Tsitsi Dangarembga (1959 -)

Tsitsi Dangarembga (born 4 February 1959) is a Zimbabwean author and filmmaker. Her debut novel, Nervous Conditions (1988), which was the first to be written in English by a black woman from Zimbabwe, was named by the BBC in 2018 as one of the top 100 books that have changed the world.

Early life

Tsitsi Dangarembga was born in Bulawayo, Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), on 4 February 1959, but spent part of her childhood in England. She began her education in England, but later attended Hartzell High School, a missionary school in the Rhodesian town of Umtali (now Mutare). She later studied medicine at Cambridge University, where she experienced racism and isolation. Dangarembga left Cambridge and returned to Zimbabwe a few months before the country officially declared its independence.

She studied psychology at the University of Zimbabwe while working for two years as a copywriter at a marketing agency. This early writing experience gave her an avenue for expression: she wrote numerous plays, including The Lost of the Soil, and then joined the theatre group Zambuko. She participated in the production of two plays, Katshaa and Mavambo.

Career

In 1985, Dangarembga published a short story in Sweden called “The Letter”. In 1987, she published the play She No Longer Weeps in Harare. At the age of 25, she had her first taste of success with her novel Nervous Conditions, published in 1988. It was the first novel in English by a black woman from Zimbabwe. The novel won the African section of the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize in 1989 and is considered one of the twelve best African novels ever written. In May, 2018, the BBC named Nervous Conditions as one of the top 100 books that have shaped the world. Her novel was 66th book on the list.

Asked about her subsequent prose drought, she explained: “There have been two major reasons for my not having worked on prose since Nervous Conditions: firstly, the novel was published only after I had turned to film as a medium; secondly, Virginia Woolf’s shrewd observation that a woman needs £500 and a room of her own in order to write is entirely valid. Incidentally, I am moving and hope that, for the first time since Nervous Conditions, I shall have a room of my own. I’ll try to ignore the bit about £500.”

Dangarembga continued her education later in Berlin at the German Film and Television Academy Berlin, where she studied film direction and produced several film productions, including a documentary for German television. She also made the film Everyone’s Child, shown worldwide including at the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival.

Dangarembga returned to Zimbabwe with her family in 2000 to work at Nuyerai Films, the film production company she founded in Harare. She is also the executive director of Women Filmmakers of Zimbabwe and is the founding director of the Women’s Film Festival of Harare. She founded the International Images Film Festival in 2002 in response to the proliferation of beauty contests at that time, to provide diverse narratives by and about women.

In 2011, she orated a TEDx talk at Harare called “The question posed by my cat”.

In May 2016, Dangarembga was selected by the Rockefeller Foundation Bellagio Center for their 2015 Artists in Residency Programme.

In August 2019 she was announced as a finalist for the 2019 St. Francis College Literary Prize, a biennial award recognizing outstanding fiction by writers in the middle stages of their careers.

Selected works

Nervous Conditions (1988)

As a novelist, Dangarembga made her debut with Nervous Conditions, a partially autobiographical work which appeared in Great Britain in 1988 (published by the Women’s Press in London) and the next year in the United States. Her work appears in Daughters of Africa (ed. Margaret Busby, 1992). A sequel to Nervous Conditions, entitled The Book of Not, was published in 2006.

Neria (1993)

Dangarembga wrote the story for the film Neria (1993), which became the highest-grossing film in Zimbabwean history. The protagonist is a widowed woman, whose brother-in-law abuses traditional customs to control her assets for his own benefit. Neria loses her material possessions and her child, but gets then help from her female friend (played by Kubi Indi) against her late husband’s family. The title song is by Oliver Mtukudzi, who also appears in the film.

Everyone’s Child (1996)

In 1996, Dangarembga directed the film Everyone’s Child. It was the first feature film directed by a black Zimbabwean woman. The story followed the tragic fates of four siblings, after their parents die of AIDS. The soundtrack featured songs by Zimbabwe’s most popular musicians, including Thomas Mapfumo, Leonard Zhakata and Andy Brown.

Growing Stronger (2005)

Dangarembga’s documentary profiles two courageous Zimbabwean women living with HIV “from opposite ends of the socioeconomic ladder who defy the stereotypical image of HIV infection and AIDS, and use their first hand experiences with the disease as a forum for public education and awareness”.

Selected publications

Filmography

  • The Great Beauty Conspiracy (1994)
  • Passport to Kill (1994)
  • Schwarzmarkt (1995)
  • Everyone’s Child (1995)
  • The Puppeteer (1996)
  • Zimbabwe Birds, with Olaf Koschke (1988)
  • On the Border (2000)
  • Hard Earth – Land Rights in Zimbabwe (2001)
  • Ivory (2001)
  • Elephant People (2002)
  • Mother’s Day (2004)
  • High Hopes, (2004)
  • At the Water (2005)
  • Growing Stronger (2005)
  • The Sharing Day (2008)
  • I Want a Wedding Dress (2010)
  • Ungochani (2010)
  • Nyami Nyami Amaji Abulozi (2011).

Tsitsi 2

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