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05 Jul 2019 00:00
Storyteller: Yusuf Daniels. (David Harrison/M&G)
Yusuf Daniels, a former auctioneer, describes himself as someone who became an author by mistake. He refuses to call himself a writer, preferring the title of storyteller.
His book, Living Coloured (Because Black & White Were Already Taken), is soaring up the bestseller list in bookstores around the country.
It’s a collection of short stories of Daniels’s childhood, growing up in the suburbs of Athlone and Mitchells Plain during the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s.
It’s this time period, when the term “coloured” was yoked upon brown people, that frames his tales, with the backdrop being apartheid and segregation.
“I was there the day my granny was put out in District Six.
But, wherever they put us we still had fun,” Daniels says, recalling his youth.
Today, he looks the epitome of the cool dad: polo-neck jersey, stylish winter coat and an expertly coiffed hairstyle.
Putting pen to paper was never the plan, he says.
“It started with a groin injury. I was lying on Dr Ling’s acupuncture table. While I was lying there, I picked up my phone and I wrote exactly what was happening to me, with a little added coloured spice. I posted it on Facebook and the response was amazing. I posted another seven stories in seven days.”
Those posts were the start of his literary career.
His ability to weave stories and describe mood, place, time of day and characters allow readers to picture exactly what he is writing about.
Daniels says this is a result of growing up in a family of storytellers, from uncles spinning yarns to his father telling stories around the dinner table to him and his siblings.
The first-time author said that, unknown to him, a friend had printed his posts and sent them to publishing companies.
“The next day I got two calls from people I did not know saying they want to meet me,” he says.
Although the book highlights the trauma his family and many like him endured during apartheid — from forced removals to being dumped on the Cape Flats — Daniels says he wants to remember the good times of being young and to guard against the harsh realities of life.
“There are so many coloured intellectuals. People who have done so much more than just being jovial. But this is my story,” he says. “It’s not a political story. It’s a fun story of me growing up, coloured.”
Daniels’s 21 stories are written in the Cape Flats patois. He decided to remain true to the language and dialect of his youth — a combination of English and Afrikaans, with liberal use of curse words to emphasise a mood or an emotion. “I still speak like that, so I just wrote the way I speak. And I still speak like that to my kids, whether they go to Rustenburg Girls’ High or not. I’m not going to change. And people who’ve read the book stop me and say, ‘Thanks for keeping it real,’ and it just makes me feel lekker warm inside.”
Daniels’s publishers say almost 3 000 copies of his book were sold within the first month of its release — 5 000 sold copies guarantee bestseller status in the South African book market. The book has just been sent for its first reprint.
“Some people dream of writing books, and they think about what they are going to write. I didn’t plan any of this. I just picked up my phone and posted something to Facebook. Now, months later, I’m sitting in bookshops talking about a book I wrote. I feel very lucky.”
Read more from Lester Kiewit
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