“We try to make sense of the world by creating stories”: Priscillar Matara

Priscillar Matara is a writer and film maker from Botswana. She writes short stories, some of which have been published in anthologies such as Lemon Tea and Other Stories, Flash, Roses for Betty, Bundle of Joy and Other Stories, Botswana Women Write and Waterbirds by the Lakeshore. She is also a 2nd prize winner in the 2018 Poetavango Award for Short Fiction in Botswana and a participant in the 2018 Commonwealth Short Story Workshop in Zambia as well as the Goethe Institute’s Adult Young Fiction Workshop in 2019.


What, if anything, do writers owe to society?

Writers have been described as mirrors for society, that they force society to look closely at itself and to do so honestly, to acknowledge that nobody has a definite idea about what ‘this’ life thing is about. So I guess we could say, writers owe society honesty. But I also believe, writers owe as much to themselves. We try to make sense of the world by creating stories, characters that we assign the lives we think they deserve. And perhaps that is the only way to be honest.

What is the most important thing happening in the Botswana film/TV industry right now?

The most important thing that is happening in the Botswana film/TV is the realisation of how big and universal the industry itself is. Even though locally it is still small, it is very alive and it is refreshing to see people in the industry exploring the opportunities everywhere, particularly Botswana. In addition, it has become clear that traditional methods of broadcast such as the TV programming are no longer sufficient and streaming platforms provide a big space for all in the industry.  

What is a word or turn of phrase that you use time and again in your work, and why does it appeal to you?

When I was younger, I had an unhealthy obsession with the word kaleidoscope. Characters in my short stories always dealt with a ‘kaleidoscope of colour’ one way or another.  I thought it was the height of creativity and made sure I found space for it in any way I could. It was hilarious, actually, because I don’t think I was as versatile with it as it deserved. I still laugh about it.

With the rise of streaming, podcasts and social media content, do you think there is still a place for the radio drama?

I feel there is still a place for radio dramas; perhaps there isn’t much interest locally in writing and producing radio dramas but I still feel it’s still very relevant. Actually, BBC Radio still streams radio dramas so I don’t think radio dramas are going anywhere. In fact, if we are to compare radio and TV drama in terms of expenses, radio will seem like an easier choice because it is relatively cheaper to produce.

What are you currently working on?

I am very excited to be working on an idea for a play. I have never written a play before so I get moments where I second guess myself a lot, but I am pushing forward. The concept is very universal and I can’t wait for the first reading but first the play actually has to happen. Other than that, I am trying to interest a regional television broadcaster in a proposal for a lifestyle show. We can only try.

You can follow Priscillar here and here and check out another interview she did here.


Women Who Broke Literary Barriers

In honour of International Women’s Day (March 8th) here is a list of extraordinary women writers who blazed a trail for the rest of us.

Enheduanna: First woman writer (possibly the first writer of any gender).

The Akkadian poet and high priestess lived two thousand years BCE and is thought to be the first writer known by name. She was responsible for creating poetry and prayers that might have influenced the psalms and hymns of ancient Greece and the Hebrew Bible. Her work (see image on the left) was discovered in 1927.

Flora Nwapa: First African woman to publish a novel.

Ogbuefi Florence Nwanzuruahu Nkira Nwapa Nwakuche, otherwise known as Flora Nwapa, was the first African woman to have a novel published. In 1966 her book Efuru was published under the Heinemann African Writer’s Series.

Phillis Wheatley: First published African-American poet.

Phillis Wheatley (1753 – 1784) was born in West Africa and sold into slavery at age seven. The family that bought her taught her to read and write. She was the first slave to have a book of poetry published, Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral, in 1773.

Mary Shelley: Mother of science fiction.

Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley (1797 – 1851) is known for writing the classic novel Frankenstein. Published in 1818, it was one of the earliest, if not the earliest, science fiction novel.

Agatha Christie: Best-selling novelist in history.

Agatha Christie (1890 -1976) was a British author best-known for her crime novels featuring the detectives Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple. She still holds the record of bestselling novelist. (The title of bestselling fiction author overall goes to Shakespeare.)

Ann Petry: First bestselling black woman writer.

Ann Petry’s novel The Street (published in 1946) was the first novel by a black woman writer to sell over a million copies. She also wrote Country Place and The Narrows.

J.K. Rowling: First billionaire writer.

J.K. Rowling rose to fame as the author of the much-beloved Harry Potter books, and was widely credited with helping to create a shift in children’s literature that encouraged kids to enjoy reading again.

And last but definitely not least:

Botswana Women Write: First anthology of women’s fiction in Botswana.

This ambitious anthology, featuring everything from fiction and poetry to court documents, was co-edited by Dr. Mary Lederer, Professor Maitseo Bolane, Dr. Leloba Molema and Dr. Connie Rapoo and published in 2019.

Changing the Rules: Tlotlo Tsamaase

Tlotlo Tsamaase is a Motswana writer of fiction, poetry, and architectural articles. Her work has appeared in The Best of World SF Volume 1, Futuri uniti d’Africa, Clarkesworld, Terraform, Strange Horizons, Africanfuturism Anthology and other publications. Her novella, The Silence of the Wilting Skin, is a 2021 finalist for the Lambda Literary Award. Her short story, “Behind Our Irises”, was shortlisted for the 2021 Nommo Awards. She is represented by Naomi Davis of BookEnds Literary Agency.

What was the highlight of your experience as part of Petlo?

My highlight was meeting and engaging with experienced local writers who have become friends, but I also learned how to write in different genres, which got me outside my comfort zone to see how a story can be explored in various ways. It was very educational and engaging!

In what ways have you grown as a writer since your Petlo days?

Since then, I continued to study the craft of writing, engage with other truly amazing writers, and learn perhaps how to tackle issues and themes through writing as I continue to evolve and grow as a writer. I went on to have my short stories published in literary magazines and anthologies like Clarkesworld, The Best of World SF Volume 1, Africanfuturism Anthology and other publications. I went on to write a novella, The Silence of the Wilting Skin, which was a finalist for the Lambda Literary Awards and the Nommo Awards. It features a nameless woman fighting to preserve her skin color, language—every part of her identity in a macabre world that’s slowly erasing her and her people.

Can a story change the world? If so, how?

Definitely. It changes readers’ perspectives by showing them, for example, how the other side of the world lives, or the consequences of societal issues on a micro- and macro level. It allows them to engage with the material and topics the author is exploring, whether through fiction or non-fiction, sci-fi or chick-lit.

What draws you to speculative fiction?

I didn’t exactly decide to write speculative fiction or other genres. It was a combination of many things, but I gravitated towards it by reading various authors and being excited at how they performed in these genres. It was also the “what if” ideas I had that wouldn’t have worked in a different genre. For example, my sci-fi short story “Eco-Humans” looks at humans as if they were buildings and explores how their biology is manipulated in receiving oxygen or sunlight and elements essential to humans, and what effect that would have on a poverty-stricken woman. Then, with other genres, I find that you can bend reality, change the rules, meddle around with surrealism—basically you’re able to play around with the different types of freedoms that are offered to you in each genre, whether that be sci-fi or speculative fiction.

What’s your favourite opening line, and why?

“Let me speak. Do not interrupt me. I have no time to listen to you. They are coming to take me at six o’clock this evening. Tomorrow morning, I shall no longer be here. Nor will I be in any place known to man.”

This is not exactly an opening line as it opens up Chapter 2 of Nawal El Saadawi’s Woman at Point Zero, but that’s where the female character, Firdaus, starts telling the reader about her life. Firdaus is in prison, but she’s been a prisoner of oppression by patriarchy her whole life, and in a dark surrealist way she’ll soon be free of it, and finally no man will touch her, influence her or manipulate her. Particularly the line: “Nor will I be in any place known to man,” obviously a reference to death, but you don’t really understand the immensity of that line until you’ve read Firdaus’s story, why she ended up here, and that the realm she’ll be entering will be free from the systematic oppression dealt to her by men.

As per Nawal El Saadawi’s foreword, this creative non-fiction work is based on her encounter with a female prisoner prior to her execution. It’s a searingly sad and powerful story that deconstructs the effects of culture and society on a young girl’s journey to womanhood.

Learn more about Tlotlo’s work here or connect with her on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.