Interview with Zimbabwean Writer, Tendai Huchu
from Geosi Reads: A World of Literary Pieces
Photo: Tendai Huchu
Tendai Huchu’s first novel, The Hairdresser of Harare, was released in 2010 to critical acclaim, and has been translated into German, French, Italian and Spanish. His multi-genre short fiction and nonfiction have appeared in The Manchester Review, Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, Gutter, Interzone, AfroSF, Wasafiri, Warscapes, The Africa Report and elsewhere. His new novel is The Maestro, The Magistrate & The Mathematician.
Geosi Gyasi: Perhaps, we could start with your new novel, “The Maestro, The Magistrate & The Mathematician”. Could you tell us how you came to write it?
Tendai Huchu: I wanted to tell a story about the time and the city I live in. When you’ve been doing this thing for a good while, you’re hit by ideas near enough every day, and the hard part is choosing which to discard and which to run with. I guess I wrote this because the idea was super loud in my head and wouldn’t go away. Writing the book then became a form of exorcism.
Geosi Gyasi: The title of the book is interesting. How did you arrive at the title?
Tendai Huchu: The title is a bit of a misnomer because the book contains some misdirection. But I liked the alliteration in the mmm.
Geosi Gyasi: What sort of preparation goes into the writing of a novel?
Tendai Huchu: I haven’t figured it out yet. I think you have to approach each work as it comes. My first novel was very spontaneous, but that wouldn’t fly with this book because it required a lot of careful architectural planning to work as a whole. The project I’m moving on to next requires a lot of historical research. The two crucial ingredients you need are time and determination, outside of that it’s there but for the grace…
Geosi Gyasi: In a few sentences, could you tell us what “The Maestro, The Magistrate & The Mathematician” is all about?
Tendai Huchu: It’s about three men living in Edinburgh, trying to find a place for themselves in the city. It’s a novel about ideas, music, memory, love, that kind of shit.
Geosi Gyasi: How long did it take you to write the book?
Tendai Huchu: Three years or thereabouts. A lot of false starts and U-turns in the process. Madness.
Geosi Gyasi: How different is “The Maestro, The Magistrate & The Mathematician” different from your first novel, “The Hairdresser of Harare”?
Tendai Huchu: I think stylistically, thematically and structurally, it’s a little more complex. You have to take each idea as it comes and find the correct form in which it will manifest as a novel.
Geosi Gyasi: Between the two books, which of them do you feel more closely attached to?
Tendai Huchu: I’m more attached to the book I’m thinking of writing next. And when that’s done, I shall be more attached to the one that comes after.
Geosi Gyasi: Do you often depend on personal experiences to write?
Tendai Huchu: Not really, no. I mean you obviously have to know something to write it, but the fun is in taking imaginative leaps and putting yourself in your characters’ stilettos.
Geosi Gyasi: What is the most boring part of writing?
Tendai Huchu: It can be difficult, frustrating and a host of other shitty things, but boring is never one of them. I mean you’re creating stuff, dude; that’s so much fun. You’re the cat who’s like, “Let there be light,” and there is light. Could you ever get bored with that kind of magic wand?
Geosi Gyasi: Is there anything interesting about writing?
Tendai Huchu: There are no boundaries, no limits whatsoever; it can be anything that you want it to be. It’s not interesting, it’s Amazing. Brings out the kid in me.
Geosi Gyasi: This could go into my records as the most witless question I’ve ever asked but why do you write?
Tendai Huchu: It’s an impulse. We all have the storytelling gene inside of us. I read a lot, and I fantasise that when I write, I’m only telling the story that I want to read, but it’s not there in my library yet.
Geosi Gyasi: How often do you follow the political situation in Zimbabwe?
Tendai Huchu: Fairly often. I have an interest in politics around the world. Whether you like it or not, politics is about people and power, and it governs every aspect of your life – what you can or cannot say, who you may or may not marry, whether your faith is permissible or not, the quality of air you breathe, the salt in your food, whether you even have the right to exist or not…
Geosi Gyasi: Do you know who reads your books?
Tendai Huchu: I’ve met diverse readers along the way at literary events and stuff. I get the occasional email from someone who’s been touched by my work, which is really cool. Readers are gracious and kind in the main and one can only be grateful when someone else takes the time to engage with their work.
Geosi Gyasi: How did you get the idea for your story, “The Second Coming of Dambudzo Marechera”?
Tendai Huchu: Fungai Machirori who runs Her Zimbabwe suggested we do something for Marechera’s anniversary last year. I thought I’d do a pastiche of the guy and it was a lot of fun. The idea was to have just enough in there from his original works to fool the reader into thinking it might just be plausible, then, around that base code, I had room to do my own thing.
Geosi Gyasi: Could you tell us anything about Dambudzo Marechera?
Tendai Huchu: Easily the most popular and influential Zimbabwean writer ever. He’s a sort of cultural icon, though few people actually engage with his work, so he has that special quality of being everything to everyone.
Geosi Gyasi: Which writer has had the greatest influence on your writing?
Tendai Huchu: I read a lot and am constantly getting influenced by different writers at different phases in my life. I really couldn’t pick one.
Geosi Gyasi: How different is a novel different from a short story?
Tendai Huchu: The most obvious answer is that the length constraints in the short story require a certain economy where the novel can be more forgiving. The short story demands precision. You often have to dispense with the build up and start smack-bang in the action. It’s debatable whether the form is truly as immersive as the novel, but for the writer, working in the short form requires s/he put on a different head.
Geosi Gyasi: Is it true that writers are boring to hang around with?
Tendai Huchu: That stereotype is pretty much true, except for the sci-fi crowd which is full of really, really interesting people with the most fascinating ideas you can imagine.
Geosi Gyasi: What are your literary plans for the future?
Tendai Huchu: At the moment I’m translating Mapenzi by Ignatius Mabasa from Shona to English. I’ll be on that project for the next couple of months. Outside of that, I have no real plans; just take it one day at a time, I suppose.
Geosi Gyasi: Are you an avid reader?
Tendai Huchu: Yep. I wouldn’t be doing this if I wasn’t a reader. I don’t think anyone can truly engage with any established craft unless they’re a fan first. Imagine the footballer who says he wants to play but he doesn’t give a hoot about watching the game, doesn’t know the greats – Pele, Maradona – let alone the rules of the game, but somehow the motherfucker wants to jam for Man United. How does that work?
Geosi Gyasi: What are you likely to be caught doing if not writing?
Tendai Huchu: Cycle a bit. Walk now and again. Watch popular movies a lot – I’m talking blockbusters with loads of explosions: think Michael Bay. Live life and wait for the next idea.