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Koleka Putuma

Koleka Putuma - foto Jarryd Kleinhans
Koleka Putuma - foto Jarryd Kleinhans

(South Africa, 1993) is a poet, performer and theatre artist. She knocked out the South African literary scene with her debut collection Collective Amnesia (2017), which became a bestseller immediately upon publication. Putuma is seen as an important young voice of South African poetry. She belongs to a generation without memories of apartheid, but which is still dealing with its consequences and repercussions daily. Thus, her work probes themes such as race, homophobia, womxnhood, and the workings of power structures in relationships, religion and politics. Her poetry is daring and inventive, not only in structure and language but also in form - sometimes they are only one line long. She is the founder and director of Manyano Media, an organization that produces and promotes the work and stories of queer black artists and queer life.

(WN 2021)

Archive available for: Koleka Putuma

  • Winternachten 2021

    #SoulCare: Radical Happiness

    With: Bahghi, Gil Gomes Leal, Hassnae Bouazza, Jens Meijen, Koleka Putuma, Munganyende Hélène Christelle, Radna Fabias

    "Joy is an act of resistance" is a slogan that is gaining traction. Can happiness be a form of activism? Is there such a thing as restful resistance? And why is self-care so important? These questions constituted the foundation of the final program of this first, online part of the Winternachten International Literature Festival 2021 - you ended up in a warm bath of radical inspiration.

    "It's up to us": this emerges from the work of photographer Tyler Mitchell, whose summer 2019 exhibit I Can Make You Feel Good at the FOAM Photography Museum in Amsterdam was a sensitive ode to a "black utopia". Mitchell photographed young black people looking relaxed, sensitive and proud in idyllic settings. It was a beacon of hope for how things could look and a sharp contrast to the dominant images of black people in the media usually associated with strife, pain and violence.

    Mitchell's work is one of the sources of inspiration for programme maker Fleur Jeras, together with the poetry of the South African poet and performer Koleka Putuma - especially her poem Black Joy from the volume Collective Amnesia. Poet Alfred Schaffer, who translated Putuma's poetry into Dutch for the magazine Terras, wrote the following in the magazine Groene Amsterdammer: "You could say that Putuma in looking for a way out of the impasse with Collective Amnesia; she must escape the expectations of both the white and black public. Love could be an escape route."

    A fragment of the poem Black Joy by Koleka Putuma, from her collection Collective Amnesia:

    isn't funny?
    That when they ask about black childhood,
    all they are interested in is our pain,
    as if the joy-parts were accidental.

    I write love poems, too,
    you only want to see my mouth torn open in protest,
    as if my mouth were a wound
    with pus and gangrene
    for joy.

    Journalist Hassnae Bouazza talked about this poem with Putuma via an online connection from Capetown. We also brought you Putuma's work in other forms: poet Radna Fabias read from Putuma's work in their Dutch-language versions and singer-songwriter Bahghi and dancer Gil Gomes Leal presented new works inspired by Black Joy.

    Read here the three poems by Koleka Putuma.

    Additionally, poet Jens Meijen and writer-podcast maker Munganyende Hélène Christelle gave practical examples about how the create peace of mind and reflect on activism, a state of happiness and the future.

    Learn more here:


    Hassnae Bouazza

    Munganyende Hélène Christelle
    Podcast Fufu & Dadels

    Radna Fabias
    Video: Radna Fabia recites in DichterBij (VPRO) her poem Roestplaats

    Gil Gomes Leal
    website: performance Ayahuasca by Gil Gomes Leal & ISH Dance Collective

    Jens Meijen
    Short story Kaddisj, publication in Hard//hoofd

    Koleka Putuma
    Video: Koleka Putuma recites from Collective Amnesia on the train from Kaapstad-Muizenburg