Author Tsitsi Dangarembga speaks to us about the Booker Prize-longlisted novel This Mournable Body.
Tsitsi Dangarembga on the challenges of writing a sequel and whether her activism and writing have influenced each other.
How does it feel to be longlisted for The Booker Prize?
I’m elated at being longlisted for the Booker. I haven’t been longlisted for many prizes in my writing career and so this longlisting is a vindication of the hours and decades I’ve put into trying to be a good writer, one who has something meaningful to say for readers, that is also important to me and says it convincingly. It’s a relief finally to enjoy this kind of recognition.
What were the challenges of writing a second sequel to Nervous Conditions after such an extended period of time?
This might sound odd, but the main challenge in writing the second sequel to Nervous Conditions was writing it. The characters and the general world were with me the whole time, but I had to find the head space to sit down and do it, while trying to earn a living with the arts NGO I set up, fundraise for my productions and bringing up my three children in the challenging environment that Zimbabwe is in a country where there is practically no literary community and books are difficult to come by. I also had to deal with the disappointment and horror at the slow implosion that’s taken place in Zimbabwe over the last couple of decades before I could write about it.
Do you think your activism has influenced your writing, and vice versa?
As far as the kind of activism I do is an expression of a part of myself, it would also be a part of my writing. I find the world of activism frustrating and limiting. I much prefer the freedom of fiction, in which I can manipulate ends to suit myself. Rather, I would say that the ideas I explore in my writing influence my activism. If I hadn’t engaged with the bleakness of life in contemporary Zimbabwe in This Mournable Body, I might not have been moved to demonstrate and speak out.
In This Mournable Body, Harare becomes a character in itself. How does the city inspire your work?
Harare used to be called Sunshine City. Now one could well call it Shadow City. I’ve lived in Harare on and off for nearly 30 years. The decay of the city mirrors the decay of the human beings in the novel. I’m fascinated by how we manifest the inner in the outer.
What is your favourite Booker-winning novel?