Zimbabwean Writer on 2011 US Foreign Press Center Media Tour


Zimbabwean writer, journalist, blogger, and gender activist, Delta Milayo Ndou will be touring Washington DC and Minneapolis in June as one of 20 journalists who have been identified by the Washington Foreign Press Center as emerging Global New Media Leaders. She is one of 4 African journalists – and the other African countries represented are Morocco, Uganda & Kenya.

The participants, selected from all over the globe will represent countries such Iran, Iraq, Israel, Oman, Yemen, Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Pakistan, among others.

Announcing the news of Delta Milayo Ndou’s acceptance to the programme, JB Leedy of the Washington Press Center commended the US Embassy’s Public Affairs Section in Harare for the “great nomination”, adding that nominations for the FPC Blogging for Social and Political Change tour were impressive. “We received 45 nominations for 20 available slots and all were impressive, so you can expect your participant to get a lot out of not only the official program, but networking with fellow global new media leaders on the tour,” stated Leedy.

The bloggers will be expected to do significant blogging both during and after the program, and to provide the FPC with feedback on the nature of those blog posts.
They will also be expected to find creative ways to amplify the USG message on the role of new media in civil society and press freedom when bloggers return home.
Activities during the tour include engagement in the Blogosphere to explore how the U.S Government (USG) advances foreign policy positions on the web by discussing new media strategy with top-level policy advisors, meeting with those implementing the strategy through official USG blogs to find out more about how they choose what to blog about, assess the interests of their target audiences, and gauge their effectiveness in conveying the USG message.

Some of the key discussions and activities will revolve around maintaining and promoting Freedom of Expression on the Internet; attending and taking part in Netroots Nation 2011, one of USA’s most prominent blogger conferences,an annual forum for exchanging ideas and using technology “to influence the public debate, inspire action, and serve as an incubator for progressive ideas that challenge the status quo and ultimately affect change in the public sphere.”

You can read Delta Milayo Ndou’s work on her blog, itsdelta.

African Literature and the Internet

I participated in a discussion of African writing and the internet. Below is an excerpt, as well as a link to One Ghana One Voice (OGOV) for the rest of the discussion.

Prince Mensah: Considering the present shape of African writing, what visible steps are being taken to use the Internet as a medium of communication? Are those steps enough? What impact does all this have on indigenous readers who might or might not have access to the Internet?

Michelle Labossiere Brandt: The Internet is turning out to be a fantastic gift to the African writer, and an immediate way to publicize one’s creativity. It is the diving board, a place to launch and in doing so extends out to those readers who don’t have access to the Internet!

Let me use my own community as an example. Our goal as an organization (RIFE & RIFG) was twofold: bring poets from Africa and Canada together to publish an anthology to raise money for a project in Ghana, and educate the average Edmontonian poet and reader as to the incredible pool of African writers/poets. We have achieved those goals and it all started through the long arm of the Internet, one of our main sources being OGOV. Since that time a number of local non-African poets have now become interested in African literature/poetry. Some of these local poets don’t have access to the Internet but they are avid readers, and come out to poetry readings.

The long arm of the Internet is a bridge for global writers to share their talent and inspire one another and thereby perhaps impact the world at large in a positive and creative manner.

Emmanuel Sigauke: Most writers have websites, blogs, Twitter, and Facebook accounts, and they use these as tools to publicize their works, to create a platform. These are effective tools of communication, but as there is too much of a wide choice of information online, what’s needed is a more effective channeling of the information to make sure that it reaches as many people as possible. In other words, there should be networking, targeted linking of the media that the writers use.

While the Internet is helping develop the literature in urban Africa and in the Diaspora, there is still a wide gap in communication with the majority of African readers. Many people in African countries have no access to the Internet, so whatever programs are represented online should be replicated on the ground in different communities and especially at the grassroots level. Writers should also be involved in outreach programs that promote reading and writing in Africa.

Nii Ayikwei Parkes: The state of African writing is a big question. I’d say it’s abuzz with possibilities and disjointed (which is not necessarily a bad thing), meaning that the next few years will tell us what is really happening.

Steps being taken – as Michelle has shown, and Emmanuel has touched on – are as diverse as the forms and stages of writing themselves. I was recently contacted by a Ghanaian poet who sent me links to tracks from a forthcoming CD online to listen to. That triggered two thoughts – one, we use technology very quickly and effectively (I live in the UK and wouldn’t have thought of getting cross-continental feedback) and two, the Internet means that the distance between the practising writers and aspiring writers is very small – there is a lot of promise in that if we (the practising writers) stay accessible.

As for indigenous readers, this can only be better for them, because they barely had access to work when there was no Internet anyway so there is no way technology can impoverish them, it can only enrich their experience – even if it starts with something as simple as quotes in text messages.

Martin Egblewogbe: As a result of low Internet penetration in Africa, I strongly suspect that most users of literary websites dedicated to African writing tend to live in the diaspora, and may have a readership that is mainly non-African. In this regard, unless the target audience of a Ghanaian writer is global or non-African, there is a fundamental disconnect when the work is published online; this is the disconnect of speaking without the possibility of being heard. To most people on the continent, the publication simply doesn’t exist. Therefore, the impact in terms of widespread acknowledgement is naturally constricted (to an extent, this is also quite true of many hard publications).

It is quite clear that our social reflex has not yet quite adjusted to the Internet, especially when it comes to publishing literary works: we can see potential, we know it can be used for something, but we are not very sure what, or how it will be achieved. We may yet be surprised.

At this present time, the use of the Internet as a medium for publication has both detrimental and positive effects, both on the writer and the art, the extent of which depends on the fronts listed earlier. I will probably expand on this as the discussion progresses.

Ivor Hartmann: From my own interaction as, and with other African writers, I’d say we’re on the cusp of a never before seen explosion of African literature. This is not without its pitfalls: anyone can now self-publish, but this does not mean that what is self-published will be good. I say it often but it still holds true: writers have to have good editors. We still need gatekeepers, as not everyone who thinks they are a great writer (and we all think that of course), is necessarily so. But (and its a big “but”), there is plenty of room for mediocre writers too, and market forces.

In Africa (and Diaspora) we writers have the tendency to want to be the next Soyinka, Marechera, etc. In other words, to excel strictly in ‘literary’ writing. Who can blame us? They are Africa’s literary heroes whom we of course aspire to. This however leaves a wide open gap in all the other genres that needs to be filled, and is currently filled with imported writing. It is this gap that I’d like to see filled locally.

There is a desperate need for more (affordable) print books on the ground in Africa. We writers may have heartily embraced the online world, but not so much our potential local readers for many reasons (89.1% of Africa does not have online access). There is an ever growing technological divide, and the vast majority of Africa will not have access to the digital literature age that is fast upon us. This means that while African writers do indeed now have access to far more international markets, the same can not be said for local markets where affordable print still rules.

Read the full discussion at One Ghana One Voice.

A Reader and Writer: Miriam Shumba (Zimbabwean Novelist)

Miriam Shumba is the author of two novels, Show Me the Sun and That Which Has Horns, both published in the USA by Genesis Press. She has had several short stories and articles published in Zimbabwe, South Africa, and the United States. She earned her teaching degree at Rhodes University in South Africa and continued her education at Walden University. Miriam has taught elementary school in several countries. She moved to the United States in 2001 and now lives in Michigan with her husband.



Miriam Shumba’s 2010 Reading List

1. The Shack [book cd] : a novel/ William P. Young
2. The Bishop’s Daughter / Tiffany L. Warren
3. The First Lady [book cd] / by Carl Weber
4. Serena : a novel / Ron Rash
5. The Piano Teacher / Janice Y.K. Lee
6. Finding Nouf [book cd] / Zoë Ferraris
7. The Christmas Sweater [book cd] / Glenn Beck with Kevin Balfe and Jason Wright
8. Esteemable acts : 10 actions for building real self-esteem / Francine Ward
9. Your best birth : know all your options, discover the natural choices, and take back the birth experience / Ricki Lake and Abby Epstein ; foreword by Jacques Moritz.
10. Roses
11. An Elegy for Easterly : Stories / by Petina Gappah.
12. The Boy Next Door : a novel / by Irene Sabatini.
13. Knockout : interviews with doctors who are curing cancer– and how to prevent getting it in the first place / Suzanne Somers
14. The Actor and the Housewife [book cd] : a novel / Shannon Hale
15. Once Upon a Day [book cd]: a novel / Lisa Tucker
16. Roses / Leila Meacham
17. Her mother’s hope / Francine Rivers.
18. Shameless [book cd] / Karen Robards
19. Powder necklace : a novel / Nana Ekua Brew-Hammond
20. Fireworks over Toccoa / Jeffrey Stepakoff.
21. The help [book cd] : a novel/ Kathryn Stockett
22. Strangers at the feast [book cd] : a novel / Jennifer Vanderbes
23. Unaccustomed earth : stories / by Jhumpa Lahiri.


Interview with Miriam Shumba

1. Your reading list consists of both print and audio books. Which medium is provides a more effective reading process for you? Does a read get the same effect from a book when listening to it as when reading it? To what extent are both processes considered reading?

Both mediums are enjoyable. I always have a print book at home and an audio book in the car. For some reason I rarely listen to audio books at home and when I tried I found myself falling asleep. Listening to a book from some exotic location the actors/readers imitate the accents very well and it adds richness to the story. The story interests me more that way. Both processes should be considered reading because at the end I’m satisfied with the story in print and audio. Once in a while it’s nice to have both audio and print so I can reread some parts or see how things are spelt.

2. Do you always read as a writer or a reader? Do you read when you are working on your own writing? Does this slow down or speed up your writing?

I can’t help reading as a writer. It’s enjoyable to look out for fresh ways to describe people, for instance, or to find out how flash backs are used. The way words can transport you to another time in space and wreck havoc with your emotions fascinates me, so my notebooks are always close by. Keeping my “writer’s cap” on doesn’t really slow me down if I am lost in a good story.

3. What is the audience of your novels?

My audience is both male and females who enjoy reading about life and relationships but who also hope to grow and change after reading my books. I see people from 16 years onwards picking up my books and liking the stories.

4. How have your books been accepted in the United States?

From the reviews I’ve received the books have been accepted very well. I’ve attended book clubs where my books were discussed too and that was encouraging. Several people told me that they could identify with the characters even though they are from the US and the characters are from Zimbabwe.

5. Are your books available in Zimbabwe or any African country?

They are available in South Africa and right now I am in the process of making them available in Zimbabwe and Ghana initially then spread to other countries.

6. How do you deal with the issue of translation? In other words, are there cultural concepts that you find difficult to present in English?

Absolutely. I even had to translate the title into English and that proved challenging too. I know that there are so many phrases we say in Shona that get lost when translated into English. What I do is to write some sentences in Shona then add the translation immediately after so the people who speak Shona will really get the nuances and those who don’t understand the language will at least know what was said and not get confused.

7. You read short story collections like An Elegy for Easterly and Uaccustomed Earth? Considering that you are publishing in the novel sub-genre, what do you think of the short stories you read? How well do you appreciate the short story sub-genre?

I find most short stories engrossing. Before publishing my two novels I enjoyed and still enjoy writing short stories. I wrote for Drum Magazine in South Africa and Parade Magazine in Zimbabwe and the issues I had with writing them is the same I have when I read them. The challenge for me is that I get attached to certain characters and feel disappointed when the story has to end. Another thing is that not all the short stories in an anthology are enjoyable, and it takes me a while to get into the next short story after having been so absorbed in the one before. They are entertaining and thought-provoking and they are quick and hit you like a whirlwind with all the senses and emotions packed into a short work. With Jumpa Lihiri I noticed that she did continue one short story and I was so excited to see the characters back again in another short at the end of her collection.

8. You also read one of the contemporary Zimbabwean novels, The Boy Next Door by Irene Sabatini, which has been received well in some circles of the US readership. What’s your opinion of this book?

Irene’s novel is incredible. When I picked it up the cover drew me, which shows the importance of captivating covers. It was set close to the time when I was a teenager and I could relate to her protagonist. It was like taking a literal tour around Zimbabwe because she mentioned almost every place of great significance in Zimbabwe including our mysterious magnificent ruins, The Great Zimbabwe. The love story was breathtaking and handled very well. I thoroughly enjoyed her book and it got me excited about all the other new books coming up from Zimbabwe that I can’t wait to read. It’s great to see the children of Zimbabwe telling their own stories like never before.

9. When writing, do you care about the genre your work will come out in? Does it matter to you whether a work will be received as literary or popular fiction?

It would be great to see my work stand the test of time, and be enjoyed by generations either as popular fiction or literary.

10. In a radio interview, you stated that your current publisher features Christian (or is it spiritual) literature. What are the characteristics of this genre?

From the books I’ve read this genre is about characters that are Christians or become Christians. These are books to inspire you and in a way celebrate the love of Jesus in stories that are entertaining. This genre is so broad and can be divided into romance, science fiction, mystery and so on. I don’t know how I feel about categorizing books that way as it means that certain people will not read great works just because they are under the Christian section. Fiction should just be fiction and not be separated by religion.

11. What do you think of the reception of African literature in the USA? Do think this is the African writer’s time in (1) the USA (2) the World?

Many people who have book clubs in the USA tend to enjoy reading books from around the world and some even introduced me to authors J. Nozipo Maraire who wrote Zenzele, A Letter for My Daughter. In the US the books I hear about tend to focus on controversial and disturbing topics and my worry is that the same themes are marketed. What I’ve seen usually revolves around civil war, or politics. I think most people are interested hearing about Africa’s struggles which are truly there but every country has them but their stories are more varied. I haven’t seen that many novels on regular every day stories of families, romance, and friendships. I think it’s time to show more variety. We have more to offer and want to tell all our stories, not just one story.

12. What is your advice to aspiring writers looking to market their works in the United States?

My advice is to definitely find the publishers who are interested in multicultural books in the US. There are not that many out there but the book that I used to locate my publisher is called Writers Markets and it’s published every year. In there you can search for the agents and publishers who want your genre. The United States has always been a multi cultural and there is room for African writers and those from all around the world as well.

2010 in review

The stats helper monkeys at WordPress.com mulled over how this blog did in 2010, and here’s a high level summary of its overall blog health:

Healthy blog!

The Blog-Health-o-Meter™ reads This blog is doing awesome!.

Crunchy numbers

Featured image

A helper monkey made this abstract painting, inspired by your stats.

A Boeing 747-400 passenger jet can hold 416 passengers. This blog was viewed about 2,700 times in 2010. That’s about 6 full 747s.

 

In 2010, there were 9 new posts, growing the total archive of this blog to 120 posts. There were 21 pictures uploaded, taking up a total of 5mb. That’s about 2 pictures per month.

The busiest day of the year was January 6th with 79 views. The most popular post that day was Zimbawean Author Gets Joint Book Deal .

Where did they come from?

The top referring sites in 2010 were facebook.com, digg.com, academicblogs.org, vasigauke.blogspot.com, and 123people.com.

Some visitors came searching, mostly for zimbabwean literature, dambudzo marechera poems, adichie the thing around your neck, famous african literature, and moments in literature.

Attractions in 2010

These are the posts and pages that got the most views in 2010.

1

Zimbawean Author Gets Joint Book Deal August 2008
2 comments

2

Famous Characters in African Literature September 2008
2 comments

3

Adichie’s The Thing Around Your Neck: A Brief Review March 2009

4

Digital Libraries Devaluing Literature? March 2008
1 comment

5

Hard Times Have Freed Zimbabwean Literature February 2009
1 comment

Stories on Stage Calling on African Writers


Sacramento-based Stories on Stage will feature stories by African writers on June 24, 2011 at the Sacramento Poetry Center. Valerie Fioravanti, founder and coordinator of the reading series, has asked me to recommend African writers who are interested in submitting their stories for this special feature. I think it is a great opportunity to create more awareness of African fiction and for Northern California readers to discover the diversity of African writing. The stories are read or performed by professional actors.

Here is what Valerie is looking for:

“Two stories will be featured at each event, one from a writer with a short story collection or equivalent publication history, and one from an emerging writer. An emerging writer need not have previous publications in order to be selected. To submit a story for possible inclusion in the series, email your story as an attachment (.doc or .rtf only), and include a brief bio and publication history, if applicable. Please submit only one story, between 1000-4000 words. I am looking for stories that work well when read aloud, and not all short stories make a smooth transition off the page (this is true of some of my best stories. If you’ve never read your work aloud, I recommend a test run before you submit). Short stories only, please. No novel excerpts, essays/memoir, short plays/scripts, or monologues will be considered…” Email stories to valfiora[AT]yahoo.com and cc manu@munyori.com

The Sacramento Poetry Center is based in Mid-town Sacramento. It presents poetry readings every Monday and short story readings every last Friday of the month. The Stories on Stage has been running for a year and it has helped bring high-quality fiction writers and performers to the SPC.

Valerie Fioravanti says:

“I write fiction, essays, and prose poems. Stories from my linked collection, Garbage Night at the Opera, have appeared in North American Review, Cimarron Review, Hunger Mountain, Night Train and others. These stories have received four pushcart prize nominations and Special Mention in Pushcart Prize XXVIII. I received a Fulbright Fellowship in Creative Writing to work on a novel set in Italy, Bel Casino, which is one of two novels currently in the works. My essays and prose poems have been published in Eclectica, Silk Road, Puerto del Sol, International Living, and others. I live in Boulevard Park in midtown Sacramento, where I run the Stories on Stage reading series and Midtown Writing Workshops.”

Visit Stories on Stage for more details on the series.

Tolu Ogunlessi on the 21st Century Nigerian Literary Scene

Tolu Ogunlessi discusses the Nigerian literary scene since 2000 in this rich article entitled “Things Fall Together: Nigeria’s literary scene in the 21st century”, which is so good I think Tolu should consider making literary profiles for other African regions. I have the feeling that in all African regions, there has been an increase in literary production, but what would be interesting is to find out what the reading trends on the continent have been. Below is an excerpt of Tolu’s article.

Interestingly, another arena that has seen significant change, and provides evidence of an impressive cultural renaissance in Nigeria, is the one in which Adichie herself occupies a vantage spot: the literary arts. On a recent Saturday afternoon, the Silverbird Lifestyle Store in Victoria Island, was cramped with guests attending the 4th edition of the monthly BookJam reading series; featuring Adichie, Kenyan’s Binyavanga Wainaina, and UK-based Nigerians Chuma Nwokolo and Sade Adeniran.

Lagos is suddenly a hot new destination for writers from all over the world – courtesy of the exploits and efforts of writers like Adichie. Her four-year-old annual Creative Writing workshop, sponsored by Nigeria’s oldest and biggest beer company (which before now appeared to be more at home with sponsoring music festivals and talent hunts) has brought Jason Cowley, Nathan Englander, Binyavanga Wainaina, Jackie Kay, Doreen Baingana and Dave Eggers to Lagos, to facilitate writing sessions. This year Ama Ata Aidoo, Niq Mhlongo and Chika Unigwe are the guest writers.

To read the rest of this brilliant article, go to 3 Quarks Daily, which I now follow with a passion. What a rich website.

Book Review: YOUNG ZIMBABWEAN WOMEN POETS BREAK SILENCE

Title: Sunflowers in Your Eyes – Four Zimbabwean Poets

Editor: Menna Elfyn

Publisher: Cinnamon Press

ISBN: 978-1-907090-13-4

Year: 2010

Reviewed by Tinashe Mushakavanhu 

Zimbabwean poetry has been largely a choir of male voices. The absence of women is too visible in KZ Muchemwa’s Zimbabwean Poetry in English (1978), Musaemura Zimunya and Mudereri Kadhani’s And Now the Poets Speak (1982), Flora Veit-Wild’s Patterns of Poetry in Zimbabwean Poetry (1988) and more recently Jane Morris’ Intwasa Poetry (2008). The agenda of this book is to give women their voices as the editor Menna Elfyn outlines in her preface, ‘this book goes some way in redressing this imbalance.’ 

I read the book with so much relish. It is an empowering book in many ways. In poetry as well as in the other artistic fields, the Zimbabwean woman is often restricted to a subordinate role as a muse, confidant and comforter. This book brings a refreshing insight as the four poets – Ethel Kabwato, Fungai Machirori, Joice Shereni and Blessing Musariri reach out to many dreams.

 While, it is easy to get lost in the maze of implications concerning gender, these poets write without shouting WOMEN even though sometimes it is a legitimate claim for dignity and equal opportunities. The book is rich in the variety of expression drawing on different styles. The themes are very much wide-ranging and incisive. 

 What is remarkably interesting about the poetry is the autobiographical element, which is often central to women’s poetry as it allows them to express the sufferings, the pain and the deferred dreams of their personas.  However, in Sunflowers in Your Eyes, the poetry is celebrating a life that despite its hardships and injustice is often happy. It is an expression of injustice but also a celebratory expression of life.

 Ethel Kabwato is the most political in the book as she tackles the difficult subjects that have come to define what has been dubbed the Zimbabwe crisis, subjects of land, violence, patriotism through an intelligent employ of irony and wit. Despite being the youngest, Fungai Machirori’s poetry is of yearning, of self-exploration, of seeking answers to questions relating to her identity as a born free, ‘a composition ‘of many things. Joice Shereni writes more about personal relationships and relationships with the larger society. Blessing Musariri’s ‘assured poems’ are of resilience, of journeying away because as she asks in Holding on, ‘Everybody has moved on/What (are) you doing standing still?’ Hers is a more daring poetry that challenges us to alter our perceptions and our minds.

The four young women have proven beyond doubt that Zimbabwean women can write poetry.  Sunflowers in Your Eyes will considerably increase the depth and breadth of our knowledge of ourselves and a constant reminder of the redefining of those selves.  It is a very personal and yet political collection.

 

BREAKING NEWS from Lion Press

Lion Press ( London ) and artsinitiates-zimbabwe are calling for entries in a short story competition running from May 1 till June 30 2009.

The stories selected will be published in an anthology expected to be out by December 2009.

Ten entries will win prizes. Monetary prizes will be given to the best five stories while material prizes will also be given to the other five winners.

First prize winner will get US$200, second prize is US$100, third prize US$70, fourth prize is US$50 and fifth prize is US$25.

Mobile phones will be given to the other five winners in the ten-winner group.

The stories can be on any topic, must be not less than a 1000 words long and be in English.

Lion Press Ltd is a publishing company founded by Zimbabwean writers in the Diaspora, to cater for the publication needs of Zimbabwean and Southern African writers.

It also offers services ranging from assisting with story-line development, editing, proofreading, illustrations, typesetting and cover design.

The company also translates books or documents from Shona/ Ndebele to English, and vice-versa. In addition, the company sells books in Shona and Ndebele in selected bookshops in Southern Africa and the UK .

To date, Lion Press has published the award-winning writer Christopher Mlalazi, music researcher Joyce Jenje-Makwenda, Sarudzayi Chifamba-Barnes and is working on works by renowned authors such as Alexander Kanengoni and Ignatius Mabasa.

The Lion Press Ltd is run and managed by a team of seasoned Zimbabwean authors and illustrators.

It owns an online store for selling a range of Shona and Ndebele books published by other companies.

Artsinitiates-zimbabwe is the country’s premier arts and culture online media that runs news items, poems as well as short stories.

It was founded in 2008 as part of the Imagine Afrika initiative that seeks to expand and promote the arts and culture sector by engaging people involved in the industry.

Interested writers can send their stories to wonderguchu@yahoo.comThis e-mail address is being protected from spambots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it .

Adichie’s The Thing Around Your Neck: A Brief Review

The new book by Chimamanda Ngozie Achidie, The Thing Around Your Neck,  is rich with references to history, culture and literature.  In this short review, I focus on two stories whose events recall Chinua Achebe and Tsitsi Dangarembga. In  “Tomorrow is Too Far”, Adichie creates a protagonist that reminds of Tambu in Tsitsi Dangarembga’s Nervous Conditions. There is the theme of sibling rivalry caused by forces beyond the children’s control. The girl resents her brother, Nsono whom everyone treats better; the mother is happier putting him to bed than she does when she is in the daughter’s room. And the girl notices that the mother’s care for her children is really geared towards comforts for the boy than for the girl.

 Back in Nigeria, where the children spend their vacations, the grandmother treats Nsono like a prince, cooking food that only he should enjoy, telling the girl that she should see this as an example of how to take care of a man.  The girl always feels ignored and this is not good for the boy.

As in Nervous Conditions, the brother dies, a death the sister accidentally causes but blames on the grandmother. Like Tambu, she at first is not sorry that her brother dies because the family’s attention shifts to her, although the mother is never the same again, and the girl will not see the grandmother again until she goes to back to Nigeria, eighteen years later, to pay her last respects.  This story is Adichie’s stinging critique of the patriarchal society and its effects on both Nigerian and American values.  Adichie looks at the negative and positive aspects of these values, honestly depicting the circumstances her characters find themselves in. 

In “The Headstrong Historian”, Adichie plays pastiche by taking characters straight out of Achebe and providing a new historical perspective. For a moment we are reminded of Umuofia when see the names Okonkwo and Obierika, and the time is the same as in Things Fall Apart–the coming of the white man, the conversion of the villagers to Christianity, the pacification of the tribes of the Niger Delta, Europe’s mission to civilize and to bring light to Africa; but this time we have a very practical woman, Nwamgba, playing a leading role in utilizing what’s useful from the white men, sending her son to school to learn English, because she has seen how much power the language has, but her dream is the demise of her values, as the son changes beyond what she has hoped.

Two cultures in contact and contest, two cultures not trusting each other, and this time both sides are presented as viewing the other as savage. There is nothing new in Adichie’s portrayal of Nigerian history, except that she gives a stronger voice to to her female characters; we see things from their point of view. And then we have a headstrong historian, rewriting the history of her people which has been blighted by European misrepresentation.

“The Headstrong Historian” could as well be a chapter in the Appendix of Things Fall Apart. Some of the questions Achebe raises at the end his novel are answered in this story. The connection is deliberate (Adichie has been labelled the literary daughter of Achebe) and she is showing showing what daughters can do, extend the legacy of their fathers. The daughter in the story, not to be confused with the author, of course, takes it upon herself to reconstruct her people’s history. Having been educated in the mission school system, she knows the whiteman’s religion, but chooses to rebel against it as she sees the contradictions it carries. So she reconnects, against her father’s wishes (he is a catechist), with he grandmother who had always known that she will play a special role in the spiritual future of the family. This is where Adichie takes the popular Umuofia story to new heights.

Remember Okonkwo always wished he had son who would take care of the family’s legacy, and when he saw that his youngest daughter had the wisdom he wanted to see in a man, he was proud but not satisfied; as a girls she could not play that role. But in Adichie’s story, which deals with an Onicha that needs its culture preserved and its story told correctly, the girl Afamefuna is the “headstrong historian” searching in every village for clues of his people’s past, traveling to museums in history to follow traces of that history, which were plandered as part of the civilizing mission. Where a British admnistrator a chapter entitled “The Pacification of the Primitive Tribes of Southern Nigeria”, Ifamefuna will write a book entitled Pacifying with Bullets: A Reclaimed History of Southern Nigeria.  And she will do this alone, even if it means later getting divorced from her husband in 1972.

The rest of the stories in The Thing Around Your Neck deal with contemporary issues of immigrant life, taking us from Nigeria to America and back, showing successfully that the dreams that drive us are sometimes our downfall, yet the desire for life, for happiness, will forever drive us.  Her thematic range extends from corruption in Nigeria (the stereotypes), to corruption in America (the usual stereotypes), but it is her balanced approach to life in these two places that leaves the reader satisfied. The basic message seems to be that wherever we are, wherever we go, we are the same problem-ridden people, manipulative, but vulnerable, ambitious but ambivalent.

As I read these stories, most of which are older than Adichie’s two novels we have all fallen in love with, I enjoyed the grace with which the stories are told; then there is the sensitivity or compassion, the honest and humble storytelling voice, showing that in Adichie we have a writer who will keep us asking for more.

Ivor W. Hartmann: Rising Star of African Speculative Science Fiction

On the 14th March 2009, “Earth Rise” by Ivor W. Hartmann was nominated for the international Ursa Major Award in the Best Short Fiction category.

Ivor W. Hartmann is a Zimbabwean author, writing from economic exile in Johannesburg, South Africa. “Earth Rise” and its UMA nomination, represent a major step for African Literature. Firmly set in the genre of Speculative Science Fiction,it shines a welcoming light for African writers to expand from traditional genres, which seem to restrain African Literature.

In Ivor Hartmann’s words, “African genre fiction, which was a sleeping lion, is now changing. Already if you listen carefully, you can hear the start of our African Roar.”

As described by Jim Steel of The Fix (TTA Press, the publisher of Interzone, Black Static, Crimewave,):

“Ivor W. Hartmann’s “Earth Rise” starts with a man waking in his coffin. Obviously we must then travel back and explore his life. Everyone will end up here, but what, exactly, was Thomas Church’s path? He was a scientist in an unnamed African country, trying to develop nanotech wonders for a military dictator. So far he has failed, but there is a ready supply of test victims who keep being marched in to die from the results. His conscience plagues him, but he has to protect his loved ones. Agents, however, have targeted him and want to steal what he has developed. And what has he developed? The story spirals out, and the beginning is not the end, and to say more would be a sin against the author.”

The Ursa Major Awards, more formally known as the Annual Anthropomorphic Literature and Arts Award, is presented annually for excellence in the anthropomorphic arts. It is intended as Anthropomorphic Fandom’s equivalent of the Hugo Award ® presented by the World Science Fiction Society, mystery fandom’s Anthony Award, horror fandom’s Bram Stoker Award, and so forth. The UMA is a global public award and anyone may nominate and vote for candidates for the Awards. These Awards are decided by the fans, not by a committee.

Voting for the UMA finalists is still underway, you too can cast your vote for Earth Rise here.

Congratulations to Ivor for this great nomination. He right in saying that African writing needs to diversify into other genres. I have always felt that we can easily have a Stephen King, a John Grisham, or a J.K. Rowling in Africa.

A Moment in Gappah’s “The Annexe Shuffle”

Of the stories written by Petina Gappah that I have read, there are some whose narrator luxuriates in the musicality of language, introducing an ease in narration only exemplified in few instances in Zimbabwean literature. The few instances can be found in Charles Mungoshi, Memory Chirere, Yvonne Vera, and of course, now, Petina Gappah, who promises to take it to a new level. Here is a taste of the language play I am talking about, exemplified in “The Annexe Shuffle”, the Per Contra version:

They bring her to Dr. Chikara, Emily; the Dean of Students on one side, the Warden of Swinton Hostel on the other. Dr. Chikara is not who she expected. His office is an empty space with nothing on the walls. There are no books by Freud and Jung. There is no couch in sight. He does not talk about the id or the ego. Instead, from behind his government-issue desk, he directs her to a government-issue chair.

He smokes Kingsgate cigarettes, one after the other.

He writes down everything she says.

‘Canst thou minister to a mind diseased?’ she asks him. ‘Pluck from the memory a rooted sorrow?’

He writes this down.

‘May I have a cigarette,’ she says, without a question mark.

‘Do you smoke?’ he asks, with a question mark.

‘I do now,’ she says as she lights one of his cigarettes. She coughs out smoke through teary eyes.

He writes that down too.

‘I am sending you to the Annexe,’ he says, ‘the mental wing at Parirenyatwa Hospital.’

The word mental and the word hospital combine to produce a loud clanging in her mind. ‘I am not mad,’ she says.

‘No, of course you are not mad’, he says. ‘Madness has nothing to do with it. You only need rest, all you need is rest.’ Read more in Per Contra.

There is something pleasurable about the style, and it makes me want to read more. Although I am yet to read the short story collection, I can safely say, based on the few anthologized stories of Gappah I have read, a new narrator is born in Zimbabwean literature.

Or did I state that  I have seen traces of this narrator in Toni Morrison, in Paradise, for instance? I have, but as you know, each individual is distinct. This narrator promises to make us laugh, cry, curse, but managing still to make us love her/him.

Conversation with Petina Gappah

Petina Gappah is a rising star, and in this insighful interview, she talks about her writing career, her soon-to-be-released short story collection, Elegy for Easterly, and her views on Zimbabwean literature.

1. Congratulations on the publication of An Elegy for Easterly. What does this big step mean to you?

Thank you very much. It is a huge step. It means the fulfilment of a life’s dream. To be published by Faber, to be in the company of T.S. Eliot, Sylvia Plath, Siegfried Sassoon, William Golding, Orhan Pamuk, Owen Sheers , P.D. James, Kazuo Ishiguro and other writers I love is almost too good to be real.

2. How has your personal background contributed to your writing of Elegy for Easterly; for instance, are there traces of yourself in any of the characters in the stories?

I think of my writing as a compulsive form of theft. Every story I have written is based on at least one true thing. This could be something that happened to me, to someone in my family, to a friend, to someone in a friend’s family, or something I read. My Aunt Juliana’s Indian was inspired by my childhood memory of Muzorewa’s UANC campaigning in the townships of Salisbury in 1979 and 1980. My Cousin-sister Rambanai tells a story that is familiar to most Zimbabweans, the shedding of an old identity to assume a new one in the diaspora. The Maid from Lalapanzi was inspired by the memory of some of the domestic workers who assisted my mother when I was growing up. The Mupandawana Dancing Champion was inspired by a news report in The Herald. And so on. Stories sometimes come to me when I least expect them: I was walking at Victoria Station in London a year ago, and playing a private game that I call “Spot the Zimbabwean” – I have the finely-honed ability to spot a Zimbabwean in any crowd – and I saw two people who looked Zimbabwean. To prove this to myself, I moved closer to them, and heard one of them say: Ufunge, kubva musi waauya haana kana kumbotengawo kana nyama. I thought, Bingo, then I thought, Now there is a story there.

3. How long have you been writing fiction?

Almost every writer says, I have been writing since I was 3, or I began to write before I drew my first breath, or something like that. I was not such a prodigy, alas. I have been writing for as long as I have been aware of the power of stories to create a firmer reality than the present. Not that I would have put it in those terms then, I was just a kid who liked stories and thought I’d try to write a few of my own. I wrote my first “novel”, if you can call it that, when I was about 10. It was set on Mars and called Return to Planet Earth! I was also ballet-obsessed at the time, and my second (and self-illustrated!) novel plagiarised quite shamelessly the Drina books by Jean Estoril. To amuse my brother and sister, I also wrote nonsense poetry in imitation of Ogden Nash and Hillaire Beloc, whose poetry we loved. These literary gems were taken for rubbish by the man who helped in our garden, and he burned them with other trash.

My first published story, “Marooned on a Desert Island”, was published when I was in Form Two, in the St. Dominic’s school magazine, Santa Dee Blues. My first earnings from writing came when I was in Form 4, when I won an award of 100 dollars in the Randalls Essay Writing Competition. I then started writing really bad poetry like this: “The beggar in the street sang out to me/I hurried on, averting the sight/To look on such suffering must be/Avoided at all cost/And still his raucous voice haunted me/ His raucous voice still taunted me.”

It was grim. Happily, I very quickly got over that stage.
Then I went to university where I became consumed by my law studies, by being a Marxist-Leninist, and by falling in and out of love. I kept a journal through my university days, but wrote no fiction. I left Zimbabwe in 1995 for postgraduate studies, then I started working as a lawyer in Geneva in 1999. Although I sometimes contributed the occasional opinion piece to newspapers, I wrote very little but talked all the time about how I wanted to be a writer. Like an unfortunately large number of writers I have come to know, I wanted to be a writer without actually doing any writing! I really only started writing, and, this is a crucial distinction, finishing things, in 2006. My first short story, Something Nice from London was published that year. My second story, At the Sound of the Last Post did extremely well in the SA PEN contest, and the rest followed from there.

4. It’s been said that your book deal with Faber and FSG is a big step in Zimbabwean literature. Do you agree?

The book deal is one thing, whether the books are any good is the question that will determine whether this is a big step for Zimbabwean literature. And that, of course, is not for me to judge. But there is this: I have found that in publishing, it helps to have a precedent. So the fact that both Brian Chikwava and I are being published by top publishers may, depending on our success, make other publishers take a closer look at other Zimbabwean writers who are coming up.

5. I have often told people that you are a hardworking writer, have noticed that you are involved in many writing projects. You have participated in international writing contests, have won second place in the PEN/Africa Prize judged by J.M. Coetzee. But you have also been a columnist for media outlets like Zimbabwe Times, where your stinging criticism of poor governance in Zimbabwean politics has intrigued readers. You are also a satirist of the highest order, and you maintain a frequently updated, professional blog. On top of all this, you are a busy lawyer. How do you manage to do all this, and in what ways have you been able to balance fiction and non-fiction works in your writing career?

Thanks for those kind words. I believe it was Susan Sonntag who advised writers to engage with the world. Hemingway shot things, climbed mountains and wrote. Scott Turow writes thrillers, and runs a legal practice devoted to death penalty cases. P.D. James worked for the NHS, raised her children as a single mother, and gave us the wonderful Dalgliesh novels.

Lady James in particular is an inspiration, because she shows it is possible to have two lives: she had solid professional achievements before she turned to writing. I was a lawyer before I became a writer, I published academic papers on international trade law before I published fiction. I see no conflict at all between my professional life and my writing of fiction. If anything, the one feeds the other, and I am grateful to have both. I love my job and being a lawyer, and I love writing….

The full interview will appear in the March/April Issue of Munyori Literary Journal, which is also going to feature works by Valerie Tagwira, Naomi Benaron, Dike Okoro and others.

The Faber & Faber edition of Elegy for Easterly will be released in April, and you can read the first lines of all the stories on Petina’s author website.

Christopher Mlalazi Wins the NAMA

Zimbabwe has ceased to make sense to most people. They have wondered how people could exist in a country where the perecentage of inflation is in the billions, and bread costs millions. Economists don’t even understand in what ways Zimbabwe is a useful case study anymore.

 But there is one place you can always count on to understand a people and the situation they are going through–that place is literature. Already there are signs that the world will be gripped by Zimbabwean literature, understanding for the first time the dynamics of a dire situation.

One writer who has arisen out of this situation is Chrisopher Mlalazi, whose stories catalogue Zimbabwe’s hard hours. His short story collection, “Dancing with Life and Other Stories”, published by aMabooks, has won the highest literary Award in Zimbabwe, the NAMA (National Arts Merit Award) for best first published book.

More developments are occuring in Zimbabwean literature. Faber (UK) and FSG (USA) gave a joint book deal to Zimbabwean writer Petina Gappah, a lawayer based in Geneva, whose stories portray contemporary life in Zimbabwe. Another writer, Brian Chikwava, who is based in the UK, has published, with Random House, a novel entitled Harare North, which deals with the struggles of Zimbabwe in the UK.

There are more works too, works that openly are an indictment of failed governance, and others that celebrate life even where it seems impossible.

The Rise of Petina Gappah

In a previous post I shared what search engine terms people used to get to my literary blog Moments in Literature, the terms that drive traffic. Usually, some of them are random terms that have to do with literature, Africa, Zimbabwe, and so on. Once in a while, though, the terms are really interesting; for instance, the ones from yesterday, December 14. I will list them here:

charles chirikure türkiye
poetry reading
memory chirere
the rise of petina gappah
definition of poetry by different poets

Two of the above attracted my attention: someone was looking for Memory Chirere (and they better!) and then someone was thinking of the “rise of Petina Gappah” (you know she is rising). I was prompted to make a search for this rise and here, in part, is what I found:

Petina Gappah | Contributors | GrantaApr 22, 2008 … Granta 103: The Rise of the British Jihad was published in Autumn … Petina Gappah is a Zimbabwean writer and lawyer who lives in Geneva. …
http://www.granta.com/Contributors/Petina-Gappah – 20k – Cached – Similar pages –
Petina Gappah | Contributors | GrantaPetina Gappah. … Granta 103: The Rise of the British Jihad was published in Autumn 2008. … Posts by Petina Gappah. There was 1 post found. …
http://www.granta.com/Contributors/Petina-Gappah?view=contributorAllBlogPosts – 19k – Cached – Similar pages –
More results from http://www.granta.com »
WEALTH OF IDEAS: Watching Petina GappahWatching Petina Gappah. We have been advised by The Africa Report, … Cosmas Mairos, a Poet on the Rise · Marechera Celebration: Call for Contributions …
vasigauke.blogspot.com/2008/11/watching-petina-gappah.html – 81k – Cached – Similar pages –

You will be taken to all the different contributions Petina has made to magazines like Granta, and if you keep going, you will see information about Elegy for Easterly, some of which I am going to share here:
This is the Amazon store front with information to order the book. They have a product description too:

“Petina Gappah is the voice of Zimbabwe. In this astonishingly powerful debut collection, she dissects with real poignancy the lives of people caught up in a situation over which they have no control, as they deal with spiralling inflation, power cuts and financial hardship – a way of life under Mugabe’s regime – and cope with issues common to all people everywhere; failed promises, disappointments and unfulfilled dreams. Compelling, unflinching and tender, “An Elegy for Easterly” is a defining book, and a stunning portrait of a country in chaotic meltdown.”

The other one I liked is by the publisher of the US edition of the book, FSG:

A N E L E G Y F O R E A S T E R LY
Stories

S E T I N T H E C H A O S A N D C O N F U S I O N
O F E V E R Y D AY L I F E I N Z I M B A B W E , A
D E B U T C O L L E C T I O N F U L L O F V E R V E ,
W I T, A N D C O M PA S S I O N

They had a detailed summary of the book:

A woman in a township in Zimbabwe is surrounded by throngs of dusty children but longs for a baby of her own; an old man finds that his new job making coffins at No Matter Funeral Parlor brings unexpected riches; a politician’s widow quietly stands by at her husband’s funeral watching his colleagues bury an empty casket. Petina Gappah’s characters may have ordinary hopes and dreams, but they are living in a world where a loaf of bread costs half a million dollars; where wives can’t trust even their husbands for fear of AIDS; and where people know exactly what will be printed in the newspapers because the news is always, always good. In her spirited debut collection, the Zimbabwean author Petina Gappah brings us the resilience and inventiveness of the people who struggle to live under Robert Mugabe’s regime. She takes us across the city of Harare from the townships beset by power cuts to the manicured lawns of privilege and corruption, where wealthy husbands keep their first wives in the “big houses” while their second wives wait in the “small houses,” hoping for a promotion. Despite their circumstances, the characters in An Elegy for
Easterly are more than victims; they are all too human, with as much capacity to inflict pain as to endure it. They struggle with larger issues common to all people everywhere: failed promises, unfulfilled dreams, and the yearning for something to anchor them to life.

All this information from a search engine term from my blog; keep searching folks!

Chimamanda Adichie: 2008 MacArthur Fellow

This past week, the recipients (of the MacArthur Fellowship) learned in a single phone call from the Foundation that they will each receive $500,000 in “no strings attached” support over the next five years. The new Fellows work across a broad spectrum of endeavors and include a neurobiologist, a saxophonist, a critical care physician, an urban farmer, an optical physicist, a sculptor, a geriatrician, a historian of medicine, and an inventor of musical instruments. All were selected for their creativity, originality, and potential to make important contributions in the future.

Chimamanda Adichie is a young writer who illuminates the complexities of human experience in works inspired by events in her native Nigeria. Adichie explores the intersection of the personal and the public by placing the intimate details of the lives of her characters within the larger social and political forces in contemporary Nigeria. Dividing her time over the last decade between the United States and Nigeria, she is widely appreciated for her stark yet balanced depiction of events in the post-colonial era. In her most recent novel, Half of a Yellow Sun (2006), Adichie unflinchingly portrays the horror and destruction of the civil war following the establishment of the Republic of Biafra. Using multiple narrative voices, a precise movement back and forth in time, and prose that is at once witty and empathetic, she immerses the reader in the psyches of her characters, whose loyalties to each other and their ideals are tested as their world gradually falls apart. In humanizing the Biafran tragedy, Adichie’s novel has enriched conversation about the war within Nigeria while also offering insight into the circumstances that lead to ethnic conflict. A writer of great promise, Adichie’s powerful rendering of the Nigerian experience is enlightening audiences both in her homeland and around the world.

Chimamanda Adichie received a B.A. (2001) from Eastern Connecticut State University, an M.A. (2003) from Johns Hopkins University, and an M.A. (2008) from Yale University. Her additional works include the novel Purple Hibiscus (2003) and short stories that have appeared in such publications as the New Yorker, Granta, and the Virginia Quarterly Review.

© The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, 2005-2008