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Dambudzo Marechera – His Life and Work (In His Own Words)

04 Jun

Dambudzo

There’s an intimacy, a familiarity with writers and their readers unlike any other relationship. They allow us access to their lives. And not just their peripheral existences, but their deepest fears, their most uncomfortable memories, their subconscious motivations, their haven’t-yet-showered morning mirror reflections. They allow us to know them without us actually knowing them. They give us their lives. We give them our attention.

And, when a writer dies, they leave behind a dichotomous legacy that’s equal parts surreal and…tender. You mourn their death while appreciating the fact that their work — the thing that made them so vibrant, so kinetic, so alive — is immortal.

One of Zimbabwe’s and Africa’s greatest literary minds Dambudzo Marechera would have been 62 today. Dambudzo Marechera might have died years ago. But Dambudzo Marechera will always be here. He will continue to teach. He will continue to challenge. He will continue to inspire. He will continue to be. His legacy lives on.

Dambudzo Marechera, Cemetery of Mind. (In his own writing here.)

Dambudzo Marechera, Cemetery of Mind. (In his own writing here.)

 

According to information gathered from a series of audio interviews conducted in Marechera’s flat at 8 Sloane Court, Harare, Zimbabwe, by Alle Lansu in February 1986:

‘Dambudzo Marechera was born on June 4 1952 in Rusape, Zimbabwe and baptised Charles William Marechera. His father, Isaac, was a trucker and mortuary attendant, and his mother, Masvotwa Venezia was a nanny. However, Dambudzo won scholarships to St Augustine’s Secondary School, to the University of Zimbabwe and to New College, Oxford. He has the distinction of having been expelled from all three.

After his expulsion from Oxford, Marechera hitchhiked to London, and claimed to have lived in a riverside tent there while he wrote ‘The House of Hunger’ – a novella and some short stories. With a theme that questioned what had happened to his generation–that of the first politically conscious, educated Africans–the book caused a literary stir and won several impressive reviews when it was published by the esteemed Heinemann publishing house in 1978. It was championed by well-known writers, and earned the Guardian newspaper’s prize for debut fiction the following year.

House of Hunger was followed by four other novels, ‘Black Sunlight’ (1980),’The Black Insider’ (1990) and ‘Mindblast’ (1884). His poetry, collected together in ‘Cemetery of Mind’, was published posthumously in 1992.

After his departure from Oxford, he lived and wrote in London until his return to Zimbabwe in 1982. Dambudzo died an untimely and tragic death on August 18 1987, in Harare.

Marechera’s work, his ideas and his defiance, live on in Zimbabwe, particularly amongst the youth, who find inspiration in his willingness to be the lone outsider, challenging conventional and authoritarian views.’

Dambudzo Marechera; His Life and Work an Interview by Alle Lansu

Childhood

Here he offers some insight into what it was like growing up in Vengere Township in Rusape , in the then Rhodesia ( now Zimbabwe). He talks about how he got his first books from a rubbish dump in the white part of town.

You can listen to this part of the interview below

 

Escaping the House of Hunger

‘Getting out of the House of Hunger is easy if you know that there is a way out. It’s about education and ignoring the poverty around you. It’s very selfish. Reading is what taught me that there was another world out there and I wanted to break into it’.

He goes on to speak on how he became the first black African student to score 20 points (Straight A’s) for his A’ Level exams and that is how he won a full scholarship to study any university in the world. He chose the University of Zimbabwe because he ‘wanted to experience what it was like going at our highest education institution. I wanted to become part of our national struggle’. He was expelled from the University of Zimbabwe in 1973 and went on to attend Oxford University in the UK.

You can listen to this part of the interview below

 

Oxford and London

He talks about his bookish knowledge of the UK which he had picked from the authors he read and how the reality of being on British soil was so disappointing. He points out that by being a scholar at Oxford he became a member of the aristocracy by default. He couldn’t drink with other black people because they considered him other and he didn’t really fit in the student pubs either. ‘All the time I was in Oxford I didn’t belong anywhere. So I just read and drank and listened to my classical music. This showed him the ‘irrelevancy of being part of Oxford University.’ He goes on to say this experience ‘radicalized my mind in an international way’

You can listen to this part of the interview below

Back In Zimbabwe 

 

Here discusses his homelessness and run ins with the authorities upon his return to his homeland after his return to Zimbabwe in 1982. He also discusses his relationship with a German expatriate teacher who taught in Mutoko who would feed him and book a hotel room for both them when she was in Harare for weekends. During the week he would sleep in the streets. This was the period in which he wrote Mindblast. In is own words ‘I was having a normal life by installments. Each Sunday morning I would wake up and we would know that she is going back to school to teach and I am going back to the streets.’

 

On the Future of Zimbabwean Literature

‘If every writer is actually helped to not only discover his vision and talent but also to fashion it out in such a way that he re-evaluates himself and at the same time achieves both national and international recognition then there is a tremendous future for Zimbabwean literature.’

You can listen to this part of the interview below

 

His Vision for African Literature

In this part of the interview he shares his thoughts on traditional and modern African Literature as well as his views on the works of Chinua Achebe, Wole Soyinka , Ngugi wa Thiong’o etc as well as the concept of negritude. His speaks of Wole Soyinka and Ngugi wa Thiong’o as the African writers who had the biggest influence on him as a writer. Ngugi wa Thiong’o ‘Weep Not Child’ was the first book by an African writer that he read. Up to this point he had never thought that blacks could be writers. In his own words he thought to himself ‘If another African can do it then I am going to do it.’

You can listen to this part of the interview below

 

Let Me Write and Drink My Beer

‘There is a disconnection between my profession as a writer and the needs of a developing country like Zimbabwe. People considered my writing as an indulgence. There is no tradition in Zimbabwe of writing as a profession. People thought of me as unemployed and merely as a vagabond who refusing to do any constructive … Just live me alone to write and drink my beer.’

You can listen to this part of the interview below

 

Thank you Dambduzo. For the words. And the inspiration.

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