Tales of different realities, frightening worlds and feminism
Stacy Hardy delves into alternate experiences of reality, frightening worlds and feminism in her new collection of short stories Because the Night. The anthology was launched on 6 March at the Institute for the Study of English in Africa at Rhodes University.
Hardy’s collection comprises some of her older material as well as more recent compositions spanning a period of 12 years. It is her first collection of short stories. Nicola Schwartz, creative director of London-based publisher POCKO Editions, made the selection from Hardy’s oeuvre, and included previously published academic work and some unseen stories. With fringe-length blonde hair and intense blue eyes, Hardy sits in a Grahamstown coffee shop and recalls the selection as a rigorous and ruthless process, with the final collection unintentionally becoming “something of a road trip”.
Fragmentary and honest, Hardy’s stories hang around your throat like a weighty necklace: heavy with perspective. Not much is considered taboo in this collection and the story lengths vary from a paragraph to several pages long. Not a word is wasted.
In A Breast Is Not a Leg Hardy places her narrator in front of a group of male amputees to discuss a mastectomy. ‘Kisula’ plays with assumptions surrounding bi-racial couples and Black Consciousness. Whiteout explores the tensions of rebound sex. My Nigerian Drug Dealer is a heady erotic account of addiction and the story stands as the centerpiece in a collection that deviates from the realist mode typical of so much South African short fiction. Hardy has cited this as the reason her work has found little reception in the mainstream South African market.
Largely influenced by a postmodern worldview, Hardy said a realist mode is an insufficient perspective from which to attempt to understand human nature. “I don’t experience people as these ideal, fully formed characters, who undergo some kind of linear development,” she said, her thin hand drawing a vertical line in the air. “My experience of people is fractured, fleeting at best, often very confused and fucked up. So I suppose that some of that is captured in the form of the story, as well as in the kind of writing I do.”
Hardy’s stories are complemented by Mario Pischedda’s series of nightscape photography, in which distorted light and webs of colour disturb the evening landscape. “I love the way that Mario’s images collide against mine and in that conclusion evoke new meanings. There is wonderful play between his masculinity and my femininity that makes for friction and cohesion, conflict and beauty… it’s a bit like a love affair on the book’s pages,” she said in a recent write up.
Hardy has found a new home for her work as a contributing editor at Chimurenga, one of the foremost journals and thinking platforms of Pan African journalism and fiction. However, she has found little acceptance in mainstream South African publishing- form and choice of market has something to do with that.
“I do think that South African publishers are afraid of stylistics that don’t make sense. I also think that they are targeting a limited, specific market. So it’s your Book Lounge in Cape Town, Exclusive Books crowd: largely affluent, white women and book club driven audiences. Which is something of a tragedy, I think,” said Hardy over a cup of coffee.
Despite being a South African author, Hardy’s work does not focus exclusively on her socio-political position, but rather on more universal issues that are given nuance by her location in South Africa at the time of writing.
“There aren’t great South African stories in it, but it deals with the landscape that I relate to and the interactions with people in it and the fraught-ness of some of those interactions and how I deal with them,” she said.
The stories hang together through form rather than content or setting, though Hardy’s own interests and preoccupations inform the thematic landscape of the collection. “I am largely dealing with themes around the body, sexuality, gender and politics and trying to navigate that in the confused, weird space that is South Africa. It sits in the space between confessional literature and experimental interface,” she said.
Hardy teaches on the MA in Creative Writing programme at Rhodes University and is a contributing editor at Chimurenga.