Angie Thato Chuma is a singer, poet, songwriter, short story writer and sister to poet, Andreattah Chuma.
I met her when we were both part of the Pan African writing project, Writivism. Her work has appeared in Saraba Magazine, Brittle Paper, Strange Horizons, and The Kalahari Review, among others. I recently got a chance to interview her about her work.
Tell me a bit about your poetry journey.
It began about five years ago during my pregnancy. At the time, I had to stop singing, and had no creative solace. Writing then became that for me. I started writing poems and very short stories, and I also submitted my works to literary magazines I found online. When my first poem got published, it was a huge nudge for me to continue finding my writing voice.
You’re a singer, a short story writer, and a poet. Which is most important to you? Or are they all interconnected?
They definitely are interconnected. I seem to be incomplete without the other. I’ve seen how my song writing has improved since I’ve started seriously writing, and I have seen how sometimes my poems are sort of ‘musical’ in my use of language. They feed each other.
Tell me about your song writing. What do you think about the quality of songwriting in Botswana?
When my sister, Andreattah discovered my singing talent, she was the first to encourage me to write my own songs. The quality of songwriting in Botswana is showing signs of improvement, however, I feel we can do more in terms of writing songs that reflect the times. As far as I’m aware, we have never had songwriting workshops in Botswana, and that is problematic.
You’ve been published in a variety of places and you’re one of the poets who appears on Badilisha Poetry Exchange, how do you think the conversation between poets around the continent has progressed? Do you think it’s important? Why or why not?
Our voices are bolder. Previously, poems and the performance of them was quite monotone in what people expected them to reference, but now we are affirming our diverse perspectives and stories, which is important. It is encouraging how some movements are also advocating for literary works from Africans as well.
I sometimes call ‘feminism’ a dirty word because of how people look at you when you identify as feminist. Many associate it with extremism, and see no progressive place for it in our society as Batswana. So, most women are reluctant to identify as such. With the recent march that happened, ‘I wear what I want’, I saw that a lot of people are gradually realising that silence does not protect us. It was the first uncomfortable protest we have ever had in our country. The feminism movement in Botswana is raising its head, gradually, but it is.
Your poem ‘We Need To Rest’ is to appear in Praxis magazine’s International Women’s Day anthology. Tell me a bit about that poem and the conditions that led you to write it.
At the time, I was quite furious about how people still think violence is this thing that exists in a vacuum. We celebrate Women’s Day annually, yet acts of violence against women are on the rise. I saw a post about Praxis looking for submissions around the theme of femininity, and I wrote the poem from that place that realises little is changing.
I’m curious about how you see the poetry and literature scene in the country and some of your ideas about how things might be improved.
It is both promising and frustrating. I say this because I do not believe writing is taken as a serious art form in this country. There are poetry slots at events now and then, but we still have no awards for writers who have published their works, or even a large scale writers’ festival. Our establishments and us as writers must see value in bringing these platforms into fruition to nurture and acknowledge our writing talent.