Tanaka Chidora Literature Today
I have published quite a collection of things — one academic book, a collection of book chapters and a number of journal articles. I even published a journal article last week with fellow academic and uncle, Sheunesu Mandizvidza.
I can safely say in the academic world you can go on a publishing spree and never have sleepless nights about the monetary gains . . . as long as your CV gets fatter and fatter. An impressive CV in the academic world is the way. But can the same be said concerning the literary arts in Zimbabwe?
I am in the process of writing my own auto-fictional memoir, “Magamba Hostels”, which, as I have unequivocally (I deliberately avoided “categorically” for a reason) claimed on different fora, is aimed at reducing the distance between lie and truth.
However, because I know what it takes to write a novel, I am taking my time. To tell you the truth, I do not want to burden my readers with half-baked stuff. I have been a victim of such for a long time now. Some writers have no conscience at all. Lol!
So since I am taking my time and my readers are baying for my blood for keeping them waiting, I have decided to work on a trailer. The trailer is a collection of poems whose title is still a subject of debate.
At first, I wrote this poem which, at that time, read like my big bang poem. I decided to make the title of the poem the title of the collection. So for a couple of weeks, the collection’s title was “Chaucer’s Pie Chart”. Then one evening, I wrote “The Dying City”. In no time, the poem had usurped the big bang identity from “Chaucer’s Pie Chart”.
It was understandable though. I mean, who in their right minds would read “Chaucer’s Pie Chart” on the front cover and not imagine some complicated mathematical exposition?
For two days, “The Dying City” was the in-title. Then came “Because Sadness is Beautiful?” from nowhere. This one is not a poem per se. But I like its texture. I think it will do well as a title, don’t you think? Besides, “The Dying City” is too prosaic to carry the weight of a whole anthology, right?
But to tell you the truth, the title of my anthology is the least of my worries. I mean, it’s something that a simple plebiscite and subsequent commission of enquiry can solve. My greatest headache concerns where to publish.
After publishing then what? This other day, I tried to visit the websites of our publishers. Guess what? Of all the publishers, reputable and backyard, that are in Zimbabwe, only two had a proper website with relevant and up-to-date information and a portal for submissions. The submissions guidelines were clearly stated.
The rest either have websites that look like Black Friday adverts or do not have websites at all! I am yet to recover from my shock. Some have even stopped entertaining non-educational manuscripts like mine. They have found a cash-cow in primary and secondary school books. Publishing literary fiction and poems will be a waste of opportunity for most of them.
The truth is, the publishing industry in Zimbabwe is in the ICU. In fact, there is no book industry in Zimbabwe. We only have a book sector which, in reality, will soon need to relinquish the title of “sector”.
Forget the fact that there are more books being published per year now than when our publishing industry was fully functional. Most of the books that are being published these days by backyard publishers are just trash anyway! Forget the fact that there are many of us calling ourselves writers. Titles are susceptible to reckless appropriation. But the truth of the matter is that the book sector is dying before becoming an industry.
When it comes to poetry, it’s even discouraging. How many publishers are ready to publish a poetry collection in this kind of Zimbabwe in which even reading a novel is now a rare activity? Many are not ready to take the risk.
Even if as a poet I am going to self-publish and finance everything on my own, how am I going to sell? To whom am I going to sell? Reputable poets do not even sell 500 copies of their poetry collections. What are the chances of my own trailer? I can’t imagine myself lugging a suitcase of “The Dying City” or “Because Sadness is Beautiful?” wherever I go.
I mean, that’s what gyms are for right? Someone is whispering Amazon to me. Well, many books that were uploaded on Amazon were literally buried in that virtual crowd and muted for life. What are the chances of my book standing out in that mad assemblage of books?
Books need physical people who talk about them and make them popular. Amazon is merely there to provide the book that was popularised by physical people.
So, the truth is, I have lost faith before even bringing my work out to you. I do not know what the future holds. But as a writer, my satisfaction is in writing, in combining words in a very beautiful way. That I will continue doing.