Sneak Peek: Phillip Chidavaenzi
Milton Chitsime (MC) is a young social worker and an emerging author, writing in both Shona and English. He speaks to NewsDay Features & Lifestyle (ND) Editor Phillip Chidavaenzi. Here are the excerpts of the interview.
ND: Tell us how the idea of writing first came to you?
MC: Well, during my Advanced Level studies I was a “shonalist” (I excelled in Shona). Fellow students nicknamed me Nyanduri (Poet), and the name has followed me since. So during university, I penned two novels in English, which I never published. After university, I wrote a Shona short story which I wanted to turn into a short film when I was trying my hand at acting. But with difficulties penetrating the acting field, I decided to expand the story into a novel, and my first novel was born.
ND: Were there any people close to you who influenced you in that regard?
MC: Praises from my university friends motivated me to keep writing, but by then I was not serious with it. Studies were my priority.
ND: Who are your favourite writers?
MC: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is so amazing and so is Silvia Day, but it’s just that I’m running away from romance literature for my own sanity.
ND: Don’t you think the negative way you portray same-sex relationships in your novel, Not in Zimbabwe, may lead to homophobia?
MC: I think it’s one’s choice to dislike them or not, even after reading my book. I say choice because people, even some Christians, choose to accept it even when God doesn’t.
ND: Do you have problems with gay people?
MC: It depends on how they act around me, but I used to hate them. I authored Not in Zimbabwe to deal with my anger at them after a couple of experiences of advances from them at high school and then university. But now I’m over it.
ND: Besides Not in Zimbabwe, what other projects have you worked on?
MC: Over the years, I have published a number of books, including the hilarious Mbona Mbona Kutsvaga Chikiti Chitema Murima, poetry anthologies and non-fiction books for adolescents.
ND: What are some of the predominant themes in your works?
MC: Gender-based violence (GBV) and sexual and reproductive health (SRH). I have tackled GBV in my book, Virtues of a Boy Child, and in a number of poems. My latest offering, Pleasure Galore, brings SRH into perspective.
ND: The majority of authors write in one language, but you have written in both English and Shona. Why is that so?
MC: Some stories are best told in Shona and others in English. Some Shona literary devices like idioms have no specific translations into English. I continue to write in both languages to remain relevant to diverse populations.
ND: Do you believe the writer has a role in moulding the morality of society, and in what ways?
MC: Yes, by simply shunning evil through the media of poetry, fiction and non-fiction. A writer is a gatekeeper in their own right.
ND: What’s your general overview of the publishing industry in Zimbabwe?
MC: Traditional publishing has sidelined non-academic works in my own view, somehow killing the vibe. Self-publishing has come to the rescue of those denied opportunities by mainstream publishers, but a lot still needs to be done to uphold professionalism.
ND: What projects are you working on at the moment?
MC: A sexual health book for adolescents. It’s non-fiction and touches on the other side of the coin.
ND: Besides writing, do you have other areas that you are also pursuing?
MC: I’m eyeing motivational speaking.
ND: You are a social worker by profession. How does this help in your writing, if at all?
MC: For me, creative writing and social work are partners reciprocating each other. I use social work knowledge and experience in almost all of my works and creative thinking in social work. I wrote Mbona Mbona after gaining knowledge of marital problems in the bedroom department from social work education.
ND: Your parting shot?
MC: After death, as a writer, continue living in the form of your writings.