BULAWAYO-born writer Novuyo Rosa Tshuma has lived part of her life in South Africa and another in the United States. Her book — a collection of short stories — titled Shadows was published in 2013 by Kwela Publishers in South Africa and it was awarded the 2014 Herman Charles Bosman Prize.
the style interview: By Sharon Sibindi
Tshuma is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop 2015 and is pursuing a Ph.D in Creative Writing and Literature at the University of Houston. Her forthcoming novel titled The House of Stone was published by WW Norton (US) and Atlantic Books (UK).
The Standard Style reporter Sharon Sibindi (SS) caught up with Tshuma (NT), who talked about her experiences in the arts industry. Below are excerpts from the interview.
SS: How do your Zimbabwean and US experiences affect you in your writing of novels?
NT: My notion is that there is a profound freedom one experiences when one moves to a new place that has its own cultural logic. For me, moving initially to Iowa City, which is a space of sprawling cornfields and atrocious winters, where I was a minority for the first time in my life, where my ear suddenly lost the familiar sounds of our southern African dialects, where I lost the smell and the air and the feel of home — a freedom — that is also a form of alienation, that can take on the form of anguish. But that is when one is most free and most radical, untied as it were from the social norms of the place where one is coming from, not yet acculturated to the social norms of the place one has moved to – utter freedom. This is when one’s senses are at their sharpest, because everything feels novel; this is when I worked on my novel – in between social, mental, intellectual and cultural spaces. And inhabiting this liminal position gave me a different view of the history and stories of Zimbabwe I was grappling with. I understood their being contingent and felt free to explore these histories and stories with the intention of understanding how they have come to be, taking nothing in them for granted and this preoccupation perhaps manifests itself in my work vis a vis a deliberate self-consciousness of narrative, a playfulness as it were and an inquiry into the nature of stories, how they are born, how we construct ourselves through stories, and how this shapes us.
SS: Does good novel writing have to express personal experiences?
NT: Not at all. It is fidelity to characters that matter, to the experiences of the characters. A piece of fiction relies a lot on imagination.
SS: What is your inspiration and what triggers the writer in you?
NT: I love to explore and interrogate the world and people around me — it’s my way of trying to understand the world. I love asking questions, asking why and all of that. Writing has been a way of thinking, of trying to understand home, history, the contingency of the situations we find ourselves in; who we are, how we came to be where we are, who we may be. I find writing it down helps me to think through all of these things. Writing stories engages all the skills and the senses, and allows me to step into others’ experiences, to be a shape shifter, as it were, which is all so enriching and incredibly invigorating.
SS: Your novel has just been bought by US and UK publishers , what is it about?
NT: The book has a microcosm of characters. I’m not sure I can summarise everything, but at the centre of the novel is our boisterous, wall-eyed narrator, Zamani, who, desperate to unshackle himself from an unsavoury past and become a self-made man, rewrites and inserts himself into the history of a family he has become attached to, the Mlambos. And you know, he’s just obsessed with the past, he’s trying to reconstruct a self, he’s telling histories, he has wangled out of others, and he’s an exposer of others’ ugly secrets, though he has secrets of his own he doesn’t want found out.
SS: Is it your debut book? And is there a way of making creative writing popular with most people or young people?
NT: I have a collection, Shadows, which was published in South Africa in 2013. This is my debut novel. I think in terms of young people and creative writing, which is directly linked to reading, good libraries that are up to date are a must. As well as fostering a reading culture — reading is a way of understanding the world, learning how to deal with and cope in it, acquiring knowledge, which is a powerful asset. It naturally follows that a space that fosters a reading and inquisitive culture among young people will produce from this group writers and thinkers.