|‘2012 was not a bad year for our literature’|
|Monday, 07 January 2013 00:00|
Memory ChirereIt can be difficult to monitor and ultimately define the general production, mediation and reception of literary works from a single year. Although Albert Nyathi may have published his iconic poem, My
Daughter, in book form in 2012, the poem itself may be far older than so many other books by other authors published in 2010 or 2011.
For me, the Zimbabwe International Book Fair Association’s Indaba 2012, was the most outstanding literary event in Zimbabwe in the same year.
The theme for the 2012 Indaba and Book fair was “African Literature in the Global and Digital Era”. The Indaba ran from July 30 to 31.
The keynote speaker, eminent scholar Prof Ngwabi Bhebe was to the point. The aim of his paper was “to unpack the concepts of globalisation and digitisation and to explore their implications for African Literature, contemporary history and other disciplines.”
I suspected that he did not want the conference to wander away from the real substance.
It means that Globalisation is both a meeting place and a battlefield. You stay out, you are damned, you jump in with no clear purpose, and you are damned. Globalisation is not just contemporary, Bhebe warned. Globalisation as a phenomenon stretches back to the old world trades and the old world systems.
Globalisation has always been with us. It is not just a thing of today. Throughout the ages, Africa has already lost a lot to globalisation, for instance, through Slavery and Colonialism, Bhebe argued.
For Bhebe, the positive role of the African writer in Globalisation and in both digitalisation and digitisation, is standing up to the challenge to “putting the African story at the centre.” The African writer in this new epoch of globalisation dominated by a new technologically oriented new world order must create a new Africa, a new spirit of optimism, an Africa full of promise, able to feed its teeming populations with a healthy and vibrant people not dependent on Europe and America for sustenance.
African literature, Bhebe continued, must be an indispensable site for debating the paradoxes of the so called dark but the richest continent. For Bhebe, it appears that the African writer should be an ideological worker. However, all this is not going to be easy, he reckoned, because at the moment, Africa does not even prescribe the criterion of how its literature should be produced, marketed, mediated and appreciated.
Maybe the flashing point of Bhebe’s presentation is when he said, “I am not least worried about writers making money. But I am distressed about a global culture in which many writers have lost the need to look at our lives critically, to focus on our unique position in the planet’s history and to form ways to celebrate and recreate our humanity as they pursue a higher level of prosperity. Societies interact and in the course societies undergo change. It is when the change becomes unidirectional, that is, flowing only from one culture and adopted only by the recipient culture, that problems arise.”
For me, the fifth session of the second day of the Indaba (on July 31) stands out most clearly to this day. This session was entitled “Copyright, Access to Books and Piracy in Africa”. At first, one thought this was just filler because copyright sessions at the ZIBFA Indaba are usually the least attended. But this session was the most lively and illuminating. It was chaired by Dr Nda Dlodlo.
The third speaker, Chief Superintendent Ever Mlilo of Bulawayo whose paper was entitled: “Copyright Violations: The View from the Police” was the paper of the Indaba because it shed the most light on what publishers and writers take for granted in matters of copyright. She made the following points:
Responding to the issue of seemingly lenient sentences meted out on those who infringe on copyright, the Chief Superintendent pointed out that;
Towards the end, we slowly started to climb out of the initial sate of devastation. There was a general agreement that the players in the book industry need to sort themselves out and to work very closely with the police. “Always consider your work as if it were your cow,” was a statement to remember from this informative slot. Never has a slot on copyright at the Indaba been this provocative.
At an organisational level the newly formed Zimbabwe Writers Association continued to lead the way in 2012, in terms of bringing together a wide variety of Zimbabwean writers. They had outreach meetings in Harare, Bulawayo, Gweru, Masvingo and Mutare. The birth of Zimbawe Writers Association (ZWA) was a culmination of self-initiated efforts and activities taken by Zimbabwean writers of diverse backgrounds to form such an organisation, with the vision of developing it into a strong and dynamic umbrella organisation for writers in Zimbabwe.
The efforts to form ZWA can be traced back to July 29, 2010, when on the sidelines of the Zimbabwe International Book Fair (ZIBF 2010), 33 Zimbabwean writers who attended a workshop at the Zimbabwe German Society, to discuss the status of writers and their organisations unanimously agreed to form a new organisation to unite the various associations to speak with one collective and bigger voice where their common interest and welfare are concerned. The Musaemura Zimunya-led ZWA was subsequently registered with the National Arts Council of Zimbabwe in January 2011.
In Harare, ZWA continued to hold bimonthly meetings on various subject like “How do I create?” and “How do I make money through my art?” Writers and academics who include; David Mungoshi, Petinah Gappah, Stephen Chifunyise, Virginia Phiri, Aaron Chiundura Moyo, Barbra Nkala, Lovemore Madhuku, Primrose Dzenga, Chiedza Musengezi presented and led discussions at ZWA meetings in 2012.
There were also some outstanding book launches in 2012. Ericah Gwetai’s Embracing the Cactus, Novuyo Rosa Tshuma’s Shadows and Naison Tfwala’s Umfukula Wenhlathu, among other titles, were launched at the Intwasa Arts festival in Bulawayo in September. Tshuma went on to do another very well attended launch in Harare.
There was indeed a remarkable upsurge of new titles by Bulawayo-based writers in 2012, with other books like Christopher Mlalazi’s Running with Mother and Philani Nyoni’s Once a Lover, Always a Fool.
Embracing the Cactus is Gwetai’s third book. Only a couple of years ago, she wrote Realities, a book of short stories and Petal Thoughts, a must read biography of her late daughter, Dr Yvonne Vera.
Not to be outdone, prolific writer Shimmer Chinodya, launched a collection of short stories entitled Chiwoniso and Other stories, which is highly experimental and partly autobiographical too. Chinodya has had a very positive 2012, giving talks on radio, conducting workshops for new writers and participating fervently at writers meetings.
From the usually quiet city of Masvingo came From Where the Wind Blows, which was edited by Oliver Nyambi and Tendai Mangena and published by Mambo Press in 2012. This was the most visible poetry anthology in 2012.
Emmanuel Chiwome and Zifikile Mguni’s book, Zimbabean Literature in African Languages: Crossing Language Boundaries, is the most important new academic book on Zimbabwean literature that I read in 2012. This is an attempt to bring literatures in Ndebele and Shona languages to the centre of Zimbabwe’s critical practice for serious scrutiny. The text breaks away from separatist approaches in the study of Zimbabwean literature in African languages.
Another important book of literary criticism to come out in 2012 is Anna Chitando’s Fictions of Gender and The Dangers of Fiction which focuses on Zimbabwean women writings on the topical subject of HIV and Aids. This book will be useful to students who read Virginia Phiri’s Desparate, Sharai Mukonoweshuro’s Days of Silence, Tendai Westerhoff’s Unlucky in Love, Valerie Tagwira’s Uncertainty of Hope and others.
Another new book on Dambudzo Marechera, accompanied by visual and audio tapes was eventually released in 2012. It is aptly titled, Moving Spirit: The Legacy of Dambudzo Marechera in the 21st Century. In it are essays, poems and testimonies by 27 contributors who include various scholars, writers, buddies of Marechera, music composers, journalists, and filmmakers from all over the world.
It was compiled by Dobrota Pucherova and Julie Cairnie. This proves that Marechera is going to be a perennial subject. As a nation we may be taking too long to notice that we could create tourism around the likes of Marechera.
There are people out there who may want to come and see Marechera’s grave, Marechera’s Harare, Marechera’s Rusape, and to read Marechera’s original letters at the local archive.
Taken in the round 2012 was not really a bad year for our literature even if one is acutely aware that a nation’s literature is judged more by its impact than by figures and mere presence of new books and willing writers.