SHIMMER CHINODYA’S WRITERLY BIRTHDAY PARTY

Beaven Tapureta - Bookshelf

Shimmer Chinodya at his 60th birthday partyOrganized and hosted by Weaver Press, award-winning Zimbabwean author Shimmer Chinodya celebrated his sixtieth birthday with friends and relatives in writerly style in the evening of May 30 at the Alliance Francaise, Harare.

Friends, relatives and fellow writers who attended Chinodya’s evening birthday party had an unusual treatment which got them celebrating with the author’s characters in the extracts from his novels and short stories which were read at Can We Talk book coverthe event. It was indeed a literary birthday as it coincided with the launch of the second edition of his anthology Can We Talk and Other Stories.

Chinodya, who wrote his first work Dew in the Morning (1982) when he was a teenager, stands out as one of the ‘elders’ of African literature with his inspiring writing career. He shares the same day of birth with another African writer M. G Vassanji who, like him Chinodya, also won the regional Commonwealth Writers Prize in 1990. Chinodya won the same prize for the African Region in the same year for his book Harvest of Thorns (1989).

The readings at the two-hour party were excellently directed by Zaza Muchemwa (Almasi Collaborative Arts) that the audience dramatically moved with the readers from story to story, captivated by the characters and dialogue brought to life. The whole reading arrangement was pitched to inspire a theatrical transition from one story to the next as there were no transitory explanations by the readers. One could feel the presence of Chinodya’s characters in the room!

Caroline Mashingaidze, whose birthday also falls on the same day with Chinodya, read from Dew in the Morning, one could hear the voice of Godi telling the story. Charmaine Mujeri whisked the character Mr. B.V in the interesting story ‘Going to See Mr. B. V.’ drawn from Chinodya’s short story collection Can We Talk and Other Stories (1998) and brought the characters to act and speak in front of the audience! The short story ‘Strays’, also taken from the same anthology, was read by Francis Nyakuhwa. Musa Saruro read the story ‘Chioniso’ from Chioniso and Other Stories (2012) and also from Chairman of Fools (2005).

When Chinodya was called to read last, he decided to summon the character Cleopas from Harvest of Thorns into the room. Cleopas had everyone shaking with laughter at his badly written English language in his humorous love letters to a girl he loved.

The mbira vibes by Hope Masike soothed the evening away. Renowned poet Chirikure Chirikure added some spice to the literary cake with his Shona poem which portrays writing as a job and yet the writers are sometimes misunderstood and belittled in some societies.

And of course, what shape could a writer’s birthday cake take except that of a book or any related object found in a writer’s studio! Chinodya’s cake was a beautiful white open book made by Tashinga Manungo.

Born in Gweru in 1957, Chinodya won the 2008 NOMA Award for Publishing in Africa for his novel Strife. His other works include Tale of Tamari, and ‘Child of War’ which he wrote under the pen name Ben Chirasha, and the latest play Harvest of Thorns Classic adapted from his novel by the same title. Versatility is one of the qualities new authors can learn from the great writer. Instead of restricting himself to novels and short stories, Chinodya has written plays, feature films such as the award-winning “Everyone’s Child”. He has written children’s books, educational texts, training manuals, and radio and film scripts.

He studied English Literature and Education at the University of Zimbabwe and earned an MA in Creative Writing from Iowa Writers Workshop (USA). He was distinguished Visiting Professor in Creative Writing and African Literature at the University of St. Lawrence from 1995 to 1997. Chinodya has received many international fellowships.

Weaver Press has been Shimmer Chindoya’s publisher for the last 20 years, and he worked with the publisher, Irene Staunton, at Baobab Books in decades preceding. The birthday party was arranged and hosted by Weaver Press, was held with support from various artists and companies.