ImageNations: Promoting African Literature
Today, I bring you an interview (a discussion) with Tendai Huchu. I interviewed him when his first book The Hairdresser of Harare came out. He has published his second book: The Maestro, The Magistrate & The Mathematician. I caught up with him via Facebook and this is what ensued.
Nana Fredua-Agyeman: So how did The Hairdresser of Harare do? And how was it accepted in Zimbabwe noting the subject matter?
Tendai Huchu: The Hairdresser isn't a book I think much about now. I have moved on as an artist. It was well received in Zim. First print run sold out. Good reviews. It was a popular read.
Nana Fredua-Agyeman: OK. Great. I'm surprised you say you think not much about it. Is it that you are more concerned with your new work?
Tendai Huchu: Yeah, I am doing newer and, hopefully, more interesting stuff. I have/am evolving. For me, the next project is always more exciting than the last. I imagine it is the same for all writers.
Nana Fredua-Agyeman: Yes. You always have to focus on your current project and allow the last one to live its own life. Your second book fascinates me. I was wondering what will be contained in its pages. What's this book about?
Tendai Huchu: It is hard for me to distill a 90,000 word text into a soundbite, particularly when it has no real central theme. But the stuff that interested me most in making the text was the formal stuff, mechanical things to do with structure, and, of course, playing with genre and also trying to create a work that was ambiguous and contradictory. This makes little sense if you have not yet read the book, but I hope you will one day.
Nana Fredua-Agyeman: This sounds appetising. I'm no stranger to stranger literature. In fact experimental literature is itself novel. So will you consider your text experimental?
Tendai Huchu: I wouldn't necessarily consider myself an experimental novelist. I don't think I wield the necessary pyrotechnics to assume such a designation, rather the form the text was created try to buttress the ideas in the story I was putting forward. For example, the text contains 3 novellas, and this was only because my initial attempts at creating a unified, conventional novel failed, and the only way I could get the three characters to work was by highlighting their differences. It was a process of simplification, but that comes with its own complications, the language and style of the separate stories then had to be altered radically, the visual presentation of the text on the page itself had to be looked into. If there is any innovation in the text, it is merely a response to difficulties I encountered in writing the damned thing.
Nana Fredua-Agyeman: Your response piques my interest. After all, it is in adversity that we innovate. Your response reminds me of Doreen Baingana's linked stories Tropical Fish. You said earlier that the story (like Murakami's novel Kafka on the Shore) has no central theme how then were you able to sustain the writing to reach a meaningful conclusion?
Tendai Huchu: The conclusion is part of the play with ambiguity that I had going on. So for long stretches of the novel you have these disparate elements in play, but then at the denouement the camera zooms out and you see how these events come together and have been orchestrated, but only once you step out of the limited, chaotic experience of the individual characters. You also come to realise that the real hero of the story is someone else. I am talking round the book here because I am avoiding spoilers, but the idea is that whatever position the text takes must be undermined by an equal and opposite truth. Thus, I now do a U-turn and advance the argument that the book actually has a theme and is tightly plotted. It is not a literary novel but a genre novel of a very specific kind.
Nana Fredua-Agyeman: This sounds interesting and I look forward to reading it one day. However, how's distribution of your books like? Getting books distributed in Africa is difficult*.
Tendai Huchu: It is published in Zimbabwe by amaBooks and in Nigeria by Farafina. The problems of book distribution in Africa are well documented, but we are really talking simple market forces here, nothing more. It's not as though there are hordes of readers demanding my work across the continent. My publishers will be lucky if they so much as break even with this book. That's the harsh reality. Why would a publisher anywhere else in Africa try to sell my book when they already have a hard time selling works by their own local authors? I sound pessimistic and for this I apologise but the future of the book industry is intimately linked to the future of the general economy. You put more money in people's pockets and they have more leisure time, they might indulge and engage with this art form. The state has the resources to build libraries and stock them, there is another market for publishers. Combine this with mass literacy and the industry has a shot. We have to be realistic and tie the future of this art form to inescapable power of capitalism. Books are just another product of that system. Nothing more, nothing less.
Nana Fredua-Agyeman: Thanks Tendai for this discussion.
*Conducted this interview before I got a copy of this book. My copy is published by Farafina and the Writers Project of Ghana has copies for sale.
From: http://freduagyeman.blogspot.com/2016/09/interview-with-tendai-huchu-author-of.html September 8, 2016
The book is also available in the UK through Parthian Books and in North America through Ohio University Press.