Shortly after winning the 2009 PEN/Studzinski Literary Award, NoViolet Mhka Bulawayo talks with Mazwi, a Zimbabwean Journal, about her writing.
Do you have a writing community, ie, other Zimbabwean or African writers you interact with or you find the place isolating and if so is this isolation good or bad?
I'm in an MFA program so yes, I have a writing community. I have no interaction with Zimbabwean and African writers on a workshop level, so on that basis, I am "isolated." It's a double-edged swordIn the past I would crave that specific common ground that would come with interacting with writers from my own background, and that happened when I felt like my mates didn't "get" what I was trying to do. I'm over that now, not having that common ground means I have to forge a new one, and for me that is humanity. It means I have to stand on another level, to go beyond "Zimbabwean-ness" and "African-ness" in my writing, that space without the "burdens" of identity. Actually I've come to appreciate it as liberating, so I guess I can confidently say, it's good, very good, even though it took me a while to get here.
What is your inspiration and does that influence what you write about? Any favourate writers?
Humanity. "Womanity." My homeland. As for writers I'd say Yvonne Vera inspires me more than any other writer because I care about the same things she cares about; from the poetic grace of language to (feminist) themes to the writer's spirit of courage, that bravery to say things that would not normally be said. If she wasn't in the picture I don't think I'd have the courage to write about things I'm writing about. In as much as she is an influence, however, I believe I'm also my own writer and doing my own thing. Don't get me started on my favorite writers but they include Maxine Hong Kingston, Edwidge Danticat, Jean Toomer, Barbara Kingsolver, Daniel Defoe, The Brontes, Jhumpa Lahiri.
The late Yvonne Vera, Tsitsi Dangarembga and now more recently Petina Gappah are the most internationally well known female writers from Zimbabwe. Why do you think there are fewer women writers from Zimbabwe who write?
That is true, and sad. Of course there are a host of reasons, but I think it also speaks to the trying circumstances of African women, not just Zimbabwean women by the way, as the group that comes last in everything and writing is no exception. Of cause this is compounded by the politics of the publishing industry. Still, I believe Zimbabwean women have compelling stories and those who are writing are doing a good job representing, and I'd like to especially thank those who are writing from Zimbabwe, the little known and unknown ones. To me those are the bad-ass writers, imagine knowing you will never be read beyond your borders, never be an international star but still writing all the same! That's writing as speaking, as insisting on one's presence and I think that's deep.
What has being shortlisted for the PEN/Studzinski Literary Award, let alone highly commended mean to you as a young writer?
It's an honor and a necessary boost and I am very humbled and grateful for the recognition. I can only hope it also means something to other young writers out there; and I'm speaking as one who would not have dreamt of entering a couple of years ago because I wouldn't have thought my work was good enough. This is our time baby, and "Yes We Can!"
When do we expect your first book and what will it about?
I am working on a novel and a short story collection, and I'd say I'm worried about rendering them in best form than when they are coming out, so I have no idea. Right now my priority is to write-write-write. As for "about-ness," hmmm, may I keep that as a surprise?
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