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.

New Collaboration for Indian and Zimbabwean Writers

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

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

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

Have you ever visited the sun-kissed Africa?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good luck!

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

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.