How Kagiso Lesego Molope's thesis on the LGBTQ community in South Africa inspired her latest novel
Kagiso Lesego Molope's lyrical new novel Such a Lonely, Lovely Road is the love story of Kabelo and Sediba, two Black men coming of age in South Africa of the 1980s. Kabelo is well on his way to becoming a doctor and living up to his parents' expectations, but the weight of his greatest secret — that he's in love with a man — keeps him from feeling a sense of belonging wherever he goes.
The characters in your head
"For me, writing is a process of discovery. I never know how the book is going to end. I rarely know where it's going. The sitting down and writing part is finding out who these people are — the people who live in my head — where they come from, what they like, how things taste to them, how things smell to them, how they feel. I can't find that out by just sitting and thinking about it. I have to sit and start writing. They're taking me on a journey and I follow them around.
"I had always thought that I was a bit odd for thinking that way, but then I read an interview with Alice Walker and found out that she writes in the same way."
Research in Cape Town
"I did my undergrad at the University of Cape Town. For my undergrad thesis, I wrote about how gay people of different colours could come together under apartheid in these sort of underground settings, like underground clubs and meeting places, while the country was very segregated.
"I think the thesis was called Gay City, Gay Space and it was about how much more comfortable being gay was in the white spaces and how extremely difficult it was to be out in the townships in Black communities. I did a lot of research around how prominent gay activists in South Africa fought for the gay clause to be in the Constitution.
"Writing about Kabelo being unable to come out in his community and find places where he could come out wasn't very hard because I had interviewed a lot of people when I was doing research for the thesis."
"I am concerned about how it's going to be received, but also excited to put out a story that I think a lot of people need to read. My thing has always been to write books that reflect the reality of Black South Africans or anywhere in the world — the reality of people who don't see themselves in books very much. It's not just South Africans; it's Americans, Canadians, Europeans — men of colour who are queer don't see themselves in books in a positive light. A lot of the books that I read about gay men, somebody dies, somebody's sick; a lot of the time it's a very difficult ending.
"I wanted a place where gay men could see themselves as struggling with everyday issues, struggling with being gay and coming out, but also find a place where they could be happy. It was important to me to also have a gay African man be at the centre of the book. I wanted a book where they're at the centre, they speak with their own voices. That's what this book does."
"You're always worried that you're not getting the voice right. It takes a lot of sitting still and listening. When I first wrote it, the first draft was him being so unsure of himself that it was quite depressing to read it. I wasn't sure of the places he could grow and how he was going to be a better or a different man in the end. Mapping out his growth was a difficult thing and it took a lot of sitting quietly and just listening to his voice.
"I have a problem with patience in writing. I want to see what happens, so I write pretty quickly. It took a lot of patience to go through all the phases that he goes through before he gets to the end."
Kagiso Lesego Molope's comments have been edited for length and clarity.