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Lockdown Blues and the birth of BookBytes

by Salaamedia

By Shafinaaz Hassim

One of the best things to happen over this lockdown was the invitation to produce and present a segment on Salaamedia via Facebook Live. As a writer, I had been geared for a year of launches for the third book in the Nisa Qamar series, ‘The Legend of Qawthar’, and a list of conferences for my adult novel, ‘The Economics of Love and Happiness’ published last year. It was meant to be a full literary calendar and then Covid-19 happened. Everything slowly shut down globally and locally. Some festivals adapted and went online rather quickly. We retreated to our homes. Everything was laced in uncertainty. I got a call from Brother Ponty Moletsane two days before lockdown and we made the decision to get started with BookBytes, a lockdown companion show focusing on mostly the proud tapestry of local literature. I loved every minute of putting together a quick list and a great show. Broadcasting out of my hometown, Polokwane, I had a wonderfully inspiring time presenting it.

I interviewed award-winning political journalist and author Qaanitah Hunter whose famous blog turned novel, ‘Diary of a Guji Girl’ published by my imprint Wordflute Press sold 500 copies in the first two days of release. We chatted about her latest book ‘Balance of Power’, about the rise to Presidency of Cyril Ramaphosa and the mastery of political footwork it took to get there amidst cracks, factions, and clouds of corruption. While I had her on the hot seat I was able to tease comment on the lockdown regulations and the keen eye on the president in such trying times. Qaanitah won the prestigious Nat Nakasa Award for journalism, the Vodacom Journalist of the year award twice in a row, and for her debut novel, the inaugural Minara Aziz Hassim Literary Award. It was an immense pleasure interviewing her and numerous other local and proudly South African authors such as Raashida Khan, who also won the Minara Aziz Hassim Literary Award for her debut novel, Yacoob Manjoo and Faradinah Ismail.

I spoke to publisher Mel Ferguson about the speedy launch of the new eBook ‘Lockdown – The Corona Chronicles.’  And I thoroughly enjoyed the conversation with award-winning journalist, documentary filmmaker, and war correspondent Hamilton Wende about his novels where he draws on his extensive experience from working in various regions. We touched on’ House of War’ his novel on Afghanistan, ‘Only the Dead’ documenting the plight of child soldiers in Uganda, and his delightful Arabella series for young adults.

Before Ramadan, I finally chatted with Mr. Ebrahim Essa on his memoir ‘EB Koybie’ taking us through memory lane and the early Durban years. Our lockdown season continued into Ramadan with interviews with literary critic Karabo Kgoleng speaking on migration and women in African fiction where she referenced work by Leila Aboulela and Uwem Akpan. She also touched on references to my novel on human trafficking, ‘The Economics of Love and Happiness.’

One of my Ramadan highlights was speaking to Prof Omid Safi from Duke University in the USA about his teachings on the madhab e ishq, the path of love, and his new online course on Maulana Rumi’s Masnavi. Prof Safi is the author of many well-known publications such as ‘Memories of Muhammed’ and ‘Radical Love’. I reviewed the Heart of Rumi’s Poetry course before the interview and found it a deeply meditative experience. We spoke about the commodification of Rumi in the west and how to differentiate between the easy to share memes attributed to Rumi, Hafez and other mystical poets and the common romantic themes being perpetuated in modern times with the authentic text of the Masnavi and its primary message of divine love.

My final interview with Shaykh Yahya Adel Ibrahim from Perth, Western Australia about his books, ‘Love Stories in the Qur’an’, and ‘A Juz A Day: Summary of the Qur’an’, yielded some great advice during Covid-19 times and the opportunity presented to us as human beings to extend ourselves in whatever way we can. We ended with a beautiful dua that he presented live to add a deep spiritual dimension to the programme and the Ramadan evening.

As we take a breather, we plan our next season of BookBytes with more reflective and thought-provoking interviews with local and international writers and thinkers. Thank you to the team at Salaamedia, the interviewees and the audiences for engaging and encouraging this programme.

Featured image via FreePik.

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