Thursday, March 16, 2017

Why I Read by Barbara Mhangami-Ruwende

Reading is an addiction. I am a slave to words beautifully strung together in eloquent notes. Reading gives me a high akin to the ecstatic experience one might get from a good dance song. As the body winds itself around the rhythm and melody and finds freedom in the deep thud of the base, so my mind gluts itself on the highs and lows, the tension and the tranquility offered up in a deeply satisfying story.

I read because it is from other people’s stories that I learn what works for me and what does not in my own writing. Like cooking, reading fires up and feeds my own creative process. I cook and I read so that I can write. Reading preceded my life as a writer, so I can safely say without reading there would be no writing.

I read because the possibility of somehow being transformed as I immerse myself into the story is so compelling that I cannot pass it up. I read to satisfy a hunger for more and more knowledge. I am intrigued by the complexity of being human and the most satisfying stories for me are those in which the characters, the worlds in which they exist and their interactions are thoroughly explored. I consider myself an active reader: someone who engages with the characters on an emotional as well as intellectual level. I cry with them, feel their anger and frustrations, rejoice in their victories and laugh out loud at the ridiculous.

The reading experience is sometimes a sacred act for me.  This act begins the moment I get a new novel or anthology of short stories. I reverentially inspect the workmanship of the book; the quality of the paper, and the font. It is not uncommon for me to even bring the book to my face and smell it. Then I will delve into the words with the excitement of a child ripping away the wrapping on a gift. Within the first few paragraphs I know what kind of relationship I will have with the book. I know whether it is one that I will sip slowly like a hot cup of tea, prolonging the pleasure or whether I will binge-drink it like a first-year college student, staying up two nights in a row until it is finished.
I read because it allows me some ME time. As a mother of four highly energetic girls, time alone is a rarity. However, if I am reading the girls will usually get their own books and we will read in companionable silence.

Reading is one of life’s exquisite pleasures for me. I have travelled to many worlds, met some interesting people and sat in on their private conversations or even their thoughts. I have sampled various cuisines all through reading. It satisfies the hedonist and voyeur in me    thank goodness  – because who knows what trouble those two character traits might get me into.

Barbara Mhangami-Ruwende is a scholar practitioner in public health, with a focus on minority women’s sexual and reproductive health, and founder/director of the Africa Research Foundation for the Safety of Women. She is originally from Zimbabwe. She holds degrees from University of Glasgow, Scotland, Walden University and attended the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. She writes opinion editorials on the status of women with a focus on Africa. She consults on policy and has written policy briefs with recommendations on ending violence against women. She has been on panel discussions around the issue of FGM and looking at novel ways to end the harmful cultural practice. Barbara is a vocal activist and advocate on issues to do with gender-based violence, economic justice for women and gender parity in government institutions. 

She is a writer published in the short story anthology Where to Now? published by amaBooks Publishers, Zimbabwe, on Storytime online literary journal, on Her Zimbabwe, feminist website, in the anthology of short stories, Still by Negative Press, London, in the Journal of African Writing, 2014, in the annual short story anthology, African Roar, 2013, the Caine Prize Anthology 2014, the Gonjon Pin and Other Stories by New Internationalist, amaBooks and others, and Guernica Magazine, USA. Her poetry has been published in the anthology Muse for Women, 2013 and African Drum by Diaspora Publishers, 2013. She was a 2014 Hedgebrook Writer in Residence and Caine Prize for African Writing workshop attendee. She is a mentor with the Writivism programme at the Centre for African Excellence (CACE) Foundation and a member of Rotary International.

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