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Maya Fowler

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

Archive for the ‘South Africa’ Category

Hip Hop Lyrics a Boost for ESL learners: Hayibo tribute #2

At a star-studded event in Los Angeles last night, influential hip-hop artist Six-T-Nine was awarded a lifetime achievement award for service to male gonads worldwide as well as for keeping deeper lyrics and musical innovation away from the public.

During an emotional speech, Nine said he just wanted to thank Jesus, his homeys and his mother, without whom “none of this motherfucking success” would have come his way.

Nine, who has been suffering ill health over the last several months after being seriously injured in a one-on-one gunfight with former producer 2-2 Cool, wiped away the tears as he expressed his appreciation for the new generation who were “carrying on the torch”. He called to the stage Flo Rida, who currently has a Top-40 hit with “Whistle”.

“Iss brothers like my man Flo here who gonna carry on the tradition,” he said.

The upset of the evening came after Flo Rida’s performance of his current hit (a tribute to Nine) when Pink took to the stage and deviated from the programme. While she had been expected to perform a remix of “Get This Party Started”, she shocked the audience with a new composition called “Wanna Kiss My Ass?”

Flo Rida's hit "Whistle" has been called "a godsend to teachers of English as a second language".

In a post-performance interview, Pink revealed that she had wanted to call it “Wanna Munch My Carpet?”

“Yeah, I like being, you know, reactionary, so I was like, what the, excuse me, fuck, you know?” She explained she had found nothing to rhyme with “carpet”, which led to the new lyrics. “Which was, like, great, you know, cos at least ass rhymes with crass, know what I’m saying, Flo?”

Teaches students useful colloquialisms and terms like “boobies”

Meanwhile, tributes have been pouring in from across the globe from grateful fans and ESL teachers alike.

Shirley Masters, professor of Pedagogy at UCLA, explains that the repetition and rhyme found in hip hop are a godsend to teachers of English as a second language.

“Let’s take a look at Flo Rida, as he’s really topical right now. Those lyrics go like this: ‘Can you blow my whistle baby, whistle baby let me know … Can you blow my whiste baby whistle baby here we go’. I mean, that kind of thing is invaluable when it comes to teaching pronunciation, and then of course repetition is always an excellent brainwashing, I mean, memory enhancing, tool.”

She further cited Usher’s song “Oh My Gosh” as another good example of the same, for the lyrics “Honey got a booty like pow-pow-pow, honey got some boobies like wow-oh-wow.”

Says Masters: “This music teaches the foreign student useful slang and colloquialisms like ‘wanna’ and ‘gonna’, as well as words like ‘boobies’. These are things your average first-language speaker learns in toddlerhood, but now, thanks to these artists, everybody has access to a wide range of terms for the female anatomy. It’s democracy, in a manner of speaking.”

A boost to self-esteem

Bill Wright, a teacher at a New York college that preferred to remain unnamed, added that the lyrics must further be praised for their accessibility. “I remember teaching in the seventies and eighties, and I’d play the students what was hot back then, you know, Abba, A-Ha, and I’d tell them, hey, you know, these guys aren’t even English, but they wrote these words themselves! You should have seen the dropout rate. Students became despondent and listless. Their self-esteem plummeted. With today’s music they’re much more confident, and we know now that success is related less to intelligence and more to confidence, so it’s important to keep students on that path.”


Pink's new single "Wanna Kiss My Ass?", her response to hip-hop artist Flo Rida's "(Can You Blow My) Whistle" caused an uproar at an awards evening in LA last night.

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High Five to the Book Lounge

Five Things I Will Never Ever Write About: This was the topic Verushka handed me for a recent talk at the Book Lounge. For those who spent the last three months in Lapland or something, here’s a reminder that in December, the Book Lounge turned a fabulous five. They threw a party and invited five writers to speak. And now, for those who couldn’t attend, I’ve rounded up my five things. There are many tricky areas when it comes to writing, but here are mine.

Number 1, Alcohol. I will never ever write about alcohol, because people always advise that you write about things you know, and I have no idea what it feels like to be tipsy. I don’t even know what this Leopard’s Leap is that people come to worship at the Book Lounge, or what it feels like to wake up really, really thirsty on a Sunday morning. No, siree.

Number 2, A girl with any kind of tattoo. Mind you, at one point I actually had a brilliant-brilliant idea about a girl with a T-Rex tattoo, skinny-like, and into solving mysteries, uncovering conspiracies and so on, you get the picture, but then by the time I’d gone through 79 drafts, I discovered there’s this dead guy in Sweden who actually came up with the same idea, only he wrote his down first. Talk about raining on someone’s parade. Pff. So now I can’t do chicks with tattoos. It just wouldn’t be fair. It would confuse my readers, and then some. Which would cause difficulty for the Book Lounge, seeing that people would buy my book thinking they were in fact getting his book … They’d be streaming back to ask for refunds, etc, etc. Awww-kward.

Number 3, Sex with sound effects. Sex itself, sure, I’ll write about that, as you’d know if you’d delved into The Elephant in the Room. It’s not the sex that worries me, but the sound effects. I do think there’s a lively market for that kind of thing but personally I just can’t go there.

Number 4, Vampires. Because I don’t believe it’s right to reinvent a wheel that has already been reinvented.

Number 5, A cluster of things. I will never write about being horny, lazy, crabby or a pro-procrastinator because, once again, I would be completely out of my depth, and wouldn’t be able to come up with a single credible sentence or a shred of anything believable or based on actual experience …

Of course, not being prepared to write about something doesn’t mean I wouldn’t read about it. So, if any of you loungers have recommendations, shout!

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Incense for some, while others are incensed: A Hayibo tribute

Perfume, deodorant and bath product sales have reached an all-time low in Cape Town, forcing Unilever to withdraw from the province and various outlets of Dischem into liquidation.

Researchers in anthropology and gender studies at the University of Cape Town released a report this week clearing up the mystery. (more…)

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Get in the mood on Pinterest

Prospective readers, or anyone who has read one of my books and would like to get more of a feel for the places and spaces I write about can take a look at my new boards on Pinterest, or follow my progress there:

You’ll find boards for The Elephant in the Room, As jy ‘n ster sien verskiet as well as Om op eiers te dans. Of course literature is a word-based medium, but readers always seem to appreciate getting something extra, and I thought it would be really fun for my young-adult readers, especially. Each picture is captioned, for instance, in The Elephant in the Room, “This is what Patience the basset hound looks like” and “The attitude, age 15″ where I’ve posted a picture of a young girl with a “won’t eat”-sticker pasted to her lips. There are pics of the Overberg landscape, where some of the action takes place, as well as of historic figures mentioned in the book, such as Amy Biehl, and Nelson Mandela, on the day of his release from prison. These things would be of particular interest to readers abroad, who would otherwise have to imagine foreign landscapes from scratch.

Anne ten Donkelaar's series Healing Broken Butterflies can be seen on my "The Elephant in the Room" moodboard on Pinterest.

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In good company

This weekend in Franschhoek I had the privilege of being a panelist alongside Yewande Omotoso, subsequently shortlisted for the Sunday Times prize for her novel Bom Boy, and Tracey Farren, author of Whiplash and Snake. (The latter was on the Sunday Times longlist.) We spoke mostly about setting and spaces, since the discussion was entitled “Cape Voices”. Yewande explained that she had chosen to place a lot of the action in Cape Town’s Salt River, Woodstock and Observatory, because her character Leke is a young man living at the fringe of society, a person with a brittle identity. She felt that the part of the city she chose is a place where one can easily hide.

I talked about setting The Elephant in the Room in Kalk Bay, because it’s a magical seaside space with plenty of history, mystery and texture, with a shift to the very suburban Plumstead, Cape Town. I did this to enhance the sense of loss my character Lily felt at being displaced. At this point I had to alert the audience to the fact that there’s nothing wrong with Plumstead! I myself have lived there, and Gus Ferguson, one of our leading poets, lives there to this day.

Stella, the charming young protagonist in Tracey’s Snake, was placed her in a rural setting, which gave her plenty of opportunity to hide in the outdoors. Tracey wanted to provide her – a young girl who has to deal with massive trauma – with a measure of safety. And orchards, hedges, grassy hillocks: these are places of healing, for Stella, and for Tracey.


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The Big Stick: a review recently asked me to review Richard de Nooy’s novel The Big Stick and the new issue went live today with plenty of reviews, short stories and poetry. To read more, and to see why I view this wonderful book as a Bildungsroman in more ways than one, click through to Itch here.

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Translation: A tense business

The Afrikaans present tense has an immediacy that is lost in the English past tense, says Michiel Heyns in an article in Beeld.

Heyns is a writer and celebrated translator of Marlene van Niekerk’s Agaat, Etienne van Heerden’s 30 Nights in Amsterdam and, recently, John Kannemeyer’s biography of JM Coetzee. (“Die teenwoordige tyd van die Afrikaans het ‘n onmiddellikheid wat verlore gaan in die verlede tyd van die Engels.” Here he’s referring to his work on the biography, but I’d like to hear people’s thoughts on the use of tense in translating fiction.

In Afrikaans, one writes in the present tense. Simple. It’s immediate, and you don’t have to have your hero tripping over “het ge– … het ge– … het ge– …”. Instead, you want things to go like this: “Hy storm by die deur in, skiet sy vennoot morsdood en jaag weg.” If the events occurred in the past, the reader infers that.

Recently I’ve been investigating crime novels in translation. I’m not in the fortunate position of being able to understand Stieg Larsson in the original, but I’ve been comparing English translations to Afrikaans originals. In English we certainly use the past tense more freely. It seems the most “story-like” approach, and quite possibly, the easiest to read. However, when one turns from the Afrikaans (present tense, fast pace, immediate) text to the English translation you can find yourself a little deflated, even in the face of a very good translation (and there have been many). I find this particularly true in the crime genre, where immediacy is exactly what you want. Yet I looked at local writers working in English: Mike Nicol, Margie Orford, to name just two, and found past tense and it absolutely works. That’s the most natural way to write, in English.

These things considered, might it be useful to argue for greater use of present tense in Afrikaans-to-English fiction translation? Past tense seems to be the default, but perhaps that cages us in.

I’d love to hear your opinions!

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Op soek na lente

Die somer lê agter ons: amptelik. Die lig begin ons in te perk, besef ek vandag toe ek gaan draf en die skemer my vang. Die dae kwyn. Maar die vreugde daarvan is dat ons weet dis ’n siklus: oor drie maande draai dinge, begin ons van voor af. Die wingerde sal weer bot. Die son sal weer kom. Die blomme sal groei.

Maar vandag dink ek aan dié vir wie die blomme nié weer sal groei nie, omdat die lig té erg vir hulle gekwyn het; hulle hulle níe ’n volgende lente kon indink nie. Mense soos die talentvolle jong akteur Andrew Thompson, wat so vasgevang raak in hul eie winternag dat hulle hulsélf die laaste lig ontneem. My hart gaan uit vir hulle, en vir die mense wat agterbly.

En hier is die ding wat my dié week opgeval het. ’n Ding wat my báie weke vorentoe nog gaan krap. Hoe min medelye sommiges het. Hoe hulle mense soos Andrew slegsê op internetkletswerwe; kwetswoorde soos “selfsugtig” en “maklike uitweg”. Een vrou het laat weet dat “enigiemand wat selfmoord pleeg ’n pateet is” en dat sy “geen simpatie” het nie. Sy het het dit in hoofletters geskryf; haar woorde met drie uitroeptekens beklemtoon. Vir hulle wil ek sê: Medelye is een van die vernaamste geestelike vrugte wat ’n mens kan kweek, en hoe vroeër mens begin, hoe beter. Om ’n geliefde te verloor, ongeag die omstandighede, maak séér. Voor ons oordeel vel, moet ons dink of dit die moeite werd is om dié wat agtergelaat is gal in die wonde te smeer. Vir diegene wat nié kan identifiseer met so ’n immeroorweldigende sielsdonkerte nie: Wees dankbaar. Dit is wel waar dat dit moeilik is om begrip vir ’n ander te hê tensy jy jou ’n tydjie lank is sy skoene bevind het.

As jy jouself dus nie in iemand anders se skoene kan plaas nie, sit jouself dan ten minste in sy ma s’n.

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A human right? Say what?

My inbox, yesterday: a mailer from a well-known local shoe retailer, declaring (on the eve of Human Rights Day, of course) that it is my human right to own fabulous shoes. I nearly destroyed a perfectly beautiful iMac by hurling my coffee cup at the screen. Good grief. I’m a fan of said retailer (well, I used to be, until they Marie-Antoinetted themselves out of my address book) and of shoes, certainly, it cannot be denied. But a human right? I don’t know that I’ve felt that offended all year. I really don’t think I have to put too fine a point on this. Except possibly to remind anybody who needs reminding that the reason we celebrate Human Rights Day on 21 March in this country, is that on this day in 1960, 69 people died at the hands of the then South African Police Force in Sharpeville, Transvaal (now Gauteng). Shoes had sweet blow-all to do with it then, and they have sweet blow-all to do with it now. Although I do wonder whether Julius Malema might not agree with the shoe peddlers who shall remain nameless. Because I did notice him sporting a lovely pair of Louis Vuitton loafers on his Carte Blanche interview of the other day. Let them eat cake.

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Many embodiments of desire: Riette Rust creates erotic art in Afrikaans

A body remembered, a body remembers, but also, a body withheld: These are the interpretations that dwell in the title ‘n Lyf Onthou, a brand-new work of erotic fiction in Afrikaans.

Deernis – dít is die snaar wat Riette Rust in haar kortverhaalbundel ’n Lyf onthou (uitgegee deur Protea) by my roer. Ja, sy roer wel ander snare ook: Dis nie verniet dat Kerneels Breytenbach in ’n onlangse onderhoud met Louise Viljoen gesê het Riette ken van seks skryf nie. Met die erotiek as kunsvorm is sy bedrewe, en dit is nie iets wat van alle skrywers gesê kan word nie. Veral nie, durf mens dit sê, iets wat van alle Afrikaanse skrywers gesê kan word nie. Die meeste van ons (guilty as charged!) is mos maar konserwatief grootgemaak. Het so by die dertien jaar rond ’n voosgeleesde eksemplaar van Lady Chatterley’s Lover in die hande gekry en suutjies langs die swembadfilter gaan lees, of dalk ’n bietjie Brink tydens daai lang ure waar die grootmense hul oë rol en sê “Dié kind is darem baaaie lief vir bad, hoor …” Maar die feit bly staan, ons kom uit ’n konserwatiewe tradisie, en ons mark is eweneens dikwels konserwatief. Om ’n boek erotiese skryfkuns saam te stel, is ’n dapper stap, en om dit kunstig en met goeie smaak, soos Rust, te doen, ’n prestasie.

Erotiek, ja, maar diegene wat verwag dat mense mekaar op elke bladsy gaan bevlieg, bespring of bebek, gaan (afhangende van hul vertrekpunt!) óf verras óf teleurgesteld wees. Hierdie bundel is keurig geskryf en met groot sorg saamgestel, en nie elke verhaal wentel om seks nie. En ook nie elke verhaal wat verwys na seksualiteit, lei na fisiese kontak nie. Die keur verhale is holisties, en daarmee bedoel ek dat daar iets is wat elke aspek van die lewe – veral vrouens se lewens – weerspieël. Ons het te doen met verlange, hartseer en blydskap (omdat ons emosionele wesens is) verrassings, herinneringe, verviestheid (omdat ons denkende wesens is) en ja, begeerte en die volbringing daarvan al dan nie (omdat ons seksuele wesens is). Dis hier dat die titel juis só slim is, omdat dit gaan oor al hierdie embodiments van menswees: ’n Lyf onthou, m.a.w. die lyf vergeet nie; hier het ons ’n spesifieke lyf wat iemand onthou, maar, net so belangrik, hier het ons ’n lyf wat juis nié oorgegee word nie. A body remembers, a body remembered, en a body withheld, dus.

Rust se karakters is kompleks; sy wys jou waar hulle vandaan kom. Van Carien, wat wulpse goed aanvang in “Vanielje”, leer mens meer in “Eer jou vader”. Die Mia van “Yesterday, today and tomorrow” neem ’n ander tomorrow aan in “Queen of the rose garden”. Maar vir my bly “God se wil” (met karakters wat nie elders in die bundel verskyn nie) een van die sterkste verhale: ’n bittersoet storie waarin ’n dominee en sy vrou ná vele pogings ’n verstandelik gestremde kind in die wêreld bring. (En vir die wat gereed is om te skrik: erotise gebeurtenisse is nié in hierdie verhaal ter sprake nie.) In verhale soos “Alles vir ’n storie”, “As good as it’s going to get” en “Spoor” weer, is daar vir my iets van Fay Weldon, maar met minder woede en meer deernis, meer gelatenheid, attitude, chutzpah.

Hierdie is ’n boek vir mense wat in denke geprikkel wil word; ’n boek vir dié wat hulle wil inleef in ander se smagtinge, hul hartseer, hul hoop en hul drome. Diegene wat op soek is na cheap thrills moet maar eerder op die boonste tydskrifrak by die Seven Eleven gaan kyk, want hier gaan meer as jou kliere oefening kry.

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