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The undying legacy of Dambudzo Marechera
August 29, 2012
controversial Zimbabwean writer Dambudzo Marechera, who once famously
told people to let him write and drink his beer, has been dead for
25 years. However, interest in the life and work of the author,
who has become a cult icon to aspiring young writers in Zimbabwe
and abroad, will not die.
His work continues
to inspire authors and readers alike.
a Zimbabwean poet and English teacher at Cosumnes River College
in the United States, is a student of Marechera's work. He tells
IPS that many people are drawn to the famous author because of the
way he exercised his art, the risks he took, and his total commitment
hail Marechera as a genius. His most famous book, House of Hunger,
won the prestigious Guardian First Book Award in 1979, making Marechera
the first and only African to win the award.
expelled in the early 1970s from the University of Rhodesia, now
known as the University
of Zimbabwe, Marechera was admitted to the University of Oxford
in the United Kingdom. But he was expelled from there too for unruly
He died in Zimbabwe
at the age of 35 after spending most of the last five years of his
life living in the streets, writing furiously but publishing just
one more book, Mindblasts.
Now a book on
his life, soon to be released in Zimbabwe, provides new and interesting
insights into Marechera's personal and professional relationships.
Pucherova and Julie Cairnie co-edited the book titled "Moving
Spirit: The Legacy of Dambudzo Marechera in the 21st Century".
The book, published in Germany in May, is a compilation of essays
by various writers that focus on how Marechera continues to inspire
it provides many new insights into Marechera's relationships with
his contemporaries, with other authors, and with his fans and inspirees.
For example, Carolyn Hart's essay explores Marechera's relationship
with African-American postmodern writers, while Katja Kellerer's
piece examines the intertextualities between House of Hunger and
Ignatius Mabasa's Mapenzi," Pucherova says.
She holds a
PhD on southern African writing and studied Marechera's writing
as part of her thesis. She also lectures on his work.
drew you to the Marechera phenomenon?
writing expresses very well the desire for mental freedom that concerned
me when studying southern African authors. He believed that overcoming
oppositional identity discourses and freeing the imagination to
create space for individual reinvention could achieve true liberation
At the same
time, Marechera's vision of the political as sexual and the sexual
as political provided new insights into power relationships in colonial
and post-colonial conditions. Last, but not least, his flair for
language and his infectious humour make his books very pleasurable
inspired this book?
A: When I was
writing my thesis chapter on Marechera, alongside I wrote a play
based mainly on (his novel) Black Sunlight. To me, this novel is
immensely comical and at the same time sophisticated. I felt that
it has been misunderstood due to Marechera's unwillingness to edit
his work, as (leading academic publisher on Africa) James Currey
the novel for the stage, I wanted to bring forth its audacity and
deeply sophisticated comedy. And so, when I decided to produce the
play at Oxford, I felt: 'Why not organise an entire festival on
which took place from May 15 to 17, 2009, was an international multi-media
event that included film, theatre, fiction, poetry, painting, photography,
memoirs and scholarly essays - all inspired by Marechera's work
The book is
the proceedings of the festival, with a few additional pieces. Julie
Cairnie, who has co-edited the book with me, was a participant at
the Oxford Celebration.
by Marechera's contemporaries like Musaemura Zimunya, Stanley Nyamfukudza
and Charles Mungoshi are conspicuously absent from your compilation.
How do you explain this?
A: The majority
of contributions in the book were presented at the Oxford Celebration.
The people you mention did not respond to the call for papers, which
was widely distributed.
people think this is the chink in this book's armour. What impact
do these omissions have on it?
A: No book on
Marechera can possibly be complete. There are other famous contemporaries
of Marechera who are not included in the book.
new book comes with rare, archival materials that include audiovisuals
such as Marechera's address at the Berlin Conference in 1979, and
the speech on African writing that he gave in Harare in 1986. How
important is it?
A: This material
shows Marechera in various periods in his life. For me, seeing Marechera
interviewed by (veteran journalist) Ray Mawerera in Harare in 1984
was a completely different experience than watching him drunk and
deeply depressed in the London squat as he appears in Chris Austin's
film (based on House of Hunger). In the Mawerera interview, Marechera
is an entirely different person - calm, communicative and composed.
this book - which is complete with archival material, footnotes,
references as well as German scholar and Marechera's former partner,
Flora Wild's, contribution - what else remains to be learnt about
A: I believe
no book on Marechera can be complete and I am sure there will be
other books on (him). Helon Habila's biography of Marechera is due
to be published next year, and I look forward to reading it.
in your view, sets Marechera distinctly apart from his contemporaries
and today's writers?
reacted to the Marxist and nationalist tradition in African writing
with cosmopolitanism and post-racialism at a time in Zimbabwean
history when it was most controversial to do so.
the violence of the colony and post colony with a liberating laughter
and dared to laugh even at the power presumptions of the anti-colonial
struggle. Identifying language's key role in upholding systems of
power, he explodes language to create new meanings and paradigms.
dared to go to those places in the human psyche where no other black
African writer before him had gone.
done so after Marechera - of these, I would mention Yvonne Vera
and Kabelo Sello Duiker, who similarly explore the dark spaces of
the mind and whose highly poetic but authentic language sets them
apart from other African writers. It is very sad that both of these
writers have died young, just like Marechera.
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