebut, those diverse stories–if encouraged, published and shared–will force a re-imagination of Africa as portrayed in the West. We, as African artists and writers, deserve the room to be just that without the unfair burden of always being seen the lens that we are writing socio-political commentary.

We deserve the space to write about love and sex and glamor without some self-styled Western Africanist reading in it unfounded allegories of dictatorships, AIDS and wars. I am sick of that kind of Western condescension in how our work is interpreted.

 

ABR: At the start of your story Back to Love, you reprint Ama Ata Aidoo’s quote that “to call someone a wayfarer is a painless way of saying he does not belong.” Your story also seems to deal with a double consciousness inherent in Thero who leaves Botswana for America. And it’s interesting that Thero feels this duality of belonging and being an outsider even though he knows he’ll eventually return to Botswana. What do you think it means to belong? Does that change across spaces?

MOLOSI: Ama Ata Aidoo is my luminary in terms of how she boldly captures diverse African stories so yes, I wanted to honor her work and show that whatever credit I, as a young African writer, get is because I learnt from the likes of her. In fact, I met her and told her she was my luminary when she came to California to watch me perform in her play, “Anowa.”

There is always a double consciousness. We are born into it by virtue of having a colonial history where we were and are forced to have Western-friendly versions of ourselves as Africans. It is deeply ingrained, even in the school curriculum and so the condition of being African is to constantly balance what you are expected to be and what you are.

To belong is to never have to justify oneself and it is a feeling I sometimes get when I am in my home village of Mahalapye in Botswana. I also sometimes feel alienated from the same village because I have lived all over the world. That is the condition of being a postcolonial, world-travelling African artist one generation removed from colonialism.

 

ABR: As a Batswana writer, how has Botswana, influenced your works and what do you think the future of Batswana writing will be? What ideally do you want it to be?

MOLOSI: As a Motswana writer, my sensibility is very Tswana in a lot of ways. I am a citizen of the world and there are some works where I write about different parts of the world but always through a Tswana sensibility. There is a lot of talent in Botswana and when the world wakes up to that fact, the global game is going to change. The unfortunate thing is that there are authors in Botswana who are shamelessly failing to acknowledge some of our talents as unique and Tswana. Rather, Botswana authors who have a platform or are respected tend to perpetuate the same Aristotelian models of story and crush the dreams of young Batswana writers who may not write like they are writing for The New Yorker but still write in the voice and structure of our ancestors.

 

ABR: Do you have any favorite African novelists or writers? And have any influenced your works?

MOLOSI: I read a lot of African writing and I admire a lot of African writers. Ama Ata Aidoo inspires me in how she writes so boldly and challenges the ideas of Western feminism as a template that can be forced upon societies all over the world. She often writes about truly Fanti, nationally Ghanaian and continentally African forms of feminism. I find that refreshing and necessary. Other writers I have enjoyed lately are Brian Chikwava who in his book Harare North writes in Zimbabwean English that does not look to the West for grammatical approval. I like the work of Emmanuel Iduma a lot because of its beautiful density.

 

ABR: Are you currently working on new projects? Could you talk a bit about them?

MOLOSI: I am in rehearsal to launch my play, “TODAY IT’S ME.” It will be launched in April in Botswana and it is a biographical play about Philly Lutaaya, the first prominent African to declare that he was carrying AIDS. When he did that in 1988, the effects were nothing short of miraculous as Uganda’s AIDS infection rates plunged. A new consciousness was born out of his story and I will be performing the play throughout Africa in 2015. Information and conversations about the play is on Facebook and our fund-raising efforts are on Indiegogo.

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