Lewis Nkosi passed away a year ago after he fell on a Melville pavement while intoxicated by a substance he has never aggrieved or thought of divorcing in 54 years of literary excellence – inwhich he produced undoubtedly some of the best literature to emerge out of this continent. wordsetc First Quarter 2011 celebrates this genius who is amongst the last DRUM generation. Giants have passed on to a world with nothing to fear – notably Prof Es’kia Mphahlele, Blakes Modisane, Can Themba and many others.
It is saddening that at a time when African literature is going thought a challenge of relevance the very bearers of the torch are finding comfort in a yonder that requires not their literary prowess. Nkosi was, according to those who contributed pieces to wordsetc a complex, yet simple man. He was a storyteller who created characters that often made him laugh and cry. I would be brave to say that any writer who can totally divorce themselves from their characters have developed a dangerous God-complex. Novelists and authors enjoy the power of murder and life. They are the closest to God 'cause while they are weakened reflection of His greatness, they are also able to create their own weakened reflections of self.
As a short story writer I have killed far more people than some of the country’s convicted serial killers such as Moses Sithole. I have made love to some of the most beautiful women GQ magazine will ever label as sexiest. I have made slow, deep, sensual love with meaning.
I should mention that Nkosi is one of the few older generation poets to have caught my attention. I met Nkosi once, in Cape Town, and those who know me will tell you; I strike while the iron is hot; I struck a conversation with him. He was promoting his novel Mandela’s Ego. Some say Nkosi was barely sober, well, I don’t know what drunk looks like so to me Nkosi’s face just shone like that of my Maths teacher who was always drunk.
There are very interesting aspects of Nkosi’s life that emerge in Phakama Mbonambi’s long feature on the man. The man who would be a brilliant essayists, novelist and tutor was a simple village boy when he came to Joburg to follow his dream. Its gets worrying when one notices that one of those dreams, unless it was a dream deferred was to cross the Rubicon before the country has done so in 1994. It seems that Nkosi loved his white women with such vim that in a quote from an essay published in Geneve-Afrique he said, “I have more than adjusted to living in London; there are green parks, the free libraries, the reasonably cheap beer, and, above all, the astonishing diversity and undiminishing pleasures of the English woman.”.
As I said I met Nkosi in Platoville and we had a chat. We chatted from the position of me being, a small time novelist, blogger and many other things I won’t mention and him being the guy who told Ngugi to talk sense. I wanted to know how do I grow up to be like him. Well, he told me.
However wordsetc touches on the very burning issue of torn relationships once most of these exiled writers got overseas. The same way there was a tiff between Mphahlele [RIP] and (Dennis) Brutus [RIP], there was another tiff between Prof Keorapetse Kgositsile and Nkosi. It was eventually snuffed by a fellow (now deceased) South Afrikan Zakes Mokae in New York. Mokae, it must be mentioned lived in the US until he passed away some few years ago and was buried in his motherland.
When studying Nkosi’s life, which is worth a whole thesis, one comes across an anarchist who was so unfortunate that the world did not exist on his terms. Kgositsile wrote, “Lewis didn’t believe that laws had to govern human behaviour. He just wanted people to live and do as they pleased...”. live and do as he pleased he did. Very vocal about Afrikan writing while not living in the continent Nkosi stepped on a couple fragile corns. But it seems he didn’t care. He wrote, “for me, writing is primarily a struggle with language; words refusing to be made “flesh””.
Culture-writer Bongani Madondo summed up the paradox that was Lewis. He said at Nkosi’s memorial that when he (Madondo) was on assignment for Sunday Times to talk to Nkosi, “rather than talk about literature, he wanted to chat about tennis and (Marc) Chagall”.
wordsetc has a touching essay written by Nkosi's partner in Basel [Switzerland], where he lived in an extended exile and enjoyed his writing there. "I remember the night Lewis turned seventy. He didn't sleep, looked gorgeous and apprehensive - one could see that he was thinking of the new decade that was beginning and what it might bring. He told me once he wanted to die at seventy" wrote Astrid Starck-Adler. While this edition is dedicated to Nkosi, as it has become custom there are good essays by amongst others, Mike Sager [The gift of being heard], Amanda Patterson [The power of words], Joe Tlholoe [A poet with a camera], which is a moving story of photographer Alf Khumalo, Pumla Dineo Gqola [Blind spots], Kemon Neophyte [Drunk with Tolstoy] and many others.
The book reviews are galore. Before I could grow up to be Lewis Nkosi and tell him that I have become him, Lewis died at age 74.