Sunday, April 15, 2018

'This September Sun' in Art

This September Sun (Catherine Phillips)

'Nothing is Certain' is an exhibition of twelve experimental abstract paintings by Catherine Phillips based on book titles. The exhibition, which is part of a wider project celebrating books and libraries, is at Putney Library, Disraeli Road, in London until 27th April 2018.

One of the paintings is inspired by Bryony Rheam's novel This September Sun, which is published by amaBooks in Zimbabwe, by Parthian Books in the United Kingdom, by Longhorn in Kenya and, soon, by Al Arabi in Arabic.

The Zimbabwean cover of the book is based on a painting by the Zimbabwean artist Jeanette Johnstone.

The books celebrated in the exhibition are:

Designing with Natural Forms by Natalie d’Arbeloff
Good Morning, Midnight by Jean Rhys
Rhapsody in Green by Charlotte Mendelsohn
Spirals in Time by Helen Scales
Sunquakes by J. B. Zirker
The Blazing World by Siri Hustvedt
The Sea, The Sea by Iris Murdoch
The Sound of Things Falling  by Juan Gabriel Vásquez
The Sun & Her Flowers by Rupi Kaur
This September Sun by Bryony Rheam

More information can be found on

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Looking into the Future of African Creativity

by Stanely Mushava Arts Correspondent
James Arnett with Tinashe Tafirenyika, photo courtesy of Tafadzwa Gwetai

In a good year for African heritage at the box office, “Black Panther” has flared up discussions for its daring, optimistic and controversial reinvention of the continent. While the top-grossing movie has made Afrofuturism pop worldwide, literary Africa has been also warming up to science fiction as a platform for floating big ideas about a century tangled in big problems. The Bulawayo Science Fiction Reading/Writing Workshop, incepted in November last year, is one such initiative.
Between April and June this year, James Arnett, a visiting literature professor from the University of Tennessee, Chattanooga, conducts the second and final season of the workshop at the NUST-American Space. Arnett, who currently teaches in the NUST Journalism and Media Studies Department, registered his presence on the Zimbabwean literary scene last year, giving an Afrofuturism-themed talk at LitFest and Intwasa, in between studies on the Bulawayo book sector and Zimbabwe-raised Nobel laureate Doris Lessing.
Aspiring science fiction writers will interact with classic texts, local publishers and the visiting scholar whose interest in African writing has found expression in journals such as African Literature Today, Genre, Ariel and LIT: Literature Interpretation Theory, with a view of coming up with their own future-leaning stories. Bulawayo-based author Stanely Mushava (SM) sits down with workshop convener James Arnett (JA) for a wide-ranging interview on the workshop and Afrofuturism.
SM: Welcome to Wakanda!
JA: Wakanda forever.
SM: What’s happening at the Bulawayo Science Fiction Workshop?
JA: For the second iteration of the workshop, I wanted to expand the nature of it to include reading influential American science fiction writers, and develop our critical reading abilities to sharpen our own writing abilities.
SM: You went to Litfest and Intwasa last year preaching the gospel of Afrofuturism – the idea of science fiction, fantasy and speculative fiction breathing new energy into Zimbabwean literature. What makes Afro-futurism “that thing”?
JA: Afrofuturism is a way to apply a kind of natural Afro-optimism, I believe. It’s a way to use exploratory, imaginative thinking to pose and solve problems, project future issues, imagine alternative outcomes to present narratives.
SM: We have seen Afrofuturism approvingly reassessing the myths, cosmologies and self-concepts that we lost in the colonial crusades, and challenging the cold tyranny of history and science. How does this moving of the centre enrich literature and the arts?
JA: I think that Afrofuturism allows for a pragmatic embrace of modernity – I’ve never seen a country wield cell phones more potently than in Zimbabwe – as well as a way to pull through traditions and knowledges from precolonial cultures.
SM: Let’s talk Zimbofuturism. Which of our writers anticipate high-concept fiction and how do their pioneering contributions expand the canon?
JA: The first, most sustained Zimbabwean (Rhodesian) explorer of speculative fiction was the Nobel-winner Doris Lessing. Although her experiments in science fiction and space opera are often tedious and difficult to read, she also sometimes strikes a rich vein. I’m particularly fond of her Mara and Dann, which explores Africa (“Afrik”) in the future, after climate and conflict have done irreparable harm to the planet.
SM: How fair is it to suggest that the wheels of culture only begin to turn when the metropolis points the way? Cultural innovators working outside big tents and big phases seem condemned to toil away in the underground. 
JA: I understand that that’s a common feeling, but so long as literary publishing and the mass culture industries are intertwined, all creators of popular art get swept into prevailing currents until a new disruptor is crowned, and a new strain of imitation emerges. I think that African cultural producers have to jostle hard against market forces (God, how chilling to think) that privilege certain forms and genres of writing at certain times. Zimbabwe has produced writers adept at merging with emergent tastes – Yvonne Vera, during the era of postcolonial trauma narratives; Petina Gappah during this Afropolitan phase. Zimbabwe has a long history of producing terrific writers; and I think the time has come for Afro-SF.
SM: What partnerships have made the Bulawayo sci-fi workshop possible?
JA: Happily, the US Embassy in Harare, and Bulawayo publishers amaBooks are sponsoring the event, and I’m thankful to the American Space, Bulawayo, for its donation of space and time and technology, as well as to the NUST Departments of Journalism and Media Studies, and Publishing Studies for providing a home for my research and teaching this year.
SM: I understand you are bringing a speculative fiction writer to the workshop.
JA: Yes! We’re still working to confirm her visit, but when we do, we’ll make an announcement.
SM: What would be your essential reading list for an aspiring writer approaching Afrofuturism for the first time?
JA: There are some obvious classics, mostly American, as that’s the cradle for Afrofuturism. A terrific origin point is the jazz musician and poet Sun Ra’s Space is the Place – a documentary of his ideas; and a good follow-up is his syllabus for a class at UC-Berkeley in the early 1970s. Samuel R. Delany is another classic African-American science fiction writer, whose works are really cerebral and challenge a lot of underlying assumptions about the workings of the world. And Octavia Butler is the third is this triumvirate; her novel Kindred uses time travel to explore and challenge American attitudes about race and gender; and her two Parable novels, Parable of the Sower and Parable of the Talents are both really prescient speculative works.
SM: How do you plan for this workshop to live on?
JA: Students will always be encouraged to submit their work to appropriate venues, and calls for stories will be circulated. Ideally, we’re hoping that we can produce an anthology of contemporary Zimbabwean science/speculative fictions, together with established writers, some from the diaspora, for a well-rounded and eclectic collection.
SM: What have been some of your observations on Bulawayo’s book sector, and Zimbabwe’s? 
JA: I think that Jane and Brian of amaBooks are founts of energy who do a lot to keep the literary scene going; John Eppel has hosted workshops and readings in the area; book launches have happened at Intwasa and over the course of the year. There’s an active literary scene, all told, even if it is a little sparse and a little estranged.
SM: Things are looking up for Afrofuturism. We are looking at popular inroads by distinctly Afrocentric voices like Nnedi Okorafor, and publishing incentives for writers on the continent in the form of fantasy-themed awards, magazines and workshops like your own. Do you foresee speculative fiction becoming the next big phase of African literature?
JA: I think that as we move through the Anthropocene – the term for the latest geological age, defined by the irrevocable intervention of man onto earth, often contiguous with colonialism’s history – we are trying to learn to express and explore our anxiety. I think that speculative fiction is a way of struggling with the feelings of the inevitability of a deeply altered future.
SM: The Anthropocene is coming up more often in discussions of the future like a horseman of the apocalypse. Who must lose sleep over this creature?
JA: The Anthropocene goes by several names – the Capitalocene, the Chthulucene (after HP Lovecraft’s amphibious demon). Under any guise, it’s the scientific and social-scientific consensus that humankind has interfered so dramatically with the natural produce, function, and systems of the earth, that it is a whole new era of geology. In one reckoning, the Anthropocene starts when fossil fuels are burned for the first time, accelerating man’s emergence into “modernity,” in others, the nuclear era with its long-lived isotopes that will never leave our earth and atmosphere. But the Anthropocene is putting a name to the comprehensive evidence from all areas that modernity has exacted a steeper price than we are willing to pay, but that we will have to pay for our sins anyway.
SM: It feels like the shadow of the apocalypse is stretching everywhere. This feeling that Earth will give in any day now under misanthropic stress. What is speculative fiction doing to inspire hope?
JA: I think there are writers like NK Jemisin who are exploring hard-fought ways to better futures through, in her case, fantasy that is deeply engaged with questions of race and otherness, gender and sexuality. In some accounts, Wakanda is utopian. Although, on the other hand, a panel at the National English Literary Museum in South Africa pointed out that under apartheid much black literature was concerned with the apocalyptic, inasmuch as living conditions often approached it. So it’s an ambivalent force.
SM: Can you think of distinctly African traits that literature can benefit more from in the Anthropocene?
JA: All oral traditions and folk mythologies carry with them knowledges pertinent to lives lived where they arise; and so I think any literature that engages with traditional knowledges about the land and its produce is beneficial to a people. And, more to the point, I think African science fictions can bring science into folk knowledge, and the synthesis can be really powerful.
Stanely Mushava is an award-winning Zimbabwean writer and a teaching assistant at the National University of Science and Technology. He can be reached at

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Science Fiction Reading and Writing Project in Bulawayo

Come join the Bulawayo Science Fiction Reading/Writing Workshop!

Photo from Chris Giles, CNN

Do you love science fiction, or love writing science fiction? Do you love to read and write in general? Come join this free group! Over the course of ten weeks, we will be distributing free copies of classic American and African science fiction short stories, discussing their ideas, their quality, their style – and then trying our own hands at writing science fiction, fantasy, or speculative fiction short stories. Work with an American literature professor and local publishers and writers to hone your craft and try new things.

We will read, write, and workshop each other’s work – and we will discuss publication opportunities in Zimbabwe and abroad. In May, we will receive a visit from an eminent American science fiction writer, who will give free workshops and readings in Bulawayo and elsewhere in Zimbabwe.

We’re looking for 16 good writers: please submit a short sample of your writing (in any genre or style!) to by March 27, 2018.

WHEN: April 6, 2018 – June 8, 2018; 4:30pm; Friday afternoons

WHERE: the American Space, 55 Jason Moyo (downtown Bulawayo near the vegetable market)

This project is funded generously by the US Embassy in Zimbabwe, and the US State Department, and is sponsored by ’amaBooks Publishers, and the NUST Departments of Journalism and Media Studies, and Publishing Studies.


Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Bookshy: Five Books by African Women Writers I Absolutely Adore


I didn't initially have any plans to do a post for International Women's Day, because as cheesy as it may sound - everyday is Women's Day for me, but as I was scrolling through twitter I read a tweet where someone mentioned what book would make it on their top 15 books of ALL time. This then got me thinking, which books by African women writers would make it on my top books of ALL time? 
Artwork by Nicholle Kobi
Definitely not as glamourous when I'm reading. 

Now, here's the catch - I am notoriously bad with deciding what my favourite books are. I struggle with choosing one favourite for many reasons - because different books have meant different things to me at different points in my life; because the ones that I love, I love them in different ways. At the same time, I also do know that there are some books that stay with me long after I have read them, that I would recommend if someone asks for a recommendation, and that I would shout (if I was the shouting type) at the top of my lungs about how absolutely awesome/amazing/epic/stunning/add other words to the list the book is. 

So, here I am about to share some of the contemporary books by African women writers that I absolutely adore, and would make my top books of ALL time. I'm starting with 5, mainly because when I asked myself, in the last 5 years which 5 books I've read would make it onto a list like this, they were the ones that instantly popped into my head. I'm also starting with 5 because I liked the sound of 5 books in 5 years :). Others came up afterwards, which makes me want to give myself more time to put together a longer list of my ALL time favourite books by African writers. That will soon come.

For now here are the first 5 - and in the order in which I first read them. I should add that four out of five of the books have one thing in common - they are either historical fiction, or have strong elements of historical fiction in them. While three of the five have strong elements of fantasy fiction and mythology. And, if there are two genres I stand hard for, it is fantasy and historical fiction. 

I first read Bryony Rheam's This September Sun in 2013 thanks to a copy sent by 'amaBooks (a Zimbabwean publisher). I instantly fell in love with the story and the characters. This September Sun is set mainly in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe and tells the story of Ellie - trying to make sense of her life and her grandmother, Evelyn - whom she had a really close relationship with. There was something about Ellie's constant sense of longing that I was drawn to. She never could quite fill it- she didn't quite fit in in her hometown, longed to escape but when she finally moved to the UK (thinking that void would be filled), it didn't quite make a difference. I loved the historical elements of the story, Evelyn's diaries and letters that Ellie finds when she returns home and begins to piece her grandmother's life together. 

I first read Irenosen Okojie's Butterfly Fish in 2015. As I have admitted in a review I wrote on the book, I never would have read this novel if it wasn't for a book chat I had with Irenosen Okojie at Ake Festival in 2015. What a travesty that would have been, because this book is everything I love in one - it's intergenerational (following a family), it's historical fiction (starting in 19th century Benin and going all the way to modern-day London), it's set across multiple locations (Benin, Lagos, London), there's somewhat of a curse (oh I love a good curse), there's the fantasy and mythical element, but there are also layers. In Butterfly Fish, the main character Joy's mother unexpectedly passes away and we see how Joy copes with that loss, especially as it's been only her and her mother since day one. There's more than that, as while Joy in modern-day London is trying to cope, we also go way back to 19th century Benin to the Oba's palace, where we meet his new and eighth wife, Adesuwa. There's more, of course, an inheritance, a brass head, a diary, and tons of secrets (I also love a good secret). Okojie is a beautiful storyteller, she creates fascinating worlds and I absolutely love the way her mind works.

Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi's Kintu, I first read in 2016 immediately after the Writivism Festival in Kampala. I had been wanting to read Kintusince it was published by Kwani?, but unfortunately it was extremely hard to access it outside of Kenya and Uganda. So, obviously when I was in Kampala, I knew I had to get a copy of it, which thankfully I did. I didn't even wait to get home - I read the book on the flight back to London from Entebbe. I was sucked into the world Makumbi created from the prologue in Kampala in 2004. Again, here was a book including elements of all the things I love - multi/intergenerational (it follows a family), historical fiction (going as far back as the Buddu Province in 1750), there's also the fantasy and mythical elements, a family curse (I really do love a good curse), and layers upon layers. Told in six parts, I loved how each part was separate, but also interconnected (as the family curse wove through). And I was intrigued by how one man's terrible action and even more terrible decision to hide that action affected his entire generation, which made me think about the scars we are left with based on actions made and decisions taken by our ancestors.

I first read Ireonsen Okojie's Speak Gigantular late 2016, while in Jos for work. If Butterfly Fish didn't already make me a fan of Okojie, Speak Gigantular definitely cemented it. It felt like Speak Gigantular was written for women like me who love reading about weird and twisted things. Most (but not all of the stories) are set in London. There's one in a Danish town with a boy who is growing a tail (like I said wonderfully weird). There are tales of suicide and ghosts haunting the London underground; twin sisters, impersonation, and inner demons coming to life; deadly foot fetishes and more. After reading it I posted on instagram that it was 'without a doubt ... now one of my favourite short story collections. It's so so so good. It's also really disturbing, but I like my oh so very weird and wonderful reads'. I still feel that way 18 months later.

Laila Lalami's The Moor's Account is the most recent book I've read on this list - having read it in 2017. I will admit when I first picked it up to read I wasn't feeling it. So, I put it aside and read something else. A few weeks later, I decided to give it another try, and I.was.blown.away. The Moor's Account is epic - I can't think of any other word to describe it. In the acknowledgement of the book Laila Lalami writes '... my protagonist, about whose background nothing is known, except for one line in Cabeza de Vaca's "Relacion" ("The fourth survivor is Estevanico, an Arab Negro from Azamor")'. From that one line, Lalami gifted us with 428 pages of Estevancio's life. From how he came into this world, to his life in Azamor, to wilfully selling himself as a slave, to his first 'owner', to how he happened to be on this voyage to the Americas, to their experiences in the Americas. I could not put the book down. It's rich, it's gripping, it's remarkable ... I could go on.

As I mentioned earlier these were the first five books that came to my mind when I asked myself the question, but since then I've thought of at least ten more books I would add to this list (by women writers alone). So I definitely am going to put together a list of my ALL time top books by African writers. Until then, what would be in your top 5?

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Bryony Rheam awarded a 2017 Miles Morland Scholarship

Zimbabwean writer Bryony Rheam has been selected as one of the 5 new Morland Writing Scholars for 2017. There were a record 550 entries from writers from across Africa, which was reduced to a shortlist of 21 before the final 5 were chosen by the judges on the basis of a book proposal and a sample of their writing. One of those chosen, Eritrea's Alemseged Tesfai, plans to write a history of Eritrea, the other four, - Bryony, South Africa's Fatima Kola and Nigeria's Elnathan John and Eloghosa Osunde - are to produce novels. Bryony Rheam is to write an historical crime fiction featuring a psychiatric hospital in Bulawayo, in which she will explore the treatment of those suffering mental illness and the complex dynamics of power, colonial society and migration.

The Miles Morland Foundation’s main aim is to support entities in Africa which allow Africans to get their voices better heard. It is particularly interested in supporting African writing and African literature.

Bryony Rheam's debut novel
 This September Sun, published by amaBooks,  won 'Best First Book' at the Zimbabwe Book Publishers Awards and was chosen as a set text for 'A' level Literature in English for Zimbabwe schools. The novel was subsequently published in Kenya and in the United Kingdom, where it topped the Amazon UK sales charts as an e-book. Bryony has had many short stories published, including most recently in Moving On and Other Zimbabwean Stories. She is also a winner of the international 'Write your own Christie' writing competition and her second novel All Come to Dust, a murder mystery set in Bulawayo, is to be published in 2018 by amaBooks.

Amongst previous writers selected for the Morland Scholarships is Zimbabwean writer Percy Zvomuya for his planned biography of Robert Mugabe.

The judges for this year were Zimbabwean Ellah Wakatama Allfrey, the Chair, accompanied by Olufemi Terry and Muthoni Garland. Below are Ellah’s comments on the new Scholars.

"In this 5th year of the Morland Writing Scholarships it was hugely gratifying to see such an upswing in the number of submissions. We considered a 21 person shortlist with applicants from nine African countries. We were delighted by the range in choice of subject and approach and deeply impressed by the writing skill and ambition this shortlist represented.

We focused on the potential each application promised. Faced with excellence on all fronts, we found ourselves focused on several key questions. Is this a book that will achieve publication and find readers across the continent and beyond? Does the subject matter feel urgent and necessary? Has the author found the best form for the telling of this story? Does the submission show innovation and ambition?

This is an exhilarating list that bears witness to a wide range of thematic concerns and one that illustrates the ambition and promise of several generations of writers. We wish the scholars a busy and productive year." 

Monday, November 27, 2017

'Together' one of 'The Best Books of the Mugabe Years'

Together: Stories and Poems by Julius Chingono and John Eppel has been chosen by Sarah Ladipo Manyika for her list of the ten best books of the Mugabe years.

She comments: 'In some ways, the two authors featured in this collection could not be more different: Chingono, now deceased, was a black Zimbabwean who worked as a rock blaster in the mines, whereas Eppel is a white Zimbabwean who taught English literature. Both, however, were born in the 1940s and lived through every decade of the Mugabe era. In their works of fiction and poetry, one sees their shared love of language, a deep concern for the poor and, in spite of hardships, a great sense of humor. Together, Zimbabwean.'

Together has had many excellent reviews, including from Liesl Jobson of Fine Music Radio:

'‘Together’ is perhaps the most remarkable book I’ve read in the last year, lending credence to the certainty that stories insist on being told, especially those stories that the authorities deny... It will shake you to your core, exploring as it does the travesties of justice done to the authors’ fellow countrymen and women under the rule of Robert Mugabe.' 

from Philo Ikonye on Pambazuka:
'Many women – as Eppel shows so clearly – and men too, have had the worst that could have ever happened to them, and so it is time to acknowledge and congratulate those who would still write and act without fear. Eppel and Chingono deserve every attention.'
from Hazel Barnes in The Witness:

'The stories and poems in this ­brilliant volume will hit you in the gut with horror even as you relish their intelligent analysis and ­cogent wit.'
from the Mid-West Book Review:

'two writers in Zimbabwe who come together to share different world perspectives, united in their disgust at the abuse of power for greed and hopes for their people. A fine assortment of fiction and poetry, highly recommended.'

Sarah Ladipo Manyika's list can be found at