Author Interview: Upile Chisala

Upile Chisala is a storyteller, sociologist and activist from Malawi, and the author of poetry books a fire like you, As Soft as Fire, soft magic, and nectar.

We spoke with Upile Chisala about what inspired her to write her books, the importance of independent bookstores, and more.

Please tell us a little bit about what inspired you to write your books and how these stories took shape for you.

I think the most inspirational figures in my life are the women I come from. I write poetry that memorializes, celebrates and reflects on black womanhood. The story never stops forming so my writing process is quite random and I don’t think I’ll ever be done adding and removing from my work.

On a good writing day, I play my favorite music, make myself some tea, sit down and start. On a not so good writing day, I just face the page, cry a little and wait.

In two sentences or less, what’s something that might surprise listeners about your audiobook?

I recorded these books in Baltimore but I live in South Africa. One of the recording sessions happened a day before I flew back to South Africa!

Have you listened to your own audiobook? If so, what struck you about the narration?

I listened to it but begrudgingly because I can’t stand the sound of my recorded voice. What surprised me the most is that I actually enjoyed it. I think I did my poetry a great justice by agreeing to narrate it. Now my voice is in the archives and that’s special.

Are you an audiobook listener? If so, what are some of your favorite audiobooks?

I’m a newbie to the audiobook world but I did just have listen to The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai and I’m a proud audiobook convert. This experience brought on this deep nostalgia, reminding me of when my mum used to read to me. I loved the entire experience especially because I could make myself a sandwich, eat it, and not get any of stains on the book.

What have independent bookstores and/or booksellers meant to you personally and professionally?

I started off as a self-published author so it was a mission to get my book in the big stores. Independent bookstores and booksellers saw me before anyone else did and I owe my career to them. I was at a booksellers convention earlier this year and I was brought to tears every time a small bookstore owner walked up to me to tell me they carried my original pre-publishing deal books.

Header photo by Maxim Vakhovskiy

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