Writer Phumlani Pikoli has ambitions that go beyond being the author of a couple of popular books.
He’s shaping himself as a multi-disciplinary artist by working with theatre makers too.
Right now he’s best known for his book of short stories, The Fatuous State of Severity, and his debut novel, Born Freeloaders. He initially self-published his short stories, which were then picked up by Pan Macmillan. They’re tales with illustrations exploring the experiences of urban youngsters as they grapple with the absurdities of present-day South Africa. “I guess I’m just trying to make sense of my own existence by playing around with the chosen themes,” he says. He also released a short film featuring some friends reading the stories aloud.
His follow-up novel Born Freeloaders is a cheeky twist on the term “Born Frees” that describes the generation born into democracy, and the first to experience racially integrated education. “I figured I’d use the title to explore ideas of the entitlement people often think that they have,” he says.
His writing is bold and uncompromising, and he doesn’t mind if that gets him into trouble occasionally.
On the multi-media front, Pikoli contributed to Carla Fonseca’s play The Same Pain at the Soweto Theatre, and collaborated with visual artists and Johannesburg’s TMRW Gallery to create a multi-sensory exhibition around his stories. He’s now developing Born Freeloaders into a film with Diprente Films, writing another story, and working on another virtual reality project.
As an outspoken advocate for mental health awareness, he’s open about his struggles with depression and anxiety. Through his honesty he hopes to encourage more discussions among young black people about mental health, a subject that’s often taboo. He says the biggest mistake he has learnt from was not taking his mental health seriously enough.