Wednesday, September 19, 2012

I carry the Shona language: Chirikure Chirikure

(picture:Memory Chirere interviews Chirikure Chirikure)
At a literary evening organised by Pamberi Trust and hosted by the Spanish Embassy on the 25th of June 2012, Memory Chirere(MC) interviewed prominent Zimbabwean poet Chirikure Chirikure (CC) who was in the country for a three week break from Germany where he is based after being selected to be part of the ‘DAAD Artist in Berlin fellowship’ which has seen him performing across Europe and lecturing. One of Chirikure’s recent achievements is the decision by the Vienna airport, Austria to display one of his Shona poems “Kuenda, Kudzoka” in their departure lounge with effect from June 2012.The large gathering enjoyed the interview.

Extracts from the Interview:
MC: Chirikure, how has been your stay in Germany?
CC: I was stationed in Berlin. It has been 12 months. They network for you such that you end up doing more travelling than staying in Berlin, travelling in Germany and surrounding countries like Austria, Switzerland and sometimes to the UK as well. I get the opportunity to collaborate with artists across all the genres. I did a beautiful collaboration with a German beat-boxer; fusing poetry and beat-boxing. We eventually recorded one of my poems from my newly published book, Aussicht Auf Eigene Schatten. Quite interesting and fascinating experiences is when you are invited to a hip-hop festival and you are asked to perform with hip-hop artists and initially I would say, O my God, so you go on the internet and try to listen to hip-hop, trying to see how best you can be meaningful to the young audiences…

MC: And what have you taught them?
CC: I carry the Shona language as much as possible…workshoping, talking about the Zimbabwean Culture. I also did a few things with young children, primary school kids doing story-telling; tsuro nagudo. I also got the opportunity to perform with mbira… just to share the rhythms of southern Africa and Zimbabwean culture.

MC:Chirikure Chirikure, what is your relationship with your interesting name? (applause) What have you lost or gained through it? What have you noticed through this name?
CC:My mother is here as my witness, the name I have; Chirikure Chirikure is a genuine name. (applause) It was given me at birth, but, like the average human being, when I got into my teens, I was ashamed of the name and I adopted the name Carlos.(laughter all round)

MC:Carlos who? (laughs)
CC: Carlos Chirikure, it was cool, really cool. (laughs)Later on as you get to university you get to appreciate the honour bestowed on you by your parents to be given your family name as your first name; you feel you are carrying the whole family. It gives you stamina, not just intellectual stamina but identity. A lot of people think it’s a stage name and most of the times you get invited to festivals they say, please confirm whether this is your real name before we send your ticket. Now I feel it’s an honour to carry this name and I am proud of it.

MC:Chirikure, what would you put down as the Chirikure Chirikure brand?
CC:To use the Shona language to talk, day to day, international, local and immediate issues instead of using the Shona language as a cultural relic. We are living in a society which is on a constant transition and our language should be able to interrogate all the issues any other language of the world can interrogate. I have tried my best to use my poetry in the Shona language to interrogate issues…

MC:Why have you made this huge investment in a language that is only spoken by ± twelve million people in the whole world?
CC:I think the Shona language itself has invested so much in me that I’ve to pay back. It’s not a free loan, by putting as much as I can into the language, into the culture. I am giving honour to those who taught me this language as well as my society. To share that with the rest of the world gives dignity to my people, to myself and make others appreciate our language.

MC:Why are you carrying this cross, some people would ask. You go to Germany to perform in Shona, you do well and you go to London and perform in Shona and you do well…
CC:Germany and London saw me doing things I do in the Shona language here in Harare, Gutu, Masvingo and that is what they loved. Then the connection goes on and in a lot of ways, this is a mark of respect of the work that I am doing.

MC:They loved you for your performances in Shona and therefore you want to carry on?
CC:It’s much more than the language itself, I think it’s a lot of what you talk about with the language and also the respect you have for your language that makes other people respect your language too… I don’t feel like I am carrying a cross as such or rescuing the Shona language, I am only giving honour to something that I was given by my fore-bearers. I am celebrating the beauty of the language, the beauty of philosophy in my own language, the beauty of the rhythm. I don’t think it would be a mission to rescue something, it’s a mission to give honour to something which already has honour, a mission to say hey, look at what we have here…

MC:Rukuvhute, your other anthology, is generally about a sense of belonging. (recites)‘Handisi dombo, huku kana mhepo kwete,’ powerful first line from the title poem. After having gone all over the world, do you still feel like that?
CC:If you are travelling and are not from any particular base, I don’t think you can travel very far. You need to have a reference point. You can’t come from the blue… I think people wouldn’t feel comfortable inviting you and working with you if they feel you don’t belong anywhere.

MC: Although your poetry can be performed, it also lends itself to being studied. It can also be read quietly. I also notice that you are very much connected to the spoken word artists here in Harare. What relationship do you have with them? Do you feel threatened by the young spoken word poets?

CC: It’s quite a big honour when you can put down words. I remember when Rukuvhute came out we had a few problems with some professors who were saying it’s not the kind of poetry that can be taught in schools or colleges because it didn’t fit into the pattern most people had been taught about what poetry should be. It’s also good that the books are being studied now. I have worked with many colleagues in the spoken word field and also try to connect most of them with other international and local initiatives. I don’t feel threatened by them at all because if one can be honest, I’ve done my fair share and probably started at a more difficult phase of our historical development as a country, with limited resources…Now I think things are much easier. I also work with a lot of young poets through the HIFA poetry spoken word program. It is more of complementing each other than being threatened. I hope things will continue that way…

MC:What is the real value of poetry in a society like ours? What is the real value of poetry beyond reading for the exam? Can a poem build a house? Can a poem build a blair toilet?
CC:I think a poem builds the mind which then builds the blair toilet.(laughter all round) Art in general helps us shape our minds, shape our vision, share our sorrows... It makes our society much more cohesive and it opens doors for discussion. Look at the past ten years in Zimbabwe for example. We were so very politically divided that it was either you belong here or there. As artists, we have always tried to open platforms for people to debate, to negotiate and share their feelings and I think any society that doesn’t communicate with itself is doomed. I think Zimbabwe needs as many spoken word poets as possible to help the nation move forward. We need a lot of dialogue and healing…

MC:Chamupupuri came out in 1994, and it has short-sharp poems. The title poem refers to British Prime Minister MacMillan’s words (about the winds of change blowing through this continent) during his address to the South African parliament on 3 February 1960. Remember, when you published Chamupupuri, ESAP was beginning to bite and so on…What did you want to achieve with Chamupupuri both at the level of style and content?
CC: I also saw our society going beyond what MacMillan was referring to. He was talking about the winds of change in terms of moving from colonialism to independent Africa. I tried to look further. About the time I wrote Chamupupuri, for the majority of African countries independence had been gained but lot’s of other issue came in, more like the whirlwind. The winds of change had turned into whirlwinds, picking up more speed and destroying their very own instead of more the enemy.
MC:Maybe, a young poet sitting out there in the audience is saying, 'Well, you (Chirikure) are a poet, what have you achieved through your artistic work? Ungoriwo rombe here? Chii chinobatika chaunoita namabasa aya?'(applause)
CC:Ah, ndozonetswa mumbhawa ndichinzi tenga doro. (laughs)

MC:I want you to volunteer whatever you want to volunteer. It’s very important. You are actually a role model and some of the people here are the youngsters who admire you. They want to know kuti zvinombopei zveShona poetry izvozvi?

CC: I have been fortunate in that I’ve always had other jobs, full time jobs. I was working as a publisher for years. I was working just down the road for HIVOS up to last year as a Programme Officer for culture. And the writing and performance, I would do after hours. Regardless, the artistic side of things has opened up so many doors for me. This includes being invited to do copy for advertising. I have also done translation work for NGOs like UNICEF over the years. I have done a lot of stuff for radio and television and newspapers. This is all because people identify that you have ability to work with language. Through my poetry, I have managed to give the family at least three meals a day for all the past years, which is a big honour. Through that, I have also been able to pay school fees for the children and buy uniforms and once in a while bring my father and mother a packet of sugar. I have also been able, through art, to send my son to university at Rhodes!

MC:Mazvinzwa here, mamwe marombe imi? Hurombe hwedu uhwu, kwanzi hunobhadhara! (laughter all round)
CC: Through art, I have also made friends like you, Tuku, Chiwoniso, Machisa and others who are here tonight. We work together, collaborating, contributing lyrics and through that you also get a little more than what you would get from performing. You know, when we started performing at the Book Cafe, Chiwoniso here is my witness, we would be given a plate of sadza and two beers then we would go home. But after years, people started appreciating what we were doing and slowly, they agreed to pay to get into our shows.

MC:Zvaingonzi sadza nehwahwa izvi, zvonzi- hamba?
CC: Yes. I think the bottom line is the passion and the drive. I think eventually if you keep holding on, you will get something out of art. Shimmer (Chinodya) can be my witness. You work very hard over night and have sleepless nights. It is very easy to give up. However, it is a big blessing to make a living out of what you enjoy most. A lot of people Igo to their offices and curse themselves every day. They jump onto a kombi kuenda kubasa and when the day is done, they go kubhawa to get past the fights they had with the manager. Manje isusu naChiwoniso, tikaridza apa tonakidzwa hedu whether we make a cent or not. Basa redu kufara nekufadzawo vamwe.

MC: Thank you Chirikure.
CC: Welcome

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

the African short story

(picture:getting our story directly from the source)


The Editor, African Literature Today, invites articles for ALT 31: WRITING AFRICA IN THE SHORT STORY, described below:

Arguably, the African novel came alive through Chinua Achebe’s classic, Things Fall Apart (1958).The modern African literary tradition has since branched into exciting and sometimes startling new directions with novels like Syl Cheney-Coker’s The Last Harmattan of Alusine Dunbar, Ben Okri’s The Famished Road, Ngugi Wa Thiong’o’s Devil on the Cross and Wizard of the Crow, and works of Kojo Laing, Yvonne Vera, and so on.

This edition of ALT takes a close look at the AFRICAN SHORT STORY to re-define its own peculiar pedigree, chart its trajectory, critique its present state and examine its creative possibilities, and see how the two (the short story and the novel) match complementarily or exist in contradistinction in terms of over-all success and the informing antecedents within the driving purview of culture and politics, history and/public memory, legends, myths and folklore. What in a capsule is the state of the African short story in terms of foundations, aesthetics, energy, literary and linguistic strengths or weaknesses as a form? There are quite a few names, old and new, to choose from. They include (but are not limited to) Chinua Achebe, Cyprian Ekwensi, Nawal El Saadawi, Flora Nwapa, Bessie Head, Taban Lo Liyong, Ngugi wa Thiong’o, Ifeoma Okoye, Festus Iyayi, Alexander Kanengoni, Robert Zeleeza, Njabulo Ndebele, Ben Okri, Ama Ata Aidoo, Uwem Akpan, Anthonia Kalu, Promise Onwudiwe (Okekwe), Karen King-Aribisala, Chinelo Achebe, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie....

Articles should not exceed 5000 words typed double-spaced and should conform to the journal’s guidelines for submission of articles. Submissions should reach the Editor on or before January 31, 2013. Submissions should be by e-mail attachment on MS Word to: /

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Written Shona poetry in crisis

It is my subjective view that considered against work from yester-year, some recent poetry anthologies in Shona leave a lot to be desired. The craft and message have drastically gone down. These contemporary group anthologies tend to carry poems that are contrived. Few of these poems have capacity to remain on one’s mind long after reading. I think written Shona poetry has drastically regressed that it can never be compared to Mordekai Hamutyinei’s Kana Uchinge Wamutanga Musikana and Ndiye Mwana Wandaireva or W. B. Chivaura’s Dongo RaMandidzimba and Mumukonombwe.

On the contrary, performing poetry in Shona has grown tremendously in recent years and you do not need to understand Shona to follow the performances. It is not surprising that the few performing poets who have also decided to write and publish are doing extremely well.

There is one anthology purporting to be carrying poems about HIV/AIDS. You approach it with great expectations because HIV/AIDS has shaken our society to its foundation in recent years. When you get to sampling the AIDS/HIV poems which are in the majority in this anthology, you find that these poems are lagging behind latest trends in dealing and talking about this subject!

These mournful poems merely focus on the period of time before the advent of Anti Retro Viral Therapy use in the management of the Acquired Immuno-Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS), when being diagnosed as having the infection was an automatic death sentence. These poems are characteristic of denial, stigmatization and rejection. As a result, you find alarmist and mundane lines like:

Ndini Aids, ndauya
Hapana anopona
Ndinokutakurai mese
Ukaona ndabata baba kana mai vako
chitotanga zvako kuchema...
(I am Aids, I have come and will eat you up. And when I get hold of your father or mother, you better start to mourn)

This means that our poets just pick their pens and go like clerks! They do not research. They are not inspired. They do not brood. They are raw technicians that are being unleashed on an unsuspecting world. The mere fact that the editor and compiler are looking for an AIDS poem does not mean that one should not reflect and use words as if they cost money. This crop of anthologies has dangerous poets who only react out of fear. They are confused and confusing. They do not even assume that their readership is complex.

In some such anthologies you find melodramatic pieces on especially the overtraded subjects of Love and Death. This does not mean that these subjects should not be written about but if you write about love, remember that you are carrying a heavy responsibility and must surely want to say something unique. You want to tackle these subjects differently from the likes of Mordekai Hamutyinei and JC Kumbirai. You do not come into this game just to play second fiddle! No one will forgive your sloppiness simply because you are a new poet.

You also wonder why in this day and age, one aims to sell a poem that insists on Ndini rufu, muchandiona (I am death, and we will be even)? As if that is not enough, you find the next poet in the same anthology saying the same things about death. Where is the editor, you yawn. A good poem should be able to lift the reader out of the ordinary and give glimpses of a more illuminating reality.

Then there are the many long-winded poems. They go on and on, well after they have scored their point. They flog dead horses. You sit there and yawn and ask, are these poets (and the editors) taking the readership for granted?

We face a danger of failing to develop or consolidate a clear tradition of written Shona poetry because it appears that the current crop of Shona poets does not read one another. It also does not read from the older poets in order to raise the bar. In writers’ workshops across the country, you come across people with sheaves of poems. On asking them if they have read Gwenyambira or Soko Risina Musoro or Mutinhimira Wenhetembo, they ask you, “Sorry, what did you say?” Imagine a poet who does not read and may never want to read! Imagine a Hamutyinei who simply writes on and on, with no indications that he has read a Paul Chidyausiku or a WB Chivaura in order to pitch!

There is nothing as frightening as a writer who does not read. That is why Marechera once asked: How can you write as if you have never read? The current Shona poets do not even follow poetry beyond the Shona language itself. Yet, If you read the more successful contemporary poets in Shona like Chirikure Chirikure, Sam Chimsoro and Ignatius Mabasa, you notice that they have benefitted immensely from reading poems from other traditions. They are a blessing to the Shona language!

However, there are few poets in these contemporary anthologies who have to be celebrated. Two good examples are Trust Mutekwa (aka Ticha Muzavazi) and Tinashe Muchuri from “Mudengu Munei?: Muunganidzwa Wenhetembo Volume One.” Both are performing poets. They have learnt and grown through testing their work constantly on live audiences. They come to the written word via the stage.(picture: Trust Mutekwa)

Trust Mutekwa is even a mbira player. His poems are good for the ear and the mind. Here is a poet used to the power of words. He is the most gifted voice in “Mudengu Munei”. Mutekwa states what he is not stating and he has the language typical of the Shona seer:

Sendinoziva, sendisingazive
Sendinofunga, sendisingafunge
Sendinoona, sendisingaoni zvangu…
Chinono chakamba, mashunge arwaivhi
Mashunge arwaivhi, chinono chakamba...

Mutekwa is also aware of the infectious force of the Shona verb more keenly than any other Shona poet that I have read to date. In the poem Ndiwe, the verb is very active and he deals with the rapist without saying rapist:

Ndiwe wakatevera mwana nekumupata wemazizi
Ndiwe wakamunyangira nokumusana asingaone
Ndiwe wakamukwakukira pafudzi sembada…
Hausiwe here wakamukatanura chipika?
Hausiwe here wakamunombora-nombora?
Ukagokashura kanguwo kake keuvanzarikwa
Uchivavarira kupaza rusambo zvisina mombe?

When you read Mutekwa’s poems, you are reminded that the Shona poet is master of the public mantra. The poem Nzvengende, for example, becomes goat and non-goat:

Nzvengende rumbudzi rusingachadi zvemafuro
Rwakanzwa kunaka kwenyimo semhembwe
Ukaridza muridzo rwopumhukira
Kano kamuswe minini minini kasina neshumo
Nzvengende rumbudzi runokarodya nyama...

(picture: Tinashe Muchuri)Tinashe Muchuri writes with both his heart and mind. Unlike many of his contemporaries, he thinks deeply about both his message and method. His poem Wadiwa Mukoma Tichafa from “Mudengu Munei” is one of the more subtle AIDS poems in this anthology. Muchuri reminds one of poet Steve Chimombo’s idea of ‘substituting surface with subterranean vision’ in Four Ways of Dying. Muchuri hits you with an iron bar while massaging you with a wad of wool in that AIDS poem. His other poem Mwanasikana, goes to the heart of the theory of womanism, considered more relevant to African conditions than feminism. Mwanasikana could be the most persuasive poem in this whole anthology:

Akati uri wokuombera ndiani?
Inga kare waiomberwa wani!
Washuzhira mhuri mugore renzara nokuruka seme,
Vazukuru vaguta nenzungu nemutakura wenyimo
Zvakabva mutseu yako
Waunza mukuwasha aiumba ukama nesu

It is a fact that in the past decade, the power of Shona poetry has manifested itself more in music and performing poetry than in the written form. One has in mind performing poet Biko Mutsaurwa (aka Godobori) whose Shona lines on stage are material from which genius is made. He is not capable of a boring sentence. He should be encouraged to break into print. I have never recovered from his chorus: “Toi-toi! Huya mweya uri mberi, toi!”

Godobori benefits from the supremacy of the Shona language and wisdom. When you listen to him, you detect the vigorous and punitive rehearsals that he goes through before he faces the audience. His Shona poems have all that we do not find in the terribly written poetry anthologies of today.

There is also one Cynthia Marangwanda (aka Flowchild) who is grand-daughter to the novelist John Marangwanda of Kumazivandadzoka fame. She erupts into frenzy when on stage and one hopes that she will be encouraged by her mentors to go beyond writing in English and for the stage.(picture: Flowchild)

The dearth of good written Shona poetry becomes more evident as one reads from the late Julius Chingono whose guest appearance in “Mudengu Munei” dwarfs nearly all the youngster poets in that anthology. Chingono’s satiric poem called MuShona Arwara is a must read. MuShona arwara, vanhuwe (the Shona person is ailing, dear colleagues), he insists, from foreign influences that have left him with no specific language and culture. The Shona speaks through the nose; sadza (his staple dish) is now too thick for his tummy which is now only good enough for the soft ‘pizza’:

Dzimwe nguva (muShona) anotaurira mumhuno,
Kunge ane chidzihwa
Achitodadirira kunge zvinoshamisira...

In the poem Pachiteshi, Chingono’s keen eye turns on the current transport woes, dwelling on the tussling for seats that go on at the bus stations. As one struggles to get onto the bus, one is in a war zone:

Tsunhura mudzipanyota
Kana kutobvisa
Nokuti ungadzipwa nawo
Pakukurwira kukwira mubhazi.
Katanura mabhatani ose…
Nokuti angapera kudambuka
Orashika pahondo yokukwira bhazi…
Sunga zvakasimba bhande rebhurukwa
Nokuti ungangokururwa bhurukwa
Pakudhonzwa nekusundidzirwa
Panguva iyo unenge wopinda mubhazi…
Rega kuteerera zvakanyanya
Kuchema nokuungudza
Nokuti ukateerera unosara!
(As you fight to get onto the bus first, take off your tie because you maybe strangled to death in the process. Undo your buttons because they may be ripped off in the melee. Tie your belt tightly because your pants may fall off during the tussle. Do not listen do the desperate calls around you because you may not get onto the bus.)

Poets, publishers, compilers, editors, teachers of the beloved Shona language and especially those who prescribe poetry anthologies onto our school syllabi, must come together and say: Enough! Yes, this is only my subjective view.
+ By Memory Chirere

Saturday, September 8, 2012

CONQUER: a novel on albinism and the abuse of the boy-child

Author: Rudo Bingepinge
Library of Congress Control Number:2011961537
Reviwed by : Josephine Jothams -

One of Zimbabwe’s up coming writers Rudo Bingepinge-Dzenga has just published her second novel CONQUER. The story balances two major themes, the stigma around albinism and the sexual abuse of the boy child. While a lot of work has been done to educate the girl child and empowering the girl child to speak out, a lot more needs to be done for the boy child to speak out against abuse. Boys tend to “ take it like men “ yet the destructive effects later on in life can never be undermined as portrayed by one of Conquer’s leading characters Booker a medical doctor. On the other hand September –Rain represents the stigmatized albinos. Society is quick to stigmatize albinos without understanding the genetics behind it. We are a more exposed and educated generation yet when it comes to albinism we know very little “ some still spit after shaking hands/ meeting an albino so that they do not give birth to albino babies. In Tanzania albinos are safer at special boarding schools because they are still killed for muti”

Readers who read Dzenga’s first novel The Return or watched the short film version of the same, are aware that the writer is able to get the reader to cry , fight and laugh with the characters. She has a way with humor yet able to pull the reader in and out of to the serious themes at hand. CONQUER is a well thought out drama that has twists and turns that will keep the reader asking for more.

The reader is taken through the hard times that September-Rain goes through and her resilience to be accepted as a human being and not be judged by her pigmentation. By portraying Booker as an intelligent young doctor the writer makes two major points here : even boys are not safe from sexual abuse lets educate and empower the boy child too, the effects of sexual child abuse are often so severe that no amount of education can cleanse one of it. Counseling and confronting the problem is essential to healing.

Dzenga says “ My children’s pediatrician of many years was an abino,I have albino, friends and family I am inspired by their courage and determination to not let skin pigmentation come between them and their dreams. That is where the albinism theme comes from. My mom is a retired nurse cum evangelist in the United Methodist Church. I am often under pressure to preach as well as she does. Writing is my ministry I am particularly passionate about issues around women and children. I am happy that because of all government and NGO efforts a lot more girls are opening up about abuse and reporting the perpetrators of such violence but this does not mean that our boys are safe.Iam so grateful to Culture Fund Zimbabwe, I was one of the first beneficiaries. My novel The Return which focuses on the challenges women face after doing time in prison was translated in to Shona and Ndebele and adopted in to a radio drama with funds from Culture fund. In 2008 the short film version of The Return was screened at the Zimbabwe International Film Festival. The support form Culture fund made me confident in the arts , I have buried the term “I can’t” , I have just agreed to write a children’s book. I am working on it and hope to publish a kid’s series that is interactive so that even other children can contribute their stories . I hope to launch the first adventures series for kids by the end of this year.”

Bingepinge–Dzenga is a born avid writer who started writing at the age of 9 but her first story was published at 14 by Step Magazine. Readers may remember her from local TV dramas from the 90s Wakavimbisa Wani. Rage of Innocence and short film Who is in Charge? Bingepinge-Dzenga is passionate about public speaking, drama and writing, she recently adopted schools from her home town of Dangamvura Mutare to promote writing and public speaking at primary school level. When she read Joyce Simango’s Zviuya zviri Mberi she knew she wanted to write. She is inspired by Virginia Phiri and looks up to King Dube who gave her the first big break on television.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Dambudzo Marechera’s undying legacy

(picture: Moses Magadza)

‘Moving Spirit: The Legacy of Dambudzo Marechera in the 21st Century,’ the latest book on the Zimbabwean writer who has become a cult figure in Zimbabwe and abroad, was published this May 2012.

In this wide-ranging interview, award-winning veteran Zimbabwean journalist Moses Magadza interviews Dobrota Pucherova (PhD) who compiled the book about its purpose, omissions and additions on the life and works of Marechera.Enjoy.

Moses Magadza: How familiar are you with Dambudzo Marechera the man and Dambudzo Marechera the works?
Dobrota Pucherova: I first “encountered” Marechera while doing my PhD on southern African writing at Oxford. I did research on him and he became one chapter in my PhD thesis which includes writers such as Bessie Head, Yvonne Vera, Ingrid Jonker, Wopko Jensma, Mongane Serote, Kabelo Sello Duiker, Ishtiyaq Shukri and Achmat Dangor. The thesis has now been published as The Ethics of Dissident Desire in Southern African Writing (Trier, Germany: WVT, 2011) and deals with literary instances of desire as a boundary-breaking energy that can contravene the segregated spaces and bodies of southern African history. Concerning Marechera the man – who can say they “know” Marechera? He remains an elusive person for me as much as for others, although I have been lucky to speak to several people who have known him personally.

Moses Magadza: You are an academic and have studied Marechera extensively. What drew you to the Marechera phenomenon?
Dobrota Pucherova: Marechera’s writing expresses very well the desire for mental freedom that concerned me when studying southern African authors. He believed that overcoming oppositional identity discourses and freeing the imagination to create space for individual reinvention could achieve true liberation from oppression. At the same time, Marechera’s vision of the political as sexual and the sexual as political provided new insights into power relationships in colonial and postcolonial conditions. Last, but not least, his flair for language and his infectious humour make his books very pleasurable to read.

Moses Magadza: What inspired this new book on Marechera?
Dobrota Pucherova: The answer to this is a bit long-winded, so bear with me. When I was writing my thesis chapter on Marechera, alongside I wrote a play based mainly on Black Sunlight. To me, this novel is immensely comical and at the same time sophisticated, and I felt that it has been misunderstood due to Marechera’s unwillingness to edit his work, as James Currey has documented. In adapting the novel for the stage, I wanted to bring forth its audacity and deeply sophisticated comedy. The novel’s challenging humour, its intertextuality with European modernist texts such as Beckett, Conrad and Kafka, and cryptic references to Orwell, Bakunin and Sartre, among others, were what made the novel to be perceived as “difficult”; on the stage, I felt, the novel’s meanings could be literally “performed” and come to life. In addition, its parodic references to Oxford University made it particularly suitable for an Oxford production. And so, when I decided to produce the play in Oxford, I felt: why not organize an entire festival on Marechera? The festival, which took place on May 15-17, 2009, was an international multi-media event that included film, theatre, fiction, poetry, painting, photography, memoir and scholarly essays, all inspired by Marechera’s work and life. Information about the event can be found at The book is the proceedings of the festival, with a few additional pieces. Julie Cairnie, who has co-edited the book with me, was a participant at the Oxford Celebration.

Moses Magadza: What did you set out to achieve through this book? Have you succeeded?
Dobrota Pucherova: I adapted Marechera’s prose for the stage because I felt that the singularity of his engagement with language demads an active, inventive, performative response to do it justice. In other words, I feel scholarship can engage with Marechera in one way, by applying a particular theoretical lens to his texts, but art can do it differently, by experiencing his texts, which can bring new insights into the reality around us. As the contributions in the book demonstrate, Marechera’s work invites reinvention: performative and dissident, it plays with meaning and engenders new forms, myths and epistemologies. Marechera inspires us to seek new ways of experiencing reality. The book is about the irrational force of art that moves us, but often cannot be explained, and we seek to respond to it through art. In this sense, I think we have succeeded.

Moses Magadza: What would you say were the biggest challenges you encountered when you worked on this project?
Dobrota Pucherova: The biggest challenge was to find a publisher. Several academic publishers were afraid of this book, as it is not a strictly scholarly volume, but rather a “big baggy monster” that includes fiction, poetry, memoir, pictures etc. Eventually, I was very lucky to meet Dr. Veit Hopf of LIT Verlag, Berlin, who offered to take on the project and suggested to include the DVD, which contains the multi-media presented at the Oxford festival, as well as bonus archival material.

Moses Magadza: Essays by Dambudzo Marechera’s contemporaries like Musaemura Zimunya, Stanley Nyamfukudza, and Charles Mungoshi are conspicuously absent from your compilation. How do you explain this?
Dobrota Pucherova: The majority of contributions in the book were presented at the Oxford Celebration. The people you mention did not respond to the call for papers, which was widely distributed. Stanley Nyamfukudza was invited to come present his memories of Marechera at the festival, but he declined. I met with him privately after the festival, however, and he explained that he does not like to dig out old memories, for reasons of his own. It was therefore very nice of him to at least privately share some of these memories for the benefit of me and Ery Nzaramba, who is making a film about Dambudzo.

Moses Magadza: Some people think this is the chink in this book’s armor. What impact might this omission have on this book?
Dobrota Pucherova: No book on Marechera can possibly be complete – that is all I can add. There are other famous contemporaries of Marechera who are not included in the book.

Moses Magadza: Why does this book rely heavily on memoirs and personal essays rather than fully researched academic essays?
Dobrota Pucherova: The book reflects mainly the contributions presented at the Oxford festival. Several academics who presented academic essays in Oxford did not eventually submit completed papers for the book, so we had to work with what we had. However, we don’t think this is the book’s weakness. There have been several scholarly volumes on Marechera (a new scholarly book on Marechera is coming out this year with James Currey) but there has not yet been a book just like this. The multi-media pieces are accompanied by artists’ essays about how and why Marechera inspires them.

Moses Magadza: What new insights does this book provide into the life and work of Dambudzo Marechera?
Dobrota Pucherova: This book is not so much about Marechera, but about how Marechera inspires others. I believe it provides many new insights into Marechera’s relationships with his contemporaries, with other authors and with his fans and inspirees. For example, Carolyn Hart’s essay explores Marechera’s relationship with African-American postmodern writers, while Katja Kellerer’s piece examines the intertextualities between “The House of Hunger” and Ignatius Mabasa’s Mapenzi (1999). There are also two pieces on the Marechera cult. The memoir section provides many interesting insights into Marechera’s personal and professional relationships, including his love relationships.

Moses Magadza: This new book comes with rare, archival materials that include audiovisuals such as Marechera’s ranting at the Berlin Conference in 1979, and his speech on African writing he gave in Harare in 1986. How important and in what way is this archival material?
Dobrota Pucherova: This material was added as a bonus to the main DVD material – the creative contributions by filmmakers, musicians and actors. It was offered to us by Flora Veit-Wild who wanted to make it available to Marechera fans and we think it will be of interest, as it shows Marechera in various periods in his life. For me, seeing Marechera interviewed by Ray Mawerera in Harare in 1984 was a completely different experience than watching him drunk and deeply depressed in the London squat as he appears in Chris Austin’s film. In the Ray Mawerera interview, Marechera is an entirely different person – calm, communicative and composed.

Moses Magadza: After this fascinating book - complete, as I have said, with archival material, footnotes and references as well as Flora Wild’s seemingly valedictory piece – what else remains to know about Dambudzo Marechera?
Dobrota Pucherova: I believe no book on Marechera can be complete and I am sure there will be other books on Marechera. Helon Habila’s biography of Marechera is due to be published next year, and I look forward to reading it.
Moses Magadza: For you as a scholar and writer, was this book a once-off undertaking or the opening gambit of an on-going series on Marechera?
Dobrota Pucherova: To organize the festival took a year and a half, to bring out this book took three years. I am not currently planning a series on Marechera, since I am working on other African writers and thinkers at the moment: Nuruddin Farah, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, and Ngugi wa Thiong’o.

Moses Magadza: What, in your view, sets Marechera distinctly apart from his contemporaries and today’s writers? (Picture: Moses Magadza)

Dobrota Pucherova: Marechera reacted to the Marxist and nationalist tradition in African writing with cosmopolitanism and post-racialism at a time in Zimbabwean history when it was most controversial to do so. He described the violence of the colony and post colony with a liberating laughter and dared to laugh even at the power presumptions of the anti-colonial struggle. Identifying language’s key role in upholding systems of power, he explodes language to create new meanings and paradigms. Moreover, Marechera dared to go to those places in the human psyche where no other black African writer before him had gone. Other have done so after Marechera – of these, I would mention Yvonne Vera and Kabelo Sello Duiker, who similarly explore the dark spaces of the mind and whose highly poetic but authentic language sets them apart from other African writers. It is very sad that both of these have died young, just like Dambudzo.
CAPTIONS: Moses Magadza
Dobrota Pucherova (PhD)

++We have permission from Moses Magadza himself to publish the interview here. Versions of it appear today in The Herald and on