Follow up on an Award

25 August 2017


By JC Niala

JC Niala is studying towards an MSt in Creative Writing.

After the dust had settled on the excitement of the Community Engagement and Academic Merit Award that I received from Kellogg College in February this year, my late father’s words were ringing in my ears.

He used to say that if your work is ever recognised – it marks the beginning not the end.

With that in mind, I had been thinking about how best to use the money from the award when co-incidentally in the same month, I was approached by Clare Stopford, a senior lecturer at the University of Cape Town asking if I would work with her students.

The Drama Department there focuses on excellence in their theatre makers, and that, coupled with South Africa’s internationally acclaimed theatrical productions, means that they have stellar alumni.

I wondered what I had to offer.

Clare explained that their focus on theatre-making meant shows often began their life on the stage – with an improvisatory method and drawing on traditional African craft before they are written down. In recent years, the department had been keen to work with the page as a starting point, and to that end had been bringing in Playwrights whose writing process begins on the page to work with their students. The University could look after me while I was there – but I had to get there on my own steam.

I was able to do this thanks to the award.

A key focus of my work aims to bring lesser known African stories to ‘the world’. I felt incredibly lucky to have the opportunity to work with African students of diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds so they could do just that.

One key concern they had was language.

Whilst they would primarily be writing in English, for many it was their second or even third language. This is where I felt my experience reading for an MSt in Creative Writing came to the fore.

It was at Kellogg I was able to fully embrace writing across languages.

Following several exercises over an intense week of workshops (my average teaching day was 5 hours long) the students gained the confidence to write as they experienced the truth of their world. South Africa is a country that operates in 11 languages.

Especially on the stage, one doesn’t have to understand each and every word to grasp the full meaning of what is going on, and by the end of the week, the students produced a showcase of short plays. Each one of them having written a play from start to finish during the week.

Their plays were filled with the sounds of not just English, but isiXhosa and Afrikaans to mention a few languages. As I wrap up my time at Kellogg, I remain grateful for the college support that marks not the end of an incredible time but also an unexpected new beginning.