Zimbabwe: Tsitsi Dangarembga Bemoans Low Reading Culture in Zim

18 September 2020

The environment and reading culture in Zimbabwe is not firm enough to support professional fiction writers with the declining standard of education in the country dealing a heavy blow on both writers and readers, Booker Prize-shortlisted writer, Tsitsi Dangarembga has bemoaned.

The award-winning writer was speaking to 263Chat, reflecting on her recent nomination and commenting on the state of fiction writing in Zimbabwe. Dangarembga was announced Monday as one of the six finalists of The Booker Prize, which recognizes the best novel of the year written in English and published in the UK or Ireland.

She expressed: "I do not think our reading culture is supportive of professional fiction writers. To be a professional fiction writer, you need to make writing your core business. This means you need to earn your living from writing. As the reading market is very small in Zimbabwe, the writing has to be of a standard to engage an international as well as a local audience."

The declining standard of education in Zimbabwe deals a heavy brunt on both writers and readers, Dangarembga rued. It dents the reading culture among Zimbabweans and also lowers the quality of literary work. Local authors and researchers on literacy trends say that Zimbabwe's reading culture is in decline, citing accessibility and the rising prices of physical books.

She reiterated the effect of Zimbabwe's declining economy on writers: "With the scarcity of books in the shops and their cost when they are available, the environment is not supportive. Nor is there a sufficiently large and diverse community of writers who meet regularly to inspire and criticise."

Because of the low reading culture, fiction and non-fiction writers bank on their work to be incorporated into the education curriculum. However, financial returns are not guaranteed because of the rampant piracy in Zimbabwe.

Dangarembga feels that the Booker Prize-shortlisting should greatly improve her career: "Being a Zimbabwe based writer has been a struggle at many levels. The shortlisting should have a positive effect on my career. I'm praising God for prayers answered. I'm also inspired to write without a sense of foreboding at last."

The prolific novelist expressed gratitude to the people, including her readers "some of who have cheered me on for thirty years!"

With such an illustrious career, Dangarembga feels the current crop of budding writers has to read extensively and write everyday if possible. She pointed that they should find good critics and take constructive criticism if they are to scale the zenith of the literary world.

"They (upcoming fiction writers) should listen to their inner voice and write what they believe in passionately", the novelist emphasised.

True to her word, Tsitsi Dangarembga has never been one to shy away from publicly expressing her inner voice, even on national issues.

"I have always been a citizen activist, engaging with issues that I feel require my attention. As my life unfolds, so do the areas that I feel require my attention unfold. I have always had a strong sense of right and wrong that my upbringing imparted", Dangarembga revealed.

This has resulted in her having a bust-up authorities. On 31 July, she was arrested and charged with incitement to commit violence and breaching anti-coronavirus health regulations after staging a two-woman demonstration in the Harare.

She commented: "Politics should be an arena where any citizen can participate with security. This is not the case in Zimbabwe. Both women and men can face violent sanction and be at the mercy of state institutions that are weaponised against those seen to oppose the ruling party. This makes politics an unattractive option for the more decent law-abiding citizens amongst us. Women are at greater risk of violent sexual abuse, although the risk is not only faced by women... "

In the face of government clampdown on the 31 July protests, Dangarembga feels that #ZimbabweanLivesmatter was a positive hashtag, as it depolarised the nation. She added that it brought the situation in Zimbabwe to international attention.

"Social media effects are transitory if not backed up with real action", she noted.

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