Writer's Block: Author Tsitsi Dangarembga Shares Her Struggle To Get Published, Her Writing Journey & More With New York Times

Zimbabwean author Tsitsi Dangarembga’s debut novel “Nervous Conditions” was published in 1988. Despite her struggle to get it published as a black woman, it was hailed as one of the 20th century’s most significant works of African literature. It wasn't until 2006 when she managed to publish a sequel titled “The Book of Not.” The third book, however, “This Mournable Body,” was published with more fanfare (Graywolf Press, its U.S. publisher, released it in 2018; Faber & Faber published it in the U.K. in 2020), and this year it was nominated for the Booker Prize. New York Times caught up with Tsitsi to discuss her writing process and what caused the 20 year writers block. See some excepts below and check out the rest of the article here

I wrote “Nervous Conditions” while I was a student at the University of Zimbabwe. I couldn’t get published in Zimbabwe, which at the time was publishing men, and I had no access to publishing houses. I had heard that the Women’s Press in England published Alice Walker, so I mailed my only copy of my manuscript to them. They didn’t respond, and years later when I went to England for work, I visited their offices in London. They had my manuscript in the basement and hadn’t read it. Because I was there, they agreed to read it, and the very next day said they wanted to publish it. So it was four years from writing to publishing.

Before publication, I didn’t think I had a career in writing, so I started working for a small company that made documentaries. From there, I decided to go to film school in Germany. Since I had to learn the language, I didn’t think about prose for several years. After the success of “Nervous Condition,” my publisher asked me to write a sequel, but I was in Germany, so I didn’t think I could write about Zimbabwe.

It was the second half of the ’90s, I had a young family and was living at the student level. I had no head-space for writing. There was also no one to discuss Zimbabwe with. Few people in Germany knew about it. For them, it was just a country in Africa.

I started going back to Zimbabwe for film projects so had more contact with the country. Then I returned in 2000, and I started writing again. The children went to school and with help, I had the space to write. “The Book of Not” was published in 2006.

Since there were no more royalties from my first publisher, what saved me was a fellowship from the Rockefeller Foundation Bellagio Center in 2016. My husband took care of the children in Zimbabwe, and I spent four weeks in a place where I was intellectually stimulated, talking about writing with writers.

When I finished “This Mournable Body,” I put part of it on social media. The editor Ellah Wakatama Allfrey helped me get an agent. I am really grateful to her, because there were no opportunities for people like me.
Mungwadzi Godwin

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