Barbara Mhangami-Ruwende Reviews “African Roar 2011”

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.

New Novel focuses on the Zimbabwe Land Issue

I have started reading Na’ima B. Robert’s Far from Home, which focuses on two types land reforms or seisures in Zimbabwe. From the moment I heard about this book, I liked its premise and have been looking forward to reading. I have begun, and so I far I am drawned to the background, cultural details the author is giving, a familiar, relatable story, heightening that that nostalgic feeling in me. I will talk some more about the novel itself once I am done reading, but for now, here is some product information straight from the press release.


Exploring the untold history of Zimbabwe’s land reforms, Far from Home tells the story of Katie and Tariro, 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.

14-year-old Tariro is a daughter of the soil: she loves the land, the baobab tree she was born beneath, her family – and brave, handsome Nhamo. She couldn’t be happier. But then the white settlers arrive, and everything changes – suddenly, violently – robbing Tariro of all that she loves.

Forty years later, 14-year-old Katie adores her doting father, her exclusive boarding school, and her farm with its baobab tree in rural Zimbabwe. Life is great. Until the land acquisition programme forces the family off the land and to cold, rainy London.

Atmospheric and epic in scope, Far from Home brings the turbulent history of Zimbabwe to vivid, tangible life, challenging the reader to view it with new eyes.

Na’ima B Robert, born Thando Nomhle McLaren, is descended from Scottish Highlanders on her father’s side and the Zulu people on her mother’s side. She was brought up in Harare, Zimbabwe, and graduated from the University of London. Her books include the popular ‘From my sisters’ lips’, and teen novels, ‘From Somalia, with love’ and ‘Boy vs. Girl’. Na’ima has also been published in The Times, The Observer and The Muslim Weekly as well as several online publications, including AfricaBe.com. She is married to a Ghanaian and has four children.

Interview: Mirirai Moyo, Award-winning Zimbabwean Writer

Mirirai Moyo, a promising emerging writer from Zimbabwe, is one of the winners of the 2010 Golden Baobab Award, which features African stories for children anywhere. Moyo is not new to awards. In 1996, she was the Harare Region Winner for the Randalls National Essay Competition. Her short stories have featured in The Sunday Mail, Fascinating Tales and Parade as well as Drum Magazine’s fiction segment. Her radio play, Belonging, was awarded Honourable Mention in the BBC African Performance 2008 and published in Rory Kilalea’s collection In the Continuum and Other Plays (Weaver Press). What I find fascinating so far is how Mirirai Moyo features animal characters in her stories to deal with the realistic issues that concern humans. As the interview below shows, Moyo appreciates the power of the traditional story-telling tradition, but she puts a new twist to her story-telling to address contemporary issues affecting humans everywhere.

I got in touch with her and she agreed to do this brief interview. Enjoy.

1. What does winning the Golden Baobab Prize mean to your career?
I want to believe that this will be the beginning of more (I’ve had a few already) beautiful things/ experiences for me as a writer such as- naturally- being read more. And the recognition I’ve been given encourages me to keep at it (telling my stories).

2. Your bio shows that you are from Mberengwa. How has your home influenced your writing?
While I am from Mberengwa (was born there) I was raised a city girl, doing my growing up in the various areas in Harare we moved to as a family. The moving between ‘homes’ influences me more as writer rather than having stayed in any one specific place.

3.Who are your writing influences?
I find it extremely difficult to speak of influences because as an avid reader, titles and writers have flitted through my life depending on the phase (I’ve been in).

4.I listened to the BBC recording of your play “Belonging” and I was moved. What influenced your decision to use animal characters in your writing?
Thank you for the compliment on Belonging. I’m glad you liked it. Animals just seem to make for more flexible story telling; they make for delightful metaphors- something our ancestors discovered way back in the Stone Age… Animal characters give me room to be adventurous in exploring issues of interest with a twist.

5. What is your award-winning short story, Diki, the Little Earthworm about? What inspired it?
‘Diki: The Little Earthworm’ is a feel-good narrative, promoting self-acceptance and self -love. The story aspires to impart a lesson in the importance of self-belief. What better protagonist for this moral than an earthworm, one of the simplest but nonetheless essential of creatures in the universe?

Every child needs to learn from early on that it is okay to be different (in all the ways that we will be different) and that even when you are different, you are still special… and when others are different, they are special.

The idea is built on the premise that a child’s sense of self-worth determines his/her interactions within the community. A healthy sense of self-worth ultimately enhances sound and responsible personal and social habits. And every society needs well-grounded and open-minded leaders of tomorrow.

6.What do you think of the state of Zimbabwean writing?
My greatest lament is the Zimbabwe government could and should be doing a whole lot more to improve the state of writing in Zimbabwe. Too many stories are going unseen, unread, unheard. The government seems to have a strong bias towards investing in sports. How many hundreds of thousands of US dollars did they throw at hosting Brazil on the eve of the World Cup again? My point exactly!

Interview: Bryony Rheam Calls on Zimbabwean Authors to Move Away from “Overtly Political” Subjects

I recently finished reading Bryony Rheam’s novel This September Sun and the author agreed to answer a few interview questions. At the end of this very enlightening interview on her craft and influences, Bryony calls on suggests that writers expand their creative horizons and embrace genres that move beyond the “overtly political”. Below is the intervew.

1. I just finished reading This September Sun and I enjoyed it a lot. You created an impressive character in Ellie. I also now know that the book is not autobiographical, but what inspired Ellie?

Although the novel is not an autobiography, it is autobiographical in many ways. I am very much like Ellie and there are parallels in the events in our lives. I don’t see her as myself though – she is a character in her own right.

2. I love the first sentence of this novel, but this question is about the ending. Is it reasonable for Ellie to expect to go back to Zimbabwe and find Tony waiting for her after all these years? Was it just a momentary epiphany, or a sudden realization that there could actually be alternatives to how she had thought she could dream? Or does it really matter what she returns to as long as she returns with a sense of hope?

The ending of the novel appears to be a ‘happily-ever-after’ one, but the more you think about it, the more you begin to wonder if this isn’t another of Ellie’s dreams – like her one of going to live in the UK. Will Tony be waiting for her or will he have met someone else? That’s up to the reader to decide. However, although Ellie is an idealist who will probably encounter many problems and frustrations on her return to Zimbabwe, the most important thing is that she is going back to Zimbabwe with a sense of starting over rather than dwelling in the past.

3. Readers of my age seem to connect with Ellie in that she speaks for our times. But how important was it to make her ignore the war? If she was six at independence, was she too young to be bothered about the vagaries of war? I know I wasn’t too young not to remember, but then I was in an area that continued to see the signs of war four or five years into the eighties. In other words, was the war as irrelevant as Ellie seems to imply?

I don’t think that Ellie sees the war as irrelevant; after all, it had such an impact on her family. What she despairs of is the tendency of the older generation to almost wallow in its pain and therefore refuse to move on. It’s a time in Zimbabwe’s histrory that people seem to have to constantly return to, whether they be politicians, writers or the average person on the street. That’s all very well, but what about now?

4. I know you have pointed out that this novel is a mystery/romance. But I think it turned out to be literary too. Do you care about it being considered literary? Or are those genre distinctions even necessary?

I am sure there are many ways in which the novel may be considered literary. I have actually discovered a number of things that may be considered symbolic, but that wasn’t my intention when I wrote the book. T.S. Eliot believed that the author’s intention wasn’t as important as the reader’s response and I go along with that. I’m glad that it can just be read as a mystery/romance because it means it appeals to a wider audience than a purely literary work would.

5. You have already been compared with Doris Lessing and because of that, I couldn’t help but look for traces of the The Grass is Singing. Is this a fair comparison?

I have great respect and admiration for Doris Lessing and yes, I think it is fair to say that her writing has influenced me a lot. I remember sitting in almost trance like state after finishing the last page of The Grass is Singing!

6. Which writers have influenced your writing? How many of these are Zimbabwean, or is this even relevant?

There are three books which I could read over and over again. They are The End of the Affair by Graham Greene (I consulted this book many times when writing Evelyn’s diaries), Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf (I love the attention to the smallest detail) and Reef by Romesh Gunesekera, a Sri Lankan writer (politics are so much in the background here, they are almost non-existant, yet somehow you manage to feel its effects in the lives of the characters). Funnily enough, I haven’t always liked other books by these writers.

7. There is always debate about whether one is or is not an African writer, and often, the debates are fraught with misunderstandings, leading to unnecessary controversy. Do you consider yourself an African writer? And what does this mean to you?

This is one debate that will go on for eternity! I think I’d just like to call myself a writer actually. I don’t see any need to be anything in particular, even if I do live in Africa.

8.There are some subtle metafictional elements to This September Sun (which I enjoyed, by way). How important was it for you to present Ellie as a writer? As I read the story, I enjoyed being aware that it was being written as I read.

I feel writing is a way of making sense of your life. Why, for instance, do people keep diaries? Both Evelyn and Ellie use writing for a number of reasons. One, as I said, is to make sense of their realities; another is to record it – both women want to be ‘heard’ by someone: Evelyn uses to diaries as a confessional and eventually leaves them to Ellie because she wants them to be read. Ellie feels constantly overlooked and therefore demands that the reader listen to her. However, as with all first person narratives, how far are they to be trusted? At times we see an incident from two different points of view, such as the time when Evelyn and Ellie visit Miles’s house. Which is the truth?

9. I read somewhere that you studied literature in college. How has this influenced your writing? You are also a teacher. Do you believe, as Achebe, that a writer is like a teacher?

Studying literature at university definitely influenced me a number of ways. I had to read a large number of books that I would never have chosen to read for a start! I also became much more aware of how vulnerable the writer is and how you have to constantly think about how your writing may be criticised, both positively and negatively – but this shouldn’t stop you writing. The biggest drawback about studying literature is that you always want to look deeper into something and I really resented the way some of my favourite texts were almost carved up and dissected. I got to the point where I just wanted to read for reading sake and to be entertained, but I don’t think you can ever do that again after studying literature! I did get frustrated when studying post-colonial litertaure because I felt that many of the white characters in much of the writing weren’t ‘real’. They tended to be limited to the District Commissioner or a policeman. Issues of identity and belonging were never seen as ‘white’ problems. I used to argue quite a lot during turorials, but I never really felt that I got the others to listen to me. I think everyone was too busy being politically correct! As for a writer being a teacher, I would hate to be didactic in my work, but I do think you can prompt the reader to look at a situation differently. How many times have you heard someone say, ‘this book changed my life’? Books can have a huge impact on people.

10. Your novel has been hailed as the first one in Zimbabwe to educate readers about the white world in Zimbabwe in the 80’s. I don’t know how true this is, but having studied Zimbabwean literature at the University in Harare, I was well aware of the absence of white Zimbabwean literary works on the syllabus. Do you think the makers of the curriculum deliberately left out these works, or the works were not being written.

I don’t think there have been many literary novels by white Zimbabweans. In fact, I can only think of Doris Lessing and possibly John Eppel. However, I do think that will change.

11. What aspects of This September Sun were difficult to write. I imagine coming up with those letters and keeping them in the same voice may have been time consuming, yet they sound so natural, so believable. Was this difficult to do?

Yes, it was very difficult to ‘be’ Evelyn. Sometimes I thought she sounded too old-fashioned, like a character out of a Jane Austen novel. I also struggled to find her a place within England. Should she posh, upper-class or working class. I needed her to have a ‘neutral’ accent, because I would have found doing a broad Yorkshire accent or something similar very difficult! I had to be aware of the words I used in case certain expressions weren’t in use in the 1940s and also be aware of the era in general – what did women do and what didn’t they do? Getting the historical bits right meant a bit of research, but I enjoyed that.

12. What do you think of the future of Zimbabwean literature?

I think writers need to start to move away from the political, at least the overtly political. We need to write love stories and thrillers and mysteries, otherwise we will continue to go over the same ground.

The Eso Won Bookstore Reading and “African Roar” Launch

They came to support, they some bought books, and they engaged us in dialogue. Part of the audience at Eso Won Bookstore Reading and “African Roar” Launch, Los Angeles.

Copies of African Roar in a special display for the event.

This is going to be a long post, full of pictures and reflections. I will be publishing each update as I go, but this may take days to complete.

The reading at Eso Won Books in Los Angeles was a success. Bill Roper and Joseph Mitchell rendered a moving performance, which fit in well with our readings, as if we had researsed. I liked the connection, which led to a performance that kept the audience spellpound, but of course, I can’t speak for the attendees; only they know how the experience was to them. What I liked though was how everyone hung around after the event, asking questions, engaging us in dialogue and asking us to sign books.

Bill Roper playing the horn (vuvuzela) at the beginning of the event. What a fascinating instrument; I remember how it was used in the village to summon people to an important meeting at the chief’s.

Christopher Mlalazi setting up the table with books and art pieces from Zimbabwe. The bigger pile of books is Bryony Rheam’s This September Sun,by amaBooks, a book I have been waiting for. There were other amaBooks titles like Short Writings from Bulawayo III, Long Time Coming, Intwasa Poetry, Dancing with Life (Chris Mlalazi), and others. I had my copies of Forever Let Me Go, State of the Nation, and Speaking for the Generations. Believe me, it felt great to see our books in a US bookstore.

Part of the setting up was to wonder if I had overprepared, if I would not have enough time to read everything I had selected, and surely, I only read a quarter of what I intended.

Daniel Rothman of Villa Aurora introducing us. He worked very hard in making sure the event was a success, and I liked that he took Chris and I to Beyond Baroque, an archival bookstore that hosts poets nearly daily. Coincedentally, there was a reading on Friday evening which featured my friend, LA poet Catherine Daly, whom I have hosted at the Sacramento Poetry Center. She was one of several poets featured as Factory School Poets, all connected by the fact they have been published by the same press. Below is a photo of Factory school poets, which I took after their reading on Friday, July 30:
I don’t have all the names to match with the poets yet, but Catherine Daly is second from right; then from left to right: CA Conrad, Diane Ward, and Allison Cobb. The other names of the Factory school poets are: Sueyeun Juliette, Deborah Meadows, Sarah Manefee, Kathryn Pringle, Frank Sherlock, Brian Kim Stefans,and Heriberto Yepez. I enjoyed the part of the reading I caught, and what I liked most was meeting the staff of Beyond Baroque because they are talking of a poet exchange with Sacramento Poetry Center. So we would invite their poets, and they in turn invite ours, etc.

Joseph Mitchell, on Percussion. His duo performance with Bill Roper was good for our reading, it added resonance.

Christopher Mlalazi reading from Dancing with Life, a book I always knew would go far. He reading of “The Bulldozers are Coming” was touching, and it set the mood for the Charles Mungoshi and Chenjerai poems I read later.

Here I was introducing State of the Nation: Contemporary Zimbabwean Poetry, which was published in the UK last year and was edited by Tinashe Mushakavanhu and David Nettleingham. I told the audience that it was a key text in Zimbabwean poetry has it marks the latest update in the contemporary poetry, a multi-generational book which mixes classic and new names.

Reading from State of the Nation. My signature style is to read the works of one or two leading Zimbabwe poets before I read mine. This approach grounds me, it puts me in context. I started by reading Charles Mungoshi’s “A Kind of Drought”, which anchors our trust not in people anymore, but in birds, in trees, in rivers. Then I read Chenjerai Hove’s “Nights with Ghosts”, which connects very well to Mlalazi’s short stories about Murambatsvina. In this long poem, the persona reveals that he has written a letter to Samueri, but does not know where to send it as no one has an address anymore. It linked very well with the poem I read next, mine, entitled “A House for Mother”, published in the same book.

Reading from my poetry collection, Forever Let Me Go. I read “The Teacher and the Curtain”, which is everyone’s favorite at readings, and “Remembering Mother”, the most political I have gone in my poetry so far, I think. Of course, it always usually signals the end of my reading segment because of its emotional weight. But I had intended to read “Gonera Bees” and “Forever Let Me Go”, but I wanted to hear more of Bill and Joe’s music.

Judicanti Responsura doing their thing…

The great audience.

Chris reads “A Cicada in the Shimmer”, published in African Roar. The launch part of the event was interesting, as I had the opportunity to explain the process that went into the publication of the book, then I called Chris to the stage. Chris insists that he would not be the best person to explain what the story means, but when he read, it moved us.
I too read from African Roar. I could heard the sound of my story in front of an audience for the first time, and I could tell I needed to work on the female voice of my narrator, but overall, I thought I connected with the audience.

African titles sharing shelf space.

The Los Angeles Reading: Book Selections

Forever Let Me Go contains a taste of my poetry and Speaking for the Generations (AWP 2010) contains an excerpt from my short story “A Long Night”, set in Glen View 2, Harare.

The Los Angeles Event with Christopher Mlalazi is only one week, I know time will fly, so I thought I should start to prepare myself for the event. I have already selected the published works that I will carry, although I will take along some works in progress, like my selections from short story manuscripts. But here are the books I am carrying, from which I will read: Forever Let Me Go (poetry), African Roar (short stories), State of the Nation: Contemporary Zimbabwean Poetry, Speaking for the Generations (short stories), and Charles Mungoshi’s The Setting Sun and the Rolling World.

African Roar (StoryTime 2010), State of the Nation (Conversation 2009), and The Setting Sun (Beacon Press 1989).

Chris and I will be reading our works and launching StoryTime’s African Roar at an event coordinated by Villa Aurora Los Angeles and Eso Won Bookstore. A band will be performing as well. Below are more details about the event.

Villa Aurora & Eso Won Bookstore present

an evening of stories, poetry, book launch of African Roar & music with
2010 Feuchtwanger Fellow Christopher Mlalazi, Zimbabwe
fellow Zimbabwean writer and editor Emmanuel Sigauke
& Judicanti Responsura
7PM on Saturday, July 31, 2010 at Eso Won Bookstore
4331 Degnan Boulevard, Los Angeles 90008

Villa Aurora’s 2010 Feuchtwanger Fellow, Zimbabwean writer Christopher Mlalazi’s two books, Dancing with Life (2008, amaBooks), a collection of short stories, Many Rivers (2009, Lion Press, Ltd., UK), a novel, and his latest play Election Day (2010), deal with the social and political disintegration of his native Zimbabwe. In 2008 he was co-awarded the OXFAM NOVIP PEN Freedom of Expression Award at the Hague, which he received with Raisedon Baya for their play The Crocodile of Zambezi. The Crocodile of Zambezi (2008), a satire of the Mugabe regime set in a fictional country along the Zambezi River, was officially banned and members of its cast and crew were harassed and beaten by state agents. Christopher Mlalazi’s work has received numerous honors and awards, including the ‘2009 Best First Published Creative Work, National Arts Merit Award in Zimbabwe’ for Dancing with Life: Tales from the Township, which also received the NOMA Award Honorable Mention(UK) in 2009; Many Rivers was shortlisted for the 2010 National Merit Award for Most Outstanding Book of Fiction. He has also published poetry in several international anthologies. Mr. Mlalazi has completed a new novel while in residence at Villa Aurora.

Emmanuel Sigauke grew up in Zimbabwe where his interest in writing began at the age of thirteen. He studied English, Shona, and Linguistics and graduated with a BA. From 1993 to 1996 he was the National Secretary of the Budding Writers Association of Zimbabwe (BWAZ), an organization that has helped groom many contemporary Zimbabwean writers. Sigauke moved to California in 1996 and studied English at California State University Sacramento. He teaches composition, literature and creative writing at Cosumnes River College in Sacramento, is a board member of the Sacramento Poetry Center, where he hosts poetry readings every second Monday, is the book review editor of the organization’s bi-monthly publication, Poetry Now, and is also the co-editor of the recently published African Roar: An Eclectic Collection of African Authors. Sigauke has also taught fiction workshops for the UC Davis Extension and in the Hart Senior Center Annual Writing Conference. His collection of poetry, Forever Let Me Go, appeared in 2008, and he has since published poetry in State of the Nation: Contemporary Zimbabwean Poetry and in journals like Witness, One Ghana, One Voice, and others. His fiction has been published in online and print journals. He is currently working on a collection of short stories and a novel.

JUDICANTI RESPONSURA is a Los Angeles based chamber music ensemble formed in 1984 by tubaist William Roper and percussionist Joseph Mitchell. They perform their own compositions and generate new works from area composers. They specialize in works incorporating Euro-Classical and African-American improvisational traditions. Judicanti’s repertoire ranges from purely musical compositions to multi-media, multi-disciplinary works. The group is represented on recordings released by the Asian Improv, Tomato Sage Consortium and Heliotrope Dreams labels. As individual artists they have worked with “The Lion of Zimbabwe” Thomas Mapfumo, the L.A. Philharmonic, L.A. Opera, Aretha Franklin, Gladys Knight, Elton John, Yusef Lateef, Anthony Braxton and many others.

African Roar: An Eclectic Anthology of African Authors is a fiction anthology drawn from the very best stories published from 2007-2009, in the StoryTime weekly literary ezine dedicated to publishing African writers. Between these covers you will find eleven stories that stand as a testament to the upsurge of talented African writers boldly utilizing the cutting edge of technology and the writing craft to be read globally. Spanning Africa and the African Diaspora in past, present and future, each story has a fresh and diverse vision that opens up new vistas of experience. From the lucid terrors of domestic violence through the eyes of a child, and the anguish of those left behind by a fleeing Diaspora, to a full circle, when the prey becomes the hunter and has the opportunity for revenge, and a dryly humorous look at what it’s like to lose a quarter of your brain, to name just a few of the treasures that lie within. Edited by Emmanuel Sigauke & Ivor W. Hartmann.

Villa Aurora, with its unique émigré history, is an artist residence and historic landmark located in the former home of exiled German-Jewish writer Lion Feuchtwanger. To promote and foster German-American cultural exchange and to remember the European exiles that settled in Southern California, Villa Aurora offers a variety of salon style arts and cultural programs, including public lectures, concerts, screenings and performances. Villa Aurora and the Feuchtwanger Memorial Library at USC jointly provide the Feuchtwanger Fellowship to writers, like Christopher Mlalazi who face persecution in their native countries.

ESO Won Books is more than a warehouse of reading materials. It is your personal gateway to inspiration, adventure, laughter, healthy living, social etiquette, history, and so much more. At Eso Won, you can count on friendly, down to earth personalized service. An Essential Los Angeles destination in the heart of historic Leimert Park, Eso Won has played host to a variety of authors from Presidents Obama and Clinton, intellectuals Michael Eric Dyson and Cornell West, to comedian Bill Cosby. Eso Won (African for “water over rocks”) is a living proverb as it provides fluid, safe, stirring opportunities that flow to a reservoir of knowledge for both the African and African American experience as well as any other topic you may wish to find.

Eso Won Bookstore (323-290-1048) is located
in the historic Leimerk Park neighborhood at:

4331 Degnan Boulevard, Los Angeles 90008west of Leimert Boulevard, east of Crenshaw Boulevard south of West 43rd Street & north of Leimert Plaza Park on West 43rd Place.

An Evening of Stories, Poetry & Music in Los Angeles with Christopher Mlalazi

Chris Mlalazi

Villa Aurora & Eso Won Bookstore present

an evening of stories, poetry & music with
2010 Feuchtwanger Fellow Christopher Mlalazi, fellow Zimbabwean writer and editor Emmanuel Sigauke, and Judicanti Responsura
7PM on Saturday, July 31, 2010 at Eso Won Bookstore
4331 Degnan Boulevard, Los Angeles 90008

Villa Aurora’s 2010 Feuchtwanger Fellow, Zimbabwean writer Christopher Mlalazi’s novel Many Rivers (2009, Lion Press, Ltd., UK), Dancing with Life (2008, amaBooks), a collection of short stories, and play Election Day (2010), deal with the social disintegration of his native Zimbabwe, where he also contributes light entertainment articles for its major newspapers—a contrast that underscores a practice of self-censorship acknowledged by the 2008 OXFAM NOVIP PEN Freedom of Expression Award at the Hague, which he received with Raisedon Baya for their play The Crocodile of Zambezi. The Crocodile of Zambezi (2008), a satire of the Mugabe regime set in a fictional country along the Zambezi River, was officially banned and members of its cast and crew were harassed and beaten by state agents. Christopher Mlalazi’s work has received numerous honors and awards, including the ‘2009 Best First Published Creative Work, National Arts Merit Award in Zimbabwe’ for Dancing with Life: Tales from the Township, which also received NOMA Award Honorable Mention in 2009; Many Rivers was shortlisted for the 2010 National Merit Award for Most Outstanding Book of Fiction. Mr. Mlalazi has just completed a new novel about pre-election violence under a dictatorship.

Emmanuel Sigauke grew up in Zimbabwe where his interest in writing began at the age of thirteen. He studied English, Shona, and Linguistics and graduated with a BA. From 1993 to 1996 he was the National Secretary of the Budding Writers Association of Zimbabwe (BWAZ), an organization that has helped groom many contemporary Zimbabwean writers. Sigauke moved to California in 1996 and studied English at California State University Sacramento. He teaches composition, literature and creative writing at Cosumnes River College in Sacramento, is a board member of the Sacramento Poetry Center, where he hosts poetry readings every second Monday, is the book review editor of the organization’s bi-monthly publication, Poetry Now,. and is also the co-editor of the recently published African Roar: An Eclectic Collection of African Authors. Sigauke has also taught fiction workshops for the UC Davis Extension and in the Hart Senior Center Annual Writing Conference. His collection of poetry, Forever Let Me Go, appeared in 2008, and he has since published poetry in State of the Nation: Contemporary Zimbabwean Poetry and in journals like Witness, One Ghana, One Voice, and others. His fiction has been published online and in print journals. He is currently working on a collection of short stories and a novel. He blogs at Wealth of Ideas.

JUDICANTI RESPONSURA is a Los Angeles based chamber music ensemble formed in 1984 by tubaist William Roper and percussionist Joseph Mitchell. They perform their own compositions and generate new works from area composers. They specialize in works incorporating Euro-Classical and African-American improvisational traditions. Judicanti’s repertoire ranges from purely musical compositions to multi-media, multi-disciplinary works. The group is represented on recordings released by the Asian Improv, Tomato Sage Consortium and Heliotrope Dreams labels. As individual artists they have worked with the L.A. Philharmonic, L.A. Opera, Aretha Franklin, Gladys Knight, Elton John, Yusef Lateef, Anthony Braxton and many others. http://roperarts.com/judi.html

Villa Aurora, with its unique émigré history, is an artist residence and historic landmark located in the former home of exiled German-Jewish writer Lion Feuchtwanger. To promote and foster German-American cultural exchange and to remember the European exiles that settled in Southern California, Villa Aurora offers a variety of salon style arts and cultural programs, including public lectures, concerts, screenings and performances. Villa Aurora and the Feuchtwanger Memorial Library at USC jointly provide the Feuchtwanger Fellowship to writers, like Christopher Mlalazi, who face persecution in their native countries.

ESO Won Books is more than a warehouse of reading materials. It is your personal gateway to inspiration, adventure, laughter, healthy living, social etiquette, history, and so much more. At Eso Won, you can count on friendly, down to earth personalized service. An Essential Los Angeles destination in the heart of historic Leimert Park, Eso Won has played host to a variety of authors from Presidents Obama and Clinton, intellectuals Michael Eric Dyson and Cornell West, to comedian Bill Cosby. Eso Won (African for “water over rocks”) is a living proverb as it provides fluid, safe, stirring opportunities that flow to a reservoir of knowledge for both the African and African American experience as well as any other topic you may wish to find.

Eso Won Bookstore (323-290-1048) is located in the historic Leimerk Park neighborhood at:

4331 Degnan Boulevard, Los Angeles 90008
west of Leimert Boulevard, east of Crenshaw Boulevard
south of West 43rd Street & north of Leimert Plaza Park
on West 43rd Place.

“Baobab Prize is pushing the literary giants of the next generation into the limelight”: Deborah Ahenkorah

Deborah Ahenkorah is the co-founder of the fast-growing Baobab Prize, which is now in its second year. The inaugural award drew participation from nine African countries. The winners were Lauri Kubuitsile from Botswana with “Lorato and her Wire Car”, the best story written for readers aged 8-11 years; Ivor W. Hartmann from Zimbabwe with “Mr. Goop”, the best story written for readers aged 12-15 years and Aisha Kibwana from Kenya, the most promising young writer with “Strange Visitors that took her Life Away”. Based on what Debbie says in this interview, this award will revolutionize African writing and reading.

1.What can you tell us about yourself?

My name is Deborah Ahenkorah and I’m Ghanaian. Lately, I have come to be given the name ‘Debbie from Ghana!’ Now let me tell you that story:
My South African friend Ntshadi, before I met her, once stopped to eat in a restaurant at a random location somewhere in mid-USA. When the waitress discovered she was from South Africa, she (the waitress) gushed and drawled: “Well I neva! You are really from Africa, aren’t you. Goodness me. You must know my friend, Debbie, from Ghana!”

It was a funny-ha-ha-are-you-kidding-me moment. I am certain I do not know this waitress and she does not know me. But I am and will always remain, yours truly, ‘Debbie from Ghana!’

2.What’s the source of your interest in promoting African reading and education? How successful have your book and education drive been?

I believe that deep-rooted change comes through education and so in my freshman year of college, I founded an organization, Project Educate In Africa (PEIA), to organize book drives and fund raising events in support of educational initiatives in Africa.
Building on my work with PEIA, I co-founded the Baobab Prize to encourage the writing of African literature for young readers.

The successes of these two initiatives continue to astound me. In PEIA’s two years of existence, we have shipped close to 8,000 books to more than 35 African countries. We have also raised over $ 7,000 through craft sales on the Bryn Mawr College campus and currently we are hoping to fund the building of a pre-school in Northern Ghana.

The Baobab Prize, now in its second year, has also been incredibly successful. We are now partnering with two major international organizations and a number of top name African publishers.

3.How early were you exposed to reading, and what kinds of books did you read as a child? At what age did you read books by African authors?

I am the last-but-one child of a huge family, so growing up there was a lot of pressure to be as cool as my older siblings. At the time when I was most impressionable, the cool thing to do in my family was to read. The more you read, the cooler you were. So I read. I read my heart out.

My first chapter book was an Enid Blyton from her ‘Famous Five’ series. I will never forget the ecstasy I felt at discovering the ‘joy of reading’- that through a book I could go anywhere, be anyone, do anything. It was glorious!

Unfortunately, I never got around to reading African authors while I was young. I felt at that time that the few African stories I came by were all cut from the same moral-laden folk tale genre. My love affair with African literature started in high school with Chinua Achebe’s Anthills of the Savannah. My copy of this book is tattered and worn, read over and over.


4.I admire your work in the Baobab Fiction Prize. What can you tell us about this award of African literature?

The Baobab Prize is an African literary award that has grown out of a dream that my co-founder, Rama Shagaya and I conceived, to encourage the writing of African literature for young readers. The award was inaugurated in 2008-2009 as an annual contest open to all African citizens, inviting submissions of African-themed children stories. The stories we receive fall in the categories: for readers aged 8-11 years; for readers aged 12 – 15 years. As well, we recognize a ‘Promising Young Writer’ under age 18. We award a cash prize and connect the stories we receive with interested publishers.

5. Why have you focused on young readers?

The focus on young readers is because we have identified young people below the age of fifteen to be African Literature’s most neglected audience. African children’s literature is just coming into its own and my co-founder Rama Shagaya and I are convinced that a crop of young readers who appreciate African literature will develop to become the readers and writers of African works in the future.


6.What is the future of the award? Who funds it?

The Baobab Prize is pushing the literary giants of the next generation into the limelight and producing classic stories that will be appreciated for many years. The Baobab Prize 2010 is funded by the Global Fund for Children, The African Library Project as well as friends and supporters of the initiative. We are proud to be associated with Bryn Mawr College (the alma-mater of Rama and I) that has believed in this idea from the inception.


7.Are there plans to publish prize-related anthologies?

Yes! Give us ten years and you will find African children’s books selling wildly in international bookstores all over the world. And all these hot-selling African children’s books will have one thing in common, a golden stamp on the front cover that reads: The Baobab Prize.

8.Based on your experience reading contemporary African writers, what can you say is the state of African literature?

African writers need to not feel burdened to tell of the ‘authentic African experience.’ What is that anyway? The wider the variety of work we produce, the bigger the audiences we can reach, like the African music industry. With the diverse genres our music industry is embracing and entering, we are amassing an incredible global followership. Rock, Jazz and Reggae fans all over the world for instance, can now find distinctively African music that appeals to the tastes of their genres.

9.Of late, there have been debates about the need for African writers to embrace genre or popular writing. What’s your position on this issue?
YES PLEASE, more diversity (of genre, style, theme, content) in our writing. What will it hurt?

You can imagine how happy we were to see lots of variety in the submissions we received for the Baobab Prize’s first year. The stories came from nine African countries and among them were comic tales, magical fantasies, tragedies, and futuristic sci-fis. More diversity we say!


10.What do you see as the role of social networking sites like Facebook in the promotion of writing and reading? What do you think needs more promotion, writing or reading?

Social Networking sites have changed the face of marketing, advertising and information accessing. Millions of people spend time on these sites looking for information. Writers can benefit greatly by milking this eager audience. I would encourage upcoming writers to utilize these media to sell their work for free. Yes, free. Income will come once you establish an audience base that recognizes and appreciates your work. People WILL pay for what they want.
The Baobab prize has benefited from the free publicity available through social networking sites. We appreciate the support of our Facebook friends and Twitter followers and we always have room for more. Join us in our quest to revolutionize African literature!

For 2010 guidelines visit the Baobab Prize website, and for more infomation, contact Deborah Ahenkorah at baobabprize[AT]gmail.com

New Collaboration for Indian and Zimbabwean Writers

This post was created by Sunil Sharma, an Indian scholar and writer with whom I am planning to compile an anthology of Indian-Zimbabwean short stories. An Indian publisher has expressed interest in taking up this project, but before we make a call for submissions, here is a short writing on the project.

Sunil Sharma is currently Vice-principal and Reader in the English department of Model College, which is affiliated to the University of Mumbai—MIDC, Dombivli (East), in District Thane,state of Maharashtra, India. He is a bilingual critic, poet, literary interviewer, editor, translator, essayist and fiction writer. Some of
his short stories and poems have already appeared in journals like New Woman (Mumbai), Creative Saplings, Muse India (both of them e-zines), Munyori Literary Journal, the Seva Bharati Journal of English Studies (West Bengal), Indian Literature (of Sahitya Akademy, New Delhi), Indian Literary Panorama (Mumbai), Contemporary Vibes (Chandigarh), The Plebian Rag (USA), and Indian Journal of Post-colonial Literatures (Kerala),Kritya (online). Besides that, he is a freelance journalist in English. His book on the Philosophy of the Novel—A Marxist Critique is already published. His debut novel—Minotaurch—is forthcoming from Jaipur (India).

Tentative Title: Nations on the Move: A Salad of Indo-Zimbabwean Contemporary Short Fiction in English

Have you ever visited the sun-kissed Africa?

No, not the Dark Continent of the imperialist imagination but the bright, multi-splendoured Africa from where the first Eve emerged. An Africa that all of us carry in our DNA; home to not AIDS but to ancient civilizations. An Africa seen from an adoring son’s or daughter’s eyes, warts and all.

I have not visited this fascinating landmass of great contrasts. A land ruled by the West-educated corpulent dictators in two-piece suits and red ties who want to crush the indomitable spirit of the toiling masses. They can physically intimidate or kill a large number of silent people but can not crush the rising tidal waves of the popular resistance.

I am talking of this struggling Africa, the Africa of common person’s dreams and the cherished Muse of an exiled poet in London or Paris. True peoples’ land and their global aspirations: very much like my own India with same aspirations, dreams and struggles, despite the persisting bane of the constant threat of the terrorists, militant regionalism and deeply-entrenched casteism. Chances of going to this vast continent are remote also for a middle-class teacher like me who wants to travel around the whole world— Africa included— but does not have the kind of extra dough needed for such a long and eventful journey.

I am not a brutal Henderson trying to journey to an Africa for finding redemption. Nor, the salvation seeking Harry. The Snows of Kilimanjaro are not for me. The Great Columbus was also not my great-great-great- grand father. I do not have such an illustrated pedigree! Marco Polo and Vasco da Gamma are the difficult foreign names encountered first in the history books written/ taught so badly to the poor primary-level kids that they still curse these bold explorers of the yore for making their tiny lives miserable for them. One man’s joy, as they say, is another man’s poison! So, it is clear that the travelling gene is not in my blood. Discoveries are not for folks like Mr. J Alfred Prufrock or Joe Six-pack.

So, I am stuck up permanently in a 24/7 world of repeating sickening news, recessionary gloom, senseless killings and murders, violent rapes, devastating wars, ethnic cleansing, cruel racial attacks, food and celeb-chasing and what not on the idiot box. This wide-screen nonsense can drive anybody crazy. If aliens were watching, they will sure run away in their flying saucers thinking that the lonely planet is the most dangerous place in the entire Milky Way. That is why they come, see and safely retreat to their red Mars or the ringed Jupiter in their super- fast vehicles. The antennae-studded aliens with the glowing oval eyes are right in their spot assessment of the terra firma. Spielberg could not persuade even a single green-bodied creature to stay on the earth for long among the divided humans. Well. Well.

So, how to be upbeat on a bad hair day when every Murphy principle comes true for the poor you? Dining out is so passé and predictable (and costly) these days. You pay exorbitant prices for eating the same exotic stuff in various overpriced hotels that taste the same everywhere and are served by the same white-uniformed bored men with plastic smile and a robotic thank-you. What to do next? How to beat the tedium of a dull routinised existence? Eating out is not a very appealing option for a friendless soul in a crowded city. So, on a stormy night, feeling wretched and lost in a walk-in apartment in London/New York/Mumbai, with TV turned down to avoid further dumbing down in an already dumbed-down commercial culture, what should one do to remain sane, healthy, human and non-suicidal? To break the monotony of a standardized life decided by the cartel of the MNCs for us? To escape from the MacDonald-type of identical worlds of greedy consumption? Or, how to break out of the highly-regulated and highly-regimented everyday reality decided by the transnational capital?

Or, how to recover the colours, the wide-eyed romance, the joy of the first rainbow seen from tiny eyes, when the everyday blasé was a novel mystery for all of us?

In other words, how can I stage my own Truman’s Show and come out of it a better person?

Answer to these fundamental questions is very simple. If I want to make mental journeys during lonely moments, I pick up a writer of my choice. Latin America. OK. Here we are. Yes, Marquez will do, as your companion on the solitary nights…to comfort you. Africa? Hmmm. Contemporary? Well, Ben Okri. Turkey? Well, Orhan Pamuk. Egypt? Naquib Mahfouz. Afghanistan? Khaled Hosseini. India? Salman Rushdie. The list goes on. These gentlemen (feminists, please excuse) pop up from behind the pages of their fat books and become R-E-A-L for you in your bedroom! In this process of reading, you become a citizen of a new land, a new Atlantis of spirit and imagination. You visit these airy realms and feel a strange lightness of being, thus neutralizing the accumulated and deadening toxicity of everyday reality that eats into the finer sinews of your soul.

These writings reclaim a space from the colonial West. Africa no longer is a dark continent but a place where men and women struggle to make sense of their liberated lives under a different kind of tyranny. Bellow’s or Conrad’s Africa gets inverted by Okri and others. These writers tell the tale in reverse gear. The native speaks and speaks in English, but in their English. They sound familiar to the readers waking up, after a long time, in a free world. Caliban is forging his new identity through the former master’s language and appropriates their cultural references as well. This dualism helps. A global language but local contexts. The dubbed films catch this mood , this restlessness the best. In the process, new worlds are opened up like little castle casements on the windy seashores for the curious and the willing. Okri takes you where you can not go alone. You are on a conducted tour.

That is the magic of good writing. It helps you connect with common experiences that sound more or less like yours, yet are rooted in a culture light years away from your grim reality. Basically, all writing is middle-class and reflects the same ideology also. The beauty lies in the presentation of the local scenes; different, yet the same, at the core. For a global reader, new realities bring old shadows where you are self-shocked to see the same truths repeated but in a different idiom and milieu. Like the exotic cuisines that are cooked in standard bases or the international cuisines made in five mother sauces throughout the cooking world.

So, you turn to a book and through empathy and vicarious pleasure, get transported to a reality different from yours in vast degrees but that basically remains human and qualitatively the same. It tells via Faulkner that man can never be down for long and will prevail, or, through Hemingway that he can never be destroyed. This essential humanistic-liberal transcending vision is uplifting for a struggling person or a collective pitted against the economic forces.

Through writing, nations move and come to you very close in the form of a fluid text. So far, English anthologies have been Euro-centric or Euro-African or –Latin American. This anthology is, for a change, Indo-Zimbabwean! Two nations, two post-colonial economies, collide in a common literary space and produce a unique creative synergy. Indians are winning the Booker for long now. The Zimbabwean cousins are equally strong and writing very well. Their experiences of a post-colonial society are more or less the same but the flavours and seasonings are different. The language is English but spoken by two non-native communities/ nations. Through pucca English, dispersed in different cultural contexts (Zimbabwean- Americans, Indian-Americans), these voices bring a refreshingly new vision to the realities of the day for the post-modern/post-colonial English speaking readers for the first time. They open up tiny windows on their individual colourful cultures and invite us to be a participant in this enriching aesthetic experience of feeling a remote culture, first hand. That is the beauty of serious art!

Want to be part of the project? As a writer, you are welcome. Send two shorts, with the bio, to the following editors for this anthology. Let us begin the story. A fiction that tells the truth and brings your country to me in a moving narrative of struggle and human hope…Let us get going N-O-W.

Once there was a wonderful fictionist who brought his nation alive in few pages.

Good luck!

Email stories to: drsharma.sunil@gmail.com and manu@munyori.com

Ignatius Mabasa US Tour: San Francisco

Ignatius Mabasa at the Western Addition Libray in downtown San Francisco.

This has got to be one of the best poetry events in the United States, its magnitude and the display of international talent. Listening to the poets read in their languages, you could tell that they had to be some of the best in their countries.
Syrian poet Maram al-Massri who read with Mabasa.

Of course, there was one of Zimbabwe’s best poets, Ignatius Mabasa, who read in Shona. I caught him in action at an event that featured him and the Syrian poet Maram al-Massri. It was a wonderful reading. Each poem was read twice, first in Shona, then in English.

Mabasa was paired with San Francisco poet Michael Warr, who read the English versions of the poems. Of course, I sat there laughing long before anyone else in the room understood what was happening. It felt like an honor for my family to be the only people in the audience who understood what the poet was saying in Shona; then I laughed again (there is humor in the poetry), with others, when the poems were read in English, but by then I knew what everyone had missed out on because in translation, the poems had lost a lot, yet they had also gained so much.

Old friends meet again:Mabasa neni outside the Westen Addition Library

It is beautiful, this thing that San Francisco did, of allowing the poets to read in their own languages, and, at the main stage, the Palace for the Arts, there was a screen projecting an English translation behind the poets. Many languages were represented: Spanish, Vietnamese, Arabic, Russian, Italian, Swedish,Hebrew, Shona and others.

the poets pose together for a photo shoot at the end of Palace of the Arts readings last night.

I enjoyed every reading at the Palace for the Arts. Jack Hirshman, the host poet, was great as always, but I particularly liked Ferruccio Brugnaro (from Italy), Taslima Nasrin (Bangladesh), Al Young (former California poet laureate), Ziba Karbassi (Iran), Agneta Falk (Sweden), and my friend Carla Badillo Coronado (Ecuador).

Carla Badillo Coronado showing her artwork and talking about her poetry after last night’s reading

These poets dealt with real issues affecting their people, and by the end of each reading you realized that the issues they dealt with were your issues too. The context helped, that they the poets were from different countries, united by the language of life.

Nigerian poet Cletus Nelson Nwadike.

An event of this magnitude gives exposure not only to the poets but to the literature of their countries. Mabasa’s participation also was an opportunity to expose some of the anthologies of Zimbabwean contemporary writing.

Long Time Coming at the SFIPF.

The books, ordered by the Friends of the San Francisco Public Library, were available for sale. I brought Long Time Coming, a book I have been waiting for since 2008, when it came out. But there were other books too, Intwasa Poetry and Writing Still.

Copies of Writing Now (Weaver Press) and Intwasa Poetry (‘amaBooks).

It was great to see Mabasa after a very long time. He has contributed significantly to Zimbabwean literature, from our BWAZ poetry performances days, to his two award-winning novels, his story telling in Illinois in 1999 (when he came here as a Fulbright scholar), his Crossing the Borders coordination, to his gospel poetry. He plans to set up a story-telling center in Harare which will provide a stage for story tellers and will function as a story-telling academy.

one of the drums Mabasa used during his performances. There was no way I was going to let him take those drums back to Zimbabwe, so the next time I perform my poetry, there be some drumming, and more drumming.

the drums, now in the company of my books

From San Francisco, Mabasa will be travelling to Santa Fe where he is scheduled to read at several venues. He will conclude his United States tour with a visit to Tuscon, Arizona, the beautiful college town of Zimbabwean scholar Praise Zenenga.

Hard Times Have Freed Zimbabwean Literature

Zimbabwean literature in English has a short history, only having started in the 70’s with the writings of Charles Mungoshi and a few other writers. The literature started in war time, when the country was still under white minority rule, which meant that the writers had to exercise a degree of self-censorship in order not to get in trouble. So this early literature was mainly rooted in moralism and the troubles of domesticity. Some, especially that written in Shona and Ndebele, the dominant indegenous languages of the country, was state-controlled, since it was channeled through what was then the Rhodesia Literature Bureau. So the overal effect of the literature was that it was not a threat to the government.

Then came Dambudzo Marechera, a Zimbabwean writer who was based in England, who published his ground-breaking novella House of Hunger, which was a sting on the government of the day, as well as an advance indictment of the upcoming Zimbabwean majority government. It was his writing, in its avant-gardist nature, which introduced defiance and non-conformity to Zimbabwean literature, but for much of the early eighties, immediately after Zimbabwe got its independence, Marechera did not have many followers; in fact, many African readers dismissed him as irrelevant to issues African. To them ,he was not African enough in his writing, so he was not frequently mentioned in matters of African literature on the continent.

Then came the late eighties and all of the nineties, when Marechera had died, and Zimbabwe was going through many economic and political changes. By then he had a large following of young writers, most of whom belonged to one of the largest writers’ organization in the country, Budding Writers Association of Zimbabwe (BWAZ). These writers had great promise and revered Marechera’s radicalism and courage in his writing, but not many publishers were willing to risk publishing these young dreamers. So many were discouraged, but a lot continued to work hard on their art.

Up to the mid-nineties, much of Zimbabwean literature had still not fully recovered from the euphoria of Zimbabwean independence, and was therefore still appealing to what had already been defined as the real Zimbabwean literature, state defined. This literature still lacked the courage to pierce the heart of socio-political problems; it was afraid of artistic risk. The promising young writers were receiving rejections, realizing then that to be published they had to present material that would suit the publishers’ needs. And the main market for the literature were students, who could only read “certain” kinds of literature, the “suitable” kind. A Marechera-type book was not suibale for secondary school, neither was a book that seemed not to follow rules, because were the schools not trying to teach the students to be leaders of tomorrow? So there were more years of mediocre literature produced for schools.

But now, when it has become clear to Zimbabwean citizens that the greatest betrayal can come from the leaders of the country, after they have watched overt actions by the government to restrict freedom of expression, the people have lost respect for the government, which has not been useful to them for a long time. The unbearable levels of hardship in the country have taught the people to fight hard for survival, to do whatever it takes to remain alive. Among these people are writers, most of whom are the formerly rejected budding writers who have now matured, with their non-conformist tendencies. Writers existing in the harshest of enviroments, driven by words that defy control. The writer in present Zimbabwe had no time to rest; plots rain from every direction as the country continues to shock the world with its drama.

The Zimbabwean situation has shifted the production of literature from semi-conformist to free and courageous art. First, there is more writing than ever before, with the internet working as an outlet for much of the writing. The large number of Zimbabweans in the diaspora has also led to the expansion of free writing, with much of the new works employing satire both to make people laugh, but also to make direct criticism of failing governance.

Writers like Petina Gappah, Brian Chikwava, and Chris Mlalazi are expert satirists, who write without restraint. Mlalazi’s writing, in particular, is openly political, but because he is a master craftsman, the writing also is at best literary. More Zimbabwean voices are represented in the anthologies published in the country, which show writers like Ignatius Mabasa, Wonder Guchu, Joyce Mutiti, and Nhamo Mhiripiri dealing with the hard times in the country. The writing portrays today’s Zimbabwe, capturing the craziness, but it also manages to show that even in a situation of total chaos, life still finds a way to go on, courageously. Even when everyone has to wonder where the next meal is coming from, literature is still being produced, literature that will define an era and set the trend for tomorrow.

The young writer Tinashe Mushakavanhu, who is based in the UK, speculated at the beginning of 2009 that his may be the year for Zimbabwean literature. This literature, a giant that’s been sleeping for many years is awakening, and, as another Zimbabwean writers, Ivor Hartman, has said, it’s “an African Roar”.

Here are some of the Zimbabwean writers who will open a wide window to the Zimbabwean experience this year: Petina Gappah (whose first short story collection compelled Faber & Faber (UK) to do a transatlantic joint book deal with FSG (New York), a first deal of its kind in the history of book deals. We are yet to see what these publishers saw in this book, but whatever it is, it certainly has begun to work because the book, by the time it comes out in April, would have been translated in numerous languages, including Dutch, Italian, and others. Wonder Guchu has been described as “a literary heavyweight” and he is. He edits one of the vibrant online journals in Zimbabwe, artsinitiates, which showcases the country’s writing today, and what it promises to be in the future. Chris Mlalazi, who is a master satirist and stylist, one of the most courageous writers of the times, whose gems are in a collection entitled Dancing With Life, published in 2008 has several of his short stories StoryTime, a magazine for new African writing, edited by Ivor Hartman, a Zimbabwean based in South Africa.

Not all the writers are polical, of course, but they are all courageous and risky, finally taking Zimbabwean literature to levels that Dambudzo Marechera and  Yvonne Vera would have wanted it to go. This new literature will portray Zimbabwe to the world in its deepest sense; it is a literature of witness, illuminating what William Faulkner described as humans’ tendency of not only enduring, but also prevailing.

Ignatius Mabasa to Read Shona Poetry in San Francisco

photo by Fungai J.T.

Listen, I am too excited about this news to know where to begin, but let’s start with this announcement from the organizers of the Second San Francisco International Poetry Festival:

Second San Francisco International Poetry Festival will Ring through the City in July 23-27, 2009

Friends of the San Francisco Public Library, Mayor Gavin Newsom, Jack Hirschman and the San Francisco Public Library will present the second San Francisco International Poetry Festival, July 23-27, 2009. The festival will take place at the Palace of Fine Arts and various venues and libraries throughout San Francisco.

The Festival honors our City’s great legacy of hosting and encouraging cross cultural dialogue. In 2007, the three-day extravaganza drew thousands of people from the Bay Area for free and open-to-the-public poetry and music at both large and small venues throughout the City, including a street party in North Beach, youth events, book signings, translation workshops and more.

This year’s landmark event will be co-hosted by Poet-in-Residence for Friends of the SFPL, Jack Hirschman; United States Poet Laureate Kay Ryan; California Poet Laureate Carol Muske-Dukes and the San Francisco Poet Laureate (to be named). San Francisco Poet Laureate emeritus Lawrence Ferlinghetti will be presented with a special honor.

Fifteen poets from around the world will journey to the Festival, reading together with the leaders of San Francisco’s own highly regarded literary community. The truly international group of poets, from countries including Bangladesh, China, France, Greece, Haiti, Iraq, Israel, Sudan and Zimbabwe, represent a wide spectrum in the world of poetry, from recognized masters to emerging new talents, who are redefining the art in our evolving times.

Since the 2007 Festival, Friends of the SFPL has presented smaller poetry festivals in a variety of languages, such as the Iranian Literary Arts Festival, Vietnamese Poets of the Diaspora and Flor y Canto en el Barrio: A Celebration of Latino Poetry, in their ongoing effort to continue to build cultural bridges, celebrate the literary arts and foster international dialogue

Mabasa has informed me that he will be representing Zimbabwe at this festival, which will take place only one-and-half hours from where I live. He will be in good company, especially considering that Jack Hirshman (current San Francisco poet laureate) and Kay Ryan (United States poet laureate) will be part of the festival, not to mention the poets from fourteen other countries; they all will get a chance to watch a great performance from the inventor of gospoetry.

Mabasa’s presence may also be an opportunity for the Sacramento Poetry community to see this vibrant performer in action; perhaps I can ask someone to host a dual performance of Mabasa and I, like we did in the old days at UZ, in Mabvuku, in Norton…

Ignatius Mabasa is the award-winning poet and author of the novels Mapenzi and Ndafa Here. Labelled the Marechera of Shona literature by Musa Zimunya, he is also a friend of mine(I had to say this. Had to).

ZIBF CANCELLATION REAL BLOW ON ZIMBABWEAN BOOK INDUSTRY

It is a tradition that began in 1983, when the new star African country, Zimbabwe, was embracing the fruits of high literacy. Amidst the euphoria of independence, the widespread introduction of educational programs meant to reach the remotest corner of the country, the ZIBF was formed to serve as Africa’s example of the appreciation of writers, books and the publishing world. Harare in late July/early August was a beehive of activities, a Babel of sorts as writers and publishers from all over the world converged to enjoy a week or so in an environment of conferences and excursions. This went on for over twenty years, each year registering another successful story for the book industry in Zimbabwe. Then from about 2004 things began to change. The political environment in the country became restrictive as publishers from sanction-swinging countries became uncertain on whether or not to travel to Zimbabwe for the fair.  The numbers of exhibitors began to decrease, and finally, the 2008 ZIBF has been cancelled. The main reason given, as The Herald reports, is the withrawal of funding by sponsors who sited the current economic environment in the country as not conducive for the fair.

This position is understandable, in a world determined to punish the Zimbabwe government, a world that does not want to seem to contribute money that might end in the wrong hands. It is also understandable that most exhibitors would choose not to participate in the book fair, considering that, in a country in economic ruin, spending a week setting up stands in order to celebrate books might be a mocking luxury, not to mention, again, that these exhibitors would pay fees that end up funding what the world does not want funded. There is also the issue of safety, at least from the perspective of the foreign exhibitors going into the country. Most NGOs and humanitarian organizations have said that Zimbabwe has limited or even stopped their activities to prevent the championing of interests that do not agree with the government’s. It would make sense that the continued spread of literacy that the promotion of books engenders might also be seen as an unwanted intrusion serving these conflicting interests. And, oh, with some foreign media not allowed in the country, who would cover the activities of the fair to make the experience worthwhile? It would seem inconceivable to have, say, a British publisher state that it is sending representatives, with thier Pounds, to exhbit literacy in Zimbabwe. Basically, the questions anybody would ask those trying to put together another ZIBF would be, why even bother?  Whatever the real reason for the cancellation, it is clear that the book industry in Zimbabwe has suffered a heavy blow, just as many other sectors in the country have. So 2008 is going down in history as the year the Zimbabwe Interational Book Fair was cancelled; it will go down in history, of course, as the year a lot of other things happpened or did not happen in Zimbabwe.

What does this mean for Africa?

Given that the ZIBF used to be the Franfurt of Africa, its cancellation certainly affects the continent’s book image in many ways. Since Zimbabwe is in a transitional state, one not favorable even for the display of books as determined by the sponsors and some of the exhibitors, we can hope that next year the event will be held. But it is time other African countries raise support for efforts to hold book and writing events of a ZIBF magnitude. There is much hope. South Africa has a book festival that’s very promising. Kenya’s Kwani Litfest, which currently focuses on writing workshops, has the potential to operate at the level of ZIBF. Let’s have something in Mombassa, in Tanzania, something in Lilongwe. Something. Anything. The African Book events should be raised to levels that match the magnitude of writing talent that the continent’s writers have, and if this means that the writers themselves have to be involved in publishing and promotion, as in the case Farafina in Nigeria, so be it. This is the time for the African writer, equally a time for the development of a matching, sustenable, self-sufficient African publishing industry. Do I hear the whisper: You wish? 

Comment: As long as our art depends primarily on handouts from foreign organizations, it will come to times likes these, when politics of countries dictate when a book fair (that tends to benefit school children and readers of all ages) is held and when it is cancelled. This is not a good picture for both the sponsors and the recipients of these handouts.

Genre Expansion Necessary for African Writing

The continent of Africa continues to rely on foreign writers as suppliers of books in the genres of romance, mystery, science fiction, fantasy, and horror. This needs to stop immediately. We want the world to start reading romances written in Africa, by African writers. We want African readers to read romances (in the Harlequin & Mills & Boon sense) and horror stories (more horrific than those of Stephen King) written by African writers. This will help pique the interest of readers in local writing, and encourage African reading to develop to mass market heights. I know I generalize a bit here, but the trend as I have observed it, is that much of the mass market material Africa consumes if foreign-born, whether it is something relating to movies, many forms of music and writing. Perhaps the African writers are to blame. Here is why.

I started writing when I was thirteen, imitating authors like Aaron Chiundura Moyo and Vitalis Nyawaranda, whose works we were reading in school as set books. From that early on, I came to writing with a setbook mentality. Although I went through a James Hardley Chase, Ian Fleming, and Mills & Boon phase, it never occured to me that I too could write mysteries, romanes, and Stephen King-style horror. Why? Because when I put pen to paper, I had to think in terms of the literary, had to be part of that special group of writers whose books were only written for people reading literature in schools.

I have observed that most African writers write for the school system, in most cases for practical reasons, because a large percentage of reading happening on the continent is related to education. Our readers have not been trained to read for pleasure, to enjoy a mystery because that’s what it is– a mystery. Okay, there is often talk about how the nature of African life almost makes it taboo to enjoy reading for reading ‘s sake, that people are too busy dealing with demands of life more pressing than reading. So that leaves publishers looking at academia, and encouraging the production of the JM Coetzeean stories that have higher chances of winning a Caine Prize for African Writing before they even discover their readers. Our stories are wonderful, we write well, but sometimes we are too literary to the detriment our writing and its readership. Oh, and our most lucrative awards are in the short story genre. In fact, a friend of mine argues that Southern Africa is the home of the concise short story–very concise indeed– for obvious reasons, such as, he points out, long histories of government censorship of art, influence of folklore, and, he doesn’t say this, the short attention span of our readers! No, there I know there is demand for these genres, a demand for long stories dealing with the fantasy, horror, mystery, or the thick things Wilbur Smith was writing.

So here is a call to African writers to expand the genres of our writing. Let’s have awards geared towards rewarding stories about ghosts haunting this one bus stop in Kezi, Matebeleland. Let’s write romance novels set in Chimanimani and Natal, and stories about mysterious disappearance of foreigners in Alexandra and Johannesburg, horror stories of whole villages turning up limbless in election-time Zimbabwe. The horrors are all around us, so are the mysteries, and the possibilities of African romance. Put pen to paper, fellow writer, and expand the horizons of African writing.

Dambudzo Marechera and the American Reader

A literary scholar interested in reading the works of the Zimbabwean writer Dambudzo Marechera in the United States will be unsettled by the absence of these works in bookstores and most libraries.  While Dambudzo Marechera was well-received in places like the United Kingdom, and while his influence is spreading rapidly in Africa and other places, he is not as famous in the United States as he should be.Over the years I have wondered why this is so.

For one, Marechera emerged as a writer after American literature had gone through its interesting phase of avant-gardism, nihilism, and the beat; it had just entered the phase of post-modernism, which thrives to this day. This might have contributed to Marechera going un-noticed. In fact, according to Flora Veit-Wild, compiler and editor of Marechera’s posthumous works, Pantheon, an American publisher, “offered a contract for a hardback edition of The House of Hunger” (Black Insider 9). This happened toward the end of 1979, after the book had won the prestigeous Guardian Prize for Fiction. Veit-Wild adds, “Too late Pantheon editor, Tom Engelhardt, who was impressed by Marechera’s writing, found he had misjudged the American readership” (ibid; italics mine). So the publisher had to remainder the rest of the edition. In short, House of Hunger failed dismally when it was introduced in the United States in 1979, and it seems no publisher after that wanted to take another risk.

 In fact, Veit-Wild further points out that Pantheon reader for Black Sunlight dismissed it outright, describing it as “an exercise in self-destruction.” For the reader, Viet-WIld writes, Marechera had “reacreated the fatal flaws of bad surrealist writing chaos, fragmentation, separation from meaning–and that the characters [were] not fully developed.” For a literature that had already experienced Bukowski and many of the works by the beats and was getting ready for the postmodernist chaos of Kathy Acker, Marechera should not have seemed that nihilistic, but again, publishing, especially where contractural rights and possible advances are concerned, iis more about making money. Perhaps Marechera would have fared better in 1979/80 had he seemed to celebrate the emerging African leadership in Zimbabwe. For the knowledgeable American reader, he probably was not Zimbabwean-Rhodesian (hence African) enough for the times. Even the Kenyan reader for Heineman was as disappointed as the Pantheon reader, and expressed his fear that the book would alienate the African readership (Veit-Wild/Marechera 9).

Another reason might be the fact that when Zimbabwean literature was marketed outside the country, and especially in North America, focus was given to writers who were deemed representative of African literature, like Chenjerai Hove, Musaemura Zimunya, and Charles Mungoshi. These writers have had an opportunity to serve in fellowships and residences that Marechera, due to his premature death, did not have a chance to participate in.  Writers like Tsitsi Dangarembga and Yvonne Vera have penetrated ethnic, literature, gender studies classes that find the works relevant. While the presence of such works in the United States leaves a lot to be desired, it far surpasses that of the works of Marechera. Perhaps the 2009 UK conference on Marechera will create interest in his work across the Atlantic.