New Voices New Spaces

6 Mar 2015 - 13:15

By Wanjiru Koinange

It is no surprise that Masande Ntshanga, a graduate of the University of Cape Town’s English department, was the 2013 recipient of the PEN International New Voices award. His award winning story Space, is a beautiful piece of writing; one of those stories that lingers on with you long after you have put it away.

Over twenty stories from all over the world were submitted for the prize. Masande’s story made the shortlist alongside two other stories from Mexico and Canada.


The New Voices award is an annual award that was establish to showcase diverse new writing from the countries in which PEN International operates. PEN International called on PEN centres to submit works by two writers from their country. Masande was invited to submit work by the Director of UCT’s Creative Writing department, Imraan Coovadia, and was pleasantly surprised by his win.


“I felt proud, especially since the story drew from a very specific locale, one I felt hadn't received as much attention as it could in literature. It was a great experience to have that echoed back in the form of appreciation from other writers – especially since those other writers came from different parts of the world,” he said.


Space briefly chronicles the adventures of four wonderfully mischievous school boys living in Bisho in the early nineties. The story is divided into several short sections, each capturing a different kind of escapade. Set in 1992, which is also the year of the Bisho massacre. Masande, who lived there briefly, wanted to write a story that captured the disparities of a place that was at the time rooted in political unrest, but still managed to maintain its “pristine sub-urban atmosphere.” 


“I began by wanting to write about that contrast, but the story kept failing – as soon as I’d start, the idea I had would get in the way,” he told City Press.  He eventually allowed the story to have its way, and the result was a lyrical and humorous story that transports the reader into the heart of the Eastern Cape, and into the gentle protagonist’s life.

2013 Winner: Masande Ntshanga (South African PEN)

The New Voices award also aims to fast track the careers of young writers, and this has no doubt been true for Masande. He has received lots of media attention as well as interest from literary agents and publishing offers.

His debut novel, The Reactive which he wrote while at the Creative Writing Program has just been published by Penguin Random House.  The novel is set in Cape Town and is about three friends who sell illegal pharmaceuticals while indulging heavily in various drugs. The story traces the lives of these friends over a couple of months and tells of the lead character’s grief over the death of his younger brother.

Masande shares that the most challenging thing about the whole publishing process was having to open up to the editing process. However, once he developed a rhythm with his editors, it ended up being a very rewarding and educative experience.


Masande’s book will be launched in November.