HomeEditorial CommentLITERALLY SPEAKING

LITERALLY SPEAKING

-

THE LITERARY world is abuzz with excitement as NoViolet Bulawayo made it onto the shortlist of the prestigious Man Booker Prize.

-Sukoluhle Nyathi

In her debut novel We Need New Names, we take a walk through Paradise with Bastard, Chipo, Godknows, S’bho and S’tina on a guava stealing escapade.

However, as the story unfolds amidst much humour and literary prowess, you realise that there is more at stake than frivolous child’s play.

Her 2011 short story Hitting Budapest which won the “Caine Prize for African Writing.”

NoViolet is a pseudonym for Elizabeth Zandile Ntshele. “Violet” was actually the name of the author’s late (since late hence NoViolet “no mother”) mother and Bulawayo I suspect honours the city in which she was born and bred before emigrating to the United States.

For those not in the know, the Man Booker Prize for Fiction is a literary award for an original work of fiction written in English by a citizen of the Commonwealth, Ireland and Zimbabwe.

The prize was founded in 1969 and at that time was known as the Booker McConnell prize in recognition of its sponsors.

Like most literary prizes, it has had its fair share of controversy. However, that is a topic for another day.

Back to the pressing issue at hand: I desperately want NoViolet to win for three reasons.

First and foremost she gets to walk away with $80 000 in prize money. It is about the money just as much as it is about the art.

Honestly speaking, if you are a creative genius with literary skills I don’t see why you should not reap the dividends.

Musicians are generously rewarded for their lyrical ability why shouldn’t writers?

NoViolet has worked hard to hone her writing skills as she has a Masters in Fine Arts in Creative Writing and is a Stegner Fellow at Stanford University.

Many writers are literally bankrupt and there’s nothing remotely romantic about a hungry artist!

I was reading recently that Mike Maphoto was offered R5 000 ($500) to publish his blog Diary of a Zulu Girl into a novel.

That is an example of literary poverty suffered by most writers with a wealth of creativity.

This is why many writers continue to eke out a meagre living, unless of course they can win in literary competitions like the Man Booker or become runaway bestsellers like JK Rowling.

Money aside, the second reason why I want NoViolet to win is because she will be the first black African woman to win this prize. She would be making history.

Nadine Gordimer was the first white South African woman to win the prize in 1974 for her novel The Conservationist.

Other winners have been male. JM Coetzee, a South African went on to win the prize twice.

First in 1983 for the Life and Times of Michael K and again in 1999 for Disgrace.

Another African winner is Nigerian-born Ben Okri who won in 1991 for The Famished Road.

In the 44 years that the prize has been running, only four Africans have won the coveted prize.

Personally I believe it would be a coup for the prize to be won by an African again considering how “African” literature is often segregated from other literature.

You have no idea of my untold angst each time I walk into a bookshop and find African authors relegated to their own shelf with a big banner “African Literature”.

I guess you could say Africans are special because you don’t ever find a shelf that says “European Literature” or “American Literaure” which to me always smacks strongly of the great divide of “us and them”.

However, it is considered a triumph when African writers emerge superior in this international literary contest.

The third reason is that NoViolet will most definitely put Zimbabwean literature not just on top of the world map, but on the local one too.

If NoViolet hadn’t been shortlisted for the Man Booker, many of you might not have read her book or even bothered to show face at her book launches.

Many talented Zimbabwean writers launch their books to ghost audiences and don’t even get a line in the local newspapers.

I am happy though because after this coup by NoViolet, the literary spotlight will now shine on Zimbabwe.

Chinua Achebe paved the way for other Nigerian writers in the same way NoViolet will pave the way for Zimbawean talent.

She is truly inspirational to any young person who wants to pursue writing as a career.

However, like they say, winning is not everything, but whatever happens, she has certainly written her way to greatness with a new narrative on African literature.

 Sukoluhle Nyathi is the author of the novel The Polygamist. You can follow her on Twitter @SueNyathi

Recent Posts

Stories you will enjoy

Recommended reading