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

Thursday, November 23, 2017

The 2017 Morland Writing Scholarship shortlist

Congratulations to all the writers shortlisted for the 2017 Morland Writing Scholarships, particularly those who have been published by amaBooks:

Bryony Rheam  (Zimbabwe) (novel: This September Sun, short stories: 'The Queue' from Short Writings from Bulawayo; 'Something About Tea' from Short Writings from Bulawayo II; 'The Rhythm of Life' from Short Writings from Bulawayo III; 'Miss Parker and The Tugboat' from Long Time Coming; 'The Piano Tuner' from Where to Now? Short Stories from Zimbabwe; 'Moving on' from Moving On and Other Zimbabwean Stories)

Gothataone Moeng (Botswana) (short story: 'Who Knows What Season Tomorrow Brings' from Long Time Coming)

Cheryl Ntumy (Ghana) (short story: 'Princess Sailendra of Malindi' in Lusaka Punk)

Kiprop Kimutae (Kenya) (short story: 'The Storymage' in The Goddess of Mtwara)

Elnathan John (Nigeria) (short stories: 'Walking' in The Daily Assortment of Astonishing Things; 'Bayan Layi' in A Memory This Size; 'Flying' in Lusaka Punk and 'Running' in The Gonjon Pin)

And the press statement from the Miles Morland Foundation (

The Miles Morland Foundation is delighted to announce the shortlist for the 2017 Morland Writing Scholarships. Of the twenty-one names, six are from South Africa, four each from Nigeria and Kenya, two from Cameroon and one each from Eritrea, Zimbabwe, Ghana, Gambia and Botswana.

It is always difficult to choose the shortlist. The standard of writing increases every year, making the pool to choose from ever wider. We had nearly 550 entries this year, is our highest number to date, with writers applying from 30 countries. We are excited by the array of talent we have on our shortlist, ranging from writers in their twenties to one in his seventies. Once more we have seen the energy, originality, and wit in our entries that characterises so much of modern African writing. We are also heartened to see six non-fiction candidates on the shortlist from one last year.

The judges, with Ellah Wakatama Allfrey from Zimbabwe in the chair, assisted by Femi Terry from Sierra Leone, and Muthoni Garland from Kenya, will meet on Dec 4th to select the 2017 Scholars. Their names will be announced shortly afterwards. Writers awarded a fiction scholarship will each receive £18,000, paid over the course of a year to allow them to take time off to write the book they have proposed. Non-fiction writers may be given £27,000 over the course of eighteen months, if they need to do additional research.

Shortlist for the Morland Writing Scholarships for 2017:

Alemseged Tesfai – Eritrea
Bryony Rheam – Zimbabwe
Cheryl Ntumy – Ghana
Clementine Ewokolo Burnley – Cameroon
Dayo Forster – Gambia
Elizabeth McGregor – South Africa
Elnathan John – Nigeria
Eloghosa Osunde – Nigeria
Fatima Kola – South Africa
Fred Khumalo – South Africa
Gloria Mwaniga – Kenya
Gothataone Moeng – Botswana
Kiprop Kimutai – Kenya
Megan Ross – South Africa
Muthoni wa Gichuru – Kenya
Nana Nkweti – Cameroon
Palesa Deejay Manaleng – South Africa
Sitawa Namwalie – Kenya
Tsholofelo Wesi – South Africa
Ukamaka Olisakwe – Nigeria
Umar Turaki – Nigeria

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

6 Awkward Questions With Zimbabwean Writers #2: Bryony Rheam

Reproduced from James Arnett's  blog:

In the latest instalment of “Six Awkward Questions”, Bulawayo author Bryony Rheam offers thoughtful responses to the admittedly awkward questions. Rheam is the author of the elegant and acclaimed This September Sunpublished by amaBooks; a number of her short stories have appeared in anthologies, including amaBooks’ latest, Moving On; her story of the strain of exile and the tensions it inscribes in families gives us the anthology its title. She describes herself below as the “number one fan” of Agatha Christie, and she is appropriately at work on a crime thriller, which is in the editing process and edging towards print – keep your eyes open!

describe your favourite novel or writer using synaesthetic terms

It has to be Virginia Woolf.  I love her because I relate to her so well.  She was deeply unhappy and, of course, famously committed suicide.  Yet she has this amazing ability to see the beauty of the world and capture it so well.  This trembling, transient beauty comes with the knowledge that nothing lasts; everything dies - but that is part of the beauty as well. The strength of her writing is that she illuminates those tiny, fleeting moments that most of us take for granted, but which make up daily life.

what are some metaphors for your relationship to African writing?

The first would be roadworks with lots of 'detour' signs. Another would be looking for the seventh floor only to be told that the lift only goes to the sixth and I'm not allowed to take the stairs.  I don't really know where I am as an African writer.  I was born in Zimbabwe and have lived most of my life here, but I am white so I don't fit in with the majority and people are also a bit suspicious of white writers. I feel sometimes as though I am muscling in on a space which is not mine.  One of the criticisms of This September Sun was that weren't enough black characters, even though it was essentially a story about a family.  Now if I was to write a book with mainly black characters, I would be accused of appropriation.  Either way, I don't win.
But, on a more positive note, another metaphor would be a wide open space because I think there is a lot of opportunity, a chance to do something different because African literature is coming to a stage of opening up. 

assuming a utopian arc, what is the best thing about Africa in the future?

​I think it's expanding, developing and going forward in a way in which literature from the West is not.  As long as African writers push ahead and challenge Western ideas of Africa - poverty, famine, disease - by writing what they want, then I think we will see great things.  Many British and American writers have become very cynical about the world and this is reflected in the type of books coming out.  I think, to paraphrase Scott Fitzgerald, we have a great capacity for optimism, for seeing a brighter future and not getting stuck in all this angst that the others are.

what habits aid writing most and least?

I love getting up early in the morning and just enjoying the silence if nothing else.  Walking is great for getting ideas and sorting out problems!  I think the staff at Hillside Dams might think I am slightly unbalanced as I walk round talking to myself.  Taking the dogs with me helps me look a little more sane.  I also enjoy meditation, both for the discipline and the peace of mind it lends me. The worst thing to do is to get onto Facebook.  It's best left alone if you want to get anything done.  You think you'll just have a peek, but suddenly a whole hour has gone by and really it's rarely very interesting.

how do you do it?

​I start off with my trusty notepad and pen and just sit and write.  I have another notebook for good lines that come to me, but I have no idea where they are going or what they are about.  I can't say I have a set routine as some days I go and teach and some days I have something I have to do in town. I do have to write in the mornings though; I just can't think in the afternoon, especially if it is very hot.  Also, the afternoons see me running around after my children and making supper.

what is the most exciting book you've read in the past six months?

Unfortunately, I don't read as much as I want to. At the moment I am reading an Agatha Christie - you know I'm her number one fan, don't you? - called The Secret of Chimneys. It actually begins in Bulawayo with two friends meeting after a while apart.  One of them is running desultory tours to Matopos and is bored out of his mind and the other is a hunter/prospector of the Indiana Jones ilk.  The latter pays the former to take some documents to England for him and pretend he is him (hope that makes sense!).  It turns out the documents are diaries of a Count from some weird Eastern European country with a fictional name.  I am enjoying it because it is an early spy thriller, a bit like The Thirty Nine Steps