Thursday, February 18, 2010
Zimbabwe Women Writers org turns 20
Today at the Zimbabwe Arts and Culture Indaba in Harare, the Zimbabwe Women Writers director, Audrey Chihota Charamba, reminded me that her organisation is turning twenty this year!
“Twenty?” I asked, “Is it already Twenty?”
Formed in 1990, the Zimbabwe Women Writers (ZWW) is an arts and culture trust, concerned particularly with the promotion of women’s literature in Zimbabwe. The idea has been to groom women writers and publish them or help them publish.
To date, ZWW has published over fifteen books in various subjects from creative writing, scholarly books and even recipes. Some of these books have been incorporated into the local Zimbabwe school syllabi while others are reference texts in institutes of higher learning across the globe.
For sometime now they have been winning national literary prizes, sometimes ahead of some very established authors and established literary houses. These include Zimbabwe Book Publishers Awards (ZBPA) and the National Arts and Merit Awards (NAMA).
For instance they won the NAMA Best Published Research work on Arts/ Culture with their book A Tragedy of Lives in 2003. In 2004 their collection of short stories in Shona, Masimba was recognised as one of ZIBF’s 75 best books. Their collection of poems, Ngatisimuke won the 2005 second prize in the ZBPA literary Awards for Best fiction Award. Their Totanga Patsva won the 2006 National Arts Merits Awards for Outstanding Achievement in Fiction category. The same book also won the ZBPA 2006 Best Shona fiction Awards
Some of the founding women are prominent Zimbabwean writers like Barbara Nkala, Tawona Mtshiya, Chiedza Msengezi, Collette Mutangadura and Virginia Phiri. Even women from abroad, then resident in Zimbabwe, helped a lot. These are writers like the Ghanaian, Ama Ata Aidoo, the German scholar, Flora Veit-Wild and lawyer, Mary Tandon.
One of the earliest ZWW books is the series called There is Room at the Top (1995 to 1999). This five-book series, that targeted lower high school readership sought to explore the biographies of women who had scored firsts in male dominated spheres. This project was key in building role models for the girl child in a context that she can identify with.
Then there are short story collections; Masimba (Shona) and Vus’inkophe (Ndebele) both of (1996). They were compiled in acknowledgement of the Convention of Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Among Women (CEDAW).
There are also anthologies of poetry of (1998); Nhetembo(in Shona) and Inkondlo( in Ndebele). ZWW had to reprint, revamp and recast the Shona poetry Nhetembo into Ngatisimuke in (2004) so that it could be more user- friendly for O level students. Masimba, and A Tragedy of Lives, have been made school set books in Zimbabwe for O and A level up to 2008, respectively.
ZWW also published a special book called Women of Resilience(2000). For this book, ZWW interviewed women combatants and non-combatants from the Zimbabwe war of liberation. They set out to write the history of the liberation struggle from a women’s perspective and also to portray women not only as collaborators, but as actual participants at the battlefront.
One of the major highlights of the book is the stigma that the women who went to war have had to live with after the war. While the men are celebrated as heroes, the women tended to be ostracised because somehow it is thought that they ‘went beyond femininity’ by joining the struggle. It is amazing and encouraging that almost all the interviewees in this book seem to concur that 1980 was not a destination, but perhaps the starting point for women’s struggles in other areas in life.
A Tragedy of Lives is a book that tells the experiences of some women prisoners in Zimbabwe. ZWW members, through various experiences with prison in different capacities, felt that prison was an untapped area. They set out to explore society’s attitudes towards a mother, wife, daughter- in-law and sister who had been incarcerated A Tragedy of Lives is generally considered to be ZWW’s most successful book.
ZWW have seen spin offs from the book as a project. Through it, they have persuaded society to look at the driving force behind crimes generally committed by women. Partly as a result of this book, the conditions in prison (which by the way, were designed for men) have been reviewed. Women prisoners’ children who in the past, would literally serve the sentence with their mothers, have since begun attending a play centre, which was constructed by a Christian organisation on reading our book.
ZWW is, arguably, the most successful and prolific writers’ organisation in Zimbabwe if one considers the impact of their publications and their membership, which comes from nearly every sector of the Zimbabwean community. They have given a platform to a lot of marginalized women to voice their opinions. More than a thousand women have attended writing skills workshops organised by ZWW.
I understand that there are plans to do a mini conference on Women’s writings in Zimbabwe to mark ZWW birthday number 20. ZWW Head offices are at number 2 Harvey Brown, Milton Park, Harare. Phone: 263 042925688 or cell: 263 913286242