Blog Tour: Interview with J.L. Powers Author of This Thing Called the Future

Welcome to the next stop on the This Thing Called the Future blog tour hosted by The {Teen} Book Scene. Today author J.L. Powers answered some question for us. So we hope you enjoy the interview. Follow the full tour right HERE

J.L. Powers Links: Website / Twitter / Goodreads / Facebook

OUaT: Tell the readers a bit about This Thing Called the Future?

This Thing Called the Future is a coming of age story set in post-apartheid South Africa. It’s both a love story and an alternative fantasy. Just as 14-year-old Khosi starts falling in love for the first time, she is haunted by a witch’s curse, a supernatural stalker, and the looming death of someone she loves.

I wrote this novel because I wanted to explore what it might be like to grow up in the middle of an epidemic, when people all around you are dying of a sexually transmitted disease. What’s it like to be a normal teenager, and to fall in love, and to be thinking of these kinds of things? In KwaZulu-Natal, where Khosi is growing up, young women are extremely likely to be infected with HIV. The official infection rate for young women ages 15-35 is 30%.

I also wrote this novel because I became sort of obsessed with traditional healing—divination, consulting the ancestors, spirit possession—in all cultures but particularly in Zulu culture. Western medicine is nothing like that and yet in most cultures around the world, medical healing isn’t divorced from spiritual beliefs. Like I said, I got obsessed. That element is one reason why the novel is an “alternative” fantasy, also known as magical realism.

OUaT: How do you picture the future in 10 years?

Well, that depends on where we’re talking about.

For South Africa, where my book is set, I think the next ten years will bring tons of change. For one thing, I think the country will get a real handle on the HIV-AIDS epidemic and people will stop dying in such alarming numbers. That’s already happening, in fact. I also think the violence will continue and might even get worse, even while members of the community (black, white, and mixed race) will grow ever more committed to solving the problems of the country and to “healing” the nation. Those people who aren’t committed to South Africa will pack up and leave, like they’re already doing.

For my character Khosi, I think the next ten years are critical. She will be 24 or 25 ten years in the future. Because I might write a sequel, I’m not going to answer these questions, but here are some things I wonder about: Is she still with the same boyfriend? Has she been able to fulfill her dreams—the thing she wants to do at the end of the book? What is happening in her little sister Zi’s life and is Zi a “good” girl or a wild girl?

As for America, my own country, I think the next ten years are critical too. Will 2021 find us still boggled down in Iraq and Afghanistan? Will we have ceded our economic powerhouse status to China? Will we now have a Latino majority and will that change our border policy? (I grew up in El Paso, Texas and this question has a lot of personal meaning for me.) What about the drug war—will we still be fighting it in the same way or will our methods have changed? I obviously don’t have the answers to these questions. I’m so glad I’m not a politician, though.

OUaT: Do you have a song that captures the feeling of the book? I have several songs, though I’m not sure many Americans will be familiar with those songs, and so I’m including youtube video links. Maybe I can get some folks turned on to Afropop and kwaito music. If you like jazz, reggae, R&B, or hip-hop, you might like these artists.

“I am an African” by Freshly Ground:

“Don’t Cry” by Zola

“Ulwandle” by Zola

OUaT: What are your future writing plans?

I’m currently revising a young adult novel that is set in San Francisco and follows the odd friendship between a teenager kicked out of his home for using drugs and a girl from a religiously fundamentalist home. They are both homeless and scared and things get crazy when the girl thinks God tells her to do something that is both dangerous and a little homicidal.

I’m also currently working on a young adult psychothriller—it’s too early to describe that book but the basic gist is that a girl gets caught up in a romantic relationship that is sexy because of fear and violence, and then her brother disappears.

Like I mentioned, I want to write a sequel to This Thing Called the Future, and I’m also working on a non-fiction book about my time in South Africa.

OUaT: How can a reader contact you or purchase your book?

My book can be purchased from any physical bookstore (if they don’t have it, they can order it) or online at Indiebound ( or Amazon (

My contact information is available on my website,

This Thing Called the Future
Author: J.L. Powers
Pages: 208 Hardcover
Reading Level: YA
Published: April 12th 2011

Summary: (from goodreads) Khosi lives with her beloved grandmother Gogo, her little sister Zi, and her weekend mother in a matchbox house on the outskirts of Pietermaritzburg, South Africa. In that shantytown, it seems like somebody is dying all the time. Billboards everywhere warn of the disease of the day. Her Gogo goes to a traditional healer when there is trouble, but her mother, who works in another city and is wasting away before their eyes, refuses even to go to the doctor. She is afraid and Khosi doesn't know what it is that makes the blood come up from her choking lungs. Witchcraft? A curse? AIDS? Can Khosi take her to the doctor? Gogo asks. No, says Mama, Khosi must stay in school. Only education will save Khosi and Zi from the poverty and ignorance of the old Zulu ways.

School, though, is not bad. There is a boy her own age there, Little Man Ncobo, and she loves the color of his skin, so much darker than her own, and his blue-black lips, but he mocks her when a witch's curse, her mother's wasting sorrow, and a neighbor's accusations send her and Gogo scrambling off to the sangoma's hut in search of a healing potion.

J.L. Powers holds an MA in African history from State University of New York-Albany and Stanford University. She won a Fulbright-Hays grant to study Zulu in South Africa, and served as a visiting scholar in Stanford's African Studies Department. This is her second novel for young adults.

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