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 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.

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.

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.

The Keresenzia Effect: The Child Killer in Zimbabwean Literature

When a society’s structures fall, when its economy crumbles and there are high levels of unemployment and unimaginable  suffering, its children face the highest levels of danger such a society of presents.  The whole fabric of this society is endangered, and its future plunges into uncertainty. This has been true to the Zimbabwean situation, whose effects have begun to reverbrate through the country’s new literature, which shows how the children are responding to the woes of their environment.  The works of Memory Chirere and Valerie Tagwira shed some light on this issue.   

In 2007, Valerie Tagwira shocked us with “Mainini Grace’s Promises”, a powerful story about the ravages of HIV/Aids, in which the child character kills her aunt at the end. The reader can see the frustration in the girl, her anger at the broken promise of Mainini Grace, whose betrayal to the family is that she has fallen victim of the pandemic that has killed other members of the girl’s family. If Mainini should be the source of hope, why has she allowed herself to be a victim? In a fit of rage, her niece pushes her to the ground, killing her in the process.

A similar scenario is covered in Memory Chirere’s “Keresenzia”, which was orginally published in 2001, where a little girl kills her grandmother. Chirere is an expert in portraying the child character, something aptly noted by Ruby Magosvonge in her recent review of Somewhere in this Country.  According to Magosvonge, Chirere’s collection of stories  “offers refreshing and complex insights into the psyche of African memory, largely from a children’s perspective. Set in both the pastoral and cityscapes of Zimbabwe, the collection of twenty-one short stories in all, takes one onto the road to explore and discover the world and challenges of a burning desire for belonging.”

Keresenzia’s demands show a child’s (any child) desire for attention. That she is an orphan compounds the situation, ultimately leading to her murdering of her grandmother. You finish reading the story and the question that rings in your head is “What has happened to these children?” I had the same question after the Tagwira shocker, but it got me thinking: the child in Zimbabwe has suffered the highest degree of injustice, her freedom to be a child having been robbed by irresponsible politics and empty international bickering.  Everyone has failed the Zimbawean child, whether it is democtratic country that slap sanctions on Zimbabwe, or the singers of indefatigable songs of sovereignty, or the selfish hoarder of basic goods on the black market.

So then we have children becoming carers of AIDS-torn or jobless parents; we witness them pairing with grandparents to take care of what’s left of the family. Look at Keresenzia and Matambudziko, both helpless in the face of squalor, but the latter is expected by the former to have answers about…everything: about what happened to the girl’s parents, about how to get fresh milk,  about preparing the smoothest of butter, about pumkin porridge one can enjoy. It’s an endless list of needs, which the grandmother cannot meet.

In Tagwira’s story, Sarai has dropped out of school to take care of her mother. There is no one else to help except Mainini Grace who sends money and letterof promises from Botswana. When the promises are not fulfilled we see the increasing degree of helplessness and anxiety in the child character. The highest form of betrayal Sarai sees in her Mainini is when the latter turns up emaciated by AIDS, the same desease that is killing Sarai’s mother, and has already claimed the father and other members of the family. Mainini had been the only hope, full of promise. In  rage, Sarai kills her aunt, who has not kept her promises of being the beacon of the family: “Why you too? Why you too, Mainini Grace?”

Discussing child characters like Keresenzia, Magosvonge asks, “Should they kill in order to discover themselves?” They kill in desparation, when the outcome is driven by the most basic instinct for protection. They kill to punish the adult society that has failed to take care of their needs; somehow in this killing, they mete out a kind of justice only imaginable in an environment where they are not allowed to be children anymore; they kill to show their disappointment with an adult world that has failed to deliver on its promise of a meaningful existence; they kill as an attempt to catch a semblance of meaning out of the rubble that has become their existence.

When adults involve themselves in costly conflicts, when they allow the national structures to crumble, leading to extreme forms of suffering for the people, the people affected the most are the children. When a we take away hope from its children, and when we break the shoots of ambition, we endanger not only our survival, but also our humanity.

Telling the Zimbabwean Story

The news that Petina Gappah signed a transcontinental two-book deal is great for Zimbabwean and African literature. She is a one of the new voices of Zimbawean literature who are adding a new layer to the country’s literature, and the time is right: the Zimbabwean writer has much to say at this time.

The writer (novelist, poet, playwright, momoirist) has much to tell. Asserting that this is the time for writer raises the question of whether there is ever a time that is not for the writer, but, seriously speaking, THIS, right now, feels like one of those times when you can stand up and shout it: This is the time!

The difficult times have created great tension in the writer, whose heart has bled, but has not always had the opportunity, sometimes not even the time, to write country’s story. Now, as change happens, the writer is working; the writer is working on something, and that something may not even be about the Deal, the MOU, or the way forward; this something (let’s call it the subject), may be about Nehanda as a baby, or about the early eighties, about Bob Marley in a Harare hotel in 1980. Whatever the theme or style is, this tension, this abuse of, this shock treatment to, artistic patience might surprise you with a renaissance. A new chapter of African writing is opening….

Congratulations to Petina Gappah and to all the other Zimbabwean voices that are about to rise to prominence.

Useful Zimbabwean Blog

Fungai James Tichawangana’s coverage of Zimbabwean Literature on his blog Unofungei Fungai is the best I have seen so far. I was on Google looking for news covering names like Ignatius Mabasa and Memory Chirere when I came across this rich resource and I was hooked.  See this exemplary entry:

 Slamming Them Together Through Poetry

The House of Hunger Poetry slam is on this weekend, 2 August 2008 at The Book Café. The Poetry slam is celebrating the International Youth Day which traditionally falls on 12 August according to the United Nations International Days calendar.

This month The Poetry Slam is running with the theme ‘Reconciling young people’– bridging the gap between the future leaders of tomorrow and creating an environment for national cohesion and healing within young people. The past years have seen young people being associated with all sorts of activities that are sinister, destructive and abusive.

Pamberi Trust poetry program however would like to bring a platform for dialogue and expression through poetry as a medium to communicate issues affecting the nation and help wipe out the past history of an unlawful and destructive youth culture in Zimbabwe
As future leaders in the Arts, Finance, Trade, Education, Sport and Politics we need to start talking about the future we hope to see, enjoy and uphold.

Veterans of the slam: Comrade Fatso (left) and Chirikure Chirikure

This is a process that we have to engage in as youths and most importantly as a young people who are organized and reconciled, a truly Zimbabwean youth that will be responsible, protective, patriotic, respectful and possess untamed love for their people.

The poetry slam event on Saturday 02 August 2008 will accommodate both veteran and upcoming poets. Poets of all sorts and styles are invited to this August event to express themselves through this art form with a message of reconciliation, hope and nation building.

Slammers & Slam fans: (L to R) Outspoke, Irene Staunton, Chirikure Chirikure and Olley Maruma at one of the House of Hunger Poetry Slams.

Come down to The Book Café on Saturday 02 August from 2pm – 5pm and be part of this exhilarating event that will influence your weekend to be a better and well served one.

Comment: Despite the difficulties, or because of them, poetry is alive in Zimbabwe. Oh, out here, from Zimbabwean are writing as well, and soon the voice of the writer and the poet will be heard reflecting on the country’s challenges.

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.

Impressive Responses to Valerie Tagwira’s Short Story

Valerie Tagwira etched a spot for herself in the Zimbabwean literature by producing a whopper of a novel, Uncertainty of Hope, described by early reviewers as an honest statement to the political, economic, and social situation in  contemporary Zimbabwe. Now she has turned to another literary medium– the short story– and has just produced “Mainini’s Grace’s Promises”, which deals with the effects of HIV-AIDS to children in Zimbabwe. She has touched the hearts of many readers again, receiving so many favorable responses that it would be easier to predict that this genre might widen her readership more rapidly than the novel. In fact, the compact message in the short story is as suitable to the subject matter as it is to the interest of a reader who would like to read something in a short span of time.

Several readers have posted comments on Tagwira’s website, expressing the different ways in which the story touched them. All but one of the readers found the form and content of the story matching perfectly; the reader who had reservations about the content commented that the message needed to be enlightened by elements of humor, stating that life already is suffused with enough moments of despair. 

Some readers stated that the story was more realistic than fictional, and that it should be read as such, implying that fictional or not, the work does its job of representing the nightmares caused by a widespread pandemic. Others focused on the style of the work, its immediacy and singleness of purpose; its brevity and suspense: once you begin reading it, you will stare at the screen of your computer until the the story’s end.

For those who have not had a chance to read “Mainini Grace’s Promises” , here is the first sentence: “Sarai’s mother had concluded that it was not the three successive funerals, but her own subsequent illness that finally did it.” 

I just coudn’t believe the story’s dizzying outcome, certainly a good reason to keep on reading once you begin.