Alumnus Alistair Mackay '18 to Publish Debut Novel with Kwela

Nicole Saldarriaga
April 05, 2021

It Doesn't Have to be This Way, a debut novel by alumnus Alistair Mackay '18, has been picked up by South African publishing house Kwela Books, an imprint of NB Publishers. The novel will be available in February of 2022. 

It Doesn't Have to be This Way takes place over twelve years in a near-future Cape Town which has become unrecognizable due to the stresses of climate collapse, fundamentalism, and deep-rooted inequality. In this unstable environment, three queer friends do their best to find meaning and carve out a place for themselves. The novel, says Mackay, is "a cautionary tale about where the world is headed if we don't dramatically reimagine our politics and priorities, but it's also a story of resilience and love—told from the perspectives of marginalised voices."

Mackay began the novel while still a student at the School of the Arts, and the finished version is based on his thesis project. "Anyone who was in workshop with me will recognize characters and aspects of the story," says Mackay, "though it has evolved in the rewrites since then. I'm so grateful for the feedback and guidance I received during the MFA—especially from [Professor] Deborah Eisenberg and [Adjunct Professor] Elissa Schappell, as well as from my thesis readers [Associate Professor] Victor LaValle and [Adjunct Professor] James Cañón. I found the MFA an incredibly rewarding experience and have grown as a writer because of the stories and writers I was exposed to there, the discussions we had around craft, and the culture of workshop." 

Alistair Mackay's fiction has been published in Commonwealth Writers’ adda magazine, Brittle Paper, The Kalahari Review, New Contrast, and in the anthologies The Other, Queer Africa II (shortlisted for a Lambda Award in 2017) and Queer Africa: Selected Stories. He has written for Financial Mail, Daily Maverick, Marklives, City Press, Mambaonline and GQ South Africa. Mackay received his MFA in Fiction from Columbia University in 2018.