Thirteen years after I came back (in the early 1990’s), I was inspired by Gwendolyn Brooks to write about these experiences. Over the next six months hundreds of poems poured out of me. The war against Apartheid was running full bore. The world was finally taking notice in many ways, and joining in the fight. Gwendolyn was writing about near Johannesburg, Soweto, and Winnie and Nelson Mandela. We all met the great South African dissident poet in exile, Dennis Brutus, and were inspired by his story and writing. I was reading everything I could get my hands on pertaining to the politics of Apartheid in Southern Africa, writing my poems, and performing in my white t-shirt (specially designed by a friend), which depicted a black Bart Simpson screaming. “Free South Africa Now”. I was young. It was a time of heady influences. This is where my first wave of South Africa poems came from.
Thirteen years later, because of these very same poems, I met South African writer Candy Tothill. Here was another person who lived, breathed and understood my fascination and love for the things I wrote about. We became friends. It was Candy who inspired me to write more poems, as well as, the memoir/stories that were published sequentially throughout 2007 and 2008 in the online magazine ‘Sketchbook’. It was then that the idea on how to go back to South Africa began brewing in my mind.
The complications in my life are incredibly complicated.
Without going into any horrid details, the United States Government won’t issue me a passport until I pay a certain debt (that I have been chipping away at for years) in full. It is a dilemma. It occurred to me that I could re-write these memoirs/stories into book form in the hopes of raising the money to pay this debt. That was the plan. Somewhere between here and there, and four years later the plan and everything else in my life has spiraled out of control. Every time I mention writing the book about South Africa, somebody has a fucking cow.
It is important to understand why I am writing this book.
I have actively been writing in circles for the last two to four years. I have fretted over formatting, the question of poetry, mixing genres, fiction vs non-fiction, re-writing chapters and liking them less than the original published stories. I have thought of a million things I never mentioned in the stories. But mostly, I have come to realize that the book is as much about my mother and father and to a certain extent my sisters, as myself. I need hardly point out that the fact that my parents are now both deceased puts a whole different perspective on everything. It is their story. It is our story. It is my story. It is a story about living under the influence of the darker side of human nature, about human dignity, about beauty and hope and despair. It is a story about Africa and snakes and tennis rackets. It is a subtle story about why Apartheid ultimately failed. It is a story about laughter and love and terror. It is a grand adventure. And it is up to me to write it before I too am gone.
No matter what else happens in my life, no matter where I go or don’t go as fate will have it, I know that if I do not finish this book, I will regret it for the rest of my life … it is as simple as that.