Speech given by Chiedza Musengezi a the launch of Writing Free
19th September, 2011
Sometimes one needs physical and emotional distance to evaluate what one has, be it a job, family or friendships. Having been in Ireland for a few years, I can gladly say it was good to be away but it’s better to be back home.
Writing Free, the anthology which we’re launching this evening, is not the first collection of short stories to be published by Weaver Press in 2011. Mazambuko – a collection of short stories was also published earlier this year. In Zimbabwe most short story writers seem to prefer to write in English. The writers themselves have reasons for this preference but perhaps we, as readers, have failed to express our need for short stories in our home languages. Mazambuko is not only a welcome addition to Shona literature but it’s in a category of its own because it assists the reader to cross boundaries of language as the stories it contains were originally written in English. They’re are now accessible in Shona and one cannot emphasise the importance of our home languages enough. I would like to congratulate the translators, Charles Mungoshi and Musaemura Zimunya for making this publication possible.
The main reason for the gathering tonight is the launch of another collection of short stories, Writing Free. I must say how proud most people are to be associated with Weaver Press. It is a small independent publisher that has developed a distinctive identity. We know it for its quality creative writing list as well as its growing list on political, social and environmental issues.
Writing Free is the sixth anthology of Zimbabwean short stories from Weaver Press. It is the product of fifteen writers who responded to the topic ‘Writing Free’.
For writers like No Violet Mkha, writing free means a declaration of space in which to do as she pleases: a space to tell a story that she cares about in her truest voice, expressing herself completely without having to worry about anything or anyone.
In the story by Petina Gappah, a black school child is enrolled in the former white schools at independence. While her parents are proud that their child is sitting alongside white children in a free Zimbabwe, the black child is scared of putting a foot wrong and risk being laughed at. Perhaps Gappah is contesting the idea that freedom can simply be given to anyone on a platter. Quite often we’re afraid of exercising our freedom for fear of doing things that maybe deemed wrong by those around us. Besides, we have no idea of the barriers the writers themselves could or could not cross as they worked freely at their stories’
Some of the contributors such as Ethel Kabwato and Isabella Matambanadzo, expressed their freedom to grieve for family and relatives who were tortured, killed or who went missing in the senseless political violence that has ripped through the country in recent years. Indeed the desire to live freely without repression and corruption was a theme that was taken up by many of the writers.
Some took the freedom to expose the constraints of married life, others chose to explore what it means to be a Zimbabwean immigrant abroad only to find out that life is not greener outside. A few were not preoccupied with content but with the freedom to experiment with narrative styles.
However the writers chose to interpret the topic, what is clear is that they trusted their instincts, they found something only they could say, which means they wrote first and foremost for themselves. They expressed themselves in their own way in the best way they could. This is one definition of freedom.
In an age of constant distractions, I must congratulate the writers for having the stamina and concentration to stay focused, for being indifferent to everything else except your pen and paper. I urge you remain true to your craft. And of course, I should also congratulate the editor Irene Staunton for her critical eye and ability to spur writers on.