Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Meet Zambian Folk Author Vukani Nyirenda

Katie: I’d like to welcome Zambian author Vukani Nyirenda to my blog today. Vukani is a writer who specializes in Zambian folktales, and has written a folktale called, “Kalulu the Hare Outwitted,” based on a Zambian children’s folklore.

Vukani has received a Doctor of Social Welfare degree from UCLA, and has worked in his home country of Zambia as a university lecturer, administrator and civil servant. He is a member of SCBWI, and his stories have appeared in various magazines.

Katie: Can you give us a brief synopsis of your story, “Kalulu the Hare Outwitted?”

Vukani: Kalulu the Hare Outwitted is a Zambian children’s folktale. In the story, a drought threatens the lives of all creatures and every animal except Kalulu the Hare pitches in to help dig a pond. The other animals must find a way to prevent Kalulu from accessing the water but fail until Fulu the tortoise, outsmarts him. As the senga say: Uchenjele ujimete? Meaning, “You may be smart, but can you give yourself a hair cut?”

Katie: You are a very family oriented person. How has family inspired you to writing for children?

Vukani: I love children in general and my grandchildren in particular. That’s why I write for children. I listen to children’s talk with my “third ear” and thus hear more than what they say. For example, I have written a story titled “Who Am I?” (published in the December, 2006 issue of Fandangle Magazine and the September-October issue of Stepping Stones Magazine) based on my listening to my grandchildren struggle with the issue of identity for American children born of multicultural marriages between Americans and non-Americans.

Katie: You are obviously a very learned individual. Have you found that your formal education has helped you pen folktales for kids? Why or why not?

Vukani: Formal education helped me get a deeper understanding of my audience but in order to write for children, I had to learn the craft by taking writing courses offered by Long Ridge Writers Group and the Institute of Children’s Literature. I was a published academic but that wasn’t much help; writing for children is an entirely different field.

Katie: You have chosen to publish this picture book in e-format. Why did you choose that format, and would you publish that way in the future? Why or Why not?

Vukani: The goal of my writing is to share my cultural experiences with children of the world. This being the case, I thought publishing in e-format was the best way to reach a wider audience. Plus indications are that e-publishing will become a major player in the book publishing industry.

Katie: Have you had to do much research on your native folktales, or are they ones you learned while growing up?

Vukani: What I learned while growing up is the background, the stepping stone to my my writing. But to write for the current generation I have to do a lot of research in order to make the stories relevant to my audience.

Katie: How long does it take you from story conception to publication?

Vukani: I have no set time. Some stories have their own momentum and dictate the pace of every step in the process. Others require more research and therefore more time. And then there is the time the editors take to respond. So I play it by the ear. But most important, I make a timeline for those parts of the process I have control over and follow it strictly.

Katie: Do you have other folktale stories that you want to write? Do you know how many?

Vukani: Yes, many. Offhand, I have eight to ten story ideas pending in my story ideas folder. The number keeps growing because as I work on one story other story ideas grow from the material I am working with.

Katie: What sort of biases do you come across as an African author? How do you overcome those?

Vukani: So far I haven’t encountered any overt biases but there is no denying some biases do exist. But that doesn’t bother me. I am in this field to compete and I have proved myself, earned my place, by getting published: one story picture book and four stories in children’s magazines and as anthology (using the ESL facility!). What I have encountered is what you might call professional bias, for lack of a better term, whereby some people don’t regard African folktales as REAL stories because they are either “preachy” or are “lineal”. However, there are many editors and publishers hungry for multicultural stories.

Katie: What would your three pieces of advice be to those who may wish to write folktales?

Vukani: 1) Love children; 2) Understand the people’s culture because folktales are the vehicles for transmitting and sustaining the culture; and 3) study the works of other folktale writers.

Katie: Thanks, Vukani, for being my guest on my blog today. You can read order from his publisher and he can be contacted at


General de 15mm said...

One of the challenges of real multiculturalism is that we need to be open to the "old" that we suppose to know. Perhaps, just perhaps, I'm just guessing, Vukani is having to struggle with professionals who can only see what African stories share with traditional European stories but cannot see what's unique...

castelane said...

I love folk tales of all kinds. Thanks for the great interview. I'm going to look this one up.