Wesley Macheso teaches Creative Writing and Literature at Mzuzu University, Malawi. A writer of short stories and essays, his stories have been featured on Storymoja, The Kalahari Review and Africanwriter.com. He was long-listed for the 2015 Short Story Day Africa Prize, and his story appears in the recently published anthology, Water: New Short Fiction from Africa. Macheso has a novel in the works. He spoke with Sola Osofisan.
Sola Osofisan: Your story, “This Land Is Mine,” just got published in Water: New Short Fiction from Africa. Is this your official first appearance in book form?
Wesley Macheso: Indeed. And I’m so excited that I was among the chosen few.
Sola Osofisan: I know several of your creative efforts have appeared online, but being published in physical form is different… You feel as if you’re finally becoming like those writers you’ve read for so long… Why do you think this is so? Will online publishing ever be as prestigious as traditional publishing?
Wesley Macheso: I think being published in physical form gives a different feeling altogether. It’s like you have finally become what you have always admired. It’s prestigious, as you put it. But I think in this age, online publishing cannot be underrated. With the whole world going green and everything going digital, it may just be the way to go. It actually gives a writer more exposure than traditional publishing. When you are online, you are everywhere.
Sola Osofisan: You are everywhere, yes, but “everywhere” is so vast, and one is more likely to get lost out there… What’s the use of being online unread?
Wesley Macheso: I think as writers we always bear the risk of being unread, both in print and/or online, because mostly the audience exists in our minds and not necessarily out there. But I think it’s just a matter of choosing the right forum for your work – active e-zines with reputable editorials and contributors. Try to rub shoulders with the names and maybe you may be noticed.
Sola Osofisan: The Internet is also notorious for the short attention span of the multitude surfing it, forcing many to publish in easy-to-consume bite-sized servings. Is flash fiction the future of fiction? Or tweets?
Wesley Macheso: You are very right. I think the internet is fast producing a curious but lazy generation. Most readers online won’t dedicate an hour to a short story. So maybe with online publications we need to be as short as possible bearing in mind the kind of audience. But longer is mostly better for me. The story grows, the narration marinates, and the ideas mature with length.
Sola Osofisan: To your story in Water… Water is a complex natural resource that life and the planet depends on, and it may also be the most resilient force of destruction in that it will have its way, however long it takes. Did you write your story specifically for the book or you just submitted something you had lying around? How hard was it to think up fiction around the very nebulous theme of water?
Wesley Macheso: I really think water is a strange resource. It is life and death – it is survival and destruction. It can cleanse and renew but it can also annihilate. I found the topic interesting but challenging. Actually I wrote the story specifically for the book but my greatest fear was that of writing cliché. Water is too broad and too common a topic to eschew cliché.
Sola Osofisan: In the story, you seem to be urging us to question religion and the old ways. Is that the author’s views embedded in his story – urging us to question everything, even beliefs that are sometimes founded on centuries of experience and experimentation?
Wesley Macheso: Exactly. I personally think that as a rational being, wo/man has the capacity to think and s/he must use it. We should question everything from religion to science. We must seek answers every day and everywhere. Inquiry is the basis of knowledge. As the enlightenment philosophers would say, “Dare to know.”
Sola Osofisan: I like the way your narrator confesses that the destruction that befell them happened too fast for her to see and she’d only borne witness by hearing. That seems to be a commonality in sudden water disruptions; you only hear it coming and then the world is upside down or gone…
Wesley Macheso: That’s the horror in water. And maybe that’s why my greatest fear is death by water; it must be violent.
Sola Osofisan: Why didn’t you allow the narrator to mourn her father? I mean while still recuperating in the refugee camp, she is already throwing away his god and beliefs. How could it be that a father dies and – as the narrator asks in the last line, “Does man really own anything in this world?” – nothing of him is left to remember, even in his children?
Wesley Macheso: For me, the father in the story symbolizes patriarchy itself – how it is a force that women wish they could do away with but it’s still present in almost every aspect of life, from culture to science. So when nature comes to your rescue, as is the case with the narrator, can your eyes afford the luxury of tears?
Sola Osofisan: You write poetry, short fiction, children’s stories, academic articles, and just a while ago, I read a delicious sci-fi by you… Can you tell us what kind of mental state it takes to switch between these genres?
Wesley Macheso: To be honest, it’s not easy to move from one genre to another. And I believe one can’t be a master of all. Personally I dread poetry. But writing and reading fiction has been the best teacher for me; the skills one gets from literary fiction become handy in any form of good writing you want to engage in.
Sola Osofisan: You’re getting a reputation for writing exciting short stories. Many writers of the short form treat it as a school and eventually move on to the longer form because novelists tend to get more recognition and money. Are you another novelist in waiting?
Wesley Macheso: Thanks for the compliment, Sola. I admire novelists quite a lot. It’s not easy to come up with a longer work and keep the reader turning the pages all along. I would love to publish a novel and I’m currently working on one. I hope I find a publisher when all is set and that it will be as good as the short stories.
Sola Osofisan: You teach creative writing. How does that impact your writing, knowing your students will monitor closely anything you publish?
Wesley Macheso: It’s too much pressure to say the least. I always try to be on top of my game as I have to lead by example, whether I like it or not. I just believe that any passion nurtured becomes talent, and I try to perfect my art.
Sola Osofisan: One of the cardinal recommendations for becoming a good writer is to first become a good reader. As a teacher of writing, are there authors or books you encourage any seriously aspiring writer to read? And why?
Wesley Macheso: I have read a lot of good writers. Some even make me look down upon my work and think that I can’t reach such heights. Take for example Haruki Murakami; the surreal worlds that he creates. Frank McCourt can narrate a sad tale with incredible humor. Talk of Chimamanda Adichie and Warsan Shire. These are great writers.
Sola Osofisan: When did you realise you could and wanted to write? How?
Wesley Macheso: When I was in secondary school I used to write poetry and short stories but I never showed them to anyone. I just saw it as a private endeavor and didn’t think anyone would care about such trifles. But it’s my girlfriend, in 2012 or so, who told me I could write and I had to write. So I sent out a few articles to newspapers and they published, then I got going.
Sola Osofisan: As you grow older and learn more of the rules, does the actual writing get easier or harder for you?
Wesley Macheso: The more I learn about writing, the more I lose confidence in myself as a writer and in the quality of my work. The writing process itself becomes easier, but the conviction that it’s good enough is not there. I always feel it’s not good enough. I feel I, or somebody out there, can write the same story better. I hope you get what I mean.
Sola Osofisan: Late last year, you won the Peer Gynt Literary Award of the Malawi Writers Union for “Akuzike and the Gods” – a children’s story. I think children’s story writers are probably the least acknowledged members of the pen profession in Africa. Children hardly register on the radar, so what’s your fascination for children’s stories?
Wesley Macheso: I agree with your observation. I think that’s one of the explanations for the poor reading culture across the continent. It’s a matter of attitude I think. Children’s books are the most challenging and the most exciting to write. You cannot just say anything to children; you need to be careful. At the same time, writing about and for children makes you relive the innocence of childhood, which is priceless.
Sola Osofisan: That award came with a publishing contract, right?
Wesley Macheso: It did. The book is expected to be out in print anytime from July this year. I just can’t wait.
Sola Osofisan: Malawi isn’t one of the countries that immediately spring to mind when African literature is mentioned, even with a big gun like Jack Mapanje out there. Tell us about the writing landscape in Malawi. Is it confined within the ivory towers or it’s everywhere? Is it vibrant or limited by avenues of exposure?
Wesley Macheso: Writing is indeed not one of the things Malawi is best known for. The biggest problem is that writers are not supported here and they lack exposure. Most publishers won’t publish fiction on the argument that people don’t read that much. They would rather go for text books for quick money. This has gravely killed writing in Malawi and it’s sad. It’s almost impossible to find publishers for your work here so why should anyone write?
Sola Osofisan: But that is applicable to pretty much every African country. It is as if traditional publishing is dying before it was ever really born here… What do you think could be the way forward?
Wesley Macheso: It’s exactly that – dying in the womb. I think it needs concerted efforts from different stakeholders to address the problem. We must find means of inducing a sustainable reading culture and of encouraging publishers to realize that fiction is essential to anyone who claims to be educated. Fiction is greater than the reality it mirrors.
Sola Osofisan: So, Wesley Macheso is doing interesting work. In his view, who else should we be on the lookout for in Malawi right now?
Wesley Macheso: We have some good writers doing great work here. The author of “Azotus the Kingdom”, Shadreck Chikoti, is one name to read. Then we have Andrew Dakalira, Muthi Nhlema and others. They’re writing. We need more female voices though.
Sola Osofisan: How has the Internet impacted you as a writer? How has it impacted your writing career?
Wesley Macheso: I must confess that without the internet I wouldn’t have been here. My first published work was on this very site and the confidence that gave me brought me here. I don’t take it for granted. I have come across loads of opportunities for writers on the internet, including the chance to be published in “Water: New Short Fiction from Africa”. I must say ‘two cheers for the internet!’
Sola Osofisan: On a lighter note, you follow a really diverse collection of accounts on Twitter – from philosophers to rap artists, through a Kardashian – sports, music, and art…what informs your choices? Why do you follow those you follow?
Wesley Macheso: Well, as an artist, I live art. I admire any form of creativity that is different and original. If somebody is creating, I will follow them to their heaven. Mostly I love music; I think it’s the highest art form – a combination of noises into one soul soothing whole. Music is amazing.
Sola Osofisan: You don’t make music on the side, do you?
Wesley Macheso: Ha! ha! Well I used to when I was in college. But not anymore. I had to find what I was best suited for, and that’s writing.
Sola Osofisan: Is your writing influenced or inspired in any way by social media feedback?
Wesley Macheso: The inspiration mostly, especially in the form of encouragement. I get the drive to try harder when people read my work. I appreciate reader feedback a lot.
Sola Osofisan: Finally, what does the Rastafari philosophy mean to Wesley Macheso as an individual and writer? Or am I mistaken that you subscribe to the movement?
Wesley Macheso: Ha ha! Well, I don’t identify myself with any ideological grouping. As a black African who is proud to be, I just admire how the Rastafarians embrace and elevate blackness and their African roots. I admire the peace, love, and unity they advocate for. I think that’s just what this world needs. Freedom and liberty are my favorite words, and the Rastafarians seem to be on a quest for that. And just to let your hair grow longer and longer is a great sign of patience. Patience is virtue.