So That You Know Your Story Will Be Told: An Interview with Sabata-mpho Mokae

I recently sat down with South African writer Sabata-mpho Mokae, and discussed his influences, oral storytelling and how language affects the way a story is told and absorbed. Mokae’s debut novel in Setswana, Ga Ke Modisa, I’m Not My Brother’s Keeper, (2012) won the M-Net Literary Award for Best Novel in Setswana as well as the M-Net Film Award. He is also the author of the the biography The Story of Sol T. Plaatje (2010) and the poetry collection Escaping Trauma (2012). His youth novella Dikeledi [Tears] was launched in 2014. Sabata-mpho Mokae is a resident at The University of Iowa’s International Writing Program.

The Fourth River: Can you start by talking about your writing process? What does the road between inspiration and a published piece look like?

Sabata-mpho Mokae: Once I have a group of characters sorted out, the book writes itself. I know my characters, I know how they behave, I’ve given each of them a background, I’ve given each of them a routine, a certain behavior, I’ve given them dreams, aspirations. As a writer the book is being dictated to me, I have the story and then I simply become a typist. I have my first draft sorted and then I keep it there and allow it to be there. I take it out of my system, I detox. I take ample time to detox, three months, sometimes four months and then I go back to it, now as an editor. I am now a different person from the one who was telling the story in the first place. The second draft is basically going through the new me as the editor of the first draft.

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