Title: Writing Free
Editor: Irene Staunton
Publisher: Weaver Press (2011)
Between the Lines with Phillip Chidavaenzi
Writing Free is the fifth anthology in a series of short story collections published by Weaver Press that captures the agonies of a travailing nation in transition.
The collection’s title captures the hopes and aspirations of freedom by citizens of a country that has had to contend with the grim reality of state sponsored brutality and hunger, among other political and socio-economic ills.
The 15 authors whose pieces are collected here – Jonathan Brakarsh, Petina Gappah, Tendai Huchu, Ethel Kabwato, Donna Kerstein, Ignatius Mabasa, Daniel Mandishona, Isabella Matambanadzo, No Violet Mkha, Christopher Mlalazi, Blessing Musariri, Ambrose Musiyiwa, Sekai Nzenza, Fungisayi Sasa and Emmanuel Sigauke – are drawn from diverse backgrounds.
While some are based in Zimbabwe, others reside in the Zimbabwean Diaspora. Some are well known writers while others are emerging voices.
Some are black while others a white. Such diversity brings between two covers a wide range of experience, understanding and perception of Zimbabwe and this makes the book a joy to read.
In Running in Zimbabwe, Brakarsh captures the deeply felt desire for political change in a country under tyrannical rule, and how efforts to coalesce the masses to action are often thwarted by State power.
The characters desperate search for water, a very precious commodity in Zimbabwe where it is often unavailable, mirrors the desperation for change in the population.
Against such a backdrop, the emergence of an opposition political party should offer a window of hope.
But this too comes at a high price, as seen in Kabwato’s story, Time’s Footprints. Here, the protagonist is harassed by nightmares of the woman he loved but abandoned to the mercy of political vultures who brutalised her while he watched helplessly.
Many opposition party supporters would identify with such an experience as it was recurrent at the height of the country’s political turmoil during which opposition party supporters were branded sell-outs.
The political upheaval paved way for an unprecedented economic malaise that saw job actions, sky-rocketing inflation, Operation Murambatsvina and farm invasions become the order of the day.
Kerstein recounts these experiences in The Situation.
The story is related from a child’s perspective as she struggles to understand what is happening around her: “In the beginning I was at school – I thought that the strikes just meant a day’s holiday.
A day without teachers and lessons. I didn’t understand what inflation was.” (pp36).
Ignatius Mabasa adopts the “mad” persona in The Novel Citizen, whose actions and words however appears to portray someone with clarity of mind and understanding of what happens around him.
This is an approach he first used in his debut classic novel Mapenzi. Such an approach give him the latitude to confront issues we often skirt around using the mad persona who know no boundaries.
Sigauke’s explores family traditions in his story, African Wife. It is a story about a new Zimbabwean arrival in the USA and the challenges of settling in and following one’s dreams in the midst of friends and relatives who have resided in that country for many years seek to show him the ropes.
Most of the storylines in this collection make for good copy for hard news. But these writers go behind the headlines to explore the emotions and pathos behind the scenes.
How does it feel to lose a love done to political violence? What was it to leave a farm after it had been taken over by self –proclaimed combatants of the 1970s liberation war?
The stories collected here demonstrate the remarkable vitality of this genre, which has become popular with publishers who have to bear the huge costs of publishing.
A short story collection brings together many voices in one book, and in that respect may have an edge over the novel.
These stories are a powerful mirror to the different facets of Zimbabwean life where human experience is beautifully distilled in a few words.
In many ways, these stories are indicative of the high levels of creativity among Zimbabwean writers who continue to churn out creative works despite publishing challenges.