Monday, August 30, 2010

Granta Interview with Owen Sheers

Owen Sheers has been interviewed by Granta online editor Ollie Brock about the article he wrote for Granta about his recent visit to Zimbabwe, during which he helped launch Bryony Rheam's novel This September Sun. An excerpt is below; the full interview can be seen at

"What challenges do writers face in Zimbabwe? What benefits can they bring?

A few years ago I taught a short course to promising young writers in Bulawayo. Some of the difficulties they told me about were very much connected with the mechanics of writing. No power for their computers, or light to write by. A shortage of books to read for influence and inspiration. And then there were issues of censorship too - experienced more by playwrights than novelists or poets, as far as I could tell. In some of the short story writers I met the response to this sometimes manifested itself in pieces of stunning surrealism or post-realist fiction. One playwright recently told me that what most concerned him at the moment was that although there was work for playwrights, so much of it was writing pieces for NGOs and educational theatre, that he felt the very quality of Zimbabwean theatrical writing was suffering as a result – that ‘issue’ theatre was killing a genuine dramatic tradition.

On a broader canvas, I think one of the challenges that Zimbabwean writers face is finding a wider international audience prepared to look beyond the ‘known’ stories of Zimbabwe. I’ve been very struck that over the last 10 to 15 years most of the books about Zimbabwe (mine included) were written by white Zimbabweans or European visitors. There are plenty of writers in Zimbabwe, and plenty of good ones too, but it seemed as though it was still the white writers who had access to the international publishing scene. Thankfully that is starting to change, with writers such as Petina Gappah finding wider audiences, as with some remarkable home-grown Zimbabwean publishers such as amaBooks still publishing vibrantly, determined that more Zimbabwean voices from inside Zimbabwe are heard on the world stage.

As for benefits? Who knows. I do believe that a well written piece of imaginative prose or poetry has the potential to penetrate further, and stay with a reader longer, than hundreds of factual articles. That by engaging readers’ hearts, heads and ears simultaneously, writers can bring Zimbabwe today springing off the page. I also think that it’s important for Zimbabwe to see herself reflected in fiction and poetry. When that reflection starts to fade is when a country and a people can start to seem invisible. I think Arthur Cripps understood this, changing the views of western readers by being the first to write pastoral poetry about the daily life of Shona farmers, treating them as equals in literature so that one day they might be given that status in their real lives too."

The photograph is of Owen at the launch of Bryony Rheam's This September Sun in Bulawayo.

Owen's article about his visit, The Road Trip, is online at

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Wealth of Ideas blog discusses This September Sun and Dancing with Life

"I just finished and am ready to review Bryony Rheam's "This September Sun" and Chris Mlalazi's "Dancing with Life". Mine are more like reflections and comments about what I liked, what I call key moments. These are usually the parts of the stories that I found intriguing, or ones that caught my attention for one thing or another. For instance, while reading "This September Sun", I noted up to 35 places I wanted to revisit and say something about. I find this focus on key moments better than an evaluative review. The more I write my own work, the harder it becomes for me to take mere reviewing much goes into writing that critics tend to take for granted; so I am slowly drifting towards friendly reviews, and beyond that, I will end up just stating what I liked and, perhaps, disliked...

Rheam and Mlalazi's books were published by amaBooks (Bulawayo), one of the publishing initiatives that have kept Zimbabwean literature alive in difficult times. Reading the new stories from Zimbabwe, stories about events I didn't witness, a life I didn't live, but the pain of which I felt, because it affected those close to me, I always find them fascinating, very enlightening, and I read with a sense of gratitude, for the courage of the writers, for the hard work of both the authors and the publishers. There is a freshness in the stories which helps keep me believing that the Zimbabwean experience is a rich resource for literature, a context unique enough to illuminate readers on important aspects of the human experience. "

Christopher Mlalazi reads at Eso Won Bookstore in Los Angeles

Emmanuel Sigauke's article about the event at Eso Won Bookstore in Los Angeles that featured readings by Christopher Mlalazi and himself appears on the Wealth of Ideas blog
As well as other pieces, Chris read The Bulldozers are Coming from his award-winning collection Dancing with Life: Tales from the Township.

Monday, August 23, 2010