Friday, November 17, 2017

Tendai Huchu shares the Nommo Award for an African Speculative Short Story

Tendai Huchu has shared the inaugural Nommo Award for Best Short Story, which was presented on November 16 during the Ake Festival in Abeokuta, Nigeria, for his story 'The Marriage Plot'. Tendai shared the award with Lesley Nneka Arimah, for her story 'Who Will Greet You At Home'.

Other winners at the Nommo Awards were Tade Thompson's Rosewater, as Best Novel, Nnedi Okorafor's Binti, as Best Novella, and Chimurenga's 'Chronic: The Corpse Exhibition and Older Graphic Stories', as Best Comic or Graphic Novel.

The Nommo Awards are decided by voting amongst the members of the African Speculative Fiction Society, and are open to all African writers.

Tendai Huchu's second novel The Maestro, The Magistrate and The Mathematician is published by amaBooks, who have also recently included his short story 'The Library of the Dead', a speculative fiction piece, in their latest anthology, Moving On and Other Zimbabwean Stories. 'amaBooks are presently involved in a  workshop, led by American academic James Arnett, for potential speculative fiction writers in Bulawayo.

The Maestro, The Magistrate and The Mathematician is also available from Parthian Press in the UK, Ohio University Press in North America, Farafina in Nigeria, Peter Hammer in Germany and through Moving On and Other Zimbabwean Stories is available in North America through, elsewhere through, and will soon be available through Parthian Press in the UK. Both books are available in South Africa at African Flavour Books (Johannesburg), Bridge Books (Johannesburg), Clarke's Bookshop (Cape Town), Love Books (Johannesburg), The Book Cottage (Hermanus) and The Book Lounge (Cape Town).

Lesley Nneka Arimah's short story anthology What It Means When A Man Falls From The Sky was named as one of the most anticipated books of 2017 by Time Magazine, Elle, the Chicago Tribune, the Boston Globe and others, and is a finalist for the Kirkus Prize.

Tendai Huchu's 'The Marriage Plot' can be read at

Monday, November 13, 2017

6 Awkward Questions With Zimbabwean Writers: Tariro Ndoro

James Arnett will be posting occasional interviews with Zimbabwean writers, all with the same six-question format. From his blog:

Tariro Ndoro ( is an emerging Zimbabwean short story writer and poet, whose story “The Travellers” in amaBooks' most recent collection of Zimbabwean literature, Moving On and Other Zimbabwean Stories, caught my eye. I had the pleasure of interviewing her as part of a panel on the collection at Intwasa Arts Festival in Bulawayo in October 2017. Her depiction of the economic and social end-of-the-road in the person of a bored Chicken Inn employee in “The Travellers” really humanizes the social and economic difficulties that Zimbabweans – and Southern Africans, generally - are currently facing. Her poetry and her prose alike explore scenes like this one from Cape Town in her poem “Transport”: “across from me, sleeping on the bubbling yellow foam / of the tattered prison grey seat, a tattered young man / and his tired sister both travel to their dead end jobs.” For every protestation that 2017 is not the new 2008 in Zimbabwe, Ndoro answers with another searching portrait of those whose minor suffering belies ongoing, everyday realities. Do I stay or do I go now?

describe your favourite novel or writer using synaesthetic terms

The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy. Definitely. This work was pretty revelatory for me. A warm, relatable book, and at the same time creepy and claustrophobic and painful. I love the different motifs Roy sets up and how they all tie up in the end as well as her several streams of consciousness.

what are four [two] metaphors for your relationship to African writing?

A stuffy room, mainly because there seems to be this culture of having an elite few African writers that are the flagships for African literature, which means a lot of emerging writers feel like they have no voice at all or no story to add to the ongoing narrative.
A good meal that ended before I was done eating, when I find a story that's particularly fresh and good -- for instance, a lot of Lesley Nneka Arimah's work.

assuming a utopian arc, what is the best thing about Africa in the future?

Self actualisation. It seems we're going through an African Renaissance. The natural hair revolution, African literary ezines giving the ordinary African more access to African lit... If all goes well, ten years from now, we'll be an actualised continent and the stereotypes that hold my generation of POCs back won’t hinder my children (I hope).

what habits aid writing most and least?

Reading. Reading the classics for structure, reading the contemporaries for inspiration and reading outside of my forte to prevent stagnation. Daydreaming also helps and giving myself writing targets (eg 1000 words a day).

how do you do it?

I love it. I know this isn't really an answer -- but it is the love I have for stories and story-telling that drives my search for the greatest short story, my love for the word that makes me struggle with my own fear of the blank page and the discouragement brought on by rejection slips. On a practical note, though, I probably spend about one or two hours [a day] writing until I run out of steam, then I go back to reading and editing until I find some form of inspiration to write a new work.

what is the most exciting book you've read in the past six months?

This is a hard question. I haven't read a whole lot of books in a while. I feel like I've been reading short stories. The God of Small Things was pretty exciting. I read it this year but I'm not sure when. I've also started reading Kate Zambreno's Green Girl and that's pretty exciting as well; I love the pace of the book and also the streams of consciousness Zambreno constructs.

James Arnett holds a Fulbright Core Teaching/Research Fellowship to Zimbabwe, 2017-2018. He is teaching at the National University of Science and Technology in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, and conducting research on the city's literary history, its cultural infrastructure, and its outlets for creative writing.

Friday, October 13, 2017

In Memory and Rememory: An American Appreciation of Yvonne Vera

Reproduced with the permission of James Arnett

[speech given by James Arnett at Pamberi Trust's 'Celebration of Yvonne Vera,' Harare, National Gallery, October 3, 2017]
In Memory
    There is no question that Yvonne Vera’s work holds a special place in both Zimbabwean and African literature. But by virtue of her lyricism, her ambition to depict a broad sweeps of histories otherwise swept under the rug, her literature is a truly world literature – uncovering common humanity, carving out a space for the experience of women under colonial violences, revealing and reevaluating, too, the societies meant to give black African women rights and shelter. She spares no one, but her voice is not overwhelming or condemning. Like Nonceba’s survival in
 The Stone Virgins, there is a way through history, a way to live with and past the terrible violences that continue to haunt contemporary Zimbabwe.
   In this way, I see a tremendous affinity between Vera’s work and those of the American Nobel laureate Toni Morrison. Her mother, Ericah Gwetai, makes mention of the fact that Vera re-read The Bluest Eye every year on her birthday; that novel, about the essential confusion about growing up black and abused, in a world that fetishized whiteness and power, has clear echoes all across Vera’s work, which poignantly looks at the racial dynamics intertwined with colonial dynamics in Rhodesia’s, and then Zimbabwe’s, 20th century. Both women write of the heinous violences inflicted on the most vulnerabled – and I use this in the past tense to foreground that vulnerability to violence is anything but essential, but rather something ideologically imposed. And both women skirt the usually bland celebratory bromides about women’s strength.
    In October 2017, I attended the Women, Wine, and Words event as part of Bulawayo’s Intwasa Arts Festival. Five talented female poets from Zimbabwe, Zambia, South Africa, and the UK came together to perform their work. One of the common threads that ran through almost all of the poets’ work was this: “I’m tired” – tired of many things – of being underappreciated and rhetorically overvalued, denigrated and vaunted simultaneously. Indigo Williams’s take on this theme was particularly poignant; she began by talking about how, paradoxically, it is frustrating and wonderful to be taken as a “strong black woman.” But what of the days, she wondered, when it was hard to get out of bed? What of the times when her vulnerability was at the fore, and strength something hard to muster? How does one live in between strength and vulnerability without being consumed?
    Vera’s work, like Morrison’s, isn’t afraid of boasting of the resilience of women and also depicting their vulnerability. Vera gives us women that fight as much as they can – as much as can be expected – and break, too. No one can stand the onslaught of dehumanizing violence without cracking, and Vera’s lyrical novels assemble those broken pieces into something like stained glass – illuminating and awe-inspiring.
We Need New Names
    “Muzhanje is the name of a fruit from Chimanimani, in the eastern highlands, whose seed this man has brought stuck to the bottom of his pocket, then planted it in her mouth like a gift, days and days after they have met. She has stopped considering time and only considers him.” (
Stone Virgins 43)
    The passion with which Vera writes characters whose lives have already been – or about to be – ruthlessly scarred by violence and by history – serves as a tonic to run-of-the-mill arguments that representations of violence are abstractly dehumanizing. The way Vera writes violence does precisely the opposite – it renders their humanity palpable and real, not dominated by their place in history, but continuous with history, running alongside it, occasionally, cruelly, pierced by it.
    The opening section of
 The Stone Virgins – the lull before the violence consumes us – depicts Kezi, and the Thandabantu Store, and Thenjiwe, and her lover. Thenjiwe hones in on her lover, full of him: “She brings home the man who gives her all her hips, who embraces her foot, who collects her shadow and places it right back in her body as though it were a missing part of herself, and she lets him gaze into her eyes till they both see stars through their tears. In the deep dark pool of her eyes the man sees places he has never been, she has never been” (SV 43). He has brought this strange fruit to her – the muzhanje, the name Thenjiwe chooses for her dream child, impossibly conceived in mind only.
    She understands this native fruit – native, unlike the “Host of eucaplytus trees redolent; their scent euphoric,” or the jacarandas casting their blooms over Bulawayo’s streets, or the “fusion of dahlias, petunias, asters, red salvia and mauve petrea bushes” in Centenary Park, each of these plants an importation, a colonial transplant from the Antipodes and Caribbean and the reaches of the British Empire (
SV 10). There can be a beauty in these transplants, Vera observes, but the muzhanje is the fruit that ignites Thenjiwe’s fascination. It is local and not – brought from a distant within, exotically local.
    The colonial place names that open
 The Stone Virgins, its catalogue of Selborne, Fort, Main, Grey, Abercorn, Fife, Rhodes, Borrow streets, depict Bulawayo as it could officially be known and indexed, not unlike the catalogue of imported flowers that brighten Centenary Park. But that Bulawayo is one that is ultimately condemned to living as the past, a town prey to the homogenizing urban forces that render cities similar. Instead, Thenjiwe’s lover wants to taste the real place, not ‘Rhodesia,’ but Zimbabwe: to see “more than Bulawayo, after coming all the way from Chimanimani he wanted to see the Mopani shrubs, the Mtshwankela, the Dololenkonyane, the balancing Matopo Hills, the gigantic anthills of Kezi.” (45)
    Colonialism didn’t make Africa go away, not under its gridded streets and imported street names, nor under its imported jacaranda trees. Africa lived alongside imperial Africa, contained in the places whose names are not forgotten, nor replaced, the flora native and indigenous and resilient. The work of reclaiming spaces, Vera writes, is only partially about effacing the names of the colonizers who controlled and wrangled and dictated. It is also about recognizing that the old names were always
 thenames, no matter what dressing was applied.
Strange Fruit
    There is much strange fruit in Vera’s work – fruit that is literally strange, that compels consumption, like the native-but-distant muzhanje fruit. Thenjiwe wants to know all about it, suspects that there is something important, resilient, productive in it. “She ask him on what soil the muzhanje grows, how long before each new plant bears fruit, how fertile its branches, how broad its leaf. She rises to ask what kind of tree the seed comes from, the shape of its leaves, the size of its trunk, the shape of its branches, the colour of its bloom, the measure of its veins” (46). The muzhanje, Thenjiwe believes, may give her access to tradition and place in a way that street signs misdirected and obfuscate. She, like Alex Haley’s displaced Africans in America, wants to understand roots – literal and figurative. “Thenjiwe knows that the roots of trees have shapes more definite than leaves,” Vera writes in
 The Stone Virgins. The surface is merely coincidental to the way that the tree grows in ground, rooted in place. Thenjiwe, before the violence that forecloses her life, seeks the strength of rootedness, of rediscovering place, and of forging a real relationship to it, grounded in loving and knowing.
    This phrase “strange fruit” has a particularly American history; it is the name of the famous Billie Holliday song, penned by Abel Meeropol, it decries the American practice of extradjudicial killings of black men – a practice we historically call lynching, but these days I fear we just call “policing.” It metaphorized the lynched bodies of black men, darkly describing the methods of white supremacy to control and subjugate populations of color. Chester Himes, the African-American writer, remarked that “no one, no one, writes about violence the way Americans do. As a matter of fact for the simple reason that no one understand or expresses violence like the American civilians do. American violence is public life, it is a public way of life, it became a form...” But that isn’t exclusively true – black Zimbabwean writers have managed to develop a sophisticated language to describe the unspeakable, and Vera’s associative novels leave the reader breathless in the wake of horror, not unlike this moment in
 The Stone Virgins, the prevision of finality that afflicts Thenjiwe suddenly: “Muzhanje. Thenjiwe flicks the seed to the roof of her mouth and pushes the man aside, way off the bed. She has been hit by an illumination so profound, so total, she has to breathe deep and think about it some more. She wants to lie down, in silence.” (SV 44)
    But there is other strange fruit, too, in Vera, as in the grisly tableau that opens
 Butterfly Burning, of the mass hanging of men...”The dead men remain in the tree for days. Their legs tied together, their hands hanging close to their stomachs. Toes are turned down to the ground as though the body would leap to safety. The foot curls like a fist, facing down. The feet of dancers who have left the ground. Caught. Surprised by something in the air which they thought free. The limbs smooth and taut, of dancers in a song with no words spoken. A dance denied. A blossom in a wind. A dark elegy” (BB 11). It takes great creativity and fortitude to render such a horrific scene so approachable and, dare I say, beautiful. It is not a beauty that celebrates violence or death in any way, but one that, as I argued before, humanizes its victims. In this passage, seventeen men are lynched in 1896, strange fruit overripe, cut short by the overzealous, overreaching, paranoiac violence at the heart of the founding of Rhodesia. “It is not a place with large trees,” Vera writes with dismay and wonder, “This tree, like these deaths, is a surprise. Away from the Umguza River which sings a lullaby each morning whatever the season, there are no trees” (BB 12).
    Terence Ranger recalls of Vera their trip to the Cyrene Mission outside of Bulawayo, where she went to see the art and murals, and where Vera “saw for the first time the enlarged version of the photo of African men, captured in 1896 [during the Second Matabeleland War, as the English call it; the first Chimurenga as it should be known], hanging from a tree. She was astonished that the photograph fitted so exactly with her description of hanging men at the beginning of
 Butterfly Burning, the sense of the men swimming in the air, being as vivid in the photograph as in the book” (Petal Thoughts 90). Vera’s historical imagination was strong enough to conjure the horror of the scene, so in touch was she with history and culture, and with what Toni Morrison in Beloved, calls “re-memory.”
    In Morrison’s
 Beloved, when Sethe is escaping the unthinkable violence of her slave plantation, seeking to give birth to her last child in freedom, she encounters the kindly Amy Denver, who massages her feet, and remarks, “Anything dead coming back to life hurts,” a painful description and a prophecy.  Vera writes, continuing the gruesome scene, “[The women] are not allowed to touch the bodies. They do not grieve. It is better that the murdered are not returned to the living: the living are not dead. The women keep the most vital details of their men buried in their mouths” (BB 12). The women of Vera’s novel know that there is no live return from the space of the dead, no amelioration or respite, just names and impressions held silently until mourning breaks. Vera is also haunted by the permanence of violence, as if linked to troubled spots, crossroads of tribal, colonial, and nationalist violence.
   One of the things most relished and valued about Morrison’s work – and the work of most canonical African-American writers – is its unflagging attention to historical truths, revealing the dark side of the American colonial enterprise, with its attendant slavery; Vera’s refusal to shy away from these historical violences makes her kin to Morrison. Sethe, in
 Beloved, ruminates, “I was talking about time. It's so hard for me to believe in it. Some things go. Pass on. Some things just stay. I used to think it was my rememory. You know. Some things you forget. Other things you never do. But it's not. Places, places are still there. If a house burns down, it's gone, but the place—the picture of it—stays, and not just in my rememory, but out there, in the world. What I remember is a picture floating around out there outside my head. I mean, even if I don't think it, even if I die, the picture of what I did, or knew, or saw is still out there. Right in the place where it happened.” Vera’s affirming discovery of the photo of the hanged men demonstrates the vital power of rememory – the resurgence and reality of violence in places where trauma has occurred, where the attempt to efface or move beyond that violence is fraught with its perpetual recurrence. Vera is the guardian of Zimbabwean rememory, holder of truths that are, in some cases inconvenient, or disappointing, or regrettable.
Why Don’t You Carve Other Animals?
    Her short story “Why Don’t You Carve Other Animals” gives insight, I think, into the difficulty of the work of writing Zimbabwe. The conversation between street artists - a carver and a painter -  illuminates the differences between two-dimensional art, where you can add, revise, cover over, and three-dimensional art, like sculpture, that achieves a finished form that is true, even if it isn’t accurate. The painter, on the one hand, “puts the final touches on the image of the Victoria Falls which he paints from a memory gathered from newspapers and magazines. He has never seen the Falls. The water must be blue,” he thinks. He relies on this hodgepodge of hearsay and observation, but gives beauty and control the uppermost, inductively reasoning that the Falls must be blue – if water on maps is blue, if the sky is blue. He “realizes that a lot of spray from the falls must be reaching the lovers, so he paints off their heads with a red umbrella. He notices suddenly that something is missing in the picture, so he extends the lovers’ free hands, and gives them some yellow ice cream. The picture is now full of life,” he thinks (73). The painter and writer can revise, can insert, can alter and shift and move around, staying true to inductive principles but honoring beauty.
   But beauty is not the only end, and while Keats encourages us to believe that beauty is truth, and truth beauty, and that’s all we need to know, Vera knows better. Art is also the purview of dream and imagination. “The carver has never seen the elephant or the giraffe that he carves so ardently,” her story observes, placing him in the same category of unknowing as the painter. But unlike the painter, who aims to achieve beauty through reason and truth, the sculptor knows there are other avenues for art. “He picks up a piece of unformed wood. Will it be a giraffe or an elephant? His carving is also his dreaming” (73). Like his dreaming, each carving is different, unique; spoiled, even, like his giraffe whose paint has run, and whose neck is comically short. He may seem the lesser artist by strictly aesthetic standards, but there is no question that he is an honest man, making honest art. The “unformed wood” is the wholecloth of history, the unknowable archive of all that has been, and the writer’s access to truth is contingent on honouring the materials she works with. The two artists – the painter and the sculptor – represent the collaborative pull between beauty and honesty, between pleasure and pain, thinking and dreaming.
   I was doing research last year at the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin. I wasn’t looking for Vera’s work, but I found among
 Charles Larson’s papers a copy of Vera’s final, unpublished work, Obedience. I was at the end of my stay at the library – quite literally; it was to close for the weekend in an hour and I was scheduled to leave town just after. But I couldn’t help but open up and thumb through the manuscript – which begins, indelibly, with a description of the stone birds of Great Zimbabwe. These birds don’t look exactly like an extant bird – but this is not the point at all, even if it might have been a good-faith effort at mimesis. Instead, they simply are: they endure, they are beautiful. In spite of colonial thefts, an independent Zimbabwe achieved their return; they roost once more at the site of rememory, presiding near the complex stone ruins that have fascinated throughout history.
    The painter asks the carver in the story, “Why don’t you carve other animals?...Why do you never carve a dog or a cat? Something that city people have seen. Even a rat would be good there are lots of rats in the township!” (73). Why didn’t Vera write her stories and novels exclusively about the fascinating life she saw unfolding before her in the present? – a present that Zimbabwean readers could recognize immediately as their own? Why instead did she lyrically inhabit the past, the full sweep of local history?
   Probably because she understood that the greatest foundations of art lie not in the mimetic transcription of things exactly as they are now, but rather in the imaginative flight through the past into the present and back again. Rememory exists anywhere where trauma, pain, violence, extremity has occurred, and there is no place where that is not true. Petina Gappah, a vital contemporary Zimbabwean writer, recently swore in a talk at the Open Book Festival in Cape Town that she was done with writing contemporary Zimbabwe after her impressive
 Rotten Row appeared in print – she wanted to explore the possibilities of writing elsewheres and elsewhens, to delve into history and unearth new old stories. These modes are not mutually exclusive, but this move reverberates with Vera’s temporal rangings, and describes the difficulty and ambivalence about approaching contemporary Zimbabwe without also attending to its past.
In Rememory
   The Harry Ransom Center holds another crucial Zimbabwean manuscript – the unfinished manuscript of
 Doris Lessing’s novel “The Memorykeepers.” Tendai Huchu, in a story just published in the 2017 anthology Moving On and Other Zimbabwean Stories by amaBooks in Bulawayo, recounts this piece of local folklore: “The Great Zimbabwe Empire was built by kings under the instructions of the Memorykeepers. You have heard of them, no? Of course not. It is an old – for lack of a better word – guild that has been there for as long as our people have been around. The Memorykeepers’ task is to remember everything.” The Memorykeepers are entrusted with the whole sweep of time, of remembering all that has been in order to inform what is to come.
    Memorykeepers are rare indeed; not even every African literature has such an honest, exposed, and vulnerable writer. Indeed, not every African literature is capable of absorbing the persisting, the inconvenient truths. There will always be those who seek to wrest the past in service of a future that they desire, instead of honouring the past for the truths it has produced, in spite of its violences. Such manipulators of truth and history – regardless of their position or power – should never supplant those brave enough to tell us unpalatable truths about ourselves. There is no honor in easy deceit, in palatable fictions. If, as Huchu worries, “now there are fewer Memorykeepers than at any stage in the past and they cannot hold all the new knowledge that flows from the four corners of the world,” we must learn to celebrate those who have walked amongst us – giants like Vera – and those few who remain, who have access still to rememory in an era where information deceives, and truth slides, and lives nevertheless hang in the balance, feebly swimming against the wind.

Gwetai, Ericah. Petal Thoughts. Gweru, Mambo Press, 2008.
Morris, Jane, Ed. Moving On and Other Zimbabwean Stories. Bulawayo, amaBooks, 2017.Morrison, Toni. The Bluest Eyes. New York, Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1970.
Beloved. New York, Knopf, 1987.
Vera, Yvonne.
 Butterfly Burning. Harare, Baobab, 1998.
 The Stone Virgins. Harare, Weaver Press, 2002.
 Why Don’t You Carve Other Animals? Toronto, TSAR, 1992.

James Arnett
James Arnett is a Fulbright Core Teaching/Research Fellow to Zimbabwe, 2017-2018. Will teach at the National University of Science and Technology in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, and conduct research on the city's literary history, its cultural infrastructure, and its outlets for creative writing.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

The House of Menka photos of the launch of 'Moving On'

From the House of Menka Facebook page

Saturday the 30 of September 2017 saw the launch of ‘Moving On and Other Zimbabwean Stories' a recent publication by amaBooks Publishers. The launch was part of the Intwasa Arts Festival in Bulawayo. The book launch featured writers from the anthology in conversation with our very own Tinashe Tafirenyika, a powerful poet, and Dr James Arnett, a Fulbright scholar at NUST, who both mediated the conversation.On the panel were: John Eppel, Mzana Mthimkhulu, Tariro Ndoro and Bryony Rheam. The conversation was very articulate as it delved into the individual writer's purpose of writing. The writers that were on the panel were also asked to comment on the impact of writing in Zimbabwe and being an African writer in the ever dynamic times from pre independence time to now. The writers revealed different aspects of their evolution as a writer. There was a clear desire among the writers that they prefer not to be labelled as black writer, white writer, woman writer, African writer but to be acknowledged as writers. However they all revealed their love and pride for being African and contributing to literature in Zimbabwe, Africa and internationally. 

The dialogue about the the writers individual contribution to ‘Moving On and Other Zimbabwean Stories' was fascinating as it revealed the state of mind of the writer and the state of the context in which their short story was created. 

The writers at the National Gallery in Bulawayo for the launch of 'Moving On and Other Zimbabwean Stories' were John Eppel, Adrian Fairbairn, Mzana Mthimkhulu, Tariro Ndoro and Bryony Rheam. The other writers in the anthology are: Raisedon Baya, Patricia Brickhill, Gamu Chamisa, Joseph Chikowero, Tendai Huchu, Donna Kirstein, Bongani Kona, Christopher Kudyahakudadirwe, Ignatius Mabasa, Barbara Mhangami-Ruwende, Christopher Mlalazi, Blessing Musariri, Togara Muzanenhamo, Melissa Tandiwe Myambo and Thabisani Ndlovu.


Monday, October 2, 2017

Bulawayo Launch of 'Moving On'

Photo courtesy of Mgcini Nyoni
Photo courtesy of Mgcini Nyoni

The launch of 'Moving On and Other Zimbabwean Stories' at the National Gallery of Zimbabwe in Bulawayo, with a panel of four of the writers in the anthology - Bryony Rheam, John Eppel, Mzana Mthimkhulu and Tariro Ndoro - in conversation with poet Tinashe Tafirenyika and academic James Arnett.
Also at the launch were two other writers in the anthology Raisedon Baya and Adrian Fairbairn.

Photo courtesy of Mgcini Nyoni

Photo courtesy of Mgcini Nyoni
Photo courtesy of Mgcini Nyoni

Photo courtesy of Mgcini Nyoni
Photo courtesy of Mgcini Nyoni

Photo courtesy of Mgcini Nyoni

Photo courtesy of Mgcini Nyoni
Photo courtesy of Mgcini Nyoni

Photo courtesy of Mgcini Nyoni
Photo courtesy of Mgcini Nyoni

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Monday, September 11, 2017

The 2017 Caine Prize Anthology in Zimbabwe

Just arrived from the printers - The Goddess of Mtwara - with stories from the five shortlisted for the 2017 Caine Prize for African Writing and from the eleven writers from across Africa who attended the Caine Prize Writers' Workshop.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Interview: amaBooks, a Zimbabwean Publisher

Thoughts from Botswana by Lauri Kubuitsile

Writings and thoughts from Motswana writer, Lauri Kubuitsile

Reproduced from

amaBooks, A Zimbabwean Publisher

amaBooks is a respected publisher located in Bulawayo. They’ve published work by some of the most well-known Zimbabwean writers including Tendai Huchu, John Eppel, NoViolet Bulawayo, and Petina Gappah, among others.  It’s run by the irrepressible Jane Morris and her husband Brian Jones. I had the chance to interview Jane about amaBooks, the conversation is below.

Can you tell me a bit about how you started your publishing house?

We could have called ourselves Accidental Publishers rather than amaBooks as we had not planned to start a publishing company. So, no research, no business plan, little knowledge of publishing. At the time, in 2000, I was working as a social worker and trainer and was involved in training volunteers for a charity involved in helping children. Short of money to run the charity, we approached the Bulawayo-based writer John Eppel who kindly donated a collection of his poems. But how to get it published? My husband and I decided to take on the task and, although I had a background in literature (my husband Brian is a scientist), we had little idea of what publishing a book entailed. It was a steep learning curve – ISBN, paper quality, book format, font type, size of print run, origination, pricing, launch, distribution, promotion… We were lucky to find a sympathetic printer who guided us through many of the steps. And months down the line we ended up with John Eppel: Selected Poems 1965 – 1995. Within six months all 1000 copies of the collection had been sold, with all profits to the charity. We were hooked and when John Eppel suggested starting a publishing house as he had a couple of novels waiting to be published we thought why not? It wasn’t the most propitious time to start the business as Zimbabwe’s economy had started its steady decline but we love books and were excited at the prospect.

How is the trade market in Zimbabwe?

When we began amaBooks the economy hadn’t completely crumbled so there was a better trade market and we could look to selling 1000 copies of a title, sometimes a little more. Our print runs have grown progressively smaller with the decline in book sales. We specialise in fiction and, unlike Germany for instance, where fiction is the strongest segment with 32% of the total market, fiction sales in Zimbabwe are a small proportion. With the high level of unemployment here and the poor economy, people are generally loath to spend any of their income on buying a book. Added to this is the difficulty of finding books for sale, with many bookshops having closed.

What is your approximate percentage of trade sales and educational sales? Do you consider yourselves trade publishers primarily?

We are first and foremost trade publishers and our sales are almost exclusively outside the educational system. A book being accepted as part of a curriculum is an added bonus, but that it not our original intent in publishing a title. As an independent publisher we have the freedom to publish what we choose, though there are, of course, financial constraints that have prevented us publishing all the books we would have liked to bring out.

Do you do a lot of development of writers? If so how do you approach it?

amaBooks don’t tend to give detailed feedback to writers when they submit a manuscript. We have, however, organised workshops for writers who have already had some success in being published and for those who aspire to be published, either run by ourselves or by experienced writers. As well as workshops aimed at improving writing skills, we have organised sessions on reading your own work and on looking at other avenues open to writers to help make a living. Working with new writers has been a significant part of our work as publishers. From the beginning we decided that we wanted to provide an opportunity for new writers to get published. We thought that a good way to do this was to showcase their work, alongside that of more established writers, in collections of short writings. To date we have published around 250 writers. Hopefully the editing process provided an input to the development of the writers and we have gone on to publish books by a number of the writers whose work first appeared in the short writings collections, including Christopher Mlalazi, Bryony Rheam and Deon Marcus. We have also helped to organise reading groups as we strongly believe that writers should be readers; hopefully, by enthusing the participants about literature, some may go on to become writers and some may come our way.
Workshops on publishing, which we have run, with themes such as how to approach a publisher and the difference between traditional publishing and self-publishing and all in between, have attracted much interest.

What do you see as the biggest challenge for publishers on the continent? Do you manage to sell your books in other African countries? This seems to be a real challenge for most publishers.

Distribution is a major problem, both within and outside Zimbabwe. We would love our books to be available throughout the continent and to have more books by African writers available here, but the cost of transport is prohibitive. Being a very small publisher getting our titles onto the shelves of major chains is very difficult so we tend to concentrate on independent bookshops, though that tends to be limited to South Africa. If one of our writers attends a festival, or we attend a book event, that is an opportunity to sell a few copies, and to develop links.
We are keen to sell rights across Africa and have had some success with other African countries – Nigeria and, through Nigeria, the other ECOWAS countries and Cameroon, Kenya with Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda and South Sudan, South Africa and Egypt.
We continue to try to think of innovative ways of getting our books out there. Our titles are available as ebooks on many sites, and the African Books Collective distribute for us outside of Africa.
 Despite its many challenges, Zimbabwe seems to have quite a thriving literary community and quite a few successful writers especially if you compare it to Botswana. Why do you think that is the case?
Zimbabwe has many good writers, quite a few having received international acclaim; names that come to mind are Yvonne Vera, Doris Lessing, NoViolet Bulawayo, Dambudzo Marechera, Petina Gappah and Tendai Huchu. As to why this is, there is a tradition of valuing education and reading, Zimbabwe still has the reputation of having a high literacy rate. And there is plenty to write about in Zimbabwe, though I guess the same could be said of many other African countries.
When we started amaBooks many of the writers were still in Zimbabwe and there was a thriving literary community here but, sadly, due to a myriad of reasons, including the economic and political climate, many are now based in the diaspora. We have just finished compiling a short story collection, Moving On, and, of the twenty Zimbabwean contributors, more than half live outside Zimbabwe.

What do you think have been the biggest successes for amaBooks?

How to measure success? For me, one success, despite all the stressful times, has been the joy that amaBooks has brought into our lives, being greeted in the streets of Bulawayo with ‘Hey amaBooks’.
Getting good reviews from readers and critics is one of the things we value most. We love what we do and it is heartening when others enjoy the books we have brought out. We enjoy collaboration and getting our books accepted by publishers in other countries is very exciting – the thought of expanding the readership beyond Zimbabwe. As well as selling rights to other publishers in Africa, we have sold rights in Europe, in North America and recently to the Arab world.

Our most successful book has been the prize-winning novel This September Sun by Bryony Rheam. It was accepted for the ‘A’ level syllabus in Zimbabwe and also sold well to the general public. Other publishers have brought the book out in Kenya and the UK, and a publisher in Egypt is having the book translated into Arabic to distribute in the Arab world.