5 South African Writers on how travel inspires their writing

Winona Griggs


How Travel Inspires My Writing: Insights from 5 South African Writers

When I think about travel, my imagination immediately takes flight. It’s as if each journey I embark on sets me on a magical path of discovery. But have you ever wondered how travel can influence and inspire the writers among us? Well, I’m here to share insights from five talented South African writers who have found inspiration in their adventures. So buckle up and join me on this literary exploration!

1. Sindiwe Magona: Gaining a New Perspective

Sindiwe Magona knows the power of stepping outside one’s comfort zone. When she ventures to different places, she encounters diverse cultures, languages, and experiences. These encounters, in turn, enrich her writing by offering new perspectives and insights. She believes that travel helps her break free from the confines of her own experiences and fosters empathy and understanding for others.

2. Kopano Matlwa: Capturing Authentic Moments

Kopano Matlwa believes that travel allows her to capture authentic moments that inspire her writing. By immersing herself in different environments, she can observe and absorb the intricate details of people’s lives, their struggles, and their joys. These real-life encounters become the building blocks for her stories, infusing them with depth and authenticity.

3. Fred Khumalo: Exploring History and Culture

Traveling offers Fred Khumalo the opportunity to delve into the historical and cultural tapestry of each destination. By exploring museums, landmarks, and local traditions, he uncovers the stories of the past. These hidden narratives shape his writing, enabling him to bring history to life within his own creative narratives.

4. Lauren Beukes: Finding Inspiration in Urban Landscapes

Lauren Beukes finds inspiration in the vibrant energy and eccentricities of urban landscapes. Exploring cities, with their diverse architecture and bustling streets, fuels her creativity. The dichotomy of order and chaos, beauty and decay, sparks her imagination and adds an electrifying element to her writing.

5. Zakes Mda: Connecting with Nature’s Beauty

Zakes Mda believes that venturing into nature allows him to connect with its raw and untouched beauty. Whether it’s hiking through mountains or immersing himself in the tranquility of a forest, these natural landscapes ignite his creative spark. The serenity and awe-inspiring grandeur of nature find their way into his writing, creating a profound and poetic experience for his readers.

So there you have it! These gifted South African writers demonstrate how travel can become a wellspring of inspiration. By encountering new perspectives, capturing authentic moments, exploring history and culture, finding inspiration in urban landscapes, and connecting with nature’s beauty, they have harnessed the power of travel to elevate their writing. Now, it’s your turn to embark on your own literary adventure!

5 South African Writers on how travel inspires their writing

Travel has always played a big role in books: in fact, I think it’s the best way to go through time, ideas, and imagination.

We talked to some great South African writers about how their travels inspire their writing. And now, I can confirm that writing is like traveling in so many ways.

These are the words of 5 of the writers we talked to:

Achille Mbembe

Achille Mbembe has written a lot about African history and politics. He writes columns for newspapers about race and class. His book, “On The Post Colony,” was recently published in an African Edition by Wits University Printing Press.

5 South African Writers on how travel inspires their writing

When I travel, I escape without leaving my physical location. It’s a unique experience to spend quiet, uninterrupted hours by myself. During these moments, my mind is liberated from the burdens of my surroundings and allowed to wander freely. It’s like exploring a new reality. This, to me, is the essence of travel. It’s about setting my soul free from its constraints, including the limitations of my body. Through this process, my soul transforms and rejuvenates, ready to breathe new life into my physical being.

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How do you break free from your daily routine and recharge?

When I think back to my childhood travels, one memory stands out above all the rest. It was a moment of pure serenity and wonder. We were visiting a remote beach, far away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life.

I remember standing on the shore, feeling the warm sand between my toes and the gentle breeze on my face. The sun was starting to set, casting a beautiful orange glow across the horizon. The waves crashed against the rocks, creating a soothing symphony of sound.

I walked along the water’s edge, lost in my own thoughts. It was in those moments of silence that my mind truly came alive. Ideas and thoughts flowed freely, unburdened by the noise and distractions of the world. It was as if the universe itself was speaking to me.

I often find that the best ideas come to me when I allow my mind to wander. I imagine myself soaring above the clouds, free from the constraints of gravity. It’s in those moments of imagination and wonder that my creativity thrives.

Of course, not all of my time is spent in solitude. I have other passions as well. One of my greatest loves is cooking. I enjoy experimenting with flavors and creating delicious meals for myself and others to enjoy.

Another one of my passions is soccer. I am a true addict when it comes to the beautiful game. I can spend hours on end, glued to the television screen, watching my favorite teams battle it out on the field. The thrill of the game, the skill of the players, and the camaraderie of the fans all combine to create an electrifying experience.

So, when I think back to my fondest childhood travel memory, it’s not just about the destination. It’s about the moments of silence, the soaring imagination, and the passions that bring me joy. These are the things that make travel truly memorable.

So, there I was, about to embark on my very first train ride. My cousin’s wedding was coming up, and it was an event that no one in my family could miss. I was just a young buck of 6 years old at the time. Let me tell you, trains back then were a sight to behold. Packed to the brim with people and their humongous containers, it was a scene that felt straight out of a movie.

Now, picture this: I’m on the train, trying to find my place among the chaos, and what do I spot next to me? A goat! Yes, you heard that right. A goat. It seemed perfectly content, oblivious to the commotion around us. I couldn’t help but chuckle at the absurdity of it all.

Unfortunately, the adventure was far from over. Once we reached our destination, we had to hop onto a rickety old bus. The journey from there was a bumpy, dusty affair. It felt like a never-ending rollercoaster ride, but without the thrill. To make matters worse, the poor souls around me, including my dear mother, were hit with a wave of nausea that just wouldn’t quit.

The Spirited Tales of Bongani Madondo

Bongani Madondo has written a number of highly regarded books, including Hot Type (2007), I’m Not Your Weekend Special: Portraits on the Life and Style & Politics of Brenda Fassie (2014), and his latest work, Sigh the Beloved Country, which was released this year. In this new book, Madondo takes readers on a thrilling journey through the vibrant artistic landscape of South Africa. His unique perspective and insightful commentary have earned him recognition and praise, with his work appearing in prestigious publications like The New York Times, Rolling Stone, Sunday Times, and Marie Claire.

5 South African Writers on how travel inspires their writing

Hey there! I’m a writer who loves to travel and explore new places. It’s not just a job for me; it’s an essential part of who I am. Even when I’m not writing about travel, the spirit of adventure and discovery infuses everything I do. My latest book, ‘Sigh, the Beloved Country,’ is all about the idea of a writer as a wandering storyteller, someone who goes wherever the music takes them. In a way, I feel like I must have been a part of a traveling circus in a past life.

So, let me ask you: how do you like to escape from your everyday routine? What’s your ideal way to break free from the demands of daily life?

When I think about my childhood travels, one memory shines brighter than the rest – a kaleidoscope of colors and laughter. It was a family trip to the beach, where the sand tickled my toes and the salty breeze tousled my hair. We built sandcastles as tall as the sky, their turrets standing proudly against the crashing waves.

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Every morning, I woke up to the sound of seagulls singing and the distant melody of ice cream trucks. The days were filled with adventure – exploring hidden coves, chasing seashells, and letting the ocean’s waves carry me away. And oh, the taste of sun-kissed strawberries and cold lemonade – a symphony of sweet and tangy flavors that made my lips smile with delight.

But it wasn’t just the sights and flavors that made this trip special. It was the feeling of togetherness, of being wrapped in the warmth of my family’s love. We laughed until our bellies ached, shared secrets under the starlit sky, and created memories that would forever be etched in my heart.

Now, as I reflect on those precious moments, I realize the true significance of that childhood travel memory. It wasn’t just a vacation; it was a sanctuary from the chaos of everyday life. It was a chance to escape the demands of school and responsibilities, even if just for a little while. It was a reminder of the magic that exists when we allow ourselves to be truly present in the moment.

So, I ask you, dear reader, what is your fondest childhood travel memory? Close your eyes and let your mind wander back to that time of innocence and wonder. Let the memories wash over you like the gentle waves of the ocean. And remember, even in the midst of life’s hustle and bustle, there is always room for a little adventure.

I remember a time when my family and I would get ready for a special trip in a unique car called the Valaza 6-Mabone. This car was a big deal in my neighborhood in Pretoria and Hammanskraal back in the early 1980s. We would spend days preparing for our journey, making sure our clothes were pressed and our hair was perfectly styled. This was all for a short trip to visit my grandmother, who was in the local hospital.

We would wait eagerly for the Valiant to arrive on a sunny Sunday, right next to the local football grounds. My mom would be dressed in a beautiful floral dress, with her hair braided in a special style called a ‘plait.’ It was truly a magical experience.

I remember my first longest trip like it was yesterday. I had to take five buses, one after another, waiting anxiously each time for the next one to arrive. It felt like a never-ending journey, like I was traveling to a place in the farthest reaches of the universe. The destination? A little town called Rugtesloot.

I was only 12 years old at the time, and the whole experience was a mix of excitement and fear. Rugtesloot was both beautiful and intimidating, like a hidden gem waiting to be discovered. But what made this trip even more unusual was the reason behind it. I wasn’t going to visit a close friend or a relative. Instead, I was on my way to see a family friend of my mother’s.

Meet Nakhane Toure

Let me introduce you to Nakhane Toure, a remarkable individual who is not only a talented writer but also a gifted musician. In 2015, he published his debut novel, Piggy Boy’s Blues, which received critical acclaim. But Nakhane’s creative abilities don’t stop there. He has also released two albums as a musician, Brave Confusion and his most recent work, The Laughing Son, which came out in 2015 as well.

5 South African Writers on how travel inspires their writing

When I think about my novel, a significant part of it takes place on the road. People journeying from one city to another in cars, encountering various experiences along the way, whether for work or leisure. During my childhood and even through my late teenage years, my family and I embarked on numerous road trips. Therefore, the concept of travel has always been associated with the toughness of the road surface, the changing landscapes, and the constant hope that we wouldn’t have a tire burst. I fondly remember listening to music while gazing at the stars during those nights. These moments, almost like scenes from a movie, have shaped how I perceive things, how I dream, and how I develop my ideas. Sitting in one place, eagerly awaiting something wonderful to unfold.

Do you ever escape the monotony of your daily routine in order to rejuvenate?

Lately, I’ve been participating in this amazing class called Body Wisdom at the Dance Factory. It’s run by Paige Holmes and focuses on voice and body movement, incorporating Arthur Lessac practices. The class is designed for performers like me to discover and nurture our unique essence, preventing burnout. We do a lot of meditation and yogic exercises, which have become a lifeline for me. You see, I have a mind that’s always buzzing with activity.

So, where do you usually choose to write? And why?

I prefer to write alone, in a quiet room. I’m easily distracted, so I have to be intentional about finding a space away from people and distractions. When I’m in that zone, I know that my sole purpose is to focus on my work.

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Rebecca Davis

5 South African Writers on how travel inspires their writing

Rebecca Davis is a writer who has made her mark in the world of journalism. Her articles can be found in the Daily Maverick, the Mail & Guardian, and the Sunday Times. In 2015, she released her first book, Best White and Other Anxious Delusions, which gained recognition for its clever social commentary.

I’m grateful to have experienced different parts of the world outside of South Africa. As a writer, this exposure has given me a wider perspective. Sometimes, we get caught up in our own country and forget that our challenges and achievements are not unique. When I travel, I love seeing how others perceive us. Plus, it’s a great source of inspiration for my writing. And let’s be honest, when you have to produce a lot of content, having interesting experiences to draw from is a big help! I’ve been incredibly fortunate to visit some truly unforgettable places. From a floating village in Nigeria to a gay old-age home in Sweden, and even a nightclub in Ibiza where they turned the place into a pool at midnight and we all swam with our clothes on…

Tell me, what’s your favorite childhood travel memory?

When it comes to family vacations, we had a tradition of going to the same place every year – Wilderness, on the Garden Route. To this day, I believe it’s one of the most breathtaking spots in South Africa, with a magnificent road that leads you there.

Tell me, what’s your favorite place to visit in South Africa, and why?

For me, there’s a small town called Barrydale outside the Karoo that I absolutely love. Believe it or not, there’s almost nothing to do there, and that’s what makes it so special. It’s incredibly peaceful, to the point where you can’t help but start yawning as soon as you arrive.

I’m Yolisa Qunta, and that’s my story.

Hey there, I’m Yolisa Qunta, an associate editor at JucyAfrica and I write columns for allforwomen.co.za. As a kid, I lived in Zimbabwe and Botswana with my family who were political exiles. When South Africa had its first democratic elections, we came back home. I recently published a book called ‘Writing what we like: A new generation speaks’, which is a compilation of essays by young South Africans sharing their experiences of living in South Africa today.

5 South African Writers on how travel inspires their writing

Travel has a way of setting you free. It’s like stepping into a whole new world where you can be anyone you want to be. That’s the beauty of it. When I travel to places far from home, where nobody knows me, I feel this sense of liberation. It’s like a fresh start, a chance to reinvent myself. And you know what? I love it.

One of the things I enjoy the most when I’m exploring a new destination is blending in with the locals. As a curious traveler, I can ask all kinds of questions without feeling awkward. It’s amazing how much you can learn from the people who call that place home. I like to capture these special moments in my journal. I jot down the highlights, the little details, the way things feel, or how they make me feel. It’s a way of preserving those memories before they fade away.

But you know what? The real magic happens when I get back home. It’s when I sit down at my desk, with all the experiences still fresh in my mind, and I start to write. I pour my heart out onto the page, trying to capture the essence of my journey. It’s a way of reliving the adventure and sharing it with others.

Now, let me ask you something. What’s your favorite place to visit in South Africa? And why?

I can’t get enough of Durban. The water there is so warm that you can actually swim in it, which is a big deal for me since I live in Cape Town where the water is much colder. The food in Durban is absolutely amazing, and the people there are so friendly and welcoming. And let’s not forget about the breathtaking scenery that’s straight out of a dream. Oh, and those parties that go on until the break of dawn…they’re something else!

Tell me about one of your favorite childhood travel memories.

One of my favorite childhood travel memories is the first time I ever flew on an airplane. I was travelling from Botswana to Zimbabwe as an unaccompanied minor, and it was such a thrilling experience. We even got to meet the pilots and take a peek inside the cockpit. I remember thinking that the flight attendants were incredibly glamorous, and even the airplane food seemed so special and exciting.

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