The California Lectures series brought Wangari Maathai to my neighborhood; all I had to do was cross my street and pay $30.00. Two hours wisely spent as I listened to the inspiring story of how planting trees in Kenya led to a Nobel Peace Prize. Maathai has a persuasive presence, and she does a good job of conveying the green message. Yet another example of African talent.


Picture © Tawanda Gumbo

Tawanda Gumbo, M.D., University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas assistant professor of internal medicine, who will develop a treatment regimen based on blocking the mechanisms that tuberculosis bacteria use to evade killing by antibiotics” has won the 2007 NIH Director’s Pioneer/New Innovator Award. The NIH News reports, “NIH selected the award recipients through special application and evaluation processes that engaged 262 experts from the scientific community in identifying the most highly competitive individuals in each pool. The Advisory Committee to the Director, NIH, performed the final review and made recommendations to Zerhouni based on the evaluations by the outside experts and programmatic considerations”.

Tawanda Gumbo is a poet and novelist whose works portray Zimbabwean life, and his contribution to science is highly commendable at a time when the media seems to focus on the negative aspects of Zimbabwe. Problems aside, dictatorial leader notwithstanding, Zimbabwe’s educational system has given birth to talented scholars who are making outstanding contributions in different fields internationally. That Dr. Gumbo is a writer (busy as he might be in his career) shows how art penetrates all spheres of life, and like an ancestral spirit, it is free to choose a medium through which it manifests itself.

Tawanda Gumbo graduated from the University of Zimbabwe Medical School, completed residency in Internal Medicine (with International Health) at Case Western Reserve University (Metro-Health) and a fellowship in Infectious Diseases at The Cleveland Clinic Foundation in Cleveland, Ohio. He went back to Zimbabwe in 1999 and joined the Department of Medicine at the University of Zimbabwe before leaving to become an Assistant Professor of Medicine at Albany Medical College, and attending in Infectious Diseases at Albany Medical Center. He has researched in Zimbabwe and published numerous scientific papers on AIDS other infectious diseases. He has written the novel The Fire Inside and the poetry collection Songs of a Flame Lily


I laugh.

This piece is dedicated to my English 301 class who validated it as a poem. I wrote it to illustrate how just putting words together does not necessarily make one a poet, but the students saw beyond these words. They saw shelter, food and happiness and they said the poem addressed a larger concern of life and that it was complete. I therefore saw it fit to entitle the poem Happiness, but my question is: can the two things listed in the poem lead to a qualification of happiness, or are we talking about one person’s view of happiness as typifying versions of happiness like it? “Roof”, they argued, covered our need for shelter, even the crazy housing market in the United States, particularly in California, which has made us question the whole concept of the “American Dream” house, even in a situation where lenders get into impossible contracts with subprime borrowers. Then they moved on to consider egg as either life-enabling, or just as representing all food, and moving on, they said a person with shelter and food can – actually – laugh, which they took to represent happiness. By then I had joined in this process of validating what I even called my haiku, and agreed with the argument that if you can laugh (happiness) you can be in a position to fulfill other dreams you may have that would make your life complete. I love this class!

Ngugi WaThiongo & these Literary Awards

Ngugi is an important writer, prolific. He has played a big role in shaping African literature. Because of the sheer size of his work – his novels, his essays -, he deserves one of these European prizes that everyone gets. Recently, Achebe received the Mann Booker prize for his literary achievement; we all (I know I did) celebrated such an honor. Now, where is Ngugi’s Mann, Ngugi’s Nobel, Ngugi’s Booker? Don’t tell me his works are too political to be practical for these prizes, or that his stance on language and literature is too radical. He still writes (translates) in English, goes on to portray the experiences of his people, and as a writer, stays close to politics, in some cases taking the position of the voice of the voiceless, has been improsioned for such choices, and now he holds an important position in the area of international languages and translation there in California’s Orange County. Ngugi, let me hasten to say, should be accorded the honor he deserves (something, a Nobel etc, or perhaps something coming from deep within Africa? A prize of African origins? Maybe something named after one of Africa’s pioneer authors? Maybe an Okigbo? A Mutswairo Orange Prize? Something…).

I write best when I read

Reading a powerful writer, even a not-so-powerful one, may inspire a writer to start typing away; typing something that may morphe into a work of substance. Slow reading – that’s what I specialize in, because I get a chance to reflect on the narrative in relation to my experience, or the various experiences in the landscape of my writing. My writing, I like its rich terrain, the countryside of Zimbabwe, the beautiful chaos of High Field, the shining presence of Glenview, now slightly ruined by Operation Murambatsvina, the green and jagged presence of Chimanimani and Chipinge: these are some of the places with which I connect what I read. So, let’s say I am reading John Steibeck’s “The Chrysanthemums”, in which he introduces the story by describing fog that closes on the Salinas valley like a lid, I am taken back to Chipinge or Rusitu valley; I am reminded of the morning fog there, especially on that day when I arrived at Chipinge bus terminus and found out that all the day’s buses had already left and the next troupe of buses would not arrive until the next day. I slept at the bus rank in the rain. All night I shivered; all night I shared a talk about life with a vendor from Bulawayo who had slept at this place too many times to worry about a little bit of rain. All night I learned that sometimes the little comforts we take for granted may seem distant at a time life’s surprises get you by surprise and you pay the price for not having prepared adequately.
And so, back to “The Chrysathemums”. The fog is what I remember most about the morning of the night the rain pounded me at Chipinge. To the east of the town lie mountain ranges which seem to guard the town from some possible intrusion. On the morning I watched the fog first veiling the ranges, these sleeping lions, then the veil rose to cover the whole valley like the lid Steinbeck describes. It get’s better; when the sun arose, the fog vanished, but then some low-lying beastly clouds settled on the peaks of the mountains and spent some hours feasting on the ranges. The longer I looked at the white beasts, the longer the bus delay seemed. I did not leave Chipinge until a day later, after spending another night at the open terminus, soaked on the outside, arid inside. Then from somewhere between insistent night rain and greedy beastly clouds, the self harvested new hope, the beginning of a new journey, already bruised by the grazing clouds.

Blogger’s Block Allows Me to Give Poetry Journal Update

There has been blogger’s block here. Well, I have been busy reading submissions for Munyori Poetry Journal, and getting into the new semester. The submissions to Munyori so far are reflective of an increasingly globalized village; I have entries from Bolivia to Ghana to Serbia to Zimbabwe. Lot’s of US submissions, of course. The new debut issue of Munyori comes out on October 5. This journal is monthly. Perhaps the first issue will feature only poetry, but the subsequent ones will a mixture of essays, interviews, profiles and commentary.

Adding some more:

Some may ask, why the name Munyori? This word comes from the beautiful Shona language, and it means ‘Writer”. So basically, Shona allows me to say “Writer Poetry Journal”. Why did I choose the Shona name? I figured I don’t have a Shona name, so why not name the literary journal in Shona. These online journals tend to have unique names, from Pedestal to Zygote, to Ovi to Safusy. This is a way to stay away from generic names and to get into a sense of play to set the mood for poetry. I know Munyori is a plain Shona word, but it enters the English medium with rythm and (stereotypically)the exotic touch. And the benefit? I really want to promote the idea that poets and writers of all sorts need more outlets to share their best. What better place (let me advertise) than Munyori Poetry Journal is there to promote your works? Submit poetry to Munyori Poetry Journal by clicking here .