Speculative fiction writer Tlotlo Tsamaase recently won the Nommo Award for Best Short Story, a win that she tied with Nigerian writer Innocent Chizaram Ilo, while her book ‘The Silence of the Wilting Skin’ was shortlisted for Best Novella. As one of a handful of local authors who is enthusiastic about this boundless genre, she is steadily climbing the ranks in the international literary community with numerous awards and nominations under her name.
“I wouldn’t say it was a conscious choice, it was more of being called to it,” she said in an interview. Speculative fiction, surrealism, magical realism, all these genres. To be honest, I just wrote stories about the horror of reality in metaphorical and surrealist ways without actually knowing I was using those tools and found I was under this genre. And I think that’s how I view the world, through this reality-bending lens in this matrix of reality we live in. Plus it is the stories relatives would tell us which had supernatural leanings to them.”
The wins have made her a first of many, as she is the first Motswana to be honoured by the Nommo Awards. “It has been surreal and amazing too. Sometimes I don’t grasp the reality of it until someone points it out because you’re always on the move with stories and you don’t pause to settle in the moment. I had a writer friend point out to me that I am the first Motswana in a lot of things.”
Tsamaase is the first Motswana to be a Rhysling Award nominee and to win the Nommo Award. She is also the first to be a finalist in the Lambda Literary Awards. “It does feel like they’re talking about someone else,” reflects the author. “It’s definitely very validating to be recognized for something that you love, especially when you’re a marginalized author in a creative field. And the Nommo Awards have been doing a lot to bring recognition to African authors and works that aren’t often seen. It’s very, very encouraging.”
Behind Our Irises, her winning story, explores labour exploitation, human technology installations and the challenges of surviving the city. “I believe that is one of my stories that has a prose that is quite straight-forward and less lyrical, so it was a different type of writing that I enjoyed exploring. I’d always wanted to write an expose on the bad work ethics of some establishments who portray an altruistic public persona, but behind closed doors are quite abusive to their employees for profit gain. Secondly, I wanted to explore the insidious behavior of multinationals using African labor or marginalized communities’ cultures for trends and profit without a care to the people involved. Thirdly, I wondered to what level an organization would go if it had technology that allowed it to keep costs down and raise its status in society.”
She added that when talented writer and editor Wole Talabi requested for a story for Brittle Paper’s Africanfuturism anthology, she thought that it was the perfect time to explore those ideas in a story. “The best was having the story appear besides the following prolific and amazing authors’ works in the anthology: Nnedi Okorafor, TL Huchu, Dilman Dila, Rafeeat Aliyu, Mame Bougouma Diene, Mazi Nwonwu and Derek Lubangakene.”
For advice for anyone who wants to become a writer of speculative fiction, Tsamaase emphasised: “Read a lot. Write a lot. And find which genre resonates with you. I learned the hard way that short stories are the perfect way to explore yourself as a writer. They can be as short as flash fiction or longer. That’s how you learn. Learn the rules of writing and its craft so you can know how to break them. There’s also many television shows you can learn from, like how the local drama Thokolosi to this day still remains my favorite. Reading and watching such stories can show you how other authors write about their myths, folklore and culture.”