Fred Khumalo

Literary Birthday – 4 August – Fred Khumalo

Happy Birthday, Fred Khumalo, born 4 August 1966.


  1. As a novelist, I am concerned with the ways in which communities transform their historical experience into the symbolic terms of myth, and then use mythologised narratives of the past to organise their responses to real-world, present-day crises and events. As a genre, historical fiction can be a powerful tool in the hands of a writer who is also an activist, which I count myself to be.
  2. Historical novels show us how the origins of many present-day problems lie in the past; they are vehicles for the necessary journeys that nations must take to be healed; they help us re-imagine ourselves in the present day.
  3. To paraphrase Emile Zola, writing, like any work of art, is a picture of the world, or a corner of it, distorted, coloured, arranged by the personality of the artist.
  4. I always make a point of working on more than one project at a time. When I am stuck with my, say, fiction, I change gears and work on a piece of journalism or some other non-fiction. I don’t wait for inspiration. I write every day – even if it’s unpublishable rubbish.
  5. Read, read, and read across all genres. Also: try to write every day. The writing muscle, like the soccer-playing muscle, doesn’t grow of its own volition. It needs to be nurtured, to be pushed, sometimes. A successful writer is one who doesn’t wait for inspiration, I have found.
  6. DON’T BE AFRAID OF REJECTION. In the early stages of your career it is GUARANTEED. From editors, publishers, literary agents, and literary critics.
  7. We have to exercise our craft with due responsibility and sensitivity. We are dealing with issues such as racism, which is still a problem in this country. You don’t want to pretend that it doesn’t exist. Now we’re dealing with xenophobia which is a problem which is going to be with us for some time. You find ways and means in which that issue can be explored. You’re reporting on the story as it unfolds and possibly through your creativity, through the characters that you create, you try and suggest some solutions. In this whole creative mix, there must be some suggestion of solutions.
  8. We have emerged from a very politicised past so our literature has been very political in nature; our novel has been the protest novel as evidenced by the works of Andre Brink, Nadine Gordimer, J.M Coetzee and so on. The novel that emerged from that crucible was almost that of a journalist reporting on the genesis of a nation.
  9. With the demise of apartheid we are seeing writers grappling with intensely personal issues rather than political matters. The demise of apartheid has opened up a space for writers to explore things other than the political.

Fred Khumalo is a South African author. He completed his MA in creative writing from Wits University with distinction and is the recipient of a Nieman Fellowship from Harvard University. His writing has appeared in the Sunday Times, the Toronto Star, New African magazine, and the Sowetan. His books include Dancing the Death Drill and Seven Steps To HeavenBitches’ Brew was a joint winner of the 2006 European Union Literary Award and his memoir, Touch My Blood: The Early Years, was shortlisted for the Alan Paton Prize for Non-fiction in 2007. Follow him on Twitter: @FredKhumalo

Source for quotes 1-2/Source for quotes 3-6 ( /Source for quotes 7-9: The South African: Fred Khumalo On SA’s Literary Landscape (

Source for image: Author’s publishers / Credit Joanne Olivier

Amanda Patterson by Amanda Patterson

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Posted on: 3rd August 2019