- Still Beating the Drum: Critical Perspectives on Lewis Nkosi
The twelve contributors to this volume bring impeccable credentials into their critical evaluation of Lewis Nkosi and his writings. Lewis Nkosi is a man of many parts: a novelist, a poet, a dramatist, a critic.
The introduction to the volume (x–xxxiii) is helpful as an indispensable guide that primes the reader to more smoothly sail through the 208 pages (6–213) of analysis in the ensuing twelve essays. There is in interesting appendage to "companion piece accompanying." The editors, Lindy Stiebel and Liz Gunner, explain the genesis of the project this way: "The impetus behind this book for the editors was to focus a full-length study on Lewis Nkosi, the South African writer exiled from South Africa for thirty years" (Preface).
The title Still Beating the Drum is an apt metaphor that draws attention to milestones in Nkosi's journey through the rocky years of apartheid in South Africa, a journey he continued to travel during his thirty years in exile. He starts his writing by being a reporter for Drum Magazine, a publication described as representing "a time of intense production, and a flowering of a truly local black urban culture" (xxi). Drum, which was published exclusively in English, was to be the rite of passage, a kind of baptismal font, that produced a few young black journalists, a sort of élite group that came to be known as the "Drum Writers," and included Nat Nakasa, Can Themba, Bloke Modisane, and Arthur Maimane. Some, like Nkosi, went on to become internationally acclaimed writers. [End Page 190]
The drum is a symbol of Africa par excellence, in the many meanings it evokes, which are often used in literature. The West African "talking drum" is known for communicating messages across long distances, understood only by those who have studied its language. The drum may also carry a military connotation (war), or be used in ritual dances accompanied by singing, as in the dances of the Zulu izangoma in healing the sick, or be an invitation to get up and dance for entertainment. Thus Nkosi, like so many other African writers, "beats the drum," calling the whole world to get up and dance. The Drum Magazine is cross-referenced many times throughout the book.
Part one is entitled "Writing on Lewis Nkosi," and is subdivided into "The Literary Critic," "The Dramatist and Poet," and "The Novelist." Critiquing a critic is nothing new. It simply tells us that no critic can claim to have the last word on a subject. That way, intellectual discourse is assured its immortality. After all, as readers, we are all critics to varying degrees. Yet the fact that it happens all the time does not diminish the curiosity to know what one critic says about another. Annie Gagiano, Chris Wanjala, and Oyekan Owomoyela are assigned to be the curtain-raisers by coming to grips with this one. (I pause briefly to indulge in a parenthetical comment. I found it distressing and difficult to understand how and why, on page xxviii, "Owomoyela" is misspelled three times in quick succession as "Owoyomola" without anybody catching it, especially since, just four lines before this, it is spelled correctly. I know it must be embarrassing to the editors. It shows how important it is to be meticulous in proofreading.)
The section on Nkosi as dramatist and poet is undertaken by Liz Gunner (co-editor), Sikhumbuzo Mngadi, Astrid Starck-Adler, Therese Steffen, and Litzi Lombardozzi. And finally, Nkosi as novelist is assigned to Lucy Graham, Lindy Stiebel (co-editor), Andries Oliphant, and Raffaella Vancini. These are our trusted guides through the meandering pathways of Nkosi's thinking and creative impulses.
Lindy Stiebel's piece, "The Return of the Native," is characterized by two features that deserve a brief comment. One is her emotional interview of Nkosi as they revisited the landmarks of the geographical setting of the novel Mating Birds. Nkosi ruminates...