BY PHILLIP CHIDAVAENZI
SPOKEN word poet and award-winning author Batsirai Chigama — who is currently on the International Writers Programme (IWP) in Iowa, United States — yesterday said her experiences so far have been so inspirational that she has been encouraged to consider ways of reviving the literary scene in Zimbabwe.
Chigama said the city of Iowa literally breathed writing and reading and has encouraged her to tinker around with ideas to help improve her home country’s literary industry.
“It’s like a staple food here. It’s quite refreshing to be in a space where writing is normal… This has opened my eyes to how much work we can put to create spaces as writers that allow interaction, collaboration and possible revival of our literary scene,” she said.
“I have already been invited to speak at LitFest 2019 on my experience at IWP. I am working on ideas of how I can contribute effectively to the pulse of our literary scene.”
Chigama, who was nominated by USPAS to enter the 11-week programme, said a lot of things have happened and she was touched how Iowa honoured creatives.
“Iowa was declared the Unesco City of Literature. How cool is that? To have the city’s pulse being all things writing, reading, performances and also the University of Iowa being the host of IWP. It has been an enriching experience, basking in the respect paid to writers and their craft,” she said.
She said her experiences so far have left her wondering if Zimbabwe has a book industry.
“To say we have a book industry is to say that we have a thriving publishing culture with writers, editors, illustrators, all the artisans associated with the industry making a living out of the book. It is important to work towards improving what we already have,” she said.
Chigama said her major takeaways from the performances, discussions and engagements she has had so far was the importance of remaining authentic.
“We should never be apologetic that we cannot speak English well, for example, when it’s not our mother tongue. It is just an enabler of communication on the global stage,” she said.
Chigama — who has visited Pittsburg, New Orleans and Washington DC — said the visit to the Whitney Plantation Museum is in New Orleans as part of the residency travels, was particularly eye-opening.
“The plantation places a heaviness to the soul; carries the burden of the history of slavery, how black people suffered, the magnitude of atrocities committed and the trauma that will permanently linger,” she said.
The residency, made possible by IWP and the US Department of State, ends on November 16.