Dango Mkandawire lives and works in Blantyre Malawi working in finance even though he is sure, without a doubt, that it is in Art where the soul lies. He is the author of The Jonathan Gray Affair, published in GAMBIT: Newer African Writing, an anthology by The Mantle Books.
DANGO: Interestingly, that part in the story alluding to David and Goliath invites quite a bit of commentary even though I didn’t expect it to do so as much. The story precipitated in my mind in fragments. During that time I was considering themes of courage and dignity and what these notions meant. What is Courage and when is it real and when is it fabricated and mimicked? Who is really brave and what constitutes dignity. How entrenched is bravery and courage within the troubling arena of Masculinity? Why do men especially, almost universally find it a deathblow to be referred to as a coward. These were the billowing clouds floating in my head. I decided to write a story around these themes set during a time when people feel amplified and often confusing and conflicting emotions – adolescence.
ABR: You mention in a previous interview that you make a point of choosing less drastic/ hard-hitting topics to center your work around. Do the quieter themes you choose to work with influence the depth of your work? That is, do you find you’re forced to pay more attention to character and style than you perhaps would if there was a dramatic resolution to anchor the narrative?
DANGO: I believe that the causes of events are always much smaller than the scale of the actual events. A whisper here; a misunderstood glance there; a butterfly flapping its wings here; all these subtleties and nuances build up to events and then people act out their roles in the respective theatres of Life they find themselves in. This is ultimately what fascinates me about people and why literature excites me. How will he or she act in this situation…and why. It is at the crossroads, at the points where a change in the direction of a life is possible where we find some evidence and some insight into the true nature of people. This is what I try to explore and understand. So to me it’s the essence of things that is paramount. Whether it be a man standing in Tiananmen Square boldly facing a multi-tonne tank defying the State and all its powers at the peril of his life, or Pempheroyanga in The Jonathan Gray Affair standing upright before the taunts and clenched fists of a bully. The lessons learned condense to the same truths.
In addition, I feel I am in unnatural garb, as ridiculous as a bear with feathers, whenever I write about anything I deem too far stretched from my own experiences. Yes, it is the writer’s trade to stretch his own eyesight to encompass the experiences of his or her fellow people, but stretch too far and the string snaps. Personally I am uncomfortable and don’t trust myself in such situations. I cannot write in discomfort. So do I pay more attention to character and style? Possibly unconsciously. To me as long as the words gel and flow smoothly together and capture a reader’s interest for whatever reason that’s a good story. When I write I only ask myself whether what I have written is interesting or not, and that relates to the previous sentence. If it’s interesting enough I proceed. If it isn’t I discard, retreat, look around again, then proceed. That’s the binary procedure I repeat until I finish. It’s tiresome though rewarding. And what determines whether something is interesting? That’s a matter of taste and it would be pedantic to explain taste. If you like the taste of fish that’s what you like. You could try explain it but you would fall short. You like the taste. That’s explanation enough.