5 Minutes with Tendai Huchu
Tendai Huchu is a Zimbabwean author best known for his novels The Hairdresser of Harare and The Maestro, The Magistrate & The Mathematician. He is heavily involved in the annual Ake Arts and Book Festival which would be happening at Abeokuta from the 15th to the 19th of Novemer, 2016.
Hello Tendai, introduce yourself
I am a dude from a small mining town called Bindura in Zimbabwe, who happens to have written two novels, The Hairdresser of Harare and The Maestro, The Magistrate & The Mathematician (the latter is published in Nigeria by Farafina).
When did you know, you would become a writer?
By my early 20s I sort of knew I wanted to produce stories to engage with ideas that fascinate me. I never called myself a writer, I just wrote, and, for me at least, the practice is more important than any labels that can be attached to it. I only started using the term for myself long after other people had started calling me that.
What would you say inspires your writing process?
Life inspires me, the act of turning the mundane and extraordinary into art is a great source of pleasure. I also draw energy from reading and engaging with the works of other writers. I have said before I consider myself 99% a reader and only 1% a writer.
What has been the highlight of your career thus far?
I honestly can’t point to a single thing, but I believe the ultimate triumph resides in the will to get up in my garret most mornings and sit at my desk for hours creating. The act, the doing of the thing, the solitary striving that happens when no one else is watching, is the most important part of what I do. What matters to me is the art form, anything else outside of that is mere noise.
Being part of the Ake festival, what do you hope the festival achieves in enabling reading in our communities?
Lola Shoneyin and her team have done a fantastic thing in bringing together so many artists and readers together in a space that encourages the exchange of ideas. Anything that makes literature more visible at the forefront of public consciousness is a great thing, particularly in a digital age where there are so many other distractions. The festival actively engages with schools and I think this dimension is very, very important, because if we can win over the kids then we can have a base to grow in the future. I am a guy who makes up things for a living, and I can only marvel at the sort of organizational challenges that the guys at Ake face to bring about something of this magnitude and complexity. We should all celebrate this remarkable achievement.
What impact do you hope your books and writings have in Africa and the world at large?
I am skeptical of claims that literature still has any overt influence in society. Zimbabwe pre-1890 was not a literate society and I view the written word as an alien art form, just one that I happen to have adopted and am passionate about. I can only hope that my work, at a basic level, gives some pleasure to some readers – anything outside of that is a bonus.
Who are your role models in the literary sector?
Writers of all stripes (novelists in particular) make for very poor role models. If you are interested in my creative influences, the list is too long to mention, but chief among them is the Russian author Fyodor Dostoevsky.
Words of advice to young and aspiring writers?
Do your own thing. Do not care too much about what other people think or what they are doing. This thing is a solo-sport – you alone versus the white blank page, day after day. Love what you do. Dare to be different. Fail, fail and fail again, you have nothing to fear. May the Force be with you.