Reading 2010: Lauri Kubuitsile (Botswana):"Where I Write Matters"

Lauri Kubuitsile is a full time, Motswana writer. She has thirteen published works of fiction. She has also written two television series for Botswana Television and her short stories have been published in anthologies and literary magazines around the world. She has won numerous writing prizes including the Golden Baobab Prize- junior category (2008/2009 and 2010), the BTA/AngloPlatinum Short Story Contest (South Africa- 2007) and the Botswana Ministry of Youth, Sports, and Culture’s Orange Botswerere Prize for Creative Writing (2007). She was recently chosen to be a writer in residence in El Gouna Egypt for the month of May 2010. She blogs at Thoughts from Botswana.

Through her blog, I have come to know Lauri as an avid reader sometimes blogs about the books she reads. Her repeated references to The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver influenced me to acquire my own copy of the book.

Lauri's list has a heavy concentration of South African and American authors, and in her interview she explains why. See Lauri's reading list below, which is followed by an interview I did with her.

Books read in 2010- Lauri Kubuitsile

Difficult to Explain edited by Finuala Dowling
An Undisciplined Heart by Jane Katjavivi
Under the Banner of Heaven by Jon Krakauer
From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E Frankweiler by EL Kronigsburg
Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim by David Sedaris
Barrel Fever by David Sedaris
Trinity on Air by Fiona Snyckers
Solar by Ian McEwan
In a Strange Room by Damon Galgut
Saracen by Zinaid Meeran
The Road by Cormac McCarthy
Tooth and Nailed by Sarah Lotz
Homing by Henrietta Rose- Innes
Women of Phokeng- by Belinda Bozzo9lo and Mmantho Nkotsoe
Piece Work by Ingrid Anderson
Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks
All Bones and Lies by Anne Fine
I Know This Much is True by Wally Lamb
The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver
Act Like a Lady Think Like a Man by Steve Harvey
A Clash of Innocents by Sue Guiney
The Appeal by John Grisham
Nocturnes by Kazuo Ishiguro

Interview with Lauri Kubuitsile

1. Let me start by congratulating you for winning the Golden Baobab Fiction two years in a row. What is it about your writing and vision that keeps impressing the judges? What do you think is the value of this award to African writing for children?

Thanks. I think writers need to accept that all contests are subjective. I have no idea what the judges liked about my stories. I always try to write what I like and cross fingers others will like it too. To be honest I don’t see the award doing much for African children’s writers yet but I think they have a plan and if implemented I think a lot could happen. It is time our children’s books get read all over the world and I think that the Golden Baobab could help make that happen.

2. What can be done to nurture a strong reading culture for African children? Are you children's stories set in Africa intended for children from any part of the world?

Yes, I would hope the themes in my stories are universal; in the end we are all part of the human race. I’ve always felt the buying of books in Botswana, and I’d imagine the rest of Africa too, is the problem. They are just too expensive. I write romance for Sapphire Press in South Africa. They have the right idea, the books are made cheaply and sold for R45. We need children’s books in that range. Lots and lots of them. Also, I see no problem with governments subsidising books. It’s mental food; we must have books from as young as possible to survive and thrive.

3. Your list, which I understand is not a complete representation of all that you read in 2010, shows that you read a lot, especially for a writer as prolific as yourself. How do you balance your reading and writing?

I’m a writer because I am a reader. I’ve always loved books and authors. I became a writer because I wanted to be more a part of books. I read every evening and on weekends. I view my writing as my job. I write 9-5:00 every weekday. I try to leave my weekends free for me and my family. I read a lot on weekends, especially Sunday. I can read an entire book on a Sunday.

4. You attended at least one writers' residence this year. How was this experience for you as a reader and a writer?

Yes, I was invited to El Gouna Egypt in May. It was fabulous. I met writers from around the world. Of course Egypt itself was amazing. But one thing I learned about myself as a writer, I need the quietness of mind that I can only get in my house in my village in Botswana. I finished the rough draft for a novel in El Gouna but it was very skeletal. I couldn’t settle my mind enough, there was just too much going on. So one thing I learned from the writers’ residency was that where I write matters much more than I thought.

5.I admire your diligence and optimism as a writer. What is the reception of your books in Botswana and the rest of Southern Africa? Are you reaching as wide an audience as you intend?

In Botswana I’ve been lucky. My first detective novella, The Fatal Payout, is currently a set work for junior secondary students. I also have three short story collections I wrote with two other Batswana women writers (Bontekanye Botumile and Wame Molefhe) which are prescribed for upper primary. My children’s book, Mmele and the Magic Bones, which was short listed for the Macmillan Prize for African Writers some years ago is also a prescribed book for standard 5. Mostly the only market for books in Botswana is the schools so I think I can say I’ve done pretty well.

Recently I’ve begun to get books published in South Africa. I have four books published by Vivlia Publishers, the largest independent black owned publisher in South Africa. I’ve had two romance novellas published by Sapphire (an imprint of Kwela) and I compiled a collection of short stories for Modjaji Books, The Bed Book of Short Stories.

I’ve had short stories published overseas, in America, Canada, UK and Australia but right now I’m targeting 2011 as my year to try and get an agent and get one of my adult novels published overseas. I’d really like an agent who can accept that I don’t want to be boxed in. I want to write romance and detective, and literary and for children and YA. I love writing across genres, I’ve never been a specialist. Most agents don’t want that. If I could find the agent who could accept my grocery cart of writing I think it would help my career a lot.

6. Your list shows a heavy concentration of South African and American writers? Is this a reflection of book distribution in Southern Africa? What's a typical bookstore visit for you? What is one to expect to see in the front of the store? What's heavily mechandised and what's in the back shelves?

I go to the Cape Town Book Fair every year and I always come back with a suitcase of books, so that could explain the leaning toward South Africans. Like most things in my life I read what I want. I get most of my books from Exclusive Books in Gaborone. It’s a sad story really because the shop is geared toward international books. It has the dark, dank African section which is anaemic to the point of it being laughable, that is if I was not a writer. Most African (besides South African) writers I can only get by having my sister buy them for me in America. The Botswana section of the bookstore is even darker and danker if such a thing exists and is dominated by Alexander McCall Smith. Right now it is nearly impossible to buy a copy of any of my 13 published books in Botswana, they are just not in the stores.

7. You have written more than thirteen books? Are you a satisfied writer?

Is anyone ever a satisfied writer? No, I am not. I’m learning as I go along. My only hope is that I’m getting better, and even this I’m not always sure about. I have a story I wrote very early on that I try not to read. It’s a short story, a flash, and I think it may be one of the best things I’ve ever written. I don’t read it because it makes me wonder if what I believe, that I’m learning and getting better, is really true. Anyway, I suppose that’s the typical insecurities of a writer.

8. You read truly infectious authors like Ian McEwan, Barbara Kingsolver, Wally Lamb, John Grisham, David Sedaris, Cormac McCarthy, and others. As a writer, what do you learn from these writers?

Of course you learn a bit from every book. I write a column for one of our national newspapers, The Voice, about writing and books. I spent one whole column writing about how Barbara Kingsolver teaches us lessons about characterisation. I don’t think there is a better book than Saturday by Ian McEwan to teach us about maintaining tension. John Grisham is the master of plotting. As of late I’ve become a big plotter as I write more popular fiction, and I like going back and re-reading some of his books.

But too, I don’t always read as a writer. I’m afraid it sometimes ruins a book. Mostly I read as a reader. I don’t want to look too hard for the strings, I don’t even want to know that they are there.

9. You blog frequently, and I love you blog Thoughts from Botswana. What do you think is the importance of blogging to a writer? Which do you think is a better medium, a social networking forum like Facebook, or a blog?

Thanks for reading my blog. My blog has been important. I’ve met many writers through my blog, I’ve made some important contacts. I’m not very techno-savvy so a blog works better for me than a website. At the same time, I find Facebook very important. Again, I’ve met so many writers through Facebook, have been alerted to contests and markets. I think they are both important to me.

10. In addition to the book you listed, did you also read books online? If so, how do you compare the experiences? Of the books you listed, were they all in print form? Do you sometimes listen to audio books?

I don’t read books online. I read a lot of short stories online. I don’t listen to audiobooks either, though lately I’ve come to enjoy the performance poetry CDs that are becoming popular. Many of these things must be bought with credit cards online and so many sites won’t send things to Botswana. This is why for some African authors I like, I buy with my credit card and then must send to my sister in America who sends to me. It’s a schlep.

I would love to own a Kindle one day and have lots of books downloaded inside….a dream!

11. On your blog, you listed reading as one of your resolutions? Let me ask you the question you asked there: How many books will you read each month?

Well, that was my last column of the year, not necessarily my resolutions. But if I must put a number, I’d say about five. My limiting factor for books is money. Our local library is very decrepit and I’m mad about owning books. So it all depends on how often I can get to Gaborone to buy books and how many my writer’s purse (which we all know is by definition a small one) can manage to purchase.

12. You are a multi-genre writer. What contributed to this? Do you, therefore recommend a reading approach that leads to many genres?

Yes, of course! I read everything and anything. Yesterday I finished a romance novella written by a Botswana based writer, the day before I finished Henrietta Rose-Innes’s fantastic short story collection and I have a poetry collection in the queue on my bed side table.


I follow you blog, regularly. I like the contents.
I hope you would like my recent art review.
Sue Guiney said…
A great interview, and I'm very proud to have my latest novel, "A Clash of Innocents", listed among the books Lauri has read this year. She is a fascinating writer and person, and one of my hopes for 2011 is that I actually get to meet her!
Lauri said…
I just got home now and saw this- thanks Emmanuel!

Sue- Your wish has been granted- I just received an email that the funding has come through! I'll be in London mid-February and speaking at the London School of Economics & Political Science (LSE)'s third Literary Festival. So wish I can meet up with you and Vanessa and Tania!!

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