Friday, July 25, 2014

Long Time Coming: Short Writings from Zimbabwe reviewed in Harare News
There is more to Zimbabwe than is often portrayed in the media. I recently came across the collection of short stories and poems Long Time Coming: Short Writings from Zimbabwe, there are contributions from thirty-three writers and, although there are pieces about squalor, poverty and the desperate lives of people, there are glimpses of another side to life in the country. What particularly struck me is the capacity for the human spirit not just to survive but to find hope against all odds. Linda Msebele’s protagonist in The Chicken Bus endures a gruelling bus ride home from work, but her spirits are lifted simply by the shared laughter with a fellow passenger, ‘… I am warmed by laughing and smiling at someone who still remembers that it is possible to smile, to laugh and to wink.’ The refrain of hope is again found in Judy Maposa’s First Rain, which reads like a prose poem, ‘I am spent. I am hollow. I am ready to dream, to fill up my mind with hope because without hope tomorrow is stillborn’. In Bhekiliswe Dube’s Loving the Self, sisters draw strength from each other after one escapes an abusive marriage.
There is dark humour too, in John Eppel’s The Awards Ceremony, presided over by the Deputy Minister of Borrowdale Shopping Centre. In Sandisile Tshuma’s Arrested Development, Lihle feels she is entitled to a mid-life crisis given the low life expectancy in the country, but her friend messages , ‘Sori m8. In mid-20s nw so u hav abt 10 mo yrs left 2 liv. Thz r the sunset yrs. 2 l8 4 crisis.’ The conflict between traditional and modern is highlighted with humour in Mzana Mthimkhulu’s Not Slaves to Fashion, as plans for a wedding are discussed.
Although the majority of the stories and poems are by Zimbabwean writers, there are a scattering of pieces from those who have visited the country. Lloyd Robson’s character sits in a bar in mid-town Bulawayo, comparing his experience with that in a bar in mid-town New York, ‘I am at home here, just as I am at home in any bar that serves as a quiet refuge for man.’ The difficulties of living in a country with a collapsing economy have forced many to flee Zimbabwe, and two Batswana writers, Gothataone Moeng and Wame Molefhe, consider the hostile reception that refugees can experience.
Problems that people face within the country are certainly not ignored in this collection. A young woman exacts revenge after she is driven to prostitution and her family to destitution by an unscrupulous businessman in Wim Boswinkel’s Justice. Desperate poverty leads to a desperate search for travel money across Harare in Julius Chingono’s Bus Fare. The issue of HIV and AIDS arises in several of the stories. The bridegroom is discussed by the wedding guests in Petinah Gappah’s The Cracked, Pink Lips of Rosie’s Bridegroom, ‘This is his second marriage, everyone knows. He buried one wife already, even Rosie knows. What Rosie doesn’t know: he also buried two girlfriends, possibly more.’ Finding out her fiancĂ© is HIV positive causes Fungai Machirori’s protagonist in Rain in July to ‘run back to my mother’s kitchen down the hallways of my mind’.
There have been major changes in Zimbabwe since this collection was first published in 2008, but in many ways the lives of the people of Zimbabwe have changed little. There is good writing, humour and ample characterisation in Long Time Coming to temper the recurring themes of poverty and suffering, and there is hope: ‘You know what hope is. It never dies… In the meantime, let’s wait’ muses Sandisile Tshuma’s main character.
Long Time Coming is a great read.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

amaBooks at ZIBF 2014

Caine Prize shortlistees
amaBooks will be at the Zimbabwe International Book Fair 2014, from Wednesday July 30 to Saturday  August 2. Titles on display at our stand will include, fresh from the printers, the new Caine Prize for African Writing anthology, The Gonjon Pin, which features seven Zimbabwean writers - Tendai Huchu (shortlisted for the 2014 Prize), Lawrence Hoba, Violet Masilo, Isabella Matambanadzo, Barbara Mhangami-Ruwende, Philani A. Nyoni and Bryony Rheam. It also contains stories by the 2014 winner, Okwiri Oduor, the other shortlisted writers (Diane Awerbuck, Efemia Chela and Billy Kahora) and the other writers from the 2014 Caine Prize Workshop (Abdul Adan, Martin Egblewogbe, Clifton Gachagua, Abubakar Adam Ibrahim, Elnathan John and Chinelo Okparanta.
The Caine Prize anthologies from 2012 and 2013 will also be available, as will each title in the amaBooks Short Writings series - Short Writings from Bulawayo I, II and III, Long Time Coming and Where to Now?, and the translation of the latter into isiNdebele Siqondephi Manje?
We will also be displaying our other titles and a selection from publishers outside of Zimbabwe.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

The Caine Circus: Tendai Huchu

The circus is over, the gorilla is returned to his pen, the tents are folded and the pool bulldozed, drunk poets feast on chicken and a disembodied head crowns the queen of the fair. I really should stop here, but I have more to say, coz this Caine thing was super-dope.

At the Caine Circus: Tendai Huchu,  Diane Awerbuck, Okwiri Oduor, Billy Kahora and Efemia Chela 

In The Ghastly Ordeal of Timothy Cavendish, our hero arrives to what he assumes to be a hotel, ignores the cues and checks in, only to realise he has unwittingly been incarcerated in a nursing home. That’s how I felt arriving at the Royal Over-Seas League Club[1], seeing the old biddies tottering about on the maroon carpet and the grand wooden staircases with stairlifts for the infirm. Surreal doesn’t quite describe it.
In no time at all I’d met up with the other shortlistees[2] and we bonded with the genuine, heartfelt sentiment you feel when there is a couple of grand between you. From them all I take cool memories. I remember how on telling Diane that “fingers-crossed” I would not have kids any time soon, she remarked drily, “It’s not your fingers you have to worry about, mate.” Or running in Green Park with Okwiri, Efemia’s sense of humour and watching the World Cup final with Billy[3].
The best thing about the prize is how it brings a diverse group of people together, especially at the events. Apart from meeting other African writers[4] you get to meet and hang out with agents, publishers, readers, bloggers, academics – you get the drift – who all have an interest in literature from the continent, so there is a lot of schmoozing and drinking of free wine. It is important to keep moving your jaw up and down, expelling warm air from your mouth, nodding your head, and, from time to time, drawing the corners of your lips upwards. But the range of people you meet is ridiculous. I met a lady in Brixton who outlined her theory on Brazil’s defeat to Germany by saying the German players were robots and the Brazilians had transgressed against the ancestors, hence the hefty punishment[5]. I listened to her thoughtfully, gave her a hug and fled. At the last event at the Southbank Centre, a West African man asked what I was doing to improve the public perception of the Zimbabwean president[6]. Whatever the bollocks, the prize creates space for dialogue and debate which can only be healthy for our literature.
The Caine takes a bit of flak ranging from contempt for the stories themselves to its very right to exist as a literary prize. I asked Lizzy Attree[7] if she was an imperialist, hell bent on subverting African Literature so that we are forever mentally colonised. She said she wasn’t. In any case, with her easy smile and wit, she would make a third-rate villain. Throughout the year Lizzy and her team scurry about looking for the resources it needs to survive and thrive, and I can imagine this is not the most pleasant of tasks. It is fascinating to see the network of people from different nationalities that come together to try and make this thing happen. The Caine may not be perfect, but occupies a special place because of the impressive list of our leading writers who have come through it over the last fifteen years and it is also good to see new prizes like the Etisalat, Writivism and Short Story Day Africa coming in to provide platforms that fertilise our literary ecology.
So the circus comes to an end with a worthy winner. No one can doubt that Okwiri Oduor will hit us with something wicked in the future, and I am sure Billy, Efemia and Diane also have new shit planned that we will enjoy in time. Turn off the lights, wait for next year[8] when the circus rolls back into town.

Tendai Huchu was shortlisted for the 2014 Caine Prize for African Writing. His new novel, The Maestro, The Magistrate and The Mathematician, is to be published by 'amaBooks in the near future.

[1] Never call the place a hotel unless you want the posh receptionist to issue a stern reprimand.
[2] All, except for Billy Kahora who showed up a few days later in what was either a brace or strait-jacket.
[3] This is not a eulogy.
[4] The term “African writer” is used loosely here and may also refer to the “Writers formerly known as ‘African Writers.’”
[5] In case you think she was joking, she was damn well serious.
[6] I am open to job offers.
[7] Caine Prize Director - medium height, freckles, often seen in open footwear.
[8] Predicting the return of the Nigerians—their writers more than make up for the crap soccer team.

The Caine Prize for African Writing: Offsetting the continental-diaspora deficit?


The London-based Caine Prize for African Writing has been associated with the most exciting contemporary voices of African Literature. But the prize has typically favoured writers in the diaspora. Are things starting to change?

Almost every aspiring and established African writer of English expression will tell you of the London-based Caine Prize for African Writing. Fourteen years old this year, the prize has been associated with the most exciting contemporary voices of African Literature, despite its narrow focus on the short story. African Literature super-star Chimamanda Adichie was shortlisted for the prize in 2002 and attended its first ever workshop in 2003 in South Africa. Her friend, Binyanvanga Wainaina won the prize in 2002 and went on to found Kwani?, the Kenyan-literary establishment that publishes Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor, who won the prize in 2003.

2014 winner Okwiri Oduor

The most exciting African writer of the moment, NoViolet Bulawayo, whose debut novel We Need New Names has won the PEN Hemingway Prize for Debut Fiction, the Etisalat Prize for African Literature among several international prizes including being shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, won the prize in 2011. In fact, Hitting Budapest, her 2011 winning story is the first chapter of the novel. She recently told a Ugandan audience that Hitting Budapest was her first ever published story.
NoViolet Bulawayo
Ironically, the prize is most criticised by its former beneficiaries. Helon Habila, who won the prize in 2001, in 2013 lambasted NoViolet Bulawayo’s book as perpetrating a certain image of Africa, which he blamed on the prize itself. He described the Caine Prize aesthetic as of suffering and pain. Habila was one of the judges of the prize this year. Back to 2013, Chimamanda Adichie mentioned in an interview that she does not look to the prize to learn of the best African fiction. She looks to her inbox. She runs an annual workshop in Lagos, and selects participants from all over Africa, but primarily from Nigeria.
Much of the criticism of the prize centres on the substance of the stories that win it. The most virulent critic of the prize is Nigerian-American writer Ikhide Ikheloa who in 2011 wrote that “many writers are skewing their written perspectives to fit what they imagine will sell to the West and the judges of the Caine Prize”. The Prize derives its name from Sir Michael Harris Caine, former Chairman of the Booker Group plc. who is said to have had a lot of interest in African Literature. Indeed the prize is sometimes called the African Booker.
Less talked about is the fact that some former winners of the prize have found their way to the West, after winning it. As Carmen Cain wrote about the 2013 Africa Writes conference, which is associated with the prize, conversations around the prize do not attempt to shift the centre of the universe to Africa. Binyavanga Wainaina went to Norwich, and eventually directed the Achebe Center for African Artists at Bard College, before he relocated to Kenya after winning the prize. In the years following Habila’s winning of the prize, he taught at a Western university. The lone Ugandan winner of the prize, Monica Arac de Nyeko (2007) lives in Holland. NoViolet Bulawayo won the prize while living in America. Few of the past winners of the prize have resisted the urge to shift to the diaspora, even if for a short time.
The diaspora privileging of the prize almost came into sharp focus in 2013 when Tope Folarin, an American-Nigerian, who was born in America and had not been to Nigeria since he was a baby, won the prize. His story was set in Texas and was published by Transition, a magazine based at Harvard, even though it was originally founded by an Indian-Ugandan in Kampala in the 1960s. But the noise regarding Tope’s Africanness was muted because the Prize probably has the widest definition of an African, for purposes of eligibility. The rules state that ‘An African writer’ is taken to mean someone who was born in Africa, or who is a national of an African country, or who has a parent who is African by birth or nationality.” Tope’s winning of the prize did not break any rules.
At the 2014 workshop in Zimbabwe
The prize has made efforts to root itself on the African continent. Since 2003, annual workshops are organised in various African countries and writers given opportunities to write, share with their fellow writers and animateurs and mingle with shortlisted writers from a previous year. This year’s workshop was held in Zimbabwe. From this workshop, an annual anthology is published by New Internationalist, but also by six co-publishers on the continent. These steps, to root the prize processes on the continent are beginning to bear fruit judging by the numbers of shortlisted writers from the continent, compared to those in the diaspora.
According to Lizzy Attree, the Prize Director, in 2001, all the shortlisted writers for the prize lived on the continent. In 2003 and 2011, four of the five shortlisted writers lived on the continent. This year, it has happened again. Four of the shortlisted writers live on the continent, including the winner, Nairobi-based Kenyan writer Okwiri Oduor (for My Father’s Head). Notable about this year’s shortlist is that two of the shortlisted writers, Okwiri Oduor and Efemia Chela were published by Short Story Day Africa (SSDA), on emerging winner and third place winner of SSDA’s Famine, Feast and Potluck competition respectively. Rachel Zadok, the founder of SSDA was herself part of a previous Caine Prize workshop.

Numerically, the diaspora may still be dominating the Caine Prize statistics in terms of getting shortlisted and winning, and eventual recruitment of continent residents who win the prize, but this is happening despite the prize’s effort to grow strong roots on the continent. The Caine prize has directly and indirectly led to the growth of continental initiatives like SSDA that are now part of the network that is producing and promoting more African writing talent that eventually gets recognised by the prize.

Okwiri Oduor wins the Caine Prize 2014

Okwiri Oduor and Novuyo Tshuma in Nairobi
Kenyan writer Okwiri Oduor has won the 2014 Caine Prize for African Writing, for her short story My Father's Head. The award was announced at a glittering event at the Bodleian Library in Oxford on Monday July 14. The Caine Prize, worth £10,000, is open to writers from anywhere in Africa for work published in English. Its focus is on the short story, reflecting the contemporary development of the African story-telling tradition.

There were four other short-listed writers: Zimbabwe's Tendai Huchu, Diane Awerbuck (S.A.), Efemia Chela (Ghana/Zambia) and Billy Kahora (Kenya). Tendai is the author of the novel The Hairdresser of Harare. His short fiction and nonfiction has appeared in numerous publications. His next novel will be The Maestro, The Magistrate and The Mathematician, which will be published by 'amaBooks in the near future.

Tendai Huchu
The chair of the judges, award-winning author Jackie Kay has described the shortlist as, “Compelling, lyrical, thought-provoking and engaging. From a daughter's unusual way of grieving for her father, to a memorable swim with a grandmother, a young boy's fascination with a gorilla's conversation, a dramatic faux family meeting, to a woman who is forced to sell her eggs, the subjects are as diverse as they are entertaining.”

Jackie Kay described My Father's Head as “an uplifting story about mourning – Joycean in its reach. She exercises an extraordinary amount of control and yet the story is subtle, tender and moving. It is a story you want to return to the minute you finish it.” The story begins with the narrator's attempts to remember what her father’s face looked like as she struggles to cope with his loss, and follows her as she finds the courage to remember.

Every year a Caine Prize anthology is published, which includes the shortlisted stories as well as those written by participants at the annual Caine Prize workshop. This year’s collection, The Gonjon Pin, will be released in Zimbabwe by 'amaBooks in the next two weeks and will be introduced at the Zimbabwe International Book Fair in Harare at the end of this month. The collection is also published by publishers in the UK, Nigeria, South Africa, Kenya, Uganda, Zambia and Ghana. The book features seven Zimbabwean writers, including Tendai Huchu. The other six are: Lawrence Hoba, Violet Masilo, Isabella Matambanadzo, Barbara Mhangami-Ruwende, Philani A. Nyoni and Bryony Rheam.

Friday, July 11, 2014

'amaBooks Writers at the Worlds Literature Festival

Three writers published by 'amaBooks, Togara Muzanenhamo, Owen Sheers and NoViolet Bulawayo, participated in the 2014 Worlds Literature Festival in June in Norwich in the United Kingdom. The five-day event, the 10th such Festival, is organised by the Writers' Centre in Norwich. This year's event featured 37 writers from around the world, including JM Coetzee, Ivan Vladislavic, Julia Franck, Xiaolu Guo, Adam Foulds and John Carey.

Togara Muzanenhamo

Togara Muzanenhamo's poetry anthology with John Eppel, Textures, is to be published by 'amaBooks later this year. Togara has had one collection, Spirit Brides, published by Carcanet in the UK, and another, Gumiguru, is due out by Carcanet later this year.

Owen Sheers
Owen Sheers' poem Drinking with Hitler, set in Zimbabwe, was published by 'amaBooks in Short Writings from Bulawayo III, and his short story Safari in Long Time Coming: Short Writings from Zimbabwe. He has visited Zimbabwe on a number of occasions, including participating in the Intwasa Arts Festival koBulawayo and at the launch of Bryony Rheam's novel This September Sun. Owen has won the Wales Book of the Year Award twice: firstly with The Dust Diaries, an account of his discovery of the life of his great uncle, the maverick missionary to Zimbabwe, Arthur Shearley Cripps, and secondly, this year, for his prose poem Pink Mist.
NoViolet Bulawayo

NoViolet Bulawayo has a short story Snapshots in Where to Now? Short Stories from Zimbabwe, which has recently been translated by Thabisani Ndlovu as Lokhu lalokhuya-yimpilo leyo! in Siqondephi Manje? Indatshana zaseZimbabwe. NoViolet won the 2010 Caine Prize for African Writing and her debut novel We Need New Names has won several literary awards, including the Etisalat Prize, and has been shortlisted for others, including the Man Booker Prize.

Photos courtesy of Writers Centre Norwich 

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

50 Books By African Women That Everyone Should Read

Bryony Rheam's debut novel, 'This September Sun', has been chosen as one of the 50 books by African women that everyone should read before they die. The list has been compiled by Dele Meiji Fatunia and Zahrah Nesbitt-Ahmed ahead of Africa Writes - the Royal African Society's annual literary festival - which is possibly the UK's largest celebration of African books and literature.
Bryony joins other Zimbabwean women writers on the list - Yvonne Vera, Tsitsi Dangarembga, Zukiswa Wanner and NoViolet Bulawayo.

'This September Sun' won Best First Book at the Zimbabwe Book Publishers Awards in 2010 after being published in Zimbabwe by 'amaBooks and went on to be published in the United Kingdom by Parthian Books. It is soon to be published in Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and South Sudan by Longhorn Press.

The full list of the 50 books can be found through the following links:

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Small Friends launched at King George VI School

Small Friends and other stories and poems, a compendium of 35 short stories and poems written by students at King George VI School and Centre for Physically Disabled Children, has been launched to an audience of students at KGVI.

The collection gave the students the opportunity to have their voices heard and to tell the stories that they wanted told. Some of the stories and poems tell the stories of their lives, some come straight from their imagination, and some simply speak of their dreams of a better future. As Mokhumi Valela, a graduate of KGVI, said in his welcome to the launch, “the book can be taken as a major step towards empowerment, and a way of regaining lost courage. Uniquely, it makes society conscious of cultural malpractices that should be adapted or abandoned. Small Friends is a life changer, and so are all those who contributed in every way to its ultimate launch today. As a centre catering for scholars with disability, we genuinely applaud the gesture of the American embassy in supporting this noble initiative.”

A non-fiction piece by Abigail Ncube, a form one student at KGVI, who contributed two pieces to the book, expresses pride in some of the accomplishments of former KGVI students. She writes: “King George VI has helped children with disability achieve way beyond the expectations of many people. We take pride in exceptional success stories, such as the King George VI scholars who formed the musical band Liyana.” 

The title of the book is drawn from a story by Marvelous Mbulo, who describes a magical day in the fields when he was an infant. An encounter with ants and a chameleon is described, where the narrator is able to communicate and to make friends with the chameleon, which lifts his spirits.  Marvelous ends his piece with, "What a day, well lived, plus a unique encounter. I knew it was all for me, me alone and not to be shared by anybody since no one would understand me. Tired from concentrating and assuming this was a story to nurse, I slept soundly on my mother's back."

The book was published with funding from the United States Embassy through the President’s Emergency Plan For Aids Relief  (PEPFAR) and coordinated jointly by the King George VI School and Centre for Children with Physical Disabilities (KGVI) and Bulawayo based publishers ’amaBooksUnited States Ambassador Bruce Wharton wrote the book’s introduction and said the collection of stories and poems “is an example of a platform that we have created for young people with disabilities to voice their concerns and dreams… (and)… it is also a useful tool to advocate for an environment that will allow them to participate in national developmental programs.” Previously the United States Embassy has worked with ’amaBooks to spearhead creative reading projects for the young people of Bulawayo, through provision of library facilities and creative writing workshops which benefit close to 1 500 young people in Bulawayo living with HIV and AIDS.

Guest of Honour at the launch, Jillian Bonnardeaux of the U.S. Embassy said “This collection of stories complements our previous work which, in the long term, will ensure inclusion of people with disabilities in HIV and AIDS prevention interventions.” 

The masters of ceremony at the launch were two of the writers, Marvelous Mbulo and Ocean Maidza, and there were powerful readings of poetry by Michelle Mabaleka, Preferment Rupondo and Vimbai Mucheriwa. The KGVI marimba band entertained the audience before and after the launch.

Other contributors to the book are Arthur Dzowa, Elisha Gumbo, Tanatswa Gwetsai, Thandazani Khoza, Tsitsi Marenga, Sarah Mareni, Natasha Masumba, Chipo Mazodze, Mduduzi Mlotshwa, Calvin Mwinde, Precious Sibanda, Primrose Ndlovu, Sakhile Ndlovu, Lloyd Nhapata, Alex Nyathi, Oleander Payarira, Gaudencia Rutize, Alice Senda, Miyethani Sithole, Paidashe Tekede, Gary Vundhla and Anesu Zhira.

Small Friends is available online on Kindle and as an e-book in Zimbabwe through, and as a physical book in various outlets in Harare and Bulawayo.