Year of mixed fortunes for literature

Year of mixed  fortunes for literature

Beaven Tapureta Bookshelf
The year 2017 is gone with its highs and lows, and with us now is the New Year which we are yet to know what surprises it has for the writers, publishers and readers at large. Highlights of last year as noted by Bookshelf will hopefully guide the literary sector in its continued dream to become a viable industry.

Major concerns such as copyright and book piracy remain unsolved in Zimbabwe although this issue seems not to drain the energy to write specially among new writers as seen by their output in different genres last year.

As for senior authors who published last year, we only know a few like David Mungoshi (Live Like An Artist). It is ironic that local authors call out for action against book piracy but they hardly observe at a large scale the World Book and Copyright Day which falls in April.

The day passes silently like piracy is non-existent in Zimbabwe. In 2017, thanks to the Harare City Library and a few schools which belatedly organised a small event in honour of this day. Bookshelf did warn new writers to be aware of vanity press posing as the new tech-driven class of publishers who disregard the brass-tacks of publishing such as editing. There are, however, a recognisable number of Zimbabwean ‘budding’ publishers learning their trade while being also experimental.

Although the National Arts Merit Awards, held every year in mid-February, have become a vital event on the national arts calendar, writers still feel the awards fall short on covering all genres of literature. The awards, the writers felt last year, round them up and this leaves out various writing talent.

The Zimbabwe International Book Fair is similarly an event stakeholders in the book industry look forward to each year. Last year, the ZIBF exhibited vigour as we saw the return of at least two of its provincial book fairs.

The two-day Bulawayo Book Fair held in May and the day-long Mutare Book Fair that followed after the major Harare book fair was a response to a call by stakeholders to restore the glory of the ZIBF.

If issues raised at last year’s ZIBF are to be discussed here, we would come up with a huge corpus but worth mentioning is uncle Stephen Chifunyise’s timely word of advice for the local book industry. He said in his keynote address at the ZIBF Indaba conference, the sector now needs a new strategy if the book is to pay.

He urged the sector to “re-group, re-mobilise, re-focus, and re-strategise for a comprehensible viable book industry”. The new strategy, he said, must involve government and the creative industry; it must see the transformation of the ZIBF into a National Book Week.

2017 had its sad moments. Two published ‘new-generation’ writers died. Poet and teacher Admire Gomo passed away in July after a short illness and in December the sector was shaken by the departure of writer and journalist Brian T Penny who died in a car accident. May their souls rest in eternal peace. The annual general meeting of the Zimbabwe Writers Association held in December saw the election of a new board which is led by Monica Cheru.

In terms of the books published in 2017 and reviewed or talked about here, there were some surprises. Bookshelf enjoyed a large number of new books but couldn’t help gasping at the paucity of the Shona novel last year. Is Zimbabwe becoming a country of poets and novelists writing in English? Here we read about seven English poetry collections and six novels in English published last year.

There could be more which Bookshelf may not have read or heard about but, truly speaking, writers seem to have forgotten their mother languages. Motivational and Christian writing, as noted early in the year 2017, came in more books while biography/ autobiography is yet another neglected type of writing in Zimbabwe. Children’s literature, well, more needs to be done. It is possible to have both adult storytellers and child writers.

Last year, the youngest writer covered by Bookshelf was eight-year old Aasia Qamar Sial, a frequent user of the Petina Gappah Children’s Library at the Harare City Library. She read her self-published story “A Vampire as a Sister” during the World Book and Copyright Day celebration held at the HCL.

With all this we say, Go well 2017. We are ever hopeful that this new year will bring about changes in the sector. After all, the new political dawn in Zimbabwe, like any other historical change, will churn out its own literature.

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