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I have multiple personalities
Let me identify
all my neuroses: I am a feminist, writer, poet, cultural journalist,
librarian and bibliographer -- and on top of that I am Puerto Rican.
With these multiple personalities I headed to the Zimbabwe International
Book Fair and the Indaba Conference thanks to some grant money.
Down there, on the other side of the planet, the Shona and Ndebele
poets live together with the serpent's ointment merchants, an exuberant
wildlife and their unique music, so similar to our salsa music.
(I wonder why?) Getting to Zimbabwe is launching a 17-hour trip
via London -- in a flight that crosses the African continent from
north to south. When I arrived in Harare I immediately found a couple
of us: writers, publishers, librarians and dreamers.
The Zimbabwe International Book
Fair (ZIBF) is one of Africa's publishing showcases, with a
fairly diverse exhibition of books, magazines and journals of Africa.
ZIBF is held annually during the first week of August in the Harare
gardens, next to the National Gallery. The Indaba Conference
takes place in conjunction with ZIBF. This year's theme for the
Indaba was “Changing Lives: Promoting A Reading Culture in Africa.”
This theme was intended to highlight, through debate and discussion,
how books and reading can be agents of change. The Indaba has, over
the years, become recognized as the premier forum for debating topical
issues pertaining to the book industry in Africa, providing a unique
platform for African publishers, academic, writers and book industry
At both the
Indaba conference and ZIBF, the focus was Senegal and francophone
African publishing efforts. Some of the writers invited were Ahmadou
Kourouma from Cote d'Ivoire, Aminata
Sow Fall from Senegal, Koulsy Lamko and Nocky
Djedanoum from Tchad. It was Djenanoum who spoke about “Rwanda:
Writing to Remember,” a project which began after a visit to
Rwanda in 1998 by ten African writers and filmmakers. Choosing to
write about their experience as a vehicle to break the silence on
the genocide, the project has published eight titles.
ZIBF has other traditions: the Writer's Workshop, the Live Literature
Centre and the recent project Africa's
100 Best Books of the Twentieth Century. This year, the Writer's Workshop
brought speakers from Senegal, Cote d'Ivoire, South Africa, Kenya
and Zimbabwe on topics such as the role of society in reading and
writing, how to build a reading culture in Africa, religious influences
in writing, copyright issues, writing for film and media, writing
in politically volatile environments and censorship in writing.
The Live Literature
Centre is a relatively new concept born at ZIBF 1998. With the objective
of bringing together art and literature, this year a display of
art put together by a group of six women writers and artists was
the featured presentation. Local performers and writers such as
the young poet and performer Mbizo Chirasha were part of the program.
Now into its
second year the Africa's 100 Best Books of the Twentieth Century
project has attracted a lot of attention. The project was launched
at the Frankfurt
Book Fair, the London International Book Fair,
and the Nigeria Book Fair. Nominations closed at the end of September
and the jurors met this year in Harare for the first time. The first
list of nominated books is posted on the ZIBF Web site. The awards
ceremony will take place at ZIBF 2002.
on the ZIBF 2001 program included a book marketing skills workshop,
a buyers and sellers meeting for the African publishing industry,
and an open forum on scholarly publishing in Africa.
After my one
week in Harare in multiple conversations, dialogues and discussions
with vendors, publishers, booksellers and writers, a radio interview
and a reading in a lobby of a hotel, I came back with two boxes
of books, magazines, folk art, two broken sculptures, a terrible
cold, and the experience of having left behind good friends like
Chirikure, one of Zimbabwe's major poets, and Stanley
Nyamfukudza, the great short story writer.
Vázquez is the librarian for the Latin American and Caribbean Studies
programs at Livingston College of Rutgers, The State University
of New Jersey. She is a poet and fiction writer whose works has
been published in a number of prestigious literary journals both
in the United States and the Caribbean. Among her publications:
(1986), La rosa mecánica
(1991), El amor urgente (1995) and Historias
de pulgarcito (1999). She is the editor of La Candelaria,
a chapbook series sponsored by the UNESCO. Vázquez is a founding
member of La Unión de Mujeres Escritoras de las Antillas and La
tertulia de escritoras dominicanas en los Estados Unidos.
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