Political Fight Was Backdrop for My Story; MICHAEL CAWOOD GREEN Is a Reader in Creative Writing at Northumbria University and the Recent Winner of a Prestigious Literary Prize

The Journal (Newcastle, England), May 7, 2010 | Go to article overview

Political Fight Was Backdrop for My Story; MICHAEL CAWOOD GREEN Is a Reader in Creative Writing at Northumbria University and the Recent Winner of a Prestigious Literary Prize


I WAS born and have lived much of my life in South Africa. My early creative work was mainly in the writing and performing of songs, the urgency of the anti-apartheid years seeming to demand the immediacy of this form of creativity. The songs drew more attention from the security police than any wider audience, and led to the one album I recorded being restricted from airplay.

I continued to perform songs both personal and political as a student and young lecturer in South Africa and during periods of study in the United States and Britain.

My first major piece of written work started out as a song, but developed into a verse novel, Sinking, a kind of postmodern allegory in which the actual story of an Afrikaans mining family disappearing into a massive sinkhole echoed both the end of a political era and, more obliquely, an unrelated sense of personal loss.

The novel intended as a quick follow-up to this work ended up taking 11 years to write.

For the Sake of Silence required a massive amount of research for its reconstruction of the largely lost history of a group of Trappist monks who came to South Africa in the 1880s.

The Trappist Order is a strictly contemplative one, bound to cloistered silence and thus specifically forbidden missionary activity.

The colonial context became too much of a temptation in this regard, and drew this group into founding Mariannhill Monastery and a chain of mission stations that were extraordinarily successful, despite an often fraught relationship with both settler and indigenous groups in the region.

The speaking and writing necessary for missionary work also led to their being expelled from the Trappist Order and For the Sake of Silence traces the hidden, often suppressed storm that broke out as the silent life of the monks drifted inexorably into the world of words. …

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