Vitabubooks Interview: Tendai Huchu

Last March,  at first sight, I fell madly in love with the 'Angela Davis' afro on Tendai Huchu's book cover. By the time I'd got through the 196 pages of The Hairdresser of Harare I could see why it had earned  all the accolades it did. “[S]tunning debut, funny, dramatic with a powerful punch in the end" beat the Drum magazine; "lively, clever and ironic," observed The Witness. The Africa Report described Tendai's work as a “confident and brave novel” in which “liberal life choices meet old prejudice.” The book didn't disappoint. It was all of those and more.

Several months later, I came across a list of books the author had read. "Reading 2010: Tendai Huchu"  and I wondered whether he'd been as busy a reader in 2011. So I reached out to him by email. Tendai talked about the books he's read so far this year, gave practical tips on improving writing and honing one's craft, and mused about life choices and old prejudice. Below is an excerpt of our conversation.

Tendai Huchu: This year I’ve tried to read a bit of American Literature and more female authors. This is because although I try to read as much work from across the world, I discovered that I had neglected that part of the world. I also found that my library was disproportionately dominated by male authors and so I am in the process of balancing it out and including more female writers. I’ve listed the books I can remember reading this year but have excluded non-fiction.

The Corrections – Jonathan Franzen
The New York Trilogy – Paul Auster
Leviathan – Paul Auster
To the Light House – Virginia Woolf
If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things – Jon McGregor
The Devils – Foydor Dostoevsky
Cry of the Go Away Bird – Andrea Eames
Out of the Shadows – Jason Wallace
Waiting for the Rain – Charles Mungoshi
On Black Sister’s Street – Chika Unigwe
The Memory of Love – Aminatta Forna
The Hobbit – J R R Tolkien
The Flame Lily Weeps – Ross Gordon Cooper
On Writing – Stephen King
Under the Dome – Stephen King
Three Men in a Boat – Jerome K Jerome
Zenzele: A Letter for my Daughter – J. Nozipo Maraire
The Tiger’s Wife – Tea Obreht
I Do Not Come to You by Chance – Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani
Case Files of the Dread Eyes Detective Agency -Uriah's Vengeance - Masimba Musodza
Behind Every Successful Man – Zukiswa Wanner

Vitabubooks: I also came across an article you wrote, "Getting Published"  In it, some of what you share is quite a familiar story for writers, "despair, false starts, dashed hopes and little lights at the end of tunnels that sometimes don’t exist in the journey to getting published," but it's the bit on the editing process that I found quite refreshing and forthright. I quote:

"With each revision the story was improving and several months later when I got the lastest draft I could barely recognize it. It was sharper, clearer and read like a real novel. I admit now that though my name alone appears on the cover there is my editor and an army of proof readers, copyeditors and sub editors lurking in the text who my readers will never know about."

What other tips about improving your writing/honing your craft would you give to new writers?

Tendai Huchu: You need to read a lot if you are going to write. I was exasperated by one budding author who insisted he did not want to read in case this influenced his work. I said to him ‘If you are not influenced by some of the literary greats then what the hell are you doing?’ Needless to say he is now self-published and I wish him well.

Reading and writing are one and the only side of the same coin. It is a craft that improves with time so keep working at it. I don’t know whose quote this is but it is true: ‘Rejection is nature’s way of telling you to write a better book.’ Revise your work. [Microsoft] Word can only do so much.

If you feel isolated use online networks like absolutewrite.com or authonomy.com They have great forums that mix up established and budding writers so you’ll be sure to pick up a few tips and tricks from there. There are also websites like bibliotastic.com and globusz.com that allow authors to upload their manuscripts as free ebooks which the public can then read and criticize. You’ll be amazed at how incisive advice from the general reader can be.
There are great books about the craft of writing. Just this year I read Stephen King’s On Writing but it’s just one of many. The Writers and Artists Yearbook is another great resource. NEVER EVER GIVE UP.

Vitabubooks: Around the world, there's a lot of debate about gay rights, sexuality and homophobia. Do you think Africa (if I can lump societies and cultures together) is more homophobic than say, America or Scotland?

Tendai Huchu: The west (I am lumping most societies in Europe, North America, Australia and New Zealanders) have laid down legislative frameworks to protect gay people from overt discrimination. This does not mean that their societies are any less homophobic but it creates an environment in which individuals are free to express themselves within the protection of the law. Such an environment creates a conducive atmosphere for dialogue of the kind we simply do not have in Africa (bar South Africa whose constitutional protections are more progressive than anywhere else in the world).

If one reads the works of academics like Marc Epprecht, Unspoken Facts. A History of Homosexualities in Africa, then there is historical evidence that the prevailing attitudes we maintain in Africa are to some extent a product of the colonial process and the adoption of Victorian type mores. I think what is even sadder is that given the fact that we spent the better part of the last hundred years fighting oppression that was imposed on us simply because of our skin color, we are now quite willing to penalize the gay community using similar arbitrary measures. How can we then say we fought a just cause when we turn around and behave exactly like the people who oppressed us? It doesn’t make any sense.

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