Monday, March 19, 2012

Song of the Carnivores: poetry and song

The Song of the Carnivores

Poetry and song will come together in a celebration of the majesty and beauty of Africa’s five large carnivores in ‘The Song of the Carnivores,’ an innovative programme to raise awareness and appreciation of the cheetah, leopard, lion, wild dog and spotted hyaena.

Uniquely linking the worlds of conservation and the arts, the collaborative venture is supported by the Cheetah and Wild Dog Regional Programme, the British Council Zimbabwe, Alliance Fran├žaise de Bulawayo, the Zimbabwe Academy of Music, ’amaBooks Publishers, the Howard G. Buffet Foundation and the Zoological Society of London.

The first stage of the project was a poetry competition, with both school children and adults invited to write about the five carnivores. This part of the project will culminate in the winning entries being put to music by the celebrated British composer, Richard Sissons. The composition will premiere at the biennial Bulawayo Music Festival during May 2012. ‘The Song of the Carnivores’ premier will involve choirs of children from ten schools from across Bulawayo as well as a host of instrumentalists and many professional musicians.

Parallel with the creative programme is a series of five talks to be given in Bulawayo to dispel myths about each of the carnivores and to encourage action to ensure their continued survival. The talks on cheetah and lion have already taken place. The remaining talks, to be held at the Academy of Music in Bulawayo at 5.15pm, are:

Wild Dog – On the myth that they are cruel hunters that decimate wild prey populations (22 March).

Leopard – On the myth that there are plenty of leopards, that they are simply a problem animal and that we can continue hunting them indefinitely with no problem (19 April).

Spotted Hyaena – On the myth that they are simply lowly scavengers that impact on lions (17 May).

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Owen Sheers - the world's first international sports team writer in residence

Owen Sheers, the Welsh writer, was appointed writer-in-residence for the Welsh Rugby Union in January this year, and he now celebrates the success of the Wales Rugby team in winning the Grand Slam in the 2012 Six Nations tournament.
While he’s already written poems for the programme of every home game, he’s also gathering material to use in future.
“I now have a much clearer idea of how the material will take shape. I hope to write across the full range of forms which I’ve used in the past, including non-fiction, fiction, poetry and theatre. But it’s not all going to happen straight away. It’s very natural with this type of project to immerse yourself for a long time so that you can distill the ideas.”
Sheers says the tournament has been an “extraordinary” start to his role for many reasons, including the fact Wales have won every match.
Owen has close links with Zimbabwe, he has visited the country on several occasions and has contributed poems to the 'amaBooks collections Short Writings from Bulawayo III and Intwasa Poetry, and a short story to Long Time Coming: Short Writings from Zimbabwe. The Dust Diaries, for which he won a Wales Book of the Year Award, is an account of his journey through contemporary Zimbabwe in an attempt to better understand his distant relative Arthur Shearly Cripps' devotion to the country. Owen's first novel Resistance has recently been released as a film.

In 2009, Owen visited Zimbabwe and launched Bryony Rheam's debut novel This September Sun. This September Sun is to be published in the United Kingdom by Welsh publisher Parthian Books in May 2012.

Photograph and quote courtesy of the Western Mail.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Review of This September Sun by Melinda Travis

This September Sun by Bryony Rheam

Recent years have seen a great proliferation of books about Africa, especially Zimbabwe. It seems that just about every ex-farmer, ex-Rhodesian soldier and ‘Whenwe’ Zimbabwean has written their life story. News of yet another book about this troubled nation might not then be greeted with much enthusiasm. However, what sets This September Sun apart from your standard Zimbabwean novel, is that firstly it is a work of fiction, and secondly, it focuses mainly on the relationship between a young girl growing up in Zimbabwe post-Independence and her grandmother, the incorrigible Evelyn, who moved to Rhodesia in the late forties.
Evelyn is no ordinary grandmother. She leaves her husband and moves into a flat by herself after years of being a housewife and stuck in an unhappy marriage. She finds a job and a boyfriend and gains a new lease on life, but it is one that is not appreciated by those close to her. Her daughter feels very bitter about the whole arrangement and her granddaughter, Ellie, moves between them, trying to pacify their relationship.
Ellie grows up in a country she feels alienanated from. As a child, she reads Enid Blyton books, and as she grows up she ventures into the classics of Western literature. She feels a great void in white Zimbabwean culture: it’s as though everyone is interested only in rugby and drinking and there is no room for an over-sensitive book-loving girl like herself. She yearns to go to the UK where she believes she will find what she is looking for, but is also disappointed to find that life there comes with its own set of drawbacks.
It is only when Evelyn is murdered that Ellie is forced to return to Zimbabwe and face some hard home truths. Left to sort through her grandmother’s belongings, she discovers that Evelyn was not quite the woman she thought she was. Consequently, Ellie turns to examine her own life and the choices she has made.
Bryony Rheam was born in Kadoma, Zimbabwe, and lived most of her formative years in Bulawayo, where the novel is set. Although she says This September Sun is not autobiographical, there are various links between her life and Ellie’s. Both of them lived in the UK for a number of years and Bryony also grew up feeling like a square peg in a round hole. The book is dedicated to her grandmother, who Bryony says was nothing like Evelyn in many ways, although she did love reading, Agatha Christie novels in particular, and she did have a love of tea.

This September Sun was published by amaBooks, a Bulawayo-based publisher who has also brought out various collections of short stories, such as the three Short Writings From Bulawayo anthologies. Publishing in Zimbabwe has been a difficult business over the last few years in a country beset by high inflation, shortages and a general breakdown in industry and commerce. The decision to publish the book was therefore something of a gamble, but one that has paid off to good advantage.
It has proven to be very popular in Zimbabwe, especially with those who have had some connection with Bulawayo at one time or another. Incredibly nostalgic in places, it recalls a time when the world spun more slowly and life was measured out in cups of tea. That is not so say that it looks at the past through rose-tinted glasses, for indeed life in Rhodesia and Zimbabwe was never a peaceful one and the reader is always aware of the political and how it has the power to undermine, and sometimes overshadow, our lives.
The next big question is whether Bryony will be writing another book in the near future. She has ideas she says, but struggles to find the time between teaching and her two young children. She currently lives in Ndola where she teaches English at Simba Secondary School. Writing is a commitment, it’s a job, not something you can do when you feel like it, Bryony advises anyone interested in pursuing writing as a career. Often the biggest hurdle to overcome is yourself; you have to believe that you can do it. For many, just the thought of writing a book is a daunting one. She is currently working on her next novel which she describes as a ‘philosophical crime story’ and she has also begun research for a novel set in the Congo in the 1950s. Research is something she really enjoys, especially interviewing people who lived through the times she writes about. ‘It’s the stories people don’t mean to tell you that can sometimes be the most fascinating,’ she says. ‘It’s also very important to get things right as you don’t want someone to contact you after reading the book to tell you that such and such a fact is completely wrong!’ Bryony also believes that it is very important to keep a diary – write down everything that appeals to you or catches your eye. It might be something someone says or does; it might be a line that comes to you. It’s easy to say I’ll write that down later and then forget it.
This September Sun has the power to appeal to all readers; even those who have never been to Zimbabwe, let alone Bulawayo, will enjoy Bryony’s unique narrative technique. The book spans more than fifty years of Zimbabwe’s history, yet it remains a very personal story. It’s a romance, it’s a mystery and it’s a chronicle of the lives of two women and the challenges and choices they are faced with. It’s about the love between people and the love for one’s country. It’s about loss and redemption, about leaving and finally coming home. As described in the blurb on the back cover, ‘this is a wonderful novel from a writer of great promise. A true original.’

Monday, March 12, 2012

amaBooks on Kobo and Kindle

Several amaBooks titles are now available as ebooks at $9.99 on the Kobo and Kindle websites ( and

The titles are Short Writings from Bulawayo I, II and III, Intwasa Poetry, Silent Cry: Echoes of Young Zimbabwe Voices, Hatchings, White Man Crawling and Zimbabwe's Cultural Heritage. More to follow.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Liesl Jobson reviews 'Together'

‘Together’ is perhaps the most remarkable book I’ve read in the last year, lending credence to the certainty that stories insist on being told, especially those stories that the authorities deny. Published by the University of KwaZulu-Natal Press [in South Africa, by the University of New Orleans Press in North America and by amaBooks in Zimbabwe and elsewhere], ‘Together’ is a collection of poems, flash fiction and short stories. It comes from distinguished Zimbabwean writers, the late Julius Chingono and John Eppel. It will shake you to your core, exploring as it does the travesties of justice done to the authors’ fellow countrymen and women under the rule of Robert Mugabe.

Bearing witness to the elusive nature of and power of story-telling is Eppel’s poem ‘Haiku with One Extra Syllable’:

All stories are true

Even those that didn’t happen

Once upon a time

That extra syllable in the middle line that exists despite the rules of the form symbolises the nub of discomforting narratives. However, it is the very urge to tell one’s story that will not go away. How do writers write when the threat to those who express their discontent looms hideous and terrifying? This question is subtly encapsulated in Chingono’s brief poem ‘A Buzz’

Art does not thrive

on half truths

like politics,

prepare the real thing


The two writers form a formidable duet and the various narrators that people the poems and stories in ‘Together’ refuse to be silenced. The late Chingono, who was a rock blaster in the mines for many years, teamed up with Eppel, a high school English teacher from Bulawayo in 2007 and the end result is this stunning publication. All the more stunning because as you reel from an account of brutal intimidation as in the story of election violence, ‘We Waited’, you are suddenly relieved by tales of extraordinary existence, entirely unrelated to trauma. Woven in the mix are stories of football shenanigans and big game hunters, tender love poems and reflections on birds and flowers, wacky eccentrics and the loss of a false tooth. One of the highlights for me is Chingono’s hilarious account of a briefcase businessman who, taking a call on his cell phone, borrows a pen from the poet who is immersed in scribbling a new poem. The narrator notes wryly

I lost a verse

he got an order.

Chingono’s writing forms the first half of the book, Eppel’s makes up the rest. Formally a stylist, Eppel’s voice is wry, sardonic and ironic. His reflection on the cheeky white madam is a playful dig at the resilience of those who remain in Zimbabwe and survive with their racism intact despite all. His poem ‘He Shakes More Than He Can Hold’ is a poignant expression of the anguish of writing these dark stories and ‘Broke Buttock Blues’ is a stylized call and refrain lamenting the tortured body and soul. Covering the taboo of the 5th Brigade massacres at Gukhurahundi post-independence, this collection is not for the faint of heart. It is however a tribute to the resilience of the human spirit and the capacity of writers to make meaning when this is denied, to transform suffering into art and to survive despite the grimmest encounters. Harrowing and haunting, but also beautiful and most surprisingly tender, ‘Together’ offers the reader a chance to hold on to hope when everything seems to be most horribly undone.

Transcript from Fine Music Radio, 5 March 2012 (

Thursday, March 1, 2012

A New Print Run of 'A Guide to the Rock Art of the Matopo Hills, Zimbabwe'

amaBooks have a new print run of Elspeth Parry's A Guide to the Rock Art of the Matopo Hills, Zimbabwe. The book was originally published in 2002, and it sold out quickly. The new books are now in stock in shops across Bulawayo (and Harare in the near future), and will soon be available outside of the country through the African Books Collective.

A Guide to the Rock Art of the Matopo Hills, Zimbabwe, will also be available as an interactive ebook. Watch this space. The proposed e-book cover is the lower image.