Stanely Mushava Literature Today
Prof George Kahari credits the second generation, the generation of Charles Mungoshi, Dambudzo Marechera and Chenjerai Hove, for reminding us that life is not a one-way avenue but marvellously complicated.
When controversial urban contemporary musician Roki said he was gunning for 10 children to make up a family band, a few eyebrows were raised.
Some questioned the breezy fashion with which the young musician was going about this task; others could not see how art was hereditary. After all, nepotism is sometimes a race to the bottom.
But creative dynasties are trending, whether one thinks of the Marleys (Bob, Rita, Sharon, Cedella, Ziggy, Stephen, Julian and Damian), the Ngugis (James, Tee, Nducu, Mukoma and Wanjiku) or the Chimbetus (Simon, Naison, Brian, Allan, Sulumani, Tryson and Saiwe).
The most important dynasty to emerge from Zimbabwe in recent times, straddling literature and film, is perhaps the Mungoshi family.
Living legend Charles Mungoshi started it all in 1964 (he was 17) with the short story, “Cain’s Medal”, for the iconic Africa Parade.
Next, David (Charles’ brother) also broke into print under the midwifery of Parade’s Tinos Guvi; Jesesi (wife) found fame with the title role for “Neria”, landing an M-Net award; Jonah (brother) became a noted success coach; and Farayi (first-born son) went for the screen.
If the rest is history, then new editions are in progress as more princes continue to step up to the arena. Charles Jnr (son) has published six motivational books in the space of three years while Lloyd (brother) has dabbled in music.
The latest, certainly one of the most potent, reinforcements to the family quiver is “Behind the Wall Everywhere”, a short story collection by Farayi Mungoshi.
The Denmark-educated filmmaker, who has adapted two of his father’s early works “Makunun’unu Maodzamoyo” and “Ndiko Kupindana Kwemazuva” for the screen, is not entirely new to literature as he published his first story in Horizon magazine as a teenager.
Curiously, almost two decades elapsed before he attempted publishing again. He worried about readers forcing him into his father’s oversized shoes.
He anticipated Charles’s immense figure looming in readers’ imaginations and simply migrated from literature to film.
But a mature Farayi has outgrown the anxiety of influence. He has been growing and the Old Man’s shoes cannot be oversized forever.
“To be compared to my father is a great accomplishment because for readers to compare us, they must have read what I have had to say,” the younger Mungoshi opens up to Literature Today.
“People used to ask me such questions like: ‘You think you will ever write like your father?’ So there was this immense pressure then and I decided not to write novels or short stories rather going into scriptwriting for film.
“It was until much later when I realised that I could not hold it back any longer. I had to get the stories off me. They were weighing heavily on me to such an extent that all the faces of those people that were comparing me to my father faded,” Mungoshi says.
And so “Behind the Wall Everywhere” has come about. It is not so much about filling any shoes as it is about buying his own pair, carrying on the work, keeping it in the family.
Charles, currently ill, is not in his element. But Farayi credits him for the foundation on which his generation stands. Like many young writers, the Old Man’s work was staple in his literary diet.
This was reinforced when he screened two of his father’s early novels. His favourite work by the Old Man is, however, the short story collection, “Walking Still”
Farayi is his own Mungoshi, if only because of the contemporaneity of his thematic taskbar. Unlike the old Mungoshi who is at home in dry Manyene, Farayi is at home in noisy Chitungwiza, arguably the ghetto capital of Zim- babwe.
Issues of the day such as tardy service delivery, conflicted spirituality, HIV/AIDS, teen susceptibility, drug abuse, cellphone parenting, children of divorce and the land question cut across the anthology.
The set, “Scones, Bridges, neZvitorobho”, “Dotcom”, “The Tower Light, Weed and Becoming”, “Winds in the Blood” and “Behind the Wall Everywhere” take on ghetto challenges you would expect on a Zimdancehall mixtape, only with an enhanced depth of field.
Light-hearted for the most part, Mungoshi courses his creative scalpel through septic wounds of the heart most would rather leave intact.
It is a thing of marvel how matters so dark can be so lightly handled. Humour, indulgence of human weakness and a life-like depiction of the commonplace does it for the most part.
As a Musha Mukuru loyalist, I admire the way Mungoshi inducts the dormitory town into Zimbabwe’s literary canon, from St Mary’s through Zengeza, Seke and all the Units in a fashion remniscent of James Chimombe’s “Chitungwiza”.
There ought to be some romance in being the literary eye of this great community, where so few have attempted as much. As Dr Tinashe Mushakavanhu once pointed out, Harare has long dominated Zimbabwe’s urban literary map.
Although Farayi is an artiste apart, one cannot miss hints of the Old Man’s influence. Prof George Kahari credits the second generation, the generation of Charles Mungoshi, Dambudzo Marechera and Chenjerai Hove, for reminding us that life is not a one-way avenue but marvellously complicated.
Farayi brings that out well in a millennial setting that is becoming increasingly at home with linear narratives. And a terrible beauty is born.
Surprisingly, he was left to find himself on his own, only coming into his own when his father’s health is not at its best.
“My father only managed to read that short story I wrote when I was much younger. As for now he cannot read or write like he used to due to his illness,” Mungoshi says.
It is the teenage debut, “The Hero”, published in Horizon. Interestingly, it shares the title of one of his father’s earliest short stories, perhaps a hint that he was clinging on to the legend’s coattails at the time.
Even so, child was also the father of the man. “My father knows more of my script-writing side. He would come to ask me questions on how to write certain things in a filmic way.”
A background in film has helped the younger Mungoshi in terms of clarity, sequence and immediacy, features increasingly difficult to locate in today’s poetry and fiction.
If linear and technically barren narratives seem to prevail in today’s non-fiction, mostly evangelically-themed and self-help, then polar extremes also handicap today’s fiction, poetry and a vast expanse of blogosphere.
A lot of creative writing, post-Marechera, has an insistent disregard for sequence. As George Orwell would protest, much of it revolves around writers rather than people, leaving readers out of the writers’ calculations.
Again Mungoshi is a refreshing exception with his fascinating plots and everyday characters. The book is “Behind the Wall Everywhere” because the author inquires into the world behind the world.
The playboy in the prophet, the beast in the beauty, the battles in the dark crevices of the heart, the life traded for nightlife, thrown away for intoxicating delusions, are some of the materials of this rousing debut.
Novelist, poet and culture critic David is excited with the prolificacy of the Mungoshi dynasty beyond Charles’s prime.
“There is a lot of art in the Mungoshi clan. Maiguru (in-law) Jesesi is perhaps one of the few wives that take an interest in and actually read what the husband has written. That I think predisposed her for what was to come,” David says.
“Many people only know Jonah as a motivational speaker and success coach but he also composes music, can do theatre and is a very entertaining comedian.
“I have continued to write and in recent times become recognised as a very handy writer. ‘The Fading Sun’ has done very well. Another brother, Lloyd, played and recorded music with Mandebvu in Victoria Falls.
“So Charles Jnr and Farai were born into an extended family in which the arts were held in high esteem and it was easy to for them to begin scribbling until they got to the stage they are at,” he observes.
For the elder, also a Herald columnist, it is still Day 1 of the Mungoshi dynasty. He foresees more arrows reinforcing the quiver.