Tsitsi Dangarembga’s Nervous Conditions, published in 1988, was the first English novel in print by a black woman from Zimbabwe. She is a playwright, novelist, and filmmaker. Her novel in 2018, This Mournable Body, was shortlisted for the Booker Prize.
“I would like people to know that personal redemption is possible, even under the worst circumstances,” she says about her latest novel to FORBES AFRICA. She says there’s a feeling that poverty dehumanizes in a way that is unrecoverable, but she believes that the “human thing is not given by the world, it is something we bring into the world when we are born”.
Dangarembga was arrested in Harare in 2021 for protesting against corruption – the same year in which she was awarded the PEN International Award for Freedom of Expression. In 2021, she was also the recipient of the Peace Prize – the first black woman to receive it. In 2022, after an arduous legal process, she was convicted in a Zimbabwean court of inciting public violence, as she and one other person displayed a placard asking for reform on a public road.
Dangerembga has done more than write: she has made a successful, if difficult, foray into filmmaking. After completing her degree, she found a job as a researcher at a video unity in the mid-1980s. She enjoyed the process, and after the unit closed, applied to film school.
She eventually founded Nyerai Films in 1992, the International Images Film Festival for Women (IIFF) in the Director of the Women Filmmakers in Zimbabwe, set up and became the Director of the Institute of Creative Arts for Progress in Africa (ICAPA) Trust in 2009. Dangarembga noticed that funding was given for films that problematize Africans rather than seeing Africans as agents with aspirations. She says this is self-defeating, and something she is concerned about.
The ICAPA Trust does content, training, exhibition and networking events. Dangarembga says they’ve had their ups and downs with funding. She is still looking, and still hoping Zimbabwe’s film industry will grow. She has made 21 short films, shown them internationally and locally, and received awards.
In 2020, she was announced as the University of East Anglia’s inaugural International Chair of Creative Writing, received an honorary fellowship of Sidney Sussex College in Cambridge, and in 2022, was selected to receive a Windham-Campbell literary prize for fiction.
Her advice to young filmmakers and writers? “Persevere, you simply have to find a way to persevere.”