New Literary Female Voice on the Horizon
The past decade has seen the emergence of the young Zimbabwean female voice in the writing arena, with some of them winning awards in various categories. Ethel Kabwato, Blessing Musariri, Bryony Rheam, Sympathy Sibanda are some of the names making waves in the poetry and fiction genres. Recently, Linda Msebele, from Bulawayo, has just had her story 'The Chicken Bus' translated into German and published in the German quarterly journal, 'Literaturnachrichten'. Another Bulawayo-born writer, Sandisile Tshuma (pictured), won an Honourable Mention at the 2010 Thomas Pringle Awards for her first published short story Arrested Development. The prestigious awards aim to reward best short story published in a journal, magazine or newspaper in Southern Africa over the past two years. The winner of the award was Stephen Watson for his short story Buiten Street, which appeared in the magazine New Contrast. The Thomas Pringle Award judges described Arrested Development as a ‘beautifully observed story of a journey – both literal and figurative’. Arrested Development first appeared in the anthology Long Time Coming: Short Writings from Zimbabwe (Amabooks) and the story was further published in various journals such as Wordsetc. Jane Morris of Amabooks described Tshuma’s achievement as an encouragement for other women to break new literary ground. She said, “I think her example will give young writers encouragement to write and to try to get their work published.” Beaven Tapureta (BT), a literary journalist, had the privilege to speak to Sandisile Tshuma (ST) who now lives in Johannesburg, South Africa, to find out who she is and what she feels about winning the Honourable Mention as a new writer.
BT: What does the recent accolade mean in your writing career?
ST: Being shortlisted for the Thomas Pringle Award is an honour I was immensely delighted about. Receiving an Honourable Mention for Arrested Development was a singularly gratifying experience. The recognition is an affirmation of the gift that God has given me and serves to encourage me to nurture and develop my passion for the written word. With this in mind I recently started writing a blog in an attempt to get into the habit of writing and hopefully find my own style and voice as a writer. I have also started studying with the London School of Journalism and am looking forward to increased output as my technique improves and I truly come into my own.
BT: Which awards/prizes have you won before?
ST: I remember performing very well in local literary competitions when I was still in school. The performance of Arrested Development in the award administered by the English Academy of Southern Africa is all the more special for me because this is my first published work.
BT: When did you start writing, and where exactly?
ST: Hillside Junior School in Bulawayo had a strong ethos of nurturing various talents and skills amongst pupils so we were always encouraged to participate in local writing eisteddfods and the like. So I have essentially been writing creatively since childhood.
BT: Lots of writers have their model writers whom they try to emulate, who are your influences?
ST: Given that I am still trying to define my own style as a writer I don't feel as though I have arrived at a position where I can single out specific influences. I read very widely and am moved by different writers. I always appreciate writing that is crisp, uncluttered and effortless to read. I admire writers who are able to convey complex or polemic themes using satire, humour and simple language, as well as writers who are able to draw me into completely unfamiliar territory and defy the traditional models of prose writing. Writers whose work I have particular fondness for include Ahmadou Kouruma who unfortunately passed away in 2003, Salman Rushdie, Vikas Swarup, Markus Zusak and Alex Garland. Being somewhat of a TV baby I have a strong appreciation for the work of the writers of the ABC series Grey's Anatomy. Anyone who can make me laugh one moment and shed actual tears the next sure can tell a story! The narration is accessible, reflective and easy to relate to. I also have a great love for the poetry of Charles Mungoshi, Pablo Neruda and Rainer Maria Rilke.
BT: What is your vision as a writer?
ST: In the short to medium term my vision is to be able to do some feature writing on subjects that are important to me such as health, human rights, music and personal development. In the long term I would like to write literature for children as well as young adults. My vision is to be able to use my talent, experience and imagination to inspire young people, entertain them and subtly provide them with some of the psychological tools they need to navigate their way through a rapidly changing and highly demanding world. I want my work to stretch their horizons beyond the confines of whatever circumstances they happen to be born to so that the whole world opens up before them and they can know and understand their rightful place "in the family of things" as the poet Mary Oliver says in “Wild Geese”.
BT: You work as Programme Associate for the UNESCO East and Southern Africa EDUCAIDS programme, how does job link with your writing ambitions?
ST: The work I do is aimed at supporting the education sector in providing comprehensive age appropriate HIV and AIDS, sexuality and sexual and reproductive health education for young people from primary school right through to tertiary level. I have always been passionate about improving the health outcomes of people in underdeveloped communities. This is the sort of work whose rewards may not be immediately tangible but if we get it right could quite literally save lives and empower people to make healthy choices for themselves. My work requires the ability to look at situations with fresh eyes, to think analytically and creatively, and ultimately to communicate effectively. I find that attention to detail and the ability to analyze ideas through a creative lens are invaluable as a writer.
BT: How do you describe the status of the writing industry in Zimbabwe?
ST: Zimbabwe has some exciting writers both at home and outside her borders. I am encouraged by the resilience of publishers such as AmaBooks who have bravely supported local writing in what can at best be described as "a difficult environment." While I am not exactly plugged in to the "writing community" at home, I like the fact that such a community exists and that there is support for the craft even if only amongst peers.
BT: Thank you very much Sandisile, we wish you the best in all your writing endeavors.