Home » General » Writers, Publishers Should Talk Often

Open dialogue between writers and publishers should be encouraged as a way of building trust and mutual understanding. Relevant, educative and informative ideas and experiences on various writing and publishing issues, connected inherently, came up from the Zimbabwe Writers’ Association (ZWA) meeting held on Saturday, March 7, at the National Gallery of Zimbabwe.

The presenters, publisher Irene Staunton, writer Cynthia Marangwanda-Banda, and ICT expert Limbikani S.K. Makani, had a lively interaction with an audience of published and unpublished writers, academics and book lovers.

For the new inquisitive writer, it was an opportunity for learning the reality in Zimbabwean writing and our established writers are always keen on sharing their experiences. However, a few aspiring writers attended. The writer whom I would call self-conceited is the one who does not want to learn, the kind of writer whom Staunton, a publisher, describes as a reductionist thinker.

This vain writer, who believes hisher writing is pure, is a dark spot in the publishing chain, said Staunton.

“This writer says, ‘My writing is pure and I don’t want to be influenced by anybody else. So sorry, I am not going to buy a book’. Now every time somebody says that to a publisher, they are actually casting in their way a stone because publishers depend on people buying books,” Staunton said.

The way things were in the 90s are no longer the way they are today in the publishing industry. As Staunton narrated how nowadays it is difficult to sell mere 300 copies in 18 months, the writers present could see the huge difference buying a book would make to a publisher and the author. The writers in the house, in fact, did impress Staunton with their honesty when she asked how many of them had bought a book this year and almost all hands shot up.

The negatives in the publishing industry have also been necessitated by book piracy which now seems a monotonous, yet destructive growth on the skin of creativity. Weaver Press, which Staunton co-owns with husband Murray McCartney, have its own stories regarding piracy in Zimbabwe. One of the stories, as told by Staunton, was about how Weaver Press and other publishers some few years back received calls from the police to go to a certain warehouse packed with photocopied books and to identify which books belonged to them. Nothing happened further than identifying their books and spending long hours at the courts which raises the question: Are book pirates connected to some kind of authority?

The writers also got more ideas on how they can partner with a publisher if they wish to bear some cost of the whole publishing process. However, Staunton warned that even in those partnerships, every publisher cannot risk losing their identity.

Identity in publishing is more or less similar to the metaphoric voice in writing. Renowned prolific writer Shimmer Chinodya later spoke something about voice during open discussion and in simplistic terms, identity and voice are keystones.

In response to Chinodya’s question about the trend or direction which Zimbabwean writing is taking, Staunton said the majority of manuscripts she receives are poor and there is lack of understanding among new writers.

“There is not enough real understanding, partly because there are not enough discussions between publishers and writers like this. We get a lot of people who say, ‘I want to be a writer, therefore I am a writer, therefore I must be published’. It’s a very reductionist thinking process. Writing is a great skill which can be developed. It’s quite a huge talent which demands empathy, understanding, intellect, compassion, and honesty. Lots of young writers only imagine about themselves, they find it hard to think themselves as a completely different person,” said Staunton.

However, she told the writers that she would never turn down a manuscript that she thinks is fresh, well written, exciting and saying something not said before. “I would never turn down a manuscript because there’s no money to publish it – there has to be a way out if I believe in that manuscript,” she said.

Poet and author Cynthia Marangwanda’s presentation got writers thinking again if style, form, content or target audience matter at all because all rules governing these writing elements have been bent in “Shards”, the novella which won a NAMA award for Marangwanda this year.

Marangwanda, by opting to first read from her book “Shards” before talking about it, set the mood of the discussion that followed.

From her talk, one could deduce the organic nature of her book, that is, how the motivation behind it determined form, and how theme determined its pace, et cetera.

Although she had read a number of literary works, she felt they did not represent her and hence the need to create her own representative space, said Marangwanda. “It (Shards) was born out of frustration, out of a desire to be represented.”

While she said she had an idea of what she wanted to write, that is, the story of a young troubled woman trying to navigate her way in life while dealing with issues of mental illness and spirituality, she was rather chaotic. The chaos she spoke about naturally materialised in the form which then “Shards” came in.

Marangwanda said her book mainly deal with themes such as tension between collective reality and individual insanity, modernity versus tradition or the global versus the local, and mental illness.

About mental illness, Marangwanda said she had her own personal experience with it and so she wanted to look at it from a different perspective.

“When we were growing up there was talk of mental illness seen in a certain kind of a deprived character. I wanted to have a character from a privileged background – educated but struggling with mental illness,” said Marangwanda.

When asked by Memory Chirere how much she is affected by being the granddaughter of the late writer J. W. Marangwanda, Cynthia acknowledged the presence of her late grandfather in her writing life although she would want to have her own “voice”. Even when asked what her particular relationship with the late Dambudzo Marechera and Yvonne Vera’s writings is, she insisted she would want to stand alone despite the fact that influence from these authors was inescapable.

Marangwanda’s breaking of form, existentialist type of imagination, and target audience for her book came under scrutiny in open discussion. While writers such as T. K. Tsodzo, Lawrence Hoba, Tinashe Muchuri and others said they write with an audience in mind, Marangwanda gly insisted she never had anyone in mind when she wrote her book.

There were her contemporaries whom she wanted to reach out to but that was not the main target audience, she said.

Writers are business people and should embrace the opportunities that come with the internet, said Limbikani S. K. Makani, CEO of Techzim. Makani was presenting on how writers can start to use the internet to dialogue with their readers directly.

He said the greatest leverage offered by the internet is “permission” as geographical barriers are broken.

“You don’t have to seek permission to build a business online,” said Limbikani, adding that the instant feedback one gets on the internet helps to know one’s direction.

He said writers can also make money through aerts or through Google AdSense. The problem with writers, as observed by Limbikani, is seeing the internet as a threat. And yet, writers must learn the skills of harnessing this huge global market presented by the internet.

“We all have to have some basic skills of understanding the platform that is the internet. Take ownership,” he told the writers.

In Zimbabwe, online platforms that are specifically created by and for writers include blogs such as KwaChirere which belongs to writer Memory Chirere, Mudara raTinashe which belongs to writer Tinashe Muchuri, and the NAMA award-winning blog managed by Writers International Network Zimbabwe (WIN-Zim). However, there are other online platforms which, due to lack of publicity or internet access, have remained unknown to the majority of local writers.

Credit should go to ZWA for presenting this rare opportunity for writers to interact with each other and different kinds of people. The meeting was also attended by poet Chirikure Chirikure, Charles Mungoshi’s wife and actress Jesesi Mungoshi, Professor Jeffrey Wills of Zimbabwe Reads, Penny Peng and Carrie Li who are vice-secretary and acting vice chairpersongeneral secretary of Zimbabwe Chinese Business Association re- spectively.

Peng’s father is the chairperson of the Chinese Writers’ Association which was founded on the same basis as our own ZWA and this meeting was the first step towards building a relationship between the two writers associations. The two poems rendered in between presentations by Barbara “Breeze” Anderson spiced the writing aura upstairs at the National Gallery of Zimbabwe.

Source : The Herald