Monday, December 6, 2010

Please, have a seat!

NO, I would not swap myself for anyone - not even Will Smith.
I know myself, my strengths and my weaknesses. I have come far, and
to want to be somebody may not just take me back to the beginning of my spiritual journey,
but will kill me!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Some Tips on Writing

I once came across a feature story on a famous American writer. The feature made good reading, but I differed with the writer when he said he followed rules when writing. As far as I was concerned, writing did not have rules. I remember even when I was at University with Chenjerai Hove as the Writer-in-Residence that, besides helping us with our poetry and prose, he never told us to follow any specific rules when writing. But, I now wish to revise my line of thinking and agree with the American writer. Writing, especially if it is to be good writing should follow or observe certain rules.

Of course, it is up to a writer to start his/her work with a description of the weather, it doesn’t kill a story because I know great writers who have done it well and successfully. However, the only reservation I have with starting a novel or a story with the weather is that it has been over-used and has made books, especially Shona and Ndebele novels very predictable and sometimes dull.

Here, I want to share some common problems I came across when I assessed some BWAZ members’ poetry, short stories, plays, novels and folktales. I decided to write something so as to help other budding writers with ideas of how it can be done. I am not saying these ideas will turn one into a Charles Mungoshi overnight, no. Writing needs patience and it is a very lonely and at times even sad business.

I will write my observations in point form, as rules to be followed if one wants to succeed in writing, or at least to present manuscripts with less work for the editor.

A writer should have time to proof-read his/her work to make sure there are no silly and unnecessary mistakes that can easily put off whoever it is who is reading their work. A clean manuscript, with well written and readable lines does not put off.

One does not need to be complicated to tell a good story. There is a problem with the majority of budding writers. They believe that being sophisticated, abstract and flamboyant is the way to write/communicate. Such thinking certainly causes problems. It shows that a writer is making an effort to tell his story or express his feelings. Stories, as well as poetry should be allowed to choose their own language, their own style and develop themselves. The basic idea when writing is to try and communicate, make sense – and that should be sustained throughout a novel or poem. Being complicated is not communicating, it puts off readers and defeats the objectives of communicating.

Linked to the point above, is the language issue. One must choose a language they know they are comfortable using. It does not make sense to use English because that is the language ‘everybody’ is using. Great writers like Charles Mungosi have successfully and beautifully used Shona to write novels. There is a tendency to just use English as the language to write in, yet in the end, a story or poem is consumed in a quandary of grammatical mistakes which include even spelling problems.

For one to be a good writer, it is important to read widely and wildly. Reading works by other writers helps one get inspiration, broaden horizons, improve style as well as discover what writing is all about. A writer who does not read other people’s works risks nipping his talent in the bud. Even if most writers are creatures of spontaneity, still, within that spur of the moment, there are traces of being shaped by other writers. Yet, having said this, I am not encouraging people to go and plagiarise. It is very important to find your own voice, your own style. If you have nothing to write, then don’t write. After all, one can go for weeks, months or even years without finding any inspiration. Reading other people’s works also helps one avoid flogging dead horses, i.e writing on subjects that have been exhausted by other writers.

I hope these points will help you in your efforts as you work towards becoming writers. Keep writing and reading, and remember Rome was not built in a day and so are novels, they are not written in a day.

Copyright © Ignatius Mabasa, Harare, Zimbabwe

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Ndafa Here? - Book Review by Memory Chirere

Ndafa Here? By Ignatius T. Mabasa, 2008, Harare, College Press, pp154, isbn: 978-07974-3522-3

(Reviewed by Memory Chirere)

Popular writer, Ignatius Mabasa’s second literary offering, Ndafa Here? is a mature novel. This is a shocking novel in which people lose their values and turn the tables upside down.

In 1999 Mabasa published a novel, Mapenzi that was quickly accepted as one of the most innovative novels in Shona. It went on to win a Zimbabwe Book Publishers Association award of the year in the Shona novel category. Finally it was voted amongst the twenty-five best books of Shona literature since 1950 at the Zimbabwe International Book fair of 2004.

But Ndafa Here? is a deliberately calmer novel than Mapenzi. The author chooses to employ intrigue ahead of experimentation with form.

Betty is the unwanted wife. Her mother-in-law thinks Betty is too ugly, and senseless to marry her son. Why does Betty have to elope to her son already full with child, she queries. I want to find my son a real woman, she rants.

Betty’s sister-in-law is more awkward. She has had two children with two different men out of wedlock but she still thinks she is more decent than Betty! She is daring in a negative way, ganging up with her mother to assault her father each time he protests about her ways. She orders Betty to nurse her children as she goes about her business around the location.

Betty’s brother-in-law asks the most cruel question in the book when Betty gives birth to a child with albinisms: Maiguru, mwana makamuita sei uyu? (How dare you give birth to this albino?) That heinous question arguably makes the climax of this novel because nobody in this world ever makes an effort to bring forth a child with disability.

Betty’s husband, Wati is a henpecked man who is always in his mother’s clutches. Wati wakes up one day and suddenly realizes that the woman he marries is not the correct one. He flees to London. When he is generous enough to phone back, his wife is not allowed to talk to him. His mother grabs the phone and talks on and on asking for a house in Borrowdale, clothes, money and other things.

The irony is that Wati’s father has very different ideas. He thinks that his desolate daughter-in-law is the most beautiful woman he has ever met. He hounds Betty. He peeps through the gap in the curtain or the key hole to watch and drool at Betty’s naked body. As he playfully lifts Betty’s albino baby, he deliberately fondles Betty’s breasts.

Meanwhile Wati sends his mother and sister air tickets to London and never bothers about Betty and the baby.

Wati’s father strikes. Now that everyone has abandoned Betty, he verbally proposes to his daughter-in-law! At least he is the only person in this story who sets out to appreciate Betty.

This story challenges the ordinary feminist critic. Here is a woman who is heavily abused by fellow women because of their sharp appetites for petty things. Betty takes very long to realize that she has to assert herself and move on. She represents all women out there who are abused until they become invisible.

However the publisher needs to consider doing a more imaginative cover design in the next edition. One also notes, with deep regret, that even the date of publication is missing!

Ignatius Mabasa has also just released a music album called Yadhakwa. It is a gospoetry offering that is currently dominating the musical charts, lampooning hypocrisy amongst Christians.

Ndafa Here?

I am pleased to share news that my second Shona novel Ndafa Here? was selected as an A'Level Shona set text for 2010-2013. I have found that students have had so many questions about my other novel Mapenzi. I hope that through this Blog, we can talk about my writings and that I will be able to help you.

Ngatitaurei tipanane mazano.

wenyu Mabasa

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Speech at launch of Shimmer Chinodya's novel "Strife"

Weaver Press Book Launch: 30th November 2006
Strife, a novel by Shimmer Chinodya
Speech given by Ignatius Mabasa, poet and writer, to launch the book.

Strife! Writing is also another form of strife. Writers write from inspiration, from imagination, from society, madness, etc. They write in privacy – so many lonely days – and nights conversing, arguing and fighting with characters – some rude, some foolish and so forth. Some characters want to lead when they are not supposed to, some refuse to talk when they are supposed to – and some may be murdered by the writer, although some, off course, die because they must die. So there is also blood on the hands of a writer!

When all is said and done, and the story is finished – readers and non-readers, reviewers, academics and the public all come in with their views about how they think the story should have turned out, how the characters should (or should have) behave(d), what they should have said to who and when. Wait, even before all that, writers try to avoid questions invading their peace – questions such as – so when is the next novel appearing? Will it be as good as the last one? Suddenly, writing becomes a game whereby the spectators or readers score more goals than the players on the pitch!

Tonight, I am not here to tell you what I think Shimmer’s novel should have been like. I am here to talk about writing, and to congratulate Shimmer on successfully telling a story that is difficult to tell – even harder to express in a foreign language. Nyaya dzengozi, kuripa, minyama, midzimu, huroyi, zvidhoma – are stories that continue to puzzle us Africans even as we embrace our modern lifestyles. He writes of matters that still fascinate us and create a great deal of discussion when they are reported in the local media. Shimmer seems to be asking the question: Can’t we, as Africans, detach ourselves from the religion of our people? Is it true to say that to detach ourselves is to be cut off from our roots, our foundation, the context of our security, our kinships and the entire group of those who make us aware of our own existence?
Is life itself a curse? Do the dead wield power and control over the living? What is the point of libations and ceremonies that are supposed to pacify the dead when they don’t help?

Zimbabwe today has many writers’ organisations and pseudo-writers, part-time writers, professional writers, retired writers, women writers, budding writers as well as non-writing writers. Of these many writers we have, very few show the ease and self-mastery and simple freshness some of us are always looking for in novels. I believe good literature is finally determined by the serious reading public, and is certainly not based on any one person’s opinion.

I enjoyed reading Strife and was at the same time devastated by the debris of cultural orphans left groping for the meaning of life. I said to myself, maybe the meaning of life for Shimmer’s characters is in Christianity, which surprisingly Shimmer only makes reference to in passing compared to the detailed manner in which he delves into the bira ceremonies. Judging by the strife in this novel, I could not help feel that it confirms the words of the preacher in Ecclesiastes that all is vanity. According to the Amplified Bible, The book of Ecclesiastes is the book of the natural man whose interests are confined to the unstable, vanishing pleasures and empty satisfactions of those who live merely "under the sun". The natural man is not aware that all the affirmative answers to life are to be found in Him Who is above, not "under", the sun. The natural man grovels in the dust and finds only earthworms, while the spiritual man may soar on wings like eagles (Isa. 40:31) above all that is futile and disappointing, and may live in the consciousness of God's companionship, favour, and incomparable, everlasting rewards.

Strife is not a low fat, sugar-free, diet food. It is a window to African thinking and beliefs. The philosophy is deep. Shimmer has a touch of sincerity that has now become his trademark and will tickle you to the marrow. Take a quick read of the last chapter – how the story ends as a stage play with Godi Gwanangara to conversing with Tradition, Fatalism, Shame, Modernity, Education and others….

None of us has the power to create reputations, and this includes the generations preceding us. In general, like one Chinese scholar put it, writing should be like sailing clouds and flowing water. It has no definite (required) form. It goes where it has to go and stops where it cannot but stop. One thus has a natural style, with all its wayward charms. If a story is not beautiful, it will not be read far and wide. In writing, some of us are looking for the successful expression of an idea which Shimmer here has done very well, I think.

And as for academic honours, these are in the hands of my learned friends from the universities. I think I have played my part and now want Shimmer to autograph my copy.

Thank you.

Copyright © Ignatius Mabasa, Harare, Zimbabwe

Why I write in Shona

I have made several attempts to write creatively – but there is something that I have discovered in my writing. Inspiration almost always comes to me in my mother language – no matter where I am. I have tried to convert the lines that have come to me in my native language into English to try and please as well as show those around me that I am a writer across languages, but my lines in English are never the same as they come to me in Shona.

I have had the opportunity to occasionally work with an organisation that serves to help develop creative talent in young writers called the Budding Writers Association of Zimbabwe. My main job with BWAZ is to help upcoming writers improve their writing through workshops. I have realised one thing in all the years I have worked with these young writers and that has helped me realise that perhaps research should be done into inspiration and the language to use when writing.

Wrong Language
I have read a good number of manuscripts by young men and women in Zimbabwe and have reached a conclusion that there is talent in Zimbabwe, but a good number of the young writers are writing in the wrong language. You see, the cancer of colonialism has spread in Zimbabwe to such an extent that most people feel it is fashionable to speak and write in English. Yet, the sad thing is that a good number of Zimbabweans will never be able to tame that foreign language. It takes a few exceptional individuals like the late Zimbabwean writer Dambudzo Marechera who once said about his use of the English language – I took to the English Language the way a duck takes to water. And indeed his use of the English idiom shows that.

I have many a time been asked by my own people – why do you write in Shona especially when you have travelled far and wide? I have not found a clear straight direct answer, and I have been thinking of an answer to this question and now I think I may make an attempt.

The Language I Cry In
There are so many reasons why I write in Shona which is one of the two main languages spoken in Zimbabwe. I have spoken the language from birth until now. It is the language I think, dream, cry and laugh in. Because I have this language that I do not have to fight with when I need to express myself, I feel it is folly for me to try and express myself in a language that does not come to me naturally. I feel I am not talented with the language the way Dambudzo Marechera was.

For me, writing in Shona is liberating. When I courted my wife I did that in Shona and I still remember the conversation very well. All poetry!

As a student, I spent three years in Norway doing my Masters and after that I went to the United States for one and half years on a Fulbright Scholarship to teach. One thing that I still vividly recall in those years abroad was how tired I got after being a slave to languages that were not mine, languages that have their own rules. I missed very simple things like Kwaziso/Ukubingelelana on the then Radio 2. It was when I was in Norway that my award winning novel Mapenzi was born. I supposed I did not have problems writing the novel because after spending the day listening to Norwegian and talking in English, the characters in my novel would take me back home and would talk to me in a beautiful language that I understood. The novel became a means of escape from English and Norwegian, from the isolation of language.
My novel allowed me in the coldest of Norwegian winters to slip away and join my folk at my grandfather’s farm where I grew up herding cattle and was in constant touch with the soil, trees and insects. The novel allowed me to revisit stories I grew up listening to that featured Hare and Baboon as the main characters - a fantasy world in which animals interacted with human beings but reflecting real-life situations in the human world.

Childhood Influence
I think that one’s childhood plays a big part in how they develop as artists. What I write, and who I am is mainly a result of my interaction with the thick bushes, the imposing Pfura and Mavhuradonha mountains, their barking baboons, the rivers – the fragrances of nature and the carefree laughter of women coming from the well to fetch water, and even the lowing of a cow that has been separated from its calf as the sun went down. The beauty of my people's language brought out through the storytelling evenings, the riddles, proverbs, songs, dances, games - all so difficult to anglicise are so dear to me.

My first serious attempt at creative writing was in Shona when I was in form one. I remember classmates accusing me of having plagiarised the story I had written for the creative writing exercise. Fortunately, my teacher defended me and challenged my classmates to bring the book from which I had plagiarised the story. Instead, my Shona teacher asked me to go and read my story to teachers in the school staff room. I still recall my tiny voice silencing about fifteen or so teachers who were in the staff room. That experience gave me confidence, and I have felt that Shona is my language that can do and say what I want and how I want it.

As I continued exploring writing, I used to also read a lot of Zimbabwean novels in Shona and English. I vividly remember the beauty of Shona novels especially those written by Charles Mungoshi and Patrick Chakaipa in particular. Charles has a special way of telling stories in a very simple manner. I also recall that because of my love for Shona.

We are faced with a dilemma in Zimbabwe. We speak and write in English alongside our indigenous languages, but we can’t be called masters of the English language or of our mother languages. English is a foreign language which we love and abuse so much.

Besides writing in Shona because it is my language and I love it, I think the experience I got while assessing manuscripts for the Budding Writers Association of Zimbabwe made me feel the need to help young writers de-mystify the language.
Most budding writers feel that if you write in Shona you are not worth mentioning. Besides, most of them have been to schools that make it a punishable offence to speak in any other language that is not English. Yet, one will see that a lot of these young writers we have may show flashes of brilliance but lack the ability to enslave the English language to say what they want to say. Sadly, it is not just the English language, but also even their own mother languages. The grammatical, spelling and poor sentence construction is shocking. The result is what Alan Paton stated in his novel Cry the Beloved Country that – The tragedy is not that things are broken, the tragedy is that thy cannot be mended! Despising our languages in preference of English has become institutionalised such that undoing it will need a good policy that will be implemented yesterday.

Copyright © Ignatius Mabasa, Harare, Zimbabwe