Reflecting on the 2014 literary scene

Beaven Tapureta Bookshelf
As 2014 comes to an end, let us reflect on what happened to our literature in the past twelve months. You cannot ignore the role of our active writers’ associations, publishers, authors (at home and abroad), and the funding organisations and others. The annual National Arts Merit Awards have a certain way of starting the year with artistic fervour. The three well known literary arts awards categories at the NAMAs are something that writers look forward to every year. And this year, there was what others referred to as “the return of Charles Mungoshi”. His “Branching Streams Flow in the Dark” and Ignatius Mabasa’s “Imbwa YeMunhu” emerged co-winners of the Outstanding Fiction Book Award. It was spot on. How could one separate the two sizzling works? Thank you, wise judges. In the Outstanding Children’s Book award it was Fortunate Tazvivinga who won with her book “The River God Unyaminyami” and Solomon Mwapangidza won Outstanding First Creative Published Work for his book “Rebel Soldier”.

NoViolet Bulawayo’s book “We Need New Names” added glamour to the NAMA’s literary awards by receiving Special Mention. Elsewhere, the Bulawayo-born author won the 2014 Hemmingway Foundation/Pen Award with her same novel.

Zimbabwe’s writing light shone brighter this year at the regional Golden Baobab Prizes for Children Literature as South Africa-based writer Mike Mwale was longlisted and shortlisted for the Picture Book Prize for his story “The Big Ball”. In the past, other local writers such as Mirirai Moyo, Ivor Hartmann, Rutendo Chabikwa and Sabina Mutangadura have either been shortlisted or won the award.

Do you remember the Zimbabwe Writers Association meeting held in April in Harare under the theme “Writers’ Family Reminisce”? We got to know, through the eyes of his son, the writing habits of the late Shona writer Nobert Mafumhe Mutasa. One of the reminisces that got writers and journalists excited and touched at the same time was the Charles Mungoshi’s journey of love, trials and triumphs. Did you know how Charles Mungoshi met his wife Jesesi?

We could not help falling in love with the story as narrated by his wife. I re-told the story as follows: The year was 1974. Jesesi was lying ill in her room at her sister’s house. In a short moment, her sister’s husband came into the room in the company of his friend and a fellow artist named Charles. Introductions were made.

Jesesi was not sure if her babamukuru and Charles were drunken or not but the first words Charles said were, “Ah saka tinoziva vakareba sei kana vakarara?” Although she was in pain, Jesesi burst out laughing. Why was she laughing? She could not tell. Later, the two men left the house but Charles had done his job like a doctor of love. I guess Jesesi got healed suddenly with the romantic poetry of his few words and her heart followed him from that day!

Readers have a wide range of books this year to choose the best they can take with them on holiday. Emmanuel Machado’s Gweru based Book Love Publishers published exciting new and established authors such as Mimi Machakaire’s “Princess Gangster”, US-based Emmanuel Sigauke’s “Mukoma’s Marriage and Other Stories”, and Aaron Chiundura Moyo’s “Kereke Inofa”. Sigauke’s collection “Mukoma and Other Stories” was long overdue and when it finally came out, we were relieved to read about “Mukoma’s” machinations!

I personally would give away as Christmas gifts books like Sigauke’s irresistible collection of short stories “Mukoma and Other Stories” and Memory Chirere’s poetry anthology with the mouth-watering title, “Bhuku Risina Basa (Nekuti Rakanyorwa Masikati)” which was published by Bhabhu Books with support from Culture Fund of Zimbabwe.

What more, Chiundura Moyo, one of the outstanding writers Zimbabwe has ever known, reminded his readers he still can create interesting characters like the religious infidel, Pastor Gift Mwenje in “Kereke Inofa”.

Phillip Chidavaenzi bounced back too this year, after an eight year long hibernation, with “The Ties That Bind”, a sequel to his first novel “The Haunted Trail” (2006). The Culture Fund of Zimbabwe also sponsored the publication of “The Ties That Bind”. Surely, the Culture Fund has provided some oxygen to writers because it has assisted in the publication of various local books. Another book published with support from Culture Fund is Tendai Huchu’s new book “The Maestro, The Magistrate and the Mathematician” which was published this year by AmaBooks Publishers. Poet, actor and journalist Tinashe Muchuri, who is set to publish his first Shona novel “Chibarabada” in 2015, moved a step further by publishing an educational non-fiction book for children called “Zvipfuyo Nevana Vazvo” (2014, Bhabhu Books). Muchuri’s contemporary Simbarashe Kavenga also got the year moving for him when his second children’s book called “Kare Kare Zvako” (Mambo Press, 2014) was unveiled at the 2014 ZIBF. Another spoken word poet Cynthia Marangwanda has “Shards”, a novella, to her name. This one is poised to be a controversial book as I can tell from the responses I got after reviewing it last week. As it is an autobiographical work, it seems readers have many questions for the author at the book’s official launch later this month.

This year we also saw new poets publishing an anthology “Zviri Mugapu” which attests to the truth that Zimbabwe has writing talent but unfortunately it is at risk of not being recognized and developed.

Zimbabwe Women Writers should be rewarded for the resilience. They continue to publish under very difficult funding environment. This year, their new publications included “Revai” by Rapofadzo Mupunga, “A Struggle Alike” by Debra Vakira and others.

There were other events such as Harare International Festival of the Arts spoken word programme which brought poets from South Africa, Botswana and Holland. Again, HIFA should be encouraged to produce anthologies from its annual poetry programmes. This helps preserve memories.

On a negative note, the book industry continues to be bogged down by book piracy, an evil that is creeping into its bone. We had the chance to listen to the other side of the story, that is, the book vendors who said they are forced into illegal photocopying or reproduction of books by harsh economic realities. Even given this reason, should we recoil and let writers suffer?

Writers need to come up with tangible solutions regarding book piracy. I have recently gathered that Zimbabwe Book Publishing Association has a recent success story to tell concerning piracy. ZBPA has it that some of these pirates have now been brought to book but “Bookshelf” is yet to get more information. It is encouraging indeed.

The passing on of Paul Brickhill who founded the popular arts venue Book Café was really sad but we continue to celebrate his life. As it is said, life is short but art is long.

The 2014 ZIBF had as many good episodes as it had bad ones. The ZIBF tackled various issues affecting writers such as copyright, the need to free local languages, book piracy but the greatest sad memory is the empty exhibition stands that punctuated the Harare Gardens. Exhibitors made losses, especially those that had travelled long distances.

We cannot forget the heated debate at the official launch of the 2014 Caine Prize anthology titled “The Gonjon Pin and other Stories” in August at the Book Café. I came to understand that while African writers are free to write anything they want, there is an unanswered question that runs behind their imaginations. What is an African story? Are we celebrating foreign standards of writing in order to win coveted international awards?

Many will remember the call I made earlier on that Zimbabwean writers deserve stand-alone literary awards and by 2015, we must see the beginnings of such as endeavour. NAMA awards cannot quite cater for the broad interests of the industry.

However, the year lacked enough public readings and discussions. Had it not been for the few ones that took place such as Zimbabwe Writers Association and ZIBF’s literary evenings and LitFest Harare discussions, writers would have been too lonely.

The aspiring writers’ association, Writers International Network Zimbabwe, which was founded few years ago, continue to do certain activities but they are not fully-fledged due to poor funding.

Last but not least, thanks goes to the Herald for launching this column “Bookshelf”in June. It indeed has been an adventurous writing and reading party for me and readers across the country and abroad. We need more spaces like these.

There is more that happened not covered here but in conclusion, it is well done to all players in the writing sector. We hope 2015 will be much improved. Please enjoy your holidays and do something to always keep accidents away. Keep reading!

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