Valerie Tagwira

Archive for the ‘Interviews’ Category

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.


First Live Radio Interview

In Books, Interviews, Literature, The Uncertainty of Hope, Writing on May 10, 2008 at 9:38 am

Last night I had my first live radio interview with Ravi Govender of South Africa’s Lotus FM. We spoke for about 10 minutes.

We talked about The Uncertainty of Hope, the themes the novel explores; the significance of the novel’s setting; the novel’s relevance to readers in South Africa and why I wrote the novel.

The action in The Uncertainty of Hope starts in 2005, a few months before Operation Murambatsvina and, among other things, it explores the effect the exercise had on some of the most disadvantaged people in Zimbabwe, the unemployed, the poor and those who rely on the informal sector in order to survive.

I’d not thought about the relevance of the novel to readers in South Africa until Ravi asked the question. My response was that the novel is relevant because South Africa is witnessing an unprecedented influx of people who are trying to find ways to escape from the crisis that Zimbabwe is in. Some of the immigrants are refugees who are fleeing persecution because of their real or perceived political affiliations; others are ordinary men and women who are just trying to survive and who believe their chances of survival are better in South Africa than they are in Zimbabwe.

The Uncertainty of Hope is relevant to readers outside Zimbabwe not only because it gives an insight into some of the factors that are pushing people out of the country but also because of the other, more universal themes that it explores, themes like: the role of women in society; the lack of control they have over their sexuality when in the traditional marriage setting; domestic violence; relationships; the effect of HIV/Aids on families; poverty, its manifestations and effects; as well as the daily struggle to survive.

Featured Author: African Books Collective

In Awards, Books, Interviews, Links, Literature, Reviews, The Uncertainty of Hope, Writing on February 29, 2008 at 4:53 pm

africanbookscollective.gifI have just found out I’m on the African Books Collective’s home page. There is an article on the page about The Uncertainty of Hope winning the National Arts Merit Award (NAMA) for Outstanding Fiction. The article carries links to the ABC’s Uncertainty of Hope book page as well as links to my very own page on the site.

This is all brilliant and exciting news.

I like the way The Uncertainty of Hope book page is laid out. The page talks about the book and has some biographical details. It has also got sections that link to reviews of the book that have been published so far as well as links to interviews I’ve given that have appeared on and on the BBC’s Africa Beyond site. There’s also a downloadable excerpt from the novel and the page gives Shimmer Chinodya’s novel, Strife, as an example of a related book.

Interview: Wealth of Ideas [Blog]

In Awards, Books, Interviews, Literature, The Uncertainty of Hope, Writing on February 22, 2008 at 4:26 pm

Valerie Tagwira Wins the NAMA award [updated February 18]
Emmanuel Sigauke, Wealth of Ideas, February 14, 2008.

Valerie Tagwira’s first novel, The Uncertainty of Hope, has won the NAMA award for best fiction. The awards ceremony, held on February 13 at the 7 Arts Theatre in Harare, Zimbabwe brought together seasoned and new artists.

The nominees of Outstanding Fiction Book were: White Man Crawling by John Eppel; The Uncertainty of Hope by Valerie Tagwira and Tears of Water by Christopher Gwata.

Valerie Tagwira has touched the hearts of many readers worldwide with her first novel, which has, to use Joyce Carol Oates’s terms, provoked, disturbed, and aroused our emotions about life in contemporary Zimbabwe. Some readers have begun to request that the author start work on a sequel.

Valerie Tagwira talks about the Award:

Sigauke: What does this award mean to you, considering that this recognition of your work has come this early into your career?

Tagwira: The award means that The Uncertainty of Hope is being accepted and recognised as an outstanding work of literature. I am pleased and I feel honoured.

I hope that receiving this award will translate into wider readership and distribution. This is important to me because when I set out to write The Uncertainty of Hope, my aim was to highlight a host of issues that affect women and their families in the political, social and economic climate that is prevailing in Zimbabwe.

I also wanted to show how decisions that are made at the top by the authorities can sometimes work against the interests of the ordinary man, woman and child.

Hopefully, this award means that the message which drives The Uncertainty of Hope will reach a much wider audience.

Also,this award is symbolic to me as a victory for the women who live under very difficult conditions, like the ones around whom The Uncertainty of Hope is centred; women who wake up at 3 a.m. and go to bed at midnight, doing back-breaking work just to keep their families fed.

Sigauke: Some readers have shown interest in reading a sequel. Do you think there is a possibility of extending the story into a sequel?

Tagwira: I don’t think I will write a sequel. However, there are themes that I started exploring in The Uncertainty of Hope that I would like to pick up and develop further. There are also characters that I would like to look at again and see if I can tell their stories from another angle.

Sigauke: Although you lead a busy life as a medical doctor, you have extended the scope of your art to include short stories (and poetry). Do you see this trend growing? What can the readers expect from you next?

Tagwira: I am going to continue writing. With the short stories for example, one has been featured in the Dec/Jan 2008 volume of African Writing Online. Another is going to appear in a 2008 anthology by Weaver Press, and I have other short stories that are in various stages of completion.

I am also going to keep writing poetry but I am not sure how much of it I will be submitting anywhere because it is the most personal form of writing that I am doing at present.

Interview: The Standard

In Books, Interviews, Literature, The Uncertainty of Hope, Writing on September 9, 2007 at 2:41 pm

Interview with Valerie Tagwira
Bertha Shoko, The Standard, May 13, 2007.

1. Please give us a brief biography of yourself, occupation, level of education, current studies and family life and history.

I am a thirty-three year old married woman. I was born in Gweru, but I lived in Rutendo (Redcliff) for the greater part of my childhood. I was educated at Monte Cassino Secondary School (Macheke) and St James High School (Nyamandlovu). I graduated from the University of Zimbabwe’s Medical School in 1997 and I am currently working in London as a medical doctor, while doing some post-graduate training.

2. I know from the brief introduction to the book that you undertook studies related to public health nothing in the arts or literature, and I was left wondering what made you set aside the challenging world of medicine and inspired you to write this really compelling novel? Have you always wanted to write, perhaps?

O-level Literature is my only claim to ‘studies in the arts and literature’. No, I wouldn’t say I undertook studies in Public Health — I would love to, though. My post-graduate training is in Obstetrics and Gynaecology. I wrote the book while working and studying. Writing came out of a desire to do something different — something creative. But then I realised that in the process I could concurrently explore health-related and developmental issues that affect women — areas I have always been interested in. Part of my inspiration developed out of these interestes, as well as the fact that I am a woman.

3. Before this novel have you published anything else which is not prose?

Before this novel, I hadn’t published anything at all.

4. Your vivid description of Mbare township and Mbare Musika are very interesting and fascinating. For example, the “unwritten road regulations” — as a driver in Mbare one has to drive slowly and actually wait for people to get out of the road at their own pace, etc. Do you have a connection with the suburb or did you live there at some point in your life?

I’m quite familiar with Mbare, especially the market place and the bus terminus. During my secondary schooldays, it was the place where I used to catch the school bus to Macheke. The market was a great place to stock up on roasted nuts, maputi, etc (as boarders do), and at the end of each school term, it was the place where the school bus dropped us so that we could get transport on to our various destinations. Later, when I lived in Harare, I frequently drove to the market to buy fruit and vegetables. Besides this, I’m no stranger to high density life as I was raised in a township. Mbare was the perfect setting for my novel because of its complexity and vibrancy.

5. Some of the themes in your book are controversial: foreign currency dealing, Murambatsvina, corruption in the police force, the state of the economy, nobody can ignore the controversy in your book. Are you afraid of prosecution because of some of the things that you wrote in book and if so, why? ( Why I ask, I hear you were unhappy about the casting of the headline in the review we wrote. While it was really not my doing, I also didn’t see the problem with this.)

No, I’m not afraid of being prosecuted because anyone who has read the book and understood it will acknowledge that even as a work of fiction, it has a very balanced approach, and looks at life from various perspectives. I am also confident that the novel is not worthy of police attention as there is nothing illegal about it.

As to your headline, ‘Novel Revisits Murambatsvina’ well, I think Irene Staunton and I were both disappointed. The headline did seem both somewhat sensational and reductionist. The Uncertainty of Hope is about so much more — the many challenges that women have to contend with — than just Murambatsvina. In addition, my own family was quite concerned about the implications of such a headline. And as I am sure you understand, people in England worry when they see such headlines because of the news we hear about home, and various friends did feel that it was neither responsible nor sensitive and they communicated this to me.

While The Uncertainty of Hope is a work of fiction, with imaginary characters and situations, taking pains to avoid the controversies that are so much a part of our lives would have diminished the efforts of having written the novel in the first place, possibly making it too illusory. The novels that I admire, while also fictional, deal with truth in a manner that allows for its complexity, and its multi-faceted nature. Thus, while Faith may feel passionately that Murambatsvina was wrong, her boyfriend Tom feels equally strongly that it served its purpose: it cleaned up the streets and reduced crime. The reader is thus left to make up their own mind. Similarly, while Nzou is certainly corrupt, in the end, he is prosecuted for wrong-doing and a fellow policeman makes the point that not everyone in the police force is corrupt or want a force that is so tarnished. Good fiction is not didactic nor does it provide any one particular point of view.

6. When can we expect your next novel or was this novel just a once-off thing?

Because I enjoyed writing The Uncertainty of Hope so much, I look forward to putting pen to paper again, and hopefully getting published some time in the future.

7. Did you always want to be writer? Who is your inspiration?

I did dream of becoming a writer one day but it took me a long time to settle down and commit myself to writing. My inspiration came from my late parents. They were both teachers who loved reading, and they encouraged me to do the same. Thinking of becoming a writer was a natural next step.

8. What do you think of the Zimbabwean women writers. Is there a place for them in Zimbabwean literature?

I certainly believe that there is a place for women writers in Zimbabwean literature. The arts are a medium for looking at social issues, and a balanced approach involves both men and women. We have women writers who have done extremely well, women we can look up to, such as the late Yvonne Vera, and Tsitsi Dangarembga. Unfortunately, it is extremely difficult to make a living out of writing. Until that changes, very few, if any, women will take up writing as a full-time career. Sadly, this is at the expense of skills development as one has to keep writing in order to get better at it.

9. What is your ultimate goal in relation to writing and literature?

My limitation is that as a doctor, I have a totally different career which is quite demanding in its own way. So for an ultimate goal in relation to writing, I will be very pleased if I manage to have a few more books published.

10. Are you coming back to Zimbabwe after your studies in the UK?

Of course. It’s not just a cliché that home is best place to be.

© The author/publisher.