South African novelist and sociologist Shafinaaz Hassim is on a mission to empower young people to express themselves through creative writing, reports Sana Ebrahim.
Award-winning author and public sociologist Shafinaaz Hassim is a formidable voice in the South African literary landscape – she has authored eleven titles.
Her first book, ‘Daughters are Diamonds’ was published in 2007, and the rest as they say is history.
Hassim studied undergraduate architecture at the University of the Witwatersrand after which she read for her degrees in sociology. This is where her formal writing career began, first in the form of research and then moving onto historical and literary fiction, and poetry. She worked in research for a while, and lectured at the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) and then at the University of the Witwatersrand before continuing on a full time writing and publishing career.
“I learned the discipline of writing regularly from a young age as my father encouraged me to keep a journal to record daily life, travels, thoughts and events. I think this contributed to my development as a writer and helped me to find my voice as a writer.”
“I grew up in a town in Polokwane, what was then known as Pietersburg in the Northern Transvaal during the 1980s and 90s. I lived in a suburb called Nirvana which was reserved for people of Indian descent and I attended Taxila Secondary School. It was a small town where it seemed like everyone knew everyone else and we had a real sense of community growing up. Weddings and funerals were attended by the whole community and people knew each other on first name basis. As a family, we travelled extensively over the years as my parents loved to visit new countries. I also got my avid love of reading from them. We had an early start to a family library that I’ve had the pleasure of adding to over the years.”
Hassim, who is based in Johannesburg, shared some of her career highlights: “My first novel in 2012, ‘SoPhia’, was a great experience into other forms of expression. The book was shortlisted for various literary prizes and went on to be presented in performance theatre.
“My short story, ‘The Pink Oysters’ was a winner in the UNESCO Hay Festival literary competition for top 39 fiction writers under age 39 in Africa and was published by Bloomsbury UK in the Africa 39 anthology.”
“My first book in the ‘Nisa Qamar’ series was shortlisted for the Minara Aziz Hassim Literary Award 2017 and the third book was shortlisted as a manuscript in the Sanlam Prize for Youth Literature 2019.
“The ‘Nisa Qamar’ series has been my greatest pleasure and such a treat to explore how my protagonist Nisa grows and navigates the world she inhabits as she faces relevant situations and issues as many young girls and boys of her age. The first book in the adventure series, ‘Nisa Qamar and the The Master of Jinniaville’, was really your old school triumph of good vs evil. Book two, ‘The Rainbow Healers Society’, saw her developing social consciousness and working with friends to undo bullying and grow green spaces to assist underprivileged vendors on the streets. In a few weeks I launch the third book in the series, wherein fans can look forward to encountering a new perspective with Nisa.”
Hassim enjoys facilitating writers’ workshops with young people “who are so uninhibited and passionate about new experiences.” She conducted workshops with learners at Orient Islamic School and attended their Annual Book Fair in Durban during April 2019. “I believe in creating a legacy for the next generation by documenting social history but also by empowering them with tools to write and express themselves.”
She launched her novel in July 2019 called “The Economics of Love and Happiness’ which focuses on human trafficking in South Africa but it also looks at race, class and gender issues that are prevalent in the spaces we engage in. “As much as we would like to think we’ve moved to progressive ways of being, there are stereotypes that persist and we need to challenge and smash those. While there are pockets of corruption, we need to acknowledge that there are structures in place and hardworking women and men who try to make a difference to the victims of crime, trafficking and other issues. The book is presented as an entertaining novel wrapped in a love story, but seeks to create awareness. Structures can feel overwhelmed and if ordinary citizens are vigilant, each one of us can make our contribution to making the world a better place.”
Hassim has been invited once again as a featured author at the Time of the Writer Festival in Durban from March 16-21.