Collective Amnesia collects universal acclaim

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uHlanga debut catapults Koleka Putuma's rising star into outer space

by Chelsea Haith

uHlanga poet and author of Collective AmnesiaKoleka Putuma, was featured in this month's Elle South Africa magazine as part of a series of mini-profiles on womxn using spoken word poetry for change. In the piece, Putuma discusses the success of her debut collection and adds that Collective Amnesia has also been prescribed for study at tertiary level in South African universities. "It's a relief and a blessing to be studied and inserted into the curriculum while still alive," she said. 

Collective Amnesia is now prescribed as part of Uhuru Phalafala's English course at Stellenbosch University. It was featured in a guest lecture series by noted writer and academic Gabeba Baderoon at the University of Cape Town in May and Putuma's work is also being taught in the Drama department at Rhodes University. Sinking it's claws deeper in the academy, Collective Amnesia has also just featured as the subject of an academic paper presented at the "(Re)thinking African Feminisms Colloquium" in Grahamstown last month and will feature in academic papers at both the South African Society for General Literary Studies (SAVAL) conference (17-19 August) and at the English Academy of South Africa conference (6-8 September).

The reviews pouring in for the collection since it's launch in April this year have been thoughtful, congratulatory and urgent. They suggest that this is a book that has been necessary for a long, long time. in the review for Afripop! Luso Mnthali calls the book a collection of "survival poetry", while Sabelo Mkhabela for OkayAfrica writes: "It’s surreal to hold an anthology of someone who speaks the way I do—with slang, making reference to the internet, hip-hop, Oppikoppi, Nike, God’s medical bill, and has no economy for expletives. The South African publishing industry has its own types of books that it favors, and Collective Amnesia just wouldn’t normally make the cut. Which is why Putuma’s book is a special moment."

It is a special moment, especially as we at uHlanga have extended the print run four times, selling in excess of 2000 copies. Collective Amnesia was also in the Number 1 spot on The Book Lounge's best-seller's list two weeks ago, beating out Arundhati Roy's Man Booker longlisted The Ministry of Utmost Happiness for the top spot. 

This special moment has been celebrated by Maneo Mohale for the Mail & Guardian as a "stunning, complex exploration of the connections between personal and political memory" and this is equally captured in the collaborative effort of the accompanying Collective Amnesia visual series shot by Jarryd Kleinhans. In her immersive profile of Putuma for Between 10 and 5 Chaze Matakala asserts that: "We’ve got to appreciate that Koleka is as much of a visual magician as she is a written one, who aims to reach as many souls as possible."

The visual series can be found online in the three parts that match the three sections of the book: Inherited MemoryBuried Memory and Post-Memory. Memory is a key thematic concern in the book, and Putuma has ensured that she and the collection will also be remembered as one of the most insightful, honest and groundbreaking poetry publications in the post-post-1994 era.

Links to the reviews of Collective Amnesia thus far are below: