TM: Tendai Machingaidze ES: Emmanuel Sigauke
TM: Tell us about yourself - where you live, where you studied, where you work?
ES: I live in Elk Grove, California, and work as a professor of English at Cosumnes River College in Sacramento. I studied Literature at the University of Zimbabwe and CSU Sacramento.
TM: What is Munyori Literary Journal? What inspired you to become its Founding Editor?
ES: Munyori is a multi-genre literary journal I founded in 2007. In its first two years, it was a poetry journal, featuring poetry and interviews by poets from any country in the world. It started as an ambitious project that would function as an international platform showcasing the best and the latest poetry by poets from diverse backgrounds. Early on, the largest volumes of submissions came from India, the United States, Nigeria, and South Africa. But I was attempting to attract the participation of more African writers, and this would happen when I turned it multi-genre since there were a lot of African writers working in fiction, especially the short story form. Some of the African writers hoped that, if published, their stories would be entered into the Caine Prize for African writers. Around 2010, with growing attention to African writers on the international stage, there was an upsurge of submissions in short fiction. Currently, the journal submission trends have shifted to African writers, which shows that it’s finally finding its identity and its niche.
TM: Why is it important to publish African voices in the diaspora?
ES: This helps them to be a part of the global voices that readers can benefit from. In fact, what got me into publishing this journal was to satisfy the reader in me, first and foremost, and to use the journal as a platform that other readers could come to and sample works from different countries. But I didn’t make Munyori just a platform for African writers, although that would help the journal with its identity. Unfortunately, even an effort like this shows the inequitable distribution of resources. If I charged a processing fee for submissions, as most journals do to cover the costs of keeping a website or enabling submission software like Submissible, which Munyori uses, I would unintentionally block a lot of good writers who may not afford such processing or entry fees. Writers from wealthier countries would continue to benefit.
To go back to the question: featuring African voices in the diaspora also serves a readership that is looking for more African voices. On a small scale, the journal occasionally receives inquiries from people and institutions that want more of the kind of work we publish. Thus, the journal or the Munyori brand, is developing into a platform that exposes African voices to potential publishers in the USA and other countries. My vision for Munyori is for it to work like a literary agency or small press that publishes books. This would help expand the corpus of African diaspora works, and hopefully grow a wider readership for African writers.
TM: What role do African and other immigrant writers play in shaping cultures and societies around the world?
ES: It is refreshing to witness growing trends of inclusivity in publishing. The work is nowhere closer to be complete, but there is growing awareness by readers of perspectives from Africa that do not just present one story about the continent, but as implied by Chimamanda Adichie in her single-story TED talk, a multiplicity of voices.
Having worked closely with some of the Diaspora African writers, I know they would be the first ones to say that they are not in it to shape any global anything, or to operate in some kind of representational capacity—they are just writing. But their presence in this global milieu is important as it offers many viewpoints to readers who might be trained to think of writing as one thing and one thing alone. The many stories (we need more) about the continent help dispel the few stereotypes some readers may have about African experiences. Likewise, African writers setting stories in other countries bring home African experiences in the diaspora, experiences that help readers have a non-stereotypical view of the diaspora. I am reminded of books like We Need New Names, Harare North, and The Mathematician, the Magistrate, and the Maestro, and others that follow the Zimbabwean characters into the Diaspora. In their stories we read about the complexities of diaspora stories.
We are also in a time when there is a need to appreciate what each society has to contribute to our global understanding of life. In academia, I am seeing whole English departments changing to be more inclusive of different voices. Gone are the days when the English major focuses mainly on British and American Literature. There is more to literature than this.
TM: What challenges and successes have you faced as a Zimbabwean writer, and what advice would you give to grassroots writers trying to find their footing in the literary field?
ES: Early in my writing career, the main challenge was that I lived in the rural areas, and despite writing lots of works, I didn’t know what kinds of resources were available for me. In fact, I didn’t quite associate writing with publishing or a career. I just enjoyed the process, and I loved it when my friends and family listened to me as I read my writing. For me, they were the ultimate consumers or recipients of my work. That lack of information slowed me down on my path to publishing and monetizing. I currently work with rural writers through Chisiya Writer’s Workshop in Mazvihwa, and always encourage them to stay connected and to learn of resources available for them in their genre of writing. Their situation is better than mine was; they are more connected because of the wonders of the mobile world, but there are still challenges of poor bandwidth which makes some forms of networking difficult.
Later in my writing, when I left the rural Zvishavane for Harare, I would discover opportunities for budding writers: writer’s workshops and conferences, and easy interaction with published writers. I remember visiting publishers like College Press, Longman, but I would face rejections. Looking back, I deserved those rejections since the work, which I have kept to this day, was not fully developed. I think budding writers like me back then lacked the proper guidance; we had family friends flattering us for being writers, but we were not learning the realities of writing process. That can destroy a writer, the lack of proper guidance and the failure to set realistic expectations.
The main challenge I faced as a writer in the diaspora is that I stopped writing for at least five years as I struggled to make a living. But once social made it possible for me to connect with writing friends back home and in the Diaspora, I was inspired to resume writing. Breaking into the American market as a writer has been challenging. There are moments I my work was rejected for its focus on Zimbabwean concerns, and in some cases the editors have pointed out that their readers would not find the work interesting. My short story collection, Mukoma’s Marriage and other Stories, was almost accepted by a British small press, but on the condition that I edit some of the cultural practices out if it was to appeal to the publisher’s readership. I didn’t do as asked; instead, I sent the work to a Zimbabwean publisher, who was a perfect fit. The book was published in 2014, but due to lack of distribution and promotion, I haven’t made many sales with it.
In my role as a promoter of grassroots art, I would advise the budding writer to set realistic expectations, to have a career in something else and never stop writing. I would further say that there is a level of persistence that will help the writer in you succeed. In other words, less focus on waiting for someone to discover or help you, but focusing on investing in your work, learning what you need to learn about craft, sometimes attending a course or two to get things right, and believing in the work (only after you have really worked hard on it).
Rejection is rejection, whether it is because the American publisher thinks the work is too Zimbabwean to appeal to American readers, or the work itself is not ready for any reader on this and any other planet. I would take that as rejection of some aspect of your work that you need to improve, so that you don’t lose the characteristics of the Zimbabwean experience you want to convey in order to appeal to the American, the Australian, the Mars reader. In fact, don’t worry about this or that reader; work on the piece until it finds its publisher.
We have examples of Diaspora African writers who are now dominating some of the international writing awards and appealing to international readers. Others are infiltrating the American, British, German classroom; read them; see what they do with their craft. Read Petina Gappah, NoViolet Bulawayo; read Brian Chikwava, Tendai Huchu; read Tsitsi Dangarembga, Sue Nyathi, Bryony Rheam. Read…read… read.
Find out more about Munyori Literary Journal at: http://munyori.org/