Batsirai E Chigama is a name largely associated with spoken word in Zimbabwe. She writes short stories and has been published in several poetry anthologies and magazines. Her passion to see the arts fully represented in the media has seen her contribute numerous stories to the most popular arts website in Zimbabwe, The Zimbojam. To read more of her works go to http://www.batsiraichigama.maumbile.com.
GeosiReads: Let me start off by asking about the current state of Zimbabwean Women Writers?
Batsirai Chigama: When Flora Veit Wild profiled poets in 1988 in her book Patterns of Poetry, she only had one woman poet, Kristina Rungano against 6 men. I should say women’s voices in literary Zimbabwe have increased since then. We have noted the emergence of new voices like Ethel Kabwato, Joyce Chigiya, Fungai Machirori, Blessing Musariri, Primrose Dzenga and have other strong performance poets such as Aura Kawanzaruwa, Wadzanai Chiuriri, Cynthia Marangwanda, Roxanne ‘Xapa’ Mathazia just to name a few. In short the future of Zimbabwean women writers looks very bright.
GR: You hold several positions in the literary circle in Zimbabwe. What is/are your main goal(s) with your association with these literary groups? Have any been realized?
BC: What the literary circles have done for me is open me to thinking outside myself…the interaction with other writers always has an edifying element for me and it is from that fellowship that I’ve been shaped to become the poet I am today.
GR: According to many critics, a lot of writings coming from Zimbabwe are based on criticisms of the Mugabe-led administration. What is your position on this?
BC: Martin Goodman, a British writer once said, “You can be in the middle of a war with bombs exploding everywhere and still choose to evade the contemporary” what he was saying is as a writer one has a choice, to let events dictate the discourse one has with the environment or one can dictate what they want to write on, I opt for the latter, always.
GR: You have written a number of poems and done a lot of performances. Are you more inclined to poetry than to short stories or novels?
BC: Writing poetry comes with an extra effort whereas; short stories ‘write me’. Once I get a storyline I am good to go but those moments are rare and therefore the short stories I’ve written very few.
GR: Is there any distinction between writing poems and performing them?
BC: The processes grove into each other in that when I write I determine if a poem is a performance piece by the rhythm I lend to it when spoken, so it’s a synchronized effort.
GR: I read and enjoyed your poem Independence Avenue. The last line carried a strong message: ‘Wings to carry our voices to that place called independence avenue’. To whom where you addressing this to? What inspired the poem? When was it even written?
BC: I stand to be corrected but I think independence is not a destination…we never arrive at it. You think at some point you’ve found it but then you start fighting other prejudices, limitations and hegemonies within that ‘achieved’ freedom. I wrote this poem in September 2010 questioning the idea of finding independence.
GR: So in that sense, Zimbabwe has not yet ‘achieved’ independence? Is independence then meaningless?
BC: In a sense it becomes intangible, I don’t want to call it a case of ‘from the pot into the fire” because that too is far from being true but rather that Zimbabwe has had its share of struggles especially in the past twelve years and we have entered an era where many like myself may have started to question what independence is or what happened to it if ever it had been achieved.
GR: How long does it take you to write a single poem?
BC: It varies, some poems especially for performance are never complete, I am constantly re-writing them, they cannot afford to be stagnant in meaning; there is poems that come titles first, those for me are the difficult ones, I will tell you there is one I’ve been trying to finish for the past three months, started in February and still I haven’t finished it.
GR: Where and when do you often write?
BC: Inspiration has no decency, it comes in the most awkward of places so I have to carry a notepad or my phone so that I do not lose that sudden flash of that one sentence or verse as it comes to me.
GR: Another poem of yours, ‘Through the Eyes of Julius’ was written in memory of the great Zimbabwean writer Julius Chingono. Did you ever meet him personally?
BC: I did and I feel very privileged to have met this beautiful writer. Julius was a very accessible person without airs and pretenses even in his work and I strongly admired that in him.
GR: Where does your passion for writing come from?
BC: It comes from wanting to share a story, that alone and nothing more.
GR: Any writers that inspire you?
BC: Chenjerai Hove, Ignatius Mabasa, Yvonne Vera, Fungai Machirori, Maya Angelou, Khaled Hosseini…the list is very long
GR: With the current state of affairs in Zimbabwe– say – economic and government leadership, is it profitable to work as a writer?
BC: Profitability of writing to me was never tied to the state of political issues albeit the fact that politics has a hand in the existence of restrictive censorship laws, it is instead tied to how one handles their art, it’s either you do it as a hobby – of which you don’t expect much out it or as a business in which you have to apply yourself to making a dollar at every turn save if you are giving yourself to charity causes.
GR: How would you like to be called – Poet or Writer?
BC: I don’t mind at all what I am called.