When he was alive, Dambudzo Marechera was gifted writer and divisive character. His first book, a short story collection titled The House of Hunger, was critically acclaimed when it came out in 1978, winning the 1979 Guardian Fiction Prize. His novel, Black Sunlight, was published in 1980, and was followed by Mindblast: or, The Definitive Buddy in 1984. Three other books—The Black Insider (1992), Cemetery of Mind (1992), and Scrapiron Blues (1994)—were published posthumously.
He fought with his teachers over the colonial teaching syllabus at St. Augustine Mission, Penhalonga. He was expelled from the University of Rhodesia (now the University of Zimbabwe) in 1973 for partaking in a students’ protest over the wages of black staff members. He was expelled from New College, Oxford in 1976 for his antisocial behaviour and falling grades. He was a strong critic of Zimbabwean governments. Before he died in 1987, his public profile was that of a tough contrarian.
Now, 33 years on, Flora Veit-Wild, a German-born editor and biographer of Dambudzo Marechera, has written a memoir about her life with Marechera as her lover. They Called You Dambudzo: A Memoir was launched in November, at the InterKontinental bookshop in Berlin and at LitFest Harare in Harare. It is forthcoming from the South African press Jacana Media in March 2021.
Here is a synopsis.
This book is a memoir with a ‘double heartbeat’. At its centre is the author’s relationship with the late Zimbabwean writer, Dambudzo Marechera, whose award-winning book The House of Hunger marked him as a powerful, disruptive, perhaps prophetic voice in African literature.
Flora Veit-Wild is internationally recognised for her significant contribution to preserving Marechera’s legacy. What is less known about Marechera and Veit-Wild, is that they had an intense, personal and sexual relationship. This memoir explores this: the couple’s first encounter in 1983, amid the euphoria of the newly independent Zimbabwe; the tumultuous months when the homeless writer moved in with his lover and her family; the bouts of creativity once he had his own flat followed by feelings of abandonment; the increasing despair about a love affair that could not stand up against reality and the illness of the writer and his death of HIV related pneumonia in August 1987.
What follows are the struggles Flora went through once Dambudzo had died. On the one hand she became the custodian of his life and work, on the other she had to live with her own HIV infection and the ensuing threats to her health.
An excerpt has been published in The Johannesburg Review of Books.
Buy the book from Jacana Media.