Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Why I Read: Thabisani Ndlovu

I read because of two main reasons – the little pamphlets of short stories in IsiNdebele that used to be distributed at our primary school, and love for my Grade Six teacher. The first reason is perfectly safe to write about, but the second needs clearing from the Mrs. I hope to obtain “ethical” clearance sometime today.

When I went to Manyewu Primary School in Bulawayo, between Grades 3 and 4, there was a company that used to distribute little newsprint pamphlets of folktales, written in IsiNdebele. Perhaps some were in English, but I doubt. Anyhow, the illustration, as far as I recall, was great because you could follow the story by merely looking at the pictures.  Then either the teacher or some great readers in class would read out a folktale, normally when we were outside the classroom, awaiting our turn to go inside a classroom occupied by another grade. This system was called “hot sitting” and designed to share not only classroom space but books as well. In short, it meant going through the syllabus in half the required time as students alternated attending school in the morning and the afternoon. There was a waiting period to go inside the classroom and it was this moment when stories of hare and baboon, the man and the leopard, the chameleon and the gecko and many others were read out loud. I was hooked. I read and re-read each one of these stories on my own and started my own library. The booklets were affordable, something like five cents I think. I sacrificed some of my “break” money to buy these. I do not remember volunteering to read or being asked to by my teachers. I was too quiet and probably looked stupid as one teacher once said. But I had read all of those booklets and had started experimenting with reading longer writings.

But those pamphlets come a distant second to my Grade Six teacher. She was called Miss Ndebele. I loved Miss Ndebele because she was beautiful and smelt great. She also wore high-heeled shoes and had a smile to outshine the brightest summer sun. She is the very first woman that I fell in love with not only for her looks but also because she noticed my love for reading and encouraged it. So I loved her desperately like any Grade Six boy would – not really knowing what that meant and completely clueless what I would do with her if she had said, “Here I am, love me.”  We had by then, at Ntabeni Primary School, a “Corner Library” – a small bookshelf really – packed full of abridged English “classics” and other writings. Most of these were under the Ladybird Series. It was Miss Ndebele who noticed that I was a good reader of English and an even better writer of compositions in the language. The more I read out loud in class, the more I practised in private – both silently and loudly. I could not disappoint Miss Ndebele. Then my compositions started being paraded in our class, in other classes and ultimately taken to the Headmaster! And Miss Ndebele said she was very proud of me. Then she started directing my reading. Had I read Treasure Island? How about The Black Tulip? Around the World in Eighty Days was another fine book, she once said. Whatever she recommended I read, until there was no book I had not read in that Corner Library.

Then I joined Njube Library and spent most of my Saturdays immersed in books there. No wonder I made friends with two of the librarians who allowed me to borrow more than the two stipulated texts. Some of these were not even recorded but I returned all of them. In spite of, or because of, my love for Miss Ndebele, I regret to say that there were some books from the Corner Library that I borrowed permanently.  The redemption lies in that I lent these to friends. Together (we would call ourselves the Chopper Squad, after an Australian TV series that used to air on ZTV – go ahead and laugh), we delighted (note this very English word), in trying out the expressions we picked up from these books. Words and expressions like, “Oh dear!” (I know, but it was once quaint to me and the rest of Chopper Squad), “what the blue blazes”, “bamboozle”, “helter-skelter”, and “sixes and sevens.” These were good for composition writing and even better for public speaking. To add more muscle to our vocabulary, we obsessed over the Students’ Companion and learnt, for example, that instead of saying you visited someone, you could say you darkened that person’s door. And so, yes Ngugiites, I became thoroughly colonised, if of course, you forget or ignore that I was equally good in my mother language, IsiNdebele.

As I got older, what drove me to read more was my association with fellow bookworms. I remember James Mabhunu introducing me to James Hadley Chase. I read those greasy over read books and got titillated like hell. As if that was not enough, then entered the Pace Setters, with their fast pace and African setting. After these, special mention must be made of two writers, Ayi Kwei Armah and Charles Mangua for introducing me to soft porn. I think I became aware of these two via John Kantompeni or the late Rainous Sibanda, I am not so sure now. I challenge anyone who read Why Are we So Blest? at sixteen or so and did not return to the sex scenes, to raise his/her hand. Ah, Mangua’s Son of a Woman excited me beyond the love of words.  This marked my first “serious” attempts to write. As you might predict, the stories were steeped in “love” with sprinklings of erotica. My secondary school friends loved these.  It was mostly girls who loved my stories and, when they asked to keep them, I would pretend to think hard about it, before saying yes. I wrote so many of those and gave them away. Then I continued reading, in order to improve my writing and to wow my readers and, of course, to attract girls and to share with fellow avid readers from my high school days what I had read. There was nothing as good as listening to someone relate their special episode in a book. James Mabhunu and John Kantompeni were masters at this. It was like reading the whole story all over again, and sometimes even better because some of the expressions that had escaped me took on new significance. Talk of an effective revision strategy for our literature course, this was better than a study guide. So I read carefully, all the more to make a detailed contribution during these narration sessions.

My infatuation with reading blossomed into love and I became an English major, which is to say, I majored in English and did not turn into an English man (to some extent, this is true).  So, I had to read fiction at university in order to be certificated.  There, I got to know the late Ruzvidzo Stanley Mupfudza, Memory Chirere, and others who would become fellow writers. These were the heady days of Zimbabwean writing and it was no surprise that we met at Chenjerai Hove’s sessions on creative writing. Those sessions opened up vast worlds of literature and it became fashionable for some of us to read beyond and deliberately outside the English Department syllabus as a form of rebellion against what we considered to be a lean and conservative reading list and way of criticising literature.  For some of us then, evening soirees in residences or at drinking places turned out to be animated discussions of literature fueled by cheap wine of the student variety like “Late Harvest”.  I did not want to look and sound like an idiot, so I read more, drank more cheap wine and talked more literature.

So, I read now because it is my job. I need to publish journal articles, present at conferences and teach literature. As a writer though, I read in search of that story that leaves me transfixed, in a special kind of “silence”.  The kind of story that sucks you in and when you read the last word, you seem to float in a twilight zone.  You wonder about many things, including how come there are so many splinters of yourself in a stranger’s story. You are also stunned by the story line and artistry. You think, how does (how dare, indeed) someone find those kinds of words and line them up like that to produce this? In many ways, such stories remind me of wordsmiths like my mother. When she is done telling a story, even a real-life one, there is always a moment of silence forcing her to ask, “Are you ok?” Sometimes I laugh as she is narrating a sad story and when she says, “There is nothing funny here, by the way”, I tell her it is how she finds the most expressive words that always leaves me in utter disbelief. Good writing is like that and I keep reading to have those moments that are like an addict’s proper “fix”.  I’ve had many such fixes but the latest one has to be reading Petina Gappah’s stories in Rotten Row (2016). Incredibly artistic without calling attention to their artifice, these stories leave me in that moment of silence.

So, there it is. I clearly read for different reasons and these cannot be divorced from the earlier contexts or reasons for reading. I will never forget Miss Ndebele, that one is for sure. I will never forget my friends who shared smutty novels with me and I will always remember the nights of cheap wine and literary discussions and at times, “live” reading of segments from texts. Amazing what cheap wine and impassioned fellow university students can achieve. I am also appreciative of verbal artists like my mother who have made me read for beauty (overall effect and individual expression), and writers who create that moment of silence at the end of their story.

Thabisani Ndlovu is a senior lecturer of English and Cultural Studies at Walter Sisulu University. Before that, he was Deputy Director and lecturer at the International Human Rights Exchange at the University of the Witwatersrand. His short stories have appeared in various anthologies including Creatures Great and Small, Short Writings from Bulawayo III, Long Time Coming: Short Writings from Zimbabwe, The Caine Prize for African Writing 2009 and Where to Now? Short Stories from Zimbabwe. Other stories have appeared in online journals and magazines. His short story, 'When We Were Kings', will appear in Moving On and Other Zimbabwean Stories. Thabisani has also translated Where to Now? Short Stories from Zimbabwe into isiNdebele – Siqondephi Manje: Indatshana zaseZimbabwe. In 1992 he won first prize for isiNdebele poetry in the Budding Writers Association National Competition and, in 2005, the inaugural Intwasa koBulawayo Short Story Competition. If he is not writing fiction or poetry, Thabisani carries out humanist-inspired research. If not doing any of those things, he is likely to be thinking about the beautiful and terrible things in life, and trying to find words for them.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Fiction and Life

Courtesy of Read Farafina on Facebook.

Farafina (Kachifo Limited) published The Maestro, The Magistrate and The Mathematician in Nigeria in 2015.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Why I Write: Sandisile Tshuma

“So what’s your guilty pleasure?” my brother asked one day out of the blue. We had spent the day in my little apartment and I suspect that, as he looked around the barebones space filled with books, CDs and conspicuously missing a television set, he was worried I had no life. “Um, I get my locs treated and go to the spa for a deluxe pedicure?” I ventured, posing my response as a question because I was pretty sure there was a right answer and a wrong answer to his question. “No, that’s basic grooming. You have to do that. What’s a thing that you do that you don’t need to do but that you love to do just for the pure enjoyment of doing it?” Failing to find an answer to a question so simple as “what do you enjoy in life?” I weaseled out of the conversation by offering him another beer from the fridge. But the question lingered in the recesses of my mind for years afterwards.

One day I wrote a blog post about how my inability to put down roots and stick to a single place or activity for long had evolved. I was not supposed to write that post. I was supposed to be working on an assignment for school due the next day. But there is a land called Procrastinatoria and I am their queen. Instead of ten pages on voluntary medical male circumcision, I toyed with the idea of finding myself by doing less and being more. I wrote and wrote and wrote and wrote. Then when my eyelids were so heavy with exhaustion that I could barely keep them open as I clicked on the Publish button, the answer to my brother’s question came to me. I was tired but completely satisfied. I had been so absorbed in what I was doing that I hadn’t noticed time slipping past and the sleep creeping in. I had stolen time from my education and spent it on my immediate happiness. Instant versus delayed gratification. An indulgence. A guilty pleasure, one might say.

Nothing relaxes me the way writing does. Nothing else feels so effortless even when the results aren’t perfect. Nothing validates me the way writing does. Writing gives me wings. My writing needs no audience. It bears witness to itself. I write because it makes me feel alive and significant. I write because I express myself best that way. My brain moves so fast that my mouth can’t keep up. So writing is my one chance at taking what’s on the inside of my mind and manifesting it in the material realm.  In a world with so many distractions that exact a heavy toll on introverts like me, writing is my refuge, a welcome escape. It’s my happy place, my soft place to land. I write because there’s nothing else I would rather do, ever. They say you shouldn’t need a lover; you should want one. So sure, I don’t need to write. I want to write. But I want it badly. I want it all the time like a hot new crush. In my universe, writing is bae.

Sandisile Tshuma is a Zimbabwean storyteller, health, development and human rights practitioner who has studied molecular and cellular biology, public health, disaster management and acting from the University of Cape Town (South Africa), the University of the Witwatersrand (South Africa), the National University of Science and Technology (Zimbabwe) and the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art (United Kingdom).
Sandisile has a professional background in monitoring, evaluation and communication in sexual and reproductive health programmes with the United Nations and other International Organizations in East and Southern Africa. She is an award winning short story writer, the founding editor of AntuAke online magazine, and has curated a personal blog for five years. Sandisile's short stories, "Arrested Development" and "The Need" were published by amaBooks Publishing in two anthologies of Zimbabwean short stories. "Arrested Development" won an Honourable Mention for the 2010 Thomas Pringle Award in the short story category, has been translated into a number of languages and is included in an anthology titled "When The Sun Goes Down", a set book in the Kenyan English language curriculum at secondary school level. The Need has been translated into isiNdebele. Her first full length book, "Dandelion Dreaming," tells the story of marginalised youth in South Africa using the "photo-voice" methodology. 

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Sudanese Author Wins 2017 Caine Prize for African Writing

Reproduced from

The 2017 Caine Prize anthology, 'The Goddess of Mtwara and Other Stories', will be published by amaBooks in Zimbabwe in August 2017.

IFrom Wasafiri and the Caine Prize: Bushra al-Fadil, whose inspirations include Stephen Hawking’s ‘A Brief History of Time,’ is cited for his ‘mode of perception.’

By Dennis Abrams | @DennisAbrams2
‘Relentless Threats to Freedom’

Bushra al-Fadil
Sudanese author Bushra al-Fadil has won the 2017 Caine Prize for African Writing for his short story “The Story of the Girl Whose Birds Flew Away,” translated by Max Shmookler.
The story is published in The Book of Khartoum: A City in Short Fiction (Comma Press, UK, 2016).
The chair of judges, Nii Ayikwei Parkes, announced al-Fadil as the winner of the £10,000 (US$12,970) prize at an awards dinner on July 3. The event was held at Senate House, London, in partnership with SOAS University of London, as part of its centenary celebrations. The prize money is to be split between the author and translator, £7,000 for al-Fadil and £3,000 to Shmookler.
“The Story of the Girl Whose Birds Flew Away” is described as a picture of life in a bustling market as seen through the eyes of the narrator, who’s enchanted by a beautiful woman he sees there one day. After a series of brief encounters, an unexpected tragedy hits the woman and her young female companion.
Speaking for the jury, Nii Ayikwei Parkes praised the story, saying:
“The winning story is one that explores through metaphor and an altered, inventive mode of perception–including, for the first time in the Caine Prize, illustration–the allure of, and relentless threats to, freedom.
“Rooted in a mix of classical traditions as well as the vernacular contexts of its location, al-Fadil’s ‘The Story of the Girl Whose Birds Flew Away’ is at once a very modern exploration of how assaulted from all sides and unsupported by those we would turn to for solace we can became mentally exiled in our own lands, edging in to a fantasy existence where we seek to cling to a sort of freedom until ultimately we slip into physical exile.”
Bushra al-Fadil is a Sudanese writer currently living in Saudi Arabia. His most recent collection, Above a City’s Sky, was published in 2012, the same year al-Fadil won the al-Tayeb Salih Short Story Award.
After the announcement that he had made the Caine Prize shortlist, al-Fadil was interviewed by the magazine Wasafiri: International Contemporary Writing.
Wasafiri: Tell us about your story ‘The Story of the Girls whose Birds Flew Away’. What inspired you to write it?
al-Fadil: I would rather prefer it to be translated ‘The Girl whose Sparrows Flew Away’, not Birds. To give the exact title as I wrote it. This short story was written in Arabic on 1979 but translated in English recently. It is my second short story. At that time women in my country were facing violence, sexual harassment and brutality of all kinds. I’m sorry to see women in my country are still facing the same.
Wasafiri: What’s next for you?
al-Fadil: I’m writing now my third novel. Setting it in what might happen to my country in 2084 after one hundred years of the famous novel 1984.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Kirillov across Cultures: The Great Zimbabwean Novel

Tendai Huchu in conversation with Jeanne-Marie Jackson
Durham University, Friday 15 Sep 2017, 17.30
as part of the Transnational Russian Studies seminar programme

Tendai Huchu's second novel, The Maestro, the Magistrate and the Mathematician, channels Dostoevsky’s Demons at key points as it abandons an issues-based linear plot in favour of three zany novellas braided together. The story is in the fabric of the novel itself, as it gets snagged on the vacant opportunities of global downward mobility and flailing diasporic national opposition politics. The Maestro, the Magistrate, and the Mathematician, in its invocation of Russian influence, captures Huchu's propensity for formal experimentalism and philosophical depth. In a conversation with Johns Hopkins professor and literary critic, Jeanne-Marie Jackson, Huchu will discuss his efforts to capture and play with the widespread cynicism of our moment. Jeanne-Marie Jackson writes of the influence of Dostoevsky's Demons on Huchu's novel in a chapter titled 'The Russian Novel of Ideas in Southern Africa' in a forthcoming work.

Dostoevsky’s Demons is, according to Ronald Hingley, scholar and specialist in Russian history and literature, “one of humanitys most impressive achievements—perhaps even its supreme achievement—in the art of prose fiction.”

Huchu’s multi-genre short stories and nonfiction have appeared in the Manchester ReviewInterzoneSpace and Time MagazineEllery Queen Mystery MagazineAfrica ReportWasafiriYear’s Best CrimeMystery Stories 2016, and elsewhere. Between projects, he translates fiction between the Shona and English languages. In 2014 he was shortlisted for the Caine Prize, and in 2017 for the Nommo Awards for Speculative Fiction. Find him @TendaiHuchu.

Huchu has two short stories to be published soon in Zimbabwe by amaBooks, in Moving On and other stories from Zimbabwe and in The Goddess of Mtwara, the 2017 Caine Prize for African Writing anthology.

The Maestro, the Magistrate and the Mathematician is published in Zimbabwe by amaBooks, in the UK by Parthian Books, in North America by Ohio University Press, in Germany by Peter Hammer and in Nigeria by Kachifo.