Monday, June 18, 2018

Speculative Fiction Workshop in Bulawayo

The workshop participants along with Walidah Imarisha and Tariro Ndoro

The  African/American Speculative Fiction Workshop took place weekly over the past few months, with sixteen participants chosen through samples of their writing.  Speculative fiction is an umbrella genre encompassing narrative fiction with supernatural or futuristic elements. This includes, but is not limited to, science fiction, fantasy, superhero fictionscience fantasy, horror, utopian and dystopian fiction, and supernatural fiction. 
The workshop, led by Fulbright fellow Dr James Arnett, included required reading of speculative fiction anthologies as well as the participants writings stories for critique. The workshop considered four texts – Blood Child by Octavia Butler, an African-American science fiction writer; AfroSF, an anthology of new African science fiction edited by the Zimbabwean Ivor Hartman; Kabu Kabu by the Nigerian-American Nnedi Okorafor, and Octavia’s Brood, from the US, edited by Walidah Imarisha and Adrienne Maree Brown. Selected stories from the texts were discussed, focusing on style and content and thought was given to the relevance to Zimbabwean social and creative settings. Participants submitted stories to be discussed at the sessions.
Walidah Imarisha
As a separate event, to which members of the public were invited, the American writer and academic Walidah Imarisha delivered a talk “Visionary Fiction and Fantastic African Futures”. The event also featured a short story written and read by Harare-based writer Tariro Ndoro and a personal essay exploring the roots of her interest in science fiction and fantasy. 
Tariro Ndoro
Walidah also hosted a hands-on visionary fiction workshop for the members of the workshop. The purpose, she explained, was to understand how science fiction was a vehicle for imagining more just futures and provided the opportunity for brainstorming creative solutions to real, present problems. Those present were asked to identify issues they were concerned about in Zimbabwe – a list that included universal health care, freedom after expression, the status and belief in African science and medicine, and others. Groups then worked together to create a world and a baseline story from which each participant could branch out.
Walidah, Tariro and James Arnett
Jane Morris and Brian Jones of amaBooks gave a presentation on the different routes to getting published and were able to attend most of the workshop sessions and were impressed by the quality of the writing produced by the participants. It is hoped that an anthology of Zimbabwean speculative fiction will be published in the near future by amaBooks.
The workshop was supported by amaBooks Publishers and the Public Affairs Section of the US Embassy in Zimbabwe.

Working in Stillhaven garden

Tariro Ndoro

The audience at Walidah and Tariro's presentation

Can books satiate a hungry individual?

Tanaka Chidora Literature Today
surrounded by a sea of books . . . Tendai Huchu, author of several novels including “The Maestro, The Magistrate & The Mathematician” (2014).
One of the saddest parts of a novel that I read narrated a character’s dislocation from the physical and social world of human interaction and his attempt to stitch back together his existence by [re]locating himself in the world of books. This part comes from Tendai Huchu’s novel, “The Maestro, The Magistrate & The Mathematician” (2014). The character is the Maestro.
The Maestro’s hunger is captured thus: “The scary thing, the Maestro realised, was not the falling, but what happened after the fall. Nothing, not even the nothing of the darkness of night or the nothing of emptiness; those were something at least, those were nothings that could be measured by the absence of a particular thing, and so they had an essence on them, a core beyond the event horizon. Not this, this was an incomprehensible Nothing, the nothingness of non-existence, beyond consciousness, a Nothingness that was not something … This for the Maestro was the reason he read these books, to try to make sense of life … (p. 43). This lack of essence, in himself, in the world and in the people that surround him, makes him befriend books.
The Maestro’s intimate relationship with books is captured thus: “Almost without thinking, he ran his fingers along the cold spine of a book. Of late, he found himself preferring the company of his books to the companionship of people. Tatyana was virtually his only friend, if he could call her that.
“Everyone else has forgotten him or given up on him once he’d withdrawn, almost as though he’d quietly sunk into quicksand that no one else could see … There was something safe in the white pages of a book. A book could be opened and set aside. It could be read and reread, each time a new, deeper meaning deciphered. People, well, people were harder to read. So much was hidden in the twitch of the brow, a sweaty palm, the tenor of the voice, subtle gestures, and the things left unsaid. People were moving, dynamic, inconsistent in a million ways” (p. 44).
The irony is that the satiation that the Maestro is looking for finds momentary fulfilment, but soon, like the essence that he is looking for, it too eludes him so that one day, after discovering that these books were just a “jumble of words with which he had no connection”, he burned them and “curled up on the carpet and cried himself to sleep” (p. 173, 175). The Maestro fails to find a place for himself in books. They fail to stitch him back by giving him back the essence, the elixir that he is looking for.
Elsewhere, we have such characters who try to recover that essence by creating books or by reading the books that others have created. In “The House of Hunger” (Dambudzo Marechera, 1978) writing seems to be the only “stitches” available to put back together the fragments of a disintegrating individual and society.

Thus, the poems the narrator writes are symbolic stitches: “Afterwards they came to take out the stitches from the wound of it. And I was whole again. The stitches were published. The reviewers made obscene noises. It is now out of print. But those stitches, those poems …” (p. 53). A lot of his friends, however, fail to make anything out of the stitches, echoing Harry‘s words of hopelessness: “What else is there?” (p. 22).
Philip tries to write a lot of negritudinal poetry but instead ends up with a melancholic and suicidal mood: “There were 15 poems in all; his own. They expressed forms of discontent, disillusionment and outrage. Clarity, it seemed, had been sacrificed for ugly mood. Even the praises of ‘Blackness’ had a sour note in them.
“One felt live coals hissing in a sea of paranoia. Gloomy nights stitched by needles of existentialism. Black despair lit up by suicidal vision” (p. 74). It looks like the narrator is the only one who succeeds in stitching together some poems and short stories whose style is like a million flying fragments. The hunger remains still.
To assuage his hunger, the narrator dives headlong into the world of books. The physical world has failed to end his soul-hunger. There is no security at home. When the narrator’s mother smacks him for speaking to her in English, and the father completes the violent cacophony of fists with a tooth-shattering punishment, the narrator’s alienation becomes even more profound. There is no warmth in human relations or from fellow human beings.
In this respect, art becomes a way of stitching together a fragmented psyche. Marechera seems to have constructed art out of the chaos of life. “The House of Hunger” seems to be a product of the chaos of the colonial experience. But it is more than that. It is also a product of a hungry and angry artist. There is a Fanonian tinge in “The House of Hunger”.
Art is also some sort of escape from a maddening reality. Words clashing on the pages of the novella work like the storm that exorcised the narrator of the maddening assault of the ghosts who constituted the narrator’s nervous breakdown:
“When Harry and I returned to the dormitories we went to the showers and there the miracle happened — I almost cried with glee. They had gone! I could feel it. They had erased themselves into the invisible airs of the storm. The demon had been exorcised and gone into the Gadarene swine. For the first time in my life I felt completely alone. Totally on my own. It is as if a storm should rage in one’s mind …” (pp. 47-48). It is, however, unclear whether the exorcism is permanent, just like the Maestro’s transient [re]location in the world of books.
An analysis of the style of the novella verifies this purging function of Marechera’s art. The syntax is disconnected and sometimes incomplete as if to represent the disconnectedness of the black Rhodesians in the colonial time-space they find themselves in.
I find myself feeling empty too. I find myself taking down cobwebbed and dusty scripts and tearing them apart in anger. Sometimes I find myself obsessed with the books that I read; other times I find myself wanting to run away from them. I try not to be a stranger to this world. I really do try . . .
From: The Herald, 18 June 2018


13 June 2018

Photo courtesy of Mgcini Nyoni
African publishing houses, like anywhere in the world, vary between physical and digital, ones that focus on fiction or non-fiction, adult or children’s literature. What is important to them, however, is their individual mission and the drive behind their creation. This list presents 6 publishers from 4 countries on the continent, all aiming at celebrating and promoting African writing in their own way. Keep your eyes on them as new titles are constantly in the making!

Strong hold of the market
Kwela (South Africa)
Kwela Books, founded in 1994 along with the announcement of South Africa’s democracy, publishes a variety of fiction and non-fiction titles. They take pride in their list, including Booker-nominated Achmat Dangor, South African poet Antjie Krog and Somali novelist Nuruddin Farah among many. Special attention is given to the romance genre by their imprint Sapphire Press (launched in 2010).

Afram Publications (Ghana)
Afram Publications was founded as an indigenous publisher in 1973 in the private studio of Mrs. Efua Sutherland. She was an eminent writer and cultural activist, and is credited with coming up with the idea of an indigenous publishing house as early as 1950. Afram was born out of her own and other intellectuals and creatives’ need to make their locally-produced art available to more people. The name was given in a tribute to cultural findings about the Afram Plains before they were flooded in the 1960s and a poem about the River Afram by A. A. Opoku, according to the publisher’s website.

Small but significant
amaBooks (Zimbabwe)
amaBooks is an independent trade publishing house based in Bulawayo (the second biggest city in Zimbabwe). Their logo is a Sacred scarab and their focus ‘Contemporary Zimbabwean Writing’. The directors, Brian Jones and Jane Morris, aim to supply the local market with works from debut and established authors as well as make available international books related to Zimbabwe within the country. amaBooks have brought the  Caine Prize anthologies to Zimbabwe, including the 2017 anthology The Goddess of Mtwara and, soon, the 2018 anthology Redemption Songand their publications are represented in the UK by the Welsh publishing house Parthian Books or the African Books Collective.

Nigerian publishing houses, physical and digital
Kachifo Limited (Farafina Books) (Nigeria)
Kachifo Limited is an independent publishing house found in 2004 out of the necessity for African stories to ‘be told without any self-consciousness or external guidance’, hence the motto ‘Telling our own stories’. Based in Nigeria, they publish contemporary writing from the entire continent and take pride in titles from authors like Chris Abani, Ben Okri and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Kachifo started Farafina Magazine in 2002 to promote African writing globally until it was rested in 2009. Currently, Kachifo’s imprints include Farafina Books, Breeze, the non-fiction Kamsi, and Tuuti which covers children’s books.

Okada Books
Okada Books was named after the motorbike taxis popular in the country. It currently has 18K e-books and over 207K users. The platform started as an alternative for authors to sell their books without mediating booksellers that delay or refuse due payments. The advantages of such Nigeria-based digital publishing application and website are numerous. The focus on local authors and consumers surprisingly stimulated a large production of Hausa Romance novels that cater to the culture of Central Africa. Okada Books also offer religious texts and most importantly, they provide a substantial additional income to their authors!
The founder – Okechukwu Ofili says: ‘The difficulties I experienced as a writer drove me to create something I and other writers can utilise’. Now Okada Books’ creators aim to become the best digital publishing company in Sub-Saharian Africa.

Cassava Republic
Cassava Republic was founded in 2006 in Abuja, Nigeria but currently has an office in London, UK and is looking forward to establishing one in the US. Their mission is as expressed on their official website: ‘We think that contemporary African prose should be rooted in African experience in all its diversity, whether set in filthy-yet-sexy megacities such as Lagos or Kinshasa, in little-known rural communities, in the recent past or indeed the near future.  We also think the time has come to build a new body of African writing that links writers across different times and spaces.’ Cassava Republic constantly aims to challenge popular preconceptions of the continent and address important questions. Cassava Republic have been friends and supporters of Africa Writes since its inception, and their director Bibi Bakare-Yusuf will be joining us on Sunday 1 July to discuss their new anthology She Called Me

by Ralitsa Chorbadzhiyska, Production Intern for Africa Writes 2018