Friday March 28, 2014, Chinelo Okparanta, Abubakar Adam Ibrahim and I visited Hartzell School in old Mutare, just outside Mutare City. The school is named after Bishop Hartzell of the United Methodist Church who was the founder of the first Methodist Missionary Church in 1899 on land given to him by Cecil John Rhodes. The school was built in 1901 as a boys’ school and in 1903 a girls’ school was built. These two schools were integrated in 1924 and the students were trained as teachers and pastors so that they could spread the mission as educators and create new church communities.
We met with about 200 students from form 3, 4 and A-level students along with their instructors in the language and literature departments. The three of us read from our work and we discussed the importance of creative writing and the power of storytelling.
The students asked us questions about finding their passion, how to nurture it and to stay motivated in an environment where writing is not considered a real profession. This question brought about the discussion of Zimbabwe’s perception of writers and artists and the negative stereotypes of writers as dreadlocked drunks and junkies. Dambuzdo Marechera was the primary example of what many people gave when discussing writers and we were able to show the students that there were many other writers who did not look like or behave like Dambudzo Marechera.
Overall the visit was enriching for us and it is my hope that the talent, energy and dreams of these young people will find expression so that the story of Africa can be told in the voices of those whose very existence is inextricably tied to this continent. The rich stories of Africa require bold and courageous voices that are deeply empathetic to the issues that have shaped this continent and its people. It also requires voices that are committed to the delicate task of placing Africa and her stories within the global context.