When publishers refuse to accept their work, these poets turn around and find a way to get it done. When Amazon refuses to accept their manuscripts because they are in Shona, they find a way around that massive setback. When there are no resources for other poets to publish, they find ways to reach out and help.
Last night, I attended a virtual discussion featuring six really inspiring Zimbabwean poets; Tsitsi Jaji, Tariro Ndoro, Samantha Vazhure, Charity Hutete, Tanatsei Gambura, and Batsirai Chigama.
The discussion was moderated by Tinashe Mushakavanhu, who has done a lot to preserve and promote Zimbabwean literature. He is the co-founder of Reading Zimbabwe, a digital platform founded in 2016 to “discover and celebrate Zimbabwean literatures and to place them before the largest possible audience.”
But this post is about the poets who were on the panel. Here’s why I think they are so badass.
Tsitsi is an associate professor of English at Duke University with African and African American literary and cultural studies expertise. Her first book, Africa in Stereo (Oxford University Press, 2014), examines the impact of African American popular music on literature and film from Ghana, Senegal, and South Africa.
It won the African Literature Association’s First Book Prize, as well as honorable mentions from the American Comparative Literature Association and Society for Ethnomusicology.
Tsitsi’s first poetry collection, Beating The Graves, came out in 2017 (University of Nebraska Press). Her second poetry collection, Mother Tongues (Northwestern University Press), won the 2018 Cave Canem Northwestern University Press Poetry Prize.
Tsitsi loves to open doors for younger poets and uses her space and influence in academia to help make new poetry more visible.
More links about Tsitsi’s work
- Read Africa in Stereo: Modernism, Music, and Pan-African Solidarity
- Read Beating the Graves
- Read Mother Tongues
- Tsitsi Jaji Duke University profile
- Tsitsi Jaji | Academy of American Poets
Tariro initiated the discussion that took place yesterday. 10 points already. She is a poet and writer of fiction, but as with most artists, that is not the full story.
She holds an MA in Creative Writing from Rhodes University in South Africa and an often unmentioned BSc in Microbiology.
A few years ago, under the auspices of Zimbo Jam, we ran a program in partnership with the British Council, themed ‘These Images Are Stories.’ The project brought together female photographers and poets from Zimbabwe to collaborate with selected peers in the United Kingdom. Tariro was one of the poets we selected for the Zimbabwe cohort.
In 2020, her debut poetry collection, Agringada: Like a Gringa, Like a Foreigner (Modjaji Books, 2019) won the inaugural National Arts Merit Awards (NAMA) prize for Outstanding Poetry Book.
One of the things that Tariro does well is put her work out into the world, something so many poets struggle with. We keep our work to ourselves instead of giving it wings. Her poetry, short fiction, and creative nonfiction have been published in literary magazines and journals around the world, including Oxford Poetry Afreada, The Kalahari Review, Kotaz, New Contrast, and Puerto del Sol.
Tariro was long-listed for the 2017 Writivism Short Story Prize and the Black Letter Media ‘Short Story is Dead’ Prize. She was shortlisted for the 2018 Babishai Niwe Poetry Prize, the DALRO Poetry Prize, and the Intwasa Short Story Prize.
She has toured several American universities with her collection and has made appearances at Pa Gya! Literary Festival, Page Poetry Alive, Paza Sauti: Poems for the end of the world and Wordfest.
More links about Tariro’s work
- Read Agringada: Like a gringa, like a foreigner
- Visit Tariro Ndoro’s author website
- Tariro Ndoro on African Books Collective
- Tariro Ndoro on Poetry International
- Daily Vox | Tariro Ndoro’s Poems Speak About Unbelonging
Samantha is one of a new generation of Zimbabwean poets who will not wait for someone else to create the platform they need to get their work done.
When she wanted to publish her poetry collection, no Zimbabwean publishers would touch it. They didn’t want to publish poetry. Her collection was in Shona and so they were especially wary of even considering it as they sad the market was too small.
She decided self publish. So she finished her book, got it edited, and when she tried publishing it on Amazon she realized that Amazon was not accepting works in Shona. She was devastated.
But she gathered herself and decided to start her own publishing company to get her book out. Carnelian Heart Publishing was born. Today, she helps other writers get their work out into the world.
Samantha’s work explores mental health, the welfare of women and children, empowerment of women and survivors of abuse, the welfare of immigrants, amongst other causes.
She writes, “I have always known that I have a greater purpose in life. After many years of journeying within to find my true self, I finally found words flowing naturally to me. I want to use my writing skill to change the world by raising consciousness of issues that we don’t usually think or talk about yet are very important for the attainment of human equality, liberty, joy, and inner peace.”
Samantha studied Law and Business Administration at the University of Kent in Canterbury and went on to do a Postgraduate Diploma in European Politics, Business, and Law at the University of Surrey.
More links about Samantha’s work
- Read Samantha’s books
- Visit Samantha Vazhure’s author website
- Zimbson.com | In Conversation With: Samantha Vazhure
- Samantha’s publishing company
I first saw Charity perform spoken word about 10 years ago in Harare. She goes by the name aCuriousPoet. I was fascinated by her ability to fuse musical vocals into her performances, seamlessly transitioning from song to spoken word.
She has presented her work at several international festivals in Zimbabwe, Botswana, and Norway including the Harare International Festival of the Arts, Intwasa Arts Festival, Arts Alive in Johannesburg, and the Speak the Mind Poetry & Music Festival.
She believes that poets should not burden themselves with worries about what audiences will think about their work. Her advice is, “first create your work.”
Her debut chapbook is titled Undressing Under the Noon Sun.
More links about Charity’s work
- Charity Hutete radio interview on TransAfrica Radio
- The Herald | Female Poets Take Acts to Alliance Francaise
- Read some of Charity’s poetry on the Kalahari Review
Tanatsei was another one of the talented young poets who took part in the ‘These Images Are Stories’ project.
A multi-disciplinary artist, she uses poetry, theatre, and digital media to get her ideas across.
Her debut poetry collection, released in May this year, is titled Things I Have Forgotten Before. It was the runner-up to the inaugural Amsterdam Open Book Prize.
In 2020, she was longlisted by the Rebecca Swift Foundation for the Women Poets’ Prize.
Her work has appeared in Poetry London, Prufrock Magazine, and New Coin Poetry Journal.
She is an alumnus of the African Leadership Academy (South Africa) where she was awarded the Patrice Lumumba Award for Pan-Africanism in 2018.
She says her art is an act of cultural activism. “I hope that I can provoke people,” she says, “I hope that I can start prompting people to ask the right questions…”
I have listened to her poetry and I am always provoked.
More links about Tanatsei’s work
- Visit Tanatsei Gambura’s official website
- Read Things I Have Forgotten Before
- Be Outraged | Watch this African Leadership Academy video featuring Tanatsei Gambura
Batsi embodies a rare characteristic. Consistency.
I first met Batsi, twenty years ago, around 2001, when we were part of Crossing Borders, a literary mentorship program run by the British Council from 2001-2006.
Then in 2004, when I was covering literary events for a writer’s website I was working on I documented Batsi performing at the House of Hunger Poetry Slam at Book Cafe in Harare. It was an amazing initiative that brought Zimbabwean poets together to listen to each other, share ideas, and learn.
Since then, I have watched Batsi grow as a poet and performer.
Her debut poetry collection, Gather the Children, won the National Arts Merit Award for Best First Creative Published Book in 2019 and helped earn her a place on the prestigious University of Iowa Writers Program that same year.
In 2014, she placed second in the Stanza Poetry Festival Digital Slam ahead of 8 other contestants chosen from all over the world.
Batsirai’s work has been featured in over fifteen anthologies including State of The Nation, (Conversation Paper Press, 2009) and War Against War, (Mensa Press, 2010).
More links about Batsirai’s work
- Read Gather The Children
- Visit Batsirai Chigama’s official website
- Groove Magazine | NAMA Award Winners 2019
- Batsirai Chigama on Soundcloud
- The African Book Review | Poem | A letter to my unborn child by Batsirai Chigama