Friday, January 7, 2011

Tribute to Julius Chingono from Drew Shaw

Julius Chingono, who died on 2nd January 2011, will be greatly missed by Zimbabwe’s literary community. He had just completed poems and short stories for Together, a collaborative project with fellow-author, John Eppel. This will be forthcoming in 2011.

Born on a commercial farm near Harare in 1946 and working as a rock-blaster on mines for most of his life, he began writing in the 1960s and published in anthologies of Shona poetry, such as Nhetembo, Mabvumira eNhetembo and Gwenyambira. In 1978, he published his first and only novel, Chipo Changu, and in 1980 this was followed by an award-winning play, Ruvimbo. His poems can also be found in Flags of Love (Mireza yerudo) (1983) and Flag of Rags (1996). In 2006 came his own collection of prose and poetry, Not Another Day. His poems and his short stories have also appeared in many other collections, including five poems in Intwasa Poetry (2008).

I asked Julius Chingono, in December 2010, did he prefer to write in Shona or English? “I prefer both languages,” he replied. “It depends on the articulation that the poem or prose demands.” In fact many comment on the author’s skill and versatility in using both languages.

I also asked who were his literary mentors? ‘None,’ he replied, which is in keeping with what he said to publisher, Irene Staunton: “I just want to be myself when I write. I don’t want to jump onto the bandwagon. I want my writing to come from myself. Maybe it is a very small voice, but it is going to be heard somehow.” There is no doubt Julius Chingono achieves a unique and individual perspective. Nevertheless he admitted admiring authors such as Charles Mungoshi, Ezekiel Maphahlele and Chinua Achebe, all of whom have impressed and affected him.

Bearing witness to the day-to-day struggles of ordinary people, particularly those less fortunate in society, is typical of Julius Chingono’s writing, as we see in the following poem from Intwasa Poetry:

It denotes

If you walk by

and find me

lying on my side, curled

like a comma

with no blanket

to cover myself

I am not in a coma

it denotes -

stop briefly

and ponder over these times.

If you find me

lying on my side

legs stretched straight

head and shoulders

bent towards my loins

like a question mark

it denotes -

provide explanations

why certain people

happen to sleep

on street pavements

If you find me

lying on my back

my whole body stretched

at horizontal attention

like an exclamation mark

it denotes -

I am in shock

do not bother

I will recover.

And when you find me


my head between my legs

round like a full stop

it denotes -

stop and tender first aid

subject freezing.

Julius Chingono will long be remembered for his identification with the poor and marginalised - for his commitment to humanitarian struggles and for his social conscience. When I asked him about his vision for the future in Zimbabwe, he said, “I believe in people living together in harmony, fighting poverty being our main agenda.”

Dr Drew Shaw, of Midlands State University in Zimbabwe, is writing the introduction to the forthcoming collection of stories and poems from Julius Chingono and John Eppel, Together.

No comments:

Post a Comment