Review of Writing Now: More Stories from Zimbabwe - World Literature Review

WORLD LITERATURE REVIEW
Writing Now More Stories From Zimbabwe. Irene Staunton, ed. Harare Weaver 2005.


“ALWAYS USE THE WORD ‘Africa’ or ‘Darkness’ or ‘Safari’ in your title, ” advised Binyavanga Wainaina in a semi-serious  essay entitled “How  to write about Africa.” The authors collected together between the covers of Writing Now: More Stories from Zimbabwe have all wisely eschewed the facile options thus offered. They write about aspects of the nation they know well, and they write as contributors to an intense, continuing dialogue.

A successor to Writing Still: New Stories from Zimbabwe (2003), the volume contains twenty-six  stories, most of which compel horrified concentration. Like the earlier collection, Writing Now brings together the hoary with the “budding”. The well established, such as Pat Brickhill, Shimmer Chinodya, John Eppel, and Charles Mungoshi, stand in alphabetical ranking with such “newcomers” as Lawrence Hoba, born in 1983, and Christopher Mlalazi, who is better known for theatre work. Brian Chikwava, represented here by a well observed, carefully crafted study of different sections of Harare society, “ZESA moto Muzhinji,” also provide continuity between the two books.

Where a preface might have been expected to give an overview, editor Irene Staunton has “Notes on Contributors.” The differences of age and the diversity of background indicated in the notes provide an appropriate preparation for the variety of work reproduced –  and also prepare for the relative lack of deeply rooted black female perspectives. Brickhill, who grew up in Durban, and Vivianne Ndlovu, born in Northern Ireland, account for two out of the five women in this “broadly Zimbabwean” collection. Variety is certainly present in the different approaches to writing “stories” on display, with Albert Gumbo’s use of a sting-in-the-tail  narrative style singling him out as the most obvious adherent of a particular “school” of short story writers.

In a self-conscious, reflective, sophisticated, pseudo “work-in-progress” piece about post colonial anomalies, Rory Kilalea writes: “In Zimbabwe, people measure time in a different way. ‘Just now’  means ‘sometime soon.’ ‘Now, Now’ means ‘immediately.’” While short stories are often quick reactions to pressing issues, volumes of stories, especially if they are as carefully proofread and well bound as Writing Now, take time to get into circulation. This collection has largely avoided that problem. Perhaps, thanks to a UK company that offers print-on-demand services, it manages to take the reader behind recent news reports from a troubled nation, illuminating the state of a deeply divided, desperately misled society. The collection has an immediacy that allows it to qualify as “Writing Now, Now.”

Wainaina concludes the essay quoted from above with the admonition: “Always end your book with Nelson Mandela saying something about rainbows or renaissance. Because you care.” In Zimbabwe, there is no one like Mandela to listen to, and artists find no promises in rainbows. However, the writers represented in Writing Now do “care,” and, supported by Weaver Press, they share their diverse concerns – and anger – on a level that is both mature and intimate. There is no renaissance, but there are signs here of worthwhile resistance.                  
James Gibbs
University of the West of England

Review of Writing Now: More Stories from Zimbabwe - The Daily Mirror

The Daily Mirror
www.dailymirror.co.zw
14.10.05

Weaver Press launches new books
Laura Chiweshe
issue date :2005-Oct-14


A LOCAL publishing house, Weaver Press, on Tuesday launched the much-awaited anthology of short stories Writing Now and novel The Chairman of Fools by a renowned and distinguished author Shimmer Chinodya of the Harvest of Thorns fame.
Writing Now, a sequel to the award winning Writing Still published by the same publisher last year, is a new collection of stories painting an ‘engaging and sometimes challenging picture of contemporary life and concerns in Zimbabwe’, reads the back cover of this new collection.
This anthology of short stories demonstrates that it is in the gloomiest and darkest times that Zimbabwean authors churn out the most interesting and remarkable literature.
Although written from the background of the country’s economic woes and political chaos, the stories are not short of acute humour and creative artistry.
Like its predecessor Writing Still, Writing Now is also a mixture of veteran writers such as Shimmer Chinodya, Charles Mungoshi and William (Bill) Saidi with a new generation of writers taking the literary scene by storm such as Ignatius Mabasa, (Ruzvidzo) Stanley Mupfudza and Vivienne Ndlovu as well as completely new voices in literary circles, the likes of Andrew Aresho, Lawrence Hoba and Farai Mpofu.
Speaking at the launch, Chinodya, whose novel Chairman of Fools was also being launched, wittingly and humorously spoke of the pitfalls of being a writer.
“Writing is one of the most miserable activities. I’ve done it for 35 years, scribbling away at night. Sometimes, sitting in a little office, you don’t know such a number of people will assemble to witness the launch and buy your books to read what you write about,” Chinodya said.
Chinodya penned the award winning Harvest of Thorns, Dew in the Morning, Farai’s Girls, Child of War and Can We Talk and Other Stories which was short-listed for the Caine Prize in 2000.
Guest of honour at the launch, veteran writer, poet and academic, Musaemura Zimunya hailed Weaver Press for being torchbearers in the publishing industry at a time when most publishers are shunning creative writing.
Despite the difficult economic period Zimbabwe is currently going through, Weaver Press has grown from strength to strength, publishing books in the fields of women and law, literature history and politics, society and development and books for young people.
Some of their most outstanding works include, Walking Still by Charles Mungoshi, Writing Still by various authors, Tragedy of Lives: Women in Prison in Zimbabwe edited by Chiedza Musengezi, Girls on the Streets, Zimbabwe’s Unfinished Business, The Assassination of Herbert Chitepo among many others.

Review of Writing Now: More Stories from Zimbabwe - African Book Publishing Record

Writing Now: More Stories from Zimbabwe
edited by Irene Staunton
2005: (pp: 304) 205 x 135 mm
ISBN: 177922043X

Africa Book Publishing Record
2008: 2

Reviewer: James J. Zaffiro


Book offers rich collection of short stories

A sequel to the award-winning Writing Still, this new collection of short stories from contemporary Zimbabwean writers, is a must read. Filled with gripping, powerful, and timely stories, it succeeds in pulling the unsuspecting reader downward into the darkest corners, the deep side of the pool, in its choice of themes.

As is true of the first set of stories, Writing Now offers new works from well-known, established writers, including Shimmer Chinodya and Charles Mungoshi, as well as debut fiction by several young, newly-published Zimbabwean writers. The difficult lives of the characters and the vital themes chosen by the authors mirror the difficult, even tragic, state of contemporary life – and death – in one of Africa’s formerly most economically promising new states. Many of the stories center on desperate lives and actions brought about by economic hardship, HIV/AIDS, and deprivation. Human suffering, but also human will and resilience, are on stark display in these stories.

The writing quality is consistently high and the collection is expertly edited. This volume also includes short, useful biographies of all 28 contributors as well as a glossary of key Shona words that occur in some of the stories.

This book would make an excellent anthology in many African and comparative literature courses. Particular stories will also prove extremely effective in politics, sociology, anthropology, and history courses. It is highly recommended for all university and public libraries worldwide.

© The author/publisher

Review of Writing Now: More Stories from Zimbabwe - German Rundbrief

Writing Now: More Stories from Zimbabwe
edited by Irene Staunton
2005: (pp: 304) 205 x 135 mm
ISBN: 177922043X


Zimbabwe Netzwerk Rundbrief
No. 49, December, 2006

Reviewer: Annelie Klother


For the second time since 2003 Irene Staunton of Weaver Press has edited a collection of short stories. This new volume is called Writing Now and follows the much lauded Writing Still. We get a fascinating and sophisticated inside view of today's Zimbabwe. The collection won a prize from the Zimbabwe Book Publishers Association in 2006.

Today, whenever people talk about Zimbabwe, they focus on the daily struggle for survival during a period of the economic collapse (251 million per cent inflation in July), the suffocating anxieties under dictatorship, the chaos of land reform, problems with AIDS, violence within families, etc., but they also reflect on the laid-back attitude and sense of humour of the Zimbabwean people – and so it is with the stories in Writing Now. Twenty-eight very different male and female authors, newcomers and recognized writers, describe and reflect on life in the suburbs as well as in the rural areas, the suffering and the hopes of young and old Zimbabwean men and women.

Economic need …
In several stories the authors use a magnifying glass to explore how the catastrophic economic situation can affect relationships within families: When Siphiwe in '''Pay Day Hell'' (Christopher Mlalazi) slept with her husband, Doubt, for the first time, it was because she hoped to get food from him. For the same reason she secretly makes love with her neighbour. She dreams of a European lifestyle and tries to influence her son to accept her point of view. Doubt feels despised by her: yet, being unemployed, he cannot support his family, which increases his sense of desperation.

Difficulties over the break down of traditional gender roles are also the theme of 'The Breadwinner' (Ethel I. Kabwato). Ted leaves his lover, because he cannot stand, that she, the 'Breadwinner', keeps nagging him. He feels as if he has become her property. Shimmer Chinodya describes a man, who admires his mistress because she is intelligent, generous and warm-hearted. However, he cheats on her and finally leaves her because he has nothing to offer her because of his difficult situation.

Whatever people do to each other, their behaviour is related to the conditions surrounding them, although this is not the only determining factor. And thus the book is honest in reflecting the complexities of relationships rather than reductionist: the situation in Zimbabwe is but one of a number of issues.

For example, Pat Brickhill ('Ndakayambuka') and Stanley Mupfuza ('Forever haunted by Rita's Eyes') deal with the rape of young women. Brickhill writes from the point of view of a teenager who, without being forced, finally marries her rapist, who proceeds to brutally exploit her. Mupfudza allows us to explore the feelings of a man who, as an adolescent, cheated on his girlfriend and caused her to be gang raped – an event that will continue to haunt him throughout his life.

… does not explain every cruelty.
In Andrew Aresho' story 'Rukudzo', a women beats up her husband who is cheating on her and cynically neglecting his family. We learn this from her son, who is fascinated by the club that his mother uses to mistreat her husband and his lover. The woman's relatives are rather amused when the woman boasts about it. Her despair only becomes obvious later on. The reader is torn between disgust and understanding. In 'These are the Days of our Lives' (Edward Chinhanhu) we discover Freedom's motives but this doesn't make it any better. The young man is looking for alcohol and sex in the shebeens, because he can no longer bear his own situation. His wife is traumatised, after having been brutally beaten up by the Botswana police. She is apathetically sitting at home, while the children have nothing to eat. The story focuses on the Zimbabwean situation: after unsuccessfully roaming about the country, Freedom returns depressed to his desperate family, and listens to the news or rather propaganda: there is enough maize, the British are to blame for everything that's gone wrong, and a bumper harvest is expected …

Repression and political disaster…
The political events are also apparent in 'The Letter' (Farai Mpofu), a distressing contribution. A Ndebele member of the opposition who had been forced to watch his pregnant mother being murdered flees to Botswana, where he is maltreated by soldiers and has to leave the country, although he found a woman there – who had been forced to deny him …

Some stories examine the personal impact of the fast-track land reform programme. Lawrence Hoba depicts a world seen through the eyes of a little boy, who does not understand what is going on, as his family has to leave the farm they had supposedly been given ('The Trek'). Vivienne Ndlovu, in 'Kurima', explores the failure of a farm occupation from the new owner's point of view. When leaving the farm he meets homeless small-scale farmers who have been evicted from their new land because 'a secretary of the minister' is claiming it. Corruption and favouritism are also targeted in 'Living on Promises and Credit' (Ambrose Musiyiwa). A critical young teacher fails because of the local authorities, who want to enrich themselves.

In 'Space' (Chiedza Musengezi) politics form the background to her story: the director of a prison is watching television on Independence Day. The speaker is talking about masses of spectators, but the screen is showing empty terraces. The prison that she is managing is far worse than in Germany: narrower, more primitive and with very bad health care. But the prison boss, whose logic is that the prison 'is not a hotel' could also exist in Germany.

Again and again, bridges are built between our two cultures: we Germans know well, for example, the type of manager who is as slippery as an eel – 'The High Flyer' by Mzana Mthimkhulu – who pays the price for sacking an old worker who has been with the firm for thirty years, so pushing him into poverty. We also recognise the bigot in William Saidi's conceited professor ('A Fine Day for a Funeral') who, although he is apparently adopting western customs, aggressively refuses to accept a son-in-law from Malawi.

And in 'ZESA Moto Mushinji', Brian Chikwava describes the well-known relationships between social classes: the 'Garden Boy', Ngoni, is treated by the new rulers in the same way as the old ones treated him: he has to be servile and work a lot for very little money. But like a ''Schweijk'', he has innumerable evasive tricks up his sleeve. Comically he employs the acronym for the Zimbabwean Electricity Supply Authority, ZESA, instead of calling on his ancestors for assistance. He calls himself 'Fire' and he smokes joints all day long.

…. are leading to escape or revolt?
'Gold Digger' by Albert Gumbo is not the only story in the collection to exploit the humour of situations. His story examines another form of escape: emigration. The story plays with the stereotypes that Blacks and Whites have of each other. A Black boy wants to get a tourist visa into a European country by trying to infiltrate himself into the affections of a white tourist girl. His behaviour towards her is based on clichés about wooing white women: he must smell a bit strong, act a little stupid, express his hatred for George Bush and his love for wild animals … Meantime, her behaviour mirrors his, as she has also arrived with her own clichéd attitudes and beliefs.

Only one story deals with revolt – an indication, perhaps, of the seemingly infinite patience of Zimbabweans. 'Tables turned Over' (Adrian Ashley) dissects an uprising in an impressive manner: the pregnant young market woman Ruth is involved in looting, although she is a timid person and fears for her baby. At the end she finds herself in a demonstration asking: 'How can things change if we don't play a part? How can things get better if we don't change them?' The story shows, how a revolt can develop, if the people have built up enough rage and despair.

(Thanks to Klaus Graichen for helping me to translate this review into English!)

© The author/publisher

Review of Writing Now: More Stories from Zimbabwe - Gordon Hauptfleisch

Writing Now: More Stories from Zimbabwe
edited by Irene Staunton
2005: (pp: 304) 205 x 135 mm
ISBN: 177922043X

Desicritics.org (http://desicritics.org/2007/02/12/073606.php)
12 February 2007
Reviewer: Gordon Hauptfleisch

'I need an expose. How your society is being fractured … Politics. Emotion. Sort of a protest piece.'

This particular request of a character, a journalist, comes in Rory Kilalea's contribution to Writing Now, 'Unfinished Business', which revolves around the issue of – as expressed in Upper-Case emphasis – The Old People of Zimbabwe. 'We never really hear about them in the local newspapers,' the narrator ponders. 'AIDS, internecine politics, nasty whites, but the old?'

Perhaps another consideration amid the instability and fragmentation of Zimbabwe society shouldn't be so surprising. But when it comes to a laundry list of recent writings that touch upon such issues as economic hyperinflation, government corruption, racial tensions, sub-par health service, and human and civil rights violations, there's plenty of angles to go around.

In league with some down-to-earth humor and unworldly surrealism, 28 incisive and all-encompassing Zimbabwean stories – each comprising commentary and constituting 'protest pieces' of a sort – make up this sequel to 2004's Writing Still: New Stories From Zimbabwe. From the subtle touch to the solid blow, these tales are told from the personal and humanistic perspective of varied Zimbabweans saddled with cultural and economic burdens rooted not only in an inequitable society, but one in which 'the have-nots take from the have-nots' ('Unfinished Business').

Writing Now takes it all in and spells it out with compelling characters, plots and themes, even in a story not set in Zimbabwe. In the vividly epistolary story by Farai Mpofu, 'The Letter', the main character, Juba, caught illegally crossing over to the greener pastures of Botswana, experiences the tribulations of being imprisoned and breathing 'the humid, stale smell of greasy armpits, groins, dirty mouths, urine and diarrhea in the unfinished pit. We starved.' But he also effectually marshals the resolve and pragmatic anticipation that 'Mama, today I'm gonna sing to the stars because humanity has a blind cruelty. I'm gonna sing that I need a life, a dignity, and like the elites of this world, I need good food.'

Whatever the case, Juba figures, 'It is always better to be treated like a dog in a foreign country than to be treated like a dog in your own.' Ted, the former head of the household in Ethel I. Kabwato's 'The Breadwinner', definitely finds himself dealt with in a less-than-human manner by his family. In this account of poignancy and portentous decisions, Ted has been laid off from work, needing to defer to his working wife and facing every dawn that 'usually brought with it the pain of reality. He suffered in silence'.

On the other hand, the peripatetic character Freedom, in the amusing and whimsical 'These Are The Days Of Our Lives', by Edward Chinhanhu, has many things on his mind, but loss of dignity isn't among his ruminations as he bar-hops and meanders his way to town. Passing a cemetary, he spots 'three or four groups of people burying their loved ones. For a fleeting moment, he admired the dead. Such good crowds. What pride that would give him, though he would be dead.'

Eventually getting in a line of uncertain purpose, Freedom also gives free reign to his philosophy of queues:

'Immediately, he joined the queue. These days, when you saw a queue you had to check it out quickly because sometimes there was a food item on sale or even being given away free. You had to be cautious though, one day he joined a queue which only led him into a toilet! This one was different … Slowly the queue moved forward with some unruly people trying to jump it, and a few others selling their places for money. All forms of corruption take place in a queue …'

Freedom also had some crackpot conspiracy theories, including his notion that global warming and Zimbabwe's drought is a British and American plot. But his speculation that schoolteachers had been 'pariahs of the states, supporters of the opposition, and the most wretched of the wretched' – rather than average-joe victims of government incompetence – might seem to have some credence upon the reading of Ambrose Musiyiwa's earnest and affecting 'Living On Promises And Credit'.

The narrator of the story is emphatic, and wins our empathy and respect right away when he declares that 'My heart was racing and my head was bursting with the ideals that had made me become first a teacher and second, a teacher in rural Freedonia.' What he didn't count on, however, in his valiant efforts to part the red tape and deal with apathetic administrators and a variety of vexations, was a school with no furniture or water but plenty of goats. 'I thought I was a teacher …' the narrator says. There had to be 'Something that would make me eager to face each day …'

The following story, Vivenne Ndlovu's powerful 'Kurima', is character-rich and less cohesive but all the more apt for that lack in explicating the confusion, political give-and-take complexities and arbitrary hurry-up-and-wait nature of land reform. The protagonist, the story has it, 'felt a sense of unease about the party's latest programme'. On the bus, he saw dispossessed people on the roadside as their homes burned down. And now the conductor came back to report to the expectant passengers that 'they were farm workers who had supported their white farming boss in his bid to stay on the land. Now they, like him, had been evicted'.

Indeed, in an assessment that could just as easily apply to many of the other tales of destiny and dashed hopes in Writing Now: More Stories From Zimbabwe. 'It was as though Fortune had smiled on him, but her more sinister sister had tainted the gift.'

At the same time, however, such real life challenges, unpredictability and vicissitudes spur on a wide-array of tone and emotion while assuring a consistency in literary quality – and a likelihood of a third volume of fine short stories from Zimbabwe to keep the issues and discourse alive.


© The author/publisher

Review of Writing Now: More Stories from Zimbabwe - The Herald

Writing Now: More Stories from Zimbabwe
edited by Irene Staunton
2005: (pp: 304) 205 x 135 mm
ISBN: 177922043X


The Herald
15 October 2005

Reviewer: Memory Chirere


Book offers rich collection of short stories

Weaver Press has made a double literary record within twenty-four months. They have just published and launched a multi-authored collection of short stories in English called Writing Now, a sequel to Writing Still of 2003.

For over a decade now, Zimbabwean publishers have radically shifted from single author short story collections to multi-authored ones.

Under the current economic challenges, it appears to be convenient for publishers to capture various voices in one book. Besides, there is happily the presence towards democratising space through having dialoguing voices. Meanwhile, writers are offered opportunity to practice and experiment with form. With Writing Now, as with Writing Still, one realises that there is now fast growing community of local short-story writers.

The twenty-eight authors in this collection, strictly contributing a single story apiece, represent a cross-section of Zimbabwean writing society. Charles Mungoshi, John Eppel, William Saidi and Shimmer Chinodya come from the old generation and they contributed to Writing Still. Ignatius Mabasa, Stanley Mupfudza, Chiedza Musengezi and Clement Chihota are some of the writers who are gradually becoming prominent.

The likes of Lawrence Hoba, Adrian Ashley and Ethel Kabwato are some of the new voices in the anthology. Race and gender are well represented and the biography of each author is a special story within story. There is, for example, here a ‘self-taught writer’ and there ‘the mother of three wonderful children’ or ‘a latter-day wandering minstrel’.

In a country where only Chinodya seems able to publish annually, the old griots like Chingono have a chance for a brief second coming. After a long period of silence, it was rewarding to read Charles Mungoshi’s tightly compressed piece where the soul wanders and matters out finally like a blooming flower of spring. As to be expected in this ‘crowd’ there are a few weak stories that are as predictable as the rising sun. They carry usual Zimbabwean social stereotypes. Some are overwritten and their seams burst with agony.

There will be a debate on whether Writing Now has maintained both the substance and the high craftsmanship of Writing Still. But the many well-written stories here do cover up very adequately. Brian Chikwava’s ‘Zesa Moto Muzhinji’ is a story to look out for. If it doesn’t win another Caine or similar prize, somebody must be sleeping on the job. Chikwava has an eye for ironic detail and sympathy for people that is outstanding. But then any prize might just go to Rory Kilalea. If you don’t shed tears when you finish his ‘Unfinished Business’ then forget it, you will never ever cry again.

Kilalea’s sensitive journalist is one of the few freelance journalists who will look only for a true story on Zimbabwe to send abroad. This is by far the most effortlessly written piece in this collection. But the exciting Shona novelist, Ignatius Mabasa, could be the biggest surprise entry in this short story collection. His ‘Delicious Monstalia’ proves that much as he can mesmerise with longer prose, Mabasa can also write the short story with ‘a spirit of place.’

Talking about spirits, Mabasa’s long time friend, Stanley Mupfudza could be Zimbabwe’s answer to Isabel Allende. His ‘Forever Haunted by Rita’s Eyes’, and many other stories published elsewhere, is evidence that Mupfudza should now be given opportunity in one single author collection. He is one writer who can bring you close to so many other unseen communities in you.

At some point in this ‘feast’ one begins to look for a story that is ‘just different’, and in that mood one cannot fail to notice Clement Chihota’s ‘St Augustine’. This is in many ways a poet’s story. It begins with ‘Chorombo died at the prime of his life, and stupidly too.’ Chihota and maybe Nyamufukudza of ‘If God was a Woman’ are some of the few Zimbabwean writers who have tried and succeeded with the essay short story. Here the writer picks a theory or an argument and the story becomes an essay and later, a story again. Much of this is found in Jorge Luis Borges, especially in Ficciones.

Most of these stories have the current economic challenges in Zimbabwe as their backdrop. But from Hoba’s discerning child-narrator, Chinodya’s ‘fallen’ man, Chingono’s kachasu drinkers, to Mungoshi’s lonely Chizuva, these stories are either blessed with humour or a near surreal hope.

In her loneliness, for instance, Mungoshi’s Chizuva realises that ‘she has learnt to distance herself from her sorrows and miseries and that viewed from a distance, even the most sorrowful and painful memories glow with a mysterious light of their own, and then you find yourself singing.’

Irene Staunton and Weaver Press have been long an example of good selection and editing in Zimbabwe. Bonus Musaemura Zimunya, a leading Zimbabwean poet who was guest of honour at the book launch last Tuesday, pointed out that we are fast running short of editors who have literature at heart. 'I know of managers in publishing who have never sat down to read what their editors recommend for publishing,' he lamented.

© The author/publisher