"From Microbio to Writing: In Conversation with Tariro Ndoro"
“You will hear the word “no” quite often, but you only fail when you say no to yourself”
TM: Tendai Machingaidze TN: Tariro Ndoro
TM: Tell us about yourself - Where you are from; Where you studied; Where you’ve worked; Where you are now.
TN: I was born in Harare, but I grew up in a whole range of small towns – Bindura, Rusape, Kwekwe, Murewa. So, I’d say, from an early age I was always on the move which probably resulted in me being more of an observer of life than anything else. I’ve also been a rolling stone in terms of work – I worked as a staff writer at a magazine and I’ve worked as a research assistant at an academic research office. I also did a short stint in retail… and I don’t think I’m ever going back. Now, I run a boutique literary consultancy out of my garage.
TM: Talk to us about your storytelling journey. How did you go from a BSc in Microbiology to an MA in Creative Writing?
TN: I’ll always say that my most important writing award was the Allied Arts award I got for composition when I was in third grade. No one speaks of it, and I didn’t get any money, but it was the first and purest nod I got for my writing abilities at a time when I wasn’t writing for any audience or under any gaze. From then, I was always scribbling something, but because we live in Zimbabwe where everyone must be a lawyer/doctor/accountant before they can say they’ve really made it, I always thought writing would be a side project to other pursuits, so I studied molecular biology when I got to university because it was something I enjoyed at the time. But, I found myself spending more and more time reading books and watching Button Poetry videos on YouTube. At some stage in all of this, I realised I probably had it in me to be a great writer one day, but that I would only be above average as a biologist, so I followed greatness. Also, at the time that I studied creative writing, such programmes weren’t as popular as they are now, but the minute that I heard I could do this master’s programme in writing without studying literature first, I knew it was something that was meant for me.
TM: Many parents in Zimbabwe and Africa as a whole tend to shy away from supporting their kids to pursue the Arts for fear that they will not be able to make a living from it. Was your family supportive of your move from the sciences to the arts?
TN: I’d say most parents are right, you probably can’t make a living from the arts. Which isn’t meant to be a discouraging word, but rather a caution. Now, most people in the traditional industry get a salary with benefits every month. When you’re an artist, a lot of thought has to go into monetising one’s craft or taking a day job to make ends meet.
My family had varying degrees of support for my decision. I really had to want that shift for myself, because if I didn’t, I would have listened to a lot of discouraging voices.
TM: Talk to is about “Agringada: Like a Gringa, Like a foreigner.” What inspired this work? How has it been received by readers? What are you working on now?
TN: It is hard to explain. There was a Spanish poet, Frederico Gracia Lorca, who thought about creativity in the context of a duende or a struggle/passion/muse, “the duende, then, is a power, not a work. It is a struggle, not a thought.” He spoke about how such struggles influence an artist’s work.
To answer your question, my identity has always been my personal duende, and until I wrote Agringada, I was always struggling with it. Agringada literally means “like a foreign woman” or “like a white woman” which is something I’d read about in a sociology paper I was reading when I was working on my book. The paper was about “Third Culture” kids living in the US and one Hispanic girl was talking about how she struggled to assimilate into Anglo culture when her family moved to the US. At the same time, this assimilation alienated her from her own family as they alienated her and described her behaviour as being agringada and therefore foreign to them.
Now, when I started writing my book, I was thinking a lot about exile. This was in 2015/2016 and I had lived in South Africa for a stretch while I was studying there. The violent Afrophobia that unfolded in 2015 made me ruminate a lot about nationhood. The more I thought about national/geographical exile, the more I also thought about my own earlier exile from my culture… and that is the short story of what inspired my work.
I think it was well received and some of the surprising feedback I’ve gotten is from people who are far removed from Zimbabwe but can still relate to some of the issues I tackle.
TM: What is your favorite book/Who is your favorite author?
TN: This is a very difficult question. I haven’t had a favourite book in years, but I’ll say The Best Of All Possible Worlds by Karen Lord.
I’d say my favourite author is Claudia Rankine. Everyone should read her, but I think Black women especially will feel seen (recognised?) by her works. If I was the dean of any university, I’d make her books required reading.
TM: What advice would you give to aspiring Zimbabwean writers and poets seeking to get their work published in Zimbabwe and abroad?
TN: I’d say start by reading and noticing small things such as: Who published your favourite author? What type of books does the publishing house look at? There is much that can be learned from reading even if one has no mentor. Tendai Huchu learnt to write by reading Sarah Ladipo Manyika.
Secondly, outside of reading books, read author interviews, notice what they say about their writing journeys and the mistakes that they made.
Lastly, persevere, you will hear the word “no” quite often, but you only fail when you say no to yourself.
Find out more about Tariro Ndoro at: https://tarirondoro.wordpress.com/