"A Family Affair: In Conversation with Sue Nyathi"
"Writing is a process and the process is the prize because that is what hones your craft."
TM: Tell us about yourself - Where you are from; Where you studied; Where you’ve worked; Where you are now.
SN: I hail from Bulawayo which is affectionately known as the City of Kings, but I will add Queens too because we must pay homage to the likes of Queen Lozikeyi. I always say I was born, bread and buttered, in Bulawayo. As a child, I attended St Gabriel’s nursery school. Then I completed my primary education at Carmel. I moved to Girls College for my secondary education and completed my tertiary studies at the National University of Science and Technology.
Contrary to my own desire to pursue a career in journalism, I actually ended up studying towards a degree in Finance. I later completed a Masters Degree in Finance and Investment. My working career began in Corporate Finance with TN Financial Services. I then moved through the organization trying my hand at different things from money market dealing and asset management. After I left Zimbabwe in 2008, I joined an economic development consulting firm in Johannesburg. I worked there for five years until the birth of my son in 2014. It was during my maternity leave that I got introduced to the writers’ room and I made my writing debut on the eTV drama series titled Matatiele. When my son was 1, I returned to the job market as an investment analyst in a stock broking firm. I worked there until my 40th birthday and as fate would have it, I retired from my financial career. I now write full time. By that I mean I just pursue creative writing work while I focus on writing my books.
TM: Talk to us about your storytelling journey. What propelled you to start writing? Who/What inspired the stories in The Polygamist, The Golddiggers, and A Family Affair?
SN: I was a writer from a very young age. Even as a child I would act out stories in my playtime. When I was old enough, I stopped acting them out then started writing them down. It started with cutting pictures out of magazines and writing stories around them. The inclination was already there at a young age. Then I graduated to writing mini books in high school which were circulated amongst my students. This is how Sue’s books gained notoriety.
The Polygamist (2012) was inspired by my early working career in Harare, even though it was actually 10 years later when I eventually sat down to write the book. The early 2000s were a period of prosperity and progress in Zimbabwe. It was also the emergence of the black entrepreneur. The story of a man with money which finances his insatiable lust for women is a common narrative which explains why this book continues to be a bestseller even today, 9 years after publication.
The Gold Diggers (2018) is story of migration which was inspired by the xenophobic violence that broke out in 2008 and has continued to resurface sporadically since then.
A Family Affair (2020) was inspired by my own life experiences and observations of a woman growing up in a patriarchal society. I started the book when I was 20 when I was just starting university and I completed it in 2020. So it was 20 years of work.
TM: Your latest novel, A Family Affair, explores the theme of “marriage” and the complexities that African women have to navigate when it comes to romance and family. What responses have you received from readers since the book came out? Why are such conversations so important today?
SN: Readers either love the book or hate it. The ones that love it say they can resonate with the characters in the book and that it is highly relatable to their own lives. The readers that hate it often say they hate it on the basis of how I portray women as being oppressed and lacking agency. However, in my defence, I say it’s because I am writing about the realism reflected in society. I don’t think it’s where any of us would like to be, but it is what it is. So, like I said, this book is a culmination of observations and experiences over 20 years, and for me, nothing has really changed. I think conversations emanating from the book are important because a lot of gender based violence is rooted in some of the toxic practices and culture which are portrayed in the book.
TM: Talk to us about the playlist you curated on Spotify for A Family Affair?
SN: Thank you so much for paying attention to that list. The playlist I curated is the soundtrack that goes with the chapters in the book. As you read each chapter, the corresponding song mimics the theme. I really enjoyed putting that list together and spent countless hours picking the songs and making sure they mirrored the chapter. I think I should be a DJ in another life! I love music.
TM: The Golddiggers was narrated by Malika Ndlovu in 2019. Were you involved in the process of creating an audiobook version of your novel? Did you seek out a specific type of voice? Any plans to have your other books narrated?
SN: I was not involved in the audio book production. It was an offer that was made to my publisher, Pan Macmillan, and they took it up together with another author’s book. So they were very much involved in scouting for the reader and the voice that they wanted. I am personally not an audio book fan; they fail to capture my attention, my mind tends to wander. I received another offer to convert the Polygamist into an audiobook, but the cost of production was too high in contrast to the returns, so I shelved it. I make more money from physical book sales than I do with the audio formats.
TM: What is your favorite book/Who is your favorite author?
SN: I hate this question. I don’t have a favourite book or author. The reason being that because I read a lot I am always finding a new favourite book. This year alone I have read over 5 brilliant books and you want me to single it down to one?? Secondly, I shy away from favorite author because I may have liked the one book by an author e.g. Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda, but I failed to get into her other books. Or with some authors, I simply have not read their entire body of work, so it becomes difficult to make that call. Let’s just say I have a great appreciation for a number of books and authors.
TM: What advice would you give to aspiring Zimbabwean authors seeking to get their work published in Zimbabwe and abroad?
I don’t know if there is still a viable publishing industry in Zimbabwe. I know it had died even during the time I was there. However, I am aware that there are many self-publishing efforts on the ground which is also a viable way to get one’s work in print. The advice I can impart to aspiring writers is based on what I call the three Ps: passion, perseverance and persistence.
Passion. You got to love writing. If you are doing it for money or perceived monetary benefits, then you are in the wrong profession. This is not to say the money won’t come. But it’s to say, even if it doesn't come, your passion to write will continue to fuel you. I am not one to romanticize poverty, but the reality is that the majority of African writers cannot survive on writing alone, they have day jobs or a side hustle. Very few writers have the luxury to live solely on their writing income. I am still aspiring towards that!
Perseverance. This is what will get you published. You need to be able to persevere through the many drafts, the rejections.
Persistence. You got to keep at it. Even if doors are closed in your face, you just got to keep at it. Writers write. It’s not just about writing when you are inspired, it’s writing every day even when you don’t want to. It’s that discipline. It is the persistence that will eventually pay off.
Writing is a process and the process is the prize because that is what hones your craft. We often think of being published as the prize but even an unpublished writer is still a writer.
Find out more about Sue Nyathi at: https://suenyathi.co.za/