Sifiso Mzobe is an award-winning author whose novel Young Blood scooped many awards including the Sunday Times Fiction Award and the Wole Soyinka Prize for Literature in Africa. His anthology Searching for Simphiwe: And Other Stories includes short stories originally written for which have excited and delighted FunDza readers…

Sifiso is also a much-loved mentor to emerging young writers who are part of FunDza’s Mentorship programme and works with writers who write both in isiZulu and in English. He is also passionate about reading and so for World Read Aloud Day 2022, I caught up with him about his writing and the role reading has played in his life.

Sifiso, where do you live and work?
I live and work from home in Umlazi, a township on the outskirts of Durban. I was born and bred here.

What role has reading played in your life?
Reading has played an important part in my life. My parents were teachers so I have always been surrounded by books. When I was growing up there were not as many TV channels as there are now. And it was rough, especially during the political violence of the 1980s. Books became a refuge for me. I could always escape into a story to forget the turmoil we witnessed in the street. Books showed me there were other worlds. From reading I developed the love of story. Books would take me on mental journeys. I think somewhere in those other worlds I developed this dream of wanting to take other people on similar journeys when I grew up.

Can you describe your first reading experience?
It has to be the first book we read in class in what you call Grade 3 now. It was called Standard 1 back then. It was an IsiZulu book called Masihambisane. It was full of fairytales. It blew my mind!

When did you start writing?
I started writing my own stories when I was in Grade 8, my first year of high school. The first story I ever wrote was about a group of teenagers. It was called The Trip.

What writers have inspired you?
Alan Paton, Salman Rushdie, James Hadley Chase, Shakespeare, just to name a
few. I read all sorts of books. I get inspired by all aspects of writing. It can be the subject matter, the sheer length of the book, the pace of the writing, the play with words. I decided early to open my mind to be inspired. Even today I discover a new writer and get inspired. There is always something new to learn about writing. And you learn it through reading. I believe writing is a life long learning process so I open my mind to be inspired.

What are you reading at the moment?
I just started reading Black Leopard, Red Wolf by Marlon James.

Your daughter loves to read. How did you share your love for stories with her?
I read to my daughter often. I actually tried to install the love of story way before she could even read and write. I’d tell her folk tales and ask her to make up her own. Give her characters and let her come up with dialogue. I’m quietly proud when I see her never getting bored when we are at the library. She takes book after book and reads. I’m happy because it means she can walk in other people’s shoes and that is empathy.

Why is it so important to read if you want to write?
I have learned most of what I know about writing from reading. A writer who doesn’t read is like an athlete who never trains. They will never excel. Reading opens our minds to other worlds. You learn technique and also that the possibilities are endless. You have a blank page where you can let your mind roam free to create your own world.

Do you have a message for our FunDza readers?

Keep reading – keep commenting! Your comments help writers to grow and know what you love and are inspired by.

Tell us: What do you like to read and why?

To read Sifiso’s short stories click here link to profile page