Q&A: Words on the Times – Tinashe Mushakavanhu

“Flora Veit-Wild presents this compelling book as a memoir, and it does contain some personal details of her early life in Germany which supplement and enrich the portrayal of her love affair with the Zimbabwean writer Dambudzo Marechera. Given away by the title They Called You Dambudzo (2021, Jacana Media), this memoir does not primarily focus on Flora herself, beyond being written from her perspective, and it remains essentially the story of love lost and a kind of haunting.” Lizzy Attree, AiW.  

AiW note: Yesterday we published Lizzy Attree’s review of They Called You Dambudzo: A Memoir by Flora Veit-Wild. You can read the review in full here but, as her opening quote (above) illustrates, Attree starts us off with an evocation of the ways the book, as a memoir, both is and is not autobiographical; how this, with the title, muddles the ways we might expect both memoir and biography to behave; and that it is, in essence, a story both of intimacies and loss.

Jacana Media will host the South African launch of Veit-Wild’s book tomorrow – Thursday 25th Feb, 2021: 6pm SAST/ 4pm GMT – with a panel conversation about “the art of intimate biography” between Veit-Wild, writer and Marechera scholar Tinashe Mushakavanhu, and Shaun Viljoen, literary academic and author of Richard Rive: A Partial Biography (2013). See below for details of how to register.

Ahead of the panel, we are fully pleased to be able to share Mushakavanhu’s Words on the Times – an AiW Q&A series initiated as the early stages of the pandemic set in to connect us and our changing experiences of work and working. 

Not only has Tinashe researched and written on Marechera extensively, and in a number of generative and connective ways and contexts, we are also delighted to be able to introduce Tinashe as a collaborator with us and member of our team here at AiW with these, his Words… 

AiW: A warm welcome, Tinashe. Could you tell us a bit about your own work, and the ways that the pandemic affected your plans for it and/or things on the ground there with you?

Tinashe Mushakavanhu: Before the pandemic I was too busy being everywhere, hopping from one place to another. I could not write as much. My work took on a different character. It was more collaborative and experimental. I wrote and read with others. Travel, and being on the move, became a way of working for me. Then the pandemic halted my ability to move, to travel. In the beginning I spent hours and hours online daily, weekly – there was no room to read or write. I withdrew, and picked up on abandoned projects, incomplete, or undeveloped. Mushakavanhu-Pamphlet-Cover-Promo-640x1024A few years ago I gave up on the idea of publishing a traditional monograph generated from my doctoral research. I sent out a proposal to more than three dozen university academic presses and got rejections from all of them mostly with flimsy reasons, sometimes outrageous, sometimes racist. So I have been experimenting with different ways of publishing my academic research using formats such public exhibitions, zines, films, podcasts. My latest publication is a pamphlet, Reincarnating Marechera: Notes on a Speculative Archive from Ugly Duckling Presse in New York in their 20/20 series. I was attracted to the series because it included writers from a variety of backgrounds and orientations, whose interests, though often apparently divergent from one another, tended to constellate in surprising, generative ways.

In what ways are you working now that you weren’t before? 

It is frustrating. A lot of the archives I work with, I am interested in, are hidden in vaults and basements at university libraries in Europe and North America. These archives are not digitized and there is no way of accessing them. So, I find myself imagining them. In other words, lack of access to the physical materials has not stopped me creating them in my mind. What I am also discovering is the false promises of the internet. It promises ubiquity, easy access but when it comes to knowledge about myself it is nowhere to be found as it is analog. There is an urgency to my work that is necessitated by these gaps. I am increasingly interested in the question, how do we archive gaps in the digital age?

What have you found most supportive and/or heart lifting in this time?

Academic life can be lonely. It has been wonderful to reconnect with family, my forever support system.

How can our blog communities support you?

I want to see more blogs and websites commission more writing by black scholars and writers. I want to see more black thinkers being cited. I want to see established platforms support fledgling efforts to build digital infrastructure developing on the continent.

Tinashe Mushakavanhu is a Zimbabwean born writer and literary scholar. He is currently a postdoctoral fellow at Wits Institute for Social & Economic Research (WiSER) at University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South African. His forthcoming book is This Man is Dangerous: An Account of Dambudzo Marechera’s Harare from Jacana Media (2021).

Register for the launch of They Called You Dambudzo, The Art of Intimate Biography – 25 Feb, 6pm SAST/ 4pm GMT – crowdcast.io/e/they-called-.

And get Lizzy Attree’s insights in her review of the book for us in full at this link.

For more Words on the Times, the blog category is here.


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