Monday, October 31, 2011

NoViolet Bulawayo: I love language for its beauty if done properly

Below is an interview that Gary Goldon (G) of Daily Brink did with Zimbabwean writer, NoViolet Bulawayo (N) who recently won the coveted Caine Prize for “Hitting Budapest,” a short story depicting the lives of a starving gang of children from a shanty town. Here she talks about her life as a writer.

G: Let me first ask you about your personal background. Where were you born and raised, and how early on did you know that writing was going to be, if anything, your passion?

N: I was born and raised in Zimbabwe and left for college in the U.S. where I was supposed to study law, but since there was no authority to tell me what to do and enforce it, I could afford to follow my passion when I got here, which is how I eventually ended up in the Cornell MFA program. I was into storytelling and writing as early as primary school, mostly because I was raised on orature. But I didn’t know then that I’d eventually live for writing, because growing up I never saw writers around me, and anyway, we were raised to pursue “traditional, sensible careers.” Writing wasn’t one of them, and for this reason I really didn’t expose my pursuits until the Caine, or should I say the Caine exposed me.

G: For our readers who might be unfamiliar with your work, can you briefly tell us what type of literary pieces you’re interested in writing, and what your award-winning story “Hitting Budapest” is about?

N: I’m interested in literature that engages with real social issues, and I love language for its beauty if done properly, as well as great storytelling for how it allows us to experience other worlds, so my pieces try to embody these things. “Hitting Budapest” is about a group of starving kids from a shanty who raid an affluent neighborhood for guavas because they are hungry, and while there, meet a clueless Westerner who fails to connect with them on a human level. The kids steal, eat, go back to the shanty to meet a dead woman dangling from a tree. Their hunger allows them to conquer their fear of death and they steal her shoes so they can sell them in order to buy bread. But the real story is in the class divide, in the loss of innocence, immigration, violence: things that remain under the surface but are very much part of these children’s realities.

G: Congratulations on winning the Caine Prize for African Writing! Tell us a bit about that experience — from the intimacy of writing a book to now having it out in the open for the world to read. How has your life changed in the past few months?

N: The Caine is one of Africa’s most prestigious prizes and it happened to me when I wasn’t trying to win any prestigious prizes; I mean, I was in school when I wrote the piece and like any other young writer, still working on sorting myself out. Having the whole world read the story has been both exciting and terrifying, but I’m not complaining, especially since Zimbabwe has only won the Caine Prize once, in 2004, so of course I’m glad to be representing my country. In terms of changes on a personal level I guess I now have a writing ticket that’s making my life easier. I’m also challenging myself more than ever before; I’m just getting started and I have places to go.

G: Our team was astounded by the power of “Hitting Budapest.” You deal with a lot of themes such as crime, poverty, injustice, and post-colonialism. Because of Zimbabwe’s dramatic predicament, do you think that your work will always involve socioeconomic themes — may it be in your stories or poems?

N: I suspect that my work will always have these political overtones even if things in Zimbabwe changed for the better; that’s just what concerns me as an artist. That, together with my imagination, has no borders; I’m starting to write about America now and those themes are following my work so I guess that’s who I am on the page. Let’s see what I’m doing two, three novels down the road.

G: It often feels like African writers are underrepresented and certainly “under-published” in the United States. Is this an accurate perception, and if so, why do you think that is?

N: It can always be better, but I think as the world is getting smaller people are becoming increasingly interested in reading about other places, so I feel like the time is right for the African writer, but of course books have to be written, and well-written, especially now, in order to find their way to any shelf. To that end it’d be great to see opportunities for African writing improve, especially at the preparation level; that’s what will make it possible for us to be more present on the world stage.

G: Therefore, do you feel a responsibility toward the citizens of Sub-Saharan Africa or South Africa? A need to accurately depict their lives, issues, and everyday struggles?

N: I write what I want, of course, what moves me, but because I engage in real issues, I end up depicting “real lives” and “real stories” even though that’s not always necessarily what I set out to do. One of the sobering moments for me after the Caine was to get emails from people who could identify with the story and my other stories in one way or the other, and while I was happy being reckless and doing my own thing before, I find myself inevitably thinking about the real person attached to my characters now. Still, I don’t want to surrender to accuracy; that would take the fun of creation away. My responsibility, then, would be to write well and be at my best. That’s all I can give.

G: What are some of your future projects? You have been published on a wide diversity of platforms. Are you planning to publish a novel?

N: I’m putting the final touches on a novel and working on an AIDS memoir based on my family’s experiences with the disease. I’m also fantasizing about traveling the world and just writing while I’m at it; for me that’s where the stories are and I think I’d do much more, but of course I’m allowed to have an imagination!

G: I have to ask: who are some of your literary heroes, and why? Are you influenced by any other cultural mediums?

N: There are too many, but the Zimbabwean writer Yvonne Vera is very important to me for being fierce and fearless; her work gave me some serious keys back when I needed to open some doors as an unsure young artist trying to find the courage to write. In terms of influence, I’d say I was raised on orature and so that’s how I came into story. Even today I write through speaking; I literally have to speak the story out while I write it, or before, and in a way I’m able to put myself in the listener’s shoes and decide if the story is worth telling to begin with. There are times when music will carry me through; I don’t write to it, but it can serve as a text that allows me to be in dialogue with it, and of course it can also help me tap into my characters’ spaces, or just serve as a medium when I need to be in a particular zone that I can’t otherwise access on my own.

G: What are you reading right now?

N: I’m just finishing Justin Torres’ short but fierce novel, We The Animals, where I was stunned on almost every page, and I’m reading Jon McGregor’s Even The Dogs, a deliciously challenging read.

G: What is the single most important message you try to convey to your students at Cornell about writing?

N: It’s your story: act like it and write it on your own terms.


Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Ruzvidzo Stanley Mupfudza: unveilling of tombstone

Unveilling of tombstone for the late writer Stanley Ruzvidzo Mupfudza will be held at Mupfudzapake homestead, Guruve on Saturday 22 October 2011, from 11am to 2pm. Information: 0779271147/077242081

"I am concerned with questions of identity. For a long time I wandered through the mazes of our own Zimbabwean condition -- western education, acculturation -- looking for a centre. I even dabbled in Eastern philosophy, always felt on the outside of mainstream society. Then I started delving into our own religion, history and mythology. One of my short stories is called "The Lost Songs" which is about a singer who repudiates his past, his rural family and gets lost in the seedy life of the city, pop music... Then one day he forgets all the lyrics to his songs... Things begin to fall apart around him, his so-called friends abandon him... Then he makes the journey back home, to his mother where he reconnects with his family history and he discovers an ancient mbira which was passed down from generation to generation in his family and through mbira music he finds his place in the scheme of things."
-Ruzvidzo Mupfudza: Conversations With Writers, Friday July 13, 2007-

Friday, October 14, 2011

'Destiny In My Hands' by Primrose Dzenga

(picture:Primrose reading from 'Destiny In My Hands')

Title: Destiny In My Hands
Author: Primrose Dzenga
Publisher: Salmonpoetry, 2010
ISBN: 978-1-907056-55-0
Page Count: 72
(A review by Memory Chirere)
Primrose Dzenga’s poetry collection, Destiny In My Hands is about women’s reflections on their passionate love and sometimes hate and hurt relationships with men. To read it is to snoop and listen to a woman’s heartbeat and passions. You come away with the knowledge that to relate is to invest and to risk.

At this point I want to restate what I wrote and published in 2006 about Shona women’s love poems in Shona: ‘While the traditional Shona woman had the latitude to compose and perform love poetry specifically for her man in bed (madanha), the modern Shona woman of the written word tends to avoid, in several ways, writing fully fledged love poems in the Shona language. After observing some of the key Shona poetry collections, one clearly notes that love poems written in Shona by women, avoids explicit references to ‘women in love’. Most of these poems are very rarely from a woman’s point of view. In the very few poems that portray women in love, there are usually no in depth and meaningful explorations of the love of women for their men.’

But Primrose Dzenga has fearlessly joined the few brave Zimbabwean voices of Kristina Rungano and Eve Nyemba in writing about how a woman in love (and outside love) feels. The themes of power and political violence appear to have been overplayed in contemporary Zimbabwean literature.

In ‘If he made love’ a man skilfully plays an instrument at a public gathering that the woman persona, gawking at him from the crowd, wishes she were the instrument in his very able hands:

‘If he made love,
With such joy and abandon
Tenderness and care
If he caressed
Velvety feverish caresses
Like he did the cords,
Sweet cords of his piano…’

For me, this could be one of the best love poems to come out of Zimbabwe, if it is finally agreed that it is a love poem! It is both direct and indirect.The woman is transfigured by both the music and the intimate way in which the unsuspecting man musician plays the instrument. This is in tune with Shona folklore where a man wins a woman by playing the drum from morning to sunset and a woman wins a man by dancing until she sinks into the ground beneath her and until water pours from the crater that her dancing feet have dug.

The Shona admire such arts to the extent that such a mythical girl is known to this day as Jikinya (the inimitable dancer who stamps the earth with her feet). In ‘Illusions’ the persona bemoans the dearth of true love of the old world. Men of today ‘do not kiss, they bite’ and ‘they do not caress but scratch’. Inversely, the maidens of old: ‘saw the beauty in a man’s eyes’ and ‘the depth and need of a man’s heart’.

In keeping with the old world, you find out that twilight, night, midnight and dawn are important in Dzenga’s poems. Darkness is surely the colour of love. In the village of old, night is the moment for half hidden faces of lovers in true passion, dance and ritual. It is time for truthful and undivided reflection:

‘I think of you at midnight
I dream of you awake at dawn
Conversations in mystic tongue
Lie pearly jewels between you and me’

‘Broken sentences’ is a poem in which a roguish man of today is enmeshed in his roles as woman-basher and senseless ravisher of women. During the moment of the poem, he is finally running away from the innocent woman he has just murdered. But the woman is everywhere; in his impish thoughts, in the beer mug in front of him and in his running legs. He has defeated her but his victory over her is not victory. It is a journey into doom because to kill a woman is to kill your mother and to kill the source. In the Shona world, fighting a woman or one’s mother is like falling into an abyss where you tumble endlessly, hitting against the walls of the tunnel as you descend, and your anguish cries reminding the world of the folly of raising your hand against Mother. And such is the tragedy of action without conscience.

And yet Dzenga suggests that it is not always easy and safe for a woman to give her heart to a man. And when she finally does, as in ‘Whisper’, it is with a sense of sacrificial surrender to fate and the unknown, because he has capacity either to cause her a terrible joy or to walk away with her destiny in his hands.

Sometimes a woman desperately falls for a man and at this point, she wants him to declare his love and set her and him free:

‘Whisper my love, whisper, I need to know
So free and homeward bound I can set and glide
Free my herat and soul the core of me
I am bound and stuck by your magic’

Primrose Dzenga’s poetic voice comes from a little hole on the top of a hill, rolling down fast and sometimes, haltingly towards your waiting ear. Very beautiful and nasty. All in all, these poems shock you with the insistent suggestion that the woman’s heart has twin capacities; to love uncontrollably or to suffer intensely. Suddenly you notice that there are so many women, past and present, whom you owe an explanation, maybe an apology as well.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Charles Dambudzo Marechera and Charles Muzuva Mungoshi... the good old days

Harare, June 1987, picture from Ernst Schade

Followers of Dr. Charles Mungoshi literature all over the world will be delighted to know that although he has not been feeling well for the past one year, a new book by the veteran writer (completed before he was taken ill)is soon to hit the streets! His family has decided to go it alone and publish his novel script called 'Branching Streams Flow In The Dark'. The typeset is ready. Those who would want to assist the family to publish this book can contact, Jesesi Mungoshi +263774054341, +263773616247, +263772634918 or email:, thank you.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

NoViolet is “with violet” at Cape Town’s Open Book Festival

picture: Oliver Nyambi with Noviolet
Noviolet Bulawayo demystified myths surrounding her name at the recently held Open Book Festival – Free the PEN Reading in Cape Town. Speaking after a reading of some of her poems and a short story, the 2011 Caine Prize for African Writing winner and author of the astonishing “Hitting Budapest” allayed fears that her name was an attention-seeking gimmick. The bubbling writer who also teaches Creative Writing at Cornell University in New York unpacked the etymology of “NoViolet – which she says is actually a combination of two words in two languages, isiNdebele and English, translating literally into “with violet”. NoViolet shared the stage with world renowned Trinidadian writer Earl Lovelace best known for his novel The Dragon Can’t Dance who, however, read from his recent hilarious novel Is Just a Movie. Also on stage with NoViolet was the Angolan Jose Eduardo Aqualusa whose chameleon narrator in his novel The Book of Chameleons left us itching for a copy. But it was NoViolet, young and armed with an amazing verbal artistry who stole the limelight and left no doubt that she is yet another big ‘thing’ to grace Zimbabwe’s literary scene from the diaspora. After her reading at the modestly packed Fugard Theatre, NoViolet socialised with Zimbabwean doctoral students at Stellenbosch University, Oliver Nyambi, Kizito Muchemwa, Faith Manyonga and Mickias Musiyiwa who were elated by her promise to unveil a novel and a memoir, soon. NoViolet’s short story is also part of the Caine Prize Shortlist Short Story anthology To See the Mountain and Other Stories. She will be in Zimbabwe over the end-of year festive season.
++By Oliver Nyambi, Stellenbosch, South Africa.