Back in May, when I first drafted a list of names for the monthly covers of Open Country Mag—writers, editors, and literary curators who have made a way where there was none, who have changed our understanding of ideas and conditions, impacting whole generations and creating visibility for marginalized communities—I thought hard about one question: Who goes first? The lockdown was in full mode, our ideas of what literature should be had been challenged, and for Open Country Mag, it had to be someone whose entire journey has been about upending obstacles, someone whose work and persistence light a way.
Tsitsi Dangarembga: icon in African literature, icon in Zimbabwean film. I had actually been thinking of a story on her for two years now, since she announced the coming of This Mournable Body, the final book in her trilogy of Zimbabwe, a trajectory of one woman, Tambudzai Sigauke, one of African literature’s best-known heroines.
In the news around the novel’s shortlisting for the Booker Prize, it seemed that, finally, after 32 years, the author of Nervous Conditions and The Book of Not, waymaker for a generation of writers, was getting her personal due. Their journeys are different, but something about hers recalls another literary icon’s story: Bernardine Evaristo’s.
The African and Zimbabwean literary scenes have changed remarkably from when a 25-year-old Dangarembga finished Nervous Conditions and got it published at 29, and entered, unprepared, into the vortex of being a young, Black, African, Zimbabwean woman learning film in Berlin and struggling to make money off a book in London that did go far but left her name behind.
Over two conversations, Dangarembga tells us about this and other obstacles. She reflects on reaching a new phase of safety in her career. And she gifts us a 10-minute response on the place of young people in today’s world, a response so mindful and detailed, we decided to run it as a separate feature.
This is a fitting debut cover story for Open Country’s mission to record African literary culture, to re-look at histories big and small, revisiting details and re-contextualizing where need be. For our vision to bring the most important African literary conversations back to our continent’s literary platforms. We are honoured to help celebrate this icon.