Tuesday 6 May 2014

Caine Prize Reflections by Bella Matambanadzo

Bella Matambanadzo
No writer worth her salt would turn her nose up at the opportunity to take part in the Caine Prize for African Writers' Workshop. Being included in a group of 12 published and promising writers from 6 African countries whose short stories are produced into an anthology that sees 8 publishing houses work together is not the sort of gift an author receives everyday. I am looking forward to seeing the final collection stitched together. Its themes of place and belonging, of legacies and futures are inspired as much by our everyday experiences on the continent we call home, as they are by the places elsewhere that we visit, either in the flesh or through the magical realm of our imaginations. 

We will be published by local book houses in Zimbabwe, ZambiaUganda, Ghana, South Africa, Kenya and Nigeria. Off the continent, we have publishing deals secured in the United States and in the United Kingdom. Our work may additionally be translated into French, the first time the Caine Prize is doing so for its annual anthology. I hope this is the beginning of an expansion in the languages formally associated with the Caine Prize. Perhaps in future collections will be published in Kiswahili, Fulani, Wolof, isiXhosa, Hausa and Africa's many other languages, that given the global nature of where Africans live in today's world, and where our works are read, would mean an expansion of readings and writings in our very own tongues. 

As a creative artist and thinker the precious gift of time to focus on the craft of writing and re-writing is something that I will cherish for many, many years to come. Time with other writers who serve as a loving group of peers, giving feedback and reactions to work that goes from draft to final version in less than ten days. The writing escape is organised in a formula that permits you to write what you want and share it firstly with other writers through daily reading sessions. Artistic independence is a hallmark of the workshop. You can either accept, or reject the feedback given you. Experienced editor/mentors offer one-on-one sessions where they see your words and suggest what works, what is incomprehensible, and where improvements can happen. Nothing is off limits. We were guided, urged in fact, to stretch our creative imaginations and push down traditional literary boundaries, break up and recreate language and show no respect whatsoever for prepositions.

I came back with 6 complete stories. The one that will go into the Caine Prize collection, and the 5 others that I am presently submitting to other publishers who have asked for stories. In terms of output that means I wrote a story every two days. The other writers were even more productive, knocking out stories and ideas more adeptly. We met as strangers, and we left with a sense of camaraderie that means although there will eventually only be one winner for the £10,000 prize announced at a ceremony this July because we shared so much as writers, listened to each other's ideas an stories, edited for each other, had great laughter together the collection honours us all. In the end we will all be winners because we worked as a team and everyone brought the best of themselves to our writer's retreat held in the perfect peace of Leopard Rock Hotel in the Vumba, Zimbabwe.

The visits to schools in the surrounding community brought us face to face with young writers, almost 800 of them spread across four different schools. Schools that have produced many of Zimbabwe's most profound literary achievers. At Hartzell, we could taste and feel the atmosphere evoked and immortalized in Tsitsi Dangarembga's Nervous Conditions. At St Werburgh's mission school we read what the students in the young writers club were crafting in their journals: poems, short stories and songs that they plan to publish in a newsletter.    

Back in Harare at the City Library we saw traditional literature coming into contact with tech experimentation. Zimbabwe's geek generation, and yes, it really exists far away from Silicon Valley, is building apps for books to stream via mobile phone. My aspiration now is for writing opportunities, and publishing prospects to expand in Africa, rather than diminish. I have found a thirst for books so rare here that it reminds me that literature is by no means dead. It's gaining a new morphology.
A shorter version of this article was published in Harare News

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