Sunday, March 28, 2010

New Print Runs of Two 'amaBooks Books

'amaBooks are doing new print runs of both Bryony Rheam's This September Sun and Long Time Coming: Short Writings from Zimbabwe.

This September Sun has sold very well in both Zimbabwe and Zambia since the launch in Bulawayo in November, and we are expecting new reviews in the near future.

Long Time Coming is being reprinted with a modified cover to include the excellent reviews it has had and to feature it being chosen by New Internationalist as one of their 'Best Books of 2009'.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Owen Maseko Arrested in Bulawayo

We've just heard that Owen Maseko, one of Bulawayo's leading artists, has been arrested following his exhibition opening last night at the National Gallery of Zimbabwe in Bulawayo. His exhibition is an artist’s impression of the harsh reality of Gukurahundi as well as the decades of oppression and violence that have characterised Zimbabwe. In a combination of graffiti, 3D installations and his painting Owen unflinchingly dared to tell the truth, adding his usual and whimsical element of humour. Owen has shown courage in speaking the truth that we all know. We must all stand by him and demand his immediate release.
Owen's painting We Shall Rise was the cover of the collection Short Writings from Bulawayo III.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Publishing in Zimbabwe - article in Cambridge magazine

An article about 'amaBooks, entitled Publishing in Zimbabwe: voices from a failing state, has just appeared in Optima, a magazine from Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge University. The piece considers publishing in Zimbabwe, 'amaBooks and the career of Brian Jones, one of the 'amaBooks directors.

The article is on pages 10 and 11 of Optima 16, 2010 .

Friday, March 19, 2010

Review of Bryony Rheam's This September Sun from the Warwick Review

Reviewed by Dr James Graham of Middlesex University

The house of Zimbabwean letters is haunted by a ghost that few of its writers have been able to exorcise. Settler colonialism – in particular the culture of minority racial rule, with all it entailed in terms of fiercely polarised ideas of nation, race and class – was deeply embedded in the fabric of everyday life for all Rhodesians. So deeply embedded, in fact, that for a generation of writers after independence, black as well as white, Zimbabwe seemed a foreign land. Fixated on the colonial past, these writers appeared unable to conceive a liberated present: their imaginative world was haunted by the spectre of Rhodesia.

With this ambitious first novel, This September Sun, Bryony Rheam joins the ranks of a small but growing number of writers who seem intent on laying this ghost to rest. But that is not to say that This September Sun does not also dwell on the past. To the contrary. In its forensically detailed, and at times unapologetically wistful, exploration of Bulawayo’s suburban white society from the 1940s to the present day, Rheam’s novel at first glance appears exemplary of this sepia-tinted trend. What sets this book apart from others in this vein, however, is its focus on two characters whose intertwined stories illuminate an under-represented milieu of both colonial and post-colonial Zimbabwean society.

These two characters are Evie Saunders, an English migrant who arrived in Rhodesia in 1947, and her granddaughter Ellie, born in Bulawayo in 1974. The novel is narrated by Ellie and begins with her recollecting the circumstances of her sixth birthday, the day Zimbabwe gained independence:

On the 18th of April 1980, my grandfather burnt the British flag ... Many white people had already decided to leave by the time the Rhodesian flag was lowered and the new Zimbabwean one hoisted. Grandad said we were in for trouble; this was just the beginning.

This passage is noteworthy not so much for the tragicomic portrait of the inebriated grandfather and his moribund ‘Rhodies never die’ attitude, but because it also marks the day that Ellie’s grandmother left this man in search of her own freedom. Ellie interprets a scar Evie receives from the flag-burning ceremony as a portent:

It looked like the shape of Zimbabwe etched on her arm. I think Gran was always a little proud of the mark, a symbol of the price she paid for freedom. Many years later, the man who murdered my grandmother would remember that mark as the last thing he saw as she raised her arms against him before he brought the butt of his gun down on her head.

This remark and the subsequent narrative focus on Evie’s ‘independence’ offers a completely novel – and indeed controversial – way of allegorising the history of post-colonial Zimbabwe. Rheam risks serious censure in choosing to compose such a symbolic narrative from the perspective of its historically privileged, yet increasingly embattled, white suburban population. Judged against the quality of what follows it is, to my mind at any rate, a justified gambit.

With a nod, perhaps, to the renowned South African writer J.M. Coetzee, Rheam creates a memoirist in her own image. Though not as felicitous or compact as Coetzee’s ‘memoirs’, through this writerly conceit Rheam explores to compelling effect the secretive and self-absorbed world of a minority culture she was born into yet is unsure if she wants to belong.

The book is divided into three parts. Ellie’s attempt to banish family ghosts through the act of writing – the framing ‘now’ of the book – is the motivation for recording the memories of her formative years in the first part of the book. This section deals with events and themes fairly typical of the bildungsroman genre: innocence, in time honoured fashion, cedes painfully to experience. The emotional maelstrom of youth – in particular of coming to terms with being, In Coetzee’s famous phrase, ‘no longer European, not yet African’ – is affectingly conveyed.

There is a marked change in tone and pace in the second and third parts of the novel, corresponding to Ellie’s discovery of different batches of her murdered grandmother’s letters. The discoveries enable Ellie to cut through the veils of secrecy that shrouded her childhood. Transcribing the letters, Ellie reassembles her grandmother’s life story – quite self-consciously – as a hybrid narrative: part romance, part mystery. Most importantly, we learn of an affair started in the 1940s which had a profound, albeit hidden, impact on family life for the next half a century.

In uncovering the secret life of her grandmother in this way, Ellie also embarks on a journey which leads to the gradual discovery of her own, complex, post-colonial identity. Unlike the romantic mystery she wants to write, however, Ellie finds that the uncomfortable truths she discovers deny resolution to this deeper mystery: ‘I stop writing. Is it all too personal, too subjective, too me? Yet by continuing to write – by confronting and so coming to terms with the past – Ellie is able finally to envisage returning to Africa. ‘“See Zimbabwe for what it is,” her Zimbabwean suitor Tony implores, “not as some failed annex of 1950s Britain. People carry on living ... Write a different story, Ellie.” His voice was suddenly soft, the anger subsiding. “A different ending, at least.”’

And so the novel does end with a resolution, and in both senses of the word: ‘I don’t want to have a Rhodesian flag up in my living room and I don’t want to write the memoirs of my African childhood. I don’t want to live in the past.’ To no longer be haunted by the past – to live fully in the present – it seems Ellie must first confront and demystify it. While other reviewers will no doubt take issue with her exclusive focus on white Zimbabwean society in This September Sun, I would argue that by presenting us with characters from this minority with whom we can empathise as well as criticise, Bryony Rheam takes a bold but necessary step toward exorcising the ghost of Rhodesia from the house of Zimbabwean letters.

James Graham is a lecturer at Middlesex University and the author of Land and Nationalism in Fictions from Southern Africa (Routledge, 2009).

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Reading Group in Mzilikazi Library

'amaBooks has facilitated a reading group project in Bulawayo, in conjunction with three local organisations, one of which is Youths for Today and Tomorrow. Each of the groups has been given copies of Christopher Mlalazi's Dancing with Life: Tales from the Township to read and discuss, and copies of other books will be given later. The project is supported by the Public Affairs section of the US Embassy to Zimbabwe.

On 17 March, representatives from the Embassy visited a group of young women from Youths for Today and Tomorrow who were meeting at the Mzilikazi Library in Bulawayo. As well as discussing the book, the group were inspired by many of the examples in the presentation by Amy Diaz from the Embassy entitled Iron Butterflies: Women Who Defied Their Time, about women who had made major contributions to the advancement of their society from the time of the pharoahs to the present.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Short Stories Sought by 'amaBooks

'amaBooks and Parthian Books are planning a book of Zimbabwean short stories, to be published in early 2011 in both Zimbabwe and the United Kingdom.
There is no particular theme, but we would like stories about contemporary life in Zimbabwe, preferably of around 3000+ words.
This has been an on-and-off project for a while, but we are both now committed to going ahead.
The book is to follow on from the successful Long Time Coming: Short Writings from Zimbabwe, which has had excellent reviews both inside and outside Zimbabwe, and which was chosen by New Internationalist as one of their 'Best Books of 2009'.
Please email submissions to as early as possible, but before 15 July 2010.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

2011 PEN/Studzinski Literary Awards

The South African Centre of International PEN (SA PEN) is pleased to announce the launch of the second in the series of PEN/STUDZINSKI Literary Awards.

Entries for the award for original short stories in English are called for from 1 March 2010 and AFRICAN PENS, a compilation of the short-listed stories, will be published in mid-2011.

Prizes totalling £10 000 will once again be donated by American philanthropist and global investment banker, John Studzinski. The first, second and third prizes will be £5 000, £3 000 and £2 000, respectively.

Nobel Laureate and SA PEN Honorary Member, J.M. Coetzee, will once again select the winning entries.

The 2011 PEN/STUDZINSKI Literary Award aims to encourage creative writing in southern Africa and will offer talented writers an exciting opportunity to launch or develop a literary career. Twelve contributors to our earlier HSBC/SA PEN series have now published their own books, including Ceridwen Dovey who won the 2008 Sunday Times Fiction Prize. Petina Gappah, an early winner, went on to sign a three-book contract with Faber & Faber in the UK and Farrar Strauss & Giroux in the US. Three of the five short-listed stories for the Caine prize for African Writing first appeared in AFRICAN PENS 2007 – the model for AFRICAN PENS 2011. The story POISON, set in a threatened Cape Town, and written by author Henrietta Rose-Innes, was chosen by J.M. Coetzee as the winner of the 2007 HSBC/SA PEN Literary Award and it went on to win the 2008 Caine Prize of £10 000.

Our 2009 project, led by author Shaun Johnson, received over 800 entries from writers throughout Africa, but this year we revert to appealing only to writers living in the fifteen countries of the Southern African Development Community (SADC*). The genre is still the short-story, this time between 3 000 and 5 000 words.

Writers who are citizens of SADC countries are encouraged to prepare short stories for submission. Further information and detailed rules of entry are posted on the SA PEN website,

Monday, March 1, 2010

This September Sun Launched in Lusaka

Bryony Rheam's novel This September Sun was launched with a reading by Bryony in Lusaka last Friday. The event took place, during heavy rains, at Ababa House in Addis Ababa Drive.
The books are now available for sale at Ababa House, which the Lonely Planet guide describes as 'a smart boutique full of imaginative creations from Zambian and Zimbabwean artists, furniture-makers and weavers', as well as at Kickstart Books in Kitwe.
In South Africa, This September Sun, as well as other 'amaBooks titles, is now available at Protea Boekhuis in Pretoria, as well as in Clarke's in Cape Town, Adams in Durban and Xarra in Newtown, Johannesburg.