Thursday, September 29, 2011

Where to Now? Short Stories from Zimbabwe launched in Bulawayo

The Zimbabwe launch of 'amaBooks’ new title Where to Now? Short Stories from Zimbabwe took place on Saturday September 24 as part of the Intwasa Arts Festival koBulawayo at the National Gallery of Zimbabwe in Bulawayo.
The collection, the fifth in the Short Writings series, features sixteen Zimbabwe writers – Raisedon Baya, NoViolet Bulawayo, Diana Charsley, Clement Chihota, Joseph Chikowero, John Eppel, Fungai Machirori, Barbara Mhangami-Ruwende, Christopher Mlalazi, Mzana Mthimkhulu, Blessing Musariri, Nyevero Muza, Thabisani Ndlovu, Bryony Rheam, Novuyo Rosa Tshuma and Sandisile Tshuma.
As well as readings from the book by John Eppel and Christopher Mlalazi, the artist Owen Maseko did a ‘live’ sketch as an excerpt from NoViolet Bulawayo’s story Snapshots was read.

More photographs taken during the launch can be seen on the 'amaBooks Facebook page

Conversations with Writers: Omen Nyevero Muza



[Interview] Omen Muza

Omen Nyevero Muza holds an MBA and runs a financial advisory firm he co-founded in Harare.

He is also a financial columnist with a local daily newspaper.

One of his short stories appears in the anthology, Where to Now? Short Stories from Zimbabwe (amaBooks, 2011).

He writes and plays guitar in his spare time.

In this interview, Omen Muza talks about his concerns as a writer:

When did you start writing?

My first serious attempt at writing was while waiting for my O-Level results. I cobbled together a collection of poems which was, however, never published.

Before that, I recall that my Grade 7 teacher put my name to something I didn’t write and submitted it to some obscure publication. Perhaps as some form of poetic justice, the publication misspelt my name to something entirely unrecognizable so in the end it was never attributed to me anyway. I am sure my beloved teacher meant well and obviously had a soft spot for me but I wonder whether she was aware that she was making me an accessory to an act of plagiarism. I certainly wasn’t aware!

How would you describe your writing?

Intermittent and undisciplined.

Although I have attempted a novel before, I now tend to focus only on short stories because they are less demanding, time-wise. The rigour of full-time work and contributing a weekly newspaper column on banking and finance does not leave room for much else, apparently.

I have never consciously thought about who my audience is or should be. I just write, really. Sometimes your audience can come from the most unlikely quarters so it may not be wise to have pre-conceived notions about who constitutes it.

In the writing you are doing, which authors influenced you most?

My pool of influence is quite an eclectic mix. However, if I have to name one person I consciously sought to emulate during my formative years, it would have to be none other than Dambudzo Marechera. With the benefit of hindsight, I was trying to emulate his lifestyle, not his writing style.

And have your own personal experiences influenced your writing in any way?

I would say extensively.

Most of my creative work is based on my personal experiences, sometimes to the point of being crudely autobiographical, I must say.

What are your main concerns as a writer?

To write in a manner that is believable... to be authentic... to write in a manner that people can relate to.

Perhaps this explains why I only write fiction when I have to. I no longer write for the sake of writing.

Like Nhamo, the character in "The Poetry Slammer", from the collection Where to Now? Short Stories from Zimbabwe, my biggest challenge is the balancing act between finding time to write while working full-time in the financial services sector. It’s never an easy road.

Do you write every day?

I don’t write every day but I read every day. And when I write it is never structured - there is no formula. I let the chips fall where they may. At any given time, I usually have several incomplete stories that I am working on.

I haven’t published a full book yet but I have published a number of stories in various online and print media.

My latest short story, "The Poetry Slammer" was published in early August as part of amaBooks' latest collection of short stories, Where to Now? Short Stories from Zimbabwe. I cannot remember how long it took me to write the story but because I wrote it for submission to a literary competition, the story can’t have taken much time to write.

An earlier short story of mine had been one of the top ten stories in the Intwasa Short Story Writing competition in 2007 organized by amaBooks in Bulawayo, so amaBooks was the natural destination for "The Poetry Slammer".

Though largely fictional, "The Poetry Slammer" draws significantly from real events and places. Under those circumstances, the challenge was to be faithful to the zeitgeist – the true spirit of those events and places because some people who went through the experiences on which the short story is based may read the story one day. I had to do quite a bit research in order to deal with that concern. For instance, when I was writing the short story, I actually visited the Book Café for the House of Hunger Poetry Slam in order to get into the right groove, and I remember chatting to Chirikure Chirikure one night in the Mannenberg Jazz Café.

I enjoyed writing every bit of "The Poetry Slammer", not only parts of it. I wanted it to be different from anything I had written before in terms of style, plot and characterization.

What will you be working on next?

Interestingly, or maybe strangely, it will not even be a work of fiction. It will be a collection of my NewsDay banking and finance articles written over a period of more than a year, tentatively titled Banking Insights from an Economy in Transition.

What would you say has been your most significant achievement as a writer?

Not giving up on writing... staying true to my craft in spite of the odds heavily staked against writing.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Conversations with Writers: Novuyo Rosa Tshuma

Conversations with Writers

[Interview] Novuyo Rosa Tshuma

Novuyo Rosa Tshuma is a Zimbabwean writer currently studying at the University of Witwatersrand, South Africa.

In 2009, she won the Intwasa Short Story Competition.

Her short stories have been featured in anthologies that include The Bed Book of Short Stories (Modjaji Books, 2010); A Life In Full and Other Stories: Caine Prize Anthology 2010 (New Internationalist, 2010), African Roar: an Eclectic Anthology of African Authors (StoryTime, 2010) and Where to Now? Short Stories from Zimbabwe (amaBooks, 2011).

In this interview, Novuyo Tshuma talks about her concerns as a writer:

Which authors influenced you most?

The novels of Orhan Pamuk, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Arundhati Roy, Sembene Ousmane, Naguib Mahfouz, Tsitsi Dangarembga, James Baldwin.

A particular piece of short writing which comes to mind is Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor’s "Kin la Belle: In the clear light of Song and Silence" which was featured in the Pilgrimages Project and was about her pilgrimage to Kinsasha. I love descriptive writing, writing that engages one’s surroundings, and in this piece a stark, out-of-the-box creativity merges with the writer’s experiences to create an intensely sensual reading. Absolutely beautiful.

I read an online excerpt of Yvonne Vera’s Butterfly Burning where landscape merges with the emotional state of the protagonist in an intense poetic prose that is just awesome.

Brian Chikwava’s "Seventh Street Alchemy" is a read filled with memorable scenes painted with linguistic prowess.

The short fiction is endless.

Why did these particular writers have this influence? For me, they each offered something new in their readings, something beautifully executed, something I had not previously encountered in my readings.

Arundhati Roy’s gymnastic linguistics in The God of Small Things showed what was possible with language in literature, how words could be bended, stretched, rearranged and created to form a rich literary mosaic. Naguib Mahfouz’s Palace Walk offered intense characterization, as did Tsitsi Dangarembga’s Nervous Conditions.

In Palace Walk I found myself in an intricate love-hate relationship with many of the characters, the father-figure who was the true depiction of chauvinism, his wife Amina who had an irritating blandness, and their son Yasin who embarked on the most mischievous escapades. I formed a complicated bond with these characters, irked often by their complexities, disappointed by their short comings, in love with their 'humanness'.

Nyasha in Tsitsi Dangarembga’s Nervous Conditions is a beautifully complex character with acute perceptions and an original flair.

Orhan Pamuk’s novels offer philosophical characters set in plots that give a great view of the complexities which have plagued Turkey at different points of its history; a lot of tugging between fundamentalism and secularism/westernization.

I became fascinated with Nigerian dishes after tasting them in Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Purple Hibiscus.

There is always something new, something refreshing offered in the memorable reads.

How have your personal experiences influenced your writing in any way?

Hmmm ... I have said before that I like to keep it 'purely fiction'. However, pieces of oneself, one’s experiences are invariably interweaved in one’s writings.

I like to explore characters who may be removed from my direct self, but perhaps whose bits of experiences here and there, are my own. Taking, for instance, my story "Crossroads" in the Where To Now anthology ... it is a fictionalized piece and yet the descriptions at the border are details of characters I have observed, conversations I have overheard and so forth.

It helps in a piece of work to be familiar with setting and to be able to capture the atmosphere of a place, its edge or its bluntness. So, for me, personal experiences function well for setting and atmosphere.

I like to experiment with characters who are not directly linked to me as a writer, characters who I may feel do not exhibit too much of myself. I do not like too much self-examination in a piece of fiction; one becomes self-conscious as a writer, and rather apprehensive of this idea of self-depiction.

People may, nevertheless, link a character to the writer. I have had people read a story and then come to me, agape, and say, "You really did that?!" The excitement lies in stepping into the shoes of a fictionalized character and capturing such a character as though it were you, which then becomes, on some level, a humanizing of the self.

What are your main concerns as a writer?

The biggest, I would say, is the apprehension about one’s writing, capturing a story as best you can. One is ever aware of how much one is yet to learn, how much one does not know. These apprehensions are most easily tackled by ever writing, ever reading, ever exploring.

The biggest challenge is finding a home for your work. One gets more rejections for one’s work than acceptances. Some publications don’t reply. So one needs a persevering spirit.

I remember when I first started sending out my work. I was very bold and persistent in my letters. Got many rejections. I always kept sending.

Another challenge is fighting inertia ... it is important to ever grow in your writing, especially as a young writer. It is crucial to step out of one’s comfort zone and experiment, in order to discover the things one may be able to do in and with one’s writing. Some experiments fail. But that is part of the learning process, isn’t it? To discover what works and what doesn’t. Writing is a constant state of patience.

Do you write everyday?

Not every single day. I would say four to five days a week for several weeks, and then reading takes over for the next week or two and so forth. Some days are busier than others.

The trick, I find, is to allocate writing its space in your life, and to ensure that others respect that space. I usually write early morning, as that is when I feel sharpest.

My sessions usually begin by reading the previous session’s work. This helps me get into the mode of my work. Some editing usually takes place during this time. After reading, one simply delves into the writing. Many times, particularly with first drafts, one feels that one is writing a lot of rubbish – it is as though one is feeling for a thread in the dark, searching for the vein of a story.

Many first drafts end in despair! I find I have many first drafts of different scenes, different stories, and usually the stories that I finish at a point in time are alterations from first drafts written a while ago, which when perused with a fresh eye, offer a gem or two worth pursuing. And so that is how it goes.

If it is during a morning where I have to attend lectures, then time constraints end my sessions. You find that when you have had a good writing session that must end before you want it to, the story stays in your mind, and you ponder sentences and scenes as you go through your day. When you feel you have a particularly good hunch, you are impatient to get back to your writing.

If it is on a day when I do not have lectures, my sessions can carry through the day, which then becomes an intermittent act of writing and revising, and a lot of editing. This is on a good day, when one has tapped into the vein of a story.

Usually such sessions end because one is tired, and feels satisfied with the work one has managed to do on that particular day. And success on any given day is not judged by quantity but by quality – writing is a constant state of patience (unless one is working with a deadline and needs to balance number of words and the quality of the wording.

Time constraints sometimes pull the writer out of a surreal state where all writing can take place forever! So one may write three thousand words, and only a thousand of that three may feature in the final story.

Some sessions end in despair, when one is struggling with a scene, a story, a character. Usually when this happens I just grab a book and read – it helps to calm the mind.

My sessions usually begin and end in solitary space. I deliberately live alone, as I find the space invaluable for the writing. Growing up, I always used to crave the idea of a space to write, as there was always a lot going on around, interruptions and the like. The act of writing is ultimately an act of solitude. So it is good to have a space where you can just wake up and begin writing, and not have to entertain disruptions.

When did you start writing?

I began writing stories for fun when I was nine, thereabouts.

Influences change. It was during the Echoes of Young Voices young people’s anthology project with British Council and amaBooks publishers in 2006 that I acquired an inclination towards what you would call 'African Writing' ... I was eighteen at the time.

How would you describe the writing you are doing?

Realist fiction.

Who is your target audience?

Everybody who loves to read ... but this statement itself carries preconceptions, whether even subconsciously, of what our generic readership is, based on the common culture many of us consume or are invariably exposed to, through technology and other mediums.

It is interesting how the idea of Western influence (through, say, its preconceptions) becomes the focal point around which a reaction is lodged, whether towards or against it. Is the idea of a target audience presupposed by the idea of a commercial concern?

It is interesting ... in certain reviews you hear reference to what we, the readers, think; how we may view this and this, and one wonders who this we is. In lumping a generic readership, the question is, who or what informs the tastes of this readership? From where do the influences stem? And what of the other readership, take the rural masses who may 'love to read' but who do not have the commercial viability? Who or what shapes whatever literature they have access to? The relationship between writer-reader can be a complex one.

What would you say has been your most significant achievement as a writer?

Hmmm ... Achievement ... That word. I am skeptical of it.

There have been wonderful isolated moments, which I would not call achievements: My first story ever to be published. The very act itself of being published. Working with publishers on a piece of work at an intimate level, such as Jane and Brian of amaBooks. Mixing with writers on a whole other 'political' level at the Caine Prize Workshop, and building friendships there. Learning from writers I greatly admired at the Farafina Workshop. Growing, from these workshops and these interactions, into a more solid writer. Interacting with writers online and meeting some great people I hope will be lifelong friends.

I guess the idea of achievement goes back to a question: What is it that one sets out to achieve as a writer? Hmmm ... Interesting question, that.

The more obvious ideas of achievement are just that, too obvious, and therefore immediately boring.

I do know one thing though, which is that probably, this achievement in writing and I, shall always play a cat and mouse game.


Because it always feels I have not captured what it is I would like to capture in this thing called writing because the element to be captured is ever evolving. There is always a better way to capture a story, a new story to be told, a new story idea to try. The more one reads, the more one meets with freshness, and the more one’s critical horizons are expanded.

I am a young writer, I really cannot speak of achievement, whatever this suspicious thing called achievement is, and whatever it should mean to a writer. There is much work to be done, much writing to do, so little that has been done. The focus is on the future, spurred on by past and present writings.

Long Time Coming Review, from

New African Writing: [A] Long Time Coming

Rosetta Codling, European Literary Scene Examiner

September 24, 2011

Title: Long Time Coming, 'amaBooks Publishers, 2009

Edited by: Jane Morris

Synopsis: Jane Morris assembles another collection of short stories from the best contemporary writers of Zimbabwe today entitled Long Time Coming. Julius Chingono, John Eppel, and Brian Chikwava are noted contributors to this work, but there are additional Zimbabwean writers that are equally talented too. Sandisile Tshuma’s selection Arrested Development serves as an introduction to all. This first-person narrative is an account of the trials of a young lady attempting to go from point ‘A’ to point ‘B’ via the unreliable, temperamental transport system of Zimbabwe. Self described, our narrator rants: “I am not hard to spot in this crowd at the barely functioning filling station. I am the sore thumb of a twenty-something year old woman wearing high-end sunglasses and trendy jeans, carrying minimal luggage and standing in a statuesque pose…” And indeed our narrator is the typical, young, mobile, and affluent one seeking a better route and a better trip out of Africa. The banter and the despair of Zimbabweans resonate well in this short ‘snapshot’ of their lives.

The writer Mathew Chokuwenga creates an expose on life that reads like an African version of Henry James’ Washington Square. This is a complicated, many tiered story about complicated people and complicated lives. The title of the work is Lanigan Avenue. The residents of Lanigan Street and Washington Square share many secrets, intrigues and little love.

One of John Eppel’s contributions to the collection is entitled The Awards Ceremony. Eppel’s selection pairs well with the poem My Country by his (deceased) comrade Julius Chingono. The medium of satire is often illustrated in John Eppel’s writings. The Awards Ceremony is a short creation of the author that satires a farce within the hypocrisy of a government award ceremony. There is some dark humor in this one. A reader will find overt humor supplied by the ample wife of the Minister too. The poem of Julius Chingono pairs so well with The Awards Ceremony because it focuses upon the same theme. My Country is a cry from Julius Chingono. He bemoans the reality of his cosmetically attractive... but barren... homeland reduced to a disposable state that… “leads to a rubbish dump/by the cemetery.” Powerful is the word. Readers will find that this book contains short writings requiring extensive deliberations.

Critique: I was enthralled, mesmerized, intrigued, and enamored with this collection. Zimbabwean writers deserve the center of the literary stage. I have reviewed several works from this genre and my fascination and appreciation continues. I truly know that educators in the fields of language and history will find this collection useful for adult education. The readings flow easily and well, but the issues are suited for mature readers. I recommend this book to all!

Friday, September 23, 2011

Song of the Carnivores Competition Winners

Edgar Langeveldt and Peggy Lendrum shared the $500 prize for the Song of the Carnivores lyric writing competition.
The competition aims to encourage interest amongst young people in conservation, particularly of the endangered carnivores - lion, cheetah, hyena, leopard and wild dog.
The results were announced during the Intwasa Arts Festival koBulawayo by Brian Jones of 'amaBooks Publishers.
Consideration will be given to writing music for the lyrics and the piece would then be performed for the first time at the Bulawayo Music Festival in 2012. The other shortlisted writers were Kurai Mombeshora, Vera Taylor, Mark Ferris and Tegan Mortimer.
The competition was supported by British Council, Zoological Society of London, Academy of Music, Warren Buffett Foundation and 'amaBooks.

The winning lyrics were:

Eternal Creature, by Edgar Langeveldt

It's a celebration of life, a cycle of seasons

They all have their pride, they all have their reasons

To exist and endure, so natural and pure

In the song of the carnivore, eternal creature!

And the song is a chorus of their pups and cubs

And the beauty in their lives is the beauty in us!

Join the African pack, keep their future secure

They've been there all ages, eternal creature!

Running and running, they never grow tired

Painted fantastic, colours vivid and wild

Panting and patient, pursuing their prey

Marathon pacing, endurance all day.

A team and a family, working closely as one!

Resourceful, resilient, they flash in the sun.

A cloud of hot dust and the hunted is down!

No rest or retreat till the hunting is done!

Under moonlit star-canopy, the queen of the night!

Fiery eyes, setting shadows alight.

Silently stalking through dappled midnight,

Treetops and rocks, razors hidden from sight

Padding, patrolling while others still sleep

Launching attack with a single, quick leap!

A rush of the wind and the hunted is down

No air in the throat, no heartbeat, no sound...

With a flick of high tail, sleek turns on the sprint

She's nimble, she's agile, she's speedy like wind.

The fastest on four legs, a blur off the ground

A curved back, elastic, a leap and a bound!

She's swifter than lightning, and sure of feet

She corners and captures in motion complete.

The plains are her runway, the hunted her prize

Up off like a missile, she flows and she flies!

Royalty, majesty, golden in class!

Powerful, proud in a palace of grass.

A pride and a territory, all corners are home

From deserts to jungles, savannas to roam...

The kings and the queens with jewels for eyes

A crown and a mane and those powerful thighs!

A throne set atop all creatures in sight

The roar of the conqueror, brave in the fight!

Laughing and cunning, trailing the hunt

Left-overs for breakfast, a big bone for lunch.

Grabbing at pieces, jawbones that crunch

Master recyclers, no wastage, no want.

Spotted and speckled, no two are the same

Wondrous and weird, they purify game:

Timeless and tireless, cleansing the plain

Cutting, refining the sick, old and tame.

Join the celebration of life, the cycle of seasons

We all have our pride, we all have our reasons

To exist and endure, so natural and pure,

Sing the song of the carnivore, eternal creature!

And our song is a chorus of their pups and cubs

And the beauty in their lives is the beauty in us!

Join the African pack, keep our future secure

They've been there all ages, eternal creature!

Song of the Carnivores, by Peggy Lendrum

Listen! Can you hear in your heart

The beat of an African drum?

A call of the wild

From kopje and vlei

Drumming a song

Through the night to the day -

It's an animal cry, a message for help -

Listen! Listen to the drum

In soft moonlight a leopard prowls

With silent paws and dripping jowls.

Black rosettes on golden coat,

A hungry cough deep in her throat,

A buck knows danger, starts to flee –

Too late - it struggles helplessly.

Yet hidden are the drums of fear –

A trap ‑ a gun ‑ a cruel snare.

She crouches low in waving grass

Eyes fixed on prey ‑ if one should pass

She'll spring and sprint and swipe her paws,

Her victim gripped in fierce jaws,

Lions kill to stay alive –

The pride can eat, the cubs survive.

But closer beat the drums of fear

Perhaps a shot? A silent spear?

Golden eyes, alert, that stare,

Neat head, long legs, a watchful air,

Teardrop streaks upon its face,

A cheetah sits with poise and grace.

A flicking tail, a twitching ear –

Then it's gone, a spotted blur,

Heard on the wind, the drums of fear –

Poachers! Dogs are there.

A useful creature is this beast

A slinking form that likes to feast

On helpless young ‑ or others' prey!

Hyenas scavenge night or day.

Their jaws can snap a bone in half,

And in the night their weird laugh

Is music for the drums of fear

As witchcraft seekers set a snare.

A Joseph's coat, big rounded ears,

The white‑tipped tail a flag for peers –

Wild dogs live in strict control,

A female plays the alpha role.

They hunt in packs to run down prey,

But distant drums beat loud to say

They're now on the endangered map

From bullets, poison, or a trap.

But listen! Now can you hear

The animals' song in the drum?

It's a cry to us all

Man, woman and child

To care for our earth

To cherish our wild –

It's our 'now and forever' for aeons to come

We'll listen! We'll answer the drum.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

'amaBooks at the Intwasa Arts Festival koBulawayo 2011

'amaBooks will be part of several events during Intwasa 2011. Our major commitment is to launch Where to Now? Short Stories from Zimbabwe at the National Gallery in Bulawayo on the last night of the festival - at 5pm on Saturday 24 September. The launch will feature readings from John Eppel, Christopher Mlalazi and Raisedon Baya. A special feature of the launch will be Owen Maseko painting his interpretation of a scene from NoViolet Bulawayo's story while the excerpt is being read.
'amaBooks appreciates the support that is being given to this project, for the launch from Alliance Francaise de Bulawayo, the National Gallery of Zimbabwe in Bulawayo and Intwasa, for the publication from the Beit Trust, The Association of Little Presses and Alliance Francaise de Bulawayo.

We are also involved in the Song of the Carnivores lyric writing competition, and the winner will be announced at the Gallery at 5 pm on Tuesday 20 September. The aim of the project is to raise awareness of the value of, and the vulnerability of, five carnivores of Africa - lion, cheetah, leopard, hyena and wild dog. There have been some superb entries to the competition, from Zimbabweans throughout the world. Entrants who have confirmed they will be attending and will read from their work include author Peggy Lendrum and comedian Edgar Langeveldt. A medley of other entries will be performed by local poets Tswarelo Mothobe and Siphosethu Mpofu.

On Wednesday 21 September, between 3 and 5pm, a workshop/discussion session on Writing and Publishing in Zimbabwe will be facilitated by 'amaBooks. All writers are welcome to attend.

The winners of the Intwasa Short Story Competitions - the Yvonne Vera Award, the N.S. Sigogo Award and those for youth - will be announced at the Gallery on Saturday 24 September at 12pm.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Conversations with Writers: John Eppel and Together

Presents interviews with writers, publishers and literary activists.

John Eppel

John Eppel is a teacher, an award-winning poet, short story writer and novelist.

His books include the poetry collections, Spoils of War (The Carrefour Press, 1989) and Songs My Country Taught Me (Weaver Press, 2005) as well as the novels, Hatchings (amaBooks, 2006) and Absent: The English Teacher (Weaver Press, 2009).

In this interview, John Eppel talks about Together(amaBooks, 2011), his latest book:

How would you describe Together?

My latest book, Together, is a joint affair, combining poems and short stories by Julius Chingono and me; so it’s our latest book – a poignant phrase since Julius did not live to see it in print.

I wrote my portion of the book in 2008. Since I was earning almost nothing as a teacher, I applied for a year’s leave, and wrote three books: a novel, Absent: the English Teacher, a collection of short stories, White Man Walking, and a collection of poems, Landlocked. I sent them to Weaver Press who accepted the novel but rejected the poems and short stories. It was from these rejected items that my contribution to Together was made.
I sent Landlocked to three other publishers, Snailpress (Cape Town), Bloodaxe (UK),Carcanet Press (UK), all of whom rejected it.

Then Julius and I met with Brian Jones and Jane Morris of amaBooks, and we decided to bring out a joint volume. The title was suggested by Brian, and the project was generously supported by the Zimbabwe Culture Fund Trust. Dr Drew Shaw of Midlands State University agreed to write an introduction, and it wasn’t long before the University of New Orleans Press and the University of Kwazulu-Natal Press agreed to co-publish.

What advantages and/or disadvantages has your choice of publishers presented?

amaBooks of Bulawayo would have been my first choice for all my books, but they seldom have the wherewithal to finance a publication; that is largely because they have the commitment (and courage) to promote new Zimbabwean writing, including poetry, which almost nobody buys. Indeed, more people write poetry than read it!

An obvious disadvantage with a small, underfunded publisher like amaBooks, is distribution; and the sort of promotion you get with big publishers, like book-signings at major retail outlets, appearances on radio and television etc.

A huge advantage for a writer like me, who has a tiny readership, is that small publishers, who are more committed to promoting literature than to profiteering, will accept my books. My most recent, still unpublished novel, The Boy Who Loved Camping, spent more than seven months with Penguin South Africa before it was rejected on the grounds that the publishers did not think they could make a commercial success of it.

One significant way amaBooks has dealt with these problems, in the case ofTogether, has been to persuade publishers from two other countries to co-publish. That can only benefit the distribution and the promotion of the book.

Which aspects of the work you put into the book did you find most difficult?

I didn’t find anything difficult. The publishers, on the other hand, were particularly disturbed by one of my stories, “Of the Fist”, set during the run-up to the 2008 Presidential elections, which they asked me to omit. It’s a very violent story about political rape and murder, based on a real incident. Come to think of it, most of my stories and poems in this anthology are based on real incidents. We replaced “Of the Fist” with a harmless satirical sketch called “The CWM”.

For most of my writing life, I have thought of my predicament as someone who is neither African nor European to be a disadvantage; as if, somehow, I had slipped through a crack; but now that my years as a Zimbabwean have caught up with my years as a Rhodesian, the crack has metamorphosed into a threshold, a magical place where opposites merge, where contradictions become paradoxes. Now I don’t have the bitter thought that I am neither African nor European; I have the sweet sensation that I am African and European. And it is this aspect of my work that I have enjoyed most. I can imagine cutting-edge experts in postcolonial literature snorting at these sentiments, but I’m too old now to care.

What sets Together apart from other things you've written?

The potent symbolism of two elderly Zimbabweans from different cultures, races, regions… coming together and sealing a fissure. It’s a pity one of us isn’t a woman!

In what way is it similar to the others?

It is steeped in irony, which can so easily be misread.

It is frequently funny in the way that a cartoon is funny. When Ranka Primorac said, in an essay entitled “Poised for Literature’s Last Laugh”, that “There is remarkably little laughter resonating across the history of Zimbabwean literature”, she swept Julius Chingono and me under the carpet.

How many books have you written so far?
  • Spoils of War, 1989 (The Carrefour Press, Cape town), poetry.
  • DGG Berry’s The Great North Road, 1992 (The Carrefour Press, Cape Town and Hippogriff, Johannesburg), novel.
  • Hatchings, 1993 (The Carrefour Press, Cape Town), novel. [re-published by amaBooks in 2006]
  • The Giraffe Man, 1994 (Queillerie, Pretoria), novel
  • Sonata for Matabeleland, 1995 (Snailpress, Cape Town and Baobab, Harare), poetry.
  • Selected Poems 1965-1995, 2001 (Childline).
  • The Curse of the Ripe Tomato, 2001 (amaBooks, Bulawayo), novel.
  • The Holy Innocents, 2002 (amaBooks, Bulawayo), novel
  • The Caruso of Colleen Bawn, 2004 (amaBooks, Bulawayo), poems and short stories.
  • Songs My Country Taught Me, 2005 (Weaver Press, Harare), poetry.
  • White Man Crawling, 2007 (amaBooks, Bulawayo), poems and short stories.
  • The Boy Who Loved Camping, 2008 [awaiting a publisher], novel.
  • Absent: The English Teacher, 2009 (Weaver Press, Harare and Jacana, Johannesburg) novel.
  • Together, with Julius Chingono, 2011 (amaBooks, Bulawayo and UNO, New Orleans and UKZN, Durban), poems and short stories.
What would you say has been your most significant achievement as a writer?

I think, the way I have learned to fuse, mainly through parody, prosody with socio-political commentary.

In my poems in Together, you will find examples of the Blues, the sestina, the haiku, the ballad, the sonnet, the Sapphic, vers libre, dramatic monologue, pure lyric... I even invented a new form, which I (no longer secretly) call duodecadina. It is called “Yet another Flower Poem” and it consists of two ten-line stanzas. Each line consists of fifteen syllables, and the end words of the first stanza are repeated exactly in the end words of the second stanza. If you don’t notice all these details when you read it (with enjoyment!) it succeeds. It is an attempt at the art which conceals art. Of course, a lot of this has to do with healthy self-mockery.

Do you write every day?

I write during school holidays and occasionally over the weekends.

With poetry I get an image or a rhythmic cluster of words, almost never an idea. The moment of inspiration is passive, like a flower awaiting pollination. With prose (most of the time), it’s the other way round, a bee looking for a flower to pollinate.

In a sense, my writing never ends - it stops.