By Panashe Chigumadzi (@panashechig)
The award-winning author of Coconut and Spilt Milk shares five of the books that she says that ‘gave her permission to be herself’. They include a few children’s classics and a book that has inspired many a young activist.
This post was originally published on 21 July 2014 and is republished here as part of our one year anniversary retrospective.
I asked Dr Kopano Mabaso-Matlwa, the author of Coconut and Spilt Milk, about the five books that have shaped her and this was her response:
“Oh man. Where do I start? The 5 books that shaped me? Hmm… Shaped me? Am I shaped? I don’t know. Feel more like a work in progress really, so perhaps I wont call them ‘the 5 books that shaped me’ but maybe ‘the 5 books that gave me permission to be me’, and that said, they weren’t only 5, but anyway for the sake of not being difficult, I’ll stick to the brief and limit it to five.”
1. Oh the places you’ll go! by Dr Seuss
“Congratulations! Today is your day. You’re off to great places! You’re off and away!” Those words still give me goose-bumps. I thank Dr Seuss for believing in me, me, a funny looking, bucktoothed, black (and dark!) 9 year old girl sitting late at night, under the covers, with a torch in one hand and ‘Oh the places you’ll go’ in the other, wondering if the crazy dreams that filled my head had any real possibility of coming true.
2.The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
I thank Toni Morrison for teaching me the power that lies in an honest pen. After reading ‘The Bluest Eye’, I realized that my story mattered, that I had a voice, and that it was there to be used. That it served nobody speaking in hushed tones, mumbling, murmuring about the passions that pulled at my heart. Toni taught me that we all need to speak clearly and boldly, without shame, about the truths we believe in – that it is only by daring to be honest with each other, that we will ever come to understand one another.
3. Nervous Conditions by Tsitsi Dangarembga
And then there was Nervous Conditions! And how it read into my soul! How did Tsitsi know? How embarrassed I was, to be caught out this way by a book, to have characters speak as if they had read the pages of my diary. Like Toni, Tsitsi taught me about the power of truth.
4. I Write What I Like by Steve Biko
I don’t suppose I have to explain why this book is on my list [,right]?
5. Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Suddenly there were these new, young, fresh voices coming out of our continent, voices that challenged the traditional African narrative, that shed a different light on old perspectives. How my spirit danced as I tore through this book. How I welled with pride and admiration and awe at, not just the talent, but the boldness Chimamanda displayed in her writing. She made me stand up tall as an African writer, and continues to challenge me to dig deeper.