Sunday, October 17, 2010


After a considerable silence, Pule Lechesa, the powerful Free State literary critic has again hit the limelight with his publication of the article ‘Fatal flaws in Hector Kunene’s Through the tunnel’. The article is already making waves around the world. Jerry caught up with Mr Lechesa and probed him why he finally broke his silence, so to speak…

(Image) One of Lechesa's books

For years you were known for robust, even tough literary criticism. Why were you silent for so long?

I’ve had strenuous journalistic responsibilities recently, and I also kept quiet deliberately, watching the so-called literary scene. I have been shocked at how some new wave young writers think they are special, so arrogant, not knowing what literature is about

But surely you must agree that this year is the best ever for Free State black literature with emergence of so many writers, like Hector Kunene, Teboho Masakala, NMM Duman, Jah Rose etc –

I don’t agree. As Shakespeare would say, it’s just a lot of sound and fury signifying nothing! The only great work has been Duman’s Deepest Springs...she took her time, never praised herself, never put even one photo of herself in her brilliant book; she went through literary agencies etc. The newcomers must learn first about the world of literature, read, study dozens of great writers; respect established writers, before they even announce themselves to the world. But having said this, I must add that Teboho Masakala, though very young, has the talent and imagination. If he remains modest he will do very well in the future

Are you not worried the new writers will dislike you for criticising them?

No true critic worries about telling the truth. I have already made my name as an international critic, and I can’t be afraid of newcomers. I am helping them anyway by telling them the truth. Yes I am aware that all over the world we blacks in particular dislike criticisms. Lewis Nkosi suffered a lot because he rightly criticised other writers. Achebe, Ayi Kwei Armah etc fought themselves over criticism – whilst they are great critics too!

How do you identify mistakes most others do not see?

The simple truth is that most of us do not even read…we take a look at the blurb of a book, admire how pretty or lovely the cover is and we start praising the book. This is pure illiteracy and we also destroy our black writers by doing this. The true reader becomes excited or otherwise with what is actually written, not the frills and decorations. I can’t take egotistical writers seriously

What do you mean?

The greatest writers around, white or black – eg Ngugi, Hemingway,Morrison, Achebe – never praise themselves; not in their own books. You can not see more than one moderate photo of theirs in their books. You see young writers putting 3, 4, 5 or more photos of themselves in a book nowadays. It’s absurd. That’s why no real perceptive reader takes them seriously; that’s why the real critics do not even bother writing about their books, as things like egotism irritate them

So why are so many new writers doing these wrong things?

They just want quick fame, instant acclamation, without going through the ropes. A writer like Flaxman Qoopane has been writing internationally for decades, many of his books are digitised on the internet from overseas universities – these things don’t happen overnight. We must learn how to crawl before we can walk, not to talk of sprinting with gusto!

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