Zambia is the home of my heart. A country I love and that I returned to for a while this year. I was honoured that Dr. Fay Gadsden of Gadsden Publishers, Lusaka generously arranged a book launch for me at the Alliance Francaise – France is my other home so that felt appropriate. Daniel Sikazwe, journalist, Zambia National Broadcasting Corporation presenter, and lecturer in journalism and creative writing at Evelyn Hone College was the wonderful compere of the evening. He is also the PEN secretary for Zambia. A tough call anywhere. We all hoped the evening would attract and inspire Zambian writers and readers and help build Zambian literature.
Storytelling is part of every culture
Stories existed before writing, books or kindles, before radio or television. They are the ground in which human culture is rooted and from which we grow. Songs, dances, and poetry are woven from the rhythm of footsteps and heartbeats of our nomadic wanderings. We sing to our babies and we tell them stories. Humans are born out of and into storytelling. We are mythic beings constructed from the stories we tell ourselves, listen to, and read.
The power of the printed word and the dominance of English
Part of the reason English is so dominant is that the development of printing technology took place in the west and made popular literature possible. We are still at the stage where many writers from many diverse ethnicities first read English and American children’s stories and where your literary background may include Shakespeare, Homer, Jane Austen, and L M Alcott whether you are Turkish, African or an ISIS bride. Oral culture may be fragile and the stories told subject to change. Digital technology can rescue the stories and provide new ways of telling them even as films.
A new digital era
We are in a new digital era that can liberate different cultures and languages. The problem is that the media is overloaded and unregulated and therefore it’s difficult to make your mark in it without an understanding of the digital skills needed.
Other people’s stories and advice on writing
We are writing in an age of identity politics. Can we write stories about people whose lives and backgrounds are different from our own? Can a man write truthfully about what it is like to be a woman? Can a woman write about a man honestly? Can you write a character from the inside out? Can you put yourself in their shoes? Who are you writing for? What genre is your book? Books and writers are both loved and hated – not necessarily equally. Writers are criticised. You feel you’ve exposed your soul and it hurts! Get used to it. Write better next time. Writing is a craft that must be learned – make sure you have good teachers! There are many tutorials online and there are books. Read your work aloud to yourself – get other people to read your work. Perhaps not friends – they may be too kind. Good editing is essential. You should edit your own work but you will also need a professional editor.
Writers, readers, new friends, and old friends
One best thing for me about this evening at the Alliance Française was reconnecting with old friends and making new ones. Another best thing about the evening was knowing that there were so many enthusiastic Zambian writers and readers who were there too. I wished that I was a much richer writer and then I would have bought so many more books from the Gadsden book stand manned by Inonge and Jenny. I can, however, recommend some excellent books of fiction and non-fiction by Zambian writers and Zambian writers in the diaspora.