Home » Health » ZIBF Workshop Stimulates Writers (allAfrica.com)

The ZIBF 2015 Harare Writers’ Workshop held on August 1 at the National Gallery of Zimbabwe brought together writers and publishers to discuss their concerns under the theme “Survival Strategies in a Challenging Economy”.

Aminute of silence was observed in honour of the late Zimbabwean writers Freedom Nyamubaya and Chenjerai Hove.

In his opening remarks, ZIBF board chairperson Obey Bvute encouraged writers to see themselves as creators of products that require branding, promoting and marketing. Acknowledging the damage that piracy has done to the local book industry, Bvute, a publisher, said he was glad that there have been positive steps in the war against what he termed “intellectual thuggery”.

“This is to do with our intellectual rights. It’s a sensitive issue for writers. I am glad to say we now have a concrete outcome. We have partnered with Piracy Prevention in Zimbabwe, an anti-piracy organisation. We have also 12 convictions on piracy and the criminals are going to jail soon. As publishers, this means a lot us,” said Bvute.

Piracy Prevention in Zimbabwe had an exhibition stand at this year’s ZIBF where they engaged in educating book fair visitors about piracy. On their stand, they displayed pirated as well as original copies of books.

In a session under the topic “Why Zimbabwe Needs a Curriculum Review: Opportunities for Creative Writers”, which was chaired by Professor Rosemary Moyana, Dr. Makanda, director of curriculum development and technical services at the Curriculum Development Unit (CDU), unveiled opportunities which the current curriculum review process being undertaken by the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education presents for the Zimbabwean writer.

His paper assured writers that now they have lot of space in the new curriculum. For instance, the CDU has developed syllabi on literature in indigenous languages, mass displays, and heritage and social studies. All these new developments will be underlined by the concept of unhu/ubuntuism and the promotion of reading culture in schools, said Dr Makanda.

While writers recognised Dr. Makanda’s urge for them to write on issues falling under the new curriculum, they wanted to know how the CDU selects books that then become school set texts.

Vulgarity, said Dr Makanda, is one element taken seriously by the committee tasked to assess any book that goes into the local school system. However, the issue of vulgarity and its different contexts invoked some writers to present cases where “vulgarity” is part of a certain people’s culture.

Virginia Phiri, for example, said that in Ndebele culture, whether it is a funeral or celebration, they have some certain expression of their culture which may be labelled vulgar in another context.

“It is better for the CDU to consult cultural gurus to help in the selection of books because striking out some of these cultural elements on that basis wouldn’t be good,” said Phiri.

Another writer, Gogo Colleta Mutangadura, bewailed the diminishing of cultural aunts and said that writers are bridging that gap by disseminating information creatively.

In response, Dr Makanda said, “It’s not that we just reject books but we ask if the values presented in a book resonate with our culture. You should also understand that the cultural ceremonies that involve vulgarity are exclusive and do not involve children.”

At some point, the workshop was almost like pitching together two “enemies” who have been evading each other for too long and here was a chance to see what has been happening in the two camps. It was also a chance to look for the real enemy of the local book industry.

The unresolved dispute between publishers and writers over uncertain contracts or royalties reared its ugly head after Priority Projects Publishers staff Patience Ziramba and Phillip Mudzimba presented their papers under the “Publishing in a Challenging Economy” segment, facing a certain criticism from a presentation by Farai Mungoshi in another session under the topic “Working with and Within an Artistic Family in a Challenging Economy” and writer TK Tsodzo’s presentation under “Challenges and Opportunities for the Elderly Writer in Zimbabwe”.

The session on publishing challenges was chaired by writer Musaemura Zimunya and Farai Mungoshi’s session was chaired by poet Shumirai Nhanhanga. Farai Mungoshi is the son of the renowned author Charles Mungoshi and actress Jesesi Mungoshi. His was a powerful story about the uncertainties he has seen in the relationship between a writer and publisher in Zimbabwe.

While Ziramba and Mudzimba perfectly gave an overview of difficult circumstances under which publishers operate, boggled down by effects of piracy, low book buying culture, expensive capital, high printing costs, and competition from international publishers, young Mungoshi had a real-life story.

“With all that my father has done, if we were in other countries, you would have seen me climbing down from private chopper here at the book fair,” he joked.

It was clear that Farai, a writer in his own right, had a bad experience with publishers of his father’s works, particularly at a time when his family needed them most during a time of illness. Although his father’s illness was an eye opener for him, he said he discovered way back when he was in Form One that there was something wrong between writers and publishers.

An unforgettable episode he narrated was when he was given a Form One place at Prince Edward School in Harare. Though his father bought the school uniform, it was incomplete without the tie and according to school code of dress, no student was allowed to attend school without it. And yet there was no money for Farai to get one.

Here was a situation, said Farai, I would see in my father’s office posters of books he had authored and no doubt he was one of greatest writers of our country but there I was, no school because there was no tie and there was no tie because there was no money!

Farai acknowledged that while his father Charles Mungoshi wrote out of passion, publishers somehow took his passion for granted, especially as justified in their attitudes when Charles Mungoshi got ill. The family had endless trips to Charles’ Mungoshi’s publishers and yet it seemed to them, the paper called “contract” mattered more than their author’s health or life.

“Tikanzwisisana, tikapakurirana zvakaringana mundiro dzedu ndinofunga tinodya tose tichiguta,” Farai said, referring to the need for understanding between publishers and writers so that both benefit.

However, Farai said at least he has learnt to see the other side of the story when he listened to the Ziramba/Mudzimba presentation on “Publishing in a Challenging Economy”. “I managed to see the other side of the story, not mine only,” he said.

Poet Chirikure Chirikure spoke about the challenges and opportunities of taking poetry abroad. Who would not want to hear the experiences of a poet who has travelled to more than 31 countries, performing poetry in his mother language Shona? His session was chaired by fellow writer Aaron Chiundura-Moyo.

Out of the many appearances at international arts festivals around the world, Chirikure talked about only four visits abroad, visits from which he intended to show the opportunities and challenges he faced.

He narrated his experience at a poetry festival in Senegal where he and other eight poets from different countries were required to perform in their mother languages. For him, it was a fortunate discovery that while he performed his poems backed by traditional music, he also felt compelled to resort to Shona traditional rhymes, making the festival a real cultural exchange experience.

“I think it was now a matter of pushing not only my own poetry to the world but also the culture of my country,” said Chirikure.

At the Poetry Festival in Durban where he performed with the late mbira diva Chiwoniso Maraire, Chirikure said he broke down in tears after performing his poem “Tinobhomba” and got standing ovation.

“It was a time of the early xenophobic attacks in South Africa and outside the festival venue, foreign men and women who were selling cultural products had been attacked. I grabbed the microphone and urged the audience to help stop xenophobia. Poetry and mbira music became a vehicle for giving voice to the victims, it became another cultural product,” he said.

The power of mbira, a traditional instrument, was well illustrated in Chirikure’s experience at a festival in Frankfurt. A certain young female journalist who had listened carefully when Chirikure, before performing, explained how mbira connects the ancestors and the living, tracked him down to tell him she was dreaming of her dead father.

“Poetry and mbira simply helped me engage with the psychology I was taught in my upbringing, that we should respect our parents. In this sense I advised the young lady to go to her father’s graveside and lay a rose and say, ‘Dad, I am your daughter’. Weeks later, I received information from her that the solution worked very well,” explained Chirikure.

In Colombia, he said he performed with a group that was entirely Spanish and his Shona poetry was backed by traditional Spanish music. This was after efforts to translate his poem into Spanish proved unnecessary as the translators discovered a similarity between Shona and Spanish intonations.

However, Chirikure said one of the challenges of performing Shona poetry in a foreign culture is that one may not have an immediate audience and therefore a poet needs to device ways to get to the core of the audience. Translation or interpretation may also spoil the poetry, he said.

The best ever blessing he has seen in his journeys are Zimbabweans living abroad. He said people misunderstand Zimbabweans in the diaspora. Not everyone is comfortable outside there, said Chiri, as he is popularly known.

“Wherever I go, I see people traveling to the venue from far places to come and hear that Shona voice. We bridge the gap and keep their sanity. I have seen many Zimbabweans breaking down in the diaspora after my performance,” Chirikure said.

By public demand, Chirikure performed his poem “Tinobhomba” before he left the podium.

Veteran writer TK Tsodzo spoke about challenges and opportunities for the elderly writer in Zimbabwe. His session, chaired by writer Virginia Phiri, had the same “agony” which highlighted Farai’s paper and Ziramba/Mudzimba’s papers. The papers pointed to a gray spot in the writer-publisher relationship.

Tsodzo said he had been hoping that the industry would change and present endless opportunities for him but until today, he is still waiting. It was good to hear how the veteran writer started writing and the journey he has walked to become the author he is today.

The workshop was well attended by writers from all backgrounds, published and unpublished, established and new publishers. US-based Zimbabwean writer Emmanuel Sigauke had a chance also to address all the participants. This year the ZIBF ran from July 27 to August 1 under the theme “Growing the Knowledge Economy through Research, Writing, Publishing and Reading”.

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