Students, faculty and family were treated to a presentation by an accomplished author who came to explain the metaphoric connections between socio-economic politics and everyday life in his new novel, “Dawn to Twilight.”
The event, held Thursday in LA- 103, featured novelist and professor Daniel Kunene. Dr. Kunene is an internationally known translator of African texts into English.
An author of more than one dozen books, his range spans time and topic, including the “Heroic poetry of the Basotho,” an ethnic group that has lived in South Africa since the fifth century, to poetic works like “A Seed Must Seem to Die.”
In “Dawn to Twilight,” he chronicles the lives of two South African teenagers, Duma and Meisie, growing up in the despair of apartheid. They meet at a common water spigot only to find the well has run dry.
The struggle for water is a recurring theme throughout the story; it finds common connections with location, class and status.
“’Dawn to Twilight’ resonated with me because it introduced me to a culture that I had never looked into,” forensic anthropology major Malea Reeves said. “I wanted to find out more — the book made me curious about curiosity.”
To begin, Kunene, who is the father-in-law to Fritz Pointer, a humanities professor at Contra Costa College, requested two volunteers from the packed classroom to assist in acting out a passage from the book to set the mood of the story.
Kunene’s 92-year-old frame and calm but powerful voice led the students through the reading. Then he asked the students to explain their own interpretations of scenes and character motivations.
Born in South Africa, he received his bachelor’s degree from the University of South Africa and his Ph.D. from the University of Cape Town in South Africa. He came to the U.S. in 1964, where he taught at UCLA for six years, then at the University of Wisconsin at Madison for the following 33 years.
“There is no personal experience to the characters in the story except for the schools they attended,” Kunene said. “I do, however, criticize the educational system and political system, so Duma (one of the book’s protagonists), in that sense, is me.”
Kunene said to the class that he did not only come to lecture, but also to inspire a conversation about the message behind the written words. The most important is the criticism of apartheid and the restoration of African literature.
The students were engaged and often blurted out theories or ideas about character scenarios that for the most part fit the ideas that the author was trying to get across.
As Kunene exchanged interpretations with attendees, others in the room followed intently.
The author referenced pages, as would a reverend in a sermon, and the good parishioners flipped back and forth through the pages to keep up with the assertive presenter.
At one point, 30 minutes into the talk, the 92-year-old gave a thunderous clap with his hands, in a way only a grandfather could, to stop three young men in the back from speaking over students attempting to ask questions.
“It’s really humbling,” Kunene’s grandson Somori Pointer said. “It’s hard to tap into all of the knowledge. It’s nice to have positive educated people in life to look up to.”
Continuing with his discussion, Kunene, impassioned about the topic of apartheid, spoke until only five minutes remained of the allotted time for the presentation.
This limited the audience’s opportunity to ask questions, and also gave them an opportunity to request the author’s quick return.
The lecture ended with the professor signing copies of his book for students and posing for pictures.