This blog has been in existence since 2007, but it went through a five-year hiatus as I focused on other projects. But now it returns under a new domain: chisiya.org. I will be sharing a little bit of history for Chisiya Writer’s Workshop, which is based in Mazvihwa, Zimbabwe, and whose influence is growing to different parts of the country, and now, through this platform, is going to reach audiences worldwide.
I will probably working with a team solicited from within Chisiya organization, if I can find volunteers. Perhaps one day we will be able to monetize the initiative, as that would also be helpful to the writers in the Chisiya organization. I enjoy creating platforms like this as they keep me inspired to do my own work as well.
Watch this space. More is coming. In the meantime, go into our archives and read stories and articles going back to 2007.
The Writivism programme is excited to unveil all the thirty two established African writers who shall participate in the 2015 mentoring component of the programme. We are extremely grateful to the mentors for donating their time to guide emerging African writers, who shall be picked from our 2015 workshops cohort. The workshops shall be held in Kampala, Gaborone, Dar es Salaam, Lagos and Johannesburg. Applications for the workshops closed on 31st October 2014. Writers, based on the continent who are yet to publish a book were eligible to apply. Only those writers who attend the workshop stand a chance to be selected for the mentoring component.
The mentoring involves providing feedback on draft stories sent by the mentee. This guidance lasts a period of four months (February to May 2015) and will result into two flash fiction stories to be published in various media and one short story to…
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He writes well… this blogger.
The writer V.S. Naipaul recently published a book, The Masque of Africa that is supposedly based on his recent visits to African countries like Uganda, Ghana, Nigeria, the Ivory Coast, Gabon and South Africa. These travels were allegedly to discover the “nature of African belief” according to this review of the book by Sameer Rahim in the UK Telegraph. Rahim gives the clear impression that this book does not improve upon the silence. It is the same tired, stereotypical garbage about Africa and civilizations of color. You wonder if at 80 years of age, Naipaul is finally losing it.
The drama Naipaul records in the book is cringe-worthy: In Gabon, his legs give way and someone attempts to transport him in a broken wheelbarrow. Give us a break! The sad truth is that ever since Naipaul was born among the wretched of the earth, as he would probably put it…
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Zvinoita sadza! Takangoti tichiburuka bhazi paChimanimani Town Center kwava kuchimhanyira kwaibva munhuwi waro. Ipapo ndanga ndabva mukusangana neumwe murume wechidiki seni, uyo anga andiona ndichidzerekera kumusuwo webhazi ndokuti, “Manangepi ishe?”
Ini ndokuchitiwo, “Tisu maticha matsva ekwaNdima.”
Akabva asimuka ndokunangawo mukova seni, apo bhazi ranga rozhamba rananga musika.
“Zvatoita tawandirira. Neniwo ndakananga kwaNdima; ndiri kunotanga basa paprimary.”
“Ini ndakariwanira pasecondary.”
“Makorokoto; ekumusoro uku anonzi oti netsei kuwana. Asi muchangopedza paChikomo?”
“Hongu; gore rapfuura irori. BA rangu, Chirungu neShona. Asi ndiri kunoticha ChiRungu.”
“Makorokoto chaiwo,” akadaro achigutsurira. “ Ngatiburuke; tamisa vanhu.”
Tava panze pebhazi takambotarisa mamiriro anga akaita nzvimbo., tichitatamuka nekushama n’ai.
“Muri kuzviona here zvimoko?” akabvunza murume uya.
“Zvipi? Zvisikana zvemusika izvi?” ndakadaro ndichitoshamisika, uku pfungwa dzombonzvengera kuna Shami wangu muHarare.
“Ko zvine basa here? Kana waita nzara zvepamusika ndizvo zvinoita manje,” akadaro, masizo ake achitandanisana chimwe chisikana chairwisana nesiketi yaivhungwa nemhepo.
Ndakatarisa divi ndokuti, “Zvine basa chaizvo; hatidi zvekuzopedzisira tawanana zvitetamvura zvekuno. Makanganwa here baba zvavanotaura: waerekana watangana nezvekuno hauzofi wakatarisa shure kwawakabva zvekare.”
Uyu akabva apfachuka zvake nesetswa, ini ndokusekavo nezwi riri pasi, dete. Ipapo ndakabva ndarangarira kuti tanga tisati taudzana mazita, chero zvazvo kuva maticha kwedu kwanga kwatotiita kunge taizivana nechakare.”Ndonzi Sithole– Mark Sithole.”
“Moulta Matambanadzo,” akapindura achiunza ruoko kuti rwugwinwe nerwangu rwanga rwaneta nekumirira.
Ndopatanganzwa munhuwi wesadza ndokufamba tananga kwataiona vanhu vachinge masvosve. Pamusika uyu bhazi rinonzi raimbomira kwekanguva kakati rebei. Vanhu vaitokwanisa kutenga sadza ravo vakatoririkita pasina kutya kuti vaizosiiwa nebhazi. Ndomafungiro atakaenda kusadza tinawo, shasha dzadekara zvadzo, kwava kuchirondana nenhoroondo dzekwaibviwa, kozoti dzekwaiendwa. Ini ndanga ndatombosunungukawo chose semunhu anga apedza mazuva matatu achingochinjanisa mabhazi, uku hasha dzichingokwira sedzaRunde. Kubasa rudzii kwaisasvikwa?
Nhai, kusimuka muHarare muya nechitima neMuvhuro, chitima chiya chokachidzwa nekuchembera kwava kutifira maRusape. Totsamwa zvoshaya basa; kwava kuchitiza chitima chiya tananga mugwagwa wekwaMutare. Mushure menguva refu, towana bhazi ranga rakatozarawo zvaro, asi vakatitora havo. Ko handiti taibhadharazve, chero zvazvo yechitima tanga tisina kudzorerwa. Zuva rondodoka tasvika maMutare, kuSakubva kuya. Kuchitarisa rekuChimanimani bhazi wanikwe ranzi rakainda zuro; hapana aiziva kuti riripi?
“Saka todii?” ndobvunza iwe, ko ndingadii?
“Mototora rekuMasvingo,” ndoudzwa nevamwe ambuya vanga vaneta nekumirira rekuNyanga.
“Ko zvandiri kuendawo Chimanimani nhai vehama.”
“Aiwa, Chimanimani motombokanganwa. Torai reMasvingo iri, monoriburukira paBechinafu.”
“Ipapo momirira anobva Masvingo kana Buruwayo achinanga Chipinge”
Ini hezvo! “Ndomboinda Chipinge futi. Ko Chimanimani hanzi yadii?”
“Handiti mati muri kunosvika kuRusitu? Kutori pedo neChipinge kukunda Chimanimani Center yacho.”
“Heya?” Ndamira kanhanha, nzeve dzounga. Asi ndaibvunza ani.
“Mangoerekana masvika Chipenge, haiwa, matonaka,” vakadaro ambuya vaya vondisiya vananga kwanga kune chainge chingoro chemaOrange. Kudotsegaira zvavo kunge vaisashushikana nenyaya dzekushaya mabhazi idzi. Ini apa ndongomira-mira, kushaya kuti ndodii, chero zvazvo ndanga ndadzwa zvekuita.
Ndatevedzera zvese zvandanga ndaudzwa ndokuchizonosvika Chipinge masikati eChipiri, ndatomborara panze pebhawa repaBechinafu. MuChipinge muya chero ngoro chaiyo yekuendesa nayo kuRusitu ungaiwana? Saka ndakatorara pamusika, mvura ichizvinaira zvayo yakasununguka. Musi we Chitatu pane akazonditi nditore bhazi raidzokera kwaMutare asi ndonoburukira paturn-off yekwaMutambara, inova ndiyo nzira yaizonanga kuChimanimani. Takanopasvika paTurn-off ava masikati chaiwo, ndokuchiwana pane bhazi rekuChimanimani ranga rafirapo, bhazi refu, rakapendewawo zvakanaka chose; asi ranga ramboti ifei. Vakarigadzirawo rikakosora zuva ratorereka. Ndiro bhazi ranga radai kutisvitsa pamusika weChimanimani uya uri pedyo nehotera inorarwa navashanyi vanovinga makomo. Ndipo pandanga ndadai kusangana naMoulta, mudzidzisi seni.
Ko iye zvanga zvambomuitira nyore here? Muchinda uyu anga atochembererawo parwendorwu. Mazuva mana achiedzawo kuenda kubasa. Iye anga abva kwaMutoko, kunova ndokwaiva kumusha kwake, uko anga apedza dzidzo yehudzidzisi paMutoko Teachers’ College. Anga atora bhazi rekwaMutare paMbare rikafa kanomwe panzira, vachingoudzwa kuti vasanokwira rimwe sezvo iri ranga rine makanika waro mariri, saka kurigadzira kwaiva nyore. Pavakazosvika maMutare ranga ratova zuva repiri ari parwendo, atofonera kuchikoro kwakwe vakamuti ngaatore chero nguva yaaida. Saka nanhasi, anga achiri kungoedza kuenda kubasa, achipota achifonera chikoro, vomuti achasvika hake kana vematenga vada.
“Totongofara kuti, finally, tava netariro, tava pedo nemabasa,” ndakadaro ndichin’en’a bonzo.
“Neniwo, shasha. I was losing it. Asi zvanaka,” akapindura hake Moulta achipa nhunzi mbama.
Takaridyawo chose ndokuzopedzisira toti uyu abata rake bhodhoro reCastle, uyu abata rake reLion. Pava paya tichizotatamuka zvedu tananga kwatanga takamirirwa nebhazi redu.
Tichifamba angu maziso aiva achicherechedza makomo eChimanimani; ndokwaiuyiwa nevashanyi vaibva kunyika dzakaita saana Germany, United States, chiBritain, nedzimwe dakadaro. Ini hangu ndanga ndisati ndamboshanyira makomo embiri aya, uye handaitarisira kunoakwira chero zvazvo ndanga ndoshanda pedyo nawo. Asi aiyevedza kuatirisa. Randanga ndakayeva tichifamba raiita kunge raiziva kunge ndanga ndakaritarisa, huma yaro ichipenya kunge raida kundikoka kuti ndizoona zvaraiva nhazvo. Gomo guru rine mhanza uye tubvuzi twehungwaru. Gomo guru rinonzi raiva nemapako airura, mapako aiba munhu umwe pagore, iwo mabvakure aiita kunge ane nzeve dzakavuwiwa nesimende. Ini kwete, makomo ndaingoayevera kure, saizvozvi ndichifamba hangu zvekuzengurira, dumbu rati tashu seremashu, ndichifamba nzeve dzichinzwa zvaitaurwa na Moulta uyo aingunoimba nezvekunakidza kwaaita Mutoko.
“Ah, shit!” akadaro Moulta achikwakuka kunge uyo anga atsika chiva. Handaida kudirwa mbama kuti ndizive changa chamukwakusa; ndakatokwakukawo pandakatarisa nzimbo yatanga tasiya bhazi. Panga patomirwa zvapo nechimota chematomatisi icho chaingunorwirwa nemadzimai emusika. Kukwakuka kwakashanduka kukava kumhanya, uku meso achitandanisa nzira yebhazi kudakara asisaoni chinhu. Kana kuona chiedza chebhazi, kana chekunyepedzera chaicho.
“Tava pashinyasi mudhara,” akadaro Moulta achiri kungomhanya pasina kwakanangwa. Patakabonderana ndopandakarangarira kuti neni ndanga ndichiri kumhanya nanhasi, kumhanya kuya kunoita kunge kunotimba panzvimbo imwe chete. Takazongoererana tamira pamberi pechimota tatarisana nemuchairi wayo, ambuya vanga vakatozvitsamwiravo zvavo nechakare.
“Munoziva kwainda bhazi?” ndini uyo ndobvunza, ndichizvirovesa nehana yangu nekuti ndaiziva kuti handiwo mabvunziro anoitwa, asi hapana mamwe mabvunziro andakakwanisa kuita.
“Bhazi ramai vaani?” ndiambuya vaya.
“Bhazi; tasiya bhazi pano!”
“Iti wasiiwa nebhazi,” ndiMoulta uyo.
“Chibvunza iwe then!” ndini uyo, asi ndanga ndisina hangu kutsamwa. Moulta akabva amisa chimwe chisikana chaizvimhanyirawo.
“RekwaNdima? Rainda kare; pamwe izvozvi ratosvika kuTurn off yekuRusitu. Mukamhanya mogona kuribata. Rinomira nzvimbo dzakawandisa,” akadaro musikana achibva arova museve Moulta asati amupa umwe mubvunzo.
Takatarisana ndokutarisa tsoka dzedu ndokutarisana zvakare. Zvekuita taizviziva; kuzvinonokera kwainge kudenha nyuchi dzegonera.
The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog. [But this just shows that we at Moments in Literature have to work harder this year! We want more than ten times the number of views we got this year. We want this to be a productiveyear.]
Here’s an excerpt:
600 people reached the top of Mt. Everest in 2012. This blog got about 3,500 views in 2012. If every person who reached the top of Mt. Everest viewed this blog, it would have taken 6 years to get that many views.
Press Release: Chatto Acquire Thrilling Debut From 2011 Caine Prize Winner, Noviolet Bulawayo
Posted at 5:33PM Thursday 17 May 2012
To Becky Hardie at Chatto, debut novel We Need New Names by Caine-prizewinning NoViolet Bulawayo, after a heated auction conducted by Alba Zeigler-Bailey at the Wylie Agency, for publication in 2013. Chatto acquired UK and Commonwealth rights, excluding Canada.
We Need New Names tells the story of ten-year-old Darling and her friends Stina, Chipo, Godknows, Sbho and Bastard, who used to have comfortable houses and existences but now live in a shantytown called Paradise. For these children, the only way is down – or out. To America, in Darling’s case. Pulled out from the poverty, disease and violence of Paradise by her aunt and taken to the Midwest, Darling faces a whole new set of problems: language, food, friendships, the internet and being part of a community of exiles.
NoViolet’s story ‘Hitting Budapest’ won the 2011 Caine Prize for African Writing and was selected for the Boston Review by Junot Diaz who commented, ‘I knew this writer was going to blow up. Her honesty, her voice, her formidable command of her craft—all were apparent from the first page.’ NoViolet has also been shortlisted for the 2009 SA PEN Studzinsi Award, and her work has appeared in Callaloo, the Boston Review, Newsweek and the Warwick Review, as well as in anthologies in Zimbabwe, South Africa and the UK. NoViolet recently earned her MFA at Cornell University, where her work was recognised with a Truman Capote Fellowship. She will be attending Stanford in the autumn as a Wallace Stegner Fellow. NoViolet was born and raised in Zimbabwe.
Becky Hardie said, ‘We Need New Names set the whole of Vintage alight. The energy and power of Darling’s voice and NoViolet’s incredible use of language and storytelling make this a debut quite unlike any other. But New Names isn’t all about language and storytelling, it’s also a vitally important book about war, poverty and the state of Zimbabwe. We are over the moon to welcome NoViolet to Chatto.’
NoViolet said, ‘It’s a most exciting time for me; of course Chatto & Windus are prestigious publishers but more than that I feel We Need New Names is just lucky to be in the presence of a very passionate team. I’m thrilled, and cannot wait to share the novel, and hopefully more, with readers.’
The Arts in New Zimbabwe | WEALTH OF IDEAS
By Beaven Tapureta
Some artists’ legacies live long even after they die, and this is true of one of Zimbabwe’s great writers, the late Dambudzo Marechera, who will be remembered at a function organized by the Zimbabwe-Germany Society (ZGS) under the theme “Revisiting Marechera: Old texts brought to Life”.
And to bring back the Marechera memories in person, Prof. Flora Veit-Wild, who will be in Zimbabwe this March, has published poignant articles about her love relationship with the “enfant terrible of African literature” in Wasafiri, the London-based journal for International Contemporary Writing, Vol. 27, 1, 2012.
Prof. Flora Veit-Wild will also grace the commemorative function that is scheduled to take place on March13, 2012 at the ZGS at 5:30pm.
Franziska Kramer, ZGS Project Manager, said contributors are being invited to participate in this function by reading or performing a poem or short prose or dramatic text by Marechera and subsequently engaging with it. Alternatively, she said, contributors would read or perform their own literary texts inspired by Marechera.
Kramer also said that Flora will introduce contributors and moderate the discussion after presentations.
The exclusive anecdotal articles by Flora published in Wasafiri reveal a fresh view on Marechera’s love life. The articles, titled “Me and Dambudzo”, a personal essay and “Lake Mcllwaine”, a short story, vividly tell a romantic story in which two lovers mirror each other’s life and decide to drift together “beyond whatever ends” (Denise Levertov, American poet).
The gripping yet elevating essay “Me and Dambudzo” point at how Flora and Marechera connected in mind and life and lived through the difficulties of their differences to give way to freedom (and love) of the mind.
Written in present tense, the articles capture moments Flora shared with the “doppelganger” until his death in 1987 in Harare.
Marechera had come back from London in 1982, riding on the success of his book House of Hunger, when Flora first met him in Charles Mungoshi’s office at the Zimbabwe Publishing House. Mungoshi, then editor at ZPH, was a close writing friend of Marechera.
After their first contact, Flora writes, “I was curious to know him better” and what followed were rendezvous that would lead her “through many closed doors” and expose her to the “infatuation with the mad side of life”.
And yet even in love, Marechera refused “all types of attitudinizing”.
The essay “Me and Dambudzo” takes the reader to places down memory lane such as Oasis Hotel and the University of Zimbabwe swimming pool where love bloomed between Flora and Marechera, the Seven Miles Hotel where Flora had her first night out with Marechera, her house in Highlands where Marechera stayed, Sloane Court where she secured a bedsit for him, and Lake Mcllwaine where they had a three-day outing arranged after Marechera complained that she never spent enough time with him. She describes the outing as a “horrendous disaster”.
His feelings of alienation after his return to Zimbabwe from London, his fear of the unseen, his genius when he conducted a lecture titled “The African Writer’s Experience of European Literature” which Flora says became one of the most quoted documents in the growing Marechera scholarship, his love for ‘drink’, his composition of the Amelia poems which made Flora understand the “terrifying beauty of art”, all is captured in the essay.
Marechera, inspired by these episodes, wrote poetry which would later be published posthumously in anthologies such as Cemetery of Mind.
Many people have wondered who exactly Marechera was when it comes to love, and it is in this essay that Flora reveals the secretive yet effervescent side that reflect his longing for someone who could understand him and that someone was in the person of Flora whom Marechera would make “his mouthpiece once his voice is gone”.
In the essay she leads us to afore-said places and picks out the outstanding features that reflect the great writer’s extraordinariness and complexity of character, a complexity that has come to be the intrigue for the new Zimbabwean writers. In Marechera, incomprehensibility, both of his character and texts, is an irresistible attraction.
The unusual intellect that characterized Marechera is captured through the use of real-life dialogue and imagery and it seemed there was a power behind Marechera that drew Flora to the unpredictable writer as she writes that, despite all the tantrums that he threw, she would “crawl under his sheets again. How often? One. Two. Three times?”
A sad part of the essay “Me and Dambudzo” is the period covered between 1985 and 1987 when the ‘slow sad music’ started tolling.
It was in April 1985, Flora writes, that she fell ill with some viral infection about which she would know the truth in two years that followed. In 1986, Marechera, whose health had begun declining, goes for testicular surgery at Montague Clinic, Harare. In 1987, his doctor reveals to Flora that Marechera has AIDS. She goes for her tests and finds out she is HIV-positive but does not disclose this to Marechera as she fears it would make him ‘feel guilty’.
In 1987, Marechera’s mother loses two her nine children (Marechera would be the third loss in the family in 1987 alone) and Marechera refuses to be at the funerals although he appears at them for a short period. And next he is in hospital.
With captivating language, Flora writes about the moment she spent beside Marechera’s deathbed, feeling like an intruder, “white in a black hospital, encroaching on a foreign culture at one of its most secretive moments”. Marechera dies in the early hours of August 18, 1987.
Flora, although grieved, would later learn that Marechera’s life unlocked many doors for her as it did for the new generation of writers and let her “peek into the marvelous world beyond.”
Irene Staunton and Hugh Lewin who had founded Baobab Books persuaded Flora to write the Marechera biography and edit his unpublished works. Although at first she did not like to do it, she “took on what was to become a deeply gratifying labor of love”. And Marechera paid her back as her research into his works launched her to a recognizable level of academic excellence.
Flora wasn’t a professor at the time she knew Marechera.
The short story “Lake Mcllwaine” is a fictionalized version of the three-day outing that Prof. Veit-Wild went on with Marechera to Lake Mcllwaine, now Lake Chivero, and it explodes with the hilarious, the sad, the serious, and the usual “anger’ that Marechera blurted at anyone whom he suddenly did not trust.
Prof. Veit-Wild is Professor of African Literatures and Cultures at Humboldt University in Berlin and after Marechera’s death she was part of the Dambudzo Marechera Trust which was set up in Zimbabwe to promote the publication of Marechera’s unpublished works and to encourage young writers.
The commemorative function on March 13 at the Zimbabwe-Germany Society and Flora’s two articles in Wasafiri are proof to the continuing inspiration of a legendary writer who “refused all shackles”.
Light and After, by Kobus Moolman
Deep South Publishers (Grahamstown: 2010)
Kobus Moolman’s Light and After is his fifth collection of poetry. Lyrically evocative and engaging, this collection reintroduces readers familiar with Moolman’s poetry to his confident lines, unique images, memorable language, and impressive narrative voice. In this collection Moolman uses a mixture of prose poems and short/lyric poems to explore themes that encompass public and private dimensions.
Divided into four sections, the book opens appropriately with “Moving,” a haunting poem that uses a collage of images and an observant narrative voice to unravel the mystery of what appears to be a dream. In this poem we are introduced to a new homeowner’s obsession with his new home and the promise that comes with owning a new home. This observation becomes clear to us as the speaker declares: “It was their new house/With all the lights on /Their shiny, new, empty house / With large rooms/ And that peculiar, slightly sinister, echo that all empty houses have / Houses that have not been domesticated yet” (10).
Cleary, the majority of the poems in Light and After share Moolman’s penchant for sensory images and colorful language. For example, the poem “Old Town” uses concrete images with strong visual effect to hold the reader’s attention:
Sky closed over
grey slate cold stone
brown hills black tar
rock buried beneath
Thin light cold hands
rusted old steel trees
stiff wind small birds
exploding leaves (22)
Several poems in this collection, including “Umfolozi,” “False Bay,” “Hunger” “Theft,” “Burial,” “Boy,” “That Day” and “Winter Dawn,” reveal the author’s reflections on ecological, social, political, and cultural issues relating to present day South Africa. The third section of the book, which is titled “Anatomy,” presents images that easily remind us of someone with disability. For example, the poem “The Foot (the other one)” reads “The other foot is stupid. / And small. /And not worth talking about”(51). This brief description is insightful and makes a reader think that if the poem directly addresses the condition of a person with disability, then it clearly shares with us the disappointment the person feels about his/her body part.
Overall, Light and After shares with readers the mind of a sensitive poet. Moolman is very meticulous in his choice of words. “Afterwards,” without a doubt my favorite section of the book, sums up my conclusion of this collection of poetry by Kobus Moolman: brilliant!
Reviewer Bio: Dike Okoro is a poet, short story writer, photographer, biographer, essayist and critic. He is the editor of Speaking for the Generations: Contemporary Short Stories from Africa (Trenton: AWP, 2010).
This resplendent collection of short stories by African writers does indeed roar. The breadth and depth of topic, style, perspective and powerful story telling found within the pages of this treasure trove is enough to make you emit a roar of your own: in appreciation, in agony, in mirth, and in sheer exuberance.
The story by the 2011 Caine Prize recipient, NoViolet Bulawayo, is powerfully evocative of a time and place in Zimbabwe’s history. Her unique use of language and imagery produces a story of a people buckling under economic hardship and political repression. She achieves all this on Main Street- ‘Adjusting her faded black push –up bra so she hold everything together, the police, the expectations, the boiling cars, the broken dreams, the falling dollar, the billions of worthless money, the queues- Jesus- Jesus-Jesus the queues.’
‘Lose Myself’, by Nigerian writer Peter Umez is a tale of love, commitment, temptation, and dilemma. The author does a fine job of creating a protagonist battling for principle over passion. Chukwudi finds himself breaking a vow of fidelity to his wife, a vow taken in order to prove that contrary to what she believes he was not a philanderer, like other men. In the aftermath, the predictable guilt and self loathing ensue.
Emmanuel Sigauke’s story is set in a village in Zimbabwe, where a young man who is convalescing from a mysterious illness is visited by a snake. He suddenly remembers, with the help of his brother’s wife, a prophecy that was made concerning snakes sent by witches intent on his destruction. The snakes portend evil and doom and Sigauke weaves traditional Shona mythology with modern beliefs embodied in the young man, and the result is an interesting story in which at times, the line between myth and reality is blurred.
‘Diner Ten’ is a stand-out story about a community of cockroaches whose lives begin and end in what they call diner ten. The story follows middle aged Radic through his regimented days as part of the community of roaches. Their lives are dominated by the necessity to avoid deadly encounters with human beings. Radic has become bored with his predictable and mechanical existence and he spends time pondering the nature of human beings and whether they see roaches the way his kind view them. He ponders too the meaning of his own existence and whether it is on any intrinsic value, given the fact that danger is always lurking close by and death as close as his own exoskeleton. The story is reminiscent of the 2007 Pixar animated movie Ratatouille directed by Brad bird and like the movie Ivor Hartman’s story is very entertaining and in parts, thought provoking.
Mbonisi P. Ncube’s story telling prowess is on full display in his heart rending story ‘Chanting Shadows’. Zimbabwe’s Land Reform program acquires a human face in this story and the complexity of the issue is not lost in the telling of this riveting tale. The character Mzala Joe is a, loyal, courageous friend who fights to the death for what he believes in, all the while under the watchful eye of young Jonasi. Both Mzala Joe and Jonasi are farm hands on a farm that is invaded by war veterans. The white farmer who owns farm is killed at the farmhouse and the laborers in the field come face to face with the war veterans in a corn field.
The hilariously funny story of a couple’s quest for water is set in housing complex in Accra, Ghana. Isaac Nequaaye’s descriptions of the thoughts and emotions that trying to get water evoke in both the husband and wife are vivid their detail and amusing in their accuracy. The frustration of this couple is palpable as they wait for their supplier to deliver the long promised water. Each is seething with anger at not being able to partake of the normal daily ablutions that require water, and each is holding the other responsible for their predicament.
This collection of stories is wonderful representation of talent from the African continent. Each of the fifteen writers tells their story with great skill, passion and convincing dialogue. Each story has its own distinct flavor. Each story will leave the reader changed. This, after all, is the effect of all great stories.
African Roar 2011 is available through the Kindle platform worldwide for nearly every eReader.
The two publishing houses that habe kept Zimbabwean fiction publishing afloat during the country’s hardest time, amaBooks of Bulawayo and Weaver Press of Zimbabwe are going to launch their new fiction anthologies in the next week. On September 19, Weaver Press is launching Writing Free, which features fifteen writers. This anthology is quite promising, given the cross section of writers featured (I am one of them, which makes it even more interesting, of course): Petina Gappah, NoViolet Bulawayo, Ignatius Mabasa, Blessing Musariri and others. Here is the book’s description:
Edited by Irene Staunton
“In this fifth anthology of Zimbabwean short stories from Weaver Press, fifteen writers respond to the topic of ‘writing free’, and offer their thoughts about how and why they wrote as they did. The stories reflect a wide variety of freedoms: from tyranny, from hunger, from abuse, from the shackles of tradition, and even from the traditional constraints of narrative convention.But there are cautionary tales, too. Political change may be liberating for the adults who suffered for it, but will their children share in the euphoria of new-found freedom? Will a departure from domestic poverty to the calm waters of the diaspora deliver all that was hoped for it? Is the grass always greener beyond the fence of a stifling marriage?
Zimbabwe has had more than its share of social and material deprivation in recent years, and people’s responses have taken many forms. Writing Free offers an engaging and kaleidoscopic sample of these, and in doing so gives an intimate portrait of a country in transition.”
On September 24, ‘amaBooks is launching “Where to Now?”, a collection of short stories. The book is scheduled to be published next year by Partheon in the UK. Here is a description of the book: “Within the pages of the book you will meet the prostitute who gets the better of her brothers when they try to marry her off, the wife who is absolved of the charge of adultery, the hero who drowns in a bowser of cheap beer and the poetry slammer who does not get to perform his final poem. And many more.”
This book introduces many new writers, some of whom are very promising; we also have the more famous names in there like NoViolet Bulawayo, Novuyo Rosa Tshuma, and others. A book worth reading over and over again.
In this interview, I chat with Na’ima B. Robert, author of the new novel ‘Far from Home’, which I just finished reading. It is a novel about growing up, family, Zimbabwean colonial and post colonial history which chronicles the pains of land dispossession and loss of home.Some of the central issues of the novels are captured in the following description, given at the author website:
“Katie and Tariro are two girls linked by a terrible secret, grappling with the complexities of adolescence, family and a painful colonial legacy as their lives play out against the tragic history of the land in Zimbabwe….Atmospheric, gripping and epic in scope, Far from Home brings the turbulent history of Zimbabwe to vivid, tangible life, challenging the reader to see it with new eyes.”
Emmanuel Sigauke: First, congratulations on the publication of ‘Far from Home’. What prompted you to tackle the controversial (and topical) land issue in Zimbabwe in this novel about family and growing up?
Na’ima Robert: For some time, I had been angered by what I considered biased reporting of the land reform programme by the BBC. There was no mention of the history of land ownership in Zimbabwe, a crucial factor that has influenced politics in that region since the late 1800s. I wanted to highlight that history in a way that would cast a slightly different, more nuanced light on the recent reforms and the continuing debate in the region. I can’t write unless I feel strongly about a particular issue – and this issue spoke to me on many different levels: as someone who grew up in Zimbabwe, as an African and as a minority writer trying to contribute something new to the literary landscape.
ES: What influenced you to depict the lives or struggles of two girls growing up in different circumstances, Katie and Tariro? What was the purpose of portraying these two stories side by side?
NR: I really wanted to highlight the parallels in the two girls’ circumstances and play with the imagery of black and white, past and present. I wanted to make the link between the incidents that got so much media attention a few years ago and what took place decades ago, and on a much wider scale.
I would never have written Katie’s story on its own as that is a story that has now been told many, many times. But I did consider concentrating on Tariro’s and going into even more detail about her experiences up to 1980. In the end, I decided to keep that for a future novel.
ES: You are right; it seems that most memoirs coming out of Zimbabwe have represented Katie’s perspective and not Tariro’s. In other words, there are many memoirs by white Zimbabweans published in the Western world, than there are those by black Zimbabweans. What could be contributing to this discrepancy?
NR: I think the political situation in Zimbabwe is an extremely emotive one and that much of the Western media has picked sides in the debate over land. Obviously, what happens in Zimabwe – whether we rise or fall – will affect other countries in the region that are wrestling with their own land ownership issues. So the media’s focus has been on portraying the land reform programme as a failure, on Zimbabwe as a failed state, Mugabe as an evil dictator, the MDC as the saviours, the caricatures continue. The truth is a lot more complex than that – just read Ian Scoones’ work! In terms of literature, we have seen a number of black Zimbabwean writers gain recognition in the last few years, which is fantastic. However, I have not come across any literature, published in the west, that goes against the accepted version of Zimbabwe’s recent history. Perhaps there is a fear that western audiences will not respond well to such an approach or that it will be difficult to secure a publishing deal with anything that seems to contradict the received wisdom about our political situation. In terms of importance, I think it is absolutely crucial for a variety of voices to be heard, both for the benefit of those who are interested in our country and its history and for us to be able to better understand our country and what has shaped it, what is continuing to shape it. We may not agree with each other’s views, but they are our views and experiences nonetheless – the culture of the dominant narrative devalues and marginalises others’ experiences. In the case of Zimbabwe, there are differences along racial, cultural, social and political lines – if we are to survive as a pluralistic, tolerant nation, we must be able to weave a coherent national narrative, a common ground, a shared history, in light of these differences.
ES: What challenges did you experience in depicting the lives of these two different girls? Which one was easier to write about?
NR: Once I had done the necessary research, Tariro’s story just flowed. She grew on me as a character, almost instantly. For some reason, I felt a strong connection with her, with her lifestyle and her hopes and dreams. She was a wonderful character to write. I got her.
Katie, on the other hand, was a challenge. I think that this is mainly due to the fact that I grew up with an antipathy towards ‘Rhodies’ and it was very difficult for me to get past that and do justice to her story. I believe I did manage to, in the end. Having said that, there were many aspects of her life and family that I found more relatable because I didn’t grow up in a traditional Shona family – her feelings towards her father and mother are, for me, closer to what I know than Tariro’s, for example. But once I got into Katie’s character, it became easier to tell her side of the story. One of my early critics said that she felt that I found my voice through Katie but I’m not sure whether that is true. I think different readers will respond to the characters in different ways, depending on their own backgrounds, their own values and whichever one ‘speaks’ to them.
ES: For me, Tariro’s world was more familiar, relatable. It represented the rural landscape I grew up in, punctuated with its massive baobab trees, its happy moments and little dramas. Reading the Tariro story then, I was happy to encounter the familiar, and appreciated the research you did to render the enthnographic details realistically. One question I have though is that didn’t this section feel a bit romanticized for you, idealistic in places? Or was your intention to give the kind of life lived by Tariro’s people a little more dignity?
NR: You’ve definitely picked up on something there: I believe that, as a writer, you are responsible for how your material is presented as different forms of presentation will elicit different responses in the reader. Through the use of tone, language, imagery, we writers have the power to influence the reader and persuade him or her to see things the way we want them to. It could just be the difference between saying ‘Nhamo roared like a wounded lion’ or ‘Nhamo roared like a savage beast.’ The two have different connotations. Unfortunately, growing up in a post-colonial society has made me sensitive to how we as Africans are portrayed, both historically and in the present day, and so this will affect my own word use, or even characterisation. Some may argue that this is self-censorship but I believe that I have a responsibility as a writer not to further an agenda I don’t subscribe to, to take ownership of the messages in my books.
ES: You used the Shona proverb ‘Mwana washe muranda kumwe’ (A prince is a slave when from his kingdom) as an epigraph of the novel. Can you explain it in the context of the events in ‘Far from Home’?
NR: One of the recurring themes of the book and, indeed, our history as Zimbabweans, black and white, is the loss that is incurred when one’s home is taken away or left behind. The loss of security, of identity, is often more painful than the loss of the physical home itself, property etc. Both Tariro and Katie feel this sense of loss acutely and it reminds me of the white Zimbabweans who fled the country at independence and settled in the UK and Australia – they were known as ‘When-wes’, as in, ‘When we were in Zimbabwe, we had a maid, a cook, a tennis court etc…’ because their standard of living, their prospects, their sense of self all suffered as a result of that move. Similarly, many black Zimbabweans have to counter racism and unemployment when they go to work abroad – the indignity of being treated like an immigrant scrounger, like someone with no history, with nothing to offer, is a heavy price to pay for living and working ‘far from home’. Petina Gappah’s short story, ‘My cousin-sister Rambanai’ reminds me of this proverb too. We have all heard the stories of Zimbabweans leaving the country to go to the UK to wipe old people’s bottoms – that is a real-life illustration of this proverb. More worryingly, we are encountering these threats and indignities ever closer to our borders as the latest xenophobic attacks in South Africa illustrate.
ES: The novel makes great use of historical facts. How much research did you do for this novel? How far back did you go in your historical inquiries?
NR: I was able to pull on a lot of different sources for the book: my own memories, what I had learned in history lessons at school, speaking to people, reading novels, reading academic papers. It was important for me to anchor the story in a historical period and, for that, you need to get to know the period intimately. That proved quite a challenge as I didn’t have access to a library full of books – and online resources were thin on the ground, particularly regarding the more personal details. That was where novels and memoirs helped: I read Chenjerai Hove, Shimmer Chinodya, Tsitsi Dangarembwa, Alexandra Fuller and Doris Lessing. I also had a handbook of Shona traditions and found a delightful research paper (dating back decades!) on Shona proverbs and idioms. I really enjoyed that foray into Shona culture, something I never had the chance to do while I lived in Zimbabwe.
The hardest part to research was the era of ‘freedom ploughing’ – I couldn’t find any secondary sources for it whatsoever! I was limited to YouTube when it came to video so I had to be content with watching snippets of Neria and BBC documentaries.
ES: Once you had done adequate research for your novel, how often did you find yourself departing from the factual to the imaginative? Was there a time when once the story took off, you didn’t have to keep returning to the researched material?
NR: Once I had done my initial research, it was the personal relationships that moved the story. Reading this interview might give the impression that the book is a tract about land ownership but I think you will agree that it is a very personal story about families caught up in the throes of political turbulence and how that affects them individually. Those personal relationships, particularly the romance between Tariro and Nhamo and the relationship Tariro has with her mother, were where I felt free to imagine and craft a story that was moving and heartfelt. I cried while writing certain parts of Tariro’s story – while writing the words! Ufunge! That has never happened to me!
ES: This is always my favourite question: Are you an African writer? What does it mean to be an African (or any other) writer?
NR: I’d be happy to be considered an ‘African writer’, merely because so many writers I admire are themselves African writers. But to adopt that label would be somewhat disingenuous. Like most people, my identity, both as an individual and as an artist, is more complex than that. If I claim the title of ‘African writer’, I must then also be a ‘Muslim writer’, a ‘black writer’, a ‘multicultural writer’ because all of these identities have informed my work thus far. And that is the essence of the label, isn’t it? That the consciousness that informs the book has been shaped by that particular experience. And since ‘Far from Home’ is totally inspired by my roots in Zimbabwe, by my experience and consciousness as an African, for this book at least, I am proud to be called an ‘African writer’!
ES: So does the label depend on context? Are there ever benefits in being labelled this or that writer? Or is a writer just a writer not matter what labels the readers will have for her? I ask this because, as you know, it’s been a hot issue in Africa, writers seemingly rejecting the African writer label, or accepting it in, as Ikhide Ikheloa—an Nigerian critic—has pointed out, convenient circumstances, such as African writer conferences and residences.
NR: Well, as someone who started out as a ‘Muslim writer’ and is now flirting with the ‘African writer’ label, I think that what happens is that, after achieving a measure of success amongst your peers (be they African, Muslim, Arab or whatever), you start to feel like a big fish in a small pond. You may want to spread your wings, or target a new readership or simply prove (to yourself and others) that you can make it in the big pond. And then, if you are recognised by the fish in the bigger pond (the West, the mainstream, whatever you want to call it), you are then keen not be pigeon-holed and labelled as ‘that fish from that pond’ because you are trying to grow past that. If I think about it, to be labelled or call yourself an ‘African writer’ means that your ‘Africanness’ informs your work in some way – whether it is your choice of stories, your language, your characters or your consciousness. And I mean this in an authentic African sense, not a clichéd version of Africa held by outsiders or foreign ‘experts’. Incidentally, I love the way Chimamanda Adichie describes this in her Ted Talk, ‘The Danger of the Single Story’. Now, can a black African writer of romance stories set in New York with an all-American, all-white cast be considered an ‘African writer’? Probably not, I’d say – but the question is not whether you are ‘African enough’, it is whether you writing is good enough, at the end of the day.
ES: What is the significance of your title, “Far from Home”?
NR: So many things! There is nostalgia there, a palpable yearning for what was and what perhaps can never be again, on the part of the characters, for me personally and, I suspect, many Zimbabweans who may read the book, especially those in the diaspora. And of course, it relates to the theme of the novel: what home means to different people, whether a home can be regained once it is lost, how one goes about finding a new home, be it in the Tribal Trust Lands or in a London tower block.
ES: A lot of those in the diaspora become permanent residents or citizens of their host countries; can they achieve a state of being “near home” in this regard? Isn’t an interesting feature of our new global order the ability to transform our views on home, place, belonging? Or are we, as long as we are away from the old home, always far from home?
NR: Well, as someone whose parents settled ‘far from home’ due to apartheid laws against mixed marriages, who moved to the UK to study, became a Muslim, married a London-bred Ghanain and currently reside in Egypt, the whole issue of ‘home’ is an emotive one for me. I do long for simpler times when you were born into a culture and grew up in, married and raised your children pretty much in that culture – just for the certainty, the continuity, the sense of rootedness. However, this is no longer a feasible reality so I have set my sights on making my home wherever my family is and wherever we feel a connection and a sense of belonging. That will probably mean that I will call about 4 countries ‘home’ but I’m hoping that will only enrich me and my children – and provide more fodder for writing and probably some more labels along the way.
I have also found that longing for the past, for the ‘original’ home, is often best cured by actually going back there: you will either love it and resolve to return, permanently, as soon as is feasible, or you will find that you have both grown and changed in ways you could not have imagined and that, really, you now have your feet in two homes. And then you just have to work that however you can.
ES: A very important question a reader may ask after reading ‘Far from Home’ is: To whom does land in Zimbabwe belong? And as far as land is concerned, what does ownership mean?
NR: We could ask that question about every country that has ever been colonised: who owns the land that the Native Americans once called their own, or the Maori, or the Aborigines? One of the reasons I wrote the book was to encourage people to ask that self-same question. In the case of Zimbabwe, the received wisdom in the West is that the land belonged to the ‘legal owners’, the commercial farmers. The idea that that ownership should be called into question has not been fully explored. I hope that readers will ask themselves that question and reach their own conclusions after reading the book and seeking information from more sources. Your comment about the Bantu not being the original inhabitants of the land only makes the issue more
ES: The Tariro section of the novel shows a deeper connection with nature, a more organic kind of relationship in which the humans’ lives are part of the environment. Even Tariro herself is described as the “baobab’s daughter.” Was this a statement on how the relationship with the land is conceived in the different phases and experiences depicted in the novel?
NR: Even I was taken aback by how different the two girls’ voices were. On a cultural level, an emotional level, even a linguistic level, these two 14 year olds are totally different. Tariro is, as you say, quite literally, the ‘baobab’s daughter’ and I think her section exhibits the organic, almost spiritual connection with the land that was at the heart of her society. That connection is palpably different to the relationship the commercial farmer has to the land. Katie loves the land too, but it is not a fundamental part of who she is. She does not work it with her own hands, doesn’t grow the food that she eats, and she leaves it to go to boarding school. There is a barrier there, a physical disconnection. The land is special to her for what it represents: her family home, security, memories, rather than because it has intrinsic worth.
ES: To the Zimbabweans (both white and black), covered in your novel, reconciliation, or a clear sense of forgiveness or togetherness seems only possible when the principal characters meet in the UK, far away from home. Is this displacement, or alienation from home the only hope for redemption for the characters? What is the special message in this way of resolving the story?
The novel ends on a note of optimism, the possibility of rebuilding Zimbabwe with open hearts and cooperation, “willing hands”. How long do you think such dreams of rebuilding will be realized?
NR: In order for Katie to truly hear Tariro and appreciate her story, she had to grow as a character, as an individual. She could not have done that had she remained in Zimbabwe, sharing her parents’ paradigm. Her growth was crucial and, really, she had to be broken before she could be fixed again, just as Tawona says at the end of the novel. Tariro too has no knowledge of her own strength until she loses everything and has to fight to make her way to the other side of her pain, anger and humiliation.
Indeed, many of us who leave our homelands find that we achieve a greater sense of clarity about who we are – and who we are not – when we step out of that context. Of course, this clarity comes at a great price but, sometimes, that price is a necessary downpayment on a stronger, clearer sense of identity.
In the final analysis, great change does not come without pain, without loss and, unfortunately, the post-independence land situation in Zimbabwe was untenable. It was unjust to the vast majority, to the landless poor. Their issues had to be addressed. Obviously, a combination of factors led them to being addressed in a way that almost brought the country to its knees but, if we look at history, we see that this is part of a historical pattern. Bastille Day in France is, after all, a celebration of a royal massacre. I do not say this to minimise in any way the suffering of the Zimbabwean people but we may find that, with the passage of time, with a more honest discourse, the story of Zimbabwe will not be viewed as the great African tragedy, but as a process, as a journey, one that will, I hope, see us living the dream that Tawona articulates: that we join hands as Zimbabweans, regardless of race, ethnicity or creed, to rebuild our country in an even better, more just image than before. ‘Pie in the sky!’, my father said, but I am an eternal optimist so I had to hold to that hope at the end of the book. Tawona’s vision is an articulation of my own.
ES: Most of the white Zimbabweans in the novel never really consider themselves Zimbabwean. How has such a choice contributed to the chaotic land reform and politics in the country?
NR: When I was doing my research for Katie’s side of the story, I came across an interesting and very apt description of two types of white Zimbabweans: Rhodies and Zimbos. According to this description, Rhodies are white Zimbabweans who either consider themselves still Rhodesian or think of pre-independence as the country’s golden era and never embraced Zimbabwe, as a country, as a culture. When Katie describes her world, it is a world totally divorced from the world of other non-white Zimbabweans, as you will find in many white Zimbabwean memoirs. My introduction to this world was through Alexandra Fuller’s breathtakingly honest memoir, ‘Don’t let’s go to the dogs tonight’. If anyone wants to know the Rhodie mentality laid bare, in its rawest form, they need to read that book.
On the other hand, there is Uncle James – he is a Zimbo. According to the article I mentioned previously, a Zimbo is a white person who embraces the concept of a post-independence Zimbabwe. A Zimbo is usually comfortable with all sorts of people; race is not an issue. He or she will integrate, maybe speak Shona or Ndebele, maybe have a relationship with a black Zimbabwean – but the key difference here is a sense of belonging and respect for the country and its people.
The Zimbabwe I grew up in was still divided along colour lines and I think that this was largely due to the legacy of colonialism and racism that many Zimbabweans would not or could not free themselves from. This meant that there was a very ‘us against them’ mentality when the land issue came to a head. It was easy to paint the picture of the whites as ‘settlers’ because they lived very much as they had done before independence, apart from the rest of the population.
ES: In your dialogue, you embrace the use of Shona, for which you provide translations in parenthesis. Why did you choose not to offer only the translated versions of the dialogue; or, why did you just not leave the Shona untranslated, and maybe provided hints to the reader to figure the meaning out of the context? Is thi an audience issue, or is it a way of capturing the flavour of the original language, while offering a translation?
NR: The use of Shona was crucial to Tariro’s section as distinct from Katie’s English narrative. In addition, Tariro and her family would have all spoken Shona anyway and I always like for readers to get a feel for the language of the narrator and its rhythms. On the other hand, I expected that a lot of non-Zimbabweans would read the book and I was wary of the language being a stumbling block for them. Oh, and my editor insisted on the translations in parentheses.
ES: What other works have you written, and what are you working on currently? Which works has satisfied you the most?
NR: After writing several multicultural children’s books, I wrote a book about my journey to Islam and the (true) lives of Muslim women in the west (‘From my sisters’ lips’). Next up was my first novel for teens, about a Somali girl who has to come to terms with big changes when her father comes to live with them after being missing in Somalia (‘From Somalia, with love’). Then my next teen novel was entitled ‘Boy vs. Girl’ and looks at the pressures facing a twin brother and sister of Pakistani origin, including family expectations, religion, culture, gangs, illicit romances and Mini Cooper-driving niqabi (woman who wears the veil).
In addition to cooking up ideas for a follow-up to Far from Home, I am currently working on a novel about a young African-Caribbean couple from opposite sides of the tracks – a bit like a black Westside Story with a conscious urban edge to it. It is due for release in Black History Month (UK) 2012 – so maybe this time I will be billed as a ‘Black British writer’ I know it’s cheeky but when you are as multicultural as I am, you become accustomed to wearing different hats – simply because is not enough.
Na’ima B Robert is a published author and magazine publisher. Her books include the popular ‘From my sisters’ lips’, and teen novels, ‘From Somalia, with love’ and ‘Boy vs. Girl’. She is founder and Editor-in-Chief of SISTERS, a magazine for Muslim women. Na’ima has also been published in The Times, The Observer and The Muslim Weekly as well as several online publications.
Na’ima defines herself as ‘Muslim, Black, mixed-race, Southern African, Western, revert and woman all in one’. Descended from Scottish Highlanders on her father’s side and the Zulu people on her mother’s side, she was born in Leeds and grew up in Zimbabwe. She went on to gain a first-class degree from the University of London and began writing when her first child was a toddler. Na’ima has written several award-winning children’s books. Her frank and honest autobiographical celebration her adopted Muslim faith, ‘From my sisters’ lips’ was published by Transworld Publishers to much acclaim. Na’ima then published two teen novels, ‘From Somalia, with love’ and ‘Boy vs. Girl’ with Frances Lincoln. Her third novel, ‘Far from home’ is a crossover YA/adult novel, set in Zimbabwe.
Beatrice Lamwaka was recently shortlisted for the 2011 Caine Prize for African Writing. She was born in Gulu in northern Uganda, and now lives in Kampala, Uganda, where she works as a journalist and is currently studying Human Rights at Makarere University. She is working on a story collection called The Garden of Mushrooms.
Let me start by congratulating you for your story being featured on Stories on Stage, and for being on the shortlist for the 2011 Caine Prize. How do you feel about this recognition of your work?
Many thanks Emmanuel. I am just a girl from Alokolum, Gulu happy to know that my voice can be heard in places that I may never reach. I am excited that my voice keeps traveling further and further away from home. My writing performed to an audience that appreciates African literature gives me the confidence to keep writing because this is beyond what I had dreamt of as a writer. I hope that more of my work will travel further and further.
Your short stories have been anthologized in different publications, such as Speaking for the Generations (USA), and New Writing from Africa 2009, selected by J.M. Coetzee. Your shortlisted story is also appearing in To See the Mountain and Other Stories compiled by The Caine Prize for African Writing 2011. These publications show a significant contribution to African literature, and to writing in general. Do you believe your work is contributing to something larger than you had anticipated? What effect has the publication of your work in these important anthologies had on your writing career?
However hard I try to stretch my mind, I could never imagine that this year my short story would be performed in Sacramento or be shortlisted for the Caine Prize. The publications give me the confidence that I can make a contribution in Ugandan (African) literature.
In the Stories on Stage series, the stories are read by professional actors. What do you think is the importance of a process like this to the writer? Have you ever read your stories in front of an audience?
It brings to life what I have created and it sort of makes me feel like a god…creating something which is real. I am happy to know that my story lives without me. And that is what I want from my work. Yes, I have read my work to an audience before: Le Chateau de Lavigny in Switzerland; Nairobi, Kenya; and around Uganda.
Tell us a little about yourself as a writer. When did you start believing you were a writer? Who were your influences?
I have always wanted to write, but I seriously started to believe that I could contribute greatly to Ugandan literature around mid 2008 when I tuned myself to write, write, and look for opportunities to get my stories published, and that is why I am in different anthologies in various countries. I went ahead and founded a book club that focuses on contemporary African writers, which also gave birth to the writing club. Most of the stories that I sent out have been read by the club. I read a lot of contemporary African writers like Brian Chikwava, Chimamanda Adichie, Segun Afolabi, and Goretti Kyomuhendo and they motivate me to write.
In what ways has your background as a journalist helped or hindered your creative writing?
My background as a journalist diversifies and amplifies the issues that I strongly feel that I should write about. If I can’t voice a story as a creative work then I write articles.
Most of your stories deal with war. Why this preoccupation with war? What other issues have you explored, or wish to explore, in your writing?
I grew up in northern Uganda, which was savaged by two decades of armed conflict. This has greatly impacted my life and it is one that issues I find myself ‘easily’ writing about. My home became an IDP camp and it is one of the issues that crop up unconsciously or consciously in my writing because every time I go home it is a different experience. I have written about HIV/AIDS, university experiences, etc.
What inspired the story selected for Stories on Stage, “The Queen of Tobacco?”
I eavesdropped on a story as someone narrated it to a friend, about a woman who went out in the middle of the night to get cigarette from whoever was smoking. As soon as I heard the story, I knew that I had to write it, although I didn’t write the story right away but it played in my mind so many times and when I sat down to write it. In one sitting the story had come to life, and then I emailed it Thomas J. Hubschman, editor at Gowanus Books, who accepted it for publication in summer of 2002. It is one of my favorite stories. This was my second story to get published and the first to get published outside of Uganda.
What is the state of creative writing in Uganda? What direction is African literature in general taking?
Many Ugandans are writing, although most of the publishers focus on textbooks, so that many writers are getting published outside of the country, hence robbing the people of the chance to read such work. The establishment of writers associations like FEMRITE, Uganda Women Writers Association, and Kwani (Kenya) are encouraging young, vibrant writers who are exploding into the writing arena.
What do you think of the readership of African literature?
In Africa, many people enjoy reading what they relate with. And there is a big thirst for African literature outside of Africa, and this is a huge compensation for the high percentage of those that do not read in Africa.
In what ways has the internet affected African writing?
Internet has opened doors to the world that were otherwise closed to most writers. Our work can reach further than we anticipated.
What other words would you want to share with the lively audience of Sacramento’s Stories on Stage?
Thank you very much for listening to my story. There are a lot more stories where “Queen of Tobacco” came from. I hope that you will enjoy my story.
Originally published by Stories on Stage Sacramento