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I have multiple personalities
Lourdes Vázquez
September 2004

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 players.

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.

Besides Indaba, 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.

Other events 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 Chirikure, one of Zimbabwe's major poets, and Stanley Nyamfukudza, the great short story writer.

Lourdes 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: Las hembras (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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