Monday, March 21, 2016

African Writers You Should Know: Blessing Musariri

Blessing Musariri is a talented, adaptable writer born and bred in Harare, well known around the continent. She has written award-winning children’s books, is a well-established poet, writes genre novels for adults, and also includes powerful short stories in her well-equipped arsenal.  Her writing is published around the world and translated into many languages. When I asked her what she prefers to be called since in her bios she is sometimes called a poet, other times a children’s writer. She said, “I prefer ‘writer’ because that is what I am, and that is what I do, I write.  It doesn't matter what it is, if I feel an inspiration, I write.  I'm not limited to one genre. I just like working with words.”

Blessing’s children’s books include: The Mystery of Rukodzi (Hodder Education UK), Rufaro’s Day (Longman Zimbabwe), Going Home: A Tree’s Story (Weaver Press, Harare), and The Adventures of Bakara Blackbird (Mukuki N Nyota, Tanzania). 

Rufaro's Day did the best actually,” she told me “As it was a first attempt by Longman to do a full colour children's reader at the time.  It was approved as a supplementary reader by the CDU - curriculum development unit, and was put on the funding list for schools so they actually did a second print of this book which made it a two print run of 2000 copies in total. It won two National Arts Merit Awards in 2000 for Best Picture Book 0-8 years and Best First Creative work in the literary arts division. After that things went awry economically in the country and that was that.”

Besides those two writing awards, Blessing has won the 2006 Zimbabwe Book Publishers Association award for best book for Going Home: A Tree's Story and a specially created second prize for a poem for the Susie Smith Memorial Prize in 2009. She was selected last year by The African Poetry Book Fund in the USA to be included in the 8 New Generation African Poets, a collection of poetry chapbooks from eight up-and-coming African poets. Her book Mitu’s Spice Tour is included in the box set. In 2014 she won Cordite Books’ inaugural prize for detective novel with her manuscript Useful Knowledge for a World Class Detective. The prize came with a $1000 USD cheque and a publishing deal. The hope is the book will be out soon.

Zimbabwe is said to have the highest literacy rate of any country in Africa, but still Blessing’s story of being a writer there will sound so familiar to many Batswana writers. “I think the biggest challenge is one of economics.  People love to read but books are too expensive for the average person.  I feel that the local publishers stick to traditional methods to reach audiences, and they don't work for our economic models so when they don't work,  they simply say  there is no reading culture so we cannot keep publishing creative writing as it makes no sense.  This limits writers’ markets for their works and forces us to look elsewhere for publishing opportunities (or to write textbooks) , but internationally it's a tough playing field for the African writer as here there tends to be only the desire for typically ‘African stories’ by publishers because it's easy to sell what is already trending. There are many, many talented African writers but it seems international publishers have only enough space for a select few to push through to the top every few years and the rest just shuffle along. If I had an idea how all this could be solved I'm sure I would be the most financially solvent writer on the continent right now.  As it is, my solution for myself is to get a day job and this is easier said than done.”

And in a perfect world, how does Blessing see her writing career in the future?  “In a perfect world I would have a book out that will be studied in universities internationally as a work of art and I would have won many international awards and prizes for it.  I'm not greedy, if just one book could do this for me I would be ecstatic. Of course having done this it would have to naturally set me up for life so that after that I become a kind of King Midas of literature and can do no wrong.”

Crossing fingers her dream comes true!

(This first appeared in my column It's All Write in Mmegi's 18 March 2016 issue)

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