RISING novelist NoViolet Bulawayo has flown Zimbabwe’s flag high after bagging the newly introduce Etilisalat Prize for Literature on Tuesday.
The win has atoned for missing out on both the Man Booker Prize and the Guardian First Award where she had been shortlisted last year. Her novel We Need New Names has received critical acclaim throughout the world and the fact that she won Africa’s richest book prize says a lot about her work.
Bulawayo received £15 000 in prize money at a ceremony in Nigeria. Born Elizabeth Zandile Tshele in Tsholotsho, Bulawayo left Zimbabwe to study in the United States aged 18.
She says her award-winning novel was inspired by the 2005 government-led Operation Murambatsvina where close to a million people were displaced. Bulawayo, in one of the numerous interviews she has granted in the past few months as her stock rises, revealed that she had intended to study law until pictures coming out of Zimbabwe changed her mind.
She said the pictures showed displaced people and in particular that of a child sitting on the rubble of his bulldozed home, which inspired the debut novel, We Need New Names. That anecdote aptly demonstrates the importance of writers in our communities as they tend to provide social commentary and point out ills where they occur.
Authors, like other producers of cultural artefacts, are an important cog in society and deserve to be honoured when they excel.
Zimbabwe recently held the National Arts Merit Awards and Bulawayo’s name was conspicuous by its absence. This alone shows that there is something wrong in the way we honour our artists. Bulawayo’s nomination for the Man Booker Prize was a milestone on its own, as she became the first black African woman to achieve that feat, but her achievement was never celebrated in Zimbabwe.
To the contrary, we have seen participants of the morally questionable Big Brother Africa being showered with huge sums of cash and even invitations to State House. These are some of the issues the new Sport, Arts and Culture ministry should be seized with if the country is to grow its culture industries in the right direction.