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My job is to write: Phiri
Tapureta, The Herald (Zimbabwe)
September 15, 2008
"I feel that by
writing what I write, I bring attention to certain issues which
we don't want to talk about. My job is to write and I will carry
on writing," remarked Virginia Phiri, one of Zimbabwe's established
While in some
African countries women have made little contribution in literature,
Zimbabwe has produced a class of women writers -- the likes of the
late Yvonne Vera, Tsitsi Dangarembga, the poet Freedom TV Nyamubaya,
Virginia Phiri, Barbara (nee Makhalisa) Nkala and others.
Zimbabwe Women Writers,
an organisation that imparts writing skills to aspiring female authors
in both urban and rural communities, has so far produced more than
10 anthologies in Shona and English languages, some of them research
based and award-winning.
And it is the same organisation
that has nurtured young promising women of letters such as Ethel
Kabwato, the bubbly performing poet Batsirai Esther Chigama and
And at one time Virginia
Phiri served in ZWW as Board member before retiring this year.
Having been widely featured
in ZWW's anthologies Virginia decided to self-publish and produced
her first solo novel titled Desperate in April 2002. Desperate defies
the cultural conservatism of Zimbabwean society in matters related
to causes of prostitution.
Hardly do people talk
about prostitution either because one of the family members is a
prostitute or culture just gloss over this social vice and affix
it as part of women's nature.
When Desperate came out
in 2002 Virginia's friends, especially those in the writing fraternity,
and relatives, were worried about what people would say.
"Don't you think
you are encouraging prostitution?" and "Were you once
a prostitute?" were the kind of questions posed to Virginia
at a certain conference in South Africa days after Desperate came
But Virginia, unperturbed,
had this to say, "It's not like one is supposed to be a prostitute
to write a book like Desperate, but it's a situation where I am
highlighting the ills in our community where we see these things
and ignore them, even in our families where we turn a blind eye
when someone is suffering. As a writer, whether you write good or
bad things people will always talk about you and if you are really
serious, there is no point in fighting, you just write."
Despite the public's
concern on the value of the book to society, Desperate was prescribed
at the University of Zimbabwe in the English Department in 2004
and at Hillside Teachers College in 2006 and also at universities
Destiny, Virginia's second
novel was published in November 2006 and is about those born as
hermaphrodites. The book was launched in July 2007 by the German
Ambassador at the Zimbabwe-German Society and two months later it
was also launched in Bulawayo at Intwasa Arts Festival.
Veronique Tadjo, a Cote
d'Ivoire writer was also present at the launch.
"I was so thrilled
to launch the book in my hometown. It was absolutely incredible,"
However, Destiny faced
the same problems as its predecessor Desperate.
People weren't willing
to come out in the open about the plight of hermaphrodites in Zimbabwe.
Even when Virginia was
trying to get the statistics of this information in her researches
she couldn't get it easily because nobody would give it for various
"But I am happy
that people are beginning to open up for my researches because now
they know me and have read my books. They now understand that I
am doing something helpful in our community," said Virginia
Born in Mzilikazi in
Bulawayo in 1954, Virginia Phiri's passion for the arts started
when she was at primary school where she was involved in both drama
and music, and later she became one of the founder members of Zimbabwe
Women Writers which she has helped to be what it is today. She is
also an accountant by profession, semi-retired in 2000 to concentrate
on her writing and do part-time accounting to survive.
Virginia is also an African
Orchids expert who has contributed a lot in the area of research
and writing about African Orchids.
She was awarded a life
membership by the Die Orchidie, a German Orchid Society at an orchid
congress in Neu Ulm, Germany in 2004 for her work related to African
As for Virginia, being
a woman has never been a problem because she grew up being taught
that men and women are equal.
As a little girl, she
was treated by her parents in the same manner in which boys were
She did exactly what
her cousins [boys] whom she grew up with in Bulawayo did; they were
"We grew up together;
we went snaring birds together, making catapults and other crafts.
"The funny thing
was when I ran short of dresses or when my dresses went too dirty
to wear, I just would put on my cousin's khaki shorts and tighten
them with elastic or bark and we went into the bushes climbing trees
together. It had nothing to do with girl or boy or fashion,"
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