Megan Ross is a writer, poet and journalist from the Eastern Cape in South Africa.
She is the winner of the Brittle Paper Award for Fiction, the 2016 Iceland Writers Retreat Alumni Award winner and the 2017 runner up for the National Arts Festival Short Sharp Award.
Megan was also a second runner up for the Short Story Day Africa Award. Her writing has featured in New Contrast, New Coin, The Kalahari Review, Aerodrome, Itch and Prufrock. She has written for the Mail and Guardian, Fairlady, Glamour,GQ and the Oprah Magazine.
Megan has also been shortlisted for the Miles Morland Writing Scholarship and long listed for the Writivism Prize. Her first book, a collection of poetry called Milk Fever, is forthcoming in 2018 from uHlanga. She spoke to Nation.co.ke about her literary favourites:
1.What two new books by South Africans have excited you the most?
This year I’ve mostly read poetry, so I pick Ice Cream Headache in my Bone by Phillippa Yaa de Villiers. Secondly, I would say Koleka Putuma’s Collective Amnesia for her fearlessness and honesty, and the many conversations that have begun and been enriched as a result of her book. I finished my first collection of poetry this year and these volumes are two that have sustained me.
2.Which two books do you hold so dear that they can’t possibly be lent out?
A copy of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden that I won as part of a book prize for coming second in class in Grade 1 in 1996. My mom used the book voucher to buy me this exquisite edition with colour plated illustrations by Shirley Hughes while most other parents bought their children toys. I’m still grateful to her. (Although at the time, I was pretty angry about not getting a Puppy-in-my-Pocket!).
The second is my very battered copy of The Hours by Michael Cunningham. It was the first English book I was able to get my hands on while living in Thailand and it held me through many, many lonely nights, especially when I was pregnant and struggling with morning sickness (which I had, incidentally, morning and night).
I wrote in almost all of the margins while I was backpacking and so it served as both a book to read as well as a diary when I couldn’t find paper. It’s interesting to go back and re-read it with so much of my past literally and figuratively written into the pages, especially since it was a really strange, transient time, and those last few months before I became a mother.
3.Your childhood favourite books? Why?
This is so tough! I was always a sucker for anything by Roald Dahl, simply because of his imaginative prowess and his unashamed knack for writing wicked characters (see Augustus Gloop in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory or the head witch in The Witches!).
My favourite by him must be The BFG, however, because I have always been fascinated by dreams, and loved the idea of somebody storing and indexing them, this entire archive of imagery and sleep!
And then probably Wild Child, a book written by Monica Furlong, which is a beautifully-woven tale about a young child who goes to live with the village witch. I loved the way she wrote spiritual belief systems and feminine power in a narrative that was both enchanting and easy to digest for children.
4. If you were to dine with three writers dead or alive, who would they be and why?
Toni Morrison. She is without a doubt the closest living writer we have to literary perfection. I’d probably just stare at her, dumbstruck, and drink too much to calm my nerves.
Efemia Chela. Because I miss her terribly. She is my call-at-3am person. Despite our seemingly endless conversations, daily voice notes, constant Facebook tagging and Meme-sharing, I have only spent a few days in her actual person. She’s been so supportive of me this year, and dinner would be on me.
Sandra Cisneros, for the way she tells women’s stories; for the power of her poetry and subversive wit. She treats pain and joy and sexuality with such care and reverence that I can only imagine how empathetic and intuitive a person she is in her personal interactions.
5.Which book do you wish you had written and why?
It isn’t a book but I wish I had written the short story, Who is Like God, by Akwaeke Emezi, for its lyricism, and how the author carves a story so sharp and painful that it sings. For me, this is the future of African short fiction, and speaks volumes about the talent and inventiveness on this continent. I cannot wait to get a copy of Freshwater, her first novel.
6.If you were sent off to Robben Island for a year, which three books would you take with you?
Virgin of Flames by Chris Abani. I have never read a book like this. It sort of stunned me, at first; how bold it was, how unapologetic. And so colourful. I’ve been blacklisted from my library for not returning books and could never renew this one after taking it out. A year would give me time enough for a read and then some.
The House of Spirits by Isabel Allende. This is one of those books that leaves me feeling as if I have astral projected in my sleep. Finishing it is like waking from a dream; I move into my day more inspired, more aware, and a little dazed, too, at the universe that Allende has contained between two covers.
Night Sky with Exit Wounds by Ocean Vuong. Besides writing extraordinarily beautiful poetry, Vuong restores dignity to broken bodies, and writes a language that frees and venerates. His work makes me feel all the feelings.
7.What is the last book that made you cry?What We Lose by Zinzi Clemmons and the poem The Republic of Motherhood by Liz Berry.
8.Which three writers do you consider most influential to your writing career?
Sandra Cisneros, Toni Morrison, Margaret Atwood. These are all women who have shown contempt to the very white, male literary world and birthed women’s stories, our experiences and our lives, into the open. Because of them, I really do believe that women are better writers. And I’ll say it until I turn blue in the face.
9.What books are on your reading list for the next couple of months?
Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward, Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado, What it Means When a Man Falls from the Sky by Lesley Nneka Arimah, Bone by Yrsa Daley-Ward, Hard Child by Natalie Shapero, The First Law of Sadness by my publisher, Nick Mulgrew, Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi, and Every Day is for the Thief by Teju Cole.
10.Among your contemporaries, who do you consider the most exciting newcomer in the writing world and why?
Mapule Mohulatsi, whose short story ‘The Line of Beauty’ in the National Arts Festival Short Sharp Award anthology, Trade Secrets, absolutely floored me. Mapule is only 24 years old and yet she writes delicate, mellifluous prose with such confidence that I am spell bound after only a few sentences.
I find myself being transported to some ancient, universal space that I think is only afforded one by true, beautiful art. I am really excited to see what she does with the space that will no doubt very soon be afforded her, given the enormity of her talent, range and her powerful voice.