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Adults Only teaser: Q&A with Arja Salafranca

Arja SalafrancaJoanne Hichens – editor of the Adults Only, the second annual Short.Sharp.Stories Awards anthology – interviews Arja Salafranca.

Arja Salafranca has published two collections of poetry, A Life Stripped of Illusions, which received the Sanlam Award for poetry and The Fire in which we Burn; a third is forthcoming in 2014. Her debut collection of short fiction is titled The Thin Line, and long-listed for the Wole Soyinka Award in 2012. She has participated in a number of writers conferences, edited two anthologies of fiction and non-fiction, and has received awards for her poetry and fiction. She is the lifestyle and arts editor at The Sunday Independent. Find her online at arjasalafranca.blogspot.com.

So… a collection of sexy stories… what’s your take?

Sex is everywhere around us – seemingly – on television and billboards, online and elsewhere – and yet, you don’t find much of it in literary terms, it’s something only partially explored in SA writing – and so I think this volume will be a welcome addition to the literary canon.

Your story “Post-dated Sex” focuses on love between two women – it’s tender and moving. What sparked the story? Did you have in mind a message when you wrote it?

The story was sparked by a number of things – the long-distance relationship I have with my partner, who lives in Pretoria, and I live in Johannesburg. While it’s “just” a highway that separates us, the demands of our jobs, the vicissitudes of traffic and other issues – means that sometimes time together has to be compressed into weekends, into having, if you like “post-dated sex”. Much of a long-distance relationship revolves around making plans and fitting things into a short space of time. My partner and I were talking about this one day – as we do, often. That was a seed – as was taking a walk through the golf estate where she lives; walking is like meditation. The sun was setting, the sky was golden and it was all slightly melancholic as I’d be leaving to go home for the week soon. The story came together then – as I thought of a game that couples could play, of memory, which forms part of the story. There was no “message” per se – just a desire to explore this idea, to produce a story that was sensuous to read.

Was it a choice to explore a lesbian relationship through the writing?

That’s the way I live out my sexuality – so it was a natural way for me to explore this topic.

Getting back to the sensuousness, and your mention of memory, this is the aspect that makes the story so tender – this shared history between two people, as opposed to immediate and overt sexuality. Can you comment on this?

I prefer suggestion and memory as opposed to overtly writing about sexuality, certainly, somehow, at this point. I used to write much more overtly about sex and sexuality. I had a story published called “White Camisole”, commissioned for a volume of erotic South African writing in the 1990s, when I was in my twenties, and then published in BodyPlay/LyfSpel, edited by Rachelle Greeff, which was much more explicit, as were the other pieces I did in my twenties.

I’m certainly not against overtly “sexual” writing, and there’s a power to that – but I do believe in leaving a lot to the imagination, to letting the reader in turn “tell” the story through their own imagining of it. But I do think there is a power and a beauty to that as well. This story leant itself to suggestion, as the story is also so driven by the suggestions of the actual stories told in the piece, so I think it naturally wrote itself in that way. Another story might very well demand a different, perhaps more overt telling, depending on the subject matter.

Staying with the prose, and what I understand to be a poetic quality to it, how influenced are you by the rhythms of poetry?

Well, I think that comes out in my writing as I’m a poet (as well as a fiction and non-fiction writer), and have been told often that my stories have a lyrical, poetic tone and feeling to them. This isn’t intentional at all – it just seems to come out naturally in my writing. I suppose the poetry sometimes flows into my writing – and I do like going beyond the ordinary and obvious, of finding poetry in everyday life, and I think that just naturally enters my writing – even the non-fiction at times, such as my travel writing.

Now a biggie: What’s the future of the Short Story in SA? 

It’s not as vigorously promoted as in the US or UK, for example, and there aren’t as many places to publish here as there are in those countries, which is a pity. But our readership is smaller, we have to remember that. There also aren’t as many competitions. And local publishers bring out very few volumes or anthologies – as generally short stories don’t sell as much as other genres. So the short story is still a bit of a Cinderella here. But there is hope – no matter what, there are yearly anthologies and competitions to fill the gap, such as the Short.Sharp.Awards, so short stories are never entirely off the radar of course, as well as publishers who are willing to take on collections, such as Modjaji Books, or the work done by the Short Story Day Africa team. And a handful of print literary journals remain that publish stories as well as increasingly, online journals and platforms. So the short story is certainly alive in this country, and there are both practitioners and lovers of the genre who write, and read short stories voraciously, and seek to keep them alive, and interest in them stoked and nurtured. But, it would be good to see more magazines and even newspapers publishing short stories or extracts. At the moment, You magazine regularly publish short fiction. And the Books SA online site sometimes carried short fiction in its monthly mix. I also wish radio would broadcast short stories – as they once did.

And wouldn’t it be wonderful if they were adapted to stage or TV productions? Many short stories have become successful films – look at Raymond Carver’s fictions as dramatised in Short Cuts, or the film of E. Annie Proulx’s Brokeback Mountain. So, there is more that could be done to publicise the beauty of short fiction, and promote it. And I haven’t even begun to talk about how ideal short stories are for mobile devices and e-readers, ideal for reading in short spurts such as waiting in a doctor’s room or commuting on the Gautrain, for example. As South African fiction in the forms of novels has been increasingly taken up by local readers, I’m hopeful that short stories, and the cousin, the novella, aren’t far behind in a chance at popularity.

Thanks, Arja, for a beautiful story, and also for much food for thought in this interview, and particularly for holding the banner high for the Short Story.

Adults Only

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