Renée Schatteman awarded Fulbright for South Africa research during the 2018-2019 school year

Renée Schatteman was recently awarded a Fulbright scholarship to travel to South Africa for ten months of research during the 2018-2019 school year. The University of Western Cape will serve as her host institution, and this Fulbright study will mark another component of the international exchange between the English and creative writing programs at GSU and UWC that began in 2015. Since that time, a number of interactions between the two programs have taken place: a GSU Study Abroad program to Cape Town in the summer of 2017; the publication of work by South African creative writing students in Underground, GSU’s undergraduate journal; and the upcoming special issue of GSU’s Five Points (edited by Dr. Schatteman and Dr. Kobus Moolman, the director of creative writing at UWC) which will feature work from various writing programs in South Africa. The Fulbright promises to greatly strengthen this collaboration as it will provide Dr. Schatteman with the time needed to interact with UWC faculty and generate plans for future exchanges.


The scholarship will also enable Dr. Schatteman to build upon the scholarship that she has already contributed to African studies, including a three-volume curriculum guide to African literature entitled Voices from the Continent as well as multiple articles about and interviews with writers such as Zakes Mda, Tsitsi Dangarembga, and Sindiwe Magona. In the past, she conducted short research trips to Pietermaritzburg, Johannesburg, and Cape Town, but this longer stay will allow her opportunity to come to know South Africa from within and will enable her to complete the drafting of two publications, both involving the work of the author Sindiwe Magona.


Dr. Magona is one of the leading South African writers and one of a short list of black female writers publishing today. She is a remarkably prolific writer, with two autobiographies, three novels, two collections of short stories, one biography, four plays, a collection of poems, and over 150 children’s books to her name. She also has a number of works that are written but not yet in print, including three novels, multiple essays, and a play entitled OoMaSisulu that finished a run at the Grahamstown Arts Festival in July 2016 to rave reviews. Magona’s efforts to explore the history and culture of such a complex and contentious country through multiple genres has garnered her considerable attention, as evidenced by the twelve awards she has won since she began writing, the most recent (and prestigious) of which include the Order of iKhamanga in 2011 (a Presidential Award and the highest such award in South Africa); the Mobokodo Award in 2012 (which she shared with Nadine Gordimer); and the English Academy of Southern Africa Gold Medal Award in 2016.


Dr. Magona is already a well-known figure at GSU as Dr. Schatteman has brought her to campus four times in the past sixteen years—in 2002, as the featured guest at a NEH summer institute on literature from South Africa and the American South; in 2005, as a speaker in the  department’s lecture series; in 2013, as the creator of the stage adaptation of her novel Mother to Mother that was performed at the university; and in spring 2015, as a writer in residence, during which time she taught courses at GSU—including a course on Life Writing that she co-taught with Dr. Schatteman—and wrote half of her recent novel, Chasing the Tails of my Father’s Cattle.

While Magona’s productivity and versatility as a writer are worthy of remark, it is her insistence on voicing the experiences of black women that signifies her real contribution to the country’s literature. Her various works have documented the lives of women over the past seven decades, if her autobiography (which begins before the 1948 imposition of  apartheid) and her recent children’s book Today We Plant a Chief (about the passing of Nelson Mandela) can be seen to bookend her literary terrain. In providing such a long-range perspective on women’s issues, Magona has championed the value of gender diversity and has emerged as a key figure in the South African canon, assuming a place of prominence among female writers of color, including writers of previous decades like Bessie Head, Miriam Tlali, and Lauretta Ncgobo as well as those currently publishing like Zoë Wicomb, Gcina Mhlophe, and Zukiswa Wanner. In her early works, Magona gave voice to the crushing oppression women faced under apartheid, and in her more recent writings, she has raised urgent concerns about the effects of the HIV/AIDS on women and children as well as pressing questions about the role of gender in the new national discourse. Three factors shape her work on all these projects: her unique biography which included twenty years in the United States; her commitment to the advancement of her native tongue, isiXhosa; and her ability to dismantle the dichotomies that have polarized her society to offer alternative visions instead.

During her ten months of research, Dr. Schatteman will use the Fulbright award to produce a full draft of her monograph about Magona’s writings entitled Ubuntu for All: The Transformative Vision of Sindiwe Magona. It is grounded in the assumption that Magona writes from a deep-seated commitment to Ubuntu, the humanist philosophy originated in southern Africa that insists upon the need for humanity towards others and the recognition of people’s dependence on one another. Ubuntu was utilized in the transition years as a rhetorical means to promote understanding and reconciliation over vengeance and retaliation, but this monograph will argue that Magona also employs the concept to lambast those who would exclude groups of people—primarily women—from the benefits of a unified democracy. By doing so, she enlarges and re-energizes the meaning of Ubuntu, a concept looked at somewhat disparagingly  in recent years by those disillusioned with the current state of affairs in South Africa, and draws attention to the nation’s critical need for attention to its diversity and inclusivity.


Dr. Schatteman’s second Fulbright project was generated during Magona’s residence at GSU in 2015 when she invited her to edit a collection of her essays, lectures, short biographical pieces, and select interviews, with the possible title of Sindiwe Magona Speaks Out!. Magona is as accomplished as a storyteller and motivational speaker as she is as a writer, and so this collection will showcase her keen insights and inspirational perspectives on a wide range of topics while also supplementing readers’ understanding of her literary works. The production of this collection as well as the monograph will further South African literary studies and will help to promote the work of this passionate and articulate writer at home as well as abroad.