Wednesday, June 12, 2013

The writer and the trauma of Childhood.

Someone once remarked that writers need to have had lots of childhood trauma to write great works, or something to that effect. That is not to mean that every piece of writing is exactly an autobiography. The strong assumption is that every writer has suffered a trauma or benefited from unusual experiences of mental excitement in childhood, which eventually turns the individual into a writer or these moments turn up constantly in the writer’s work…

Below I capture the intimate moments when various Zimbabwean writers have talked about important definitive moments in their childhoods. If you have read some of their works, these narratives could be very revealing. Look carefully and come up with your own observations:

Shimmer Chinodya talks to Anne Gagiano, 2010:
I write because… to echo maybe one of my favourite writers who is a Greek-American writer, his name is Harry Mark Petrakis, and he says writing is a process by which we, by which the writer, revisits memories of suffering and refashions them and softens them and lyricizes them and comes up with something which is more palatable, something which is more endurable. I think for me writing is like revisiting old pains, old memories, old troubles, old problems and doing something with them and coming up with something which is palatable, more digestible … swallowable, if you like. That is for me what writing is about. It’s about suffering and the artistic endeavour to create something possibly out of pain…
Two things: I think authors often say, ‘write about what you know’. I hate to read books where the writer creeps around and you think all the characters are plucked out of the sky and pasted onto the page with no conviction of there being any felt experience or any felt feelings. I very much like to write about what I know, but secondly, I need a vision of existence. You can’t be a writer and not have a vision. You need to impose your own views of life, your own view of [life], your own view of change and relationships … I saw a black actor being interviewed and they said to him, “But aren’t you an egoist?” And he said, “Of course I am an egoist, why should I go on stage if I am not?” Now I don’t want to go that far but I think artists are by nature egoists. Even if they’re writing about what [general life is like]. But their [egoism stems from their] view of life, their view of existence and a good writer must [change you, or must let you change your view, and must get people thinking about problems…] that’s what egoism is. I think.

Charles Mungoshi talks to Mai Palberg on 30 September 2003:
I don't know what else I should have become. I don't know how these things come about, but I think my parents wanted me to be something else, and even as late as, well, just before Walking Still was published, which is about five years ago, my mother said, "I'd wish you'd burn your library". Anyway, she didn't mean it and some good things have happened also. It probably has got to do with having your nose in the book and hardly saying anything at all to anyone; I am talking about when I was growing up.

But I always want to think that it was the loneliness, the way I grew up that led to my choice of career. It was not a career that I chose, I think it chose me. Traditionally in Shona culture you live in a round village and with the head of the kraal, somewhere there. But some time in the 1950s my father had to move from our village to start a farm of his own, a farm in the modern sense, with machines and all the modern technology, although not that productive.

This farm was about 17-something acres and you could get out with 20, 25 to 30 head of cattle for the whole day, feeding on wild fruits and you did not come back home until probably five o'clock in the evening. So most of the time I was alone...
And in school, when on Monday, Wednesday and Friday pupils stayed over after school – which closed at about 1 o'clock – to do sports or outdoor games, my father made sure that I didn't join the other pupils in those games.

My sisters being girls, I couldn't herd cattle with them. I couldn't work with them because they were women and they would be with our mother doing other things, so I was always almost on my own. When I was with my father, you can imagine the kind of conversation we had, "Pick that", "Did I say to?", "Did I tell you to?", "Run!" and so on, so you would wish to be as far away from him as possible.

So most of my life was really lived in my head and talking to trees and birds and animals. So I want to think the loneliness, being on my own, turned me sort of inside and the reading helped along. It wasn't long before I thought, "Well, I think I can also write a story". I think that's what happened...

Yvonne Vera talks to Grace Mutandwa, 2003:
I was born in Bulawayo on 19 September 1964 and attended Mzilikazi High School… My first school prize was in Grade Seven when I was presented with a pair of scissors for the best needlework. The art of needlework often required the patience of good stitching. I still love the creativity of cutting, sewing, choosing fabrics for their emotion and mood. I love the smell of new fabric.

When I look at someone, I try to understand what their mode of dress and fabric announces. Clothes have been the greatest adornment in most human societies, our language for courtship, relaxation, celebration and even grief… At that stage, I was overweight and when I went to the stage to get my prize others laughed at me… I have worked as a cotton picker in Chegutu, on the farms as a child. This was my first paid work. I've been a waitress in a fast-food chicken and ribs place and in Italian restaurants…
Musaemura Zimunya speaks to Edmore Zvinonzwa 2012:
I was born in Mutare General Hospital, grew up in rural Zimunya, attended Munyarari Primary School. I do not recall my father being employed and so my mother raised most of the little money that went towards our texts books – mostly second hand – uniforms and food. She brewed beer or worked in fields of richer neighbours and when we were old enough we would join her.

But my father was a great mbira and ngoma player, one of the greatest of his time. I recall him sitting me on his lap and picking the mbira keys against my ears. The sounds have remained with me ever since and so I am a forever profoundly moved by good mbira sounds. He was also a fantastic story teller with a flair for the dramatic and descriptive – which I believe I inherited from him.
My mother was the second wife of my father and so she bore the brunt of abuse that came with that. And, as time went by, as her children, we also shared some of that abuse. But, apart from not doing much to support us, I don’t remember my father being physically or verbally abusive to my mother, though, my mother sometimes did her best to take out her frustrations on him. I only recall him famously declaring: “Idi, andichayi mukadziba ini. Mudzimai ishuka.” (I will never assault a woman. A woman is a glorious thing!)
Growing up was mostly about herding cattle in the summer months and playing in the dry season. We had little teams of rival families playing organized games of “soccer” using tennis or plastic balls on Sundays. I soon fell in love with music and caught the ear of the church choir master who invited me to join. That was my route to the enjoyment of the arts as our choir competed in the Manicaland Schools Association Eistedford – a choir competition – and provided music for church services.
Following good Standard Six results, I got a United Methodist scholarship to study at Chikore Secondary School, Craigmore, Chipinge where I studied from Form One to Form Four. By the end of my Form Two, I was beginning to scribble poems under the guidance of a great master – Tobby Moyana. My first taste of excitement about my writing came in the same year when I read a valedictory poem in tribute to our respectable master of English, Miss Cousins. I cannot remember exactly what moved the assembly, but the applause was deafening at the end of my performance. Two years later, in 1970, I submitted a folio of five poems for a national poetry competition open to Rhodesians and South Africans. I did not do well enough to win the first prize but the quality of my poems moved the judges to recommend the creation of a special prize to accommodate my work. And so, I won my first national prize for poetry then…

Aaron Chiundura Moyo talks to Chipo Musikavanhu, 2012:
I was born in Gweru, Guinea Fowl. My parents worked at a farm owned by a Mr MacLean. The farm was called Clifton Down Farm and nicknamed Shoe Shine. It was 12 kilometres from Gweru town. My birth certificate says I was born in 1954 but I was actually born in 1950... 

I started school when I was 15 years old at the farm school which was called Shoe Shine School. I only managed to go to school then because my father had bought a farm and relocated there and I had stayed behind with my older brother. Grade one back then was called Sub A. Because of my age I had to fast track through school. So I ended up doing Sub A, Sub B, and Standard 1(which is now grade 3) in the same year. The year was 1965...

I passed my Grade 7 with a one in English and a two in Arithmetic. The overall pass was a two. ..The headmaster at Bumburwi School told me to go and get married because I was a grown man. I remember walking home, sad and discouraged, about to give up totally on school. When I was at the farm school it never occurred to me that I was a too old. Most of us at the farm went to school late. I only realised when I had gone to the government school that I was too old when people made fun of me. I was called Two-boy in class because the teacher said there were two boys in me. So when I was walking back home after rejection at the three schools I decided to go for what were called Removed classes. Removed classes were classes that were offered to those who had attained an overall mark which was more than two. They were only offered two years of high school. So I had decided that it was better to go to school for two more years than to not go to school at all. I decided to make one last effort to get a place. At the first school I went to, Mambo School, the headmaster accepted me and my spirits got raised again …
(By Memory Chirere)

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