Valerie Tagwira

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The 12th Time of the Writer Festival

In Books, Festivals, Interviews, Literature, Reviews, The Uncertainty of Hope, Writing on April 30, 2009 at 5:31 pm

Time of the WriterA few weeks ago, I appeared as a guest contributor on Petina Gappah’s blog.

In my article, I talked about the Time of the Writer Festival which took place in Durban, South Africa from 9-14 March. The event was hosted by The Centre for Creative Arts, University of KwaZulu Natal. I was one of 20 writers who had been invited to attend.

Events included newspaper, radio and TV interviews as well as book launches, forums and discussions. These were held at various venues in Durban, including prisons, schools and youth centres. Like the festival itself, these events were organised and coordinated by a team from The University of KwaZulu Natal’s Centre for Creative Arts and all invited writers had scheduled participation.

I must say that I was very impressed by the amount of talent shown by school pupils in two Creative Writing Clubs that I visited during the festival.

The forum that I enjoyed most was: “African Women Writers: Where are we now?”. This was held at the historical Ike’s Books and Collectables bookshop. It was attended by female participants of the festival and was open to the public. We discussed our experiences as women writers. As part of my own contribution to the forum, I talked about some of the advantages and disadvantages I had experienced as a Zimbabwean writer writing from outside the country and compared those to the experiences of my fellow women writers who are writing from within Zimbabwe.

I also attended panel discussions and book launches that were held in the evenings at The Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre at the university campus.

My panel discussion was co-chaired by the Nigerian writer, Sade Adeniran who was also the 2008 winner of the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Best First Book Africa Region. The panel facilitator was Karabo Kgoleng, a SAFM radio journalist who has special interest in literature and the arts. Our topic of was: “Writing Home’’.

We discussed a series of questions presented by the facilitator.

The discussion, which was open to the public, centred on the concept of home, one of the themes that are explored in my novel, The Uncertainty of Hope and Sade Adeniran’s Imagine This. Issues discussed included questions about what makes up that place which a person calls home, factors that give a person security within the home, identity and home, how “tribal identity” may factor into a sense of home, the type of security provided by a home for the characters in our novels and whether people who have been dispossessed can ever re-create a home. We also talked about the challenges of writing about “home” while living abroad.

An important question raised by another writer in the audience was why we wrote in English and not in our native tongues. My response to this was that I write in English to reach out to a wider audience. Writing in Shona, which is my native language would restrict the audience that I can reach. I suggested translation of English novels into vernacular where funds are available.

A highlight of the festival was the announcement of the 2009 winners of the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Best Book and Best First Book Africa Region. The prize for best book went to one of the festival participants, Mandla Langa of South Africa for his novel , The Lost Colours of The Chameleon.

All in all, it was a wonderful week. I came back to England feeling inspired to become a better writer.

Reactions to an Evening of Uncertainty

In Books, Literature, Reviews, The Uncertainty of Hope, Writing on October 27, 2008 at 1:02 am

In my last post, I talked about the literary discussion which, at the time, was due to take place in Harare, at the Book Cafe, on The Uncertainty of Hope.

I am told the discussion was well-attended and that it went very well.

The keynote speakers were Ruby Magosvongwe and Josephine Muganiwa, both from the University of Zimbabwe.

Amanda Atwood reveals that the discussion was dominated by the reality of the challenges Zimbabweans are currently experiencing and how these challenges are depicted in The Uncertainty of Hope (“Pragmatic morality in Valerie Tagwira’s The Uncertainty of Hope: A Book Café discussion“, Kubatana.net, October 3).

Among other things, it explored how the struggles which form the core of the novel are represented in the relationship between the individual and the state; the individual and the community as well as relationships in family structures, and so on.

Atwood’s article is also worth visiting because it provides links through which you can listen to the presentations Magosvongwe and Muganiwa gave.

Elsewhere, Ruzvidzo Mupfudza, another Zimbabwean writer, gives a view of one of the discussions that took place in the shadow of the Book Cafe presentation (“Why we write still“, Zimbablog.com, September 25).

In his post, Mupfudza responds to the criticism that the ending in The Uncertainty of Hope is like that of a ‘fairytale’.

Mupfudza’s response is very close to the view I took when I was writing the novel. There were a number of other endings that I considered, the one that I chose felt right because the characters had gone through a tough time and I wanted to communicate this massage that no matter how bad things get, there is always the hope that things will get better.

When you take the action in The Uncertainty of Hope as a microcosm of the crisis that is currently being played out in Zimbabwe, only time will tell if this message of hope is appropriate, let alone accurate.

Evening of Uncertainty

In Books, Literature, The Uncertainty of Hope, Writing on September 17, 2008 at 5:04 pm

Readers and writers who will be in Harare tomorrow might be interested to know that Pamberi Trust and The Book Cafe will be hosting a literary discussion on The Uncertainty of Hope.

The event starts at 5.30 pm and will run til 7.00 pm. Admission is free and open to all.

I am told that guest speakers will include Mai Ruby Magosvongwe.

Penny Yon, one of the event’s coordinators, says the September 18 literary discussion will explore the central issues raised by The Uncertainty of Hope as well as the significance of these issues in contemporary Zimbabwe.

“The value of literature,” she says, “is that it reflects aspects of society and allows deeper scrutiny of lives that may otherwise be impenetrable to readers.”

The event is part of the Pamberi Trust literary discussions that have been taking place at The Book Café for a number of years now.

The discussions bring together readers and writers from across the city and are supported by Weaver Press, Pamberi Trust’s Communications project and the W. K. Kellogg Foundation.

New Short Fiction Anthology

In Books, Literature, Writing on September 5, 2008 at 1:13 am

Women Writing ZimbabweMore good news.

One of my short stories, “Mainini Grace’s Promise” has been featured in Women Writing Zimbabwe, a new anthology which brings together short fiction from some of the finest contemporary Zimbabwean women writers.

The anthology is made up of 15 short stories and is published by Weaver Press.

Lawrence Hoba, in a review which appears in The Zimbabwean (August 26, 2008) says, “The 15 individual stories in Women Writing Zimbabwe are linked by the common attachment that each has with their country… which has seen many changes and upheavals from colonialism to independence, to the current crisis and the apparent death of democracy.”

Writers who appear in the anthology include Pat Brickhill, Diana Charsley, Petina Gappah, Rumbi Katedza, Wadzanai Mhute, Blessing Musariri, Chiedza Musengezi, Gugu Ndlovu, Mary Ndlovu, Bryony Rheam and Zvisinei Sandi.

On “Mainini Grace’s Promise”, Hoba says: “… please find it in your heart to forgive Sarai for acting the way she did… I know with all the frustrations of a failing economy, a defunct health delivery system and rampaging HIV/AIDS, we can all crack under the strain. What Tagwira achieves in her deeply felt story is to raise our level of awareness and compassion.”

Doing Well in South Africa

In Books, Literature, Reviews, The Uncertainty of Hope, Writing on July 6, 2008 at 7:17 pm

Judging by the reviews that have come out so far, I’d say The Uncertainty of Hope is doing very well in South Africa. It’s being read and it’s informing discussion on politics and literature in both Zimbabwe and South Africa.

In May, the novel was reviewed on SABC’s 3Talk alongside Wendy Salisbury’s The Toyboy Diaries and Xolela Mangcu’s To the Brink: The State of Democracy in South Africa. One of my cousins, who lives in South Africa and who follows the programme, says the review was positive and engaging.

The novel has also been reviewed on websites and in newspapers that include Citizen Journalism in Africa and The Witness.

Brett (“It’s all in the stories we tell,” Citizen Journalism in Africa, May 22) discusses the novel within the context of the role of the media in informing both the imagination and the “collective imagination.”

He suggests that the shocking wave of xenophobic attacks which gripped South Africa in May where based on a lack of understanding of “the other.” He proposes that similar incidents can be prevented if South Africans find out more about the strangers in their midst, not only through the stories they tell each other or through reading or viewing the news, but also through reading books like The Uncertainty of Hope.

Another reviewer, Sharon Dell (“Hope in a climate of fear,” The Witness, June 4) describes the novel as “a well-executed book…”

She quite rightly links Onai’s personal struggles with the “larger story of national deprivation and hardship” that a lot of Zimbabwean men, women and children are currently struggling with. And she suggests that she could have benefited even more if the novel had included a more detailed analysis of what caused the political, social and economic problems the country is facing.