On Butali Reads this week we chat with Niza Lebo Phiri, a 25-year-old Social Entrepreneur, Poet, Radio presenter (Flava FM) and also a presenter of the programme, The Representative on ZNBC (TV1 and TV3), an avid reader and the founder of Natwishe: a networking group of young people that come together to share ideas, plans and experiences. She is also a believer that purpose is not constant: that it is something that evolves in accordance with one’s achievements.
What is the first storybook you remember reading?
I think it was the usual Jelita, Mulenga, Sara, and Robert.
At what age did you realize that is something you like doing?
At the age of 13. My Dad had a bookshelf so I always saw him sit down past 5 pm reading and I always ran back to his shelf to find something that I could read.
What book got you into reading?
The trouble with Nigeria by Chinua Achebe
What about it got your attention?
It was the size of it. When I gained an interest, I went to his bookshelf, hopefully, to find something to read and they were all big and bulky books. They were all beyond me. I found a little small book, it was black and green and on it “The trouble with Nigeria by Chinua Achebe,” It was about war in the 70’s but it was what I could manage at the time so that was the first book I read.
Do you have a favorite author?
At the moment, because I feel that as we continue reading books, depending on the stories, depending on what I am reading, there will be different favorite authors. At the moment Luka Mwango and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.
What is it about their work that you love?
For Luka Mwango, I love how he so unapologetically able to share is mind, and just imagine things and go with the flow and really not restrict himself I love how he is free to use language and play around with his imagination and not think about the challenges that we have as a reading culture here in Zambia. He just shares his mind in his books. I have fallen in love with his works because of how unapologetic about it and how he is in love with his works and free to share it. As for Chimamanda, it’s everything. Firstly, it’s a girl thing. It’s about how she has set a trend, she keeps going, the consistency of it, you release one book, then a second book and it’s so successful and you’ve gone from being an author to being a speaker and all that and she keeps continuing. Luka is a spoken word artist, an engineering student and still in love with books. In love with literature.
How important is it to you to know about the storyteller?
It is very very important. I think knowing about the person helps us understand some of the things that they write about or even get excited about the things they write about. It gives me an idea of what I am getting into.
Do you have any interesting facts about your favorite author?
For Chimamanda, so much is known about her. One of the most interesting things is how Chimamanda, that being her name, actually means “my God will not fail me.” I am a religious person so that in itself gets me excited about the person and learning about her and other interesting facts are that she deosn’t read book reviews so regardles of what I ever say about her, what I write about her books, how I love them or how much I wish there was more in some of the books; she will never know about my thoughts and that is quite interesting and also Luka Mwanga is curentlyl one of favourte a fact about him that people dont know is he quite a serieos guy but what they dont know about is how friendly he is and how out going he is, even in his humility, and he iss till out going so that is probably something most people may not know about Luka.
Have you ever read something that made you change the way you looked at life and yourself?
Yes, recently Duncan Sodala recommended I read Who Moved My Cheese by Dr. Spenser Johnson. I read that book and it really changed a lot. I’ve had some decisions that I was scared to make before but I understand the need and necessity of me making those.
What are you currently reading?
I am rereading Understanding Your Potential by Myles Munroe. I read it some two years ago and its the end of the year and I have to sit and kind of think of some of the decisions I’ve made.
What is it about?
Each person that is alive was born for a reason and without reason, you may just walk this earth as a blind man so the book helps you understand what it is that you were born for. It’s not just a whole lot writing. It also gives you a guide. Its got questions that you need to answer as you work out what it is you were born for.
What is the best book you have read this year?
This is really hard but I should list down three books: Firstly, Perdition by Luka Mwango, Idol Eyes: My New Perspective on Faith, Fat and Fame by Mandisa. It was interesting for me just looking at the aspect of fame and her struggles with fat and also in relation to her faith. She shares her story beautifully and also, Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead by Sheryl Sandberg.
What is the best African book you have ever read?
Ammericana and The Thing Around Your Neck by Chimamanda.
Do you think Zambian literature will ever be appreciated globally?
When Namwali Serpo won the coin prize for African writers, that gave me hope.This year we have seen a lot of Zambian writers step out and put their work out their work. Some maybe not maybe the best quality, published in a rush, but all in all I really have hope. I really believe that one day will be appreciated globally it’s all about putting in the work and it’s all about believing ourselves and also supporting ourselves. If we don’t do it from here, how are we going to be appreciated outside? So I do have hope, we are going to be appreciated globally. It’s just about putting in work.
Do you have any favorite characters?
Yes, Sir. Hazel Grace from the Fault In Our Stars. I fell in love with her because the story made me imagine what it would be like to have cancer and fall in love and I hate how John green takes you through all these emotions before the end of the story. In as much as I went through so much emotion reading the book as Hazel Grace. Her having cancer, falling in love with another cancer patient, and at the begging seemingly surviving. I still don’t get it up to now but that’s why it makes her one of my favorite characters. The next: Laila is a character I got to read about in a book called A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini. Laila allowed me to experience what it is like to be a second wife, to be amidst a war in Afghanistan, to make friends with another woman because she is in a nice situation. It was over 300 pages on torture but why I love her is because through the torture through the heartache, she had hope.
Do you have a favorite book quote?
“Pain demands to be felt.” John Green, The Fault In Our Stars.
What does it mean to you?
You can’t avoid pain. We read because of the many emotions that we go through and because of the things that we learn and if you are ever going learn anything: pain is there standing and demanding your attention. Often you need to stop and give pain that attention if you have to grow, learn or if you have to give, even if you have to receive.
Are you part of a book club?
Currently working on one. I have been a member of a WhatsApp book club but I left because I think I felt strongly that we had shifted from the initial plan for the WhatsApp book club.We would share books but things changed so I had to leave. I am working one with a group of friends.
What book did you find hardest to read?
Luka Mwango’s Perdition was hard to read. At the time he had sent the book to me. At a time I decided I wasn’t going to be reading fiction, I was more into self-help and biographies and political books so at the time he sent that book, I wasn’t reading. I tried but I couldn’t, I put it away and I think also, it’s a bit explicit so I didn’t want to get into that at the time but once I got to know the person, which is also why it is important for authors to get closer to their fans to share bits and pieces of themselves.
Any words of advice to someone that wants to become an avid reader?
Life is about adventure. You need adventure. So very often you get tired of the same old same old. Our bank accounts may not accommodate these adventures we want to go on but the cheapest adventure you will find in this world is a book. Thanks to a book by Khaled Hosseini, I have been to Afghanistan. I have had cancer through my imagination guided by a book. Books just basically allow you to go places, allow you to you learn things so you need to pick up a book. Find your interests, are you interested in cooking? Are you interested in wildlife? Is it photography? Pick up books that are in line with that and grow from that.
Perdition by Luka Mwango.
A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini.
All the books by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.