Tsitsi Jaji presents poetry reading and workshop in Harare

Tsitsi Jaji presents poetry reading and workshop in Harare

Zimbabwe Poets Society is organising two inspiring events hosted by Tsitsi Jaji, a distinguished Zimbabwean American poet, scholar, and Associate Professor of English at Duke University. The renowned poet and scholar will be in Harare for the two events whose focus is centered on sharing poetry, building community, and improving poetic expression.


“I am thrilled to have the opportunity to spend time with poets based in Zimbabwe. Because I write in English and in the diaspora I have a tremendous amount to learn from the perspectives of poets ‘on the ground’ and drawing from a rich range of local and international influences,” Jaji said, adding that she would be in the country to learn as well as to teach.


The first event is a poetry reading, scheduled for Thursday, 6th July, from 6 pm to 8pm at Alliance Française. It will begin with a discussion between Jaji and fellow poet, Tariro Ndoro, the author of Agringada: Like a Gringa, Like a Foreigner and the first editor of Ipikai a poetry journal published by the Zimbabwe Poetry Society. The two poets will reflect on writing as women from two different generations, as well as how to address diaspora-home dynamics and language as well as building platforms for African poetry locally and internationally.


This will be followed by Jaji’s reading of poems from her published collections Mother Tongues and Beating the Graves, written in the 30 years since Jaji left
Zimbabwe. The poems continue to explore the imaginative power latent in our rooted wanderings. The collections are inspired by music, mitupo (totems), the environment, and aging.

Following the reading, Jaji will host a poet's workshop on Tuesday, 11th July, from 10 am to 12 pm. This will be held at Afrotopia Cafe, situated in the National Gallery of Zimbabwe. Members of the public are cordially invited to attend what promises to be an enriching experience for poetry enthusiasts and aspiring writers alike as they engage in an evening of verse and literary expression.

The Zimbabwe Poets Society, through Artist Dynamix, released a statement inviting poets, at all levels to participate in the events. As part of the registration process, participants are requested to submit one poem. Six to ten poems will be selected for in-depth workshopping

“The poems selected for workshopping will be read, analysed, and reconceived collectively, not so much to ‘improve’ or ‘fix’ them but rather to investigate the range of choices and consequences open to poets on each draft. We will also touch upon options for seeking publication,” Jaji said.

Following the poetry reading, Jaji will host a poet's workshop on Tuesday the 11th of July, from 10 am to 12 pm. This will be held at Afrotopia Cafe, situated in the National Gallery of Zimbabwe. The workshop is offered free of charge, reflecting Tsitsi Jaji's commitment to nurturing and empowering emerging poetic voices.

The announcement of the events on social media generated significant interest from poets wanting to find out more information. “We’re almost fully booked for the workshop,” said Batsirai Chigama, co-founder of Zimbabwe Poets Society.

Speaking about the workshop, Jaji said it was intended as a space of fellowship; “Our approach will be anchored by page poetry but will resonate with poets of all stripes—written, spoken word, etc. We will begin with a discussion of elements of craft including imagery, timing, and wordplay. We will also talk about feeding the imagination by reading widely, and how to access free poetry online.”

Tsitsi Jaji's accomplishments as both a poet and a scholar speak volumes about her dedication to breaking barriers and pushing the boundaries of artistic expression. A multi-talented trailblazer from a young age, she made history as the first black woman to perform as a soloist with the Zimbabwean Symphony Orchestra in Harare at the tender age of 15.

Her debut book, "Africa in Stereo: Music, Modernism, and Pan-African Solidarity" published by Oxford University, received critical acclaim, winning the prestigious African Literature Association's First Book Prize. Jaji's poignant collection of poetry, "Mother Tongues" was honored with the Cave Canem Northwestern University Press Prize in 2019, further cementing her reputation as an exceptional poet.

In addition to her numerous literary accolades, Tsitsi has graced the pages of esteemed publications such as Harvard Review, Almost Island, Prairie Schooner, and Black Renaissance Noire. Her thought-provoking poems have been featured on various platforms including The Academy of American Poets's; Poem-A-Day series, captivating readers with their lyrical beauty and profound insights.

Jaji's poetic talent has seen her reading her work at renowned institutions including the Poetry Foundation, the Library of Congress, and even the United Nations. She said she continued to draw inspiration from Zimbabwe and its rich arts sector; “write a lot about the Zimbabwe I grew up in, and I firmly believe that poetry is the ultimate reach for freedom, for honesty, and for the kind of flexibility that remains vibrant in very trying conditions. I have such admiration for the artistry in our country and I am honoured to be able to share my work and ideas after years of study and teaching as a professor in the US.”


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