Introducing Don Beukes
Mr. Don Beukes is a retired teacher of English and Geography. Originally from Cape Town in South Africa, he grew up in the shadow of Table Mountain, always aspiring to achieve the best in life, despite living in a racially divided country. He lives by his favorite motto ‘Carpe Diem’ and endeavors to seize every opportunity in life to make the most of each day. This also filters through to his poetry, attempting to adjust our moral compass in our ever-changing global village. He enjoys gardening and is a keen amateur photographer.
Interview – Book: The Salamander Chronicles
Creative Talents Unleashed: Hi Don, thank you for agreeing to this interview.
Don: I see this as an extension of my writing journey and want to say thank you for giving me yet another opportunity for my readers to get to know the person behind the writing.
Creative Talents Unleashed: Tell us a little about yourself and your background?
Don: My full name is actually Donovan but I prefer the first part of my name, as ‘don’ in French means ‘to give’ or ‘gift’. Consequently, I want to give as much as I possibly creatively can to the global village and especially those who can connect to my words on a certain familiar level.
I was born in Athlone, a southern suburb of Cape Town City in South Africa in 1972. I grew up in Elsies River and my family eventually settled in Belhar, which is only 15 minutes drive away from Cape Town International Airport. I can trace my maternal background to a German great-grandfather but am yet to explore my mixed race South African heritage. I believe it is so important if possible to know where we come from in order to move forward in life knowing the parts we originate from, to give us more elements in our personal and creative journeys.
Classified racially as ‘coloured’ by the white apartheid regime, my family and I, along with millions of others of ‘mixed race’ heritage, was forced by law to live in ‘coloured’ only areas. To clarify, each race in South Africa by law was forced to live with only their own ‘race’, as determined by the authorities. In 1950, the Group areas act was enforced and anyone who was not ‘white’, was forcibly removed from white suburbs and the city of Cape Town, as well as other major South African cities. Black South Africans were squeezed into townships or shanty towns, coloureds were spread out across the Cape Flats, a vast flat coastal plain towards the Atlantic coast and Indians, who were boxed into the ‘coloured’ category, could live in their own areas. We attended schools in our own areas, so the races never mixed socially and culturally. Transport networks were also set up like this and even trains had its own separate lines going into the city, with white only first class which had plush soft seats, second class and third class carriages for non-whites which had cheap plastic seats.
Although a lot has changed, these areas still remain, most ‘coloured’ and black schools are still in existence , as many poor communities cannot afford sending their kids to former white schools. Despite all this, I received a good education and taught English and Geography for 20 years in both South Africa and England. I graduated with a BA Degree in English and Geography from the University of the Western Cape, and obtained a postgraduate Teaching Diploma.
Creative Talents Unleashed: So when did you fall in love with poetry or writing in general, when did you decide this life was for you? Tell us a bit about that discovery process.
Don: I would say my literature journey started at school listening to stories read by teachers, both in Afrikaans and English, as we grew up as bilingual. My writing developed in language classes at school when asked to make up stories and develop characters. I really got lost in imaginary stories and found an escape in writing to find my own ‘voice’, as I was quite a shy child. As I got older, my imagination and characterization improved from one language exam to the next and I knew I had it in me to write good essays. I remember teachers physically stopping me from adding more during tests or exams! My family also inspired me to go to the public library for general reading as well as for homework projects.
My poetry journey was also born from my language teachers at school in both Afrikaans and English and I studied English literature at University. I consequently taught poetry to secondary pupils and prepared final year pupils for set poetry exams. I guess I was always surrounded by poetry, especially lyrically, as I get lost in well written songs, especially when the words tell my life stories. It was over the last ten years that I felt moved to write my own poetry dealing with childhood memories, Apartheid, social problems in communities, world order and issues affecting mankind, nature and our future on this planet, even the next life, whatever that means to different people. My poetic journey I would say was organic and it took on a life of its own, resulting in my debut collection.
Creative Talents Unleashed: Why do you write, what is it that you’re trying to communicate through your work?
Don: My first poems which started my private collection, was actually in reaction to a break-in whilst visiting my brother in 2009, my journey to the north of South Africa and exploring new places. I react to situations I have experienced in childhood like racism, identity and bullying by writing honestly and graphically about my experiences. From the reaction of readers, I then become confident that my writing does give others a way to deal with their own demons and not feel alone in their suffering.
I am very sensitive to any violence or abuse of any kind towards anyone in our global village and therefore react to it by writing down my thoughts in poetic form and only stop writing when I’ve said all I needed to say. I react to any news or article which grabs my attention and will not let go until I’ve written about it, whichever part of the day or night.
I get a fuzzy feeling when I’m moved by something, be it a movie, music or any suffering which ends up in a poem at some point. I feel compelled to share my thoughts through poetry and feel I have a duty to the global village we are all part of, even though some would prefer to exist on their own cozy personal island where they don’t have to interact with human beings from other cultures or backgrounds.
I ultimately write because my story has not been told yet, especially for my generation in South Africa who grew up not being allowed to get involved in politics and human rights, even though we were in the midst of all the changes in a racially divided country in our teenage years and fighting to complete our tertiary education amidst teargas attacks, dodging rubber bullets and even intimidation from our own people for ensuring that we completed our studies to make a difference in a new democratic regime.
As someone from a mixed race background, who generally is still referred to as ‘coloured’, I aim to educate my readers about the fact that we do actually exist. This might sound strange to some but the fact is that most of us in South Africa do not identify as ‘black tribal South Africans’; for the mere fact that we are not born from a Xhosa, Zulu, Sotho or any of the many traditional tribal groups in the country. In my case, my parents were mixed race and their parents might have been mixed race or/and white European. Although the racial tag of ‘coloured’ is still used in South Africa, we are not ashamed of our heritage and are still subject to racism from whites and blacks in the country, especially on social media. For this reason, I feel it is my responsibility as a writer to soldier on and change people’s perceptions and preconceived ideas about the culture I come from, as the sad truth is that many believe we have no culture of our own and the fact that our mother tongue is Afrikaans, make us even more prone to racial abuse from black South Africans who support the ruling ANC party and who see us as traitors for speaking the language of the former racist white Afrikaans regime. I will never make an excuse for speaking the language my mother and her mother spoke before me and that is why I write in English and Afrikaans and proud of it.
Creative Talents Unleashed: Where does your inspiration come from, what might inspire you at any moment to write a story or poem?
Don: I am inspired by imagery, art, nature, spirituality, music, film, places, ideas and shared experiences.
I have discovered that I am mostly moved by visual art and photography, which is when I write my best work. The colors, the strokes, the perspectives and interpretation of artists and photographers move me deeply and I have built up quite an ekphrastic poetry collection collaborating with artists from South Africa and the UK.
My writing has progressed to flash fiction, which is also a result from my love of art and any visual stimulus which makes me spill ink until a story is told and I have given life to characters or themes born from art. I also love a good film and engaging documentaries, which leads me most of the time to jot down an idea, a quote, even a title for a future poem or story.
Most of all, I am guided by a moral compass of humanity, however much distorted to write about what disturbs our morality and I aim through my writing to question, to change and to inspire.
My own essence as a writer is ultimately shaped by my own experiences of faith and the loss of loved ones, as well as my own belief in spiritual life after this one.
Creative Talents Unleashed: What was the hardest thing about writing your book?
Don: I must admit, I thought this would be a hard question but weirdly it’s easy to answer! I was ready for this book for a while without even realizing it. Creative Talents Unleashed gave me the platform to formulate my word weaving into a gem of a debut collection. Surprisingly, the hardest thing was to change the thematic order of the poems to spread out the impact of the choice of poetry. I did find the formatting difficult, as I had to ensure that I covert the document correctly to cm. It was refreshing to think outside of the box and trust in the advice of my new publisher and for that I can only say thank you. Now that I think about it, trusting my word weaving with a publisher was like letting go of my inner essence but this process have given me such courage and vigor to soldier on that I cannot stop now. I have found a literary home with Creative Talents Unleashed and feel part of a very special group of like minded word weavers, each with their own story to tell.
Creative Talents Unleashed: What was the easiest thing about writing your book?
Don: I would say that the fact that I enjoyed selecting the poems which would eventually make it into the book gave me much satisfaction, as I knew that I wanted to reach a global audience and therefore the diverse themes in my debut collection represented my essence as a ‘global’ poet. It was therefore an easy process for me to decide which poems to include.
Creative Talents Unleashed: There are many authors who say that in the process of writing a book you learn things about yourself. Did you learn anything in your book writing process about yourself, if so what?
Don: I certainly did! On a very basic level, I had to ensure that my manuscript was grammatically correct and I made the choice to save my text in American English, as my publisher was based in the USA, which just made more sense to me. If I am successful in getting published outside of the USA, I will choose to use British English, as that is my second language from South Africa, even though there are many cultural influences which spices up English spoken in SA.
I also realised that I had to focus on editing my own poems to ensure that the final product would be satisfactory to my own expectations. I did not want anything to go wrong. I also had to ensure that my book had to have global themes weaving through my collection, as I see myself as a global citizen.
Creative Talents Unleashed: What in your view is the role or responsibility of a writer or poet, if there is any?
Don: I strongly believe that we as writers should inspire the youth to engage in reading and be involved with literature in its many forms and flavors. Yes, we write for target audiences but that depends on the content and choices of writers or poets to reach various readers of their work.
Furthermore, we have a responsibility to inspire others to turn to the pen as a literary weapon in the global society we live in, even though many do not choose to be part of a shared humanity; therefore writers need to question, challenge, uncover, rediscover and unite wherever and whenever possible. We must speak for the silent ones, the abused, the marginalized, the dismissed, the invisible ones and speak directly to the bullies, the abusers, the controllers, the self-appointed ‘emperors’ in this world and even those who are yet to born into this life. Our words will be a legacy to those who will come after us and that alone must drive writers to produce the best writing they are capable of and remind future generations about keeping their moral compass in check.
Creative Talents Unleashed: What are your ambitions as a writer, where do you hope to see yourself in say 5 years?
Don: My main ambition is for my words to reach as many global readers as possible. I have something to say from my point of view and hope that I can write for as long as possible. I also want to continue to collaborate with as many writers and artists as possible and be creative across genres. My passion is fired up by Ekphrastic poetry, as I am a visual learner and have found that my best writing is done when interpreting images. It is for this reason that I will look forward to have my Ekphrastic poetry collection published in the near future.
I have also become more confident to write flash fiction and have had some success in getting some pieces published. I intend to write a collection of short stories entitled ‘The Canal’, inspired by my daily walks along the local canal system, surrounded by forests and fauna and flora. I might even want to write a fantasy novel, as there are so many inspirational elements surrounding me. The possibilities are endless but I know what I want to achieve and will endeavor to make a success of it.
My ultimate aim will be to have my own foundation to enhance and support literacy in South Africa and indeed the African continent to begin with. It will be called ‘The Salamander Foundation’ and I plan to donate future royalties and proceeds from book sales and will invite others to support me in my vision.
Creative Talents Unleashed: Who is your favorite writer or poet? Perhaps you have a favorite quote from them that you would like to share.
Don: There are so many but I will choose a quote from Dylan Thomas :
“Do not go gentle into that good night, old age should burn and rave at close of day; Rage, rage against the dying of the light.” ~ Dylan Thomas
My favourite writer is Stephen King. Here is a quote from him I think is very powerful:
“Writing isn’t about making money, getting famous, getting dates, getting laid, or making friends. In the end, it’s about enriching the lives of those who will read your work, and enriching your own life as well.” ~ Steven King
Creative Talents Unleashed: What advice would you give to aspiring writers who have dreams of publishing or making writing a career choice?
Don: As a new writer myself, I would advise any new aspiring writer to act on that stirring within themselves when they feel compelled to write down their thoughts, experiences and ideas floating and swirling like mad in their heads. If you are feeling frustrated, underrated even humiliated but your writing liberates you; then break out, lash out, shout it out loud by sharing your writing at the first opportunity you get. Even if you are unsure about where your poetry or writing will end up, always be ready for your breakout moment. Believe in your passion and let it continue to burn within until you can share the embers to eager readers. You are unique. Let your words speak.
Excerpt from the book: The Salamander Chronicles
Our human essence has not
withered away – It’s your
prejudice that brands us each
and every day – We don’t choose
who to love or care for – It’s your
darkened heart we pray for –
Allow yourself to breathe
then free yourself to love…
© Don Beukes
Available in Paperback
Visit Don’s Author Page At:
Categories: Creative Talents Unleashed