Fiction's got a powerful new female voice in Ijangolet S Ogwang

We chat to author Ijangolet S Ogwang about her impressive debut novel, 'An Image in a Mirror'

20 May 2018 - 00:00 By pearl boshomane tsotetsi

Publicly admitting to being a Paolo Coelho fan is like telling hipsters who only listen to Tame Impala that you love Nickelback. But Ijangolet S Ogwang - whose debut novel, An Image in a Mirror, is published this month by BlackBird Books - doesn't seem like the kind of person who is influenced by the prescriptions of others.
Asked who her favourite authors are, she namechecks Coelho. "I love the philosophical appeal of his writing style," she says. Another author whose work she loves and who has influenced her, as she has many young black woman writers, is literary superstar Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.
"It's her ability to weave political commentary so seamlessly into a narrative. Her focus on writing people ... connects deeply with the reader, with each character being important and impactful."When it comes to writing, one of the oldest rules in the book is "write what you know" - but to assume that authors always write from a personal perspective is incorrect. It's difficult, though, to ignore some of the parallels between Ogwang's novel and her own experiences, at least on a superficial level.
An Image in a Mirror follows twin sisters separated at birth, one raised in South Africa, the other in Uganda. Ogwang was born in Kenya to Ugandan parents and raised in Butterworth in the Eastern Cape.
"I felt it important to write a story that depicted the times in a colourful way, documenting the #RhodesMustFall movement and the fight for women's land rights in rural Uganda. I wanted it to be an artistic piece with social commentary," she says.What does identity mean to her? "For me it's the lens through which you exist in the world, what you identify with - what resonates with you. I identify the most with Uganda and South Africa given that these two countries have deeply influenced my worldview.
"I think nationality is important - there's a weight that knowing where you're from places in your soul. This influences the way you navigate the world but an obsession with this can create unnecessary barriers in our ability to embrace other nationalities."Her identity as a black woman is also important to her. "I'm aware of the depiction of African women in common media, the lack of nuances that women are often afforded. This definitely deeply influences how I choose to write the women in my work - complex, strong, weak, triumphant and everything in between in their pursuit of purpose."
Working in business development by day and running a mobile on-demand salon startup, Good Hair, by night, Ogwang describes herself as "an incredibly passionate observer of the world and the ways in which it functions".
In his book On Writing, Stephen King says a writer must write for a particular reader. When she was working on An Image in a Mirror, who was Ogwang writing for?
"I definitely had the African female in mind given that the two narrators are African females, but as I wrote I realised that the crux and themes transcended this and spoke to what it meant to be human.
"Although I do think the story will definitely resonate more with the African audience and in particular the African female, I believe there's something in the story for anyone largely determined by their openness."
Creating art is like birthing a child - once they are out in the world, they are no longer yours. Does Ogwang feel like that about her book?
"Definitely. It feels something close to what I would imagine it feels like for parents to drop their child off at university and realise that they truly have such limited control over them. My novel is now out in the world self-determining and I'm just hoping it lives up to my expectations of it."..

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