Lewis Nkosi – Inscriptions
THE FACT THAT THIS VOLUME of essays on Lewis Nkosi will appear shortly after a proposed grand reunion of Drum writers in Johannesburg is partly coincidental. Our aim is not to produce a commemorative volume, nor to honour a senior member of South African letters. Rather, what we hope to do in this collection is to draw attention to a distinctive, dissonant but always acutely perceptive critic and creative writer, who has been largely heard only in brief 'soundbites' – for instance, the trenchant shebeen voice in Rogosin's Come Back Africa, and the sharp caveat on "Fiction by Black South Africans" in his early collection of essays (1965); his short stories scattered like an archipelago across numerous journals, his hard-to-find poems, his work as a radio interviewer buried in archives, and his letters, which remain uncollected. This volume is the first work to gather together commissioned articles along with selections from Nkosi's literary criticism, previously unpublished interviews, and a bibliography of his writings. Our intention is to provide both a resource and a critical intervention, another inscription on the emergent reworking of what constitutes South African letters, such as that evident in the recent collection of essays in Poetics Today (2001).
A feature of the South African literary scene has long been its fragmented nature – because of the long history of censorship, of political oppression leading to exile, and the centrifugal and diverse energies of a linguistically and culturally plural set of traditions. The weight of the recent history of apartheid has smothered any possibility of a unified South African voice. Among a plethora of voices, nevertheless, Lewis Nkosi's voice has always been distinctive. A direct approach, sometimes painfully direct, has been part of that voice – in the essay by Nkosi mentioned above ("Fiction by Black South Africans"), for example, his uncompromising comments show his