Shubnum Khan is a South African author and artist. Her first novel, Onion Tears, was shortlisted for the Penguin Prize for African Writing and the University of Johannesburg Debut Prize for Writing in English. She has followed that up with her latest book titled, How I Accidentally Became a Global Stock Photo. In this Q&A, Shubnum reflects on writing this book, why she choose this title, and the South African authors that she will take with her to the Himalayas.
Question: First, congratulations on your latest book. How has the feedback been from the general public since it was released?
Thank you! Well it’s not even been a month yet since it’s out so I can’t say for certain but so far the reception seems to be warm and I’ve had positive feedback which I’m thrilled about.
Question: The title, How I Accidentally Became a Global Stock Photo, what inspired you to go with that title?
The book is a collection of strange stories and adventures and the story of how I accidentally became a global stock photo is certainly the most bizarre one. Also, since that story received a lot of media coverage, we thought it may be a story that readers would recognise when picking up the book.
Question: The book focuses on both your early childhood and your travelling experiences across the world. Talk to us about the process of how you decided which stories to share and which not?
I made a list of stories that stood out in my life – ones that I felt particularly passionate about. Looking back, now that I have a clearer structure of the book I wish I had added a few more because I see now it’s not only a story about funny adventures but also a story about a girl and her relationship with the world.
Question: You mention marriage many times in the book. As a single Indian woman, do you think that there’s too much pressure placed on single women to get married than to men in the Indian community?
Yes, on women in general and then particularly women in my community. It’s almost as if you’re raised from childhood to only be a wife and mother and of course, women are so much more than that. Men do have pressure but women seem to have it from as young as 16 and it’s just exhausting, especially when things don’t work out that way. Let people exist without making them feel as if their life is worthless without a partner.
Question: With all the places you have travelled to, whether it be New York for writing residency, teaching children in a remote village in the Himalayas, becoming a bride on a rooftop in Shanghai, Delhi, New Mexico, what lesson (s) have you learnt about humanity and people in general?
Every single moment is a wonder and nothing should be taken for granted. All people want to do is connect with one another and a little kindness goes a long, long way.
Question: If you have to travel with three South African authors to a village in the Himalayas, who will you take with you and why them?
Haha! This is a cool question. I’m going to be very strategic about this because it’s about survival. Zukiswa Wanner because she knows how everything works and I can learn so much from her and if anyone is going to figure out how we get rid of fleas it would probably be her. Thando Mgqolozana, because he has vision and can build anything and I feel like we would have libraries and a book festival on the mountain before we left. Paige Nick, because she would give me straight talks when I feel my resolve weaken and she would keep me laughing whenever I want to cry. Also I have to add a fourth – Gabeba Baderoon, because I feel like she would keep us all calm and collected on the mountain.
Question: What message to have for young women who would like to publish their work one day?
Read as much as you can of everything you can get hold of. You don’t even have to really go for classes to learn how to write a novel – you just have to read as much as you can and it will help you find your own voice.
Question: Should your readers expect any book from you anytime soon?
I’m working on a magic realism novel set in Durban and I’m hoping to finish that this year so fingers crossed we get that out soon in the world.