A couple of weeks ago, I attended the African Writer's Festival in its inaugural year. It was one of those things that happen serendipitously. On my way to another equally interesting event I came across these tents and my attention was drawn toward books with brown skinned people and African looking/sounding names sprawled across the front covers. It was a moment of excitement, like coming home of sorts. The highlight was the talk with Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie as the key note speaker. I have read all her books, my favourite being Purple Hibiscus. The first words she uttered where how wonderful it was to be in a room filled with many wonderful women with natural hair, paying homage to our often controversial hair. She, Proudly African, with a dignified bearing, a true product of the motherland, we all listened attentively.
One of the themes from the panel was 'Africans must speak for themselves, especially the women.'' I appreciate that I can get a sense of being rooted when I read books written by African women. Being a diasporian, I often feel that my African voice has been silenced and somehow comes alive when I feast on these stories that bind me to the experience of being an African woman - which I must admit has often become alien in my own life. As Ama Ata Aidoo said its about the 'validating presence of complex femaleness,' which is so often the women of African descent. When I read those stories, steeped in femaleness, I gain an understanding of myself as a woman, a Zimbabwean woman. They touch on the cultural, social and emotional aspects and sometimes seem so deeply personal. One of the books my wonderful sister bought me was the African Love Stories anthology edited by Ama Ata Aidoo - all stories written by African women, from a few countries in Africa. Stories that speak of home, love, family, society and taboo. It would have been interesting to have a couple of love stories from an African male perspective. My favourite short story - by Mildred Kinonco Barya - Scars of Earth ''my mother was the first person to hug me when I reached home. She felt my flesh,my bones, my heart.'' I don't know why it resonated with me so much. Maybe its a longing to be home, for motherly love, for what might have been. I am familiar with motherly like love that soothes and heals aches and hurts so I can see myself in the protagonist. After all I am an emotional reader. I want stories that keep me turning the page as Chimamanda said ' without insulting your intelligence.'' Stories about a 'woman who is not an object, but a participant,'' and which do not link a 'woman's sexuality to shame.'' As someone who enjoys writing I know of but am not acquainted to writing with a 'willingness to displease in order to be truthful.' I am just not yet there but am getting better at writing what I like each time. I have finished reading my anthology and although some stories where more engaging than others, they all told their truths in their own ways. Longing, surviving in a patriarchic society, what being an 'educated' woman means in Africa, family dynamics, and that sometimes elusive thing LOVE.
I was excited to hear Zimbabwean writers being mentioned and featured because African writing is mostly dominated by Nigeria so it was a great learning experience. The cover of this book grabbed my attention before any other book. I love it! Having read the book and had many interesting conversations with my wonderfully enthusiastic colleague, I must say its a good book. I had many laughs whilst reading it. However I shall discuss/review Tendai Huchu's book another time, I promise. Feast your eyes on the great cover for now.