I believe that there is a dearth of insightful, incisive yet irreverent and witty social commentary on these shores. Look, our publishing houses churn out enough political commentary and biographies. And of course there is a market for that type of work. But if I see yet another 1 100-page book on the arms deal, I might lose my mind and go postal on the attendants at my local Exclusive Books.
I’m in the middle of a book tour of sorts promoting my latest work, Is It Coz I’m Black? Well, “book tour” is a bit of a stretch. Long story involving the cheapskates masquerading as my publishers. We writers are generally treated as a necessary evil in this industry; just marginally less important than printing ink. In any case, a recurring theme has been emerging on my travels. From journalists interviewing me, callers to radio stations to attendees of book signings I’ve been on, everyone is saying the same thing: “Why is there not more irreverent, politically incorrect commentary? We can’t get enough of it.”
This brings me to why I’m writing this. I know where the impious social commentary is. It’s inside people’s brains. What people, you ask? Well, I’m glad you asked. You see, I believe that at the core of why readers want to read unfiltered, uncensored commentary is because it makes them feel normal. And people like the reassurance that they belong within the confines of the “normal curve”. They like knowing that they aren’t the only ones who have wondered whether people with passion gaps are scared into believing in God by that whole “wailing and gnashing of teeth” threat in Revelations.
It is the same reason people are drawn to talk shows. I was recently having a conversation with Kgomotso Matsunyane, host of Late Night With Kgomotso, the late night talk show that airs on SABC 2 Saturday evenings. Well, before the first season ended recently in any case. I was the head writer for the first season of LNK, which pretty much makes Kgomotso my boss. She is also a founding partner at T.O.M. Pictures, the production house that has spawned the Emmy Award-nominated series Sorted, SABC 1’s A place called home, the motion picture and the latest season of Soul City among other projects. Bear with me; I’m going somewhere with this resume.
Now, here’s my problem. I’m going around the country and readers are moaning about starvation of smart, sharp social commentary. And I’m sitting across from a smart, witty, brash, totally politically incorrect, highly opinionated woman — who can write. Did I mention that she’s also a former editor of O Magazine? What am I missing here? So I ask Kgomotso whether she’s thought of having a book published or at least have her column published. First off, she says, having those columns published would be “a cheat”. Secondly, yes she’s willing to write a book, “… if somebody asks”. And therein lies the rub, methinks.
You see, if this opinionated, quote-per-second, midget-sized late night TV talk show host, television and movie producer, former presenter of a show titled Pillow Talk and former editor of Oprah’s mag were living in New York, she’d be on the New York Times bestseller list already. But our publishers are too busy publishing books about how we’re all victims of crime. Coincidentally, Kgomotso tells me that her first foray into the literary world is a chapter she contributed in a book titled At Risk, the second instalment of the series edited by Liz McGregor and Sarah Nuttall. Yes, it’s a collection of stories about the contributors’ first-hand experiences with crime. And I’m confident that it’s a good book; an important book.
I don’t know about you but I’d personally be much more interested in what Kgomotso thinks about matters of life, not of death. Is Oprah a nice person? Which guest on her talk show almost made her discharge her dinner on the spot? Which guest made her instantaneously broody? What does she think about our celebrity culture? Why are my Sunday mornings ruined by Mandla Mthembu’s mugshot and how he can’t pay his Lamborghinis week in, week out? When we pay our TV licence fees (or not as the case may be) what on earth are we paying for? What does she think about the Helen Zille harem (not my words) down in the Cape Colony?
The more I kept talking about this, the more her eyes started lighting up. As a matter of fact, she says to me, the commencement of the second season of LNK has recently been pushed back by a couple of weeks. She could very easily find the time to write this book, ” … if only somebody asked. Appropriately”. I get this line of thinking. Kgomotso studied in the US, you see. Her frame of reference for being “asked” to write a book “appropriately” is, no doubt, influenced by that experience.
In New York, the publisher would give you a generous advance, agree time frames and let you do your thing. That’s how it works pretty much everywhere else. That’s because, as my author friends Niq Mhlongo (After Tears) and Fred Khumalo (Bitches’ Brew, Touch My Blood) have pointed out to me after their respective ventures to the Americas and Europe respectively, other nations take the art of writing seriously. They understand a simple concept such as the fact that physical discomforts and creativity have never been comfortable bedfellows. Abram Maslow wrote at length about this phenomenon way back in 1943. If you want a writer to produce high-quality work, she must have the option to drive to the Berg and quarantine herself for three weeks, away from her daily distractions. Meanwhile, back at the Mzansi ranch, writers have been known to interrupt never-to-be-recaptured creative thoughts to fetch their 4-year-old terrorists from crèche.
I want to read this book by Kgomotso. It will be a guaranteed bestseller, I am certain of that. So I have asked her if I could start an auction for her signature among our publishing houses. I will use a two-pronged approach.
1. Directly putting it out there that she is willing to take some time out to write this book.
2. Using this space to invite the highest bidder.
The results should be fascinating. I may even manage to twist her arm and give a progress report on these pages. For the record, all powers of attorney rest with me on this project. My boss is a busy woman.
Bidding starts now.