Monday, October 7, 2019

'Gonjon Pin' a must-read on a long joutney

The Herald, 6 October 2019

‘Gonjon Pin’ a must-read on a long journey


by Memory Chirere 

Published by amaBooks of Zimbabwe and several other publishers, The Gonjon Pin and Other Stories is a collection of short stories by African writers shortlisted for the Caine Prize 2014 and from the Caine Prize annual writing workshop held in Vumba, Zimbabwe, during the same year.
On receiving this anthology just before the Harare launch, I quickly noticed that it was a massively solid book.
I was intimidated. I am used to reading the usually thin volumes normally associated with short books in Africa. But since these are stories from one of the most prestigious awards in African literature today, I hoped that quality will pay for the volume.
I do not remember the last time I felt like this about a book. I did not want to start with the shortlisted stories. I wanted to make my priorities right. I had been invited to anchor the discussion at the Harare launch, where some writers would also give readings.
I am attracted to the Zimbabwean stories.
Having been raised on the short stories of Luis Honwana, Charles Mungoshi and other writers from the Southern African sub-region, I find Lawrence Hoba’s “Pam Pam” a very comfortable landing pad. Due to my background, this is the story that speaks most directly to me.
The sensitive child is snooping into the seemingly unusual world of the grown-ups, who are also trying to come to terms with the most “weird” in their midst. Muffled voice. Understatement. Power play. A surprise ending. Hoba’s deft engineering- one soft word on top of the other…and on top of the other, almost like bricks, tells me that this was not easy to write.
“The Sonneteer” must be the “craziest” story in this book! I am hoping that somebody will agree with me. I love the deluge of sonnets towards the end because it is a clever way of flourishing out after such a deep rendition on the tumultuous Zimbabwean condition. The story ends in successive loud spurts like a gas canister unleashed onto a hapless crowd.
I like stories like this one, driven by silences — especially by what characters do not say to one another.
We are no longer reading, but are also writing the story alongside Philani Nyoni. The language is vigorously God forsaken and its rigours remind me of the late Dambudzo Marechera.
Later, at the launch itself, I was impressed by Isabella Matambanadzo’s views.
Her “All The Parts of Mi”, just like Abubakar Adam Ibrahim and Chinelo Okparanta’s stories, is about betrayal, intimacy and courage. During the discussion, I asked Matambanadzo about what she thinks about the use of the erotica in stories. Her candid answer sent the audience roaring in approval. It took us a while to return to silence.
“The Intervention” by Tendai Huchu is part of the Caine 2014 short list. It confirms my thoughts about his previous stories, especially the one which I have been struggling to translate from one language to the other. Here is a writer who has an eye for dramatic irony and the incongruence of human character. His stories challenge the reader to work from many points of view.
In “The Murder of Ernestine Masilo” by Violet Masilo, the protagonist dies slowly from the first time you meet her. Her death is not shocking, but why she dies is riveting.
You are left with a feeling that a flower has withered before anyone could pluck it and place it in a vase. If only there was enough love. Typical character in typical circumstances.
“Music From A Farther Room” by novelist Bryony Rheam is a story filled with utmost colours and sounds and wide spaces. It is a piece of painting or tapestry.
If it were a piece of cloth, this story would flutter in the wind like a kite, landing on its nose until somebody picks it and throws it back into the sky just in order to see it and shout like a toddler! I read it over and over for the sheer serenity that it gives me.
Barbara Mhangami-Ruwende’s “Blood Work” is filled with a delicate tension right from the statement “I don’t like black people” up to the end and you are always on the edge. I hope I am not being prescriptive, but this looks like my favourite story in this book, at least for now.
I then hurry to the winning story itself, “My Father’s Head”. I had read elsewhere that it is a story filled with sad memories. I do not disagree, but I discover that it is full of sweet sadness with more of sweet. Sad but not depressing.
The kind of balance associated with kopjes. On the second and even third reading, I begin to feel that this is about a daughter’s celebration of a father’s not so happy life. The language is syrupy, describing expanses of time and dwelling on tiny-tiny details of life like the paw of a dog and the flutter of a butterfly. I agree with the judges. It was right that this story won. Maybe it is not a story after all. It is life.
Among the shortlisted stories, I also have lots of respect for Billy Kahora’s “The Gorilla’s Apprentice”. Loneliness of people, and of animals too?
A unique and unfulfilled camaraderie between victims from different communities? This story could just have won.
However, in just a few of these stories here, adjectives tend to pile on top of one another; adverbs trip over each other. Colons clog the flow of even short paragraphs, and the plethora of semicolons often cause the reader to throw up his hands in exasperation.
If you are able to forgive the very few overwritten pieces, The Gonjon Pin and Other Stories is something to carry on a journey.


The 2019 Caine Prize anthology, soon to be published in Zimbabwe by amaBooks, celebrates 20 years of the competition with the inclusion of all the winning stories, including those of the Zimbabwean winners Brian Chikwava and NoViolet Bulawayo. It includes an introduction by Ben Okri.

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Tendai Huchu's two-book deal with Pan Macmillan's Tor

Tendai Huchu, writing as T L Huchu, has a "super-dope" two-book deal about an Edinburgh ghost talker with Pan Macmillan’s Tor imprint.
Tor acquired world rights from the Ampersand Agency. The novel The Library of the Dead is scheduled for publication in spring 2021.
amaBooks published Tendai Huchu’s most recent novel The Maestro, The Magistrate and The Mathematician, which has been a success with the rights for the novel being acquired by publishers in the States, Nigeria, Germany and the United Kingdom, but this new deal with a major world publishing group marks a significant step forward in his writing career.
There is a short story 'The Library of the Dead' in the amaBooks anthology Moving On and other Zimbabwean Stories, but, unlike the story, the novel is set in Edinburgh and the main protagonist in the novel is female not male, but the occult library still features and it will be interesting for Tendai Huchu fans to read both. 

The synopsis of the first novel in the two part deal, The Library of the Dead, reads: ‘Ropa dropped out of school to become a ghost talker and now speaks to Edinburgh’s dead, carrying messages to the living. A girl’s gotta earn a living, and it seems harmless enough. Until, that is, the dead whisper that someone’s bewitching children – leaving them husks, empty of joy and life. It’s on Ropa’s patch, so she feels honour-bound to investigate. But what she learns will change her world. She'll dice with death (not part of her life plan . . .), discovering an occult library and a taste for hidden magic. She'll also experience dark times. For Edinburgh hides a wealth of secrets, and Ropa’s gonna hunt them all down.’
Tendai Huchu said of the deal: ‘This is super-dope; I’m thrilled to be working with Bella and the guys at Tor. I’m a bibliophile, foremost, and Tor publishes a whole bunch of some of my favourite authors working today. So to be a part of that is pretty cool. This book was a labour of love for me and I hope readers will enjoy meeting Ropa Moyo and her upside-down version of Edinburgh.’
Bella Pagan, executive director at Tor, said: ‘I feel I’ve been waiting forever for just this brilliantly inventive book. And now we’ve acquired it, I couldn’t be happier. It’s smart, fast-paced, witty and vividly imagined. Our heroine Ropa Moyo is amazing too, mixing up Zimbabwean magic with her Scottish wit and pragmatism. For those that adore Ben Aaronovitch’s Rivers of London series and Netflix’s ‘Stranger Things’, this is the book you’ve been waiting for.’

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Togara Muzanenhamo in Amsterdam

Waterstones are to welcome two outstanding poets to their bookshop at Kalverstraat 152, 1012XE, Amsterdam, on Tuesday 18 June at 19.00.

Togara, from Zimbabwe and Thomas, from The Netherlands will be reading from their work and answering your questions.

To reserve a seat for this free event please contact
Entry is by reservation only. Please book early as places are limited.

Togara Muzanenhamo was born to Zimbabwean parents in Lusaka, Zambia in 1975. He was brought up in Zimbabwe, and then went on to study in The Hague and Paris. He became a journalist in Harare and worked for a film script production company. His work has appeared in magazines in Europe, South Africa and Zimbabwe, his collections Spirit Brides and Gumiguru are published by Carcanet, and his anthology with John Eppel, Textures, is published by amaBooks.

Thomas Möhlmann has published four books of poetry in Dutch and compiled eleven poetry anthologies in the Netherlands, Macedonia, Argentina, Colombia and the UK. He teaches at the Academy of Arts in Arnhem and the Amsterdam Writers Academy, and is one of the editors of Dutch poetry magazine Awater.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Shane Strachan and the Muriel Spark Society

Another amaBooks writer Shane Strachan has also appeared on the literary scene in Edinburgh, when he read from his short fiction collection Nevertheless: Sparkian Tales in Bulawayo at the Muriel Spark Society Annual General Meeting.

Olga Wojtas at The Saltire Society commented:
'Fascinating talk at the Muriel Spark Society AGM from Shane Strachan about his new book, Nevertheless, a series of short fictions celebrating Muriel Spark's 2018 centenary, The image on the screen behind Shane (below) is of the Lady Rodwell Maternity Hospital in Bulawayo, where Muriel Spark gave birth.'

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Shane said that he
'Was very nervous before reading from Nevertheless for the Muriel Spark Society in Edinburgh, but they loved it so much I sold out of the copies I had with orders for more 😁 And apparently Muriel’s longterm companion Penelope Jardine also enjoyed reading it, which is a huge relief.' 

Copies are available through our distributor in Zimbabwe and through elsewhere.

The 2019 Caine Prize Shortlist

The Caine Prize for African Writing shortlist for 2019 is:

Lesley Nneka Arimah (Nigeria) for ‘Skinned’, published in McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern, Issue 53. Lesley Nneka Arimah (Nigeria) for ‘Skinned’, published in McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern,. Lesley Nneka Arimah was born in the UK and grew up in Nigeria and wherever else her father was stationed for work. Her stories have been honoured with a National Magazine Award, a Commonwealth Short Story Prize and an O. Henry Award. Her work has appeared in The New Yorker, Harper’s, McSweeney’s, GRANTA and has received support from The Elizabeth George Foundation and MacDowell. She was selected for the National Book Foundation’s 5 Under 35 and her debut collection WHAT IT MEANS WHEN A MAN FALLS FROM THE SKY won the 2017 Kirkus Prize, the 2017 New York Public Library Young Lions Fiction Award and was selected for the New York Times/PBS book club among other honors. Arimah is a 2019 United States Artists Fellow in Writing. She lives in Las Vegas and is working on a novel about you.

2.png Meron Hadero (Ethiopia) for ‘The Wall’, published in McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern, Issue 52. Meron Hadero is an Ethiopian-American born in Addis Ababa who came to the U.S. as a refugee in her childhood via East and West Germany. Her stories appear in Best American Short Stories, McSweeney’s, Zyzzyva, The Iowa Review, and others. Her writing is also in The New York Times Book Review and the anthology The Displaced: Refugee Writers on Refugee Lives. She has been awarded residencies at Yaddo, Ragdale, and MacDowell, and holds an MFA from the University of Michigan, a JD from Yale Law School (Washington State Bar), and a BA from Princeton in history. Meron is a recipient of a 2019-2020 Steinbeck Fellowship.

3.jpgCherrie Kandie (Kenya) for ‘Sew My Mouth’ published in ID Identity: New Short Fiction From Africa. Cherrie Kandie is a Kenyan writer and a senior at college in the United States of America. She also makes short films and enjoys dancing to Lingala (only in her room).


Ngwah-Mbo Nana Nkweti (Cameroon) for ‘It Takes A Village Some Say’, published in The Baffler. Ngwah-Mbo Nana Nkweti is a Cameroonian-American writer and graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. She is the recipient of fellowships and residencies from MacDowell, Vermont Studio Center, Ucross, Byrdcliffe, Kimbilio, Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, Clarion West, Hub City, the Wurlitzer Foundation, and the Stadler Center for Poetry and Literary Arts. Nana’s writing has been published in journals and magazines such as Brittle Paper, New Orleans Review, and The Baffler, amongst others. Her forthcoming short story collection, Like Walking on Cowry Shells, focuses on the lives of hyphenated-Americans who share her multi-cultural heritage in the United States and Africa.

Tochukwu Emmanuel Okafor (Nigeria) for ‘All Our Lives’ published in ID Identity: New Short Fiction From Africa. Tochukwu Emmanuel Okafor is a Nigerian writer whose work has appeared in the 2018 Best of the Net, the 2019 Best Small Fictions, The Guardian, Harvard's Transition MagazineColumbia Journal, and elsewhere. A 2018 Rhodes Scholar finalist and a 2018 Kathy Fish Fellow, he has won the 2017 Short Story Day Africa Prize for Short Fiction. He has been shortlisted for the 2017 Awele Creative Trust Award, the 2016 Problem House Press Short Story Prize, and the 2016 Southern Pacific Review Short Story Prize. He lives in Pittsburgh, USA, and is at work on a novel and a short story collection.

The Caine Prize anthology, featuring the shortlisted stories and those from the Caine Prize workshop, is to be published by amaBooks in Zimbabwe later this year.

Sunday, June 9, 2019

Tendai Huchu at the European Conference on African Studies

Tendai Huchu will be reading from his book, The Maestro, The Magistrate and The Mathematician, at the 8th European Conference on African Studies on Thursday 13 June at 1.00pm. The University of Edinburgh’s Centre of African Studies is hosting Europe’s international and largest conference with an African focus from June 11-14. It takes place in the University's central campus and is organised on behalf of the Research Network of African Studies Centres in Europe AEGIS.

The conference brings together 1,500 leading researchers, policymakers, and leaders from across the world. There is a complementary series of artistic and cultural events, as well as various networking and capacity building events, including some particularly aimed at the next generation of African researchers. 

In The Maestro, The Magistrate and The Mathematician, three very different men struggle with thoughts of belonging, loss, identity and love as they attempt to find a place for themselves in Britain. The Magistrate tries to create new memories and roots, fusing a wandering exploration of Edinburgh with music. The Maestro, a depressed, quixotic character, sinks out of the real world into the fantastic world of literature. The Mathematician, full of youth, follows a carefree, hedonistic lifestyle, until their three universes collide. In this carefully crafted, multi- layered novel, Tendai Huchu, with his inimitable humour, reveals much about the Zimbabwe story as he draws the reader deep into the lives of the three main characters.

Born and raised in Zimbabwe, Huchu presently resides in Edinburgh. In the words of the literary scholar F. Fiona Moolla, Huchu may well be the writer who, through his immigrant Zimbabwean characters in The Maestro, The Magistrate and The Mathematician (2014), has written the city of Edinburgh into the twenty-first century global novel, doing for Edinburgh what Charles Dickens did for London, and James Joyce did for Dublin.

The Maestro, The Magistrate and The Mathematician is published in Zimbabwe by amaBooks, by Parthian Books in the UK, by Ohio University Press in North America, by Kachifo in West Africa and is available elsewhere through the African Books Collective.