A Conversation with Rudo Manyere: Talking Writing, African Literature, "3:15 am and Other Stories"

Rudo Manyere's writing journey is one that began way before even her teenage years. As she tells it she fell in love with writing as far back as her primary school days but she just didn't realize it. She recalls that she just liked creating stories. Channelling what she saw on TV into her English compositions, the seeds of the author were already being laid on very fertile ground.

What began in primary school translated into broader storytelling in high school. She began keeping a counterbook in which she wrote short stories and boarding school being boarding school her friends used to fight over it. However from there her love of writing was forgotten for a while, and the seeds of an author laid dormant as life happened. They wouldn't start to germinate until a while after Rudo had migrated to the UK. Given life again by Rudo's search for relatable stories to read.

A Conversation with Rudo Manyere
Rudo Manyere

Rudo describes her relationship with writing and reading as a symbiotic one, with one feeding the other and nothing makes this more clear to see like how she's both an author and a BookTuber. 

Following her relocation she began with falling in love with reading first. However, it wasn't so easy because missing home was at the centre of what got her reading. She would read the popular or best-selling novels around her and she would see the paragraph talking about a guy running his hand through a woman's hair.

First of all I've got 4C hair, so that's definitely not happening. I just couldn't relate to what I was reading in English literature so I started reading African American novels. You know the Tony Morrisons, Maya Angelou and Malcom X. I truly enjoyed reading them but I felt Iike I was stealing their history somehow, because I was like in Zimbabwe never went through slavery. So not fully feeling like those books related to me I started reading African literature and I understood it more.

From a growing love of African literature and from reading countless African novels from across the continent, grew Rudo's desire to add her own stories to that African library of tales. What began as a blog led to her discovery by Samantha Vazhure, whose reaction to Rudo's writing was "I can't believe you're just putting out this work for free!" From there the rest is history. The world got to experience what goes on in Rudo's through the anthology "3:15 am and Other Stories"

Rudo Manyere

The stories are all the work of Rudo's 23-year-old self. Well mostly. Some stories 23-year-old Rudo couldn't finish and endings were only added last year before the book was published. You could say "3:15 am and Other Stories" was a book 27 years in the making that took 4 years to write. 

From what I've come to know of Rudo, African stories are what makes her feel alive. Be it reading or telling them. What was meant to be a 20-minute conversation about her craft and writing on and from the African continent, turned into an hour-long chat. 

Rudo's anthology feels very melancholic in its storytelling, something the author agrees with. The end to each tale is heartbreakingly sad, which made me ponder if 23-year-old Rudo had not suffered the worst of heartbreaks.

I don't know what I was going through because all of my stories have is just a doomed ending. All of them. Every single one of them. Even now when I'm reading them I wonder what I was going through? But I remember when I was writing I was taking a masterclass by Shonda Rhimes which said don't be afraid to kill the main character... and I think I adopted that, I didn't show any mercy at all.

Although heartbreaking Rudo sees these stories as being necessary to tell. All too often African narratives have just been about poverty and "3:15 am and Other Stories" seeks to open up African storytelling to other issues. The book reflects on the legacy of colonialism, the strains faced by migrants in foreign countries, political violence and other issues not typically mainstream. 

In part, she says moving to the UK opened her up to a different side of the African story that she didn't know, enhancing her storytelling. Particularly close to home was finding out her mother had arthritis, something she hadn't shared but instead kept to herself and just soldiered on while Rudo and her siblings were still in Zimbabwe. All these experiences are tied into "3:15 am and Other Stories".

The book has been well received by the critics (book reviewers) and to some regard the general readers. This has highlighted the simple nature of the storytelling and how centred it is on conveying emotions. However, Rudo reflects that genuine feedback is often hard to get.

It's one thing to sell the book but it's another to get feedback.

The author is extremely appreciative of the lending hand that has come from the indie publishing house Carnelian Heart. Not only that they allow them to publish her work but in her own personal development as a writer. As Rudo tells it, it was through them that she first published short stories as part of the "Brilliance of Hope" collection alongside 16 other writers. This helped her gain the confidence she needed to publish her own solo collection.

It was also through the publishing house's submission of novels that Rudo was nominated at the 2023 NAMA Awards. Her first nomination ever as a writer. As she remembers it, it was a moment of awe when she found out that she had been nominated and since then it has served as motivation for her to keep going because the heights she can reach are limitless.

Rudo regards writing classes as being the most significant factor in improving her writing. She says they helped her come out of her shell and generate more quality work in her stories. Although there are plans for a second book sometime in the future, Rudo is hoping to go into scriptwriting and the television space. 

In addition to her writing, the author's desire for a community to discuss African literature inspired her to become a BookTuber. The love for stories from home that she discovered upon relocating, came with a need to talk about them. As this ate away at her, she tried to engage in discussions with family and friends but soon discovered that none of them were as prolific as her in reading African literature. This gave birth to "Basic Girl Reads", which was later renamed "What's Rudo Reading?" 

A platform for African literature that has amassed over 100,000 views across YouTube and various social media platforms. It has earned her multiple nominations for blogging awards, among them being a nomination for the Afro Bloggers Awards, which seek to recognize the best of our bloggers across the continent.

As she tells the story procrastination almost kept her from starting the platform. "What's Rudo Reading?" came into being a year after she initially had the idea. It wasn't smooth sailing either when she finally began. Rudo kicked off her channel by reviewing Novuyo Tshuma's "House of Stone", and it took her almost 4 hours to record a single decent short clip. Since then she has over 70 more reviews on her YouTube channel, which has gained her widespread recognition as a go-to resource online for African literature.

"What's Rudo Reading?" continues to be a beacon for African literature, while the author adds her own stories into the world. It is not only a platform for reviews but also introduces Rudo's audience to African book releases they might have missed or not known. 

However, it is a side of Rudo that she might take a step back from as she pursues new sides to her art. Whether a new book or a Rudo Manyere scripted TV show comes next, the author promises to pour her heart out just as she did on 3:15 am and Other Stories.

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